Antarctica
   
........Spring 2010
 
 
 
 

 

   

This is my Antarctica journal. With the permission of Ellen Freeney, I am also including her journal to allow different perspectives:

February 2004 Kayak Expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula

2/14
The journey begins immediately with a problem at the Cleveland airport — a delay of a few hours. Although the weather is perfect here, Dallas, the airport of origin for the incoming plane, has a snow storm. When we arrive there some hours later, we can see what can throw these Texans out of balance: only a light dusting of the landscape.
The connecting flight in Dallas is held for us, so we make it to our next flight to Miami. We are told the flight there would wait for us too. When going to the gate in Miami we are told the flight just left. Many people are very upset because they want to catch a cruise ship in Buenos Aires. I have a little bit more time, because my connecting flight will leave one day later. Finally the airline offers $800 coupons to people who are willing to give up their seats. Four of us make it to this flight. GREAT!! It is a 9 hour flight, less than I expected.

2/15
This is my first time to be on the Southern hemisphere. Somehow it is very exciting. I want to see the Southern Cross, the most pronounced constellation in the Southern night sky. I also want to check out whether the sun resides in the North at noon in the Southern hemisphere. It turns out this is actually true, although I had to wait another day to find out.
I arrive in Buenos Aires on a warm and sunny summer day. Sunshine, heat, flowers, green trees, something we haven’t seen for a while in Ohio! We had a long and harsh winter this year. The Taxi driver has some problems with English but is fluent in German. We have an interesting conversation about the city and the lifestyle in Argentina.
My hotel is nice and has an acceptable price. I booked it and all my flights for this trip online. It worked out pretty well. I have half a day to stroll around the city. It is a nice place, but the architecture is not very interesting. The river seems to be much polluted; it looks brown and muddy with lots of cargo-ship traffic, which is confirmed later in a conversation with the next taxi driver. He is a highly educated citizen, who makes some money on the side driving tourists around to be able to afford his car.
They have a lot of cheap leather clothing here in Argentina, some very stylish stuff, but I don’t want to spend money, because I haven’t slept for many hours. I don’t want to make bad decisions and waste any money, which I tend to make when on jet lag.
I go to bed very early, around 6 pm and try to catch up withy my sleep. I haven’t seen the Southern Cross yet. But I will have two more weeks to do so.

2/16
Monday, I arrive in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, located in the South American area known as “Patagonia.” The plane flew all the way towards the South. During the flight, the sun was on our plane’s tail, which proves that at noon the sun sits in the North in the Southern Hemisphere! The weather is mixed: rain and sunshine; the temperature is around 60° F, or 16° C. It is the peak of the summer in Ushuaia. Since it is raining, I still haven’t seen the Southern Cross.
I am picked up at the airport by the leader of our group, Bob. He puts me in a taxi to the hotel. It was still in the morning. I had plenty of time to roam around the city for the rest of the day. In the evening our expedition group gathers to get to know each other in person. We had our first contact through a conference call two weeks earlier.



2/17
Our ship, the Polar Pioneer, arrived this morning. We will assemble our folding boats and board the ship around
2 pm. Our Feathercraft Expedition doubles are 21-feet long and can hold rather large loads: two people, plus a tent, sleeping bags, and food for about seven days! If everything works according to schedule, we will leave the port around
6 pm.



It took a little longer than anticipated. The ship left around 8 pm. We are sailing through the Beagle channel, named after Darwin’s ship. It is a beautiful sight, mountains surround us. We are allowed to go to the captain’s bridge except when a pilot is on board, which is necessary through this channel. He will leave the ship around 1 am at the end of the Beagle channel.
I share the cabin with a woman from Australia. She is a very active and pleasant person, and walks around the ship quite a lot.




