Monday, 15 November 2010

A crazy day!

Last evening we had very rough sea conditions, which lasted through most of the night. In the very early morning we approached the South Shetland Islands, and a little later we turned to starboard and entered Admiralty Bay on our way to the Polish Arctowski Station. This was to be our first landing in Antarctica proper. The first 100 passengers landed and first walked down the beach towards the Adélie Penguin colony.

As we made our way over the cobbles, we noticed a few Gentoo Penguins, and at the end of our walk we saw a lonely pair of Chinstraps. Ironically, Adélie Penguins were in short supply on the beach, which is unusual. The colony at Arctowski has been declining over the past few decades and now sits at only 4000 pairs. Later in the morning a few Adélies made their way down to the beach and put on a small show for some of us. The Arctowski area is a lush, Antarctic oasis as exemplified by the green meadows of moss and Antarctic Hair Grass, and the amazing growth of lichen on the rocks.

The big news of the morning was the winds, which picked up to storm force, and left us no choice but to cancel the landing and return to the ship. Unfortunately, not all passengers made it on-shore but this is Antarctica, and the unexpected becomes the expected.

Over lunch and the early afternoon we made our way to Half Moon Island, a small crescent shaped extinct volcano near Livingston Island. Half Moon is home to a fairly large Chinstrap Penguin colony. During the whole landing, we experienced rain, strong winds and temperatures close to zero. However, this did not deter us and we all enjoyed the fresh air, surreal landscape, and local wildlife, including several species of breeding seabirds and Weddell Seals.