The beauty of Antarctica

Sunday 4 February

It was the sunniest day to date, blue skies and still seas – stunning. The camera was working hard as we cruised.

Humpback whales put on a wonderful show just before we reached the Lemaire Channel, so we stopped and watched them for 30 minutes. Do whales know about us? Know we are watching? Put on a show just for us? They darted and dived and chased and frolicked. Four hundred and eighty photos later – I think so.

But there was competition as ‘rafts’ of penguins also swam past for our entertainment.

We travelled up the narrow Lemaire Channel towards Pléneau Bay. All the way along the crash of small icebergs against the bow of the ship reminded us how precarious this journey must have been in the days of Adrian de Gerlache in 1898. He named this stretch of water after a fellow countryman, the Belgian Congo explorer Charles Lemaire, who had no connection with Antarctica.

The Lemaire Channel is nicknamed the Kodak Gap, for its stunning photographic opportunities – how lucky were we to see it on a calm, sunny day. Narrow waters, towering mountains up to 1,000m high and Crabeater seals lazily sunning themselves on the ice.

This is the furthest south we would travel, not quite as far from the equator as our journey to the Arctic Circle which sits at 66° 32′ 35″ N:

Latitude: -65° 07′ 58.80″ S
Longitude: -64° 00′ 0.00″ W

But ice was blocking the bay, so we were forced to turn around and return via the Lemaire Channel to the ‘plan B’ – Port Charcot. Two magnificent opportunities to enjoy this stunning channel.

We were treated to two tours.

Our first was to the island and Charcot’s cairn. It was quite a climb up the snow for a magnificent view over the bay where Jean Baptiste Charcot wintered in 1904. We watched other zodiacs and kayakers take their turn in the waters while we found a quiet spot to sit and take in the views. Words can’t describe the beauty, the tranquillity, the experience…

Our second tour was a Zodiac ride around the icebergs. The weather was so calm that the icebergs were showing off the best of their beauty. We were told the ship’s captain Sergey Nesterov only takes Zodiac tours when the weather is good. Today it was good and we were so lucky to ride in the captain’s Zodiac. His enthusiasm for the place was infectious – he seemed to know every seal by name and had a story behind every iceberg. Touring doesn’t get much better.

Dinner tonight was a good old-fashioned barbeque on the aft deck. The sun had disappeared behind mounting clouds and it was cold, but that was balanced by a warming glass of gluhwein.

The Filipino staff shone in their yellow jackets as they filled the table with barbequed meat and salads.

The finale for the evening was a documentary called the Post Office Penguins about the penguins at the British base of Port Lockroy.

The ship was moving to Paradise Harbour, but after a night on the ice and an early rise, I was asleep before it arrived at 11:30pm.