When we told friends and family that we were going on an Antarctica vacation for Christmas and the New Year there were a couple of instant, if a little strange, comments. "Don't get eaten by a Polar Bear" (some education needed here) and "Aren't you worried about the icebergs" (aka the Titanic effect)?
Well, no, we weren't worried about icebergs. We had had experience before in both Alaska and the Arctic so, just the opposite, we were looking forward it. With modern day radar and a highly trained crew (and the fact that no one can remember the last time an expedition ship hit an iceberg) what was there to worry about?
Our trip on the Ortelius was going to take us to the Falklands (where Peter had been in the early '80s) and South Georgia then on to the Antarctic Peninsula so we were guaranteed good sightings of not just icebergs but penguins, birds and whales along with beautiful scenery.
We encountered our first berg as we headed towards South Georgia through the Scotia Sea. It was spotted as we headed up for coffee after our South Georgia briefing and was quite unexpected, causing a bit of a flurry with travellers heading out onto the deck. With binoculars we could even spot penguins on a low section. (Thanks to Sandra for the photo she caught of me engrossed in the view!)
As the day wore on we spotted and photographed quite a few icebergs in different sizes but as we approached Shag Rocks we were able to capture both the pinnacles and a huge tabular berg together. I don't think any of us expected to see bergs of this size this early in the journey.
A56 – The Mega Berg
As we visited South Georgia we spotted many bergs both big and small but nothing could have prepared us for what we saw on Boxing Day (that's the day after Christmas for those who don't understand English bank holidays). We had left the land behind us and headed towards the South Orkneys when, during the mid-morning watch, a large iceberg was spotted on the radar.
The bridge crew were quite excited so it was obvious this was something special. As it came into view, the enormity of the berg was difficult to comprehend. The radar plot suggested that this iceberg was in excess of 15 nautical miles across; as we drew closer it filled our field of vision. Photos just can't do it justice – to get the whole iceberg in the picture we had to capture it from quite a distance.
As we made our way towards it there was time to dash down for a quick lunch before returning to the bridge to watch it pass by on our port side. For nearly two hours we cruised beside what we now know was iceberg A56, a tabular berg so big it is being tracked from space! As we looked on it was difficult to judge its size.
Those gathered on the port side of the bridge started to formulate plans to measure its height. Before we knew it there was talk of angles and right angles, distance to the berg, height of the bridge and, with some mathematics, it was approximated at almost 30 metres tall, equal to a 10 storey building.
When we reached the Antarctic Peninsula we took a zodiac cruise with Delphine Aurès, our Expedition Leader around Half Moon Bay. Nosing up to a 'bergy-bit' or 'growler' in a zodiac to listen to it crackle and pop in the sunshine was certainly a highlight of the trip. We marvelled at the colours and the angles of the icicles formed as it melts and re-freezes; what could be better?
Throughout our trip we saw many icebergs; small, large, flat, tall, some the shape of houses or sea shells but all beautiful. Can anyone say they have seen an ugly iceberg?
For more of Elisabeth’s photos of icebergs click here.