Continuation of Part I
|Zodiac in ice at Paradise Bay, water temperature -2C, 20.2.03||Adele Penguins on ice about to jump into the icy waters||A zodiac in front of a glacier. At summer’s end, the rocks became visible|
During the night, the BREMEN headed further south to Paradise Bay, some 150 sea miles away. That place is just a few miles off the Antarctic Peninsula, nearly 65 degrees South and 63 degrees West.
We set out in the first Zodiac at 0740 with Heinz Kloeser at the controls of the Zodiac. He is a Marine biologist and has lived in Antarctica on several occasions and even has numerous dives to his credit. He drove us along the towering rocks, which really are the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula, explaining about the various mosses and minerals as well showing us several colonies of blue eyed cormorants. He is also the type of person who likes to show himself in the best light. He constantly reminds us not to stand up except when the boat is idling and then only one by one, and he is especially insistent that no one sits with his feet on even the least little bit of the last floor plate of the Zodiac, where he says he needs to stand to manipulate the outboard diesel. He is self praising and pedantic, but then he is also an excellent and daring Zodiac pilot, as well as a fountain of knowledge in matters of birds and plants.
Further down along the coastline were many larger mountains and numerous glaciers with incredibly blue ice crevasses, and a gaping entrance cave. Unfortunately we did not see any of these 50 m high ice walls crash into the sea: that would have been a spectacle, but not really dangerous as our skipper kept a good distance and he was a skillful navigator. Rain fell and it was very cold, especially for those who took lots of photographs.
When we saw some Zodiacs concentrating near a flat iceberg some distance away, we sped there too and saw a gracious sea leopard defending his ‘berg’ but always coming up again to show us that it was his territory.
On the way back, we landed at Almirante Brown, a now defunct Argentine Expedition settlement with a towering peak, where a number of passengers went to have a slide down on a plastic sheet. We were cold and wet and just wanted to be driven back to the BREMEN, something that meant an unnecessary 30 minute wait because of a very inflexible expedition leader.
It was intended to sail further down through the Lemaire Channel to Petermann’s Island, 6 sea miles south of it, which would have been our southernmost point on this cruise at 65 degrees 07′ S, 64 degrees 08′ W at the edge of high Antarctica. Unfortunately, this narrow and wild Channel is only 220 m wide at its narrowest, and right at this point the winds had pushed into position a glacier sufficiently large to threaten our passage! The BREMEN is too long to make a full turn if the space were found too narrow to pass through, so for safety’s sake it was decided to abandon the idea to negotiate this Channel, which is named after a Belgian explorer.
On our slow cruise, we saw glaciers everywhere, each rock seems to have its own, and of course there are the really big ones hanging down from the higher mountain tops. Now in late summer, there is easy access to the peninsula but in less than a month, pack ice will cover a huge area and later it will be frozen solid till next spring which comes in October; and the passage will again be open for ships from mid November.
We returned a bit north into Andvord Bay where we stayed the night, going back and forth in big circles. It was to be the best night for sleep for the large majority of the passengers as there was very little wave activity in this rather well protected Channel.
Before we even had breakfast, several killer whales were sighted from the bridge. They were observing a pod of humpback whales feeding on abundant amounts of krill. Most likely, later during the day the orcas, as they are also called, will mount an attack on one of the smaller humpbacks, finally killing one only to eat the tongue; the rest they leave for others to scavenge. Nothing will be lost in the food chain!
We started an early cruise by Zodiac into Neko Harbor where we again saw numbers of Gentoo penguins. As I was watching some activity between two nearby small ice floes, I could observe a young penguin chase his parent down the stony hill, toppling once or twice in the process, but eventually both stopped and the small one finally got some regurgitated food; but then came his brother or sister and claimed some more. There was nothing left and I guess one of the two will not make it to adulthood as it is quite late in the season.
Some of the rocks have their surface polished like marble from the millions of penguin feet having trodden across it over the millennia.
There are always some small white birds around the penguins. They are a kind of sanitation or garbage troop cleaning up, and also sometimes scaring them from behind so that they drop their food and the birds get the spoils. They are called Snowy Sheathbill or Weissgesicht Scheidenschnabel in German.
In the water, activity was made by a Leopard seal that was obviously attracted by some penguins swimming nearby in the icy waters. As long as we were there, however, there was no attack or kill.
In the afternoon, we steamed again a bit south through the Neumayer Channel, and stopped in a great snowstorm at Port Lockroy on Wiencke Island (UK). We chose to stay in our warm cabin; the small bay is full of ice floes and the water is so cold, probably -2 or even -3, that snow stays on top and forms a kind of sludge. This place was discovered in 1904 by Frenchman Jean Charcot (not the person after whom a debilitating bone disease is named) during his expedition from 1903-05. Norwegian whalers used the quiet bay as a secure anchoring place between 1911 and 1931. Well, no sooner had most boats departed for a landing, did the winds increase, and all boats were called back by radio and also by the ship’s horn. On the railing of our balcony, there are nearly 5 cm of new snow, also on the 2 deck chairs and the little table. There were 3 grey whales swimming in the channel, leaving tell tale ‘oil slicks’ for us, the easier for us to follow their path.
Start to today’s cruise again with Dr. Kloeser. Exactly the same procedures and comments as the first time. We first visited an area which leads into a channel that the Bremen staff discovered late last year and which had not been known before. We could not pass because it was low tide and our Zodiac with 11 people too heavy, but we were near some very interesting iceberg formations, one looking like a miniature Matterhorn.
Then we visited the presently unattended but operational Argentinean station on Melchior Island; the country just has not got the money for this kind of experiment at this time.
We saw a number of fur seals resting on rocks smoothly polished from glaciers. They either hobbled away or slid gracefully into the sea. One huge crab eater seal languished lazily on the flattened part of an iceberg, stretching from time to time but probably wondering why 5 or 6 boats with strange occupants looking like large red penguins came to gaze at him.Then we passed through some very agitated waters and narrow channels. I detected an iceberg that was actually rolling over, and after a while rolling right back again. This one clearly had not the same mass of ice under the part over the waterline as all glaciers have (according to Dr. Kloeser) but when I pointed it out to him, he simply shrugged his shoulders. Later I got confirmation: once glaciers have run aground they will no longer have 5 to 9 parts more mass under the waterline than visible above it.
It is 1545 and still there has been no announcement regarding our next cruise or landing. It is dark and foggy and sleet has started to fall. Even if they should decide to do something, we will not bother to go. Or will we?
Well, Uschi decided to go after all. She got dressed in all the gear in less then 5 minutes, for myself, I need at least double that: undershirt, long johns, jeans, then water proof pants, size 48 rubber boots (in these, I need an under sole with aluminum lining and frotte bathroom slippers with very heavy woolen socks so that my feet do not feel like being in a large hole), then a parka, life vest over it, a hat and gloves.
Landing at the Brazilian Farraz Station on King George Island was cancelled due to a bad weather forecast. The captain preferred to gain that half day and thereby really outran the brewing storm.
At sea. We were followed by great numbers of albatrosses.