Recent Entries

December 10, 2004

Petermann and Lemaire

Leaving Mikkelsen Harbor, we were already at a latitude of 63 degrees south. Of course, part of being that far south at this time of the year is that it doesn't really get dark. I woke up at about 3:30 am friday morning to the crunching of ice against the ship. Looking out through the porthole, it was light enough that it could have been mid afternoon on a cloudy day. I went up to the bridge to see what was going on, and found out we were still trying to continue south to get to the Lemaire channel, but the ice was building up. The crew was intently watching the ice. I stayed up there almost falling asleep on my feet for about an hour or so, until I decided to go back to my cabin and try to sleep. It was tough though, I kept getting up and looking through the porthole to see what was happening.

Laurie got on the intercom around 6am to say that we had made it to the Lemaire Channel! Yippee! I got up and went up to the bridge to watch as we entered. The Lemaire Channel is supossed to be one of the most scenic channels in the Peninsula. It is about 1.5 kilometers wide with the Antarctic Peninusula on one side and the mountains of Booth Island on the other. I stayed up on the bridge taking pictures while we were going through the channel, and although it was a little cloudy, the scenery was still very nice. There was a windswept, snow covered hill that really reminded me of the dunes in Namibia, except with snow instead of sand, and about a hundred degrees of temperature difference.We were even lucky enough to see several killer whales (orcas) swimming very close to the ship!

We were on our way to Petermann Island to visit some more penguins and also to drop off a girl named Stacy. She was on the ship basically catching a ride to Petermann, where she would be spending several weeks living on the island and researching penguins. As we approached Petermann, the ice looked pretty thick, in fact, when we reached the point where we would get off the ship onto the zodiacs, there was a sheet of pack ice lined up against the side of the ship.

We arrived at Petermann, where we were greeted by a weddel seal, some gentoo penguins, and a researcher named Ron Naveen. Ron is the principal investigator of the Antarctic Site Inventory Project, which is a project that is collecting information on the impact of tourism and other research on the Antarctican environment. In addition to dropping Stacy off at her new home, we were picking Ron up to give him a lift back to Ushuaia.

Petermann Island was fantastic. There were nests of gentoo penguins and adelie penguins nesting amongst each other. Adelie penguins are typically smaller than gentoos and they have completely black heads with just the white eye, whereas the gentoo has the tuft of white near its eye. I'm sure there are more scientific differences, but those were the obvious ones.

I headed over to the far side of the island to see the bay, along with a few others. I stopped to make a snow angel, and to take some pictures of the penguins that had the prime nesting real estate overlooking the bay. If I was a penguin, that is where I'd live. Continuing up the hill, Jonathan, who has been to Petermann several times, led the way, and did all the hard work of treading a path in the mid shin to knee deep snow for us. Part way there, he spotted something VERY exciting. He brought me up towards some rocks and said that Antarctica only has two flowering plants and there, right before my eyes, was one of them!! "Um... where?" I said in kind of a dopey way. So he pointed it out. It was only about the size of a tennis ball, and not very pretty, but I guess I shouldn't expect too much from a plant that has to live in the Antarctican climate.

I followed him up to the top of the hill where there was a spectacular view of the bay. We sat there for a while, and Laurie joined us, making his way up the ridge of the hill. When he got to the top, he turned around and pointed to the bay and said "THAT is the bay that they told me was clear!" Apparantly, as we crossed the Drake Passage, Laurie was radioed by Ron at Petermann that the bay was clear and that we should be able to get in. Of course, when we got to the channel, it was iced in, which is why we had to make the huge loop to get back there. It just goes to show how fast the conditions can change. We found that out for ourselves later in the day also...

It was turning out to be a gorgeous day, with blue skies and pretty warm temperatures. I had already taken off two layers of clothing and was still warm. I sat at the top of the hill for a while before heading back, and walked down to watch the penguins. Whenever I took a step, my foot would sink in a few inches, and sometimes up to a foot or so. The penguins walk all around the same areas we did and they are not much more than a foot tall, so the rest of the afternoon was filled with the hilarity of watching penguins try to walk around and jump over the massive craters we had left in the snow with our feet. In a way it was sad, but I was too busy laughing to feel sad just at that moment. I captured some of it on video, which kept me entertained for the next few days. I also came across the very rare headless penguin. Ha ha.

We were supossed to be on the island for about 4 hours but with about an hour to go, we heard the ships horn blow, which meant to get immediately onto a zodiac and return to the ship. It was a little confusing because it was an absolutely gorgeous day out, but as we headed down to the water to catch the zodiac, we found out why. All of the pack ice that was alongside the ship when we left for Petermann, was drifting into the bay were we landed 3 hours earlier. There was a zodiac full of people that was having a hard time getting back to open water. The one I was in, driven by Kara, was steadily making its way. It was rough going sometimes, we'd get stuck on an iceflow and just reverse and then floor it to try and make it over the top of the ice, or to push it sideways out of the way. On the way back we passed another zodiac that was trying to get to the island to pick people up, but was stuck. The zodiac I was in got back without too much of a problem, but there were still about 30 people that were stuck on the island. It took a few hours, but eventually they all made it back. I wished I was in one of the zodiacs that got stuck for real.

After lunch, the ship had moved away from the ice flows into Pleneau Bay where I went for a zodiac cruise among the huge icebergs. They say that only a fifth of an iceberg can be seen above the water, which means some of the ones we were seeing were about the size of a house. We also found a crabeater seal scratching itself on an iceflow not too far away. On the way back we picked up some glacial ice to put in our drinks later in the evening!

Back at the ship, the crew was preparing for a BBQ out on the back deck. We couldn't have asked for better weather, or better scenery. We had dinner outside on the deck while cruising back through the Lemaire Channel. The same channel that we went through at 6 am that morning, but the clouds had lifted, and the water was calm. There was a spectacular reflection in the water of the mountains on either side of the channel, with little bergy bits in the water. I had my dinner facing out toward the water and mountains, watching the reflections.

It was my favorite day since I've been traveling, hands down.

If you enjoyed reading this entry, please post a comment. I like to know who is e-traveling with me. Thanks!

Posted by msshell on December 10, 2004 05:01 PM
Category: Antarctica

I wanna go, I wanna go. Those pictures look so amazing. Who would have thought that seeing snow could be sooo exciting!!!

Posted by: jeff on December 11, 2004 10:39 AM

Spectacular pictures!

Posted by: Rob M on December 12, 2004 06:24 PM

Oh wow... I'm almost speechless! That hill does look like a Namibian sand dune!

Posted by: Kellie on December 13, 2004 08:11 PM

KELLIE: I know, isn't it wierd?!! I was wishing you were there when I saw that so you could relate! Do you have any pics from the Namibian dunes that look similar? I have to check through mine still, I want frame them together...

Posted by: Michelle on December 13, 2004 09:34 PM

What is the average temp out there anyway?

Posted by: Sherry on December 14, 2004 10:00 AM

Fabulous photos. Thanks for taking and sharing!

Posted by: Jessica Katherine on December 16, 2004 01:42 PM

SHERRY: Average temp in the summer is 20 degrees Farenheit, and the average temp in the winter is -30 degrees Farenheit. Thanks for the clean comment. I have censored your other penguin one... and you were doing so well! :)

Posted by: Michelle on December 18, 2004 03:58 PM
Email this page
Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

Designed & Hosted by the BootsnAll Travel Network