The South Shetlands to the Peninsula and our furthest point South !
03.04.2007 - 11.04.2007 -1 °C
We've made it.... or so we think....
We've actually hit the South Shetland islands which are to the North East of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Weather worked up a storm last night, but luckily we'd managed to get some shelter(although we dragged anchor twice and had to move further along the coast. Klaas the Captain seems to know what he's doing... which is a great thing !
In the morning the weather has totally changed and having not known whether we'd get to land on the islands last night, it's a definite by the morning.
We jump into one of the three small boats (well... two Zodiacs and "Sloopy"... a nice little wooden boat) We're given our life jackets and head over the water to the Island.
We're greeted by a Weddell seal, sunbathing on the beach and by Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins! It's our first "One on One" encounter with these little ice butlers... however.. they're great and totally fearless.... it's as if they've not seen anyone ever before and curiously start trying to eat our boots etc. They're great little animals and I think both Steph and I have instantly fallen in love with the little buggers!
The Photo sessions had begun and all of us simply sat about and took hundreds of photo's of the Penguins (something which was to be repeated numerous times during this trip!)
We were then invited to go for a walk to the other side of the island so in single file we were asked to follow one another to limit the damage we did to the mosses etc. on the island (This was an IAATO regulation... antarctica treaty thingy which regulates where people can and can't go etc. for the greater good of the continent.. quite a good thing I thought...anyway.....)
You've to remember that the number of people going to antarctica each year is increasing and as a result the mosses and lichens that haven't had any human impact for thousands of years are suddenly being trampled all over and so to limit the damage done we were asked to remain in line and watch where we were standing!
Not a difficult request you would think eh ????
OK... Old People... pretty much like young kids...
i.e. tell someone old that they can't do something.... they instantly (much like a teenager) want to go and do it !
Some of the older generation seemed to think that they'd fought a war or something to protect these lands and therefore it was their god given right to go and trample where they wanted and wonder wherever they wanted !
feckin Idiots !!!
I felt really sorry for Tully (our guide) as he had to cope with a load of geriatrics (although there was only about 10 of them) wondering off into the hills and over the streams and mosses etc. as if in search the swimming pool or hotel where they'd find the cocoon which would keep them young forever!
Or of course they could just be a bunch of stubborn old gimmers that needed strapping together with a rope. (In my opinion shouldn't even have been allowed on a sailing ship around Antarctica.... however... that's just my opinion!) Over the next 50 days or so I'm sure both Steph and I are going to be pushed to our limits by some of the people on the ship! Anyway... I digress.
Anyway, after gathering up the geriatrics we were able to walk to the other side of the island and were greeted with a great panoramic view of the Surrounding islands and also a massive Elephant Seal and his harem sun bathing on the beach! This guy was massive and kept an eye on us always! He'd often open his mouth to gesture to us that he could quite easily fit my entire body in his gob.... the gesture seemed to work as even the Geriatric brigade toed the line and avoided wandering too close to him!
We were also being reminded by the odd fur seal that we were on their territory every now and again as they often ran up to you growling like a dog... however... much like a "shit-su" or whatever little yappy dogs you like... their bark was worse than their bite... although a few people did get close to getting bitten over the course of the trip.... best to wave your arms in the air, however, we've heard since that growling back at them seems to work best !
The following day we passed along the Bransfield strait and towards Trinity island. It was early morning, the sun was shining and the sea and snow looked amazing.
We were suddenly joined by a family of Hump Back Whales. They were fantastic to say the least !
This time of the year they would have been getting ready to start their migration Northwards and would have been full from feeding on krill in the Rich water of Antarctica for the previous five months !
So with a full stomach... they were very playful to say the least !
The stayed with us for about an hour and began to surf the side of the ship on their sides with their fins out of the water.... we even got a couple of breaches from them off the stern of the ship... they kept passing under the ship and eye popped loads of times as if curious as to why this old vessel was here.... It was brilliant and definitely one of the most amazing whale experiences of our lives so far!
After and hour the captain wanted to move on... however, the whales stayed with us for another 20 minutes until eventually they got bored and wandered off! Absolutely Brilliant!
After we arrived, We went for a Zodiac trip through the Ice Berg Graveyard and enjoyed the fauna, however, it was cold and even with all our layers, thermals and two pairs of gloves we were still absolutely frozen by the time we got back on board ! Hot chocolate was waiting for us.... damn this ship's good !
