Week 4, Antarctica 2022 Expedition

Highlights - Walking & Penguins (Gentoo, Chinstrap & a wayward King!)

Tuesday (7 Feb) there was horrible, terrible weather. A very windy, gray, blowy day. Kotik was hunkered down in the same huge bay about a half mile away. It was comforting to see Kotik out the aft window and nice to be able to have radio chats. It was kind of like being able to text across boats on a stormy day back in Puerto Williams. Upon our request, Kotik passed us the rules of a card game that Ronan had played on Kotik giving us a new card game that we moved into rotation. It was great to have a new game and the opportunity to ask clarifying questions whenever needed. We also took a radio call from Adrianna to chat with Megan about recipes so that Kotik could make cinnamon rolls and pizza. It certainly made hunkering down on a bad weather day more interesting and a bit less lonely.

Wednesday we planned to move to Deception which is a long day. Kotik had not decided what their plans were. They were watching for their weather window back to Puerto Williams and the weather wasn't looking especially great. We were up and getting ready to head out, but wanted to know if it was goodbye to Kotik or if they would also be heading to Deception. They called us up to say they thought they should stay south so that they could leave from Melchior. This would put them farther west as the wind seemed to be all heavy and westerly for their window. We all got dressed in outdoor gear to get in the dinghy and to go to say our "see you laters". It was definitely another tough one! Our little pandemic Micalvi group was a special bunch. We know we will keep in touch and see Igor again, but we are incredibly grateful for his friendship. He has been an inspiration and a treasure trove of information, advice and help. He has definitely made our two trips to Antarctica so much better and less stressful than they would have been otherwise. He has been a great friend in Puerto Williams with whom we've shared meals, repaired sails, sailed together in the Beagle, gone adventuring, sent the boys out hunting, etc. We all felt sad to be closing that chapter for now, but we remain certain we will see him again.

We left midday to go to Deception which is late, considering it is a 65nm day. We pushed the engine a little on a day that was gray, overcast and calm at the start. We went around the west side of Trinity hoping to see Spert Island and its interesting rocks and cliffs along the way. Of course, it decided to completely fog in about the time we arrived near Spert. It remained low visibility until we got north of Trinity. Then it evolved into pretty nice weather, with rolly seas. Overall, it was a long uneventful day. We stood watches, grabbed naps, made lunch and dinner in some rolly conditions. It felt like a goodbye to coastal cruising and preparation for passage making.

We arrived at Deception right after sunset and passed through Neptune's Bellows in post-sunset light. The weather was nice and settled which meant we could anchor off of Whaler's Bay which is just inside of the caldera (rather than needing to continue to a more secure anchorage another hour away). We anchored about an hour after sunset and still had a bit of light. It was straightforward and good to be done. We were all quickly to bed.

Thursday morning we awoke to radio traffic and had a cruise ship anchored next to us before 8am. It was foggy and eerie as the cruise ship passengers made their shore excursion. We mixed up pancake batter and waited for the morning cruise ship excursion to finish. They were gone by 10 or so and we got ourselves ready to go ashore as we knew there was another ship in Deception up by Pendulum Cove. We had made the assumption that they were another cruise ship and would be down to Whaler's Bay after the 1st cruise ship left.

We went ashore and walked all around. We revisited all of the buildings at the site. We walked up Ronald Hill. We walked along the beach, getting a chuckle out of a lone molting gentoo penguin, and watched lots of fur seals (actually sea lions) along the beach. Some posed, some fought each other, many just laid there asleep. We walked up to Neptune's Window but the fog rolled in so you really couldn't see much. Then we strolled back down the beach to the dinghy. On the walk back, we heard what sounded like a small plane or helicopter. We looked around for it and eventually caught a glimpse of a helicopter. Maybe that other ship was a yacht with a helicopter? We stopped along the beach where the steam comes up to check the water temperatures. Some cruise ship passengers had gone swimming in this area earlier in the day. None of us decided to swim, but we put our hands in the water and sand to feel the thermal activity. It was quite hot in places in the sand. But the sea water was still a bit cold for swimming. It's always interesting to experience thermal, volcanic activity.

