Live from Antarctica, Part 3

| Wednesday, 05 Mar. 2003

NOTE:   Society Expeditions is no longer in service, however this four-part report on Antarctic cruising contains much valuable information for those wishing to sail in the region with other cruise lines.

Click here for Part 1 Click here for Part 2

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We have had some wonderful times on our Society Expeditions Antarctica voyage aboard World Discoverer, but in these polar regions, weather is the key element in the fortunes of the ship and its passengers. Where, when and if we make a landing depends entirely on the weather, and in this respect we have not been so lucky.

So far, we have missed quite a few intended landing sites. Either the seas were too high or the intense katabatic winds peculiar to the polar regions descended, reaching gales of 75 miles per hour! Because of these conditions we had to pass on visits to Palmer Station, Petermann Island, and this morning, Henryk Arctowski, the Polish research station. As the ship approached the Polish station, the sun was shining and it was beautiful. But in the 45 minutes it took for the scout zodiac to go ashore and return, the winds picked up and became too intense and dangerous for us to land.

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Yesterday at Petermann Island, the situation was the same, except that in addition to the winds, there was snow and sleet. Backtracking through the beautiful Lemaire Channel we saw four minke whales playing close to the ship. We followed them for awhile and watched them. Retracing our path through Paradise Bay, we had hoped to land at Nikko Harbor, but by then the sleet was coming at us sideways. Yet a few hours later the sky had cleared, it was warm on deck, and the mountains and glaciers were glistening beautifully in the late-day sun. It was spectacular. This is the true Antarctic experience.

Let me backtrack again to Friday, December 13 when we landed at Danco Island. I stood in one place and watched the gentoo penguins making their way along the paths they carved into the snow, all the way up the mountain to their colony at the top. I even saw a traffic jam as six little guys marched in single file up one road, only to meet a single fellow coming down. There was an impasse. But they had a crossroads. Two animals went across and up the other road. The lone bird coming down also crossed over and continued down to the water. The rest continued their journey up the mountain. Amazing. We were told not to impinge on their penguin paths in any way, because if they were damaged, the animals would have to create new ones. Their lives are stressful enough.

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The second part of our landing was a zodiac tour through the fantastic ice formations in the bay. Resting on one piece of ice were two Weddell seals and a skua, a large sea bird. Another ice formation was a shelf with two giant, eroding iceballs on top. Light refraction created an electric blue glow, as if someone had stuck a neon light bulb in between the ball and the shelf. It was breathtaking.

Later we had the disappointment of not being able to visit Palmer Station or see the penguins there. But we went on to Port Lockroy, a restored British research station and museum. It was raining hard and the wind was blowing. Going ashore was an adventure. But we were able to buy postcards and send them from the station. They will arrive eventually.

Conditions change quickly. When World Discoverer was at Port Lockroy 10 days earlier, the harbor was icebound and the passengers were able to walk down the gangway, across the pack ice and to the station! Now the water was open all the way to the shore. Next we are off to Half Moon Island, a place with a sheltered harbor and no icecaps, which are what help to create the katabatic winds.

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Half Moon Island was marvelous. On the beach, chinstrap and a few gentoo penguins ignored us and simply stood and groomed themselves. A skua stole a penguin egg from the hilltop colony. On the other side of the hill, Weddell seals lay on the beach, and across the channel was a long, huge glacier. Not far from the ship, an iceberg changed color with the sun and cloud movement. It was a rare afternoon. Back aboard the World Discoverer, we were greeted with mulled wine and Christmas cakes instead of the usual afternoon tea. Now we are leaving Antarctica, sailing past the South Shetland Islands and through English Strait, headed for the Drake Passage and eventually Cape Horn. Enjoy the views and I'll be back with another installment.

To be continued...

Click here for Part 4

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