Saturday, November 20, 2010

ON BOARD PLANCIUS: November 19 - 20, 2010

Howdy, Birders,

Antarctic expedition cruising continued with a 5 am wake up call, and
Zodiac landing promptly at 5:30 am. We landed at Cuverville Island, one
of my favorite places on the Peninsula. Cuverville is a small, rocky
island which lies in the Errera Channel on the northwestern Peninsula.
The island was covered in snow, making it all the more beautiful. Once
again, we donned our snow shoes. This time it was more imperative that
we wear the snow shoes as the GENTOO PENGUINS had already made many well
defined, pink-stained trails, and some not so well defined. These are
known as "penguin highways." It is important not to leave a crushing
footprint in any of the highways, as this will cause penguins to fall in
the holes and die. It is also important not to sit in or near enough to
a highway that it prevents penguins from using it. Most of those in our
group complied, but it was impossible for the EL to rein in the repeat
offenders. Large groups of GENTOOS were standing around, sometimes
bowing in their courtship display, or sometimes mating. As far as I
could discern no rock nests had yet been made, nor were any eggs
visible. This is the largest Gentoo colony in the area. The usual
ANTARCTIC TERN. Some folks hiked to higher ground for some spectacular
views of the colonies and icebergs of many shapes and sizes near the
landing area. Don hiked to the water's edge to try to photograph
penguins there. He found the only LEOPARD SEAL of the entire voyage
prowling the shoreline, in search of an unwary penguin. Unfortunately,
we did not take our radios on this landing. So, none of us knew about
the leopard seal until we all returned to the ship for breakfast.

After breakfast, everyone was on deck for the navigation to Andvord Bay.
Our final destination and landing was to be Neko Harbor, at the end of
the bay. To say the scenery was beyond anyone's imagination of what
Antarctic is really like, is an understatement! Snow covered mountains,
silver blue glaciers plunging to the sea and icebergs and bergy bits all
about us was simply breathtaking. Captain Alexander Pruss navigated this
puzzle of ice with great deft. However, Neko Harbor was chock a block
solid with icebergs far too great for our ship to handle. Instead,
Expedition Leader, Troels Jacobsen, decided that we would make a Zodiac
cruise in the ice! For many on board, this was their first time riding
in a Zodiac in ice. The sounds of the Zodiac crushing small bits of ice
under the floorboards is amazing. "Whiskey ice, or black ice" was
spotted and collected for the bar and our evening party. Finally,
several CRABEATER SEALS were spotted on ice floes. Our expert driver,
Chris Gilbert, got us up close and personal to these lovely seals. Neko
Harbor was to be our continental landing. Since we could not make
through the ice to the site, we instead landed on a very small pebble
beach, not far from a tremendous glacier. Once on shore, some folks
decided to take the "polar plunge" — stripping to their bathing suits,
and diving in the icy waters! So, in the end, we could all claim a
landing on the 7th and great white continent— ANTARCTICA!

After a quick lunch, we all went out on deck to watch the last vistas of
Antarctica. During lunch an ANTARCTIC MINKE WHALE was briefly observed.
For awhile, big, fluffy snow-flakes were falling. Passing the Melchoir
Islands, two HUMPBACK WHALES were spotted. During recap, Don, Will,
Donna and Joe were out on deck photographing smashing images of several
LIGHT-MANTLED SOOTY ALBATROSSES. Earlier, they had shot hundreds of

The Captain put the pedal to the metal, and we were zooming for the
Drake Passage. At recap this evening, we found out why we were headed to
quickly for the Beagle Channel— weather! To be exact, we had the dreaded
triangles on the weather chart! Triangles indicate a serious low
pressure system. Don and I have been through these "triangles" on
previous trips. In the past, these systems have been as high as
hurricane force winds.

As I write this email it is nearly 6 pm on November 20th. Don just
pointed out a BLUE PETREL out our cabin window. We are still steaming
for the Beagle Channel. The seas are heavy and heaving, but nothing too
terrible— yet. Today, some of us pre-packed in anticipation of the
weather to come. The photographers still managed to capture many images
of Southern Ocean seabirds. We understand that the worst weather might
arrive between 7 am to noon, tomorrow. (We are on target to hit the
triangle at noon, tomorrow) The Captain is aiming for Cape Horn. At some
point, he will turn the vessel toward the east, which should give us an
easier ride. In the words of our Expedition Leader, Troels, "Let's see
how it goes."

As this will be my last blog posting until I reach home, I'd like to
thank all of those folks who have traveled with me on this awesome
voyage, especially the Shearwater Journeys' folks: Don, Will, Gill,
Lois, Donna, Carol and Joe. We miss our friends and families and look
forward to seeing and speaking with everyone soon! To those who are
reading this blog, I also extend my thanks.

Southern Seas forever,
Debi Shearwater
On board Plancius; Falkland Islands, South Georgia & Antarctic Peninsula

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