Co-ordinates: 63º32’S, 56º55’W
Weather: Overcast with flurries
Air Temperature: -6.5ºC
Sea Temperature: -1ºC
Pressure: 988 hpa
Wind: 30 knots
During last night’s briefing, our Expedition Leader Conrad Combrink informed all of our guests that we would be seeing ice any time between 0400 and 0600, with our hopeful arrival at this morning’s destination: Brown Bluff just on 0700.
At approximately 2400 last night, the first large chunks of ice began to appear and continued through the night along with strong winds and a good swell.
Waking up, I glanced at my clock, 0445. I could sense the speed of the Prince Albert II had been brought down by the speed with which the ice was scraping along its side. Rolling over, I would try to catch another hour’s sleep before the alarm would sound to start the day.
Once awake, Stefan and I headed to the Bridge. As we opened the door it was evident we may have to change plans. With snow falling horizontally in the 30 – 40 knot winds and the temperature a balmy -6.5ºC, my thoughts turned to our co-workers who had just disembarked for some vacation time in the Maldives.
Pushing forward, Captain Stahlberg brought the Prince Albert II into our planned anchorage just off the shores of the Tabarin Peninsula and Brown Bluff. We would lower two scout boats and check the conditions onshore while the Staff Captain and the deck boys rigged the side gate.
Being so cold, the spray from the sea almost instantly froze on your gear, and the Zodiacs had a fine layer of ice on them. It would be a cold and possibly wet, very wet, ride to shore. Approaching shore, we entered shelter and the winds dropped off. Minus the cold temperatures, it looked as if our plans were safe.
Collecting our safety gear and the shore party form the ship, we began our operations only 15 minutes later than we had planned. A true sign of how great our team onboard is – every department was ready at the drop of the hat to get started.
Gathering the first load of guests, I arranged them so most of the weight was on my starboard side to counteract the winds and waves approaching from my port side. This, proving helpful, kept my guests dry on the ride to shore.
With a successful morning in hand we returned to the Prince Albert II for lunch and to make plans for this afternoon. With the southerly winds blowing, it was obvious that an attempt at Devil Island was out of the question. Would we cruise by ship amongst the icebergs or visit Esperanza Station?
Stefan, speaking Spanish, contacted the base to request a visit. Unfortunately, they were in preparation for a crew change and would not have time for us. However, they did mention that we could find some nice shelter in Hope Bay where they are located.
With this, the Captain pointed us in that direction and the plan was hatched: two one-hour Zodiac cruises along within the bay. Heading out with Stefan as my Zodiac buddy, we first visited the Adelie penguin colony on the eastern shores. Here, hundreds of Adelies were pacing back and forth along a small 4 ft ice cliff trying to decide where to jump. At one point 50 or so that perched perilously on a steep incline, created a small slide and they all tumbled to the water below. We enjoyed the penguins for 20 minutes or so before heading deeper into the bay for views of the Depot and Arena glaciers.
For a first day in Antarctica, which started with temperatures well below freezing and remained there, we were shown that we had a hardy group onboard. Everyone enjoyed his or her day despite what would have driven most to remain in bed!
Tomorrow, Deception Island!!!