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Monthly Archives: March 2017 − News & Stories


Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la – March 21-25, 2017

A gre­at trip to round the sea­son off, with a lot of acti­vi­ties all the way down south to the polar cir­cle. We had groups on board spe­cia­li­zing in kaya­king and diving, and their sto­ries and pho­tos were very impres­si­ve – yes, diving, that would be some­thing, one day …
The wea­ther was pret­ty much on our side, we had some very nice ant­arc­tic late sum­mer days and no extre­me wea­ther. Yes­ter­day we were sun­bat­hing on deck in the Dra­ke-Pas­sa­ge, can you belie­ve it? Ok, we got blown out of Wha­lers Bay in Decep­ti­on Island the other day, but that’s part of the game down here. We could not land on Detail­le Island, the kom­bi­na­ti­on of poor visi­bi­li­ty, drif­ting ice near all pos­si­ble lan­ding sites and wind was just too much. But the Zodiac crui­se around the island was good stuff!

Ple­nty of hump­back wha­les, as one might wish for in the late sea­son, and may­be not as many pen­gu­ins as might have been some weeks ear­lier, but still qui­te a lot of them on shore, more than enough for heart and soul, eye and came­ra.

Gal­le­ry – Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la – March 21-25, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Let the pic­tures do the tal­king. Ant­arc­ti­ca, it was gre­at – see you again next year!

South Shet­land Islands – March 20, 2017

After a rather calm cros­sing of the Dra­ke-Pas­sa­ge, our first expo­sure to Ant­arc­ti­ca was to hap­pen in the South Shet­land Islands. And qui­te likely our only chan­ce to see Chin­strap pen­gu­ins.

And a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to get an impres­si­on of Antarctica’s wild wea­ther. From zero to more than 40 knots wit­hin half an hour. Our after­noon lan­ding in Decep­ti­on Island was quick­ly tur­ned into a ship crui­se.

Gal­le­ry – South Shet­land Islands – March 20, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

South Shet­land Islands to Ushua­ia – March 15-18, 2017

Even 32 days in Ant­arc­ti­ca will final­ly come to an end. The South Shet­land Islands are the last stop of our Ant­arc­tic Odys­sey, befo­re we set cour­se nor­thwards, to more civi­li­zed lati­tu­des. We do not have too much time left, but enough for an ear­ly morning lan­ding. The wea­ther is on our side, which is good for a visit to a small island on the edge of the Dra­ke-Pas­sa­ge.

At least in com­pa­ri­son, it seems to be a tro­pi­cal rain forest. Well, almost. The­re are some green patches, some­thing we have not seen in a while. With the Chin­strap pen­gu­ins, we can add yet ano­t­her spe­ci­es to our spe­ci­es list, which is alrea­dy qui­te impres­si­ve.

Then back to the open sea. A good two days across the Dra­ke-Pas­sa­ge until we have reached sou­thern­most South Ame­ri­ca. We pass Cape Hoorn in distance and darkness without taking too much noti­ce of it, befo­re we approach the Bea­gle-Chan­nel in the com­pa­ny of dol­phins. Then it is time to say good­bye to our good heli­co­p­ter crew, pilots and mecha­nics, six of them in total, who take off in their birds and quick­ly disap­pe­ar in the distance, not without a fine fare­well to Orte­li­us.

Gal­le­ry – South Shet­land Islands to Ushua­ia – March 15-18, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

And while we are at it, we keep say­ing good­bye to many good peop­le the next day in the morning. The very last day of a voya­ge is never a high­light, and port days are always very busy. But on the other side … if it is hard to lea­ve a trip and asso­cia­ted peop­le behind, then I guess it must have been pret­ty good 🙂

Too few short hours later, we are on our way again. Has­ta la vis­ta, Ant­ark­tis!

Erre­ra Chan­nel – March 13, 2017

It is nice, for the dif­fe­rence, not to cover a lar­ge distance from one day to the next one. To wake up whe­re we fell asleep. To calm down a bit, geo­gra­phi­cal­ly, in a way.

