What is a day like in Antarctica?
Our lovely expedition leader welcomed the day with her enthusiastic morning call at 7:00am through the PA system informing us about weather conditions outside: Temperature: 1ºC, Wind: 29 knots. A little windy, but still safe to make our first landing. Even though it was cozy and warm in the cabin, we were so ready to start our adventure outside that getting out of bed was not a difficult task. A delicious buffet breakfast was served from 7:30 to 9:00 am in the restaurant – everything from scrambled eggs, salmon and bacon, oatmeal and cereals, French toasts and fresh fruit and much more.
The day before, our expedition team had organized all the passengers in two different landing groups. This would ensure that not more than 100 passengers would be on land at the same time (in accordance with IAATO regulations) and guarantee that all passengers would have the chance to participate in both landings and zodiac excursions. While one group (the yellow +blue) was geared up and ready for the landing, the other group (red+ green) would be starting their zodiac cruising excursion. After an hour, groups would swap.
As we finished breakfast, announcements indicated that we should be ready for our first excursion of the day in Wilhelmina Bay. In the mudroom, geared up with our expedition parka, snow pants and waterproof gloves and boots, we were ready to get into our zodiacs, start cruising the gorgeous bay and encounter the first creatures that call these latitudes home. We marveled at the presence of blue icebergs all around us, while spotting blue-eyed shags, Gentoo penguins and a few Antarctic skuas. Our zodiac driver was the ornithologist of the expedition team, and he was more than happy to answer all our questions regarding these fantastic birds. Our whale whisperer (a marine biologist) was driving a zodiac close to us when a minke whale playfully got close to our zodiacs. No need to say that we were all amazed to witness the whale’s presence so close to us.
Wilhelmina Bay is a bay 24 km wide between the Reclus Peninsula and Cape Anna along the west coast of Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula. It was discovered by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-99 led by Adrien de Gerlache. Wilhelmina Bay is dubbed “Whale- mina Bay” for its large number of humpback whales. It is a popular destination for expedition ships to Antarctica due to its abundant whale population and spectacular scenery.
After an hour of zodiac cruising the bay, we went back to the vessel, grabbed a cup of coffee and delicious cookies (free of charge 24/7) and went to the main lounge to enjoy one of the many interesting lectures from our expedition team. This time, we had the opportunity to learn about the polar explorers Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott and their stories and relevance on the “Battle for the South Pole” more than 100 years ago during the “Heroic Age” of Polar Expeditions.
At 12.30pm we all headed to the Restaurant were an appetizing lunch was waiting for us. Mouth-watering desserts tempted more than one passenger! Waiters were always attentive and ready to fill our glasses of water or whatever we had chosen to drink!
Right after lunch some of the passengers who have chosen to participate in the snowshoeing adventure option headed to the bistro to have a short briefing!
At 2:30pm passengers were once again called by groups to go down to the mudroom and get ready for our second excursion. This time we headed to Danco Island. We had to wait a little in the mudroom as it started snowing copiously, but about 10 minutes later, we were out with our experienced zodiac drivers. The scenery was beyond words. We landed in Danco Island where our expedition leader was waiting for us and helping all of us to get out of the zodiacs safely. Along with other expedition team members we were guided to follow the red flags along the path we were to follow to visit our first Gentoo penguin rookery. A beautiful pristine land awaited us with the most welcoming birds. IATOO regulations establish that visitors should be at least 5 meters apart from these creatures in order not to disturb them on their natural habitat. Nevertheless, as you may imagine, these birds do not know about distances and limits and they were free to approach us while we were sitting on the snow, speechless and marveled for about an hour. A wondrous 45-minuted zodiac excursion followed this landing and as snow continued to fall, we were all ready for a hot chocolate and teatime back on the ship!
Danco Island is a 2 km island lying in the southern part of Errera Channel, off the west coast of Graham Land. It was charted by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition under Adrien de Gerlache, 1897-1899. Danco Island is a breeding ground for Gentoo Penguins and gulls. Danco is home to approximately 3,000 pairs of Gentoo Penguins and boasts a bit of ice free land on the north slope that can offer us a chance to stretch our legs and hike to the island’s 150m low summit. A clear day will offer glorious views of the nearby Rongé Island and Danco Coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. We had some free time to put on some comfortable dry clothes and were invited to the main lounge for a recap following a “plans for the next day”! Two of our expedition team members also gave a brief presentation on Ancient Cartography and Glaciology! At 7.30pm we were all ready to enjoy another plentiful dinner, this time á la carte.
In the main lounge, we were invited to participate in a Sing or Dance game. The bar was open and some of us enjoyed the cocktails prepared by the amazing bar staff. The midnight pitch black night as we know it in other latitudes of the world doesn’t exist in Antarctica during the summer, so it is easy to go to bed late at night without even noticing. After a full active day, we were ready to take a shower and rest and reenergize for another day on the White Continent!