Weather: Overcast, windy, heavy snow in the morning, less in the afternoon.
A truly “Antarctic” day in the Weddell Sea and the vicinity of the Antarctica Peninsula!!!! As always, I like this area since it has all the ingredients of what visitors expect to see in Antarctica.
I woke up very early, just after 0430, to be ready and meet the rest of the Expedition Team at our 5 o’clock stand-by. This morning I had to drive one of the Zodiacs. We all woke up to find a cold and overcast day, but still the scenery was fantastic, lots of ice floes, icebergs, and remnants of sea ice dotted the surface of the sea around Paulet Island. We began our operation at about 0500, and took the first half or our guests on shore.
Paulet Island is a volcano, and it is visited because it offers the opportunity to combine history, scenery and wildlife. The island was home to Larsen and 17 of his men during the 1901/03 Nordenskjold expedition. The group of men was stranded here and had to overwinter in a very precarious hut they built by piling up rocks. The ruins of the hut are still there today, and can be seen amongst the ever-busy Adelie penguins.
Once the guests approached the hut, our onboard historian Peter, gave details of the old days, the adventures and sacrifice the early explorers had to endure.
While I shuttled between the Prince Albert II and the landing site, I could see our guests wandering around the rocky island, exploring the area, looking at the numerous Adelies that nest here, and having a complete Antarctic experience.
As the morning went on the wind pickup up a bit, and ice started to drift towards the landing site and the coast of the Island. At the same time, the Captain had to move further away, visibility dropped considerably and each tender with the Zodiacs was a bit of an adventure. At one point we had to be guided back since the ship was completely out of view. They could spot us on their radar and direct us easily back by radio. I also took out my GPS to record the anchor position of the Prince Albert II, should I need it later if visibility kept decreasing.
When I was attempting to bring some of the second half of the guests on shore, the weather kept deteriorating, and more ice had been pushed towards the landing site. So Expedition Leader Robin decided to abort the landing and I returned the guests on board my Zodiac back to the vessel, without landing, and getting back was no easy task, as I had to negotiate narrow passages between ice floes.
Everyone understood safety comes first and it was the best decision. We still had to pick up the guests on shore, so myself and another Zodiac driver, found a way to reach the landing site by staying further away the shore. That way we could pick everyone up, guests and staff, and soon we were all back on board.
By mid morning the “all aboard” was given and soon we navigated through Fridjof Sound. I went to the fore deck, and found many guests and fellow naturalists, admiring the wonderful views and wildlife. I was particularly surprised by the numbers of crabeater seals we saw. In less than half an hour, I saw more than in many other voyages put together. They were resting on ice floes, and I could easily count them in the hundreds. I also spotted a couple leopard seals, and pointed them out to the guests.
I later attended Will Wagstaff’s lecture on Tubenose Seabirds. He gave a thorough explanation of the various species of Petrels, Albatrosses, Prions, Shearwaters and Storm Petrels that can be seen during our voyage. It was an excellent aid to identification, with beautiful slides, and everyone enjoyed it and learned a lot.
I relaxed awhile during lunchtime at The Restaurant and shared the morning’s events with guests. Soon after lunch, the Expedition Team was ready once again for another landing.
The Captain dropped anchored at Brown Bluff, a favorite site for many, since it is a landing on the Antarctic Peninsula, so more than a few travelers usually add another continent to their list.
My job was to drive the Zodiacs again, but this time the tender was short, and the landing very straightforward with no difficulties.
I like Brown Bluff for various reasons; it offers the possibility to hike on a glacier, it has spectacular scenery and large numbers of penguins, and also it is a place to see one my favorite birds in Antarctica: the snow petrel. Indeed I had seen a few from deck before we arrived, and during the Zodiac operation I spotted some flying not far up over my head. Cape Petrels are also particularly abundant here, and each time I got to the landing beach, a big flock was right there surface-feeding in the crystalline waters.
After getting everyone on shore, I jumped out of the Zodiac and joined another staff member at the top on the glacier walk. I was surprised to see almost every guest up there, albeit the cold windy weather.
Stefan briefed out guests about the interesting geological details of the area. And we slowly made our way down. Soon I was back in the Zodiac driving cold but happy guests back to the comfort of our fine Prince Albert II. Talking to some of them, they were astonished by the size of the Adelie rookeries, both at Paulet and the last they had seen at Brown Bluff. I gave them the information that an estimated 100,000 Adelies nest on Paulet and 20,000 on Brown Bluff. While I was talking I couldn’t help mentioning my concern about those numbers. We talked about this. Will they still be true in the coming years? How will the recent changes in climate affect the populations of these birds? There are studies indicating a significant decrease in their numbers.
As usual, before dinner we had the next day’s Briefing & Recap. My colleagues and I provided interesting information and answered a good number of questions. Dinner was served and the feeling was that everyone on board was about to end a fantastic day of Antarctica travel.