Lemaire Channel, Dorian Bay and Port Charcot

3rd January 2017

We had a slightly overcast start to the day, a real change, as we’ve had sunshine and blue skies almost continually. The plan was to sail to the Lemaire Channel and hope we could go through, lately it’s been blocked quite often by large icebergs. I thought it was a shame when we found we couldn’t get through, little did I know the zodiac ride around the bay in front was going to be so spectacular.

Later than normal we set off in the zodiacs for a cruise through the ice around the mouth of the channel. That part was just as I expected the Antarctic to be, although much closer as we were only about a foot from the water. We’d been out for a little while and suddenly we realized Plancius was doing a lap of the bay!! She looked so stately, just cruising slowly along, going in behind huge icebergs and out the other side.

It was a terrific  sight and totally unexpected. We also saw another ship cruise up to the mouth and back again, but it wasn’t nearly as pretty as Plancius, more like a houseboat on steroids, but then of course, we probably all think our ship is the best.

We were looking at a big gash of deep blue compressed ice on the cliffs when we heard and could see an avalanche in behind it, pretty amazing. Then a smallish chunk of ice fell from beside the gash, I actually caught it as it entered the water on video on my phone. My phone then shows a 360 degree swing and I got back to the action just as another bigger piece followed the first into the water. A “calving” on video, pretty cool! It wasn’t the best videography, as I sort of lost a bit on the side, but was pretty chuffed I got any of it at all.

Our guide/zodiac driver quickly urged us to sit down, sit down, and hightailed it further away but nothing else happened so we moved on to check out more seals. I got a little video of penguins jumping through the water just afterwards, which was a buzz also.

Back for lunch and a landing at Port Charcot, a hike to the hilltop and more penguins, and a quick sketch before one of the highlights of my trip – a polar plunge!

Rocks at Port Charcot, site of my polar plunge!

Rocks at Port Charcot, site of my polar plunge!

I’d skipped the first one but was determined this was the day. So down to my swimming gear and into the freezing cold water – what a shock to the system. I swam out a little way and when I stood up I realized my shorts had descended and my top had gone north but I couldn’t feel a thing. Quick clothing adjustment and I headed back to climb out but lost my footing on the rocks and instead of falling I turned and dove back into the water. Everyone thought I was being brave having another go – little did they know! What a fantastic experience, although short-lived, it is something I don’t think I’ll ever forget and would have regretted not doing.

The only pic I have so far of where we did the polar plunge is this one I took beforehand. I’ve been in touch with one of the crew and am hopeful of receiving others soon, just for proof!!!

I just keep thinking how fortunate I am to be able to be here, that all the saving and not spending money on other things has been so completely worth the effort.

 

 

 

 

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Neko Harbour, Almirante Brown and BBQ in Antarctica

2nd January 2017

I stayed in the lounge when we got back to Plancius from camping, didn’t think it would be nice to wake Marijke that early, so settled with a cuppa and book from the library until Andrew made his daily wake up call at 7am. “Good morning, good morning, it’s Monday 2nd January and the weather is clear with a slight breeze and the temperature is 3 degrees. Breakfast will be served in the dining room at 7:30 for those who want to join. I hope you all have a good day”. What a brilliant way to get us all up and going, better than an alarm any day!

This morning we landed at Neko Bay, our first landing on the continent of Antarctica, until now we’d been on the peninsular. A good snowshoe climb up the hill was the perfect excuse to sit in the snow and beautiful warm sun, watch penguins and look out over the bay at the glaciers, icebergs and of course Plancius. Also sketched for a while back near the shore and enjoyed a penguin visitor up close although by the time I realized and got my phone out for a photo he’d moved on to visit someone else.

The first polar plunge took place before we headed back for lunch. The doctor was on shore with his bag of tricks and zodiacs idled about 10 metres or so from the shore. I’d say about 20 people took the plunge, most only stayed in about half a minute, but one of the Chinese gents swam out past the zodiac and back. Lots of gasps and arm waving by the plungers and laughter and camera clicking by the onlookers. I was biding my time!

