Friday 10 February 2012

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Crabeater Seals near the Antarctic Circle
Photo © Andrew Wenzel
Too much of a good thing.  It seems ironic that the very thing we were hoping to see prevented us from reaching one of our goals.  Ice.  We left home with visions of icebergs, glaciers and pack ice dancing in our heads.  Antarctica means ice and we wanted to see it. And today we saw ice.  Lots and lots of ice.  As we approached the Antarctic Circle we followed the edge of pack ice left over from last year.  The Captain hoped to find a safe avenue to enter Crystal Sound which would lead us into The Gullet and then on into Marguerite Bay.  But the ice was 5/10 and continued beyond the range of our radar.  At the same time we were experiencing winds of 20m/s which was causing the ice to move quickly. The thickness of sea ice is rated on a scale of 10, with 10/10 being 100% ice and 5/10 being 50% open water, 50% sea ice.    Fram can go through about .50 metres of new open sea ice but if that ice closes it might be a different story.  Years ago I was on a smaller ship stuck in sea ice that was 10/10 for as far as you could see.  It was a frighteningly beautiful sight.  One that I would rather not see again.  As we have repeated probably 100 times on this blog, the weather and the ice dictate where we can go and what we can do.
But we are "glass half full" kind of people.  The ice was beautiful. There were hundreds of Crabeater Seals scattered about on ice floes and here and there was the odd Leopard Seal.  We even passed by two logging (resting at the surface) Humpback Whales and then at 10:06 the ship’s horn sounded as we crossed the Antarctic Circle! We were having a spectacular morning!
Soon after crossing the Circle, the Captain brought Fram about and we began to head our way north.  Our plan was to make for the Fish Islands and attempt a landing later in the day.
King Neptune dumping ice water on Torbjørn
Photo © Lisa Andersen
En route we had a surprise visit from King Neptune on deck seven.  King Neptune was collecting payment for us having crossed the Antarctic Circle.  Anyone willing to pay the sacrifice had icy water poured down the back of their neck.  The consolation was a shot of rum right after!  Surprisingly there was a lineup of eager (crazy!) people anxious to have ice water dumped on them.  Or was it the Rum they were after?  The last person in line was Torbjørn who had the entire bucket dumped on his head!  Actually he wasn’t in line.  He got dragged over! 
Adelie Penguins, Fish Islands
Photo © Andrew Wenzel
Fish Islands
Photo © Andrew Wenzel
At 17:30 we were ready to make a landing at the Fish Islands.  It was a really nice, mild evening.  The island we landed on couldn’t have been much more than 100 metres long but it was the site of a boisterous Adelie Penguin colony. 
The chicks were quite large.  Many of them had shed their down.  There were also many adults molting. 
Just before the landing was over the tide had changed and the ice began to quickly move in.  The few remaining people on shore were hustled back to the landing site where we beat a hasty retreat back to Fram.
Now it is 23:20 and as I look out the window just before posting this blog entry, the ice is approaching 8/10.  I wonder what the night and morning have in store for us?  Stay tuned.