2/18
We all got settled into our ship cabins. We are on the ship with people from all over the world: Britain, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the U.S., and Germany. The ship is a Russian research vessel changed to accommodate about 52 passengers. Everything is simple and small but good and efficient.
We are crossing the Drake Passage. The weather is not too bad — not too much wind. Still, the waves are quiet impressive. This is the point where the Atlantic and the Pacific meet. I am wearing a patch that prevents seasickness. Some people are in bad shape, they try to avoid medication and use wristbands and other devices. At the end most people use some kind of medication. Our crossing to Antarctica will take 2 1/2 days.
Several scientists and naturalists on Board give us lectures and show films about the wildlife we will encounter: penguins, whales, seals, fish, krill, and more. People will do different things on this voyage. Some are going to the Antarctic Peninsula for mountain climbing. One of the most famous Sherpas came as guide with a group from Australia. He is the son of the famous Sherpa Tensing Norgay, who went with Edmund Hillary on Mount Everest. He did a reenactment with Hillarie’s son. He also worked with Messner climbing Mt. Everest.
Around 2 pm we can see our first Antarctic icebergs. Later in the afternoon, we land on one of the South Shetland Islands with some Zodiacs. Our landing site is at 62.28 latitude and 59.22 longitude.
We see abundant wildlife, including Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap penguins, fur seals, and a colony of elephant seals. We can smell the Penguin colony way before we see it. Two Humpback whales are swimming about 30 ft away from our Zodiac. It is very exciting to see these majestic animals so close up! We land, stepping for the first time onto Antarctic soil! The air temperature is about 35°F/2°C and the water temperature is about 32°F/0° C. A very cold wind blows over the land, making us feel even colder. It is cloudy, windy and foggy. But I am happy to finally be here! We spend about two hours on the island, wander around, take photos, and watch the animals.

Feb. 19
Ellen’s view:
We had a few days of the Drake Passage, with miles of wide-angled views of waves punctuated by a Wandering Albatross or two. Mild weather, compared to other trips, the waves still kept many of us sluggish with nausea. Alvin wished for tossing storms, Ellen wished for an easy passage and it was. We were welcomed by a committee of icebergs, snow fall and fog. But we were more than ready for some action and our first Zodiac landing on Robert Island in the South Shetlands was the perfect antidote. The storminess of drizzle and wind added zest and excitement to our ride ashore. Wind biting my face, I reduced my balaclava opening to a slit. Our boatman fought a balky engine but got us to shore with as little spray as possible. Despite snow changing to rain, we excitedly hiked around Robert Island snapping pictures, dabbing at lenses to dry them off and enjoying the wild life. The young elephant seals (a mere 8 or 9 feet long) had the beachfront property; fur seals spaced themselves along the rocky shore on invisibly marked territories.



Chinstrap penguins turned their backs to the wind in the low-rent district while a hike over the scree rock slopes found the class Gentoo penguins in the wind-sheltered section of the island. We climbed a little hill, threatened with being tossed off the edge by the wind, to see a glacier many stories high marching into the sea on the other side of the island. Ducking out of the wind on the lee slope, we hiked around Gentoo penguin colonies, glimpsing our ship in the fog in the distance. Colorful humans scattered the slopes among penguin rookeries. Juvenile Gentoos were molting their down but almost full-suited in their adult outfits. There were a few Skuas, one with its chick, along the perimeters of the rookeries. I was so excited by all the wildlife; I stopped worrying about the weather and temperatures. I was elated to be traveling to the Antarctic.
Sometime late in the morning, we finally arrive at the Antarctic Peninsula. We start taking out gear to the back of the ship. Our Feathercrafts and one plastic Prijon single are loaded onto Zodiacs and transported to our campsite. Eventually, our group is hauled to the landing site. It is a penguin colony. In the course of the next few days, we will learn that the best camp sites are in the area of penguin colonies. These penguins need bare snow-free ground to bread. The bare rocks seem to absorb more heat energy, therefore allow the eggs to be incubated, and also the young penguins can rest on them. From the distance the colonies have a reddish appearance and smell very intensely. The color is caused by their excrements which contain the pigments from krill, the penguins’ main food staple.
We take our gear uphill and stack it to set up camp later. Everyone is eager to paddle. We had too much rest on the ship! We are intruding the space of three fur seals. They make some intimidating noises to chase us away. After I can take a nice picture of one “watching” our gear, they retreat. It is our first real close encounter with the wildlife. None of us had an idea how noisy such a penguin colony actually is. I recorded a short video clip of the penguins calling each other in the colony. The adults and the young of a family are recognizing each other by their voices.



When I begin setting up my tent, a Skua comes over to me and starts an “argument” about my tent pole. He really wants it. I had liked him to have fun with it, but my tent would not have withstood the Antarctic winds for the rest of the trip. I had to win this argument! Sorry, buddy.
My earplugs helped dampen the noise level of the colony. We watched in amazement how the chicks were chasing the adults when they came back from the water. Sometimes up to three of them ran after one adult. They in return tried to get away and chase the chicks that were not their own.