Eventually we headed back to the dinghy and were glad we didn't have any competition with a cruise ship. Back aboard Zephyros we (finally) looked at the details of that vessel anchored in Pendulum Cove - turns out it was a Chilean Search and Rescue ship. Ah, perhaps that explains the helicopter!?! (We have since seen the helicopter again and also heard that a cruise ship here does have a helicopter.) We had a pancake lunch and discussed plans for the afternoon. We definitely felt like we should take advantage of the settled, calm weather and do some more activities.

In the afternoon, we raised anchor and set off for the Argentinian base inside the caldera. There is supposed to be an easy walk to a chinstrap penguin rookery there. We had tried to go once last year but the weather turned on us and we didn't go ashore. This time we looked all around and could not figure out where the walk was / how it would work. So after some discussion we decided not to try to do the hike. We thought about going up to try to swim at the thermal springs in Pendulum Cove but with the Navy boat there, we didn't know if we would be intruding on operations. In the end, we headed back to Whaler's Bay. It was still a nice day trip around the caldera with good visibility and calm weather. Along the way back we stopped to rescue a large orange fender that was on the shore. We also found part of a kayak seat. We wondered if someone had put the two trash items together to pick up later, but we picked them both up anyway as we were there. Once back in Whaler's Bay we had dinner and played games. Then off to bed for another calm, quiet night's sleep.

Friday morning was a bit like the day before. We heard the radio crackling with the cruise ship announcing their planned entrance to Deception Island through Neptune's Bellows and we heard their anchor dropping in the bay. They were ashore by 8 am and we enjoyed the people watching of this larger cruise ship's passengers ashore. These cruise ship shore excursions are quite an operation.

We pulled weather data and discussed plans. The northbound passage across the Drake seemed not at all nice for the next week. We were hoping to depart sometime within that week, but as the weather looked so strong we decided it could be the following Thursday or later before we could set off. So we discussed how we could fill out the next week or so, what else we wanted to see and when we needed to be somewhere safe for stronger winds. It's always a trade off and compromise. However, it definitely seemed like we would be getting a full 4 weeks in Antarctica.

In the end, it seemed like we could stay in Deception and hunker down or we could move northeast to see new places. We had a family discussion and decided that we would move up to Yankee Harbour and Half Moon Island. This would allow us an opportunity to explore some new areas, have access to some nice walking, and hopefully see a Chinstrap rookery and more penguins in general.

We got underway just after 11am and headed out of Deception Island through Neptune's Bellows. We beat the cruise ship out and headed to Bailey Head. We opted not to go ashore but we marveled at the chinstrap penguins and seals through binoculars and the camera for a short while. We then started motoring towards Yankee Harbour and found the cruise ship had now departed and was headed to the same place as us, but 3x faster!

We arrived at Yankee Harbour after an uneventful 35nm of motoring. We dropped anchor around the time the cruise ship was wrapping up their shore excursions. As soon as they were clearing the shore we headed in. We had a nice evening stroll along the rocky spit. There were lots of gentoo penguins and fur seals. There were occasional chinstrap penguins and weddell seals. We laughed at the big, fluffy, molting baby penguins as they chased their parents around for food. It is always quite a sight. They get moving quickly and bounce off other penguins and fall down. We enjoyed the exploration and then we headed back to Zephyros for drinks with some glacial ice, dinner and bed. The wind picked up over night and we had quite a bit of ice knocking on our hull for a bit as the wind shifted so it was not exactly a quiet night's sleep. Yankee Harbour is behind a moraine with glaciers on one side so ice gets blown around in the bay. It is mostly small pieces of brash ice so it isn't a problem, but sometimes there is a lot of small ice, sometimes there is none, sometimes it hits us as it moves on or packs along the shoreline.

