“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” Neil Gaiman.
An unusual New Year wish, and wonderful, hence its inclusion today. Greatest surprise for me is being in Antarctica on an expedition ship, and early this morning we found ourselves in the Antarctic Sound, surrounded by thousands of icebergs. Le Lyrial slows down as we find a way through this labyrinth of ice, in a scene beautiful beyond description. Agustin Ullmann, Expedition Leader, last evening shared with our guests that we would be landing at Brown Bluff, then showed a picture of this big brown bluff, in a perfectly timed bit of humour. Plenty of snow overnight, however, has rendered it a big white bluff, with a myriad icebergs separating the shore from our ship.
The team were off by 6.30am to scout the landing. Just magnificent, with no wind and gently falling snow. The Bridge commented on a 2 meter tidal difference between the beginning and end of our proposed landing, creating challenges for the Zodiac drivers as the approaches are extremely rocky. Once again, witnessing guests approaching an Antarctic shore for the first time, with Penguins aplenty, icebergs in all directions, seabirds overhead and a landscape like no other is heart-warming. Most guests were snapping away at Penguins before the Zodiacs landed, incredulous at the proximity of these emblematic little birds in tuxedo’s. Today, we were fortunate to see large breeding colonies of Gentoo and Adelie Penguins with small chicks, and some rather out of place Chinstraps. To see three species of Penguin on the very first landing, along with a large Leopard Seal on the nearby ice floe makes for a very auspicious start to this Antarctic expedition. The Leopard Seal looked extremely well-fed, no doubt feasting on the abundant Penguins hereabouts. In the cliffs above, breed Snow Petrels, Cape Petrels, Kelp Gulls and Skuas-keen eyes and binoculars required to view them with any ease. Interesting to note how many guests are carrying phones as primary cameras now. During the 4 hours on shore, the water level dropped by 2 meters, and the temperature rose 5 degrees Centigrade, from 1-6 C. Many icebergs broke or rolled during our sojourn ashore, reminding all of the dangers of approaching icebergs too closely with a Zodiac.
During the afternoon, guests were taken on Zodiacs amongst the icebergs around Goudin Island. The guests enjoyed incredible sightings of Weddell, Leopard and Crabeater Seals – so 3 Penguin species and 3 Seals species recorded today. In mirror calm conditions, and pleasant temperatures this Antarctic masterpiece presented an utterly appropriate end to 2017.
I presented Scott of the Antarctic in back to back sessions that everybody be given opportunity to hear this tale of courage, devotion, commitment, fortitude and ultimate tragedy. Did the men in Scott’s party of 5 die psychologically when they realised they had been beaten to the Pole? Was the addition of a fifth man to the Polar party beneficial, and was Scott’s choice of the original four objective given his options?
It was gratifying watching happy, smiling faces (stark contrast to Scott’s party) returning from the Zodiac cruise – clearly today’s activities have been a fantastic “starter” for these guests’ Classic Antarctica expedition.
This navigation through a maze of icebergs practically all day has been sensational with so many flat-topped tabular examples about the ship. The crew displaying special skill in unloading and loading the Zodiacs. Early this morning the first Zodiacs were deployed with the ship still in motion, and indeed after the Zodiac cruise this afternoon the last Zodiacs go “on the hook” with the vessel already moving off towards our next destination. For those unfamiliar with expedition ships, the Zodiacs are stored on the very top of the ship, and lowered/raised by crane, hence the term on the hook. During the afternoon, ten Zodiacs, plus two twin-engined safety boats were in the water for the entire operation. The 60 horsepower, four-stroke Mariner engines with electric trim rendering great service. How they cope with being exploded to life in these frigid temperatures is interesting.
We have a new naturalist in the team called Matt Messina. At 23 years of age, a young man way beyond his years, the product of artist parents and an extraordinary artist in his own right already. Skilled naturalist and writer, Matt dreams of a life documenting, travelling and enriching others around the globe. A delightful human being with a great future ahead of him, clearly a rising star in the next generation, so to speak. Bird watcher extraordinaire, Adam Walleyn, who leads trips all over the globe for specialist birding groups with Rockhopper Tours is also with us. Adam carries no camera (leaves photography to his lovely wife), spends disproportionately long hours on the Bridge watching for birds, and has a personal “life list” most only dream of ever attaining. A special Canadian who always engages his mind prior to engaging his mouth. Some of our guests would fare well to follow Adam’s example. It is wonderful learning from all these talented naturalists. My father often joked that I never knew the difference between a cockroach and a kudu out of doors….
Some guests from the last voyage have been kind enough to say how grateful they are for the blogs, sparing them writing a personal journal on board or upon returning home. Others admit having no time on board to do so.
Considering our responsibilities on shore (first on/last off), Recaps and Precaps, lectures, hosting meals and other duties, I am surprised that I find the time to do a blog at all. It is comforting to know that some are grateful, and some enjoy reading it.
The kitchen produced a gorgeous dinner for everyone downstairs in Le Celeste restaurant, before music begins in various venues on board in preparation for midnight. The teenagers on board look far more excited than the rest, and a 6am start for the team tempers celebratory intentions somewhat.
May I wish all readers a wonderful, safe, blessed 2018 in addition to my opening toast. Most of all, surprise yourselves, please.