Our boats created a little confusion in the colony. The penguins were standing in a kind of “traffic jam” behind our boats wandering what was blocking their usual entrance to the water. After a while, one decided that there must be a different possibility, found it, and the “crowed” followed the “brave” guy. Penguins seem to be very social animals. We could observe this in all colonies. Some individuals even chose us as their companions.



2/20
Ellen’s view:
Today, our gear, our kayaks and we were transported to Cuverville Island on the Zodiacs for our first day of kayaking and camping. One of the fur seals came over to inspect and guard our gear that we left onshore before setting out on a day paddle. I was amazed that none of the animals seemed interested enough to try to tear open our bags or get at our water supply.
We kayaked over to Ronge Island for more fur seals, Gentoo penguins and lunch. Heike sat quietly watching 3 penguins that paid no attention to her at all. Back in the boats after lunch, Steve and Regina led us over to the beautiful iceberg arch, enticing but no one wanted to chance it and float under it. We reveled in the beautiful pale cobalt blue of many icebergs. Skirting Orne Island, we spotted a Chinstrap penguin, kelp gulls, snowy sheathbills, a Weddell seal and Minke whale. We began to learn that by the time you heard an avalanche, there was nothing to see. The distances across channels were deceivingly farther than we realized and with sound traveling slower than light, the avalanche was all over by the time we heard it. Our ship and several others slipped by us in the Errera Channel, leaving us to enjoy the wilderness alone. We probably did 3 miles of kayaking today.
Setting up camp on Cuverville (Cuvierville ???) was a lesson in how slippery penguin poop could be. As Heike set up her tent, a Skua decided that shiny thing dangling off the end of her tent pole might be edible and a tug-of-war ensued. The bungee chord won, and the Skua retreated. Our first dinner served by Expedition Leader, Bob Powell, was satisfying and filling. We soon learned he always provided more food than we could all eat and lots of fresh vegetables made for healthy fare. For the next few days journey, Bob would be chef, leader, organizer and expert. His subtle, encouraging leadership would be unobtrusive but definite. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,” “cooool’ and “y’all wanna’” his vocabulary for team building.
Our perch for the night was atop a hill, with little area to put the kayaks. Thinking they’d be safe, we laboriously hauled them up out of the water. But by the end of supper, we realized the tide was still coming in and we had to move them to even higher ground. Tied to a rock for good measure, against the possibility of high winds, we now had them just far enough up our hill to be out of the reach of high tide. We now knew what to expect of the tide changes for the duration of our trip.
This camp was a lesson in penguin behavior up close and personal. We learned so much about Gentoo penguins! Lifting a red-billed head, an adult would give a long loud bray followed by a “haw, hee, haw, hee, haw”. We only heard this noisy territory call at the rookeries, never where adult penguins gathered without chicks. An arriving parent might be chased by a baby as big as the adult. Finally mom or dad would open wide allowing the chick to reach deep for a meal of fish. Or there might be a flurry of activity when a parent or bigger chick chased away chicks from another family. In turn, that chick’s mother would squawk a defense. Downy chicks lay on their bellies, getting covered with poop; parents would coolly arrive from the sea, clean and white. Our rookery kept us entertained and loudly lulled us to sleep.
Sadly, we noticed some chicks were much smaller than others, a sign they would not make it to adulthood in time for the cold weather. That evening, I was awake for a while and heard an unusual noise, a slight but definite baby snore that accompanied Alvin’s version. In my sleepiness, I thought, ‘how cute, a penguin chick is copying Alvin, as if he were its parent.’ The next morning, I found a dead chick close to our tent. The poor thing must have been suffering from a respiratory problem. This is a harsh climate, after all.
Heike was faithful to her science classes back home by probing for air and water temperatures each day. She sent the information along with a log of the day’s activities via satellite phone. This posed lots of problems, having to re-enter information all over again if the transmission did not go through. She found it hard to keep the equipment safe but managed to keep the laptop computer, satellite phone and probe in good working order, though in the end, her camera developed moisture that ended her photo-taking early.

2/21
We leave our seal colony and paddle along Ronge Island. Hanging glaciers and tidal glaciers completely surround us. Once in a while, we hear the thundering of avalanches and calving glaciers. The huge icebergs around us are rolling; we stay at a respectful distance to them! A Weddell seal checks us out as we paddle by. He gets close to each boat and has a good look at us, wanting to know who is invading his territory! Shortly after this encounter, we hear whales loudly breathing. We paddle in the direction of their fountains and come upon two humpback whales-an incredible sight! We are so close; we can literally count the barnacles on their backs and see their light bellies, when they dive under our boats to check us out from below. We also smell their breath, which smells almost like cooked cauliflower!



