Aitcho Island, Antarctica, Monday, November 12, 2007
We are in Antarctica!
After about 24 hours of motoring along through the Drake Passage, we crossed the Antarctic Convergence-which is where the water temperature drops quickly over a short few miles as the warmer northern water meets the colder southern water.
The first iceberg was spotted around 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. It was a big square block-about the size of 5 acres–sitting way off in the distance. Then we passed a few more icebergs very close up-one with penguins perched on the side. Bergs began to get more frequent. We saw bergs with blue, greens, lines etched, tunnels…all very beautiful.
1st Iceberg announcement See our shaky video, and listen to our expedition leader encourage us out on deck when the ship stopped to get a closer look at our first iceberg.
The Drake got very large swells yesterday as we were in the final few hours to the South Shetland Islands. Waves broke over the front of the bow and the ship pitched front-to-back and rolled side-to-side. Never knew there was a difference between pitching and rolling. But I know it now. And I know that they both make me queasy! Waves even washed over the dining room windows on the port side (the left side, in the direction of travel). This of course, sent me scurrying from the dining room looking for a Bonine tablet. About a third of the folks have been seasick.
Around 1:30 p.m., we pulled into a harbor and begin prepping for our first Zodiac landing. There was a mandatory meeting about proper environmental etiquette while on land: Keep 15 feet from penguins, try not to make many footprints, don’t take stones or shells, leave no waste behind, move quietly and slowly.
We began boarding Zodiacs around 2:30–8 to a boat. These are rubber dingies with a light metal bottom and big inflated rims to sit on. They sit low in the water, and you sit on the inner-tube-sides gripping a rope. It zoomed across the water to the black sand beach. You swing your legs over and jump into the waves breaking on the beach. The giant muck boots, water-proof over-pants and the bright red parkas are amazing for keeping you warm and dry. We were on land for almost 2 hours and only my fingers got cold (since I had my hands out snapping pictures almost the whole time.)
So, there are penguins everywhere! Gentoos with earmuff markings on their heads/eyes and bright red/orange feet/bills and Chinstraps with the identifying line across their chins. They looked at us. We looked at them. If you stop and sit down very still, they will approach you to get a better look. It’s mating season, so there’s a lot of pebble collecting, squawking, and running about going on as they look for a mate and try to impress her.
We also saw 3 seals basking in the 29 F degree sunshine and brisk winds. They seemed to enjoy it!
Today, we’re approaching Elephant Island–where Shackleton’s men waited for rescue for 128 days. Not sure we’ll be able to land, but should get fairly close to see it. There’s a lot of ice this season, so landing plans change with the opportunities.