We are in the Erre­ra Chan­nel as we wake up, just around the cor­ner from Andvord Bay. And soon we are stan­ding in a litt­le ant­arc­tic pen­gu­in para­di­se. Gen­too pen­gu­ins, gen­too pen­gu­ins, gen­too pen­gu­ins. Not in thousands any­mo­re, but in hund­reds, as they are stan­ding on snow and rocks, loo­king a bit scruffy. They are moul­ting, pro­bab­ly annoy­ed by the itching of the fea­thers that are about to fall off and to be repla­ced by nice, new ones. Some are very curious and come clo­se to have a look at the­se fun­ny, colour­ful visi­tors.

Gal­le­ry – Erre­ra Chan­nel – March 13, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Also the hump­back wha­les in the Erre­ra Chan­nel and neigh­bou­ring waters are now in late sum­mer mood. They have been fee­ding for weeks and mon­ths in pro­duc­ti­ve ant­arc­tic waters. Now they are merely moving, snoo­zing and slee­ping at the sur­face without doing much at all. Soon it is time to move nor­thwards to war­mer waters, also for them.

Andvord Bay – March 12, 2017

See­ing Ant­arc­ti­ca from a bird’s per­spec­ti­ve is a dream that we wan­ted to rea­li­ze today. That was easier said than done. We had to abort the first attempt in the rather ear­ly morning and we spent good part of the day sear­ching for a place whe­re the wind was not how­ling with 30-40 knots. Not easy.

Gal­le­ry – Andvord Bay – March 12, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

But then it worked. Con­di­ti­ons were ide­al and ever­y­bo­dy could once again board the heli­co­p­ters to enjoy grand vis­tas of Andvord Bay and Para­di­se Har­bour. The pho­tos (the­re will be more and hig­her res pics after the trip) will tell the sto­ry!

Argen­ti­ne Islands – March 11, 2017

The Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la! We had final­ly reached it, and I think that ever­y­bo­dy here will agree when I say that we were real­ly loo­king for­ward to see­ing and step­ping on land again.

The Argen­ti­ne Islands were the per­fect first stop for us, con­ve­ni­en­t­ly loca­ted, the first place we natu­ral­ly reached, calm seas, litt­le wind – the­re was no time to lose, and we went out as soon as we could in the after­noon. Ice­bergs were drif­ting ever­y­whe­re in lar­ge num­bers, both bet­ween the islands and in the more open waters sur­roun­ding them. Some steps up a snow field are enough to yield an ama­zing view over this icy sce­ne­ry, and a Zodiac crui­se bet­ween the islands pro­vi­des all sorts of sce­nic insight.

Ever­y­bo­dy could cho­se bet­ween eit­her visi­t­ing the Ukra­ni­an Ver­nadsky Base, which is kee­ping some of the lon­gest meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal records of Ant­arc­ti­ca, or Wor­die House, the for­mer Bri­tish Base F, used from 1947 to 1954 and now part of Antarctica’s his­to­ri­cal heri­ta­ge.

Gal­le­ry – Peno­la Strait – March 11, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

The evening light in Peno­la Strait, south of the Lemai­re Chan­nel, was a true high­light. The sce­nic back­ground unbea­t­a­ble, the ice­bergs count­less, the light gol­den and warm. I guess the only peop­le who did not like it so much were the guys in the gal­ley, as it was exact­ly din­ner­ti­me 😉

Peter I Island – March 7, 2017

We had been wai­t­ing for this day with gre­at curiou­si­ty, when the famous island of Peter I would rise abo­ve the hori­zon. Well, the first thing that was to be seen today was not the hori­zon, not to men­ti­on any island, but low clouds and snow. Any hope to make a lan­ding today on Peter I Island was redu­ced by strong wind and poor visi­bi­li­ty. But as always, hope the best and be pre­pa­red for the worst!