The following day we went along the Graham Passage. It was a cold morning and Steph and I were on watch.. The sea was pretty still and blue and the snow and ice was beautiful.
This place is amazing! You hear people talking about the place... however... and I know it's corny.... but you're never quite ready until you actually see it up close. It should be a definate MUST GO place on everyone's list of places to go... regardless of the price!
That afternoon the winds picked up to a force 8... which even in the Graham passage (Which is relatively sheltered) meant the seas got rough and sails had to be furled.... I was up the masts, of course, in the howling wind.... really loving this sailing malarky!
Not sure Steph's too keen on me hanging on ropes in force 8 winds... however... I think she's getting used to it! Well I'm sure she will by the time we arrive in Cape Town.
We arrived in Neko Bay the following day. It was time to step on the Continent proper!
With my Welsh Flag in my bag and Steph's little red car... we were ready to hit the continent. We jumped into the Zodiac and headed for shore. En Route as we navigated through the almost totally ice filled shoreline we realized that a couple of Leopard seals had decided to stalk the zodiacs. We were chased all the way to the shore and the crew had to use the boat oars to shoo the seals if they got too close. This was highly amusing and fortunately.. they never had to actually beat a seal off the zodiac or more importantly... the seal never got to the Zodiac
We made it !!!
"I proclaim this land New North Wales"
The obligatory flag and car photos were taken and we then looked around and saw how beautiful this place was. It was covered in Snow... with a smattering of rocks and Gentoos. The Gentoos were youngsters and with the Leopard seals hanging around they were all out of the water... luckily for them ! It must be hard though !
We took some great photos of the Glaciers that just seemed to hang about on the edge of the continent (although we did get a few avalanches every now and again)
We were amongst the last to leave and fortunately, the leopard seals had decided to move off on the way back!
We then moved off to Paradise harbour further along the coast line and saw some Minke whales on the way down. We set most of the sails and since Europa was looking so good, Steph and I went into the Bowsprit (The Netting at the front of the boat) and took some pictures of the Ship. She looked beautiful with her white sails matching the whiteness of pretty much everything else around apart from the bright Turquoise of the Ocean... which wasn't that far below us ! It was brilliant!
Once at Paradise Harbour (Although the Paradise a few of the guys were expecting... i.e. a beer laden, palm tree lined jaxuzzi filled with naked women wasn't anywhere to be found) it was still a beautiful harbor! We went on a quick zodiac tour and then anchored up for the night!
We arrived at Port Lockroy which is where we were expecting to send postcards from and get our passports stamped... It was closed !
Well... not exactly closed, but the guys who were normally at the station had already left for the winter... so we let ourselves in and decided to leave our postcards there until they returned... in six months time... which meant our postcards won't arrive anywhere soon.... some time in December was the suggested arrival date !
It's a small British Antarctic base, but it was like a museum in that nearly everything there was antiquated in some way or another from expeditions or research over the past 100 years or so. There were old food stores from the 40's (we reckoned) however, a few favourites were spotted (Notably Horlicks, Spam and Tate and Lyle Syrup)
Once again we were greeted by the smell of Gentoo Penguins and their associated "Odour" on the island. Later in the day we moved to the other side of the island to see some blue eyed Shags and the bones of a few whales that had been washed up onto the beach.
We returned from our little hike to the other side of the island and were given a panoramic view of some fantastic cliffs surrounding the base called the Seven Sisters. They were sprinkled with Fresh Snow and just peeped out underneath the forming cloud. It was yet another Beautiful Landscape and Fauna Show from the Peninsula.
This was to be our furthest point south and before we headed back up North... a drink was given to us by the captain on the deck outside, to celebrate this fact and the ships horn was sounded to signal this to one and all.
The Horn on the Ship is absolutely massive and Tremendously load.... so much so that when we passed a Russian cruise liner... her horn sounded more like a bicycle bell's tinkle, while ours was more of a Concorde breaking the Sound barrier Noise (Well not quite.... but you get what I mean !) This made us men beam with pride.... the Women thought we were being childish... however.... it's always nicer if your horn's bigger than the other guys....... um............ anyway..........
OK.... North here we come and we've got.... hmm.... quite a few days still to go! At least it gets warmer from here on (or so we thought!)