Friday 20 January 2023
We have sailed overnight but we have headed a long way east out to sea rather than following the coastline as expected (to avoid large areas ice). When we awake the chart is showing that we are heading southwest towards Coulman Island. The wind has changed to a southerly, it has clouded over and snow showers are expected later in the morning.
At breakfast we can see the coastline in the distance. We get a call from the bridge to say that minke whales have been sighted so we race up to the top deck (via the cabin to get our warm jackets). I see one blow and then some time later see another blow quite a way into the distance followed by at least one back. I am too cold to stay up top any longer and as I head in many photographers are coming in too saying ‘we’ve seen them but there is no chance of photos so we are no longer interested’.
Then it is back for a second breakfast and a good chat with Werner and Christina from Switzerland while we wait for announcements as to what will be happening today. Aaron tells us that we are still 30 nautical miles away from Coulman Island so will be sailing for at least the morning, and they will be back to us regarding lectures during that time.
We have a fascinating lecture from John Rogers about the early polar expeditions as background to talking a lot more about Scott’s expedition – all illustrated with the old photos and maps. He winds it into a very interesting story that is easy to follow (and a lot less dry than many of the books I have tried to read). John is an avid reader and has read many of the first hand accounts. I talk to him later about the women behind the stories and he mentions that there are a few newer biographies of the women – one about Kathleen Scott (who he thinks was an amazing woman) and another about 5 key women – wives and mothers who did amazing things in their own right even though they didn’t get to go on the expeditions (he thinks one even got a Nobel Prize). These will definitely be added to my reading list when I get home (once I track them down because John couldn’t remember the titles).
The shop is opened for a short while after John’s lecture and I decide to purchase myself some new snow goggles as my existing ones don’t fit well. I also buy some new gloves that will work better in combination in cold windy conditions.
We can see Coulman Island but it is surrounded by ice floes. This doesn’t seem to phase the captain who seems to have decided to just push our way through. There are periodic shudderings and revving of the engines, and occasional reverses, but somehow we keep just moving through the ice. It is a bit disconcerting at lunchtime when there are some big bangs and shudders but we all cope admirably!
We finally push through the ice and come out into open waters in the straits between Coulman Island and the mainland. The wind has increased markedly from the southwest, the temperature has dropped and it is now snowing quite steadily. The captain has found the edge of the fast ice (that is still attached to the land) and we will go in search of wildlife. It turns out that there is an emperor penguin colony on the ice here over winter so there is a possibility that there may still be some around, although most are expected to be out at sea feeding at this time of year.
Meanwhile we have a lecture from Richard McElrae on Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party 1914-17 – the end of the heroic era. It is an interesting topic but unfortunately we just can’t keep our eyes open through much of it. I head back to the cabin for a snooze afterwards.
Excitement! We just had an announcement from Aaron that ‘the captain has “parked the ship in the ice” and that there are a group of Emperor penguins directly ahead of us’. I race up to the Observation Lounge to peer through the snow at 6 tiny black dots on the ice. Denise lends me her binoculars but they just magnify the dots slightly. I decide to take a photo of the dots to record the occasion but my iPhone doesn’t even pick them up. People with huge cameras are struggling to even detect a hint of yellow. After a bit of watching, one of the blobs that had been lying down stood up. That seemed to be the sum total of the excitement so I went back to the cabin. Aaron then announced that we were going to move in a bit closer and see whether the ship could be secured to let us go down for a closer look. I’m not sure about how excited I am to be heading out in this weather but at least my camera manages to capture black dots in the snow (it doesn’t recognize them to be able to focus).
As it turns out, the excitement diminishes greatly with the announcement that we can go if we want to but that it is a long walk through wet thigh to waist-deep (read armpit-deep for short people) wet slushy snow. I rapidly change back out of the gear I had started to put on and instead look forward to the postponed dinner. Not that we actually need dinner after a sustained 2 weeks of full-on eating.
We head up out onto the deck to watch people go out. The expedition crew have set themselves out at intervals with flags marking the route where the ice is safe. It is hilarious watching people stride out with confidence only to be brought to their knees (literally) just a few steps later; some decide crawling is easier. Some come out just to experience the conditions and there is much hilarity. The funniest thing of all was watching Adelie penguins scoot in on their bellies at a very fast speed to find out what on earth all these people were doing. They scooted in and out of the line and occasionally stood up for a better look. The star attractions stood huddled in a group (most likely moulting) still some distance away and in the driving snow probably still won’t look much more than black blobs even for those who make their way out to the end of the flags (except for those with amazing camera gear – some photos below).
While we sit at dinner there are still quite a few people outside. The ship crew have gone out to enjoy the snow. We watch them sink into the snow and then someone goes back on board to get a couple of planks and they use them to see if they can all move forward without sinking in. Then they pose as though they are snowboarding. While several of them are lying face down in the snow an Adelie penguin toboggans over to investigate and is a bit nonplussed when one of the crew crawls after it. The weather is so changeable – one minute they have sunshine and the next minute a blizzard comes through: the sky is black and the snow comes in horizontally.
After dinner Anne goes to check out the jacuzzi while I stay talking – we end up having a cabin inspection because Denise and Graham’s room is quite a different layout to ours. Denise and Graham are from Australia, Denise a lawyer and Graham a retired surgeon.
Aaron tells us that tonight we will be reversing out of our parking space and making our way south through the ice to Terra Nova Bay.
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