Day 8: Antarctica

Neumayer Channel
Stephen’s “Good Morning, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning!” voice came over the intercom at 7AM, explaining that we were passing through the scenic Neumayer Channel and would soon arrive at Port Lockroy. “Breakfast will be served at 8:00. (pause) Good morning!” We were on the deck soon after, bundled up for the snowy day and cameras at the ready.

The water in the channel was smooth as silk, with the only waves coming from the wake of the boat or the tiny penguins that occasionally jumped through the surface.

Penguins hopping through the water

Lovely glaciers and iceberg – and falling snow

Landing at Jougla Point on Wiencke Island
The group split into two, with the first group at Jougla Point and the next at Port Lockroy. We went to Jougla first. The island was jacked with sharp rock edges but perfect for the gentoo penguin colony that had settled there and for the young blue-eyed cormorants learning how to use their wings. The island was strewn with old whale bones, too and surrounded by massive glaciers – all of which gave us ample photo ops for the penguins.

Jougla Point with Polaris in the background



When it was time for us to leave we dutifully cleaned off the bottom of our boots and climbed to the zodiak for our trip to Port Lockroy. I turned to get another picture of a very blue glacier (which required removing my glove to manipulate the tiny camera buttons) when my glove slipped out of my hand and into the water. Thankfully Barbara – the zodiak pilot – was able to fish it out thought it was completely saturated. Louise had another pair in her pocket so my right hand wouldn’t have to freeze the entire time we were at Port Lockroy.

Landing at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island
Port Lockroy is an active British station just across the way from Jougla Point. It was all of two buildings containing a post office, a gift shop, and an entire colony of gentoo penguins. Immediately next to the building was a mother and her very hungry chick was trying to feed, but a pesky sheathbills was pestering them looking for scraps.


Shannon takes a break from photoing

Gorgeous views

The background glaciers and surrounding islands combined with all the cute penguins made for some excellent shots. We also wandered into the post office / gift shop to check out curio opportunities. Mark-ups were pretty high, but at least we can say that we bought something in Antarctica (literally).

Shannon scrubbing her boots
Lemaire Channel
We turned south through Lemaire Channel which is supposedly one of the “most photographed” parts of Antarctica because the channel itself is so stunning. The weather, however, was not cooperating what with all the snow, sleet and dense fog. We all gathered on the bow of the boat with cameras in hand, but the strong wind and pelting rain/sleet made for difficult photo moments. Some of us stayed, though. Because even through we couldn’t see the tops of the cliffs because of fog, and even though we couldn’t look straight ahead because it felt like little nails digging into our cheeks, we stayed outside for the experience.

The Lemaire Channel


Mindy, moving her hood juuuust enough for me to get a quick shot before her skin iced over

Icy surf

Ice, wind, sleet — and a snowfall (as opposed to a waterfall) on the side of a mountain

Zodiak Tour of Iceberg Alley
The crew lowered all the Zodiaks for an outing through “Iceberg Alley”. Though our first stop wasn’t to see the icebergs but rather to see the two humpbacks in a nearby little cove. They were a bit elusive, but there was an amazing moment when one of the whales swam right beneath our boat and came out the other side.

Humpbacks and a glacier

Whale watchers in another zodiac

Seconds before it swam beneath our boat

Humpback with Polaris in the background (Pic by Shannon)

We spent the next hour and a half exploring the massive, stunning icebergs in the area, as well as any wildlife (leopard seals, crabeater seals, etc) on them. Though the weather was questionably grey, the zodiak ride was terrific and the icebergs were amazing. An hour and a half flew by quickly so when Shannon the Mammologist told us it was time to head back we had to resist the urge to whine, “Five more minutes… pleeeeeeease?!?!?”

Shannon and Mindy (I swear it’s them beneath all the layers) and big honkin’ icebergs

One of the other zodiacs and an iceberg

Close up

Another ‘berg

This one’s my favorite…

… and with my favorite people

Elephant seals lazing around (pic by Shannon)

Putting the zodiaks to bed

Lemaire Channel – part II
During dinner the boat turned for another pass through Lemaire Channel and to begin a slow overnight trip northeast through the Gerlache Strait. We finished off the last of our 11 bottles of wine and kept close watch out the starboard window for any adventurous whales. What we didn’t know until later was that the port side was perfectly positioned overlooking an iceberg with a little fur seal relaxing away the hours.

Lazy seal (pic by Mindy)
Our second trip through Lemaire was completely different from the trip we’d done earlier that afternoon. Though cloudy, the channel was barely breezy and clear and the water was still as…well… ice. A brilliant sunset began and promised some lovely colors, and the channel in front of us was too lovely and peaceful to ignore – no matter how cold we were.

How cute are we?

Lemaire – pre sunset

The group on the bow of the boat

Beginnings of the sunset

Hours later we reached the end of the channel had a tough decision to make: we had a humpack on the starboard side of the boat and a brilliant red/orange/yellow sunset on the port side. Which to chose? Which to photograph? (this trip was full of complicated choices like this) After spending a few minutes trying to capture the slightly shy humpback on camera, almost everyone moved to the port side in favor of the sunset. Because *ho hum* we’d seen a number of humpbacks during the day – but the weather might not cooperate with a gorgeous sunset again.

Humpback back on the port side

Brilliant sunset on the starboard

I was standing on a bench taking a ridiculous amount of sunset pictures when Mindy stepped up next to me; a huge grin on her face.

Mindy: “It breached.”
Me: “Hmm?”
Mindy: “The humpback. I saw it breach.”
Me: “WHAT?!?! WHERE?!?!”
Mindy: *she pointed, beaming* “Over there. No one else was around.”
Me: “No way! Did you get a picture?”
Mindy: “No – my battery died again.” (Mindy’s battery had a bizarre aversion to the cold)
Me: “Wow. Wow! Seriously? You really saw a whale breach?”
Mindy: “I really did.”

The “it breached!” conversation, captured by Shannon (pic by Shannon)
A breach, by the way, is when a marine mammal jumps entirely out of the water, lands on its back or stomach, and then submerges again. You see it on the Discovery Channel all the time. Not so much in real life, though. Here’s Mindy, glowing not from the sunset but from the whale.

Quite pleased with herself. You can hate her. We do, too.
Though we’d been outside for hours and were feeling the cold we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the gorgeous sky. It took hours to set since we’re so far south and so sunsets are prolonged for an extended period of time. Like this night, when we finally looked at our watches, “It’s 11:00! We have to get to bed if we’re going to get up to see sunrise at 5:15.”

Funny story about that, but you’ll have to read on…