Day 8 |
Dec 06, 2009

Brown Base & Paradise Harbour

By Victoria Salem, Historian

Co-ordinates: 64°51’S,62°54’W

Weather: Good visibility, no wind, from overcast to blue skies

When I woke at 6am and looked out of the window, the snow-covered mountains and glaciers of the Antarctic continent were clearly mirrored in the waters of Paradise Harbour. I watched our spectacular approach to Brown Base – today’s landing site – from the Observation Lounge as I enjoyed my morning fruit juice and a light breakfast.  Expedition Staff and a few guests were already up and about, feeling incredibly privileged to be about to step onto the mainland of Antarctica for the second time this trip.

I was manning the sidegate this morning, so only got partly dressed in my warm gear as I saw the other staff off at 7am. Soon there were seven Zodiacs zooming around in the water, checking out the landing site and transporting safety gear to shore before the landing commenced. Shortly after the first guests had finished breakfast, we were able to start our landing with Groups 1 & 2. Our intrepid Zodiac drivers had soon whisked everyone from the first two groups to shore. For the first time in our voyage, it was a dry landing on to a wooden jetty, with a concrete stairway leading upwards to the Argentine Brown base. This science base is very well maintained, but infrequently manned and there was no sign of human presence today. However, there was a colony of gentoo penguins to welcome us, settled quite near the small group of buildings at our landing site.

Guests on shore had over an hour and a half in which to explore.  The most energetic and determined of us followed Anja up to the top of the hill behind the base buildings.  The climb was short, but steep, following a well-trodden path through the snow.  We were all well rewarded with stunning views at the top – gazing down over glaciers perfectly reflected in the sea on one side of the bay, and straight down a vertical drop to the ocean on the other. Here we could see Zodiacs setting out on their cruises, looking like tiny toy boats. There was absolutely no wind blowing, so all was unbelievably calm and it didn’t seem cold after the exertion of the climb. The party at the top of the hill was able to experience the otherworldliness of this last place on earth.  Even a helicopter passing unexpectedly overhead somehow only enhanced the perfect stillness, which was also broken several times by small ice calvings from the glacier below.

The real reason for making the climb became clear once the first guests decided to descend. The most popular method of getting to the bottom was to sit down and slide! Some people had SUCH fun that no sooner had they reached the bottom, they climbed back up again for another turn…Others were more cautious and, not wanting to tempt fate, went down in the normal step-by-step manner. Soon the “mountain-climbing” party rejoined those who had decided to stay below at Brown base, watching the penguins’ antics and those of us who had enjoyed the climb to the halfway point.  One way or another, we all got back to the landing site eager for the second activity of the morning – our Zodiac cruise in Paradise Harbour.

Groups 3 & 4 had not been idle all this time.  As soon as the first two groups had set foot on land, I had been sending the remaining guests out in Zodiacs to explore Paradise Harbour from the sea. For about one and a half hours we were able to tour this glorious space of ice and water; watching tiny red-parka-clad “penguins” waving at us from the hill top above Brown base was the first point of note. After that we passed a green streak of naturally-occurring copper in the cliff face; nesting blue-eyed shags (cormorants) returning to their nests from fishing at sea; Antarctic terns diving for food; a group of Weddell seals lying largely inert on the ice – from time to time squirming to a more comfortable spot, idly raising a flipper to scratch, or lifting a head to peer at us curiously; and the piece de resistance was the Petzval glacier tongue, along which our Zodiacs slowly cruised to give us an idea of the scale of the ice masses in this part of the world. It was definitely a Kodak moment.

At about 9.45am the groups swapped around so that all of us could enjoy both activities.  Of course, we were also free to choose either the walk or the Zodiac cruise and spend some quiet time on board the Prince Albert II. There was a continuous shuttle from ship to shore, and shore to ship throughout the morning. Guests were delighted to see some of the ship’s crew enjoying a free hour away from work. Quite a few blue-parkaed figures could be seen enjoying the best slide on the Antarctic Peninsula before catching a Zodiac back to the ship to prepare our lunch!

All were back on board by 11.20am and today’s drink was hot chocolate, with or without an alcoholic addition. As the Prince Albert II raised anchor and turned to leave Paradise Harbour, the good views continued and many of us were out on deck before lunch to make the most of our last glimpse of this seventh continent.

After the most delicious coconut-coated shrimp I have ever eaten, there was time for a little siesta before Stefan Kredel’s lecture at 3pm on “Plate Tectonics – a ‘Nearly’ All Explaining Theory”. Stefan demonstrated his usual mix of erudition and humour (?), which meant we learned a great deal without pain! He finished just as afternoon tea started (good timing Stefan) and we also had time to go out on deck for some air and to wave goodbye to the mountains of the peninsula (now fast receding), before our Expedition Leader, Conrad Combrink, spoke to us at 5pm. His subject was “Introduction of the Prince Albert II 2010 and 2011 itineraries”, which combined the conversion and refit of our floating home when it joined the Silversea fleet a couple of years ago, with behind-the-scenes information on how and why the Prince Albert II’s destinations are decided. 

The afternoon had been both relaxing and informative, with opportunities to spend time in lectures and on deck. We all needed time to shower and change into “casual elegance” for the 7.30pm Venetian Dinner (the Venetian Society being a society for returning Silversea guests). And after lingering over a rather special dinner with plenty of lively conversation, we adjourned to the Panorama Lounge to continue our evening, accompanied by the smooth sounds of Lou on the piano.