Reaching Antarctica

*Day 16* – “Here comes the sun doo it n doo doo” Good morning; Alex woke us up gently with a song at 5 am for our first landing of the day on Barrientos Island, one of the Aitcho Island group in English Channel.

It was a beautiful still crisp morning as we loaded into the zodiacs and headed the short distance to the island which was coated in deep snow, the zodiacs crunched into the ice at the edge of the bay and we scrambled up on to the ridged, Chinstrap penguin colonies dotted all over along with the occasional Gentoo nest. The penguins busied themselves with their morning stretches, wing flapping and hooting, occasionally there would be a flurry as one chased another out of the colony to another with much flapping and tobogganing, the victor would then strut back to his colony.

In a small bay we discovered a Weddell Seal with pup, a very rare sight as they usually give birth on ice and maintain a breathing hole in the ice and stay well away from the beaches, they are the only mammal the over winters in Antarctica. The pup put on a great display of impatience, poking and prodding his mother, trying to climb on top of her, she was having nothing of it, occasionally she would look our way to check we had not got any closer, then she lolled back allowing the pup to suckle although play seemed more on its mind.

During breakfast we repositioned around 40 miles to Half Moon Island for our second landing. Here we encountered very deep snow – not ideal with stumpy legs; although the penguins seem to manage OK. I have been here before but could not recognise it other than the shape of the bay. On the beach there is an old wooden boat of unknown origin, even more unknown to us as only around an inch of the prow showed above the snow. A steep climb rewarded us with fantastic views across the bay with much broken ice clinking together in the very minimal swell, brooding blue skies contrasted with the stark snow the steep cliffs covered in red streaks. It was a place to find your spot, sit quietly and take it all in.

It is the day for new seals as we saw our first leopard seals today, a creature I find utterly beguiling with its sleek almost reptilian look, the huge gaping mouth when shut appears to have a leering smile, definitely untrustworthy. One very curious seal spent time checking out the zodiacs, diving underneath in the crystal clear water so graceful, twisting on its back as it slid menacingly under the bow, popping up for a breath and a better look it would sink again lurking under the surface awaiting for the unsuspecting penguin.

Deception Island was our final landing of the day, on my previous trip I had landed at Bailey Head and only sailed into the caldera but didn’t land so this was all new territory. As we sailed through Neptune’s Bellows, taking great care to avoid Raven Rock, there were a few Leopard seals on the ice in the entrance. Landing on the steaming beach amongst Gentoo penguins was really surreal, the water quite warm as we stepped out of the zodiacs. There are not too many buildings left since the last volcanic eruption in the 60’s. One of the huge oil drums you can walk inside and Paola broke into song, her amazing voice echoing around the chamber eerily beautiful. The furthest building was the old hanger which was full of snow blown in in amazing sculptured waves, the remnants of the British Antarctic Survey buildings. On the snow there were a two more Weddell seals, who obligingly scratched, stretched and yawn for me. We are now heading deep into the ice at the back of the caldera in hope of a post dinner ice landing.

*Day 16 further blog -* well I thought I had finished off for the day but we have just returned from an evening on ice. The Captain pushed the ship into the fast ice at the end of the caldera and we all disembarked straight onto it. With mulled wine flowing we played football, took photos and acted like children, a wonderful time was had by all. The Canadian flag was dropped from the bridge with a rendition of the national anthem, some people ran round in very little clothing and others in bare foot. It is amazing how an “odd opportunity” turns us all slightly crazy, all are now back in the bar chattering away, red faced and exhilarated!