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Thursday 1 February (cont.)
.later a real bonus, a real surprise - an Emperor Penguin was seen swimming! The ship was able to manoeuvre close to this juvenile bird as it swam just off the bow. Everyone saw this species, which is very uncommon on this cruise. This bird still had the white auricular patch and so now would be some 15+ months old. The first nine months of its life would have been spent on the ice before entering the sea for the first time. These birds have a remarkable life cycle, living their whole existence on and around the Antarctic pack ice and even breeding during the harsh Antarctic winter when the temperature can drop to below -60°C. Maybe one trip in ten to the Peninsular sees an Emperor normally one has to board the icebreakers that travel to the ice shelves of the Weddell and Ross Seas to see this bird.
.We travelled on, pushing ice floes out of our way, and looked at 'bergs, some of blue ice, to either side of us. These occasionally would have a few penguins on them; most here were Adelie's. Beautiful pristine Snow Petrels were seen flying around the ice; this is the typical habitat for this species.
.We dropped anchor at Paulet Island. Here in a bowl between the hillsides, and visible up to the highest ridges were Adelie Penguins. 100,000 pairs nest here, and now with the chicks plus non-breeders there were half a million birds! Penguins everywhere, and whereas on previous landings we had tried to keep a respectable distance between the birds and us, here it was just impossible - just so many birds. Wherever we turned......penguins.
. Surrounded by penguins! We took a zodiac cruise around the points of the bay and close to the ice floes. Here Adelies could be seen leaping, attempting high jumps, straight out from the water to try to land upright on the ice.
.A family group of five Orcas could be seen negotiating the leads. We watched as two Orcas were seen to go under the ice to then resurface in open water. It was a memorable sight.
.We needed to return by the same route to get out from the ice. Many ice floes were ahead and the ship travelled very slowly, at times turning on the spot by using the bow thrusters, so as to negotiate through all sizes of floating ice. It was most remarkable. Beautiful Snow Petrels were the commonest birds here.
Friday 2 February
.The ship made slow progress through the night due to the ice conditions. We were behind schedule. This was exacerbated by the Force 7 that we then headed into on the way north to Elephant Island. There were some impressive waves - occasional waves even hitting the windows of the wheelhouse located on the fifth deck.
.We had lost some six hours and the proposed first landing was cancelled. We took an easterly course around the island to reach Point Wild on the north coast. This was where Shackleton's men spent 135 days of an Antarctic winter awaiting their rescue. There was a noticeable swell and we couldn't launch the zodiacs to make a landing. The small spit was pointed out where the crew of the Endurance lived under the upturned boats surviving predominantly on seal and penguin meat.
.we commenced the long journey towards South Georgia - this would involve more than two full days crossing the Scotia Sea. The wind started to pick up again as we headed into quite a deep anticyclone. By late afternoon we were again into Force 7, at one time Force 8 gale. It was now getting dangerous to move around the decks and caution was needed.
Saturday 3 February
.It had calmed during the night but sea conditions still varied throughout the day. Birds started to appear in good numbers, now there were species that would become commoner as we headed further north; three species of albatrosses (Black-browed, Grey-headed and Light-mantled), storm-petrels (Wilson's and Black-bellied), the first of the Soft-plumaged Petrels, but the commonest bird was still the Cape Petrel.
.The ship would occasionally drop into a trough sending huge waves across the foc'sle and bridge wings. By late afternoon we were yet again into a Force 7. Walking around the ship became arduous and every step meant holding onto a close handrail and watching one's balance.
Sunday 4 February
.A deep anticyclone was buffeting the ship. The barometric pressure had now dropped to a very low 941 and wind speed was 40 knots, about 45 mph. Waves during the night were over 8 metres. This was Force 8 Beaufort, gusting 9. The pitch, roll and judder during the night had moved me down my bunk, up my bunk and nearly out of my bunk!
.A Wandering Albatross joined the boat - this particular bird lacking black anywhere in its tail was, because of this, incorrectly identified by many as a Royal Albatross. Two more Soft-plumaged Petrels passed at a distance and now we began seeing diving-petrels. Certainly two seen well from the bow were both Common Diving Petrels. The prions were as confusing as ever and now were in profusion, constantly in sight. I must have looked at more than two hundred and all, so far, appeared to be Antarctic Prions.
.By the end of the day at least seven Soft-plumaged Petrels had been logged and two interesting small whales were seen close to the boat. These were Southern Bottlenose Whales, identified on their colour, shape of the dorsal fin and the size and shape of blow.
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