Week 3, Antarctica 2022 Expedition

Highlights - Minke Whale encounter

Tuesday there was beautiful sunny weather and we got moving early. We weighed anchor and departed Cuverville. The conditions were calm and we easily moved through the ice that was around the anchorage. As we moved towards Whilhelmina Bay, we slowed down to watch some really nice humpback whale feeding. We could see their mouths and flippers. We weren't especially close to them but they didn't seem to mind us being nearby. They kept feeding, moved past us and then went back the other way. It made for some good whale watching.

We began moving again and entered Whilhelmina Bay. We tried to go the long winding way between islands and deep into the bay. However, we found there was quite a lot of ice deeper into the bay. At the same time, on the AIS, we were watching a large, square rigged, steel sailing ship, Europa, coming south from Enterprise island, which was our desired destination. We could see that Europa was still making pretty good speed so that seemed promising. Then we found our progress ground down to almost nothing amidst the dense ice, and saw they had slowed as well. We were still 7nm apart. It seemed like it could be a lot of work to close those 7nm; but, thankfully, we were able to back track and found more open water and made better progress again and they picked up speed as well.

We passed Europa, took some pictures and waved to them. Then we continued on towards Enterprise Island. Then the most amazing encounter unfolded. Jon saw a whale head spy hopping near our track through the narrows exiting the bay. We went to idle and watched for him to show himself again. He came closer and then started circling us and coming ever closer. He was a very curious Antarctic Minke whale and really seemed to be trying to figure out what type of whale we were as he investigated the hull and peered at us above. We couldn't believe how close he was coming and we were all on deck intently watching him. He swam slowly all around the boat and rolled over showing us his belly. The water was calm and clear so you could really see what he was doing. He would come up right beside us, to spyhop or to breath - we could smell his fishy, stinky breath. It looked like he might even be touching the boat. He would swim under us from one side to the other, turn around and swim back to the other side. It was amazing how long he stayed engaged with us.

Eventually we started drifting towards some icebergs and an area where the current was really moving, so we needed to move the boat a little to clear the ice and avoid the current. We had to watch for him to swim in front of us so that we knew it was safe to turn the propeller briefly. Then we had to watch to make sure when he came around to our stern or under the hull we were back to idle. After we cleared the ice we went back to drifting and he continued checking us out. He must have spent over an hour with us in total. We have some pictures and video, but mostly we just tried to be in the moment and enjoy his curiosity. At one point we thought he tried to push us, but then he did the same thing again and it seemed like he was blowing bubbles into us. We wonder what that behavior is? Do whales blow bubbles on to other whales to get their attention? Was he just trying to figure out what we were and experimenting? The experience was truly incredible and one that we will remember forever.

Once we left the Minke, we continued on to Enterprise Island. This is where the whaling supply ship Governoren sunk after it caught fire. Sailboats can tie up onto the wreck. It is said to be the closest thing to a marina in Antarctica. With a fellow boat from Micalvi there and then two more boats arriving later in the afternoon it definitely felt like Micalvi south this year! There was some wind in the forecast and we had all headed in there to be in a secure spot.

Wednesday's weather remained pleasant without significant wind - either we picked well or the forecast was wrong. The afternoon skies cleared up, with the sun shining, so Jon took the boys on a dinghy explore while Megan made dinner. They did the sailor thing of going ashore and climbing up a hill. Pretty much all the other boats there had done the same at some point during the day and there was a decent path of footprints to follow.

Thursday we thought about moving, but the weather suggested it would be windy still and we were in a good spot with nice weather. Additionally nobody else moved, and 2 of the boats were charters (charters typically keep moving as they have shorter visits to Antarctica), so it seemed like we were all thinking it best to stay put for the potential windy weather.

In the afternoon the parents went on a shore excursion. We climbed the hill again and it did look like there was a good bit of wind out in the Gerlach Strait. Then we went to climb another island's hill and see the water boats along the shore. The water boats are relics from the whaling days. They are flat bottomed wooden boats that were rowed to the glaciers, filled up with water and then brought to the whaling ships so that the ships were resupplied with fresh water. When climbing this smaller hill we also followed the tracks from another boat's shore excursion. However, this time there was also a slide track that had been made. So obviously that was going to be the way down! Megan slid down and Jon took video as his pants weren't really waterproof. Then we went back to Zephyros and told the boys to put on snow pants and snow gear. Jon changed his pants and took the boys back to the hill. Everyone enjoyed some glissading. Though Daxton was a bit disappointed as he was too light to go very fast. Ronan clearly had the fastest pants.

Friday was another beautiful, clear, sunny day and the charter boats were off very early. We were up but took a leisurely morning and left at a post breakfast relaxed hour. We did have a little metal boat outside of us. They weren't quite ready to leave but came out to let us get out from the inside and to tie themselves back up. We headed north and found ourselves with pretty solid wind. We rolled out the genoa and sailed along at a nice speed. We had planned to stop at Portal Point, which we hadn't been to before, but due to the strong wind and decent waves we thought there would be too much swell so we decided not to stop and passed quietly by admiring the glacier views.

