Day 9 - March 1, 2011 - Drake Passage

By Will Wagstaff, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 58 41 0 S, 06 25 0 W
Weather: Mostly overcast with some rain showers and stiff north east breeze in the morning easing to a light wind by mid afternoon.
Air Temperature: 5 C

After the last few busy days, it was a slower start to the morning as everyone got used to the Prince Albert II steaming over a rather cold looking sea. However it was a much warmer sea, as we had crossed the Antarctic Convergence during the night and the air temperature had risen to 6⁰C and felt positively balmy as a result. A quick look behind the ship found a group of Cape Petrels in close attendance. These birds are most common a little further south, so their presence here meant their breeding season was coming to a close and they were starting to disperse north for the winter. We also saw our first Wandering Albatross, having not seen them on the way south. They made up for that poor showing by being with us for most of the day.

The first event was my lecture on the ‘Penguins of the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic Islands’ in which I talked about the penguins we had seen on the Antarctic Peninsula, namely the Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins. I also covered the other species of penguin that are found in areas visited by the Prince Albert II in this part of the world. This meant I was able to discuss the King, Macaroni, Rockhopper and Magellanic Penguins. I also talked about the enigmatic Emperor Penguin that is found much further south in the continent.

Shortly after I finished my lecture, our executive chef, Marcus de Jong gave a cooking demonstration in the Panorama Lounge. On this occasion, to a group of rather hungry-looking guests, he showed us how to make a risotto in his style that was much enjoyed by all. It was then time for lunch which, if one timed it correctly, one could see a Wandering Albatross from the windows as we ate!

We were making good time through the Drake although the wind had freshened slightly during the morning. This wind was much to the delight of the seabirds in the area as we not only had a few Wandering Albatrosses behind the ship we also saw a good number of Black-browed Albatross which, although not as large as the 3.5m wingspan of the Wanderer, are still impressive fliers. The Southern Giant Petrels gave many photo opportunities as they and the Cape Petrels were the closest behind the ship. A little further back were some small groups of Soft-plumaged Petrels, a scattering of White-bellied Storm Petrels and some Antarctic Prions. We also saw a Common Diving Petrel, which, with its whirring wings, was just able to keep airborne. Throughout the day several of the guests joined Ken and I on the back deck to get a view of these oceanic species. I also saw a strange looking dark petrel which was something new and turned out to be a Kerguelan Petrel whose nearest breeding ground is in the Tristan da Cunha group of islands!

During the first part of the afternoon, we showed a film made on a square-rigger sailing ship as it founded Cape Horn in 1929. This fascinating film showed us what life was like on board one of these vessels and also what the weather can be like here. Although the Prince Albert II was moving around a little, we were making good progress and I think the general consensus was that we were all glad we were not experiencing the same sort of weather filmed by Capt Irving Johnson all those years ago.

Following afternoon tea it was then time for our “rock star” Juan to give his lecture ‘Geology Rocks’. This introduction to the terms and concepts used in modern day geology gave us some extra background on this fascinating subject. He covered the origin of the Earth, types of rock and plate tectonics, amongst a variety of topics.

We then had time to get ready for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party held in The Theatre at 1900. It was nice to be able to be able to chat with our guests about the sights we had seen and the places we had visited and of course the birds we had seen since we left Ushuaia. Our Expedition Leader Robin then re-introduced Captain Alexander Golubev to the guests who then brought up to the stage many of the staff who had worked so hard during our cruise. Marcus, our Hotel Manager, then presented three crewmembers with an employee of the month award for all their efforts beyond their normal duties.

It was then time for the Captain’s Farewell Dinner and for some a relaxing evening in the bar at the end of a very pleasant day at sea.