The whales check us out by swimming all around and underneath us. They propel their bodies up in the air to have a closer look at us above the water; this is called “spy-hopping”! We pass three Antarctic Cormorants sitting on a smaller ice flow as we paddle to our next campsite. We also pass an abandoned British penguin research station from the 1950's, now taken over by penguins. I sit in my tent writing this journal entry. It is raining and as I write, I can hear little wet penguin feet touching the ground while walking by my tent.



The wind picks up, becomes a storm at least for my understanding, and shakes my tent quiet violently. Since I am alone in my tent I am afraid the wind could blow me away. I see myself bobbing on the water…. The others are all two people in their tents, that’s why they don’t worry. I could get up and put heavier stone on the pegs, but I don’t want to leave the warm sleeping bag!! When I tell Bon about my fear during the night, he is just laughing: “You call that a storm? This was just some wind!” I am not eager to experience a “real” Antarctic storm on this expedition!

Ellen's view:
We paddled today along the southeast coast of Ronge Island exploring a gravel bar moraine and glacier encircled lagoon for lunch. These areas, too dangerous and not high enough off the water for camping, were often our lunch harbors. Very little ground for camping is available between the ice flows. I began to think of Antarctica as wall-to-wall glaciers. Kelp gulls, Skuas, Wilson’s storm petrels, Weddell seals and Minke whales graced our day. And we spotted our first Imperial Shags, also known as Antarctic Cormorants. But the highlight was without contest. Two humpback whales, spotted as we were returning north to our destination on Danco Island, chose to dance with us. At first we were the curious ones, trying to get a good glimpse of them as they exhaled and rolled smoothly back into the water. They spy-hopped to see what strange creatures we were in our kayaks. From then on we played tag with some great fluke scenes and whales gently gliding under our boats At times, we could smell their fishy breath after a blow. With the day growing late, we reluctantly left our humpback friends and finished about 6 miles of paddling.
Camp was a low shale “beach” near the unmanned British Penguin Study Building on Danco Island. The rain had stopped and started for the past two days, settled in to a steady drizzle tonight. Returning Gentoo penguins balanced and hopped up from the ocean around ”bergibits” and rocks to rest for the night. It was a lot of fun to learn their habits. Holding their wings out behind them for balance they would waddle along, with occasional mishaps. Often their tails would help support them on a precarious position. Only a few fur seals on this low, flat beach. We explored the hut. Very trim and well built. A bit dirty from birds that had managed to get in a window to perch inside, but lots of stores of goods against emergency need and tokens left behind of researchers who worked here. Several snowy sheathbills were tending chicks they had housed underneath the building. I particularly enjoyed walking the shale beach and looking out on the ice strewn harbor in the cloudy mist and rain.

2/22
Today we paddle almost 12 miles, which is a long paddle! During the trip, we stop to get drinking water from a glacier, while two Minke whales pass us in the distance. Suddenly, our boat feels very heavy, and I realize that I am sitting in ice-cold water! The boat is leaking, easily possible when the rubber bottom is dragged over sharp rocks, or as in our case, paddled through a lot of "ice-cubes." We are forced to land, unpack the boat, turn it over, and repair it. The special sealing material we use takes about two or three hours to cure, and we spend the time watching penguins and some fur seals. For the first time, today we have a bit of sunshine. Our camp is on snow, but in the most beautiful place. On our one side, we hear penguins. On our other side, we hear several glaciers calving into a huge bay. All night we can hear the thundering sound of the calving glaciers. One time I thought my tent would be swept away by one of the mini tsunamis they cause. But the chunks of ice are not as big as they sound.



