Day 13 |
Dec 07, 2011

Brown Bluff and Kinnes Cove, Antarctic Peninsula

By Liz Bradfield, Naturalist

Co-ordinates: S 63º30’53”, W 56º41’42”
Weather: Calm, snowy, horrifically windy
Air Temperature: -1º C

My alarm went off at an ungodly hour this morning: 3:30 am. Robin had promised that this early hour might offer views of the Antarctic Sound’s most beautiful icebergs, tinged red by sunrise. But when I peered out my window, it was foggy, so I grabbed another hour of sleep before getting ready for our 5:30 am adventure at Brown Bluff.

The Silver Explorer was anchored in calm seas (a bit of swell) and light snow. It was a lovely morning to thread through icebergs and sea ice toward our first landing on the actual continent of Antarctica. Cape petrels dipped and fed at the shoreline, and after weeks of watching them zip across our stern it was a treat to see them so closely.

On shore, walkers headed out toward the Gentoo and Adelie rookeries, then gathered to walk up onto an actual Antarctic glacier. Although fog obscured the big view of the bay and the ship, it was still pretty impressive to look down on the large chunks of ice floating around the bay.

Adelies marched in classic formation along the shore, to and fro, en mass deciding when might be the most opportune moment to take the plunge. One Adelie came in from the sea with a wound and, right there, died. Other penguins (both Adelie and Gentoo) stood around it for a while, scolding the approaching skuas and gulls, but soon they had to continue on their work: heading to sea to forage. It was amazing to see how quickly the skua came in to take advantage of this feast.

We left Brown Bluff and headed out across Antarctic Sound to find another adventure for our morning. It ended up being more of an adventure than anyone had expected. We dropped all our Zodiacs in Kinnes Cove. Big tabular icebergs and rookeries of Adelie penguins promised an interesting exploration. We set out in glass-calm water, and the reflected blue of the icebergs drew all of our cameras out of our bags. Wet, big snowflakes were falling, and we could see them sitting a bit on the water around us before they dissolved. A couple of Weddell seals kicked through the shoreside shallows.

Just as the first group of Zodiac cruisers was heading back to the ship, though, the wind kicked up. And then it kicked up a little more, a little more again, and then it howled. It was a real challenge to get the boats back to the Silver Explorer, and the ride was—to put it bluntly—wet. Waves broke over us all. No doubt the second group of Zodiac cruisers watching from the ship were reconsidering their future plans. It took us quite a while to find a spot calm enough and ice-free enough to get everyone back aboard, but we managed it. Then hoisting our Zodiacs was an exciting addendum. The wind was blowing a steady 75 knots and gusting more.

Back aboard, we warmed up and changed, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to nap, because that wind had blown away all of the fog, and we were sailing through an amazing field of icebergs. It went on like that all afternoon, the wind eventually dying down to about 10 knots.

I think that all of us probably feel like we’ve really arrived on the wildest, iciest, most dramatic continent on earth. And we have.