Day 5 |
Dec 26, 2008

Port Lockroy, Lemaire Channel & Vernadsky Station

By Victoria Salem

Position at Port Lockroy: 64 49’S, 63 31’W

Position at entrance of Lemaire Channel: 6504’S, 6357’W

Position at Vernadsky Station: 6515’S, 6416’W

Weather & sea conditions: Calm sea, blue skies & sunshine

Today started well, with two humpback whales sighted near the stern of the ship during breakfast! They were shallow-feeding round the ship, giving us a great viewing opportunity as we ate. Soon after 8am, our morning entertainment continued, with Rick, Port Lockroy Station Manager, making a short presentation on the history of Port Lockroy and the work of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. In his presentation, he covered the history of the British Antarctic Survey base here, abandoned until the Antarctic Heritage Trust (UK) restored it in 1996, establishing it as a museum, shop and Post Office operating from British Antarctic territory.

At 9am, half of the guests were landed at “Base A” – Bransfield House - in order to explore the living quarters of the old British base (the kitchen, bathroom and bar were especially fascinating!), send some postcards and do some belated Christmas shopping. Gentoo penguins nest all around Bransfield House and some of them had hatched two tiny chicks in the last two days, providing us with endless photo opportunities. Wiencke Island and the surrounding area provided a stunning backdrop as we took in the spectacle of gentoo parents, snowy sheathbills and skuas going about their business. A couple of guests onboard chose to renew their marriage vows in this stunning location, Captain Peter officiating.

The other half of the guests went on a Zodiac cruise for just over an hour, enabling them to enjoy the spectacular scenery of this part of the Antarctic Peninsula to the fullest. The sun shone from a cloudless sky, glaciers and snow-capped mountain peaks glittered and one leopard seal and a couple of Weddell seals were glimpsed, hauled out on ice. At approximately 10.40am the two groups swapped around so that everyone could experience both museum site and Zodiac cruise.

Our good luck continued during lunch, when we saw two pods of killer whales (orca) just ahead of the ship. This was a rare sighting, and most of us rushed from The Restaurant for our cameras and parkas, so we could go out on deck for a better view (apologies to the long-suffering restaurant staff!). Our captain, Peter Stahlberg, gave instructions for the Prince Albert II to turn and follow the whales, so that we were able to enjoy their company for the next 45 minutes. One pod (including a huge male) eventually swam off, but a mother with two calves accompanied us for some time, all three animals regularly surfacing to blow and porpoise through the waves, so that their black-and-white-markings could be clearly seen. Eventually we had to say goodbye and resume our former course towards the entrance of the Lemaire Channel and Petermann Island.

The weather was perfect as we entered the Lemaire, also known as Kodak Channel, for its extreme beauty. No large icebergs blocked our way as we gently sailed through bergy bits and brash ice, between towering peaks that had us as awe-struck. For seven miles we sailed through this scenic channel, surrounded by glaciers and mountains set against a bright blue sky.

As we emerged from the other end of the Lemaire Channel, it became clear that we were not going to reach Petermann Island today after all as our way was blocked by ice. This is not unusual in Antarctica, so we enjoyed some ship cruising through the ice-strewn sea and slowly made our way instead to Vernadsky, a Ukrainian Research Station. Since we were carrying physicist Dr Gennadi onboard, we were able to arrange to visit this scientific base at short notice and so, after spending an afternoon amidst wildlife and beautiful landscape, we made an early evening landing here in the Argentine Islands. We were taken on a guided tour of the research facility, followed by a visit to its post office, souvenir shop and bar. Some of us tried a few shots of typical Ukrainian vodka before heading back to the ship for dinner!

We all spent a relaxing evening enjoying the views out on deck from our anchoring place near Vernadsky, or listening to the smooth sounds of Adam’s piano playing in the Panorama Lounge.