Air Temperature: 0,9 ° C
Sea Temperature: 1-2 ° C
Pressure: 984 hpa
Wind: 11,7 kmh
Will you make it to Paradise if you are hardworking? You certainly get there if you get up early…
Our plan had been to arrive in Paradise Bay in front of the former Argentine station Almirante Brown around 05:30 a.m. and Captain Peter Stahlberg would have maneuvered the Prince Albert II to get us there in time had it not been for a change in program: another slot was available for the station at a later time and Robin West, our Expedition Leader, had decided to take advantage of that opportunity. This permitted us to consider a leisurely morning in the Gerlache Strait looking for Orcas (commonly known as “Killer Whales”) and other whales.
Well, although some guests were up at 07:00 a.m., it came somewhat as a surprise for many to see a pod of orcas not too far from the ship. Robin made an announcement via the P.A. system and most everyone came up onto the outer decks to have a better view of these magnificent marine mammals.
While the orcas were on the ship’s starboard side, everyone went to starboard. When they shifted to portside, everyone shifted to portside. Good views were had and while Captain Stahlberg kept the Prince Albert II on track, following the animals, more pods came into view. Soon it was difficult to decide which group was more interesting, as three pods of orcas were seen.
After a while Robin suggested to have breakfast, and to continue whale watching at a later stage. During breakfast the good sightings were commented on, and the pictures taken already sorted. This turned out to be a good decision, as not only orcas were seen after breakfast, but also humpback whales.
At first, their blows were seen in the distance, but soon “Mad Dog”, our whale-spotter, noticed a whale resting at the surface of the water. Captain Stahlberg brought the Prince Albert II closer and closer, and eventually we were so close it seemed we could almost touch the humpback whale though we, of course, maintained the necessary distance according to IAATO regulations. Despite the fact that with every guest coming onto the Observation Deck, the whale seemed undisturbed and did not move. Every 25 seconds or so the blow could be seen (and photographed).
Eventually the whale woke up and decided after a few minutes to take a dive. The fluke was nicely displayed before it (he/she) went down for a deep dive. Orcas were still seen in the distance, but we had had so many opportunities to take pictures of them that it was decided to head over to Paradise Bay and have a look whether the site could be visited by now.
During lunch we passed the Chilean station Presidente Gonzalez Videla, and just a few minutes later were close to Base Brown (or Almirante Brown, as known formerly). We could see people on shore, preparing a trail from the huts towards the base of the lookout-point above the station. As it turned out, the base was in use again – officially for the third time in four years, although none of us had seen any Argentine personnel during former visits.
Seven men were cleaning the base and taking counts of the different birds nesting in the vicinity. Their base commander, a civilian, had a degree in politics. Among the members of their team they had four belonging to the Argentine Coast Guard and one was a member of the armed forces in charge of logistics – as at every Argentine base.
Groups Four and One came ashore first, while groups Two and Three first did a Zodiac cruise around Paradise Bay. Those that went ashore had a brief look at the different huts from the outside and then walked towards a lookout-point one-third of the way up to the top of the hill behind Base Brown. A nice view of a good part of the bay was had from there, but those who wanted a 360° degree view had to climb to the top of the small hill. It took a good 10 to 15 minutes to get to the top – and there was hardly enough space for every mountaineer wanting to admire the view.
While “Mad Dog” kept watch at the top I positioned myself two-thirds up. This way I could indicate whether the slide down the side of the hill was free of traffic or not. Most climbers decided to go down the faster way (sliding on their backs) instead of walking down again by taking the same trail they had used to come up.
When it was time for the groups to switch, a nice traffic jam was encountered at the small jetty, but soon places had been swapped, and groups Two and Three could then climb the hill. More sliding was practiced, and members of the crew were given a chance to come ashore as well. At 05:00 p.m. the last Zodiac had left, and the Prince Albert II could resume the track towards Deception Island, tomorrow’s destination.
Captain Stahlberg chose a different channel for the exit towards the Gerlache Strait, and more spectacular snow-covered mountains invited us to take even more pictures. Perfect weather, a beautiful surrounding, what else could one ask for?
To discuss what we had seen and were going to see tomorrow, our recap began at 6:30 p.m. and concluded with Kristine showing a preview of the voyage DVD and photo CD.
Another delicious dinner gave ample opportunity to talk about the things seen and done, but as we were going to enter Deception Island around 06:45 a.m. tomorrow, not too many drinks were had at the Panorama Lounge. We would have time for that during the Drake Passage on our way home – although Robin had warned us that we would probably be better off with sea-sickness pills (if prone to motion-sickness).
In any case, tomorrow would be a good place for a “Polar Plunge”, and debates went on as to how many guests would be willing to endure the cold water and wind at Pendulum Cove…