16 February 2017

Antarctica - A Typical Voyage

Half way through the season the ship must head north to re-stock, re-fuel, and replenish with new staff. This is where I got on. After the 26 hours of travel from Wellington, I made it to Punta Arenas. This is where the company is based and is a good opportunity to drink a beer with colleagues old and new, sort out work permits etc etc before getting on another plane to Puerto Williams. It was in Puerto Williams we did an excited exchange with the staff who were on their way home and got settled into the ship!

 The Ocean Nova docked at Ushuaia, AG.

Last minute arrangements and emails taken care of in the Southern-Most city in the world, it was time for another beer and then meet our new guests before setting sail down the Beagle Channel. This particular trip is an Antarctic Express. It is short, only 4 days and it picks people up in Ushuaia, we sail the Drake Passage arriving in the South Shetland Islands doing only a couple of landings before dropping the passengers at King George Island where they fly back to Punta Arenas, CL.

 The Southern-Most town in the world nestled under Dientes De Navarino (the mountain range).

Our first stop is again Puerto Williams, CL. This is where we officially get back to Chile and it's a good chance to stretch the legs and learn a little more of the history of this southern region of the world. 

 Even the wind-swept Lenga trees are dressed nice and warm.

 The museum that opens just for us at 10pm.. good sorts!

The next day we wake up and the view out of the window is never ending ocean. Once you get past Cape Horn it's all on in the Southern Ocean. Drake's Passage is the largest moving body of water on the planet fueled by prevailing westerlies. There is no land mass to stop this monster moving so even on a good crossing there are residual swells from storms that have died well before. Uncomfortable as it is for a kid that gets sea sick at anchor, it is always impressive and it is the best chance to get close and personal with some of the biggest birds on the planet.

Waves for days...

Wandering Albatross and many others in behind.

Once we get across the Drake we do our best to get a landing or two in the South Shetlands where the wildlife is quite a bit different from further down on the peninsula.

Some Southern Elephant Seals at Robert Point. These guys are only young but they will get as big as 4 tonne.

From here we head to King George Island where to meet the flight that brings us our new passengers and send the old passengers away on. The flight across the Drake takes 2 hours and they land at Frei Station which has a gravel airstrip.

 The BAe 420

Once we have our new passengers it is time to get into the bread and butter of what we do. Five-day trips that do a loop down the peninsula and back to King George Island where we meet the next flight. 
Once everyone and their luggage is on-board via zodiac, we get straight into the safety briefings and set sail for the Antarctic Peninsula.
Penguins on ice in the Bransfield Strait. 


When we wake up after crossing the Bransfield the passengers get their first real taste of Antarctica in the northern area of the Gerlache Strait. They wake up in a totally new location surrounded by ice and mountains ready to climb into zodiacs and see what we can find.

A huge iceberg blocking the way at Spert Island.

Chinstrap parents with their chick at Hydrurga Rocks

Getting a look at yet another amazingly unique iceberg.

There are many different landing sites or places of high interest in the area. Depending on weather and availability the expedition leader chooses the best location to explore or encounter wildlife.
Most of the area it is impossible to get ashore because of the amount of ice. Most of the Peninsula and surrounding islands coast is a shear wall of ice in the form of a terminal face of a glacier or it is a rock cliff.

Landing isn't the only option, there is a lot of zodiac cruising to to explore these coasts, islands, icebergs and to encounter seals, whales or penguins.

 Some very old glacial ice. This piece could be anything up to 50,000 years old.

 Pablo with a gigantic iceberg at Cierva Cove.

 A Leopard Seal resting on an Icefloe most likely digesting her penguin dinner.

The further down into the Gerlache Strait that we get the better it gets and the more options there are. 

The snow shoe team on Ronge Island while the rest of the passengers are landed on Useful Island smack bang in the middle of the Gerlache Strait. 

Out for a walk.

Another thing that the Gerlache Strait is great for is the whale watching. They can be around at any time of the day but they are pretty much guaranteed in the evenings when the Krill (a very small crustation) moves closer to the surface of the water. I like to call these the 9 o'clock whales and I think the name explains why. 

Humpback Whales lunge feeding at 9 o'clock. 

This is just one group but some evenings you will see different groups about every 100-200m in every direction as far as the eye can see.. 
It's great to see these animals making a comeback because in the early 1900's they were close to totally wiped out. Over 200,000 Humpback whales were hunted for their blubber in the Peninsula region.. disgusting!

 Southern Gerlache Strait after the whales have finished their dinner we are treated to scenes like this.

 Port Lockroy a.k.a the Penguin Post Office. An old British base from the 1940's.

Blue-eyed Shag and its massive chick. That chicks whole head was just down its parents throat..

The further south we go, the more ice we encounter. The Ocean Nova is a great little ship. It's not the most luxurious, nor is it the most stable in the open ocean, but shit she's good in the ice. Many ships this season weren't going south of the Lemaire Channel, but we would charge straight on in.

Captain Barrios at the helm in the Lemaire Channel.

Everyone all out on the observation deck watching the Captain work his magic.

Booth Island

Skull berg

Exiting the Lemaire

For a normal trip, south of the Lemaire Channel to the Penola Strait is as far as we go before turning back north. This is where we start getting some different wildlife and it is one of the most beautiful areas I have visited on the Peninsula.

An Adelie Penguin posing. 

These guys don't really breed in many places north of the Lemaire but down on Petermann Island we have Adelie and Gentoo.

A Gentoo chick clearing the nest.

If you haven't heard its extremely cold in Antarctica and this phenomenon of high powered shit is so that the parents can stay on the nest to keep the egg/chick warm and not soil the nest. This young fella is also pretty good at hitting the neighbor.

The view from the top of Winter Island looking northwards at the Lemaire Channel.

On the way back north the fun continues. Ice ice baby at Neko Harbour.

Looking through a massive arch in a massive iceberg at Portal Point.

A Humpback Whale waving its 5m long pectoral fin at us in Charlotte Bay.

Once we leave the Peninsula it's back to the South Shetlands with a guaranteed stop at Deception Island which is where we sail into an active volcanic caldera that is over due for an eruption like most other volcanoes around the world. Very bleak place that was the hub of the whaling industry from 1911 to 1931 and it is still littered with remains from those days.

The steaming beach at Port Foster.

Old buildings just waiting to get blown away. Last inhabited 1969 until the eruptions sent mudflows into the back of the building.

Old boilers that they would boil the whale blubber down in to produce the oil. 

We keep heading north to get closer and closer to the airstrip to be ready for the next flight. The cool thing about the South Shetlands is that later in the season as the snow disappears the wild life comes flooding in. 

A moulting Gentoo Penguin taking shelter under an old tourist dinghy on Halfmoon Island. 

 Keevin! The lonely Macaroni Penguin that lives with all of the Chinstraps on Halfmoon Island.

 A Southern Giant Petrel sitting on its chick at Robert Point.

An Antarctic Fur Seal acting all tough at Robert Point.

 And then it is time to head back up to King George Island and await the next flight to do it all over again!