Temp: 7°C at 15:00pm
Conditions: Overcast and drizzle
Winds: 40 -45 knts
After around 40 minutes the wind and swell dropped. A landing is cut short to 30 minutes, but possible. I stay on board as exploration is limited to the hut and gift shop, created by Rick one of our expedition team, who also renovated Port Lockroy.
Instead I took in the now familiar view of grey lined cliffs and ice walls. The small huts in such a vast landscape makes you realise how hard and bleak it would be to stay here in the winter. We are in late summer and it feels harsh! I assess my trousers, which need a new strategy, so I make holes in the legs and use tape to suspend them from my crotch. Repairs will perhaps do some good, but they are rags to be honest. After a 2 hour stop we set off again NE towards another point on the continent itself. The sea continues to be choppy and rough. The landing site we arrive in is covered in ice litter and icebergs that block any chance of a landing. So instead we continue on our present course, making our way now back to the South Shetland Islands to search for whales en route, as this area is a popular resting ground for different species. We had glimpsed a Minke whale in the Lemaire channel a fair way away. Their small dorsal fins and lack of breaching make them subtle and unphotogenic in the water unlike the humpback.
By this point it was snowing and the temperature felt like it was dropping. Then the wind dropped off to almost zero and the snow started to settle on the oceans surface. The white mountains of ice, surrounded by a white sky and increasingly white sea was an incredible sight. A reminder we are in the “white continent”.
Some of the snow clumps together in what looks like pancake ice, but reassured the frozen surface is snow and not the sea freezing. Soon an announcement is made that there is a sighting of 2 humpback whales off starboard side. Everyone rushes over to see the usual black strea and disturbance in the seas surface 30 – 40 meters away. The officer slows down and tries to get closer. With a shallow tail fluke they are gone, but reappear of the port side just 3 meters from the boat. They cruise lazily for their usual 5 – 7 breaths, blowing water before the mother and calf dive and tails emerge from the water in a tail fluke that signs a deep dive for between 6 and 7 minutes. Realising that photos with a 35mm camera is fairly bland I captured the only and decent video instead, which was a good move.
That night we were told that we would have a BBQ out on decks, but due to the steady, moderate falling of snow, breeze and low visibility we are given this inside instead. Ribs and salad- heaven on what has been a ship with top class food and doesn’t feel like exploration food! 5 courses are available each dinner time, including a meat course (filet steak, rack of lamb, chicken curry) or seafood dish (red snapper, tuna steak and 3 other fish I have never heard of). Quality feasting.
Next was the polar plunge! The point was north of Danco Island, just off the peninsula, looking directly at it. The surface snow by that time had gone, but the fact that it had frozen not so long ago meant the water was between 0 and -1.8C, when sea water starts to freeze. 45 people make the jump- a record number. The shock of jumping in is immense and instantly makes you pull a ‘pain face’ and literally takes your breath away. The vodka and adrenaline kicks in though. Afterwards is invigorating to beyond description and you want to do it again.