After lunch we had another split landing, half landed at Almirante Brown station first and the others took a long zodiac cruise around the bay. I was in Christophe’s zodiac and was awsestruck at the icebergs, the colours of the compressed ice was fascinating. I’ve seen lots of photos where the ice is a bright turquoise blue but there were also heaps with much deeper blues. They look like there’s lights shining through, and the colours under the water are every bit as gorgeous. The vast knowledge these guys have didn’t cease to amaze me the whole trip, and they are so enthusiastic it’s always entertaining to listen.

Our turn at Almirante Brown station was another chance to climb a hill for gorgeous views and then a snow slide back down. I was a bit boring there, only went part of the way but enjoyed poking around the buildings and old infrastructure.

Dinner tonight was special, a BBQ on the back deck with free drinks and gluhwein. It was also Katie’s birthday but she had to stand out there serving up our meals. The weather was actually freezing cold and windy, not at all like we’ve had before, but more typically Antarctic according to the crew. They keep commenting on how lucky we’ve been with weather and they hope we get to experience ‘proper’ Antarctica before we leave. I wasn’t keen or silly enough and had my BBQ in the dining room with other softies. I keep finding days and events with no photos because of the lost SD card, really disappointed I don’t have any of the keen ones, outside in beanies, gloves and everything else warm they could find, eating their burgers.

The mountaineers had an eventful morning, with the young Australian guy, Adam, from Melbourne having a scary incident. Unfortunately the crevassing proved problematic on the way down with him falling in one which required both Cube and Mal’s assistance to get him out.Poor guy was quite shaken and everyone was really shocked.

Think my big night out camping was taking its toll, dinner and an early night for me.

 

 

 

 

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Camping in Antarctica!

1st January 2017

What a way to start the new year! Another landing a Damoy Point in the morning for more snow, ice and penguins where I had my first experience of show-showing. I was surprised at how easy snowshoes made the trek up the hill, although I needed a quick lesson on how to put them on, very easy as it turns out, with 3 straps over the front and one behind the heel, just like a pair of sandals. Sadly, I took my small camera this morning, then on the last night of the cruise stupidly removed the SD card to download something from the laptop on board and consequently lost it! So no photos from here, but can’t resist adding others from yesterday!

I’m not sure if it’s the weather or I’m just layering extremely well but I keep having to take my big outer jacket off every time we land, even before I get to the top of a hill. The weather though is just beautiful, still around 4 degrees I think, but sunshine and no wind makes it feel much warmer.

I must say though, as a group, we have vastly improved our lifejacketing skills!!!! Who’d have thought a few days ago it would be a simple 2 second task now, even grabbing the “tail”to bring up between your legs to clip in front – amazing creatures we are, lol.

Tag board on Plancius

Tag board on Plancius

Mind you, the tag system still has some way to go before we all remember to turn our cabin number over when we go off and on the boat! There’s always a call for the “card game” as they call it – these cabin numbers please go and turn your tag if you’re on-board, we won’t be moving until everyone is here!

Another fabulous lunch and it was off to our dual landing. After checking out the penguins for a while at Jougla Point I perched on a rock and sketched the view across the bay towards the buildings of Port Lockroy.

Then the exciting visit to the old base where we could explore the museum, buy souvenirs and post mail! The base was used in WWII by the British but abandoned until 1966 when it was renovated and now researches the effect of tourism on penguins as well as serving us tourists.

Penguin Post at Port Lockroy in Antarctica

Penguin Post at Port Lockroy in Antarctica

The penguins weren’t at all worried about us, there were so many of them with chicks it was just wonderful. Looking back I feel I didn’t take enough pics of the wildlife, but at the time I was so mesmerized by the landscape, they took second place. Of course, I took my passport to have it stamped, bought some souvenirs and postcards and posted them in the Penguin Post box.

At 9pm we got the call to head off for our night camping at Lefévre Point where there was a lone Adelie penguin waiting for us. He patrolled along a high ridge of snow just behind us all night and was still there to farewell us at 5 the next morning.

