Day 3 |
Jan 20, 2009

At Sea, Heading Into The Protected Waters Of The South Shetland Islands

By Andrew Marshall

Temperature: 5ºC, Pressure: 968hPa

Wind: 55km/h E

Noon position: 62˚ 31’ 05” S, 59˚ 24’ 42” W

This morning we awoke to the news that it had been such a calm sailing across the Drake Passage, that we had broken a record and had made the fastest ever sailing for the Prince Albert II.

After a hearty breakfast, our onboard Ornithologist, Chris Collins, delivered a lecture on “Birds of the Antarctic Peninsula”. We learnt that the Gentoo Penguin is the third largest of all the penguin species. Also of interest was that the Chinstrap Penguin has a maximum dive depth of 175m. Not such an exciting prospect was discovering that because the penguins live in such a cold environment it takes a long time for their guano to break down! Thank goodness Chris also gave us knowledge of the Snowy Sheathbill who is the “garbage truck” of the Antarctic Peninsula seabirds, and cleans up after the penguins by digesting their guano.

Later in the morning we all attended the mandatory IAATO Briefing, Given by Expedition Leader Ignacio (Iggy), we gained a deeper appreciation of just how sensitive this pristine environment is, and just how important it is we pay attention to the boot washing and maintaining the recommended distances away from wildlife. However, we are still bound for amazing wildlife experiences because as long as you stay still and allow the penguins to approach you, it is fine. The chicks at this time of year are apparently very curious little animals.

We had hoped that given the record time across the Drake Passage we could sneak in a bonus landing at Yankee Harbour, but after lunch, the weather had taken a turn for the worse and the winds picked up. By early afternoon the rain was horizontal, and those brave enough to go out on deck struggled to catch their breath.

After dogged optimism by both the Expedition Leader and the Captain, we had to face the reality of the conditions and abandon the idea of a bonus landing. Instead a spontaneous afternoon lecture schedule was created.

Peter Damisch spoke in the early afternoon about the ageless search for the Antarctic and took us on a whirlwind historical voyage of philosophy, discovery and adventure, highlighting many of the early explorers including Magellan and his journey of 1519-1521, Drake’s voyage of 1577-1580 and Captain Cook – the first to cross the Antarctic circle during his voyage aboard the Resolution during the years 1772-1773. With an energetic style and focussed content, Peter kept the after-lunch crowd wide awake.

Later in the afternoon the rain turned to snow and with the whirling wind on the outside of the ship, the snowfall was a lovely sight to behold. The apparent wind of the vessel was also making outside viewing feasible, as the hard snow driving towards the ship would be diverted at the last by the breeze being pushed up by the ship’s hull.

We listened to a lecture by our onboard Geologist, David, and learnt how the Pangaea supercontinent started to break up around 185 million years ago. The Antarctic continent separated off and headed south, and as it reached the higher latitudes of the south, underwent a dramatic cooling that lead to the two great ice domes that sit on top of the continental land mass today.

In the early evening, Iggy gave us a briefing on the landings proposed for tomorrow, Claudia Holgate gave us insight as to how Albatross “fly without flapping” using a mechanism called dynamic soaring, and then it was my turn. I let everyone know that there were still great wildlife opportunities out on the decks today despite the stormy weather, having spotted several species of seabirds including chinstrap penguins, as well as Antarctic fur seals and even humpback whales.

After dinner we will be relaxing and looking for some more quality rest as we anticipate an action packed day tomorrow. The weather has broken and we are getting some marvellous views of the Antarctic continent itself bathed in golden sunlight beneath the dissipating dark grey cloud of the storm.