Monday, 29 November 2010

Closest to the Antarctic Circle

We reached our most southerly point today when we landed at Petermann Island. There, we were a mere 83 nautical miles from the Antarctic Circle. However, at this time of year it is a case of "so near and yet so far" because although this is a light ice year in the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula, the ice is difficult to navigate that far south. Later in the season we will cross the Circle.

Petermann was a delight to visit with its splendid views of the Penola Strait and Mount Scott on the Antarctic mainland, as well as "iceberg ally" to the south. The small island is home to several species of seabirds including Adélie and Gentoo Penguins, Blue-eyed Cormorants, Skuas and Kelp Gulls. In addition we were very surprised to see a single pair of Chinstrap Penguins nesting amongst the Adélie and Gentoo Penguins. It is very rare to find the three species of Penguins nesting together. At this location Adélie Penguins are declining and almost seem to be overrun by Gentoos- maybe the Chinstraps will follow.

Our return to more northern latitudes was a very special one for a small group of 30 passengers. They had the chance to sail through the 11 km long Lamaire Channel in the Polar Cirkel Boats, getting to see Antarctica from another perspective.
While the Fram went ahead, we followed in our tiny vessels, but deviated to observe seals, icebergs, and penguin colonies nesting in the sharp steep slopes.

After the Lemaire, we sailed over to Port Lockroy for a short landing there. The British Base "A" is the summer home to four women working for the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. The trust has done a fantastic job of restoring the base to its former glory. It houses a very good museum, British Post Office and gift shop.
Outside, a small colony of Gentoo Penguins nest around the base buildings, oblivious of the human presence.