Weather: Still and fine; scattered clouds cleared as the day progressed
Air Temperature: 8 °C, 46 °F (13:00 hrs)
Sea Temperature: 1 °C, 34 °F
Pressure: 999 hPa
Bright and early this morning the Prince Albert II entered the Lemaire Channel from its southern end. Armed with breakfast pastry and a camera, I made my way out onto Deck 6, to the forward viewing area to take in this spectacular passage. Guests were emerging from their suites in a constant stream to take in what is often called “The Kodak Channel” owing to its photogenic nature. The steep rocky faces of the channel soon swallowed us up. The dark chocolate-coloured sides were stern and forbidding; their frigidity capped by white and blue ice. The ink-black water reflected the high skyline as we glided through the heart of beauty.
The ship retraced its course back through the Lemaire Channel for a second time, exiting the southern end where we made our way towards Pleneau Island. At 08:00 hours, six Zodiacs were lowered and with the Expedition Team members at the tillers and helms, the guests were treated to a garden paradise of ice floes, bergy bits and brash ice. Gentoo penguins porpoised by from all angles and crabeater seals basked in the strong morning sun on water-scalloped floes. Ice bergs of all conceivable shape and size were on display, changing appearance with perspective and light.
As we neared the shallows Nicki asked me to keep a look out for rocks that might damage our propeller. Looking down into the transparent green water, so coloured from the phytoplankton blooms of summer, I could see the bare rocks of the sea floor. The rocks and any space between them were free of bottom-dwelling plants or animals. Later during recap, Robin Aiello would explain to the guests that this was the result of iceberg scouring.
During lunch we steamed further southwest to Petermann Island. Here, Port Circumcision was the over-wintering quarters of Charcot’s 1903-05 expedition. The initials PP, remembering his ship the Pourquoi Pas, are etched into a flat rock visible at low tide. I stayed at the landing site with our Expedition Leader Robin and Nicki, assisting as the guests came ashore and clambered over the granite rocks.
The fat gentoo chicks were feeling the heat. Too big to be shaded by their parents, they lay prostrate on the rocks above the landing site, beaks open, wings spread and feet displayed in an attempt to lose heat. The guests were experiencing a similar sensation. They stripped off insulated parkas, gloves and hats as they explored what the island offered: a mixed rookery of blue-eyed shag and Gentoo and Adelie penguins to the north of the landing site, a view out to the western horizon over an iceberg graveyard that seemed almost too calm for a great ocean, and finally the refuge hut and commemorative cross where Christian Walter (aka Rapa Nui) was stationed to explain the history of the site.
Between breaks in ship-to-shore guest transfer, I ran around to the various attractions, sweltering in thermals and waders. A Weddell seal basked on the rocks near the hut and a second hauled out right at our landing site. Neither seemed at all put out by our presence, perfectly content to divide their time between snoozing, yawning and scratching. These seals always give me the impression that they are supremely pleased with their lot and all around them. The occasional passing penguin freaked out momentarily, briefly considering the Weddell seal to be a leopard and thus a penguin killer.
Large numbers of skuas hung out near the hut. Occasionally all would take flight, chasing one individual who had managed to secure a morsel of food of some penguin origin. They wheeled and swooped through the sky attempting to rob each other of the snack.
From here we cruised back to the Lemaire Channel. At the southern end we sighted the Academik Ioffe, having just passed through the channel, before collecting the delayed guest luggage from the Polar Star. When we passed the Polar Pioneer in the channel some minutes later, it seemed that the area was really quite busy, especially considering that we had seen two yachts earlier in the day, the Ada II and the Garcia.
This third cruise through the Lemaire Channel was without doubt the most outstanding. Astern, the sun burned through gold and orange while ahead the last rays caught the sides of the mountains, gently bathing their faces in barley. The channel was much more choked with icebergs and floes, and sprinkled all over with brash ice from disintegrating bergs. It was no match for the ice-strengthened hull of the Prince Albert II, or the skill of our confident Captain, who gently guided us through. As we neared the end of the tightest section, the full moon made its appearance in the northeast, sliding out from behind the last outcrop, a pale white disk in a sky of pinks and soft purple. There was no better way to finish the day and most if not all retired to bed knowing that it could not possibly get any better.