||64°50.3’ S / 062°51.7’ W
||Overcast to sunny
After three days at sea in the Southern Oceans and experiencing some of the most exciting conditions the Drake Passage has to offer modern day sailors, we were all relieved to finally arrive at our destination, Paradise Bay on the Antarctic Continent! Our intended landing destination was near the Argentinian Base “Almirante Brown”, but Mother Nature and the fickle weather and ice conditions of this remote location were not done with us yet; as ice blocked our approach path to the intended landing site and wind conditions were too rough for kayaking. This meant Delphine had to quickly change plans and choose an alternate landing site and mountaineering location. After a hurried breakfast we set off with the mountaineers to find a place on the continent where we could physically land Massimo, Ignacio and their intrepid group of mountaineers! After scanning Paradise Bay a piece of shoreline was located that was free of ice with a beautiful snowfield above it, leading to a snow summit roughly 400 meters above the tideline. The mountaineers and their guides were delivered to the base of this most probably never before climbed summit, and the rest of the staff proceeded to our alternative landing site for the remainder of the group, “Waterboat Point”, where the unoccupied Chilean base “Gabrielle Gonzalez Videla” is located.
After a quick scout to find a suitable and safe landing site and flag off areas of high wildlife concentrations, staff proceeded to land almost half the group for a morning of observing and photographing the antics of the roughly 8,000 gentoo penguins that were eagerly awaiting the melting of snow on the rocky outcrops surrounding the base. The gentoos could not start their summer nesting and egg laying until the snow melted off the rocks exposing dry ground, on which they could build their pebble nests. Some penguins were courting and mating while others were already attempting to build piles of stones on the snow surface! A “leucistic” penguin (lacking black pigmentation in its feathers), was discovered soon after landing and it provided a fantastic photo subject next to its black and white neighbors! Meanwhile, zodiac cruisers, including Shelli’s kayakers, were treated to a morning of touring the bay and photographing magnificent icebergs against the backdrop of the spectacular scenery. Soon the happy call from Massimo came over the radio that his group had safely summited their goal and were returning to the shoreline for a pick up and lunch.
The rest of the groups (landers and zodiac cruisers) returned to the ship for a welcome hot lunch, and after a mid-day break a new group of mountaineers set off to follow in the footsteps of their fellow mountaineers from the morning adventure. Wind conditions had decreased to the point where kayaking was possible and Shelli set off with her anxious group “B” of kayakers for a paddle across the iceberg studded waters of Paradise Bay! After delivering mountaineers to the base of their climb, zodiacs began transporting passengers to the landing site, where zodiac cruisers from the morning traded out with people who had landed in the morning. Those who had cruised in the morning were treated to an afternoon of penguin antics, while the people who had been on shore in the morning had an afternoon of cruising amongst icebergs and getting close-up views of both Weddell and crabeater seals. When cruising was over a total of at 12 crabeater seals and at least 2 Weddell seals were observed, including one curious Weddell near the landing site that approached the zodiacs! The call that mountaineers were nearing the end of their descent came as the last of the zodiac cruisers and landers were returning to the ship at 6:30pm and zodiacs were dispatched to retrieve the successful mountaineers!
A hot dinner was enjoyed by all after everyone was on board, but the day was not yet over!
A group of 31 campers with their guides Arjen and Bismarck were quickly assembled after dinner and camping gear was handed out to all. Christophe, Beau and Hugh were the taxi drivers taking the expectant group of campers for their night on the frozen continent! A very pleasant slalom run by zodiac for 2 miles between the myriad shaped icebergs delivered the campers and guides to a small island located in the very protected “Leith Cove”, named for a Norwegian whaling family that operated a shore based factory whaling ship from this cove at the turn of the last century! A light freezing drizzle and snow fell as the last of the campers were left on the island and by 9:30pm the last of the zodiacs returned from their mission to drop off campers. The day finished with excited recounting of stories by all, of their first day on the world’s southern-most continent!