We couldn't control ourselves. Our captain stopped for EVERY whale! These two put on quite a show!

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Ushuaia tonight at 9:30 - we'll miss our new friends incuding lovely staff.







Leaving Port Lockroy on our way to Neko Harbour

We had just finished our barbecue lunch and I was in my cabin uploading photos when the captain spotted Orcas and turned the boat around.  The Orcas were not black and white, but black and yellow from algae.    I took movies because it was so hard to catch them as they breached.  I'll try to isolate a few frames to add here when I get home.  Of course when the captain announced the Orcas, there was a virtual stampede to the upper deck! 

It is our last visit to the Continent of Antarctic (the only stop on the actual mainland of the continent.)  More Gentoos. Some people took a hike to the top of a snowy peak and slid down.  I didn't because I really don't like hiking on slush and ice.  We heard some avalanches.  In fact, they encouraged us to get off the shore and onto higher ground pretty quickly because they said that when there's an avalanche, the zodiac can end up out of the water and up on the hill.

It is a balmy 40+ degrees and the penguins are quite overheated. The ones tending to chicks have to keep standing but their arms are extended away from their sides and they are panting. the other penguins are cooling off by lying on the snow


Whew - what a heat wave!


We're in a beautiful cover with lots of floating iceberg and listening as avalanches boom off the mountain side


Rookery overlooking bay and snow covered peaks


Gentoos are tending to chicks. Skuas are always on the prowl.  They never go away hungry so all chicks are vulnerable.  Sometimes one Skua will pull the tale of a parent which makes them stand up straight, while the other snatches the chick from the front.  So mean.

I just sat on a rock and enjoyed my last day in Antarctica basking in the sun and taking in the local icebergs.


Like a futuristic city of ice

Tonight was the 65th birthday of our new friend, Ellen. We had a lovely dinner together with many new friends.  Dinner was not particularly good tonight, but it was the company that was important.  We exchanged email addresses so we can keep in touch.  After dinner (which ended around 10 pm) we stayed up to watch the sunset.  During dinner, our sister ship, L'Astral, (a duplicate of our ship) passed and we travelled together for a brief time.  The crews greeted each other enthusiastically!  


Sistesr Ellen (left) and Mimi. Ellen is the birthday girl!


Sunset in Antarctica




To pink


Cute clouds, got this picture trying to locate whales which did eventually surface.

We are on our way to Drake passage which is notoriously rough.  The captain said that conditions looked good but we should batten down the hatches anyway, which, in our case, means taking anti-seasick measures, taking all your bottles and assorted stuff that is currently on shelves and put them in drawers or somewhere secure.  

Our captain, Etienne Garcia, is just great - he stops every time he sees a whale and will turn the ship around so everyone can get a good view.  He just stopped the ship, so of course, we all know there is a whale or two around.  And there are. (Usually he anounces the whales and tells us where to find them.  However, it is late and he didn't want to awaken sleeping guests.) I took a movie from which I will  extract a frame to put in this blog.  There were two  whales and it was as if they were putting on a syncronized swimming show.  Very cool.

We will be at sea for two days and land back in Ushuaia on Friday night (the 18th.) We disembark at 8:30am on the 19th. Tomorrow night is the special farewell dinner.  Rumor has it we'll be eating lobster - yum!

Port Lockroy on Wienke Island. A zodiac tour and a tourist shop

Our ship arrived here at around 1 am and the anchor made a racket and woke me up - but only briefly. I am sleeping like a rock on the ship.   Here's what I saw outside my cabin window.


Port Lockroy - which is on a small rock island, just like this one.

We took a zodiac tour as we awaited permission to land on the island which had a tourist shop.  I was not interested in shopping and had already been on the zodiac for more than an hour and needed to get back to the ship to use the "facilities."  We were in this protected cove with many varied sights.  Of course, there were Gentoo penguins on the island. But even more impressive (to me after seeing so many penguins) was the Weddell seal basking on the shore.  See how much the seal looks like the rocks on the island? There are nesting Cormorants as well.


