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Day 15 - November 26, 2009 - Paradise Harbour, Antarctica

By Chris Srigley, General Naturalist

Co-ordinates: 64º53’30”S, 62º52’50”W
Weather: Overcast with flurries

0500 is an early start, but when you are arriving in Paradise Bay it doesn’t matter how well you slept. When your alarm goes off, you are up and to the coffee pot right away. You just don’t want to miss the entrance through Bryde Channel at all.

Located in a region of the Antarctic Peninsula that can be considered the most stunning of all, Paradise Harbour truly reflects the name it is given. Towering peaks clad in glacier ice flowing to the ocean – it is truly awe-inspiring. This morning however, with the overcast skies and falling snow we would not be able to take in the entire glory of this wonderful place.

On our approach to our final position through the falling snow, we could see that the Orlova, another expedition ship, was still in the area and operating. They had left a group onshore at Almirante Brown camping overnight. On a normal day they would have had their guests picked up and sailed off long before we had arrived. Today was not normal as bergy bits and brash ice blocked the landing site.

With the Orlova away, we began disembarking our first guests to shore before returning to the Prince Albert II to pick up the rest and head out on a one and a half hour Zodiac tour.

Partnered with our geologist Juan Carlos, we made our way deeper into the harbour making for Skontorp Cove and the stunning Avalanche Glacier. Along the way we stopped off at a Blue-eyed Shag colony, one of the most southerly, and also to look at a small deposit of the semi-precious stone Malachite before pushing through the brash ice into open water.

Between the air temperature and the wind, it was a cold morning. As we pushed into open water we could see the formation of grease ice. The first step in forming sea ice. It was evident temperatures had been holding at or below our current temperature for some time.

Just then a large piece of the glacier came down with a thunderous roar as everyone in our Zodiacs leapt to their feet. Urging them to sit, both Juan and I positioned our Zodiacs to get as much of a view as possible through the falling snow.

Having had to push through so much ice, we had eaten up a good portion of our time. We were aware that it would take time to get back out, and the decision was made to start back for the landing site. Once there we would send our current guests to shore while picking up those that had been onshore before heading out again on tour.

Heading back for Skontorp Cove, usually a hot bed for Leopard Seals and Minke Whales, we hoped for a bit more on the wildlife side.

Unfortunately with the temperature being what they were, my guests, who of course had been onshore for an hour and a half, did not find the change to sitting still in the Zodiac warming. Quickly they became quite cold. With a vote taken, the decision to head back to the ship to warm up was unanimous.

Calling my return into the Bridge, I pushed through the ice and made my way for the Prince Albert II before heading back to our landing site to pick up those onshore who wanted to return.

At 1015 all guests and crew were back onboard and we were heading for the Lemaire Channel, also known as Kodak Gap for its beauty and photo opportunities.

Unfortunately, as we made our approach, the visibility became almost zero and the winds continued to increase. Captain Peter Stahlberg made the decision to cancel our approach and make for the Drake Passage.

With that, our time in Antarctica was done. We sailed through the French Passage and out into open seas as Victoria lectured on Roald Amundsen and Scott. Her talk entitled “Amundsen the Sportsmen, Scott the Hero?” A passionate historian, Victoria told us of the men, their lives and the lead up to both their times in Antarctica.

As the afternoon progressed so did the swell, and one by one our guests slowly began to vanish. By the time Stefan stepped on stage to give his talk “Volcanism” there were only a few brave soldiers who could make it up to The Theatre. The rest, we hoped, were well enough to be listening in via their suite’s television.

We have had some long days on this trip, a mixed bag of weather and some amazing experiences. As we sail away from the peninsula, it is easy to tell it has made an impression on everyone here. We have created new ambassadors for this last truly wild place on earth.

Let’s just see what the weather brings tomorrow!

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