||60°45.8’ S / 044°41.2’ W
||from SW, Force 7
Ortelius arrived at the South Orkneys before breakfast, in wind, fog and ice. It was truly Antarctic in every way - our wildlife has included the very Antarctic species like the Snow petrels and Antarctic fur seals, now we also have big, flat tabular icebergs all around. We crossed 60¬¬oS while we slept, and so are now in Antarctica by geopolitical measures, as well.
The scene was stark and beautiful, a monotone of grey and white - battleship grey water, pale grey sky, white ice with touches of blue. As we approached, the boxy orange buildings of Orcadas Station could be seen in the saddle of Laurie Island, which was all dark rock and white snow, rising abruptly from the wind-blown sea.
Orcadas station is the longest continually occupied base in Antarctica, with people in permanent occupation since 22 February 1904. Currently, there are 16 Argentine men, largely from the Argentine Navy doing the general station management, but some meteorological and technical researchers also present. After a long, quiet winter, they were looking forward to offering us coffee and a tour, but it was not to be. Captain Ernesto spent several hours on the bridge, trying to find a safe position for the ship and zodiacs, but the weather defeated us. Wind was blowing straight through Scotia Bay, and both gangway and beach were far too dangerous.
We rugged up and went out to take photos of this isolated little dot in the Southern Ocean and the amazing ice around us. While it was cold and windy, this is what we came for! The coffee machine in the bar got a good workout, as we cycled through going out to take in the views, returning to the bar to delete wind-blown fuzzy photos and warm up, then returning outside to repeat the process.
By mid-morning, Seba and the Captain had seen the conditions were not going to improve for us, so we turned the ship and set sail for the Antarctic Peninsula. At 1100 we had two minutes silence to mark the fallen of WW1. At 1115, Arjen began a great talk on whales, showing us some of his amazing photos and using them to illustrate how whales go about their daily lives. The talk was interrupted by Seba, announcing an incredible tabular iceberg on our port side. We scrambled out of the lecture room for our coats and cameras, and all headed out on deck to admire the different sides of the giant berg as we sailed by. Once the berg was behind us, Arjen restarted his talk, finishing just in time for lunch, which was lasagna, always a favourite.
After lunch, a few of us snuck in a little nap before Kurtis gave us a talk on the geological history and rock types of our voyage. It was both very interesting and quite fun, if a bit complex for those of us who have not done this type of study for many years. Coming out of the talk, some of us put our heads out into the windy weather, but most of us gathered in the bar, inspecting the auction goods about to be sold.
It was a very entertaining afternoon, with an auction of items from South Georgia, to aid the protection of the island. Adam was a very polished auctioneer, letting us know how special each piece was and encouraging good donations to such an incredible cause. We raised US$705, which will go back to the island to help with the rat eradication and other conservation projects.
At the evening recap, Seba updated our plans, explaining what the windy conditions meant, then Kurtis gave us some info on ice, so we had a better feel for what we were seeing all around us. Dinner was the usual noisy, convivial affair, and most of us retired quite early, with the sound of strong winds still whistling around the ship.