Day 3 |
Jan 17, 2011

Drake Passage and Barrientos Island

By Uli Kunz - Oceanographer

 Coordinates: 62˚25’ S, 59˚42’ W
Weather: Overcast in the morning, blue sky in the afternoon
Air Temperature: 0.6 °C, 33.1 °F
Sea Temperature: 2 °C, 35.6 °F
Pressure: 1000 hPa
Wind: 66 km/h

The new week couldn't have a better start! The Prince Albert II is on its way to the Antarctic Peninsula and we are going to see land in the afternoon! But before any landing on the White Continent, the guests have to know certain rules and guidelines to follow in order to preserve the pristine wildlife!

So this Monday morning was quite busy with the IAATO and Zodiac Briefing presented by Expedition Leader Robin West. The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) developed guidelines to minimize potential environmental impacts to wildlife. This guidance ensures that all visitors know how to behave in a way that keeps this beautiful and yet unspoiled continent a zone of peace and science.

During the Zodiac Briefing, the guests learned how to disembark safely from the ship and how to enter the Zodiacs to go ashore. The weather conditions in Antarctica can change quite dramatically within a few minutes from a calm, sunny day to 40 knots of wind, so everyone must be prepared for cold and windy conditions!

As that was finished, it was time for the vacuum cleaning party!! ... also called Biosecurity Check, this is a procedure we have to complete for every guest! The guests were kindly asked to bring all clothing and gear to the mudroom for inspection. The most important part of the gear to be checked was the Velcro, as they can have invasive species, e.g. seeds, attached to it.

Right after lunch, Expedition Leader Robin West announced a big surprise. Due to relatively benign conditions in the Drake Passage, Captain Alexander Golubev and his team made good speed and we arrived at the Peninsula earlier than scheduled. That allowed us a bonus landing at Barrientos Island!

Hip, hip, hooray! We had arrived in Antarctica! It was quite easy to see. Looking out the windows we could see rocky islands with large glaciers as well as penguins porpoising in front of the ship. But in fact we had already crossed the “Antarctic Border” yesterday. There is no immigration office on our way from Ushuaia to the Peninsula, but there is a natural border called the Antarctic Convergence! It is the place where the warmer waters from the north meet the cold waters from the south. This mixing and upwelling creates a zone of high productivity and explains the abundance of seabirds and whales in that region. Within a distance of 30-60 kilometres, the seawater temperature dropped from 8° Celsius (46.4° Fahrenheit) to 3° Celsius (37.4° Fahrenheit), indicating our arrival in the Southern Ocean!

The Zodiacs were lowered in the afternoon and the scout boat went ashore. I was driving a Zodiac, but waited at the sidegate for the first guests to go ashore. The wind picked up to 35 knots and the sea was quite choppy. But the wind was onshore, making the ride to the landing site quite comfortable for the first guests. They enjoyed every minute on land, having “survived” the Drake Passage and being very excited about what to see in this beautiful environment. On Barrientos Island there are about 4,000 breeding pairs of Chinstrap Penguins and about 1,300 pairs of Gentoo Penguins, making the place a wonderful location to begin the voyage with!

The evening sun was shining and cast a warm light on the cliffs and rocky beaches and the glaciers in the distance.

The way back to the ship, however, was quite rough. The swell was high and the spray of the waves made the return a wet experience for all of us. Nevertheless, the guests in my boat enjoyed the adventurous ride! After all, we are on an expedition cruise ship and this is not the Caribbean!