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Day 6 - January 23, 2009 - Lermair Channel Transit; Pleneau Bay, Booth Island; Yalour Islands

By David Elliot

Paradise Harbor: Almirante Brown Station (Argentina)
Waterboat Point: González Videla (Chile)
Noon Position: 54°48.6’S 68°18.0’W
Weather: Superb with partly cloudy skies, air temperature + 2o C(36o F), and wind 14 km/hour

At 7.00 a.m., Expedition Leader Ignacio called us to announce that the weather was good for the transit of the Lermaire Channel. The transit was made under perfect conditions, with little or no wind, calm seas and bright sunlight (although in the early stages of the transit, the sun went behind the high mountains to the east). The ship moved slowly through the fjord, which is flanked by peaks 2000 feet (600 m) or more on the west and as much as 4000 feet (1200 m) on the east, and less than a mile wide at its narrowest. We emerged from the channel at about 8.30 a.m. and the Captain maneuvered to a safe anchorage west of the southern end of Booth Island.

We spent the morning in Pleneau Bay on Zodiac cruises, in perfect weather conditions, in amongst the icebergs, bergy bits and growlers and some brash ice. The larger bergs ranged from flat, tabular ice masses to tipped and wasted bergs showing layering due to water line etching and parallel runnels caused by melt water dripping down the sides. Some bergs had scalloped surfaces, etched by the rays of the sun and rare bergy bits were formed of translucent ice from which all microscopic air bubbles had been excluded. We saw a leopard seal resting on a small ice floe, an elephant seal, and many birds including Antarctic terns, Kelp gulls and Wilson’s storm petrels. We could see the Antarctic Peninsula trending away to the south, its western face marked by many glaciers descending to sea level. Meanwhile, the Prince Albert II floated at anchor at the base of the 2000-foot (600 m) cliffs of Booth Island.

After lunch, we moved southward toward the Argentine Islands and we spent the afternoon on one of the Yalour Islands. A short Zodiac ride took us to the Adelie penguin rookery, the most northerly of the Adelie rookeries on the west flank of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Adelie chicks are all more advanced than most of the Gentoo chicks we saw on previous days, and some chicks are already losing their down and taking on juvenile plumage. The individual colonies are all located on the tops of low hills, most of which had been rounded by glacial erosion at the height of the glaciation 12,000 years ago. We could see patches of moss and lichen scattered over the low rocks not occupied by penguin colonies. Unfortunately, the weather closed in on us, and much of the visit was conducted under lowering cloud and light snow.

Those of us on the Prince Albert II were entertained by more humpback whales near the ship in the latter part of the afternoon, and a mother and calf surfaced near the vessel soon after the last of us had returned at 5.30 p.m. Altogether a memorable day.

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