We have arrived in Antarctica!!! The first sighting was a bright glow of light on the horizon reflecting off the snow. Then in the small hours of the morning (it doesn’t actually get dark) we stared to make out shapes of the islands in the glow: Smith island, a pointy mountain of jagged snow, Snow island, a long low island almost entirely covered in snow apart from some jagged black rocks around the edge, and in the middle, a huge iceberg about 3 times the height of the boat. As we came closer and the sun crept up above the horizon, the amazing scene was basked in a delicate pink glow. At that point I think the amazing reality slowly soaked into our souls…we had actually arrived in Antarctica!
We wove our way through the islands, and at lunch time came to anchor in a bay on Half Moon island. This is a narrow 2km long island shaped like a sickle moon. After a quick lunch and briefing on proper behaviour and etiquette in Antarctica we bounced into the dingies ready and excited for our first trip ashore. Half Moon Island has two chinstrap penguin colonies and a number of other birds nesting . We trekked across the snow to one of the penguin colonies to be met by a raucous mass of the little black and white fellows busying around the place. A slightly closer inspection revealed numerous fluffy grey chicks hiding between their parents legs. Some of them already so fat that they no longer fit under their parents, so instead they just bury their heads in the warmth while their big fluffy behinds stick out and their parents sit awkwardly on them.
My watch has been supremely lucky this trip in that we have seen loads of nature, including plenty of whales!! Sometimes they have stayed around long enough to get the other crew members out of bed, but sometimes they have passed relatively quickly. While we were still out in the drake, we were greeted by a group of 4 fin whales who swam with us, sometimes scarily close to the boat, for around 45 minutes. Fin whales are huge whales usually around 19-20 meters long, but reaching up to 27 meters. A funny fact about fin whales is that their lower lip is white on their right hand side and dark on their left. This is an adaptation to feeding and they usually feed on their right side, taking giant gulps of water filled with small fish into their mouths before blowing out the water and swallowing the fish. As we left Half Moon Island for Yankee Harbour we were met by a heavy blizzard that made it very difficult to see. We crept slowly into Yankee Harbour and anchored there, but when the weather hadn’t much improved after dinner, and with a forecast for unfavourable winds later on, we anchored up to head for Deception Island and the hot springs. As we motored out of the bay, we saw a few humpback whales out in the bay who dived down with a beautiful display of their flukes (tails). Then we saw one more nature sighting for the day that made me squeal loudly with excitement. Those who have been following the blog from the beginning, or who have sailed with me will know what animal I most wanted to see on this trip…or actually generally ever in my life. Well today was my day, and we spotted a large pod of killer whales speeding past us into the bay we had just come out of. They didn’t come particularly close and were clearly off on a mission, their tall fins proudly slicing through the water. But it’s enough for me to have seen them at all!
One sleepy but happy Cliggy signing off watch