Voyage Journal 7823 Day 6

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Day 6 - December 16, 2008 - Vernadsky Station Visit And Zodiac Cruise At Pleneau Island, Antarctica

By Rob Suisted

Position: 65° 13.88’ S and 064° 15.00’ W
Afternoon: Pleneau Island,Position: 65° 09.2’ S and 064° 05.2’ W

We awoke this morning to a beautifully calm morning near Vernadsky Research Base (Akademik Vernadsky), a Ukranian Antarctic Station at Marina Point on Galindez Island amongst the Argentine Island group.

An invitation to visit this station is often a highlight as the hospitality shown is fantastic.We dropped half our compliment of guests ashore at the station for a warm welcome and tour around the base, collimating in the obligatory toast with locally made gorilka, a type of vodka.A nice happy friendly atmosphere was shared by all with a bit of dancing and singing thrown in. The second half of our party went on a zodiac tour and then switched over for the base tour and ‘cultural experience’.

The zodiac tour was an experience in ice navigation.Beautiful streams of brash ice filled the surrounding bays, inlets and bays, providing meandering trails of open water for zodiac drivers to worm their way poetically along in the general direction of travel.One very large female leopard seal provided great viewing for all on a convenient piece of ice, while others sought out views and experiences amongst the numerous waterways around the base. On one zodiac, a couple of large icicles were ‘borrowed’ from a small bergy bit for photos and the tasting of ‘pure’ Antarctic water.With all onboard we headed north again hoping to make for the Lemaire Channel.The surrounding sea was covered with ten tenths ice – most small brash ice amongst larger bergy bits, so it was a tremendous unique viewing for us all.Many chose to cut lunch short and head out on deck to witness the ship pushing through this ‘carpet’ of ice that completely covered the sea with a white layer.A beaut sight indeed.

Just short of Lemaire Channel we stopped in clear water and set off on zodiac cruises to explore around Pleneau Island and the great iceberg graveyard area here – a zone that collects large bergs in a shallow channel.

We’re all fast becoming iceberg connoisseurs as we sought out unique shaped or textured icebergs to marvel at and to photograph; the variations seem limitless. Light wind combined with moderate snow gave the experience a magical misty look.Here we also had some great Leopard seal viewing experiences. Firstly we met a very large female lying asleep on ice – she was certainly the biggest I had seen and looked likely that she was heavily pregnant.Later on four zodiacs were entertained for over 30 mins by a male Leopard seal that sought us out and proceeded to swim around and under us.He had a favourite bergy bit of ice that he’d casually swim around and under as if showing off for us.Many wondered who was watching who – a wonderful experience that our four zodiac loads shared together.

Eventually time called us back to the ship and our little convoy of boats set off using GPS tracks to find our way, so thick was the falling snow now.Enroute back we travelled through serenely calm waters with an inch or so of fresh snow quelling any ripples – making the sea look like grease.Near to the ship a very large group of gentoo penguins swan wildly around us for a few minutes in this syrupy thick seawater, quite likely being pursued by an unseen leopard seal on the prowl – another great memory.

Last for the day was the famous Lemaire channel. Shrouded in mist and falling snow the photographic spectacle that the channel offers was a complete whiteout.However, on the plus side we were treated to a fine display of navigation as the Captain slowly guided our ship around numerous icebergs and gently nudged aside large bergy bits of ice to make our way through this very narrow channel - a wonderful piece of driving we all felt.

So, a top day for all was had!

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