The morning began, in what had already become a routine, with a wake-up announcement from 'Clouds' (Claudia) outlining the days activities and our first excursion stop: Orne Harbour. The weather was calm, clear (around us), and surprisingly warm (9°c) but a high cloud base with patches of sun trying to break through in the distance made for stunning ever changing vistas. From our anchorage Spigot Peak, on continental Antarctica, dominated and its summit was the target for some!
Seemingly soon, but actually 30 minutes after Clouds, came Siegi's world famous melodic announcement;
'Good Morning, Good Morning, Good Morning; the dining room is open for breakfast'
Breakfast is self service apart from tea/coffee which the crew pour from no-spill insulated jugs. Although it was calm I can see the sense in not having passengers wandering around with hot beverages. Coffee was freely available but in little (restaurant style) cups so I needed at least three to make 'a coffee'. It wasn't long before they learnt to fill my cup pretty much every time they went past!
Learning to dress?
I was rostered for kayaking and Zet had saved time by giving us the supplied gear the previous evening. As it was the first serious outing I kept breakfast short to allow time to 'get dressed', and was glad I did. Getting into the drysuit was a bit of a mission (socks over, recommended, thermals to stop them riding up helped) and reworking all the cunning pre-planning to use various pockets for gear. That was foiled by the kayaking life jacket (different to our Zodiac one) & wind shell covering them! I set out with Merino 'liner gloves', some paddled bare handed, but took water/windproof snow gloves. Was glad I did as my hands did start to get cold after an hour, or so, out there.
I took a small dry bag with my Canon D600 SLR and Cycliq Fly12 Bike Cam (to use like a Go-Pro), pocketed a small Canon IXUS 980 point & shoot camera (in case could not use the SLR) and my S7 Edge phone in a waterproof plastic sleeve. Having the phone in a sleeve did nothing for photo quality but eliminated any chance of losing it on day one.
I had packed a conference neck lanyard, thinking it might be useful for something, and ended up using it to secure the phone and IXUS while in use. The ship key card came on a belt-clip retractable lanyard but I found it easier to access from a top pocket, for sign out/in, so clipped that to the lanyard too.
After the trip the Autodesk Community User Group organisers (in the US) were amazed to see where their lanyard, sent to NZ just before I departed, had been!
We boarded the Zodiac and were motored across to board the kayaks nearer the shore. The kayaks are stable ocean type, mostly doubles, which I shared with Bruce (from Sydney). Hope I didn't annoy him with too much "no-paddle while photographing", but think we were pretty even!
I tried the Cycliq with a GoPro sucker mount but it didn't stick, the hull was too curved, so ended up with it jammed under the deck bungees. It worked quite well there but picked up sound through the hull; sea ice & paddle clunks etc. Did not get any dramatic footage but was cool to capture the experience.
Orne Harbour offers a lovely variety of shoreline; from soaring shear cliffs of rock or ice to flat landing shelves. This was my first chance to see a penguin colony up close.
The brown staining is penguin poo, gives the rookeries a distinctive aroma...
Further along the shoreline we passed the mountaineers gearing up to climb Spigot Peak, about 285m high!
Next up, our first seal encounter; after an initial look to check us out there was just indifference to the human encroachment on its rest spot. This was a common characteristic of all of the locals. I have seen penguins and seals in NZ but they are far more wary of humans, not a factor here.
Ortelius looking lovely in her home environment. She has an ice rating, but is not an ice breaker. Kayaking through broken floating ice was a new experience.
The water was incredibly clear; deceptive as what appeared shallow could be metres deep.
One benefit of kayaking on day one was getting to appreciate the scale of the environment. From our (relatively small 95m) ship you really can't judge the size of features. An ice cliff that looks quite big from the ship becomes a 10, 20, 30, 40 storey high monster when you kayak closer. We were coached on where to go, and avoid, for safety but the thought of millions of tonnes of ice 'just up there' was sobering.
