Monday, December 12, 2016

Antarctic Trip: An Avalanche and a Polar Plunge, December 11, 2016

We woke to another fantastic day onboard the Sea Adventurer surrounded by glassy water and beautiful reflections. The goal this morning was to travel to our most southerly point into Lemaire Channel as far as the ice would allow. On earlier voyages this season the ship had been unable to travel this far due to ice so this was an exploratory voyage.

The ship got as far as the mouth of the channel but the water ahead was clogged with too much ice to continue. The ship anchored, and we explored via zodiac boats. We saw penguins swimming around the ice ahead.

Gentoo Penguins swimming and diving
As we were watching penguins, we heard a rumble and saw an avalanche. It was quite amazing to hear and see something this powerful so close.

These photographs were shot with a 70mm lens which means that we were pretty close to the avalanche. A driver in another, closer zodiac reported that as the snow worked its way across the channel it snowed on them. Everyone was safe.

The same channel after the avalanche had settled
We explored a little deeper into the passage finding crab-eater seals, more penguins, and a lot more ice before heading back to the Sea Adventurer.

Once loaded, the ship turned back to travel the same path it had come in on. In the time it took for our morning zodiac excursion, ice had begun to accumulate behind the ship.

As the ship traveled back through the Gerlache Strait, there was more and more ice.

 The ship slowed to 2 knots as it waded through the slush.

crab-eater seals
Captain Zakalashnyuk and his crew safely got us out of the ice. After lunch the sun was shining and the water was calm so it was time for a POLAR PLUNGE! The air temperature was relatively warm at 39° and the water temperature was a cold 32°. I rationalized that I'd never be any younger, thinner, or here again so why not. It was really cold. It was so cold that my skin felt like it had been burned. 

Daylight is really long here so after a hot shower and some rest, we were into zodiacs again for a shore excursion. This one was to a former British air transit hut called Damoy Hut. Damoy was established in 1975 as a summer transit station for personnel and supplies arriving by ship that then needed to be flown to Rothera Research Station on Adelaide Island. Damoy was last used in 1993.

When we arrived at Damoy, it was quite overcast and the light, though flat, seemed otherworldly. A large population of Gentoo Penguins lives around Damoy Hut.

Because the light was so flat, it was difficult to see my footing as we hiked to the rookeries.

At one of the Gentoo rookeries, a brown skua was harassing the colony as the penguins noisily fought back. After a few minutes, another skua joined the first. The drama continued now with two skuas waiting for an opening to snatch and egg.

Sunrise: 02:25
Sunset: 23:58

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