||65°02.8’S / 063°53.3’W
Eduardo woke us up to one of his mysterious musics and announced that we would be entering the famous and idyllic Lemaire Channel at 7am. We all rushed to the outer decks to witness this incredible monument of nature. Snow-capped hills and mountains on both sides, flanked by gigantic glaciers. We were very lucky that it was actually completely ice free and that we could navigate it up to our first destination, Peterman Island.
Only to find that all the ice was concentrated in front of Peterman Island where we had planned to carry out our landing. During the crossing, our expedition staff and doctors had been carrying out Covid tests on the entire crew, staff and passengers.
Eduardo, Pippa and the captain then decided to move to a zodiac cruise through the ice, while Plancius repositioned itself to Port Charcot, our second destination for the day. Our zodiac cruise was difficult at first because the ice was quite dense, but while finding our way through the sea ice, we noticed that underneath the ice there was an incredible abundance of krill right at the surface. These tiny crustaceans were swimming in huge numbers, busy doing what they do. No one on the expedition staff had ever seen anything like it, and it was incredible to be able to observe these tiny creatures which really are the stars of Antarctica. They represent the largest biomass of animals on this planet, and are the base of the entire ecosystem in Antarctica. Everything here in and around the white continent either feeds on krill, or on an animal that feeds on krill. Small by the size, huge by the importance.
We then visited some gentoo penguin colonies, which harboured a couple of Adelie penguins as well. It was delightful to observe these gracious animals in the water as they cleaned themselves, porpoised through the water, and occasionally jumped on top of some ice floes. You never get tired of observing these magnificent birds. We then found a crab eater seal and everybody had the opportunity to take a good picture of this amazing marine mammal. We then had a long zodiac cruise to the ship, meandering around endless numbers huge icebergs. Our mountaineers had a short hike on land during which they found an immature emperor penguin, what an incredible discovery!!! Zet took our kayakers on an Odyssey through the ice.
Back on the ship we had a quick but delicious lunch, and then we got ready for our second activity, a landing on Port Charcot. This is one of the most beautiful sheltered places on the peninsula, and the water was flat calm, even though there was some snowfall. Our kayakers found a leopard seal resting on an ice floe, and we were able to take our guests to see it after the landing.
But the day was not over yet… it was then time after dinner for our first group of campers to follow Koen and Pelin, our camping guides, on land for their first night on the ice. Our zodiac drivers abandoned them on a tiny island and we will be picking them up tomorrow morning at five. What an incredible experience lies ahead of them!
Mountaineering Pleneau Island
0930 departure from Plancius
2 Guides 12 Clients
Weather overcast and cloudy with some snow showers.
After a stunning journey through the Lemaire channel we arrived to find large amounts of sea ice making it impossible to land at Petermann Island. We tried to break through the ice in Zodiaks to Hovegaard Island, this also proved impossible but our amazing Zodiac drivers managed to find a way to Pleneau Island. We landed on rocks and had a short steep snow climb where we stashed all the safety equipment. Once again we encountered very soft wet snow so we used snowshoes to make our way up to the flat summit. From here we began traversing towards a penguin rookery on the far side of the island, to our right we observed a very large penguin making its way to the same rookery. Once there we realised that this was a juvenile Emperor penguin visiting the Gentoos. This was a rare sighting of an Emperor penguin this far north, there are usually only a handful of such sightings each season.
After plenty of photos we traversed back via more penguin groups and back to our landing area.
The ice had become considerably thicker and it was only due to the incredible driving skills of Pippa and Steffi that we were picked up. The journey back was great watching them manoeuvre the Zodiacs through leads in the ice, occasionally pushing large blocks out of the way. A late arrival back at Plancius was well worth it for all the excitement of the day.
Mountaineering Port Charcot
1530 departure from Plancius.
2 Guides 8 Clients
Weather overcast and cloudy with snow showers. The shore team went ahead and from the landing point cut a steep track in snow with large steps and a fixed rope as a handrail to help us up from the rocky beach onto the island.
Once ashore again snowshoes were needed to make any progress in the deep wet snow. We left the marked trails put in for the rest of the ships guests and climbed up onto a broad ridge descending a short way on the other side where we had great views out to sea and the enormous icebergs in the bay. We then ascended to a cairn and memorial to some members of the British Antarctic Survey who had died in this place some years before. The cloud became thicker and with the views disappearing we descended to the rest of the shore party and spent the remaining time observing the Gentoo and Adele penguins. Some were lucky enough to see a large Leopard Seal on the journey back to the ship.
Camping Port Charcot
Here we go! After a cancelled night we finally could go camping. The camping guide had found a beautiful island just next to Port Charcot, Booth Island and further then all three species of Pygoscelis penguins (Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adelie) we were going to be utterly alone. We left the ship around 20:30 and had everybody on the island by 21:00. The landing was some big rocks on the northern edge of the island and luckily they were not so slippery. The guides had done an assessment seeing if we needed snow shoes or not and they had decided not to. However, the idea was that everybody had to stay on the trails to avoid making too many deep footsteps on the island. Everybody started building their holes shortly after arriving on the island. Holes of all sorts and sizes were build. Some even with some nice decoration on the side of their walls. At the time that people started to finish their holes we had a visitor that came to take a look what we were doing, a curious Gentoo penguin that came to find a nice hole to rest in.
Meanwhile people were busy making their hole the guides had built the bathroom wall and had made a trail that went to the top of the island to be able to walk a little loop before going to bed.
During the night some had the chance to see some Minke whales in the channel in front of our island. We also had Giant petrels flying close by our holes together with a group of Antarctic terns sitting at the coast next to the group of penguins. Enough entertainment and action for our trip or so we thought…
The next morning started a little bit later than planned for. The guides had spoken with the ship to make sure that they were able to pick us up due to the amount of drift ice in front of us and around the ship. The ship had repositioned and the El and AEL and made the choice to drop 5 zodiacs to be able to pick us all up in one go. This however seemed to be quite the undertaking to be able to reach us at our landing site. Meanwhile the Zodiacs were on their way we had started packing up and filling in all the holes. By the time we were ready to be picked up we could see the zodiacs although it didn't seem like they were able to find a way through the ice yet. While waiting, we had the change to spot several Minky whales, a Weddell Seal and a Leopard seal that got extremely curious swimming all the way up to the rocks we were standing on. Because people were starting to get a bit cold the guides had given the option to walk around on the circuit that we had sat out the day before. Not long after the Zodiacs had made their way through the ice and were able to pick us up. Although the adventure and expedition had not yet ended. The same as getting to the top of a mountain, we were only half way. While loading up the zodiacs we had 2 Crab eater seals laying on a piece of ice just in front of the landing site together with the return of the leopard seal that made another appearance looking what we were still doing there.
Our way back was luckily less adventurous then that we thought. We had another two zodiacs launched from the ship who had found a relatively easy and open way to get back to the ship. This had made the way back much faster which was a good thing because everybody was starting to get quite cold. During our way back the sun started to rise and made for some nice warm thoughts and feelings whilst getting closer to the ship. By the time we had arrived at the ship it was already 7:20 in the morning. We had woken up at 4:30 that morning which meant this whole operation had taken us almost up to 3 hours in total. If this doesn't show us that we are an expedition ship were everything can change primarily due to the weather, I don’t what will. My complements to the camping group that kept themselves calm during the whole time and to the zodiac drivers that made it all happen even though the ice was telling them otherwise. Great job everybody!!