Well, what an experience, just getting from the zodiac on to dry land, or at least ice and snow, was a bit precarious and then sinking knee deep with some steps and finding hard ice with others was a tad challenging. Then the fun really began, find your spot and dig your little grave they said, it’ll be fun they said! Yeah right, I was having trouble keeping upright without trying to dig a bloody grave, lol. Nacho spent the night in the open like us but Christophe had a little tent; because he was camping 4 nights a week he wanted some luxury! These guys are amazing.

One of the funniest sights was a porta-potty sitting on the ice in front of a lone rock near the shore, not much privacy there. No wonder the guides kept stressing the lack of facilities and importance of “going” before we left Plancius.

The ‘grave’ is really just a shallow one, enough so you’re laying below the rest of the snow around you as protection from the wind. Having heard from last night’s campers the difficulty they had filling them in the next morning, most of ours were pretty shallow. Looking back at photos now I realize mine was nothing like a grave, my top half may have had some protection, just, but the other half was well and truly out in the open. I doubt I had any chance of doing it right.

If you thought that was difficult, just imagine this. You’ve got a big waterproof bag with all your dry sleeping gear and a bivvy bag to organize and the instructions for what went where had gone in one ear and out the other what seemed like days ago.

First you lay your bivvy bag in the grave and open it up, then a base mat, then blow up your next mat and lay it down, then lay down one sleeping bag, then another sleeping bag (hoping you have them in the correct order) and you’re done! Except, I kept walking, or more correctly falling, on things because of the soft snow and awkwardness of it all – and they’d done an amazing job of scaring me silly again about how if things got wet you’d end up freezing cold. But then you had to somehow get your knee high waterproof boots, outer jacket and waterproof pants off and get into this nest without getting anything wet, – and keep them dry too, and put them safely away in the big waterproof bag.I also had little packet hand-warmers to put between my 2 layers of socks and inside my gloves, I managed the feet ones then couldn’t find the hand ones, gave up looking as I was just getting more twisted. OMG it was so hilarious watching other people, I just can’t imagine how bad I looked, but it really was immense fun.

I eventually managed to plop myself down in the middle of my bed and was vainly struggling to straighten everything so I could get into it all when one of the young Swiss girls came along and asked if I wanted her to help tuck me in, must have looked pretty hopeless! She was lovely though, I said I’d be right but we both laughed and she helped with all the zips. By the time I’d got that far I was boiling; mind you, I had 2 pairs of socks, thermals top and bottom, windproof long pants, light merino top and down jacket on, so it’s really no wonder I didn’t feel the cold.

I’d lost my glasses case with the hand warmers so slept with glasses on all night, all the better to peek out with every now and then. Was just settling in when I felt drips on my face. What the? Pulled my bivvy bag further up over my face. Next thing was pitter patter on the bivvy bag, pulled it back for another peek and, guess what? It was snowing!!!! How exciting – what more could I ask for? It was just perfect, not too much, just a little every now and then.

I tried rolling on to my side a couple of times but kept getting twisted in my sleeping bags so slept like a board most of the night. By about 2 though my butt was so sore I persevered and got on to my side, next thing I knew, Nacho, one of our camping guides was waking us up – 4:30 had arrived and we had to pack up and leave.

So, it was all done in reverse, not quite as difficult or hilarious but entertaining all the same. Thankfully the ice wasn’t rock hard and filling in the graves didn’t take long or too much effort at all. A sad goodbye to our campground and Adelie penguin, quick trip back to Plancius in the zodiac and it was all just a memory – but what a memory, camping on the ice in Antarctica, with falling snow and patrolling penguin thrown in for good measure. Priceless!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We’re here!

31st December 2016

Antarctica - we're there!

Antarctica – we’re there!

Back to normal this morning, less the welcome/dreaded patch. Beautiful calm ocean, snow covered hills, and blue, blue sky as well as whales blowing quite near the ship, and even penguins on ice bergs greeted us this morning in Antarctica – and it’s New Years Eve.

After breakfast I watched the zodiacs being unloaded for the first time and finally I was heading down the steps of the loading dock for my first ride, to land at Cuverville Island where I immediately sank to my knees in snow and ice, heaps of fun. I gave the snowshoeing a miss to just hang with the penguins on the shore and try my first sketch in Antarctica.

