||64°42.4’ S / 062°34.1’ W
We are finally here; we are in Antarctica!
After two sailing days across the Drake Passage, Antarctica welcomes us in proper polar conditions in Orne Harbour – winds with strong gusts, snow showers and quite some swell.
Orne Harbour is a cove, approximately 2km long, on the west coast of Graham Land. The most prominent features being a black, steep, pinnacle “Negro Nunatak” and a glacier.
After breakfast, a zodiac cruise is planned and will give us an introduction to Expedition Cruising. We immediately understood a sense of adventure and willingness to push our comfort zone would be required for expedition cruising.
Getting in the zodiacs for the first time is challenging but we have been well briefed, and our guides are helpful and remind us all dos and don`ts. As we gently move on the windward side of the coast, we are bobbing on the surface of the seas on a high swell towards a chinstrap colony. We go past ice growlers (small icebergs) and we observe our first penguins at a safe distance from the breaking waves. Our drivers do a good job in keeping us dry from splash but, wet snow showers and the wind blowing some of our bow splash onto us, make it a rather wet ride. Once back in the shelter of the cove, we enjoy observing the front of a glacier, the brash ice and icebergs around us. We take time to switch engines off and take in the soundscape. As a final treat, some of us are blessed with the first humpback whale sightings from the zodiacs, bliss! We shall never forget the sound of a whale blow!
During lunch, we sail towards our next destination: Paradise Bay. And if paradise is made of ice and snow, then this amazing place we can see soon must be it.
Almirante Brown Station is in the Danco Coast, a beautiful bay formed by the Argentine Channels to the north and south of Bryde Island which shapes the skyline to the west. South of ‘Brown station’ is Skontorpe Cove, a sheltered area surrounded by huge glaciers and high mountains.
Today the plan is to split our group, half of us will go zodiac cruising and half will visit the station grounds and its surroundings, after a while, we will swap, and everyone has the chance to spend some time on land and on the water.
While zodiac cruising, we are treated to Weddel Seals on ice, a curious Minke whale that keeps on ‘spy hopping’ Tiphany’s zodiac as well as some humpback whales seen every here and there. More seals are seen in Skontorpe Cove and one of the greatest treats is witnessing from a safe distance two large calvings - one in Skontorpe Cove and the second, across the bay from the station. The blue-eyed shags are also very entertaining, flying to and from the colony with nesting material. Early summer is a busy time for Antarctic wildlife. On land we enjoy some magnificent views as well as our first Gentoo Penguin rookeries. These little cute fellas seem to have made themselves very comfortable around the base buildings and give us the first dose of penguin love for the trip. We will never get enough of penguins! At the station, we are able to walk up to the top of a hill overlooking Paradise Harbour and from there to a snowy shoulder overlooking a glacier and a few hauled out Wedell Seals on the last sea ice. The surprise this day comes when two of our guests get married and the spot… Long live the newlyweds!
As the weather is good in Paradise Bay and seems to hold, it is decided to stay here for the night. And this gives 40 brave campers the possibility to spend the night outside. They head out after dinner to dig their pits in the snow and make themselves comfortable under the Antarctic sky for the night - if we can call it that way. The campers work efficiently setting up their sleeping pits and everybody comes together to enjoy the beautiful calmness of Paradise Harbour at night. Some Weddel seals haul out at about 50m from the campers and by midnight, everyone is tucked in for the night. The guides keep an eye on the weather and ice condition. At 3h45, Paolo comes to wake us up and after covering up our snow pits and packing our gear we are picked up by zodiac and taken back to the ship for a 4h30 coffee with pastries. Life is good!