Day 12 |
Nov 12, 2010

en route to King George Island

By Peter W. Damisch (Historian, General Naturalist & Cartographer)

Coordinates: 61° 50' S, 057° 01’ W
Weather: Overcast with occasional snow flurries. Early fog cleared through the day.
Air Temperature: +1° C (34° F)
Pressure: 963 Hpa
Wind: 25 Km / hour

Today was an excellent example of the great opportunities afforded by expedition cruising. Our ship’s Captain and Expedition Leader can adjust as they see fit to achieve the best possible results in our remotely beautiful but challenging environment. In this wonderful area of the planet, the weather and ocean often have a large affect on our daily plans.

I was up quite early in the day as the Prince Albert II passed quite close to Elephant Island, the rugged site where Shackleton’s men were trapped for many months in 1916. Unfortunately, dense fog and high seas prevented us from coming within eyesight of this uninhabited and heavily glaciated island whose name rings down through history as a location that is still truly beyond civilization.

Our original plan was to proceed past Elephant Island en route the Antarctic Sound at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula with our entire time at sea. However, when reviewing the speedy progress of our vessel, the Expedition Leader spotted a chance to add another landing to our voyage of exploration. A quick series of meetings identified three landing site possibilities whose position, navigational access and projected weather conditions were quickly evaluated to establish a priority site and back up location. Thus our day was beneficially shuffled to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity.

As we proceeded to our newly planned landings, the Expedition Team organized a series of educational presentations from their individual areas of expertise. Shoshanha Jacobs was first up to present a superb overview regarding “Antarctic Ice Rocks” that covered the wide variety of ice formations, which provide the foundation of the Antarctic Continent. I particularly enjoyed her drawings that clearly illuminated the methodologies that drive the movement of ice caps, glaciers, icebergs and sea ice.

Soon after we were pleasantly surprised by our first major snowfall of the voyage. It was truly beautiful to see large, white flakes floating gently down upon the ship as we sailed across the ocean to our first encounter in the South Shetland Islands and our first landfall within the areas covered by the Antarctic Treaty.

Victoria Salem’s excellent presentation was flexibly moved up from afternoon to morning to open up a larger block of time for our first landing. Victoria held us all in suspense with a wonderful historical tale that is not often told – “Shackleton’s Forgotten Men”. This involved the almost unknown and unsung group of men who toiled in obscurity in the area of the Ross Sea to establish supply depots for Shackleton’s intended, but not accomplished, crossing of the Antarctic Continent.

Now we arrived at Turret Point, King George Island, South Shetland Islands. As I ferried our guests towards this rocky shore, I could see Adelie and chinstrap penguins walking along the beach in amongst a few elephant seals that were sleeping away the afternoon. Overhead, a series of Antarctic Terns and Giant Petrels soared through the chilly Antarctic skies.

Unfortunately the weather did not fully cooperate as the wave action continued to build on the landing beach. As safety is always our primary concern, the decision was made to convert the possible landing for the second group into a Zodiac cruise. We were able to travel towards a series of glaciers that were tumbling down to the sea along the rugged coast of King George Island. We were quite fortunate to observe two large calvings of ice into the ocean with ice, water and spray shot many tens of meters into the air. The resultant exposed blue ice on the glacier along with ice in the water was stunningly beautiful.

All in all it was a day of changes, variable weather and opportunities identified and taken to allow us an additional half day of activities in the Antarctic, a place of beauty, joy and wonder.