Finding the Falklands
Our days sailing towards the Falkland Islands were full of activities and wildlife sightings, including a romping group of Peale’s dolphins off the bow. Commerson’s dolphins were also on hand to welcome us to our first landing at Carcass Island, where we were treated to an easy start on a flat beach. Cobb’s wrens, endemic to the island, peeped at us around the tufts of shoreline tussock grass. The hospitality of the place, as well as the endless cakes and tea offered to us by the island’s owners, was only topped by the excellent hike at Saunders Island later that afternoon. There we were able to see four species of penguins within a few hundred meters: Magellanics, kings, gentoos, and rockhoppers. The black-browed albatross colony was the final highlight, followed by the exciting Zodiac ride back to the ship. Our leisurely day in Port Stanley the next morning felt positively civilized and a bit surreal. Could a plush penguin souvenir really capture what we had experienced over the last 24 hours?
Sailing South Georgia
Our crossing to South Georgia Island was relatively peaceful, as we caught a break between weather systems. The calm conditions allowed sightings of strap-toothed whales and, later, a majestic morning arrival at Salisbury Plain. Clear blue skies and calm seas were our gift that morning. What a welcome it was to experience such conditions in a land notorious for its changeable and challenging weather! We strolled about in the sun during our landings. The two hikes we made, one of Shackleton’s route and the second at Godthul Bay, were both a bit windy, but that just added to the atmosphere. And since we were on an early season trip, the elephant seal weaners did not disappoint, taking every opportunity to give us innocent, sweet-as-sugar gazes with their huge eyes. Courtship flights of light-mantled sooty albatrosses, wandering albatross chicks, and ever-active fur seals were just a few of the sights that kept blowing us away. South Georgia, can you slow down a bit so we can catch our breaths?!
Onward to Antarctica
Plancius must have had a rabbit’s foot somewhere on board, because our welcome to Antarctica could hardly have been more impressive. Elephant Island, in all her glory, was on display that morning: blue skies and a clear northern shoreline as far as the eye could see. Point Wild was still there to greet the latter-day explorer, its landscape telling an impossible story. From our speedy Zodiacs and comfortable ship, it was hard to truly appreciate what Shackleton and his men went through. Our freedom to explore in relative comfort and security revealed us to be fortunate indeed, especially as we watched the craggy slopes of Elephant Island disappear in the distance. As if that weren’t enough, there were whale spouts from every quarter as we sailed south. We had a few close encounters with fins and humpbacks feeding and circling around the ship, plus rafts of penguins to see us off. What more, we wondered, would we encounter further south?
Ice, ice, and more ice
Cruising the Antarctic Sound gave us the classic experience of gliding through sea ice, looking for penguins or seals on the ice floes. As we got deeper south along the peninsula area, every landing saw us surrounded by frozen crags, snow-covered slopes, and more features in this “monochromatic” landscape than we could have thought possible. The changeable weather certainly helped us see into the Antarctic personality: mist-enshrouded peaks lifting to reveal sparkling white slopes and glittering blue waters, flat seas turning choppy and slapping the sides of our Zodiacs, snow billowing around distant peaks and sprawling glaciers, the delicate sound of compressed air bubbles cracking and popping from glowing blue bergs. When you wake up here, you never know exactly what is going to happen throughout the day, but it’s almost sure to be something you didn’t expect.