Week 1 of Antartctica

Highlight for all of us:
Penguins! (Chinstrap & Gentoo)

We arrived in Deception Island late in the day Monday, 11 January. Tuesday we rested and moved fuel from the bladder into the tank. It was quite windy, but the sun was out making it quite beautiful too. The chore had a learning curve, but we were able to empty out the bladder and stow it before we got too cold. We definitely used more fuel crossing the Drake than we would have liked (it isn't the kind of place you want to drift around waiting for more wind) which will impact how far south we can go.

The anchorage was very secure and beautiful - in a volcanic, black, otherworldly type way. There were a couple of seals posing as ice cubes on the shore, numerous birds and the occasional penguin that came into the bay for our viewing. The wind was significant - katabatic winds off the volcano caldera regularly whipped through. This kept us boat bound and made outside chores cold and draining.

On Wednesday morning things were pretty calm and sunny so we worked on getting the dinghy inflated and things back to "cruising" configuration. Then we headed south to the (closed) Argentinian base where you can take an easy walk to a penguin rookery. Well, the winds decided to pick up and by the time we were heading south it was already more wind than forecast. We anchored and talked about the options with the 15-20kt on shore breeze. We checked weather a last time, looked carefully at the clouds crossing the bay, and then it started to snow and snow hard. The winds were also picking up, earlier than forecast. We scrapped the plan and decided to head back to our secure anchorage. Visibility became quite low and the snow was pelting us, because, of course, now we were headed into the wind (and the outside navigation iPad battery died and the windlass relay was acting up—it does always seem to pile on and add up!) It was a long 3nm back to the anchorage, but we made it back safely and were happy to drop the anchor and get warmed back up.

Thursday saw us stuck with high winds again. There were games and school work to pass the day. Friday things eased in the afternoon and we did some more work to clean up the stern of the boat to get the dinghy back on the arch (rather than tied down on the bow, sometimes trying to be a kite). At this point D was getting desperate for penguins but the parents were still a bit hesitant after Wednesday's foray. We discussed making the trip down on Friday evening, but decided to wait until Saturday as the forecast seemed ok.

Saturday we got underway just after noon. The winds quickly set up rather similar to our first trip down so we set sail to move south this time and decided we should not try the base / walk to the penguin rookery again, but that we could try to go to Whaler's Bay. We had a nice 7nm sail and anchored off the beach. D was quite upset that we were not going to see the penguin rookery. However, a look to shore, confirmed by a peep through binoculars, suggested that there were a few penguins ashore! Thank goodness! Disappointed, grumpy kids can quickly become insufferable.

We organized ourselves and went ashore for our first time in Antarctica (well, technically the South Shetlands). It was a fascinating walk and great to stretch our legs. 4 Gentoo and 4 Chinstrap penguins greeted us. We enjoyed watching them for a bit. Then we toured the old base. The base is a historic UK site that closed in 1968 after volcanic damage in 1967 and 1968. Before WWII, the base had been run by a Norwegian whaling company, and the site had been used by seal hunters as early as the late 1800s. After admiring the relics, we took a walk to Neptune's window to enjoy the cliff view. There was a low cloud and a dreary setting which added to the feel of the whole place. After our walk we came back and watched the penguins some more before returning to Zephyros.

We spent a peaceful night in Whaler's Bay with the plan to move south early Sunday. We started around 7 and headed out of the volcano caldera and over to Bailey's Head where there is a large chinstrap penguin rookery—reportedly the largest in Antarctica. We were able to anchor off of the beach and go ashore. There were so many penguins coming and going! They porpoise through the water in groups. They body surf into and out of the waves, and they waddle to and fro on their highways between the sea and their hilltop roosts. It was really fun to spend an hour with them on land. Looking up at the hilltops, we could see thousands upon thousands of the little fellows, many quite high up.

We returned to Zephyros and started south. We set sail in fog and shifting winds. The engine came on and went off and came on and went off. Eventually there was a steady 10-15 knot breeze and we were able to set up for a slow sail south to Trinity Island. A couple of whales passed in front of us and then turned towards us, giving us a short bit of excitement. They disappeared for a bit and had us all looking every direction for them. Eventually we heard and saw them. They were back on their way and a bit too far away to see really well.

Sunday's sail was a long (60nm), slow one - with the exception of a couple of good, faster hours. But we were happy to save some fuel and it is pretty much light 24 hours a day so an overnight sail is in mostly day light anyway with maybe a few hours of "dusk" type light. The gray and fog made it a bit less pleasant than it might have been and quite stressful at times, along with the unforecasted 20+ knots of wind on the nose for the last 20-25nm and the need to dodge ice as well. In the end, we safely arrived and tucked into a very secure spot, around 1:30am, thankful for the dusk type light and good charts. We quickly secured and fell into bed.

Monday, we awoke to bright, sunny, mountainous, snowy, icy, amazing 360 degree views. There is an Argentinian hut and a Gentoo penguin rookery here to explore and spectacular weather to enjoy. We had a lovely land excursion and marveled at beautiful, fluffy baby Gentoos. The wind forecast for today and tomorrow suggest no to light winds and seem to be holding up thus far. We are excited to have moved on from Deception Island and to do some more exploring. It now really feels like we have arrived in Antarctica and we can even see the peninsula mainland from our anchorage spot in Mikkelsen Harbour.

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