Ellen's view:
This morning we had every intention of packing kayaks in better form than we had our first day and setting off early, but the low tide of morning, still dropping as we packed, had us grounded among icebergs before we could get going. Bob ended up dragging Mark and Heike’s kayak over several bergs to get beyond them to launch. Later we realized this had come with a price. Heike complained of her boat feeling sluggish and hard to paddle, as if very heavy, later that morning. We pulled ashore in the first moraine gravel & lagoon area to find 3 slits in the bottom of the boat. Bob got out the patch kit. Alvin & Steve helped dry the surface and mix the glues for the patches. Steve came up with the innovative idea of heating the mixture with a hand warmer to try to get it to dry in a reasonable time, despite the temperature. We had an early lunch and Bob took a nap stretched out on the rocks by the boat while we waited for the chemistry to work. But we had entertainment. A few Gentoo penguins were swimming in the shallow water by us. We could clearly see them under the water. They would smoothly porpoise up ingroups of 2 or 3 to breathe. Underwater they were little bombs of quick-moving, turn-on-a-dime energy! They sped back and forth along the beach faster than we could follow them with our eyes. They were so amazing we spontaneously applauded!



On our paddle of some 9 - 10 miles to Neko Harbor we saw our first cape petrels with their checkerboard patterned wings, and lots of the “usual” birds and Minke whales. And our two humpbacks (we’re sure it was the same pair) escorted us to our new campsite. As we approached the harbor entrance, we were held up by a parade of large ice bergs, moving smoothly out of the harbor on the last of the outgoing tide. With odd shapes and plenty of recently calved large ice, it was like watching a Disneyland parade. We waited in a small crescent harbor that I took to be land, but the next day, found it was another larger grounded iceberg. This was our first snow camp.
Doctor Mark, who’d had a hard day with an old shoulder injury bothering him was amazed that we were going to camp in snow, but not only are Steve and Regina old hands at snow camping but Alvin and I teach snow camping and were able to give everyone advise and a little help. It’s really more comfortable than sleeping on rocks, drier than sleeping in rain and cleaner than sand. We paid little attention to the tiny unmanned Argentine hut just above the beach. We were too busy setting up snow camp and enjoying our first long bout of sunshine. A colony of Gentoos was visited by one lone chinstrap penguin later in the evening. He kept to himself, allowing us to get good pictures of him. He seemed to prefer the snow. Bob pointed out this was a heat wave, for the chinstrap. I think it was at this harbor that we saw a huge brown jelly fish, floating in the water as if the temperature here was as comfortable for the jellyfish as temperate climates. The evening was punctuated by the thunder of many glacial calving and avalanches. One, occurring late into the night, set up two good-sized waves that washed the beach below our snow.

2/23
Today will be a big paddle day as we will have to cover more than 15 miles. The weather is beautiful. There is some cloud cover, but the temperature is 2 degrees Celsius (35F), and we can see the sun highlighting the mountain tops. We ate breakfast early, around 6.30 AM. Penguins always watch us at every campsite! We can usually smell a possible landing site from about one mile away; because the air is very clear and unpolluted, every smell is very pronounced. Strong wind and a lot of floating ice block our way to the other side of the Fjord. Penguins accompany us part of the way. They check us out, jumping just like dolphins all around us. Penguins seem to be very inquisitive animals, which enjoy swimming beside us. We see more Minke whales and some Humpbacks. After several hours of strenuous paddling we arrive at Paradise Bay, a place ofbeauty and serenity, quiet a real paradise!



