It will be impossible to adequately describe our experiences of three days in Antarctica. This is the highlight of the Voyage for many of us and we can definitely say it exceeded expectations. Temperatures in the low 30’s; no fog; a short snow shower that delighted; sun and reasonable winds – we couldn’t ask for more.
Let’s get the adjectives out of the way up front: spectacular, awe-inspiring, humbling, stunning, jaw-dropping, serene, exciting, overwhelming, beautiful, grand, majestic.
This is the land of ice, in massive quantities, but it’s so much more.
Here are some scenes from our visit to the frozen continent.
We see two zodiacs racing across the water toward our ship. On board are a small bunch of Palmerites – the people who live at Palmer station – the smallest of the three U.S. research stations in Antarctica.
The group has come to spend the day on the ship and tell us about life in this remote place.
They live quite comfortably with a full time chef, a doctor, a gym, a movie room, and fully equipped labs of all kinds for the scientific work that is the reason they are here.
We in turn send them home with cases of beer, soda, wine, fresh milk, and produce . . . and a good supply of snack food. We can only see their station from a distance with binoculars – it is not safe for us to get any closer.
We’re sailing through the Gerlache Strait to the Lemaire Channel. Ice flows often clog this fjord and prevent passage through, but not today. It’s amazingly beautiful with almost vertical high icy peaks closing in on both sides of the ship.
We’re thinking- we can’t possibly be going through that narrow passage!! But yes we are. In a hold your breath few moments, we pass through and can almost reach out and touch the icy structures we are passing. Then you look up and see the glacial ice hanging over the high cliffs, looking like it is ready to fall just where we are. Heavy sighs and applause for the fine navigating by our Captain and crew.
This is the season of icebergs – literally all shapes and sizes.
We floated through massive fields of them, many are more than a mile long and over 200 feet high. These have broken off the massive ice sheet hundreds of miles away and drifted south to the Antarctic Sound where they get stuck, often for years.
It’s not often that the waters are calm enough to clearly reflect the surrounding peaks and icebergs, but that was one of the prettiest and most unusual scenes of this adventure. This phenomena is referred to as mirror seas.
A hungry leopard seal is stalking in the water just on the edge of an ice flow where two unsuspecting penguins are resting. We watch the seal try to surprise what he hopes is his next meal, but they see him and back away further on to the ice. Safe for now.
A pure white bird with a black beak is flying back and forth in front of the ship. Our naturalist identifies it as the snow petral, found only in Antarctica.
We enter Paradise Bay and are surrounded in every direction by humpback whales. They have traveled here from places like Hawaii to take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities to feed on krill.
Some jump completely out of the water, some slap the water with their fins as if playing a drum, others lift their heads out as if to look around. These are behaviors we haven’t seen.
Then we see what look like two huge trees floating on the surface of the bay not far from the ship. But there are no trees in Antarctica, so it can’t be trees. As we quietly go closer, we realize they are two sleeping whales – a very unusual sighting.
Someone on the bridge counted 39 whales sighted in 5 minutes, a banner day for wildlife!