*Day 17* – we were allowed a lie in this morning and didn’t head out into the wind until after breakfast. We are now on the Antarctic Peninsula and our first excursion was a zodiac cruise around Enterprise Island in Wilhelmina Bay in hope of seeing the wreck of the Guvernoren.
The ice charts for 2012 show that this winter has had the most ice ever – more even than when Shackleton was here so we were surprised to get as far south.
The bay was very full of huge chucks of ice which the captain weaved through to find a good anchorage, as we loaded into the zodiacs the weather closed in with heavy snow coating us. The ship could just be made out in the murky mist as we explored icescape, bergs of every hue of blue with beautifully sculpted faces. There were a number of crabeater seals hauled out on the ice which looked up nonchalantly then hunkered down as the winds picked up. The snow swirled around us and the ship found the ice was closing in around it so the captain hauled anchor and the zodiacs chased her in comical fashion. After an hour or so we called off the zodiac cruise, the ice was just thickening too much, but that is to be expected being the first cruise ship down this season – we are testing the ice as it were.
In the afternoon we reached Cuverville Island in the Errera Channel where the narrow channel concentrates the ice bergs and we had to slalom our way through them, having left the ship in a howling gale the bergs gave us shelter and a very spectacular landing. There were large Gentoo Penguin colonies at either end of the landing beach and the left hand colony appeared to have decide to decamp to right. A penguin parade streamed past us, a comical sight as they waddled towards us then streamed on by, some stopped for a quick inspection of the brightly clad new “colony” while others just bumbled on by. Fortunately there were a couple of breaks which allowed us to cross the “highway” to go off and explore.
A steep climb rewarded us with views into the ice choked bay with penguins in all directions – many of which had made the same steep climb. There was lots of displaying between pairs and quite a few squabbles along with some mating. The winds whipped up the snow into whirling dervishes and penguins and people alike turned their backs to the wind hoping for a little relief. The sun was shining on the surrounding glaciers so the wild weather just added to the atmosphere. At the other end of the beach two Crabeater seals were hauled out, much higher up than we would expect to see them. With one of the prolonged gusts they decided to come even higher, they moved quicker than expected and much closer than the 5 meter rule which saw us all backing off in a hurry. The three hours rushed by and we are now back on board and heading to Paradise Harbour for our evening adventure. The ice in tonight’s drinks was collected this morning, I am sure it will make the drinks taste even better!