While I was fast asleep, tired after some long days even given my normal 5-6 hours sleep, the clouds we saw descend near midnight had come down to sea level. The campers had returned at the planned time, 5:00am, with tales (over breakfast) of breaking down camp and returning to the ship in near white out conditions. It was still very calm but the temperature had dropped to a more Antarctic expectation 0°c. Even Lockie would struggle to see far in this weather.
We are scheduled to sail along Lemaire Channel and circumnavigate Booth Island. It's a small (~8km long) high (980m) island which was only first climbed in 2006! Below shows Ortelius pushing through the ice as we leave the overnight anchorage.
It was a real privilege to be let on the bridge any time it wasn't closed, which was rare. Watching the crew calmly, expertly, operate as a team was impressive and they were happy to show how the ship was operated when free to do so.
Ortelius has plenty of technology to ensure safe operation. I was a little surprised to see an arrow labelled 'EDGE" on the OLEX chart plotter; thinking back to my joking Flat Earth reference in an earlier post. Perhaps we really were going to uncover something phenomenal on this expedition!
It is actually a reference to North and a control button, rather than the direction to the perimeter boundary of a Flat Earth!
"The arrow in the upper left corner points to where North is. The view may easily be oriented differently, like Course Up. The button labelled Edge means that the ship symbol should be placed close to an edge of the display, as opposed to Center, so as to put most of the view in front of the ship. That is, if the ship has a western course, the symbol should be close to the eastern side, to emphasize more the terrain in front as opposed to behind." [from Olex AS]
It was also cool to see 'old school' chart navigation still in use for planning and an official record of the route. Lockie was on hand using his local knowledge to check they had their sums right.
The main station has all the technology on hand. GPS, Radar, Depth and Digital Charts to plan and controls to execute maneuvers. I suspect Lockie wondered why humans need all this to get around, penguins just go there!
The crew were picking a careful course between some massive ice. I loved Capt. Yury's response to a query about the ice & Ortelius' hull strengthening. From memory;
'We can go through ice but try to avoid. It's like if you have a Jeep; if there is a trail and a road, you look after your car and drive on the road. I love my ship and try not to harm her'.
Our 'more sense than the Titanic' moment
At a point where Lemaire Channel narrows to just 1600m wide a large iceberg, the visible part about 300m wide, blocked our path. Capt. Yury made the call to turn around and Clouds & the team set in place their plan b,c,d or wherever the day had got to in the planning matrix to arrange some alternative activities.
A trip like this is entirely weather dependent and we had been so fortunate to date it had to run out. Although cold and foggy it was still very calm so there was no wind chill, other than the ships movement, to contend with.
Ortelius helicopter deck provides a grand view as the ship pivots 180 degrees, pretty much within its own length. i was later told they knew the iceberg was going to be unpassable, but went close enough for us to see why the plans of the day were cancelled. it was an impressive spectacle and location, although the mist hid the true grandeur of the peaks around us.
The end of the line shows our Lemaire Channel U turn and the new destination.
The new track was sorted
Lockie watches the world go by from the cabin.
With outdoor activities cancelled there was a full on day of learning:
- Eduardo | The Science of Antarctica | Detailing the research done there; astronomy and climate in addition to more terrestrial subjects.
- Pierre's | Whale research | His specialty is Humpbacks, was amazing. When not guiding he studies them off the coast of Mozambique.
- Pippa | Citizen science projects | Including www.penguinwatch.org where anyone with a computer can help monitor penguin populations.
We ended up at Leith Cove, Paradise Harbour, where there was evening kayaking and the last overnight camp of the trip. Inspite of the weather the activity guides delivered!
A Chilean Welcome
The next day our first destination was the Chilean Gonzalez Videla Station. Another small station it is 'manned' by a zillion Gentoo penguins and a few Chilean Navy and Air Force personnel. They were great hosts opening the museum and base, their home, for us. I later read in the log we also rewarded them 'with a fresh vegetables & fruit delivery' which are more valuable than gold down here. The yacht 'Icebird' was a visitor too, a charter yacht for really intrepid Antarctic sailing tours.
When Clouds briefed us about this visit she mentioned we might meet a very special penguin, and we did. It is a Leucistic Gentoo, perfectly normal except for an inability for its feather cells to make pigment. Unlike albino, Leucism does not result in pink eyes and is pretty rare*. It was cool to see this bird, accepted and apparently breeding normally amongst the flock.
* The frequency of occurrence of leucism in the sample we observed was 1:114,000 in Adelie Penguins (P. adeliae), 1:146,000 in Chinstrap Penguins, and 1:20,000 in Gentoo Penguins (P. papua)) - Prevalence of leucism in Pygocelid penguins
The base, thanks to the dense penguin population, had an overwhelming aroma of penguin poo. If you have ever smelt chicken manure, then imagine chickens that live on a diet of shrimp & fish. Yes, the pink 'carpet' has that stench!
The buildings were cute. It was said this base, no longer used for research, is manned to provide 'search and rescue support'. But with limited resources, a few zodiacs, I suspect it is more just a stake in the ground. Sadly soon after our visit a Hercules C-130 aircraft supplying another Chilean scientific base was lost in the middle of Drake Passage with 38 onboard. A reminder how unforgiving the environment, and how fragile life is, in Antarctica.
My cabin-mate Dave in the lookout tower.
Ortelius and the bay from the lookout tower.
You would not believe how long I waited for a row of penguins to all look in approximately the same direction...
It would have been a cool place to kayak, the terrain and wildlife were incredible.
And behind the base, just a little bit more ice...
Although I didn't see any big falls, you could hear this ice was on the move.
Home, a few pebbles mark the spot and help keep the eggs above the surface when the rookery floods from melting snow.
All too soon, we were on the move again, on our way to visit another base.
Before the trip I got a shirt from one of my favourite podcasts. 'Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast' is a regular on my playlist and his 'Just one of the cool kids' slogan fit rather well in this environment.
Day 7 – 30th November 2019 | Lemaire Channel & Petermann Island (Islote Hanka, Camping)
GPS position at 0800: 64°56.0 S 63°39.9 W | Air Temp: 0°C | Wind: W3 | Sea state: Calm
Day 8 – 1st December 2019 | Waterboat Point & Brown Station
GPS position at 0800: 64°47.6 S 62°49.1 W | Air Temp: 1°C | Wind: SW4 | Sea state: rippled