Photos capture moments but cameras can't convey the depth and variety of colour in the ice; something about the way light refracts, bounces and 'glows' within is lost to image sensor pixels.
Zet and several others, including Bruce, went ashore to look at more Weddell Seals but I chose to stay in the kayak. By now we were 'around the corner' from Ortelius and drifting around in the silence (no wind, waves, ship engine hum or Zodiac outboards) was truly staggering. It was so peaceful.
Calm, silence, solitude
Although calm in our bay the looming sky and tremendous cracks of distant ice movement, at first thought it was thunder, made for a dramatic scene.
In addition to Zet guiding in the kayak we were constantly monitored by the Zodiac crew, with a vigilant eye for both safety and pointing out sights and wildlife.
After what seemed like minutes, but was actually two and a half hours, it was time to raft up and head back to Ortelius. We bid farewell to Orne Harbour and it was time for lunch while the ship repositioned for the afternoon landing.
The size of Ortelius and ability to get everyone out at the same time makes two excursions per day possible; weather permitting. I suspect larger vessels would be considerably less flexible as some landings, especially the bases, could only handle a limited number of people at once.
Learning to walk like a penguin at Cuverville Island
The afternoon landing Zodiac boarding line is short and...
...has a wonderful view.
First time ashore (for me & most) meant getting to grips with snow shoes, which clipped over the Muck boots, and walking in the deep soft snow.
The snow shoes are modern short plastic style, not the 'tennis racket type' I anticipated, but even strapping them on was quite an effort. You could walk fairly normally, but had to remember your feet were wider than normal to avoid clashes! I don't think anyone escaped without the occasional clumsy stumble or fall!
The locals, of course, were used to it but still had their challenges getting around. Given that, I was surprised how fast a penguin can move when you are trying to line up a shot and operate a camera with chilly fingers!
Sometimes it was just nice to sit and look.
The rookeries were a short walk from the landing for us, more of a trek for those with penguin sized strides.
The penguins follow defined paths, dubbed 'Penguin Highways', which are packed down and easier to walk. When they meet head-on there is generally a standoff until one gives in and goes 'off-piste', amusing to watch. We were directed to cross the highways at marked spots, and the penguins always have priority.
Amusing to see both penguins and people following their respective 'highways'.
It was quite a hike up here, yet the penguins do it. They have sorted out the safe and early snow melt areas for their rookeries. Watching them make the journey with a full belly, or a nest building pebble in their beak, was captivating.
One of us belongs here, the one on the other side of the camera still doesn't believe he is here.
In a landscape where nearly everything is white; there is so much colour.
Supervised boarding in progress, we were not allowed to approach to less than 5m but the penguins are allowed to approach us.
Thankfully this was not the last zodiac of the day, they ran constant shuttles so you could spend as much time ashore as you wished.
The first never-ending evening
Back on Ortelius we had a talk from Dr Karl, the only note I have is 'Brain use 10% myth', and dinner. After dropping off the campers at Kerr Point (more on that tomorrow) we headed around the corner towards Neko Harbour. This left the campers in peace and treated us to a spectacular evening sun-not quite-set.
The clouds had cleared in the afternoon/evening, vistas were staggering.
This far South 'Sunset' started late, this was about 9pm, and faded to a never ending twilight.
The low angle evening light highlights the wind sculpted texture in ice and snow.
The first evening was spectacular for those onboard
Ortelius flew this flag throughout the voyage, and it featured in a special event towards the end.
No need for filters or effects, this gradient is entirely natural. Watching snow turn from gold to blue, shadow rising as the sun sunk to the horizon, is captivating.
Werner still shooting, working late into the night.
Sunset, this was about 22:30, but it was midnight before I got to bed. What a day!
Day 4 – 27th November 2019 - Orne Harbour and Cuverville Island (Kerr Point, Camping)
GPS position at 0800: 64°37.6’ S 62°32.6’ W | Air Temp: 9°C | Wind: NW1 | Sea state: Calm