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Day 14 - February 22, 2009 - Neko Harbour, Gerlache Strait, Lemaire Channel And Drake Passage

By David Munro, Geographer

Overcast sky but clear visibility

During the night, we had sailed southwards from the Bransfield Strait into the Gerlache Strait named for Adrien Gerlache, leader of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-98 - the first expedition of the 'Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration' to overwinter in Antarctica. At 6am, our Expedition Leader Ignacio gave us an early morning call to let us know we had arrived at Neko Harbour, an inlet of Andvord Bay lying at latitude of 64o 50' 37” South. Neko takes its name from a whaling ship operated in the early 20th century by the Scottish, Leith-based Christian Salvesen company. The temperature outside was -2o C with a light 4-knot wind.

We began our last landing on the Antarctic Continent at 7am, and were welcomed ashore by Gentoo penguins, many of them young chicks. Ice in the water as we crossed the bay was evidence of calving from a large glacier and it was not long before we heard a sound like a loud clap of thunder that was quickly followed by a huge mass of ice falling into the water. We waited for the tidal wave to sweep across the harbor and come crashing onto the shore and at regular intervals throughout the landing, our attention was grabbed by chunks of ice large and small splashing into the water.

Some ventured along the foreshore of Neko Harbour towards the glacier where, at a safe distance from the calving ice face, Chris Edwards told us about the 140 million-year-old granite rocks and the formation of the glacier. Others made the gentle half-hour climb to a spectacular vantage point overlooking the bay. From here we could view the high snow-covered peaks surrounding Andvord Bay and look down on the Prince Albert II at anchor amidst a sea of newly-created brash ice floating outwards from Neko Harbour past static icebergs that had become grounded in the shallow waters close to the shore.

Returning to the ship, we were treated to spectacular views of the Danco Coast and the Palmer Archipelago as we sailed back into the Gerlache Strait and then south past islands and stretches of coast bearing the names given to them by early explorers such as Adrien Gerlache and Dr Jean Charcot. At 2pm, we arrived at the entrance to the stunning Lemaire Channel, passing Booth Island and Mt Renard as we sailed into the narrow passageway overlooked by massive cliffs and glaciers. Beyond the Lemaire Channel, we reached the southernmost point of our journey at 65o 12' South, where Captain Peter turned the Prince Albert II north-westwards at 3:15pm to take us out into the Drake Passage for our two-day voyage back to Ushuaia.

Out in the open sea, it was time to return to our programmed of informative talks. At 5pm, I gave a lecture entitled Southern Horizons: The Discovery and Mapping of Antarctica. Throughout the day, even during meal times, our eyes scanned the seas around the ship for whales and we were rewarded with many sightings.

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