Weather: Out in the Drake Passage the winds were strong and the swell quite high, but as we approached the South Shetland Islands the winds and particularly the seas moderated. Alternately overcast and sunny for our Zodiac cruise in the late afternoon; and the crossing of the Bransfield Strait was pleasant, with light swells.
Last night was quite bumpy and the winds were as much as 80 knots and accompanied by heavy swells. Fortunately the weather moderated during the morning and so everyone was able to go through the mandated Antarctic biosecurity check of our clothing and equipment, and thus ensure no transport of alien flora to the continent. Meantime, while the biosecurity check was in progress, Claudia gave her presentation “Ice, Wind and Waves: An Introduction to Antarctica and Its Climate”, but gave it twice so that those going through the biosecurity check did not miss the opportunity to learn about the environments we are about to visit. And those out on the aft deck were rewarded with huge flocks of Cape Petrels along with a few Giant Petrels, the odd Antarctic Petrel, and a few Wilson’s Petrels dancing over the wash behind the Prince Albert II.
Despite the bumpy night, we had made such good speed across the Drake Passage, that by early afternoon the South Shetland Islands were in sight, forming a skyline of scattered rocky peaks and headlands separated by snowfields. As we came through English Strait between Greenwich and Robert Islands, greeted by some porpoising penguins, it looked promising for an afternoon landing at Aitcho Islands. Unfortunately, when the anchorage was reached it became apparent that the winds were creating too much swell, thus making the ship-side boarding of the Zodiacs somewhat hazardous let alone the shore landing.
So we sailed on to Discovery Bay on the northeast side of Greenwich Island, the site of the Chilean station Arturo Pratt, where we anchored and took a Zodiac ride. Even in the bay, the waters were still a little choppy but we were able to approach land, see four lonely chinstrap penguins, the occasional Antarctic tern and Giant petrel, and observe the 40-50m-high ice cliffs. The cliffs looked in many places as if collapse would happen at any moment, but there was only one minor calving event. Much of the snow looked fresh, but clearly there had been high winds that blew dust onto the ice, leaving large brown smudges. In contrast, the ice front in other places showed the subtle but brilliant blue colors that come about by the elimination of air bubbles.
We returned quite late, but with time enough to have a short briefing for our proposed landing sites tomorrow at Brown Bluff and Paulet Island, and for Claudia to give a short presentation on dynamic gliding, the way the albatrosses ride the waves for days on end as they circle the Southern Ocean. Today has been a grand introduction to Antarctica.
There wasn’t much time left in the late afternoon and early evening before I ‘freshened up’ to attend Captain Stahlberg’s Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party. With a British Antarctic Survey pin adorning my dress jacket I had a chance to again chat with both our new guests as well as members of Silversea’s Venetian Society of returning Silversea guests as we watched the Southern Ocean wash by, now that over half of our passage to the Antarctic Peninsula is complete.