Then we saw it, it took a while, but then we saw the island through the clouds. A rather hos­ti­le impres­si­on, the­se inhos­pi­ta­ble, steep cliffs of rocks and ice. Strong winds gus­ting up to for­ce 8 and 9 were the wel­co­me that the island had for us. Com­bi­ned with most­ly poor visi­bi­li­ty, it was clear that we would not be able to make any kind of lan­ding or flight here. Well, that is life in the wild Sou­thern Oce­an, deep in the screa­ming six­ties.

Gal­le­ry – Peter I Island – March 7, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

The moun­tai­ne­ous island actual­ly crea­ted a hole in the clouds on its lee­ward side, so the sun – a sight that we had been mis­sing for some time! – was shi­ning on the ice cap, whe­re it was reflec­ted like on a mir­ror. We even found a calm spot in the shel­ter of the island and quick­ly the zodiacs were orde­red to be made ready.A lan­ding was not an opti­on on this steep coast on the sou­the­as­tern side of the island, but a clo­ser look would be gre­at, wouldn’t it? But alas, as soon as the zodiacs were on the water and ever­y­bo­dy rea­dy on deck, sno­wy gusts and white caps came from both sides, so we made sure we got back on board again quick­ly … not today, that was the clear mes­sa­ge, and not tomor­row eit­her, that was the clear mes­sa­ge of the wea­ther fore­cast.

So we went and set cour­se for the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la.

Kayak adven­ture in the Sou­thern Oce­an

Three young men have com­ple­ted their their dar­ing expe­di­ti­on last mon­th, repor­ted Fox­news. Two Chi­le­ans and a Spa­niard padd­led for ele­ven days wit­hin the South Shet­land archi­pe­la­go. They star­ted their jour­ney on Janu­a­ry 20th in Pun­ta Are­nas, Chi­le. With the sup­port of the Chi­lean coast guard, the three adven­tu­rers cros­sed the Dra­ke Pas­sa­ge. Three days later they arri­ved at the Chi­lean rese­arch sta­ti­on Arturo Prat on Green­wich Island. With some delay they set out on Janu­a­ry 28th. The kaya­kers tra­v­eled 20-30 kilo­me­tres per day. They explo­red the islands and met a pris­ti­ne and uni­que natu­re. Their rou­te led them along water­ways, which no ship can sail on, becau­se of the pre­vai­ling shal­lows.

The fol­lowing sec­tion is a sum­ma­ri­sed trans­la­ti­on from their blog ent­ries.

After 22 miles we tur­ned into McFar­la­ne Strait. Here we were stop­ped by 35 knots of wind. We had to take shel­ter in Yan­kee Har­bour. Janu­a­ry 31st, we cros­sed the strait in poor visi­bi­li­ty. Figh­t­ing strong cur­r­ents we reached Point Wil­liams and faced a gre­at sce­ne­ry. The next day is still win­dy and des­pi­te a strong swell of the Dra­ke Pas­sa­ge, we ven­ture to Bari­ent­os Island. The fol­lowing day is fog­gy again. We reach Robert Island only with the help of the com­pass. But here we find shel­ter in the Chi­lean refu­ge hut Riso­pa­tron wai­t­ing for the fore­cas­ted storm to pass. Also Febru­a­ry 3rd is rather serious­ly. In spi­te of brea­king sea we enjoy the basalt cliffs and a pod of Orcas on this short leg. The fol­lowing day 25 knots of wind were pushing us towards Nel­son Island. The high swell exhaus­ted. Nevertheless, we were hap­py when we were arri­ving at our day’s desti­na­ti­on. We approa­ched Max­well Bay after sur­roun­ding Nel­son Island on the South side. On Febru­a­ry 6th, just befo­re the finish, we got soa­ked again by wind and waves. It was the col­dest day of the expe­di­ti­on! Howe­ver, next day we recei­ved a warm deser­ved wel­co­me on the Chi­lean Base Frei.

Map – Kayak adven­ture in the Sou­thern Oce­an

Rou­te of the Chi­lean kayak expe­di­ti­on.