Saturday we awoke to windy weather and checked the forecast. It seemed like the wind was supposed to shift more and then really pick up. We got ourselves organized to go ashore. We enjoyed more walking, more penguins and more sea lions. As we were preparing to head back to Zephyros we all heard a very different bird call, we looked over and saw a king penguin! So we stayed and watched him for awhile. He seemed to be a lost penguin trying to figure out what the deal was with all these shorter, different looking, weird sounding gentoo penguins. We followed him around and took lots of pictures. Eventually he went on his way and we went on ours.

By now the weather was calm and sunny! We sure didn't see that in the forecast. We took advantage of the calm afternoon and did some pre-passage chores. Most importantly we emptied the fuel bladder into our tank. Yay! Don't have to worry about that thing on deck anymore. And, it went surprisingly easy. We hooked up a tube, turned the valve and it drained right into the tank. This is far better than the wrestling that we did last year with the smaller bladder and stiffer, shorter tube. It was nice to have our tank back to nearly full, that the transfer was easy, and that the bladder is now secured in a locker. We closed out Saturday with pizza and games.

Sunday, the weather was fairly settled and clear. We took a tour around Moon Bay (the greater bay / area where Half Moon Island and Yankee Harbour are located). We went over to the basalt formation that Daxton has wanted to see for the past two years. We motored over to it and it really didn't seem like much of anything. However, as we got closer we all thought it was actually pretty interesting. We drove around it, took lots of pictures and concluded we were glad we had swung by to see it after all. From there we moved over to Half Moon Island. There was a 30 meter (100ft) sailboat in the bay and a cruise ship arrived just before us. We let the cruise ship do their shore excursion while we prepped dinner. They were finished before too long and then we all headed ashore. We enjoyed this shore excursion as well. It was easy walking with lots of chinstrap penguins and occasional gentoos. We got to see baby chinstraps for the first time, but they were quite close to full grown, which wasn't a surprise this late in the season. They were still entertaining and fluffy. There were also lots of fur seals and occasional other seals. We wrapped up the shore trip with a nice long walk towards the old Argentinian base.

We decided the weather should be calm enough and blowing from a direction that was protected from the semi-circular island. It was a good night's sleep, but in the early Monday morning hours the winds picked up. We watched the 30m yacht re-anchor half a dozen times. We were thankful we were holding well, with a lot of scope, and waited for the wind to settle down a bit. It did, as forecast, and we took another shore excursion before the next cruise ship came in. The weather showed the winds would be shifting around again so we made a plan to go back to Yankee Harbour. It is well sheltered and the holding is good in mud - Half Moon is exposed in some sectors and is mostly rock and kelp so we just felt we would be more secure and comfortable in Yankee Harbour.

After repositioning back to Yankee Harbour in the early afternoon, we got another shore excursion in at Yankee and looked out at another cruise ship arriving soon thereafter. They were an interesting one to watch with a more elaborate setup and longer shore excursion time in small groups. They were gone by early evening and we settled in for another easy, calm night to close out week 4.

We are pleasantly surprised with how pretty the South Shetland Islands are. There are a lot of cruise ships passing through because it is easy walking and good penguin viewing. We definitely aren't secluded, but we can easily manage walks ashore around the cruise ship activities. Sailboats typically skip this area, especially if going back to Chile or Argentina as it is decently far east. Hopefully that won't be a problem for us as we will be heading to the Falklands which is pretty much due north.

We expect to remain in this area until our window arrives. We are thoroughly enjoying it and find it a good place to wait with good holding, walks and wildlife. We continue to actively study forecasts to find the best weather that we can to head to the Falklands. There looks to be a decent window this upcoming week; we will see how it develops and be deciding the best time to depart.

It seems that this year's Antarctic expedition is coming to a close for Zephyros and her crew. We are starting to look towards passage making and thinking of future plans and adventures.

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