Letters From Antarctica-Diary from a Polar Expedition-part 3

January 6, 2015

Our "Letters from Antarctica" series continues with part 3! Read to discover what day-to-day adventures you can expect from your Antarctic vacation.  
Part 1, Part 2

 

26 Dec 2014

Summer in Antarctic.

Arriving at Dorian Bay the water was without a ripple but there was snow in the air. As we transported our shore party and skiers to Damoy Point visibility reduced but with there being virtually no wind we really did not mind. A perfect landing spot was found for everyone with a gentle walk along the lower level to a gentoo colony, and a slightly more challenging hike to the top, the landing strip overlooking Goudier Island and Jougla. Snowshoe walking was welcomed as an option with a historical talk from the huts. A bit of something for everyone.

Leopard seals on ice

Cruising was the first time we experienced the unique Antarctic grey, where the sea meets the sky like an infinity cove with icebergs seemingly suspended in a continual backdrop. As always, the gentoos did not disappoint and we found leopard seals asleep on ice. Asleep while their food supply swam all around them. But then that's what it's like when you are almost top of the food chain.

On arrival at Port Lockroy and Jougla in the afternoon the wind picked up and horizontal snow made conditions quite challenging. Not good for kayaking at all. And stand-up paddleboarding? No chance.

diary_dec26_2

But Port Lockroy is a real gem in the Antarctic schedule. Nestled away, surrounded by spectacular glaciers, it has to be one of the most impressive locations for a former base, now a museum, managed by a few passionate Brits.

Weather conditions got worse but did not dampen the enthusiasm of our guests, who were treated to Weddell seals asleep near the whale bones on Jougla and the first shag chicks of the season. A bit of late Christmas shopping in the Port Lockroy museum was definitely in order. And, as if by request, the first gentoo chicks, only a few days old, popped their heads out to see what the world was doing. Just as we were leaving, the wind lessened and shadows appeared on the snow. Could this be sunshine? Not for long, it was just messing with us.

Our Port Lockroy hosts returned to Ocean Diamond and joined us for our Christmas celebration dinner and the greatly anticipated Crew Christmas Show which was as superb as ever.

diary_dec26_1

It is at times like this that we really have to recognise the commitment from every one of our crew, from the desert chefs who produced the 'Death by Chocolate' buffet last night to the members who spent hours rehearsing our entertainment tonight. Their generosity in giving so much extra is truly special.

 

27 Dec 2014

Our final day for excursions and landings. But what a day with the prospect of experiencing the Lemaire Channel, skiing at Hovgaard, landing on Petermann Island and finishing off with a cruise around the iceberg graveyard, Pleneau.

Lemaire channel

But all of this was dependent on one thing. Could we sail through the Lemaire? Yesterday at Port Lochroy and Jougla we paid our penance for the extraordinary weather on Christmas Eve. This morning, as we approached Lemaire the sky was clear and all looked perfect for the channel. The sun dipped in and out of the 900m peaks which seemed to get narrower as we progressed. Armed with cameras, our guests flooded every vantage point to enjoy one of the most spectacular channels in Antarctica.

Petermann Island has to be one of the most exciting climaxes to any adventure for many reasons. A beautiful island which hosts the loveable Adéle penguins whose chicks were hatching along with the shags, nesting side by side, with their own newly-born chicks. This is photographically one of the few places where cameras are not pointed downwards towards the colony, but rather horizontally to capture the dappled mountain range beyond – a backdrop of dreams. The sort of place, and day, which makes polarising filters dance. But there is one more reason to celebrate Petermann Island, and that is we are there only because we were able to sail the Lemaire.

Adelie penguins

Yes we made it to Petermann but we were greeted by a carpet of dense sea ice which looked almost impassable. But the words "can't" hardly ever features in the vocabulary of our Zodiac drivers, and with superb skill and purpose they got everyone ashore before collecting the cruising guests to explore what the bay had to offer.

The ice ensured nothing moved very quickly, but like scuba diving, the slower you go the more you see. After ploughing a path along the coast to see Adéle plunging in and out of icy waters, leopard seals were spotted resting on the flat ice and for the first time for many there was the delight of a leopard pup to see, which must have been born early October.

We then moved on to Pleneu, which never disappoints with its gigantic stranded icebergs, a mega-sized gallery of nature's own sculptures. But we were not alone as humpbacks and minkes made appearances in the open water between the labyrinth of ice bergs.

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With that we said farewell and started our journey north to the Drake via a return through Lemaire. We have two and a bit days where we can spend time on deck watching birds playing off our stern, and reflecting on the wonders which Antarctica has chosen to share with us.

 

28 Dec 2014 - Drake Passage

How many people can say they have experienced the Drake Lake on both southerly and northerly voyages?

Not many. This morning the sky was thick and, well, nothing much was happening out there. But it was calm.

Shortly after breakfast the sky began to open, a signal inviting familiar friends to call. Black brow, cape and giant petrels, and fulmar played off the stern for most of the day.

Our charity auction was so much fun and a fantastic success with bidding wars firing throughout the lounge.

The game Jeopardy was the order of the evening. Broadcast live from the club bar, it reached an audience from every corner the world. Our hosts Nick & Dave, with the help of the exotic Shelly and the ever-calculating Yuki keeping score managed to keep the excitable audience in control.

Sooty albatross over the Drake passage

With a beautiful sun setting at 7 o’clock we carry on in the club bar. But with light mantled sooty albatross circling, anyone looking north will see a very heavy and defined dark area ahead.

What our night has in store is yet to be discovered. Will we finally experience what can lie within the Drake?

 

29 Dec 2014

Last night as we sailed towards the ominous dark wall lying ahead there were a few who admitted they secretly wanted to experience the Drake Shake.

But they were disappointed. What we sailed into was night, darkness. Something we have not seen for several days. But sadly no shake.

Gliding our way through till morning we were busy returning kayak, climb/ski kits and boots, and enjoying historical talks from our resident historian Victoria and our celebrated team member Falcon Scott.

Apart from getting some packing done the afternoon was spent building up towards our final evening onboard. We reflected on where we have been and what we have seen in the recap followed by the voyage slide show – a wonderful visual reminder of what Antarctica has blessed us with over the last days.

Our Captain's cocktail party was a chance to show appreciation to everyone who has worked so hard to ensure our enjoyment, comfort and safety.

Southern Petrel over the drake passage

Since early afternoon we have been escorted by giant petrels. As we move towards the sight of land and are a few nautical miles from the pilot station, these wonderful navigators of the skies stay with us. Like guardian angels to see us safely to our final destination of Ushuaia.

We will finish this wonderful voyage and say farewell to our guests, all of whom have been touched by Antarctica. The Ocean Diamond creates a family and they will return to every corner of the world as ambassadors for this unique continent and we will welcome a new group.

For our next guests – whatever they have read or seen on TV, do they really know what they are about to experience?

Oh yes, let the adventure begin.

 

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