Ellen's view:
As every morning, we grudgingly but dutifully donned our dry suits. These instruments of torture are tight and like putting on a straight jacket. You’d hear groans and yelps whenever we were putting them on or taking them off. It was often a two-person job, one pulling and stretching while the other wiggled and wrenched. I think it was this morning that Steve attempted to help Mark put his dry suit on when, after much effort, they discovered they had Mark’s leg through the arm!
This was to be our longest paddling day at about 14 miles and Bob got us off to an early start. To be sure we could all keep up, he asked several of us to switch boats, so I got to enjoy paddling with Heike while Mark and Alvin made up another team. We managed to get out before the lowering tide brought us more iceberg problems. With a quartering headwind of perhaps 10 - 12 knots, we enjoyed Bob’s plan to “berg-hop” from the wind shadow of one berg to the next to get across Andvord Bay. About halfway across, we were shut out from the lee shore by ice pushed there by the winds and tide. From here, we had to push into the wind with a steady pace. But it was not without rewards. A large “flock” of Gentoos followed us in the water, alternating purposing with ‘periscoping’ to get a look at us. Once under the protection of the other side of the bay, Bob spotted a leopard seal. The seal seemed content to bob up and down in the blue of an iceberg, as if balancing on his back flippers on the berg’s underwater foot. I think this was the day we saw so many exotic iceberg shapes. Remember the one that looked like a scene backdrop for a movie? Lots of different shapes, mountains, textures are surrounding us. There were textured sides to bergs that had us guessing how they were sculptured. Paddling past the navigation aids at Duthiers Point, we found the only possible landing spot and slipped through a narrow channel over barely covered rocks to stop for lunch. Alvin was so hot from the labor of paddling into the wind; he stripped down to his bathing suit to cool off. As a good-sized sailboat motored past, Bob realized it was an old friend, radioed him and we were entertained wondering if the Frenchman was going to run aground approaching our shallow area so closely. He, in turn, wondered who the crazy guy in the bathing suit was.
Walking the kayaks out of our lunch spot to get them over the shoals, we pushed our way into the wind around Waterboat Point. The Chilean scientific station buildings there looked large but dilapidated, manned only by penguins. We had the clapotic waves of the channel to deal with and gave the huts not more than a glance. I was a might cranky at this point with tired muscles cursing every lift of the paddle. Bob gave me a short lesson in the paddling skills he’d gained as an Olympic kayaking contender. I only wish I’d asked him much earlier! Turning into Paradise Bay, the wind was less of a factor and the seas soon smoothed to allow us to enjoy sparkling glaciers along the whole of this huge bay. Tall walls of ice on the near ‘shore’ seemed columned with blue ice. Slopes of snow-covered glacier held large blocks of jumbled chunks, twisted from a smooth surface by the glaciers’ slow, relentless movement.
Home for the next 2 nights was a rocky island in Leith Cove, named for a Norwegian whaling man. Surrounded by tide-water glaciers and a mote of sea, this was a perfect place to finish our trip. Minkes cruised the deeper channels, Crabeater and Weddell seals rested on icebergs in this magical circle. Yet I had a spooky feeling as this was the first campsite where I did not see penguins nesting. I had the odd feeling that meant it was unsafe! (Perhaps I was becoming a penguin??) A male fur seal bellowed a welcome. We set up camp on the snow and watched as the wildlife came in for an evening’s rest while Bob faithfully prepared supper. Mark was so happy to get his uncomfortable dry suit off he swore he would not put it on again! He did a celebration jump for joy.



2/24
Today we plan to stay in the same spot and just paddle without moving our tents from the snow field. Breakfast consists of a very nice trail mix made by Mrs. Bank’s Sports Nutrition class. Everyone in the group loves it. Cheers and thanks to the class!! Right after breakfast, I take my daily measurements of water and air temperature, and salinity of the water, which is a bit lower in these bays that are surrounded by melting glaciers. We paddle this time with empty boats, which is much easier and faster and a nice break to all these heavy paddles we had the last several days. We paddle around Paradise Bay, which is at least 10 miles in diameter and surrounded by bare mountain peaks, from which glaciers flow into the bay. The tops of these glaciers tower between 80 and 300 feet above the water line. It is an incredible sight!
We eat lunch at an unmanned Chilean research station-like all the other stations, it has been taken over by penguins. Paddling along, minding our own business, suddenly a 30 feet long Minke whale comes up from below, blows a big water fountain and slightly touches Ellen’s and Alvin’s boat next to me. Minutes later he does the same with our boat; luckily, he estimates our speed and distance a bit better and does not touch us! We think that whales take us for buddies because our kayaks look like whale bodies and the paddles could be our flippers! We also see seals chilling out on ice flows. One is a Leopard seal, and since they are known to be pretty mean, it is probably better to stay a respectful distance away from him!

2/25
We are in our ‘kitchen’ waiting for dinner to be ready, and the wildlife is starting to settle in for the evening. Our kitchen is a rocky place, from where we can overlook a large part of the small bay. First, a group of 12-15 seals swim in looking for a nice area to rest for the night. Two seals have already taken the best chunk of ice, so the rest of the bunch tries to find another good spot. This is not an easy task. Finally it gets to the point: "How many big fat seals can one fit on an ice-flow?" It turns out-eight can! I don't know how they know when an ice flow will tip over. It never seems to happen. But some of these friendly and peaceful guys end up going to another ice flow to share it with a less friendly Leopard seal. Three other seals can't make up their minds and stay in our bay. Two juveniles horse around, come to our beach, hop onto it and check us out. Finally, they just hang around floating in the bay. A little Chinstrap penguin is standing around looking a bit lost among all the Gentoo penguins. He starts to move closer and closer towards us, and seems to enjoy our company! He grooms himself for a long time as we move slowly towards him, and he also comes even closer to us. Steve quietly sits down and the penguin comes to about eight inches away and tucks himself in for the night (penguins sleep laying on their bellies, tucking in their flippers under). It is the cutest sight! We call him ‘Chinnie.’ Next morning, he is still here. He follows Steve to his tent, but soon decides to take off to catch a penguin breakfast.