The South Shet­land Islands are a wea­ther-expo­sed land mass in the Sou­thern Oce­an. Cyclo­nes that pass through the Dra­ke Pas­sa­ge often touch the archi­pe­la­go. The stor­my sea strikes almost unbra­ked the coast of the islands. This archi­pe­la­go is as wild and rough as the con­ti­nent. Only a small area is ice-free, the rest is buried under mas­si­ve gla­ciers. Thousands of pen­gu­ins and seals rest and nest here. Some­ti­mes you can even see sin­gle Maca­ro­ni pen­gu­ins or a stray Emperor. Asi­de the com­mon Cra­bea­ter seals and Wed­del seals also Fur seals and Ele­phant seals often occu­py beach. Some pla­ces are even “green”. The rea­son are algae and in shel­te­red spots mos­ses and lichens.
The South Shet­land Islands are of vol­ca­nic ori­gin. The kaya­kers pas­sed are­as with steep basalt cliffs that are cha­rac­te­ris­tic for the land­s­cape here. As bizar­re as the cliffs pro­tru­de from the water, the sea-bot­tom at the­se loca­ti­ons loo­ks simi­lar. This forms local wild tidal chan­nels, but also high brea­kers when old swell hits the coast. The gla­ciers con­tri­bu­te to the local cli­ma­te. Cold, strong winds often whist­le through the nar­row water­ways bet­ween the islands.

Why are peop­le loo­king for such super­la­ti­ve ven­tures? In 2000 three young Ame­ri­cans wan­ted to car­ry out a simi­lar expe­di­ti­on. But they did not get fur­ther than to cir­cum­na­vi­ga­te Nel­son Island. They had plan­ned for Living­ston Island and Decep­ti­on Island. The wea­ther for­ced them to the shor­ter rou­te. Ten years later, the New Zea­land girl Hay­ley She­phard plan­ned the cir­cum­na­vi­ga­ti­on of South Geor­gia. The wea­ther put a spo­ke in the wheel of her plans too and she not even made it half way. What all of the kaya­kers had in com­mon is the expe­ri­ence of natu­re in an inhos­pi­ta­ble remo­te area. In spi­te of all the cold and the iso­la­ti­on it is stun­nin­gly beau­ti­ful and offers an sur­pri­sin­gly abundant wild­life. Hay­ley knew that. So ins­tead of per­so­nal fame she wan­ted the public alertness for the sta­te of the alba­tros­ses of the South Polar Oce­an.

Wild coast­li­ne of Fil­des Pen­in­su­la, King Geor­ge Island.

Wild coastline of Fildes Peninsula, King George Island.

The gre­at cros­sing – March 4, 2017

Ele­ven days. Ima­gi­ne ele­ven days. That is the time that went without us going on shore any­whe­re. And that was not­hing unusu­al!

We had visi­ted McMur­do Base on Febru­a­ry 28 and reached the Argen­ti­ne Islands, just off the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la, on March 11. Coun­ting the 28th twice becau­se of the date line. And we have not been able to set foot on the Ross Ice Shelf or Peter I Island. Not due to a lack of good will – we were more than moti­va­ted to go, or rather, to fly to the­se pla­ces! But the­se extre­me pla­ces are hard to reach. Lan­dings the­re will only be pos­si­ble on real­ly good days, and tho­se are the excep­ti­on rather than the rule. So left the ship only once during the cros­sing, for the nice zodiac crui­se in the ice (see last blog ent­ry.). So con­si­de­ring the likel­y­hood of actual­ly lan­ding on the Ross Ice Shelf of Peter I Island, 11 full days at sea is pret­ty much sim­ply what you have to expect and not at all a sur­pri­se. You have to know that befo­re you come on such a trip! Know­ledge that is, by the way, also avail­ab­le from the publis­hed iti­nera­ry, with a slight­ly dif­fe­rent wor­d­ing.

