Week 6 of Antarctica

Highlight for all of us:
Sooo many humpback whales & a nice last week!

This past week has been very calm, but still quite wet. We have had rain and then snow. Not as much as last week's rains, but the snow is starting to make us feel like the Antarctic Summer is closing and we should be heading north. We also had a delightful day of sun.

We got moving Tuesday, and travelled 35nm to the north. It was not a very clear day, but it didn't rain/snow too much and we were able to see a number of interesting changes since passing through the area 2 weeks before. There had been a lot of snow melt (thanks to all that rain) and there was less small ice in the water around Port Charcot. The winds were as predicted and we enjoyed the opportunity to sail more than half of the trip. The winds were good and then they built and became strong and gusty before dropping off to just about nothing. We saw a Sei whale near Port Charcot, seals and some birds, and then approaching Paradise Harbour we saw lots of animals - seals, penguins, more birds, and a number of humpbacks. We drifted around in the middle of the humpbacks for a bit before heading to the anchorage.

We anchored in the south bay of Paradise Harbour and enjoyed a quiet evening and night. It was amazingly calm. We decided to do a dinghy explore on Wednesday. We had hoped to see more humpbacks, from the dinghy, but we didn't. Even so the explore was still good fun. We all got a bit of land time on the continent. We have actually been going ashore on islands so we wanted to be sure that we officially, technically touched the Antarctic continent on the Peninsula rather than just the Peninsula's Islands. Realistically there aren't a lot of places to go ashore on the continent as it is a lot of mountains, glaciers and ice cliffs right up to the water's edge so this was a good opportunity to check the box. There is also an Argentinian base - Almirante Brown - on the northern side. We dinghy'd around near it. It doesn't seem to be manned (other than by gentoo penguins) for the summer this year which we suspect is the case for most summer bases. We also did some glacier watching in the dinghy while still hoping to see whales.

Thursday came with rain and snow, but it remained very calm in the anchorage and we were content to stay put for another day. By the evening we started to see grease ice - the slushy first signs of icing into a floe. We had some jokes about being iced in - and really, really hoped they were indeed, unlikely and jokes.

Friday, we awoke to low clouds but good visibility, snow on the deck, a slight breeze which had dissipated the grease ice, and we planned to move on. We got dressed, in all our gear, Jon swept the deck clear of snow and we prepared to get moving... However, things changed and the dark gray sky, very low visibility and snowfall led to a discussion as to whether or not we REALLY wanted to move on. We decided the trip could wait a day and that we weren't feeling like we HAD to go.

Saturday, we again woke to new snow on the deck and decent visibility and light. We made our preparations to get underway with Jon clearing the deck and even building a small snowman. We were set to go and then it grayed over, we lost visibility and the snow started falling - again! This time we decided that we would really like to move. We also figured it would be occasional snow showers with diminished visibility and then back to clearer weather (which was basically what it did on Friday and the weather forecast suggested Sunday and Monday should be clearer weather so that also, hopefully, meant the weather would be improving). We weighed anchor with huge snowflakes falling and grease ice starting to form again in the very still bay. There was one last discussion about whether or not we REALLY wanted to go again, but by the time we were exiting the bay, the visibility was back and the snow had lightened significantly.

We passed the Argentinian Base and soon spotted a humpback. We enjoyed watching him for quite awhile. We were able to parallel his course and see him eating quite well. We moved on from there and saw a number of humpbacks all throughout the area. We even saw a couple that where sitting still, sleeping at the surface. We then passed the Chilean Base - Gonzales Videla - at Waterboat Point. (Waterboat Point has some interesting history, 2 British Explorers spent a year there in an overturned waterboat. A waterboat is a flat bottomed wooden boat used by the whaling ships to bring water from the glaciers out to the whaling boats. They aren't especially big and were often just left behind on the shores after whaling season.) The Chileans hailed us on the radio, recorded our information and invited us to visit them. It isn't the easiest place to stop and we had planned to continue on so we politely declined and wished them a good season (though we did regret that we didn't stop, and due to how completely calm the day was, we likely could have found a spot to day anchor for a few hours). After Waterboat Point we continued to see more humpbacks and enjoyed more whale watching. We continued on past Danco Island (the former site of the British Base O) and anchored on the southern side of Cuverville Island. As we dropped anchor, in lots of small ice, with no wind, huge snowflakes began to fall and we felt like we ended the trip just in time and very much like it began - though there are gentoo penguins to see, hear and smell in Cuverville where there were not any in the southern Paradise Harbour anchorage.

