To get from South Georgia to Antarctica we had to cross what many to believe to be the roughest ocean on the planet…
Okay, so we got lucky. These were taken around 10 pm on New Year’s Eve – we were getting close to Antarctica, so it didn’t really get dark.
12:19 am January 1, 2017 – Happy New Year!!
It was New Year’s Day, so we got to sleep in – our wake up call came at 7 am “Good morning everyone – our current position is 61°6’2″ S and 54°51’37” W”. We had arrived at Elephant Island (the southernmost island in the South Shetlands); Point Wild to be exact.
This is the spot where Shackleton’s men landed after leaving the ice; it is named after Frank Wild, the man left in command of 21 men when Shackleton and the others left to find help on South Georgia. They lived here for 137 days, using the remaining 2 boats as shelter, and were finally rescued in August 30th, 1916. When you arrive here, and see how barren and inhospitable it is, it’s truly amazing that everyone survived.
On many trips the ship is unable to get close to Point Wild; often it is too rough to launch the zodiacs and it’s almost unheard of for the kayakers to be able to paddle. Not this day. We were blessed with calm waters and an amazing day. As the ship’s First Mate said to me “this is like the Carribbean”. With the ship safely tucked in, you could feel the excitement in the air.
The expedition team getting ready in the zodiacs
The landscape here is stunningly beautiful – rugged snow covered mountains and blue glaciers fall down to the sea.
It makes you realize how small we are…
And did I mention there were penguins there? Lots of chinstraps; noisy smelly chinstraps!
The rocks here were noticeably pink; this means the penguins are eating well. Their “favourite” food is krill, a shrimplike creature that is pink. The more krill they have in their diet, the pinker the rocks become.
There is a monument here to the captain of the Chilean ship that ultimately rescued the men
Bobbing around in the brash ice…
The zodiacs rides were not only a great time to some pictures, but they were usually pretty informative and educational. This is salp, 5 salps to be exact; this is in fact a small colony.
They are’t jelly fish, they are tunicates; they feed off plankton & organic matter in the water that passes through their bodies as they move. Individual salps are 1 to 10 cm in size and are most abundant in the phytoplankton rich seas of the Southern Ocean.
Back on board it was time to relocate for our afternoon excursion. It was on the daily program as “Expedition Afternoon – Elephant Island”. Some chinnies came to see us off as we sailed towards our unknown adventure…
With lunch under our belts (quite literally) we found ourselves on the Weddell Sea side of the island with flat seas and big blue skies.
We dropped anchor and the kayaks and zodiacs were off-loaded while Flipper & Shane headed to the “beach” to see if there was a safe landing area.
These guys have been doing this a long time and have never set foot on Elephant Island. I think the smiles on their faces give you the answer – landing was a go!
Since my group was zodiac cruising first, we had a little more time before gangway so I stayed out on deck taking pictures. It’s hard to explain how many penguins were swimming around us this day; like little armies heading out to sea to feed and back in to shore. Combined with the calm waters, it was beyond words…
Who says penguins can’t fly?
A few pictures from the zodiac cruise…
A random macaroni
La di da….
Bath time for this fur seal
Here is a little video of some chinnies going for a swim, and some deciding against it…
These macaronis look like they’re up to no good…
Chinstraps are very good climbers, some are right at the top!
Baleen whales include humpbacks and minkes, they are distinguished from “toothed” whales by their baleen plates. Made of keratin (like our fingernails) these plates allow the sea water to pass through while filtering out their food, plankton & krill. Once on land, we were fortunate to see some baleen plates as well as some whale bones.
And then, an elephant seal weaner who decided that it was easier to go over than around. It took him a while, but he did it!
There is nothing else for me to say, it was a wonderful way to start the year. Here are a few more pictures…
No day would be complete without a gentoo picture!
They told us later that we were the first expedition ship to do a landing at this location and it was a first for all of them. This picture sums it all up – this is Shane, our expedition leader – just look at his face – pure bliss!
- Baleen Plates
- Chinstrap Penguins
- Elephant Island
- Elephant Seal Weaner
- Macaroni Penguins
- Point Wild