A Travelogue and Brief Commentary
Feb. 2, 2008: Embark from Ushuaia, Argentina on board the M/V Ocean Nova
Feb 3, 2008: At sea in Drake Passage
Feb. 4, 2008: At sea in Drake Passage
Feb. 5, 2008: Neko Harbour
Feb. 6, 2008: Prospect Point and Fish Islands
Crossing of Antarctic Circle
Feb. 7, 2008: Petermann Island
Pleneau Bay and Port Charcot
Feb. 8, 2008: Palmer Station
Feb. 9, 2008: False Bay, Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands
Whalers Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands
Feb. 10, 2008: At sea in Drake Passage
Feb. 11, 2008: At sea in Drake Passage
Feb. 12, 2008: Disembark Ushuaia, Argentina
Ushuaia bears a remarkable resemblance, physically and culturally, to Whitehorse, Yukon. It lies on the wind-swept Beagle Channel—leaning into the wind is a survival necessity.
Ushuaia The Beagle Channel
Ushuaia is a long way from anywhere.
Ushuaia-Buenos Aires End of Pan-American Highway, Tierra del Fuego National Park
Lupines evidently find Ushuaia gardens to their liking, but the natural vegetation is beech forest.
Beech leaves, Ushuaia In the beech forest above Ushuaia Mistletoe in a troll forest
And Ushuaia has abundant bird life.
Female and male kelp geese, Ushuaia
Our ship to Antarctica was the M/V Ocean Nova, chartered by Quark Expeditions. A smallish craft, she was designed for the coastal waters of Greenland. Her seaworthiness was never truly tested on the trip. The Drake Passage is a notorious transit—one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the world as the circum-Antarctic currents stream through the narrow passage between the tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. We passed with “calm” 1-2 m seas—the next day saw a more typical gale which battered a ship following ours with 5-10 metre waves. Even with the easy passage, many passengers suffered from the motion.
M/V Ocean Nova The Drake Passage passage Chinese New Year on board
Landings from the M/S Ocean Nova were made by zodiac.
Landing at Neko Harbour
We were blessed with calm seas on the entire trip. The time saved meant that the crew was able to head much father south than is the norm. We reached 66o 33’ S, 67o 37’ W on February 6. One of the expedition crew had been on over 60 Antarctic trips, yet this was his first crossing of the Antarctic Circle. There was an obligatory visit by Neptune and his wife.
Navigation chart south of Antarctic Circle David Brewer (ornithologist) as Neptune's wife
Antarctica: sea, ice and rock.
The first sight of Antarctica, an island off the Antarctic Peninsula Lemaire Channel Lemaire Channel
Lemaire Channel Scene at Petermann Island Sea, ice and rock in the Neumayer Channel
Icebergs grounded at Petermann Island Iceberg in Pleneau Bay The plasticity and brittleness glacial ice in the Neumayer Channel
Blue icebergs are formed of air-free ice from deep within glaciers.
Iceberg at Neko Harbour
Una's Tits form the dramatic north entrance to the Lemaire Channel. The paired peaks are supposedly named after a well-endowed bar maid in the Falkland Islands.
Una's Tits, Lemaire Channel
Everywhere, the climate is harsh, vegetation sparse. The continent has no solely terrestrial animals larger than an insect.
Orange lichen, Torgersen Island Moss, Petermann Island
Albatrosses followed the ship across the Drake Passage.
Humpback whales were our first “Antarctic” species. They were an almost daily sighting in Antarctic waters. In Pleneau Bay the whales basically ignored the zodiacs and came up within 10 m.
Humpback whales near the South Shetland Islands Humpback whale in Lemaire Channel
Humpback whale in Pleneau Bay Humpback whale in Pleneau Bay
We did see a large pod of orcas as we approached the Antarctic Circle.
Orcas in the Briscoe Islands
On shore, getting close for wildlife photography was not a particular challenge.
Photographing a blue-eyed shag, Petermann Island Scua posing for Brandon Harvey (marine biologist), Torgersen Island
During the trip we saw four penguin species, two (Magellanic and chinstrap penguins) only briefly and at distance. But gentoo and Adelie penguins were common. Both species were in various stages of moulting and raising chicks.
It was never hard to tell when one was approaching a penguin colony. The noise carried, the rocks were stained a tell-tale brick red, and, oh yes, the smell. Despite wearing wellies for all the landings and taking them off as soon as one was on board for a thorough disinfecting, over time, the whole ship, and especially the cabins, took on a peculiar odour. Even weeks later when we opened our duffels, we could still catch that faint reminiscent smell.
Both gentoos and Adelies eat krill, that ubiquitous crustacean of Antarctic waters. The pigments do not digest, so penguin colonies are smear of red guano/droppings/poo/crap/shit. Worse is the fate of the young penguins that live in this soup.
Gentoo Penguin colony at Neko Harbour Adele penguins chicks at the Fish Islands
Moulting gentoo penguin at Neko Harbour Gentoo penguin feathers at Neko Harbour
Gentoo penguins, Neko Harbour Gentoo penguin, Neko Harbour Gentoo penguin with chick, Neko Harbour
Gentoo penguin and chicks, Cuverville Island Gentoo penguins, Cuverville Island
Adele penguin, Fish Islands Adelie penguins on an iceberg near Fish Islands
Skuas are the main predators at the penguin colonies.
Skua in gentoo penguin colony, Cuverville Island Egg predation, Cuverville Island
Blue-eyed shags shared room near Adelie penguin colonies. And the strange sheathbill scavenges around the colonies. Despite its virginal white plumage, the sheathbill has some fairly unsavoury behaviours—much of its diet consists of the “leftovers” in penguin poo. Kelp gulls were common; Antarctic terns, rarer.
Blue-eyed shag, Petermann Island Sheathbill, Port Lockroy Sheathbill, Port Lockroy
Kelp gull, Neko Harbour Antarctic tern, Jougla Point
We had multiple, and close, sightings of three pinniped species: fur seals, Weddell seals and leopard seals. Leopard seals are a prime predator of penguins at sea—they do seen to have a self-satisfied look about them; one does need to keep one’s hands in the zodiac, they show no fear and great interest.
Fur seal, Petermann Island Fur seal, Petermann Island
Weddell seal, Neko Harbour Weddell seal, Neko Harbour
Leopard seal, Errera Channel Leopard seal near Prospect Point Leopard seal cruising the zodiac, Fish Islands
Antarctica was prime whaling territory during the middle of the 20th century. The artefacts, bones and relics, are widespread.
Whalebones on the beach, Cuverville Island Reconstructed whale skeleton, Jougla Point
Gentoo penguins and whalebones, Jougla Point Gentoo penguin and whalebones, Jougla Point
Water boat, Whalers Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands Whale oil tanks, Whalers Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands
Ruins at Whalers Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands
Deception Island is a caldera (a collapsed volcano). As with Santorini in the Greek Islands, Deception Island is breached so that one can sail right into the caldera itself. The vulcanism still heats the beach sand enough to raise steam.
Deception Island Steam rising on beach, Whalers Bay, Deception Island
The caldera, Deception Island
We visited two stations: the utilitarian U.S. research base Palmer Station and the British station at Port Lockroy on Goudier. Port Lockroy now operates solely as a museum, dependent on souvenir sales from visiting cruises—three people spend a somewhat remote few summer months here.
Palmer Station Palmer Station The hot tub’s warmer anyway, Palmer Station
Port Lockroy, Goudier Island Communications room, Port Lockroy, Goudier Island
The last sunset, Beagle Channel
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