Waddell seal kindly posed for our cameras. 


This is called fast ice. Fast as in fastened to the shore, not moving fast. It's freshwater ice and very dense. This was broken up and our zodiac actually cruised right into :(

Peaks surrouding Port Lockroy 

A sailboat anchored in Port Lockroy. We could see the occupants taking a hike on the glacier (not the one  behind the ship.)

Port Port Lockroy restored. The quanset hut is where the staff live.  The larger building is the tourist shop and the smaller building is the museum. There are Gentoo penguins,  King Cormorants and the Waddell seal (pictured above) on the island as well.  


Blue iceberg. Really, it was that blue.

See the bent railing with the sign on it? When we went through the two days of rough seas, the force of the swells bent those railings. Glad I didn't know about it until now.

Snowy Sheathbills seem to like the barbecue fare.

Le Maire Channel cruise for dramatic views with the sun setting

The captain gave us a special treat this evening.  He told us to come to the front of the ship at 9 pm for dramatic views of a narrow straight with the the sun setting.  We continued along this path until around 11:30pm when we turned around and continued on our journey.  I can only show you pictures and I'm not sure that even they will suffice to show you how breathtaking this was.  As always, there were Humpback and Minke whales all around.  


This is the narrow passage we traveled through.  I was a bit nervous getting so close to those rocky peaks


First everything looked misty and mysterious


As the sun started to set, everything had a golden glow


In real life, the pink was so intense, it looked more like Sedona than like Antarctica


What?  A pink iceberg?


For the first time ever, no one on the cruise said they thought we looked like sisters.  I always wondered how anyone could think we look alike.  Clearly, we don't.

A spectacular morning in Charlotte Bay

When we awoke this morning, we were already deep in a spectacular bay surrounded by high peaks and glaciers.  Seals and penguins could be seen on ice floes, and a report of Humpback and Minke whales (which I didn't see.)  Jane and I were in the first group out on a zodiac tour at 9 am.  What a show.  We saw a group of Humpback whales which seemed to enjoy putting on a show for us!  There was a Crabeater seal ( named because, based on their red colored poop, it was thought that this seal eats crabs. Turns out they feed exclusively on krill.)   There was a mini Gentoo penguin colony on an ice floe.  Got some really cute pictures of them.  

The sky was partly sunny, partly overcast. The temperature was 32 degrees. No wind.  Perfect for our outing.

Crabeater seal2

Crabeater seal on the ice.


Gentoos just hanging out on the ice


What's with all these strange large red birds? What should we do?


That one's really scary. 


They're too weird. Let's get out of here!


The world of black and white is just pure drama!

And that was just the morning.  Another whole adventure awaits us this afternoon on Cuverville Island.

Cuverville Island offered a steep climb up snow and ice - so treacherous that no one made it all the way up.  There was a gentler walk along the shore which was also a challenge because it was very rocky with streams of penguin poop, called guano.  We saw an amazing colony of Gentoos nesting. We saw some nursing eggs, just hatched chicks and chicks a couple of days old.  Of course there were the mean Skuas wating to snatch a chick or two for lunch.  The penguins are totally helpless. They can sit on their chicks and stay close together to try to protect them, but they truly have no other defenses.  The Skua worked in a team of two. One distracting and one grabbing.  So sad.  Most of the penguins had 2 chicks.  We also witnessed "changing of the guard" when one penguin returns from a fishing expedition and takes over parenting duties.  It was an amazing microcosm of penguin life that we witnessed in ½ hour's time.  I returned to the zodiac for a brief tour on the way back to the ship.  Patri (Patricia) is one of the naturalists and is one of the more engaging ones who goes to great pains to explain everything you see.  It really makes a difference.


Hi Mom!


These penguins walk with their wings outstretched and slightly back.