Sunday we awoke to blue skies and sun! We went ashore in Cuverville for a last walk with penguins. The gentoo babies were mostly big now. The juveniles stood around in nurseries with a couple of adult birds keeping them in line. They squawk a lot and the skuas were swooping through nearly constantly. There was a lot of molting, most of the nests (piles of small rocks) were gone and adults were standing off to the sides, also molting. We enjoyed the land time and seeing these later stages of the penguin land cycle.

We returned to Zephyros and weighed anchor to move north some more. It was a 25nm day with clear weather and very light winds. We saw some humpback whales as we moved over to Wilhelmina Bay and then quite a few more whales in the bay. A lot of them didn't want anything to do with us, but we stopped where one was not too far off and he ate near us for a bit. He came right up next to us and again a bit behind us. We could even see him moving up in the water column. It was quite amazing. Later we watched some more whales with a group of 3 pretty close to us again. Eventually we pulled ourselves away and headed into an anchorage off of Enterprise Island.

We finished off the day making preparations to cross the Drake. Jon worked hard outside with some help from D, getting things re-configured for passage making. He noted how much easier it was in the sunshine and calm weather than 6 weeks ago when we arrived at Deception Island. It was also nice to listen to the whales blow and the glaciers calve. We were watching a Tuesday weather window and planned to use Sunday and Monday evenings to get everything prepared and stowed while using the days to take in our last Antarctic memories.

Monday we awoke to gray skies, but got moving to make more north. We put in 35nm which included a detour through Graham Passage. This was a passage that we transited on our way south but the clouds and snow descended making it so that we barely saw anything. Well, the weather seemed like it might cooperate with much higher clouds, so we headed that way. We were treated to a number of humpback whale sightings and enjoyed the trip. The passage was beautiful and must be even better with the sun shining. As we were leaving the passage we were able to watch a small humpback for some time. He was eating near the shore and showing his mouth and back a lot without showing his fluke. He seemed significantly smaller than many we have seen (other than ones that still seem to be with their mothers).

From there we pointed to our planned anchorage at Two Hummock Island. We saw more humpbacks and a few were waving flippers all about which was fun to see. The weather was deteriorating with the clouds descending and some snow, but still very little wind. We crossed the Gerlalache Strait in calm seas and with diminishing visibility. It was a lot of gray, but there were also lots of humpback flukes flashing - everywhere. We soon found ourselves crossing their paths and must have passed through more than 20. A few were quite close and lots of fun to watch. We went to idle when some came in front of us, they then turned and surfaced near us and then came towards us again. It was really cool to see them moving through the water. These humpbacks included some quite large ones and were mostly in groups of 2s or 3s. It was another special experience with the whales. After passing the whales, the visibility continued to decline and the snow fall increased. We made our way to the anchorage, tucking in for the day with gray skies, low visibility and more snow. This anchorage is supposed to be quite impressive on a clear day with a view back to the peninsula, we did not see the view, but appreciated the safe spot for the night anyway.

Jon knocked out the rest of the outside preparation tasks, in less pleasant but still calm weather, including deflating and stowing the dinghy, with some help from R. Megan and the boys worked on the inside of the boat and making dinner. We did final weather checks, ate and got to bed, closing out week 6.

It has been an amazing experience! We don't quite feel ready to say goodbye to Antarctica, but do not see another weather window developing so know that it is, indeed, time to head back north to Chile.

[We are currently underway, headed towards Cape Horn, which delayed this posting. We plan to post daily 24 hour passage notes starting tomorrow.]

1 comment:

  1. Following you every day, while checking on the weather. I hope you have a great crossing and I look forward to all your photos.