Ellen's view:
Since we weren’t moving camp, we could afford a leisurely morning. About dawn, a dusting of light snow fell. The upper reaches of the dark mountains between the glaciers showed a snow-level line. But the day turned out to be mostly sunny. A short hike around our small island revealed the Gentoo penguins on the south side, making me feel more at home. There were remains of an old wooden barrel, as if washed up on a high wave. Regina and Steve came to breakfast from their aerie tent site at the top of the island mimicking penguins, arms out for balance behind them, shuffling the whole way to our dining rock but the shore.
Our day paddle took us several miles along the coast to the Argentine Base. The snow was full of the streaks of color we had come to know meant penguins, red, yellow and green where guano allowed algae to grow. Most of our group hiked up the mountain just above the station for superb views of the bay. They described watching the footprints of whales on the water far below. Alvin climbed down the moss-covered brown rocks to see a Skua on its nest. By the dilapidated buildings, we saw snowy sheathbills with their usual nesting spot under a building, a very nurturing mother Gentoo with her undersized chick we feared would not last the season. Two molting penguins did a bowing ritual for each other and for our entertainment. Heike watched a Gentoo come out of the water, dash across the shallow, shale beach and begin eating snow from the snow bank. He kept up this behavior for some five minutes!
After lunch, our paddle back was graced with a Minke whale coming up under and in front of Ellen and Alvin’s boat. All I could say was “Don’t move your tail!” A might too close for comfort! He came up several times again, just beside or in front of us. We watched Skuas dive for Steve and Regina, they seemed attracted to them. But Regina and Steve had eyes only for the stunning scenery. They’d often pause in paddling to contemplate this beautiful world. The day had turned bright and beautiful. Several kayaks dallied in the water while Bob and Heike went to one of many glacial waterfalls for our water supply. Bob pointed out a leopard seal on one berg. The seal seemed content to let us watch, so we approached for pictures. This potentially dangerous kayak and seal biter looked more like a person in a seal suit, lying on his side with hip, shoulder and head contours prominent. He obligingly opened his huge mouth to show off his threatening teeth. After landing our kayaks and going through the nightly routine of emptying them of gear, hauling them up above high tide line in teams of 6 for each boat and overturning them for the night, Alvin was still fascinated by the leopard seal. As the end of low tide took the seal’s berg out to sea, Alvin followed him around our island, snapping more pictures and enjoying the scene as another kind of seal tried to climb up on the berg.
As we prepared for dinner, the seals and penguins gathered for the evening. Three seals on a nice, flat iceberg attracted others until there were 8 or more on board for a night’s rest. We were wondering how they knew when one more would be too many and tip the berg. Just before our meal was ready, a lone chinstrap penguin stumbled out of the water and across the talus of the beach toward the snow. He was headed right for our group, and we were watching curiously as the penguin tried many attempts to get up the snow bank that was above his head. Several seals came up out of the water but turned back from the difficult beach with its large, sharp slate. But our little chinstrap was not deterred. He finally found a way up on the snow bank and waddled toward us. Patiently he waited till we were done eating. Several of us offered fingers for him to chew (an hors d'œuvre?) but he refused. We tried to avoid him when passing his way, but he seemed to have no fear of us. We dubbed him the ‘penguin who came to dinner’. Eventually, we departed and he settled in to ‘our’ dinner rock for his roost for the evening. By the next morning he was still there. When Steve came down for a short visit to the shore, the penguin decided to follow him, up over the island top, past Steve’s tent to enter the water from that side of the island!



That evening was our last chance to enjoy the evening sky. With rain and clouds much of the earlier part of the trip, I had gotten lazy and stopped trying to spot stars. But this evening as I got up for a quick relief walk, I saw so many stars my exclamation woke not only Alvin, but Bob as well. The Milky Way was clear and thick. The Southern Cross was at the apex of the sky. I could recognize Corvus and scrambled for my southern hemisphere sky chart to identify more. Centaurus yielded and the bright star just setting that Alvin asked me about may have been a planet or the bright stars in either Virgo or Bootes.