Gentoos nest on piles of rocks.  Notice that what looks like a white patch over their eye is really a headband of white. It's hard to see unless you blow up the picture, but the baby is sitting in an egg that did not hatch very long ago. Gentoos usually lay 2 eggs, so either one hasn't hatched yet, or it was stolen by a Skua.

We've arrived in Antarctica! We are in the South Shetland Islands on Penguin Island. Guess what we'll see there?

It's a spectacular day. Sunny, light winds, 36 degrees. We've seen a humpback and a minke whale along the way. We're surrounded by sea ice and the captain has to carefully navigate around it.  The first group disembarks at 3 pm.  Jane and I disembark at 5 with our group.  There's a steep climb up 850 feet which I would do but I was told it's slippery coming down (and you can only come down the way you go up.)  I might just opt to walk around the island to see the Chinstrap and Adelie penguins.  Hope the sunshine and warmth hold out for us.

On the way, we spotted a Humpback and a Minke whale.


Sea ice and icebergs all around


We continue to be followed by Cape Petrels and Antarctic Petrels (the ones with only white and no black on their bellies.)


Jane has her usual 3 desserts.

We left the boat at 5 pm.  We had a choice of climbing a big hill and then going to see the penguin rookery or just walking to see the penguins.  After speaking to some of the guests coming back, I decided to spend some time at the penguin rookery and forgo the hike.  There were Adelies, Gentoos and Chinstrap penguins.

The weather not only held out, but got even more clear and warm.  I didn't need gloves while on shore.  The landing was on large, round rocks.  A bit tricky, but we had help of the naturalist team.  I walked to the rookerie and there, off the shore, was a leopard seal eating his fifth penguin. At that point, we weren't sure he was still hungry or just providing snacks for the skua who were flying overhead.  We walked over rock and slushy snow.  I brought my trekking poles and it made the walk easier.  After getting to the rookery, I gave Jane one of my trekking poles.  We'll take them ashore next time (each with our own pair.)  On the way back in the zodiac, we were treated to stories about groups who became stranded on this island for 18 hours because of a sudden shift in weather.  Apparently, on that same expedition, one of the zodiacs flipped and several guests got soaked through. After everyone else shared clothes,  the soaked guests were clothed again.  The zodiacs were brought on shore and flipped upside down and set up as temporary shelters with poles for support.  (And here I was feeling so safe and secure!) The staff person told us that there are all kinds of drills that they go through to train for just such events and there is an extra zodiac left close to shore with emergency supplies. The weather here is so unpredictable.

 Isn't this Chinstrap so pretty? It's feathers look like fur!


Gentoos amoung the Chinstraps


It's a little tricky  navigating this slush and I live here!


Chinstrap and her chick


Adelie Penguins have all black heads and white around the eye.


Yuch! I'm heading down for a bath!!!

Seas have calmed.

We are so fortunate to have made it unscathed through the storm.  We were told that the last 3 Le Boreal expeditions did not have any adverse weather.  We may encounter similar treacherous conditions on the way back to Ushuaia.  Our latest information from the captain is that we can expect to get to Antarctica no earlier than noon tomorrow. Sounds good to me. Another day for sleeping in. 

Everyone is very impressed by the food and the service.  

I asked the staff why they have us change our clocks and then 2 days later, change our clocks back again.  They said that on past voyages, the guests were upset to have to leave the boat at 6 am, that it was more palatable to leave at 7 am.  I said I thought that was silly because in blogs of past trips, I read that there have been outings as early as 4:30 am.  If guests don't want to leave the ship early, they are not required to, but if you pay this much money, why wouldn't you take every opportunity that is presented. I think changing the clocks so often is more annoying than going on an early outing.  

We are treated to several lectures about Shackleton and other explorers.  They endured unspeakable difficulties and were incredibly resourceful and determined.  I wouldn't have lasted one second on any of these expeditions.  I guess it's moot; I wouldn't have signed up.

We've also had lectures on the penguins we will see in Antarctica, namely Adelie and Chinstrap penguins. The photographer has been coaching us on how to photograph the penguins for the best pictures.  