We did go through the Graham Passage before heading to our anchorage spot. This was our third time through. Last year both times we went through the clouds set in and the visibility was low. This time it was clear skies and stunningly beautiful. There was a large humpback in the passage but he dove down and stayed away from us. It remained quite windy as we continued on to the spot we planned to anchor near Bluff Island. It is a beautiful spot and the holding is good. So we came in, dropped our anchor and enjoyed the rest of the windy afternoon aboard Zephyros.

Saturday was calm but overcast and dreary. We decided to stay put. We played more games, did boat chores and got some school work in. The kids are absolutely destroying the parents in this year's Antarctica spades tournament. They really are good at strategy. We seem to have taught them far too well. It was a fairly uneventful day and we were settling in for the night with Daxton reading his book in the pilot house before heading to bed. Suddenly Daxton and Ronan heard whistles and were telling us that Kotik was there!

We were all dressed and outside shortly thereafter as Kotik came close by and we chatted across the boats. They dropped their anchor a little ways off and we finished our chat over the radio before saying goodnight. It was nice to see Kotik out our window again. We discussed plans and found that we both planned to head the same direction in the morning.

By morning it was windy again in the anchorage. Igor came by in his dinghy to drop off our anemometer pieces and some extra fruit - that's some good service! We were happy to have just happened upon each other organically without anyone needing to modify plans to meet up to get us the part. He was quickly back to Kotik and pulling up his anchor. We also raised anchor and we each headed north with our separate agendas but hopeful that we would meet up in an anchorage again.

Sunday was one of those picture perfect, beautiful, sunny Antarctica days. We motored the 35nm up to Trinity Island. We marveled at the 360 degree vistas and enjoyed the trip. We dropped anchor in the late afternoon. As the winds were light and the weather lovely, we sent Jon up the mast to bring down the wind vane/anemometer unit. It turned into a pretty easy swap out. He brought the larger piece down, we looked at what broke and installed the 2 new pieces that were hand carried for us from France to Antarctica. With the pieces replaced, Jon went back up the mast and reinstalled the larger part and we had a working wind speed indicator again! Yay, for an easy fix of a boat issue in an exotic location! It seems that a small magnet had detached from a shaft in the part rather than us having worn out the bearings. So we should be able to glue the magnet back on and have a functional spare part. We wouldn't have known that was the problem without having the new parts on hand to compare. We are pleased to have resolved that issue and have a working anemometer and a probable spare. Amazing we were able to get the part carried from Paris and delivered in Antarctica after breaking it near Cape Horn. The world sure can be small.

After solving that issue we went to shore to walk with the penguins and marvel at the view back to the Peninsula. We had hoped to see Kotik come in and get a picture. But they were still off on their adventures so we did our own thing. We watched the gentoos and spotted a couple of random chinstraps as well. We also saw a fur seal (they are actually sea lions) who posed for some pictures as well as some weddell seals. We had a lovely evening and went to bed without seeing any signs of Kotik. We figured that meant they were having a good adventure and must have made different plans.

Monday we woke up, looked outside and found Kotik anchored in another area of the bay! There will forever be something comforting about seeing Kotik out our back window as we have for the better part of the last 2 years whenever we were both in Puerto Williams. Monday was gray and a bit windy. We planned to sit still and do a little baking. Megan tried out a new recipe (apple pie shortbread cookies - winner!) and made a batch as a thank you for Kotik bringing the parts (and giving us fruit, taking our bio for Denis & Perla's garden and a few other things - it's good to be friends with a very nice, bigger boat!). When the winds calmed down a bit in the evening we swung by Kotik to drop off the cookies and Mjollnir. We decided we didn't need the sledge hammer that we found in Paradise Harbour. So we labeled it with the name of Thor's hammer and added a Zephyros stamp. It was a nice little chat and good to meet Igor's aunt and sister, see Adrianna and Joao (from his Antarctica group last year), see Anton (Ronan's sailing classmate and fellow crew mate on Kotik when Ronan was on Kotik) as well as meet the others aboard. We didn't stay too long and scurried back across the bay to Zephyros on a windy, wet dinghy ride.

Then the winds really picked up that night. Fortunately / unfortunately we could now see how much wind there was. We were tipping up over 45kts and sleep was a bit fleeting Monday night. Thankfully it calmed to 15-20kts for a while which allowed better rest before picking up again in the early morning.

Week 3 seemed to be quite mixed with a nice pace. A little moving, a little sitting for weather. Some brilliant sunny days and some gray, blah days. We had lots of family time with games and outside time with penguins, whales, seals and fun in the snow. It was another interesting week. We shall see what week 4 brings as we start to look towards some new places to explore while also keeping an eye out for a potential weather window to begin our big trip north.

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