Wednesday 18 January 2023
We race out to breakfast today in the hope that we might finally be able to see Antarctica but no such luck. However we are rewarded with the sight of an ice floe covered with Adelie Penguins (that went past so fast that none of us could respond by getting out a camera in time). We had to go quite a long way east to get past the ice and are now heading westward towards Cape Adare. The water is very calm now and it is -1C outside. But when we get closer to land it is likely that the strong katabatic winds that come down off the ice sheet will pick up. Hopefully we will near land around lunchtime but then the expedition team will need to assess conditions and try to find a place for us to land (ice is still expected around the shoreline).
Meantime we have more lectures. Bryan is first up with “The Past Life of Antarctica – the geological evolution of Antarctica” followed by Michael with an “Introduction to Photography in polar regions – tips to achieving better images and pitfalls to avoid.”
Bryan’s talk was amazing – the subject could be very dry and boring but he tells it as a story of Gondwana land and the various plate movements and upliftings that push the continents around over millions of years. He also shows fossil evidence of a wide range of different flora and fauna and how they adapt to the changing environment.
Part way through Bryan’s talk there was a call from the bridge that there were minke whales off to the starboard side so of course everyone jumped up to view them. Then between the two talks there was another call that we had just sighted land – Cape Adare in the distance.
Michael does a great job too of catering for those just using iPhones to more sophisticated ‘point and shoots’ right through to those who have the gigantic camera gear. Whilst some of it causes eyes to glaze over, there are lots of useful tips about composition, care of cameras etc along with some amazing shots to admire.
Lunch was spent watching penguins and seals on the ice floes beside us. Then people dispersed to various vantage points to watch as we neared Cape Adare. I went up to the Library/Observation Lounge on Deck 7 that gives panoramic views. It was absolutely other worldly watching in silence as the gigantic tabular icebergs start to come into focus in front of the black cliffs of the Cape Adare promontory. As we round the tip we also start to see the TransAntarctic mountains peaking out under the clouds and see glacial valleys catching the sunlight. There are lots of icebergs and we learn that they are actually trapped there because the water is only about 500m deep.
At one point a rare, elusive Ross’ seal is spotted and the ship does an about turn so that we can get a good look at it (many never see it at all). We amuse ourselves watching the groups of Adelie penguins on ice floes, wondering whether it was a union meeting, gossip session, party now they’ve left the kids … We watch the behaviours as the ship nears and then one panics and they all rush to the edge and jump in. There are penguins porpoising all over the place. Eventually the triangular Ridleys Beach comes into view and we realise that the funny brown colour everywhere is in fact the penguins in the colony. We can then see the historic Borchgrevink’s Hut on the beach. We have to come right around to anchor away from the current of ice and then anchor in a suitable part of the bay. The expedition crew then need to work out where we can go ashore and our plan of attack – by this stage it is 4.30 but we don’t need to worry because it is always daylight (and with the amount of food we’ve been eating we won’t starve).
We do have the opportunity to go into the draw to be a research assistant for the day with Steve’s research into the Adelie penguins but decide not as we might miss out seeing other things such as the historic hut. The Penguins are first to go onshore today and there is a lot of hilarity as we work out how many layers of clothing will be appropriate for the subzero temperatures. We layer up and head down to the mud rooms to make sure our boots are clean. We are all lined up ready to go but it takes a long time before we actually depart because drift ice keeps surrounding the ship making it difficult to launch the zodiacs.
Eventually we board the zodiacs and have a magical ride in calm waters through the icebergs, growlers and bergy bits to the shore. Once there I am struck by the thought that we are actually standing ON ANTARCTICA!! We follow Julia along the beach making sure we keep to the tidal zone to give the Adelie Penguins space to do their thing. It is quite a hike along the pebble beach to Borchgrevink’s Hut (and the remains of the British Antarctic Expedition Hut. When we get there we have to wash and scrub our boots (thanks Bryan) before entering the hut. There are actually 3 huts side by side (one for living and one for storage) that were originally joined by a canvas awning to form a vestibule. We sign the visitors book too.
Then we have almost 2 hours to observe the penguin antics and to stand in awe at the magnificent surroundings. The penguins are hilarious particularly those being chased by one or more chicks clamouring to be fed. The colony is now made up mostly of the fluffy chicks in their brown downy jackets. We can see the pebble nests and I watch one adult repeatedly going to one mound, picking up a pebble and depositing it on another mound a metre or so away; perhaps the first mound’s owner is away getting food and this one is stealing as many as possible before they return. The whole area is covered in penguin guano and we watch the chicks learning to poop by shooting it out the back with surprising force (keeping the nest clean). There are a lot of carcasses of dead chicks littered around. Then we turn our attention to the penguins on the shoreline, willing them to jump off while we are watching.
All too soon we get back on the zodiacs for a cruise around and through the ice, marvelling at the shapes and colours in the ice and of course at the multitudes of penguins in and around the water and ice.
It is a late dinner tonight and the last zodiacs are still coming in as Anne and I head to bed.
Day 1-2: Meeting and Departure
Day 3: The Snares
Day 4: Auckland Islands – Enderby Island
Day 5: At Sea
Day 6: Macquarie Island
Day 7: Macquarie Island
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: At Sea
Day 10: At Sea
Day 11: At Sea
Day 12: Cape Adare, Antarctica
Day 13: Possession Islands
Day 14: At Sea, Coulman Island
Day 15: At Sea
Day 16: At Sea
Day 17: At Sea, Ross Ice Shelf
Day 18: Cape Bird/McMurdo Sound
Day 19: Cape Bird/McMurdo Sound
Day 20: Cape Evans/Cape Royds
Day 21: At Sea
Day 22: At Sea
Day 23: At Sea
Day 24: At Sea
Day 25: At Sea
Day 26: At Sea/Campbell Island
Day 27: Final Day at Sea