Week 3 of Antarctica

Highlights for all of us:
Humpback whales feeding & Gentoo penguin babies

This week has been mostly calm weather and adventures. We began the week continuing to hang out next to the wreck in Enterprise Island.

Tuesday was a very nice day and we played outside. We took the dinghy over the wreck to see what we could see and took a dinghy adventure to a nearby island. There were old wooden boats to check out and the occasional penguin to see.

Wednesday we moved south 30nm through Wilhelmina Bay. We were told this was a good whale area and we were not disappointed! Upon leaving Enterprise Island we had a lot of clean up to do - put away lines and fenders - Jon & R were stowing gear while Megan drove. She initially saw whales in the distance. As we got on course it seemed like our paths might converge, so we were able to go into idle and have them come quite close to us. They were feeding and you could see mouths and flippers and flukes. These were definitely humpbacks and we believe there was a very young whale in this group of 3. After they had moved well past us, we finished stowing gear and began moving south again. We continued to see whales throughout the day and passed this same group of 3 (further away this time) awhile later. They move along pretty quickly, even while feeding. We saw lots more whales and feeding activity throughout the day as we made our way to Cuverville Island. The weather was a bit gray and the clouds were a bit low but it was still a beautiful trip.

Thursday we woke to some sun and prepared to venture on to Cuverville to see the Gentoo penguins. We also had a rather large piece of ice come next to us at anchor, but thankfully it continued to float and moved on. The spot was very beautiful with dramatic mountains, glaciers, snow and ice plus large icebergs off of the island. We enjoyed our shore time and saw penguin nests with eggs, very tiny babies and even some older juvenile penguins that were walking around out of the nest. Eventually we returned to the boat and continued to hangout outside. The penguins swam to and fro around the boat and entertained us, along with the impressive views, into the late afternoon hours.

Friday saw us moving again, another 30nm jaunt. There was some debate about whether we should stay or go. We plan to be in Antarctica for around 6 weeks total and perhaps go about another 100nm south, so there is not a real hurry. The weather suggested light winds for the next few days. So we looked at cloud cover and precipitation to make the decision. Friday looked to be clearer and less rain / snow so we reluctantly got ourselves going. Some days it's difficult to motivate out of a warm cocoon into all the gear, but the thought of moving in snow or rain eventually convinced us to grab the nicer weather.

On our trip, we took Zephyros over to a cool iceberg and launched the dinghy for a photo op before continuing on our way. Later, we had another cool whale encounter. This time we were nearby when two groups passed by each other. They were humpbacks again, one group of 3 with a very young one, and the other a group of 2, and they were staying at the surface for a long time before diving down. It didn't seem like they were eating (no mouths or flippers) but like they were resting, or maybe they are able to eat at the surface like that when it is really calm? We aren't sure. It definitely seemed like different behavior than we have seen. Another amazing whale watching day!

We then went through Neumayer Channel and onwards to Dorian Bay. Of course, we had decided to move on this day because of that weather forecast. Well, we were reminded that Antarctica does what it wants when clouds rolled in, the snow began falling and the visibility went away - all right when we were approaching the entry to the channel. Things cleared up again, there was even some sun, but we had a laugh about the irony of trying to plan to avoid exactly what we were getting! It was a slow rest of the trip to Dorian Bay with the current and winds against us. Megan made dinner while we were approaching the bay. We anchored and got settled with shore lines and then were all back inside happy to enjoy the warm meal together in a new spot.

Saturday was indeed overcast, low visibility and snowing. We had a waffle morning and played some games. We headed ashore in the late afternoon in snowy weather but enjoyed a visit to the Damoy Hut which was set up in November 1975 by the British Antarctic Survey as a summer transit station to support the landing site on Damoy Point - a 400m ski-way landing strip on the glacier spine for a Twin Otter. The plane would stop for weather information and to pick up personnel and supplies from ships for transfer on to Rothera Research Station on Adelaide Island. This allowed work to start earlier in the summer season at Rothera as the area often remained too icy for the supplies and personnel to arrive by ship. The hut was used until 1995 when direct flights to Rothera were started. It is now a historic building and kept up by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. The door is kept unlocked and you are able to tour at your leisure to see the hut that includes a kitchen and dining area, a bathroom and storage area and a bunk room. It was interesting and in good repair.

We also walked around the area and watched Gentoo penguins and skuas. We walked up a small hill and could see into the bay where Port Lockroy is located. We found some nearly full grown baby penguins and saw more babies on down to newborns and some eggs. It was a nice outing and the weather cleared and lifted a bit allowing us to stay on land longer than we had expected.

Sunday we awoke to sunny weather. A check of the forecast said the weather would change by afternoon so we got going and took another trip ashore. It is nice when we are able to stretch our legs and have land excursions. We enjoyed more penguin and skua watching - the skuas really bother the penguins. We don't know if they steal babies or eggs, but we guess they must at least take the hatched egg shells for anything left inside. We also saw a baby penguin that was starting to molt into adult feathers and one that was nearly complete. We had a good chuckle at him as he was a total mess with feathers stuck out of his beak. We said it reminded us of teenage boys! The surroundings were amazing and it was the first time we could see some of the nearby mountains. Funny how different landscapes can be when the clouds are quite low versus when things are clearer.

We had a nice afternoon back on the boat, but the wind that was forecast to pick up, did and we got far more than was forecast. We were safe and comfortable but not especially happy with the amount of wind and the fact that it was coming from the side with us anchored with 2 stern lines to shore. It was not ideal, but sometimes you just get what you get. Eventually the winds died down, but until then we didn't get much sleep and we fretted a bit. This spot is not said to be a place to sit in a storm, but we found it to have good holding in the end. We would have preferred to be free swinging, but it is a small part of the bay enclosed by rocks so using shore ties makes sense.

Monday was boat chores and more penguin watching. We finally saw penguins on their bellies in snow! So that was exciting. The Gentoos mostly walk and hop about. But there is some snow between the water and a few of the rookery spots. So we saw them on their bellies, eating snow and moving up and down the hill. It doesn't seem to be their preferred method and we haven't seen it much, but it was amusing.

That closes out week 3. Tomorrow marks 4 weeks since we left Puerto Williams. We still have a good amount of meats and cheeses (our fridge is basically running as a freezer with the cold water), but are down to potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage and a few lemons for fruit and veg. Not too bad, but boy can these kids eat (they destroyed an entire crate of oranges in about 10 days)! We still have plenty of food as there are still eggs, flour, rice, pasta, and canned food. Ada (our sourdough starter) is not producing as much bread as the boys would like because it is so cold. We will all be looking forward to some fresh greens, fresh fruit and fresh veggies when we get back to Puerto Williams! The grocers will have surely missed us.

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