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Author Jon Krakauer once said “The thing that is most beautiful about Antarctica for me is the light. It’s like no other light on Earth, because the air is so free of impurities. You get drugged by it, like when you listen to one of your favourite songs. The light there is a mood-enhancing substance.” This was certainly the case today.

We were up early (4am) to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the 30 mile long Antarctic Sound. Known to many as Iceberg Alley, on account of the incidence of icebergs hereabouts. These icebergs break off the Larsen ice shelf in the mighty Weddell Sea, and are forced here by the clockwise gyre of current and water movement in the Weddell Sea, created by the Circumpolar Current flowing around Antarctica. Swedish explorer Nordenskjold explored the area onboard his ship, the Antarctic, under Captain Larsen. The ship was crushed by Weddell Sea ice in 1903, just as Shackleton’s would be 12 years later. The sound and ice shelf are named after the ship and her Captain.
Very briefly, Nordenskjold established a base on Snow Hill Island at eastern exit from Antarctic Sound into Weddell Sea. The Antarctic failed to return to collect him in the Spring of 1902, thwarted by ice. A group were dropped off at Hope Bay, instructed to walk/ski to Snow Hill. Their way was blocked by open water at Vega Island. This group of 3 overwintered in desperate conditions at Hope Bay, in a stone hut. Meanwhile Larsen and his crew on the Antarctic were beset in the Weddell Sea, eventually sinking the Antarctic. They made it to Paulet Island, and spent a similarly desperate winter in a stone hut, eating penguins and emergency rations. Within days of each other all 3 parties met up at Cape Well Met, and were rescued by Argentine vessel Uruguay on 14 November 1903. An epic of human struggle and endeavour.

Many guests began the morning commenting on the quality of the movie Endurance last evening. Using Frank Hurley’s photographs and movie reels, the Endurance Expedition was magnificently portrayed, narrated by Liam Neeson. For many it placed exclamation marks on most of the points I had made during my presentation on Shackleton. I was delighted to have my story confirmed by the movie. We then enjoyed a Zodiac tour near Rosamel Island, the sunlight playing on surrounding snowfields. Many were intrigued at the ice foot of icebergs, the 8/9 by weight beneath the surface. We watched ice floes moving together, reminding us of the dangers of entering leads seemingly safe for a Zodiac only minutes earlier. We saw penguins and seals hauled out upon the ice, and watched a myriad birds flying overhead, including the dainty Wilson’s Storm Petrel. It was an exquisite morning. This is what the guests signed up for, the perspective from a Zodiac so different to that from the ship. As Krakauer said, the purity of air and clarity of light quite indescribable.

Over lunchtime, Le Lyrial re positioned to Brown Bluff. Due to the recent eclipse and alignment of planets, there is an astronomically low tide. Usual approaches to the landing site unusable on account of rocky outcrops, and a shore break to boot. The massive brown cliffs were only enjoyed after a very tricky landing. Six staff members, including Marco, JJ and Rich, were up to their chests in water (in dry suits), spinning the Zodiacs around upon arrival to enable a stern disembarkation. Most guests and assisting staff had wet boots and socks, the water much deeper than knee height. I was tasked with briefing guests on the beach, and co-ordinating times for their return to the ship. Grateful indeed, as I am not sure how my knee would have fared wrestling with fully-loaded Zodiacs in the sea. And I got to keep my boots and socks dry! Large pieces of ice on the beach, and breeding colonies of both Gentoo and Adelie Penguins provided a visual feast. Despite the challenging landing conditions, it was a breathtaking afternoon, and hugely enjoyed by the guests.

After a lively Recaps and Briefing at 7pm, guests enjoyed dinner and an early night. I shared the Nordenskjold story in some detail, and JJ gave details of the size of icebergs which calve off ice shelves in Antarctica – the size of Wales or Jamaica! I am retiring now, having lost my entire blog earlier when I placed a notebook on my keypad. I have had to re-type the entire blog, and feel this version does not flow as well as my first edition. Humble apologies. Tomorrow requires another early start visiting Half-moon Island and Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands.

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