Clear and sunny skies until mid afternoon. Overcast with snow mid afternoon to evening
The seas were calm most of the night, so we were able to get a good night’s sleep in anticipation of two landings on the Antarctic continent today – Christmas Day!
At 0900am, we boarded the Zodiacs for our first landing of the day – Neko Harbour. We landed on a black pebble beach and joined the Expedition Team for a walk past the Emergency Hut (maintained by the Argentineans) up the snow slope. On the way, we passed some gentoo penguin colonies. The view from the top of the hill was spectacular – icebergs surrounded by brash ice, glaciers flowing down from the rugged mountains, and the ship in the distance. Some of us chose the quick way down – sliding on our backs down the snow slope.
Afterwards, we climbed back into the Zodiacs for an hour and a half Zodiac tour of the neighbouring bay. We cruised around some massive icebergs – the size of apartment buildings. The range of colours startled us – we had no idea that there would be so many different shades, from pale turquoise to dark violet.
Some of us were lucky to see a pair of minke whales cruise past the Zodiacs, while others witnessed a once in a lifetime event – the collapse and rolling over of a massive iceberg. It started with a large section calving off. But, what followed took us all by surprise. The iceberg started to rock back and forth, and then more and more sections calved off. Eventually the entire iceberg broke in half, and a large chunk, about the size of a three-story house, started to roll over and over. It finally came to rest upside-down after rolling three times.
After a sumptuous Christmas Day lunch in The Restaurant, we had a short rest before heading back out for the second landing of the day – another continental landing at Almirante Brown (an Argentinean research base). As we walked up the trail from the landing site, some of the Expedition Team explained the activities for the afternoon. We could either remain near the landing site and enjoy the antics of the gentoo penguin colony, or walk up the hill to the top for a great view. Getting down was easy – we all just got on our backs and slid down the snowy slope.
There was also the option of another Zodiac cruise around the coast and scattered icebergs. During this cruise, we spotted a colony of nesting blue-eyed shags on the steep rock cliffs, a few nesting cape petrels, and a solitary female Weddell seal napping on an ice flow. One of the highlights of the cruise was the ‘minute of silence’ when the drivers shut off their engines and let the Zodiacs drift with the brash ice. We were amazed at the sounds of the ice. It popped, cracked, rustled and ground.
By the time we arrived back at the ship, it was snowing heavily and we were cold and ready for a cup of hot chocolate before getting changed for Captain Peter’s welcome cocktail party and dinner. Robin West, the Expedition Leader, introduced Captain Peter, who in turn introduced his officers. After a toast to the success of the journey ahead of us, we headed to The Restaurant for a special Christmas Dinner.