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January 2003 trip to the Antarctic

Part 1 of this story left us on Tierra del Fuego ready to board our ship and head south for Antarctica ...

2. Crossing to the Antarctic

Drakes Passage

After a short stop at Puerto Williams (Chile) we set sail to cross the infamous Drake's Passage on our way to the White Continent. The crossing of Drake's Passage took 48 hours, and we were expecting rough seas, gales and an unpleasant trip but the sea was unusually calm. We re-christened it “Drake's Lake”, although on the way back it showed us what it could do - but that’s for another day. During our first evening on board we received our “Voyage of Discovery” red jackets, a rare and treasured memento of our trip. We knew that the ship did not have the usual cruise entertainment, which is another reason we chose her, but every day and evening there were talks, films and lectures on where we were going, what we would see, the wildlife, and the lives and experiences of the explorers who had been to Antarctica before us. The only compulsory attendance were the briefings before each landing as these showed where we were allowed to walk and what to look for. Most of the experts on board were excellent (really knew their subject) but one or two were so good that when they were due to give a talk you had to reserve your seat in the lounge about an hour before the start!  During the crossing Allan spent a lot of time on the back deck trying to photograph a wandering albatross which was following the boat. Eventually he succeeded in taking some pictures of this magnificent bird, as well as other birds including petrels and the slightly more common black-browed albatross. So far Debbie hasn’t seen any penguins, which was the reason we were here, but that was soon to change.

 

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Giant Petrel
Wandering Albatross
Black-Browed Albatross
This iceberg must have come from a land-based glacier because it has a lumpy top
This iceberg must have come from a frozen sea because it has a flat top

The South Shetlands

Adelie penguins on King George Island

Sunday afternoon saw us heading towards Arctowski Station on King George Island, one of the South Shetland Islands. Arctowski Station is the Polish Research Base located in Admiralty Bay. Here we saw our first penguins, a colony of Adelie Penguins walking to and from the sea and generally going about the own business while looking out for danger from the skies (Skuas, large birds that love the taste of penguin eggs). They look comical on shore, but they are very graceful in the water. We also saw a large pod of Elephant Seals basking in the sun. The Polish scientists provided tea or coffee and happily showed us around their home. The remains of whale bones scattered around had been there for many years and, no doubt, will be there for many more. Before dinner, while enjoying a glass or two of the ship's superb Chilean wine at the bar, Allan downloaded the day’s photos onto the laptop we had with us. As this became a daily occurrence we soon found that other passengers gathered round to see our photos, and several asked for copies to be e-mailed when we got home.

 

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Our ship anchored off King George Island
You must put on a pair of overboots whenever you go ashore
Your boots are washed and disinfected every time you go ashore or return
The red penguins come from the ship. The black-and-white ones live here
A Chinstrap penguin (note the black chin strap that gives him his name)
An Adelie penguin (named after the wife of their discoverer)
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The groups of penguins are happy ignore the tourists
A pod of sleeping Elephant seals
Seal relaxing at the water's edge
Young seal asleep on the beach
Old whale bones
Arktowski station. Note the green lichen which has taken thousands of years to grow on the rocks - you do NOT step on it

 

Gentoos on Greenwich Island

Monday morning saw us at Yankee Harbour on Greenwich Island. This natural harbour had been used extensively by American Sealers as a safe haven for their vessels. While we were waiting to go ashore the nearby glacier calved for the entire time and the brush ice that it produced slowly filled the bay so the landing site had frequently to be moved. Here we visited a Gentoo Penguin rookery, the noise was unbelievable, but the baby penguins we saw were unbelievable, chasing their parents for food and generally behaving like any youngsters!

 

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Yankee Harbour - unbelievably this is a NATURAL harbour
The glacier calving at Greenwich Island
A gentoo penguin gives a loud cry
Debbie notices that it's getting colder
Gentoo penguin poses for us at Yankee harbour
Gentoo with youngster in the rookery
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You can always spot the rookery by the pink colour on the rocks!
There are hundreds of penguins on Greenwich Island
The penguins just get on with their lives while you get on with yours
When something gets in the way, a penguin will wait for it to move instead of walking round it. They may have a long wait!
The harbour fills up with ice
Some wonderful natural ice-sculptures get washed ashore

The afternoon saw us land on Half Moon Island, between Greenwich and Livingston Islands. The warm weather was a little misty due to the unexpected and very rare rain that was falling. The Chinstrap Penguin rookery smelt appalling as the rain melted the frozen penguin-poo but the penguins didn’t seem to mind the rain or notice the smell! We were also lucky to see two Fur Seals resting near the water’s edge.

 

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A sleeping fur seal. You keep well away when they're awake because they're quite aggressive.
Chinstrap penguin rookery at Half-moon island.
The Chinstrap Penguins didn't mind the mud or the rain ...
... but it's not so pleasant for the Red Penguins (especially downwind of the rookery)
Remains of an old water-boat on the beach at Half Moon Island

 

Adopted by Gentoos on Cuverville Island

Tuesday morning saw us arrive at Cuverville Island, the home of a large Gentoo Penguin rookery. To make everything seem perfect it decided to snow as well. Unfortunately Debbie was so overcome at the penguins she’d seen she was unable to go ashore so Allan went on his own and had a wonderful time. He wandered half a mile away from the main party and sat himself down in the middle of the rookery. The penguins decided that as he obviously wasn’t a skua or a seal he must be a penguin, so just ignored him and carried on with their lives as normal. The experience was amazing, there was no human to be seen or heard, just a crowd of noisy penguins in every direction to the horizon; it was like being adopted as an honorary penguin. If Debbie had gone there I think she would have finished the holiday in a strait-jacket.

 

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The first group goes ashore on Cuverville Island (only 100 people are allowed ashore at once, anywhere, to help protect the fragile environment)
There are thousands of penguins on Cuverville Island.
Penguins young and old in the snow at Cuverville
Tea-time
A baby shelters from the snow underneath its Mum
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Just another day at the rookery. Two mothers having a lively discussion while their babies try to hide from the snow.
Penguins everywhere. You're not supposed to go within 5 metres of them - but they haven't read the rule books and just come to you
Danger from the skies - a Skua (they love to eat Penguin eggs and will even attack young chicks)
The Skua lands amongst the penguins and one sounds an alarm call to warn the others.
On the way back out to the ship; the clear waters show how much of an iceberg is actually underwater

 

Now read about what we found on the Antarctic mainland (with LOTS more pictures) .....

 

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