The movie, "Happy Feet" played twice today in the theater. I didn't go.


I went back to my cabin this afternoon and found these birds outside my cabin.  They are Cape Petrels with white bellies, black heads and wings with beautiful white markings


Cape Petrels have white bellies


Cape Petrels follow ships to feed on waste food and creatures killed by hot water from engines. Can you tell, this is the land of black and white!

Stormy, out of control sea

Last night, few of us slept.  The winds were crazy, everything kept falling off shelves. At one point, my phone fell off the hook and I could hear the receptionist saying, "Hello? Receptionist. Hello?" I had to pick up the phone to tell her it was an accident.  At meals, the guests sitting on the hardwood floor at the center of the dining room slid across the dining room, spilling food and drinks and in some cases, landing on someone's lap. I was laughing, but some people were seriously alarmed. That's one thing I wish someone had documented in pictures but who knew that would happen?  It is hard to really capture in pictures how high the surf is. 


This is taken from inside my cabin.  That's not horizon - that's a swell.  Formidable!

Some passengers are terrified and crying. They get valium from the doctor.  Some guests' deck furniture flew overboard so staff went room to room to bring the deck furniture inside. It's weird because the sky is quite light, but the winds are wicked! Apparently they are 55mph+ - 10 on the Beauford Scale of 1-12. The waves are 50 feet high. The captain says that we have to slow way down and take a detour to deal with the storm and so we will be landing on Antarctica late - how late cannot yet be determined.

I just find it hard to sleep because after the boat shifts in response to the swells, it makes a major clunk and it's very noisy.  So I am spending most of my time reading a Jo Nesbo book on my kindle.  

Not much else going on.  They expect this weather for the rest of the day.  Hope we can land tomorrow on Antarctica.

I was about to step into the elevator, thinking, "Isn't it amazing that elevators can function despite the weather?"  Oops, I was yanked out of the elevator and told it was not safe until the seas had calmed. That makes more sense.

I miss my tea.  They can't put out the hot water and tea because it's impossible to carry without spilling.

I still have my cold but it's getting better slowly.  Courvoisier works well to coat the throat.

Note: we have found out that 3 ships did not make it through the storm and one of those ships, with many teen agers on board, was damaged by the storm.  The passengers were apparently not harmed but the captain has a dislocated shoulder, a crew member has a broken nose, and they are on their way back to Ushuaia. We heard they were travelling at too high a speed and did not alter their course. Don't know if that is true. Don't know if they could have avoided this accident. We were very lucky that our captain planned for this and made adjustments accordingly.  The other two ships are back on course but way behind us.

A day at sea and a giant iceberg

Today we stayed on board.  A possible zodiac tour had been planned for this morning, but the weather didn't cooperate.  I had decided not to go anyway because I am still under the weather.  We did have a ship tour of Drygalski Fjord.  I watched it through my cabin windows.  This afternoon, we were alerted to a giant iceberg by the captain. It was a least one mile long.  It had several "caves"  and even some which extended through to the opposite side, which I guess makes them tunnels.  We got so close to this thing and I was getting pretty nervous.  The captain circumvented the iceberg so we could see all sides.  As we travel along we see many icebergs off in the {comfortable) distance.  That was it for excitement today.  I need another day to recover from my bug so I am grateful we have yet another day at sea.  I'm catching up on reading on my kindle.


Iceberg with multiple caves and tunnels.


Caves and tunnels with surf crashiing against iceberg that was over 1 mile long.

There are barf bags on the railings every 6 feet.  I love the motion of the ship.  I am used to it now and don't really notice it much.


Barf bags every few feet. There are mats next to each door for our muck boots and many people dry their jackets on the handrails.

We have at least 3 lectures a day by naturalists, many of whom have had decades of experience in the region as researchers.  

We put our watches forward one hour two days ago and tonight we put them back one hour.  I don't know why they bother,  with all the hours of daylight, it shouldn't make any difference in our schedules.   

© Bts arbara Sevde 2012