Day 7 |
Dec 18, 2011

Port Lockroy

By Kara Weller, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 64° 49’ S, 63° 30’ W (noon position)
Weather: partly cloudy, patches of sun
Air Temperature: 1° C
Pressure: 987 hPa
Wind: 44 km / h
Humidity: 55%

Having spent the night at anchor at Port Lockroy last night we awoke this morning with some idea already of what to expect and what the landscape around us would look like. In contrast though to the flat calm and wonderfully still conditions of last night, the wind was blowing quite fiercely and cut through our parkas with a cold chill. The visibility was very good and the patches of sunshine illuminated the surrounding peaks, giving a wonderful light to this breathtakingly beautiful landscape.

Shortly after breakfast, the first groups boarded the Zodiacs and headed off to Port Lockroy to look through the tiny but wonderful museum, post office and shop. The other groups went to shore at Jougla Point on nearby Wiencke Island and had time to explore the piles of whale bones scattered under the snow near the shore, and also to see the nesting blue-eyed shags. The nests they had constructed out of vegetation were like chimney-pots and sat on top of large rocks at the edge of the gentoo penguin rookery. A few shags had newly hatched chicks whose heads were the size of small marbles and poked cautiously out from under their parents to wave and bob around weakly in discovery of this new life and cold landscape.

After everyone was back onboard, the Captain turned the nose of our ship towards the south and into the Peltier channel, a narrow and scenic channel, which we cut through just before lunch. After lunch, the famous Lemaire Channel lay waiting for us in front of the ship. By now the winds were gusting even more fiercely and we bundled into many layers in order to stand on deck and tolerate the buffeting gusts coming from the north. This 7-mile long and half-mile wide channel has sometimes been named Kodak Gap by people who take so many pictures in it. We had clear views of the jagged peaks of the mainland on our port side and the rising slopes of Booth Island on our starboard as we approached the entrance to this channel.

As we got nearer we could make out a line of white far in front of us and once well into the channel, this became more obvious. A solid line of ice was clogging the middle of the channel, filling the water from one shore to the other with thick pieces of sea ice and also large pieces of glacier ice between. With the wind blowing at 35 knots from our stern this was going to make for challenging navigation. Captain Alex stopped the ship for some minutes near the ice edge to assess the situation and then tentatively nosed the Silver Explorer into the ice. It was quite thrilling to stand on deck and watch as we pushed our way through. The ice floes rolled over each other and pushed against each other as we plowed a path between them. But after 400 meters or so we could see a thicker line of more blue ice ahead of us and the ship gradually began to turn and move away from this line. This was dense glacier ice and too thick to push our way through safely, so our Captain turned the ship back north and slowly we made our way out of the ice and out of the Lemaire Channel. Our furthest south point for the voyage had been reached in the Lemaire Channel at 64 degrees and 5 minutes south.

As the winds were still blowing furiously around Cape Renard, a Zodiac cruise in Hidden Bay was also out of the question and we turned now to another destination slightly further north – Paradise Bay. This bay, normally well protected from winds and other inclement weather, was often used as a safe haven by early whalers, and this is what gave the bay its name. Cruising through the bay onboard the Silver Explorer, we got to see the dramatic steep cliffs covered with ice that plunged down into the sea and the mountain peaks poking out of their snowy and icy blankets that reached for and scraped against the sky. Inside was no wind and flat calm water. It was a beautiful place.

Another ship, the MS Expedition was at the back of the bay and we sailed past it and saw a few of its Zodiacs scuttling around in the ice. Seals lay about on ice floes contentedly sleeping. The Captain nosed the ship right up to the cliffs next to the Argentine base on shore where we could see nesting blue-eyed shags on their perches, some with large chicks.

Just past the small Chilean base at the northern end of Paradise Bay we did yet another U-turn for the day, and this time the turn came with excellent news. The ship, scheduled to be in Paradise Bay for the evening, was heading elsewhere, giving us the opportunity for some activity ourselves inside the bay. It was too nice a day to simply race through Paradise without stopping, so we headed inside once again. Recap & Briefing was cancelled, the dining room was opened early thanks to our kind chefs, and either before or after dinner, depending on which Zodiac group people were in, everyone headed out in the Zodiacs to cruise for one hour in front of the magnificent Skorntop glacier at the far southeastern corner of the bay. Although the bay was full of ice, we enjoyed a leisurely cruise and the incredible still and calm waters and absolute silence of the bay. It was wonderful to look at the nesting shags, admire icebergs, look at seals on ice floes and take in the stunning reflections of the mountains on the water. It made a superb ending to a fantastic day.