Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Nearly Perfect Voyage

Lemaire Channel
The nearly perfect trip was marred by too much ice.  This morning our hope was to offer Polar Cirkle boat cruising at 09:00 in the Lemaire Channel but there was so much ice that there was no place to safely put the small sturdy craft on the sea.  Instead we cruised on Fram in some of the most breath taking scenery the earth has to offer with seas so calm they mirrored every nuance of the surrounding icy paradise.  It is difficult to describe how beautiful it was.  Imagine ice-covered mountains rising steeply from the sea on both sides of the ship.  Picture the sea covered with open pack ice and the water between the pieces of ice reflecting the ice covered mountains and glaciers.  Lying on many ice floes were lots of Crabeater Seals, more than a few Leopard Seals and the occasional Weddell Seal.  We even had a Minke Whale pop up for a close inspection of the ship.  Our second option was not too shabby.
Leopard Seal
After cruising the Lemaire we plied our way through to Paradise Bay and on to Water Boat Point and the Chilean Base called Gabriel Gonsalez Videla.
Chilean Base Gabriel Gonsalez Videla
Photo © Andrew Wenzel
About half of the thirteen people occupying the base were there to greet us as we pulled up to the tiny pier.   We made the only truly dry landing of the entire trip!  Nine of the men were from the navy and the other four were Chilean air force.  They were excellent hosts and opened the doors to their recreation centre, a small museum and gift shop and even the small radio room overlooking the narrow channel at Water Boat Point.  
Leucistic Gentoo Penguin
One of the highlights of the visit was a creamy coloured Gentoo penguin brooding a chick quiteclose to one of the main buildings.  The condition is known as leucistic.  Every once in a while a penguin is hatched lacking pigment.  It is not true albinism. This condition also occurs sporadically in other species of penguins.  Usually the chicks have normal pigmentation but occasionally their off spring are leucistic as well.

Chilean Base Gabriel Gonsalez Videla
Photo © Andrew Wenzel
By 19:00 the last Polar Cirkel Boat left shore.  We waved goodbye to the friendly guys at Gabriel Gonsalez Videla and turned our thoughts to what King Neptune might have to offer us on Drake Passage for the next two days.