2/25
This was to be our day of ‘rescue’ off our Paradise Island in Leith Cove. We were packed and ready early, as per our ship’s Captain’s instructions. Weather or logistic problems delayed them but we filled the time with picture taking to use up the last film or chip space we could. A diverse group of people had proved themselves as amicable and compatible. All of us felt at peace with this beautiful place at the ends of the earth.
When the Zodiacs did arrive, their drivers were under orders to “hurry”, but Bob wisely advised us to be methodical with the kayaks, as carrying them over the rough rock terrain could be hazardous. We all had culture shock when we got a good whiff of gasoline as the Zodiacs sped out of our bay toward the waiting Polar Pioneer. Aboard the mother ship, we were immediately and well fed, and then took much of the day cleaning ourselves and our gear, taking the kayaks apart and settling in. Thanks to Bob and Heike for the job of kayak repacking and cleaning! Alvin wanted to ‘get in a little exercise’ by going back by Zodiac to the Argentine base and climbing but had a wonderful experience listening to the subtle sounds in a Zodiac sans engine. Later, he took a dip in the ocean from the ship to become a member of the Southern Ocean Plunger’s Society. Alvin and I were at the bow of the ship, taking a few pictures with other passengers, when several humpback whales went by, making shallow blows. Watching intently, in hopes to get a good picture, I heard another passenger say “Do something” to the whales, echoing my frustration that they weren’t posing for us. Just as they were passing out of sight, the whales rolled on their sides and waved at us with their flippers! Such was the magic of this Antarctic. One last Zodiac trip that evening gave us an idea of what the rest of the ship’s company had been experiencing as we chased whales across the bay and landed at the “Scientific” Station at Melchior’s Islands. The trash and rusting equipment that marks these many bases is not a pretty site. We left the area of the Antarctic Peninsula and started back across the Drake Passage this evening.


2/26
Spencer Sun, fellow passenger and photographer extraordinaire, did a marathon of laptop work to create a slide show of every ones pictures. I was proud to notice many of our kayak groups’ shots made the show. I was now enthused enough to want to buy souvenirs - for every child on my school bus back home! We found out our beautiful iceberg arch of our first day’s paddle crashed the same day. Many of our fellow passengers had shots of it before it did. Our passage back was, again, in calm waters. Gentle swells broadside, however, sent us searching for our individual sea sickness cures. Whenever I travel to unusual places, I bring a small piece of rock, a feather, or something else that comes naturally from the place, but I cannot do it on this trip. The Antarctic Treaty prevents me from doing so. Here is an overview of the Code of Conduct for Visitors to the Antarctic:
• Do not disturb, harass or interfere with the wildlife. This means do not touch or feed the animals, and stay at least 15 feet away from them.
• Do not walk on or otherwise damage the fragile plants, such as lichens, mosses and grasses.
• Leave nothing behind, take only memories or photographs.
• Do not interfere with protected areas or scientific research.
• Enter historic huts only when accompanied by a properly authorized escort.
• Do not smoke during shore excursions.
• Stay with your group or the leader when ashore
• Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only.
• Freedom of scientific research must be guaranteed.
• Information exchange and maximum cooperation must be maintained.
• No territorial claims shall be made by any nations.
• No nuclear tests or waste disposal are permitted.
• The participating nations have to allow designated observers on their stations.

Fog lifted enough for us to see some of the islands at the tip of South America this evening. Tomorrow, we’ll land at Ushuaia in the early morning.

2/27
Today is our second full day crossing the Drake Passage. It is about 900 miles wide and takes almost 3 days to get from the Northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to Tierra Del Fuego. Our ship travels at about 13.5 miles per hour. It is a long and somewhat uncomfortable journey. Most of us use a patch against sea sickness; others take pills. Our ship is rocking and sliding a lot! Sometime around 10 PM, we will be close to Cape Horn. A bit later we will enter the Beagle Channel where we have to get a pilot on board. Cape Horn is the southern most tip of the American continent. It was discovered by the Dutch sailor Willem Shouten in 1616. In those days of the sailing ship, rounding the Horn was a major event. It usually meant a dramatic shift in sea and weather conditions as the ship moved from one ocean system to the other. The meeting point between the Atlantic and the Pacific breeds violent and unpredictable weather.

2/28
Each took time to see town, enjoy the amenities of the hotel or hike areas like Cerro Castor nearby. We had a wonderful last dinner together as a group, our kayak memories still fresh and lots of them to share.