Why am I empha­si­zing so much on this? Becau­se it is hard to ima­gi­ne what it means to be at sea for 11 days. Some are per­fect­ly hap­py with that, they will always find some­thing to keep them­sel­ves busy with, they enjoy watching the waves, the hori­zon or the fog, the occa­sio­nal ice­berg, wai­t­ing for the back of a wha­le to break through the waves for a short moment. Rea­ding, lec­tures, mee­ting all the peop­le on the ship. Others do not enjoy it so much, and for them, the­se days can be qui­te long. It is easy to escape into the idea that the cros­sing will be done in 3 or 4 days, with more or less regu­lar lan­dings. Some­whe­re. No land any­whe­re near? So what! Who cares?

But then you are get­ting bey­ond day 5, 6, 7 … the icy coast of wes­tern Ant­arc­ti­ca will never come in sight, it is as far as the moon. Of cour­se it would be exi­t­ing to go the­re, to see it, even to make a lan­ding, but you would need time and good charts. Time is limi­ted, and good charts do not exist. Well, and once days 3 and 4 have gone by and we have just made a third of the distance, and that is just becau­se the­re is no ice on our cour­se or serious­ly bad wea­ther to slow us down. Some­thing that you can not take for gran­ted in the­se lati­tu­des.

The „ant­arc­tic Odys­sey“, that is how I think of this voya­ge, bears this tit­le with pri­de. It is, over long stret­ches, a very pela­gic expe­di­ti­on.

Gal­le­ry: The gre­at cros­sing – March 4, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

So, let’s enjoy the ice­bergs, the wea­ther, the sea and Victoria’s gre­at histo­ry lec­tures and all the other ones that this time has to offer – and that is qui­te a lot! Let’s enjoy the rather sur­re­al fee­ling when the fog makes our litt­le world here shrink to a bub­ble for days, in the midd­le of this end­less oce­an. Two thousand miles. With the speed of a very rela­xed bicy­c­list.

Ice – March 2nd, 2017

It was, by the way, not a spel­ling mista­ke that Febru­a­ry 28 came twice in this blog. The date line.

We have now left McMur­do Sound and the Ross Ice Shelf behind us and we have begun the long, long voya­ge to Peter I Island and the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la. Ear­ly March is late sum­mer in Ant­arc­ti­ca, the time when most of the sea ice has disap­peared. It is inde­ed a strong con­trast to pre­vious trips in this area. My expe­ri­ence in this regi­on is not unli­mi­ted, and I am not sure if it is an excep­tio­nal ice year or just the sea­son or a bit of both. Any­way, we do not see a lot of ice at all.

But then we get into some ice. Young pan­ca­ke ice to start with, sur­roun­ding the ship on all sides. Very young, soft ice, fresh ice crys­tals, recent­ly fro­zen sea water. But strong enough to sup­port some pen­gu­ins that are some­whe­re on this ice.

The­re are also some older ice floes. On one of them, we find what might be descri­bed as an ant­arc­tic zoo with no less than five typi­cal ani­mal spe­ci­es: Emperor pen­gu­ins, Ade­lie pen­gu­ins, giant petrels, snow petrels and cra­bea­ter seals. Unbe­liev­a­ble! The lar­ge num­ber of Snow petrels alo­ne would be stun­ning, if not­hing else. I have never seen some many befo­re in one place. You are so hap­py if you hap­pen to see a lonely one in the distance on a trip to the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la, and here they are almost the who­le time fly­ing around the ship. Now we have more than a hund­red on this ice floes, tog­e­ther with all this other fan­tastic wild­life.

Gal­le­ry – Ice – March 2nd, 2017

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Later, the ice is more open again. The sun is shi­ning, no wind, so it is not a ques­ti­on that we launch the Zodiacs and just enjoy get­ting clo­se to the ice. The crui­se is stun­nin­gly beau­ti­ful, all the ice, all the­se colours and shapes. Not to men­ti­on the wild­life that we are see­ing, as various seals, Ade­lie- and Emperor pen­gu­ins. Some descri­be this zodiac crui­se later as one of the true high­lights of the trip.

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