Sunday, 27 November 2016

Visiting the Antarctic Peninsula (1)

Events of Saturday, 26th November

Cuverville Island

Overnight, we had cruised towards Cuverville Island, which is situated just offshore the Antarctic Peninsula itself. I was up early and on the Observation Deck as we approached our anchorage. The temperature was around zero Celsius but the wind chill made it appear cooler. I was happy to return inside for breakfast and then ‘suit-up’ for a ‘wet landing’ on the beach by Zodiac at 7.45 a.m.

The sheltered location of our anchorage and the appearance of bright sun meant that conditions were much improved by the time I reached the shore. I had decided that the “difficult hike” on offer would be too demanding. The bay we were in was picturesque, littered with oddly-sculpted icebergs of various sizes, patrolled by birds of various Antarctic species and criss-crossed by Gentoo penguins continuously making their (to human eyes) clumsy progress between the various colonies on the snow-clad hills and the sea where they are instantly transformed into the most elegant and athletic swimmers. Since the weather was so inviting and untypical of the Antarctic Spring, I decided to move only a few hundred yards from the landing site, sit in the snow and contemplate this world.

Contemplating the view from Cuverville Island.

It’s hard to convey what a special experience this was. I remained there, perfectly warm in my multiple-layers of clothing for around two hours, occasionally taking photographs but mainly trying to ‘absorb the moment’. I was so comfortable that, from time to time, I lay back in the snow, listening to the calls of the penguins, looking up at the blue sky tinged with wisps of clouds (which would have counted as a memorable Summer’s day back home in England). The gentlest hint of breeze carried the odour of the ‘guano’ from the large number of penguins but, where I was located, it was distinctive but not unpleasant. In the past I’d discovered that, near large colonies of penguins, the smell can be almost overwhelming.

From my spot, I could see fellow-guests clambering aboard Zodiacs to be returned to our ship, which I could also see across the bay. I watched the hikers return from their more strenuous excursion but, noting the ‘Last Zodiac returns to Ship’ time we’d been advised, I was still reluctant to break the spell Antarctica had cast.

Cuverville Island: Guests making their way back to the Zodiacs.

Eventually I rose from the snow, which was at least two feet thick but nowhere near as solid as it appeared (injudicious movement could result in collapse of the snow into a deep depression, as I’d seen happen to a fellow passenger earlier). I made my way back to the landing area, in plenty of time to avoid rebuke, but ferried back to the ship in the last or last-but-one passenger Zodiac. We took the ‘scenic route’ back to the ship, cruising amongst the strange shapes of the scattered icebergs.

"... cruising amongst the strange shapes of the scattered icebergs".

Since we had the Ship’s ‘Videographer’ Ray aboard, we took a little longer to complete the trip – at one point he was using a ‘Go-Pro’ waterproof video camera attached to a trekking pole to take underwater shots illustrating the submerged bulk of icebergs. I boarded the ship, elated at the experience of the morning, quite ready for a mug of boullion to sustain me until lunchtime.

Once everyone was back on board, the ship moved south, heading for Port Lockroy. Antarctica is, of course, in the Southern hemisphere with the seasons reversed compared with my home in England. This trip to Antarctica was ‘Silversea’s’ first of the spring, when the winter’s sea ice starts to thaw and access to some areas is still uncertain. From Cuverville Island, there were two possible routes to Port Lockroy – a shorter, northern route and a longer, southern route. The Captain attempted the northern route but decided that there was too much sea ice remaining (the ship is ice-hardened but is not an icebreaker). So we diverted to the southern route. But this, too, still had quite a lot of sea ice.

Through the ice.

However, we did get some good sightings of a group of Orca whales before the Captain decided that the visit to Port Lockroy be abandoned. The Captain and Expedition Team then had to review the various possibilities to re-plan the next part of the trip.

Jean-Baptiste Charcot

Whilst the ship was re-positioning, a lecture on the French expolorer Charcot was given by Peter in the theatre. This lecture was originally advertised for earlier in the voyage but had been cancelled on that occasion because of our ‘extra trip’ to Cape Horn.

Enterprise Island

The ship cruised to Enterprise Island where we were offered a late-afternoon Zodiac Cruise in a picturesque bay with snow-covered mountains, icebergs, birds, penguins and the possibility of whale sightings. In the middle of the bay lay the wreck of the whaling ship ‘Governoren’, which was accidentally set on fire at a party to celebrate a successful season. The amount of whale oil on board ensured the complete destruction of the ship.

Wreck of the whaling ship 'Governoren'.

Because of the altered timing of the events, the planned recap and briefing was cancelled.

Related Posts

Next post describing this trip: Visiting the Antarctic Peninsula (2).
All posts describing this trip: Chilean Fjords.
Just posts on the Antarctic segment: Antarctic Peninsula.

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, my pictures from this (and earlier) trips may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-

Cuverville Island 2016.
Through the ice 2016.
Zodiac Cruise - Enterprise Island 2016.
All my pictures taken in Antarctica on both this visit and my earlier visit in 2008 are in the collection here.

[Links to pictures added, pictures added: 1-Feb-2017]