First go with soluble ink was really quite a failure but I had another go back on Plancius which turned out better. The penguins were mostly Gentoos but there was one lone Chinstrap among them looking rather out of place.

Cuverville Is. sketch

Cuverville Is. sketch

On the way back I saw my first seals sunbaking on iceberg – what a blast. The only times I’ve seen seals before have been in their dozens, laying on rocks, smelling to high heaven, I already have a new appreciation for these funny creatures. I also had my first good view of Plancius from a distance, I think she’s a lovely looking ship.

Woohoo, back for a lovely lunch while Plancius motored along to our next stop at Danco Island and my chance to go kayaking in Antarctica. Off to the boot room again, this time to collect a wetsuit, booties, different lifejacket and my “skirt”. Louise takes one look at each person and grabs what seems like a random wetsuite and lifejacket, but is always the right size, then sends us over to the booties to pick our own, next we grab the skirt and get instructions on what to put on and in what order. Good grief, I’m getting old, it all goes in one ear and out the other but finally I get it – I think. Thermals, socks, wetsuit, booties, outer jacket, skirt, lifejacket and finally gloves and beanie, at least I think that’s how it went. Then the trek along the corridors, down to Deck 2 and back up to Deck 3 to get out to the kayak loading deck. By the time I got kitted up I was boiling and pleased to be out the back in the fresh air again. Louise organized us in helping to lower the kayaks to the water to be strung out behind our zodiac, another steep learning curve. Then back the way we had just come to the zodiac loading deck and off we went. I don’t know how I didn’t take a photo of someone in this gear, but I don’t think I’ll easily forget the images.

A short ride in the zodiac to find a good spot and it was time to move, oh so elegantly, to the kayaks! Two at a time we made our way in and away from the safety of the zodiac to practice our paddling and steering skills, some of us better than others. My kayak partner and I were in the latter group, both of us raw beginners and I know I was terrified of tipping over and having to find the quick release handle to let my skirt go of the kayak and surface in under 20 seconds. Once again one of our fearless expedition guides had done a good job of scaring me witless of what could happen if something went wrong, lol.

I was partnered with an older Portuguese gent who didn’t seem to have much English and had elected to be in the front. Communication wasn’t high on the agenda, with us both concentrating hard on trying to go in the direction required and not keep doing circle work, hilarious again. I always thought the idea was to do a stroke on each side but old mate in front was making it up as we went along and I had no hope of copying, so was always sort of 1 or 2 strokes behind on the wrong side.

I finally worked out if we ended up going to far off course one way I’d put the opposite paddle on the water and magically we’d turn back the other way. Seems he found out too so we zigzagged our way behind Louise and the others hunting for whales just beyond every iceberg in the darn Antarctic. The bridge were advising Louise of whale movements and we covered an awesome amount of ground, or more correctly, water, but didn’t catch up with them. To see whales that close would have been amazing but I thoroughly enjoyed just being in a kayak in Antarctica.

Back in the zodiac after kayaking

Back in the zodiac after kayaking

About 2 hours in, one other kayak wanted to call it quits and my partner had the same idea, so our next elegant movements took place – removing ourselves from kayak to zodiac. Talk about looking like beached whales, all 4 of us were stiff as boards with arms that just wouldn’t lift us out as we performed this feat. Without the help of our zodiac driver, Elmo, and one of the other kayakers we’d never have made it, not my proudest moment, that’s for sure. I’d love to do it again but maybe some practice first would be advisable!!

Another nap after all that exertion meant I was ready for the long night ahead. During dinner we had a pod of about 20 orca whales join us for a while. We waved the first group of campers off after dinner and then hung around in the lounge to see the New Year in later.

Plancius expedition staff partied with us, music and dancing were entertaining, and we enjoyed more complementary Proseco at midnight, provided in glasses engraved for the occasion that we were invited to keep.

Best way I’ve seen in the New Year? In Antarctica, on the Plancius, in daylight, with many happy friendly people. That will certainly take some beating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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