By 06:00 we had begun navigating through the scenic waters of Wilhelmina Bay, accompanied by a couple of humpback whales. The scenery here was amazing – crystal clear waters with small bits of ice floating, icebergs (some of which you could see what was below the surface too), mountainous glaciers and ice sheets. Everywhere you looked you could see reflections in the water, with the occasional ripple distorting the image.
Due to such good weather our planned excursion ashore to Portal Point was cancelled in favour of a zodiac cruise around icebergs. I would have liked to have stepped foot onto the Antarctic continent one last time though.
As soon as we set out in the zodiac it started to rain, so we were cautious about when we were using our cameras. To start with we headed in the direction of a female Humpback Whale and her calf, though after a while they started to change behaviour so we stopped following to avoid agitating them further.
For a while after this we cruised around large icebergs and even saw a small one with Antarctic Terns on it. Not long after we decided to see what else could be found and headed off in the opposite direction. Whilst passing the mainland a large piece of ice broke off; as it hit the water the sound of the ice cracking could be heard.
Continuing on with the cruise we encountered a pair of sleeping Humpback Whales. After watching them for a while with the engine off they awoke and we followed them for a time as they headed towards the boat. They then abruptly seemed to fall asleep once more so again we went off looking elsewhere.
On one ice flow we found a Crabeater Seal that was resting there. We couldn’t get that close so it was difficult to see it clearly with the ice formations obscuring it. You could tell it looked quite different to the seals we’d seen previously. Contrary to it’s name, the Crabeater Seal does not eat crabs – there are no crabs in Antarctica!
From there we headed to a small piece of land a few metres across, and got off the boat. Our method of going ashore was to basically ram the zodiac into the land. Once I got to the peak of the island I took a step to one side and disappeared down a crevice that had been covered in snow. It took quite some effort to get back out, but fortunately I’d stopped myself falling any further than my waist. I guess you could say it adds to the experience, and I did find it amusing once I’d gotten out.
By the time I’d gotten out, another boat from our group had landed on the other side of the island – this soon triggered a snowball fight between the people from the two different boats. With one hand I protected my camera whilst with the other I threw snowballs back. Only once did I come close to being hit, but I smashed the snowball with my hand before it hit me and then returned the favour with a well-placed shot.
Having technically stood on Antarctica once more we got back into the zodiac and headed back to the ship for the last time. Our time in Antarctica may have been coming to an end, but the adventure was not yet over. We would still have the Drakes Passage to cross on the return journey.
Before lunch we crossed the Gerlache Strait, an area named after the Belgian expedition leader Adrien de Gerlache, the very first expedition to stay in Antarctica over winter. Not long after lunch we’d crossed the Schollaert Channel into Dallman Bay, and then onward into the Southern Ocean. The snow had continued all this time and showed no sign of stopping.
In the afternoon there was a lecture on the tube-nosed birds of the Southern Ocean. By this time we were in the open ocean so the sea was a bit rougher. It was amusing to watch chairs slide from one side of the room to the other as the ornithologist spoke. This lecture did however overrun by at least 15 minutes.
There was then a short recap for Antarctica to discuss the Weddell Seal, the formation of lenticular clouds, and an amusing bit about a science paper discussing the pressure required when penguins defecate.
For the first time this trip I wasn’t too keen on any of what was on offer for dinner so left the dining room early and decided to get some sleep.