Position: 64°56.0’S, 63°17.5’W
Temperature: 0°C (33°F), Wind 15 km/h
Weather: Misty weather, sometimes rain mixed with snow, overcast at all three sites.
This was to be our last day on the Antarctic Peninsula. We were met in the very early morning by a misty day in Paradise Harbour. Breakfast began early - at 2:15am for expedition staff and at 2:45am for passengers. We started our first Zodiac trip at 3am with a dry landing at the small jetty of Almirante Brown, the old Argentine station situated in Paradise Harbour. The station is located on a point of land with steep sea-cliffs at least 100 meters high on one side, and the sheer face of a tide-water glacier on the other. There were Gentoo penguins constantly “flying” over the water in the bay. A pair of snowy sheathbills jumped into the first Zodiac, looking for food when the shore party arrived at the jetty. Some guests went to observe the small Gentoo penguin colony on the bedrock close to the station buildings. But most people hiked up a 50-meter slope for spectacular views of Paradise Harbour, climbing the snow-covered mountain behind the station and then enjoying the fun of sliding down the hill on their rears – in a mere 30 seconds. Several people did it 2-4 times!
The other half of the guests had a Zodiac tour in the bay to enjoy views of the rocks around the station, mostly massive porphyritic andesite, which is extensively mineralized with green malachite (copper) ore along the cracks, according to the words of our geologist Juan. We were searching for crabeater, Weddell, or leopard seals resting on sea ice and succeeded in finding one leopard seal; also, two blue-eyed shag colonies were viewed from the Zodiacs. Blue-eyed shags, Antarctic terns, skuas and kelp gulls nest on the cliffs overlooking Paradise Harbour. This was the second time we stepped on the Antarctic Mainland, giving our guests an opportunity to set foot on the continent itself again. At the end of the landing the weather became worse and we left this haven at 6:50am in strong winds of about 40 knots, and headed for Pleneau Island.
At 7:00am we had a second breakfast, with incredible views from The Restaurant windows of snow-covered mountains and icebergs that passed some 20 meters away from the ship. At 8am we left the Gerlache Strait and passed Cape Renard, soon reaching (in about four miles) the entrance to the Lemaire Channel - where the back of a minke whale was glimpsed for a few seconds!
The Lemaire Channel (65°04’S, 63°57’W) greeted us with one tenth of ice cover, small icebergs, fog and occasional snow showers. The seven-mile-long narrow channel averages a mile in width and looked mysterious, giving us spectacular glimpses of land to either side. Mountain summits of Booth Island on the starboard and Graham Land on the port side were hidden in low clouds. Almost all of the guests crowded onto the Observation Deck to enjoy these views.
Position: 65°17.0’S, 64°04.8’W - Pleneau Island
It was 10:30am when we reached our anchorage position near this 0.8-mile-long island that lies to the north-east of Hovgaard Island in the Wilhelm Archipelago, and is very near to Booth Island at the south end of the Lemaire Channel. This place was first charted during Charcot’s 1903-05 French Antarctic Expedition. The island was named by Charcot for the expedition’s photographer, Paul Pleneau, according to our historian Victoria. In spite of uncharted waters near the shore and hazardous rocks along the shoreline, our great Zodiac tours started at 11am towards an “iceberg graveyard”. We were looking for seals and whales around beautiful, blue-white-green coloured icebergs formed into many unusual shapes. The most exciting and dangerous animal in these waters was discovered by Chris at the end of the first Zodiac tour. This was a leopard seal, sleeping on a small field of pack ice and it was very interesting to see how careful all the guests sitting in the boat were, speaking in whispers, with the click of cameras the only sound. The news of this leopard seal discovery was immediately transferred to other Zodiacs and in a few minutes five boats approached this great animal, for fantastic pictures! During the Zodiac tour around Pleneau Island, Adelie and Gentoo penguins, kelp gulls, Antarctic terns and a crabeater seal were seen as well.
At 1:15pm, all were back onboard and we started sailing home along Hovgaard and Peterman Islands in French Passage, where at 14:35 Dick caught sight of a humpback whale and several guests managed to see its back and blow. After a couple of hours of sailing in fog with 100-meter visibility, the Drake Passage gave us sunshine and strong, 40-knot winds. So, we headed for Ushuaia.
A poem by Silversea guest Geoff Spencer
Chiselled ice quarry
Towering black mountains
—by Geoff Spencer
Prince Albert II guest