Jonathan's Adventures to Antarctica
The dawn heralded even smoother seas -- the Drake Passage was dubbed by the expedition staff as the "Drake Lake" overnight -- and having passed through the convergence zone during the small hours, we were now in Antarctica (based on crossing into the colder waters). We had good opportunities to see albatross and cape petrels (pintados) flying around the boat. The bridge was a good place to be since it was quite windy outside on deck despite the calm seas.
We had our first lecture from the biologist, Nigel, whose enthusiasm about birds was infectious. The title of his lecture today was "Penguins - the Feathered Fish." In the afternoon, the activities were interrupted by the unscheduled and spectacular sighting of Humpback whales. Up to 20 of these magnificent beasts surrounded us for over half an hour. The captain and his officers did a wonderful job slowing and maneuvering the vessel to give us some great views as the humpbacks swam amongst a sea of red - a swarm or school of krill. The day was by now calm and sunny. The only sounds were the exhalation of the whales, the hum of the engines and the whirr of camera shutters!
Soon we started seeing more signs of Antarctica. Up until now there had been only the occasional penguin and the random ice "cube" (could not classify it yet as an iceberg). But as we continued south, there were more Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins and the ice was turning into the "bergs" that we were waiting to see.
The excitement was mounting as the thought of visiting Antarctica was becoming more tangibile. It was time for the mandatory briefing on the International Associates of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and the Zodiac; Jonas described them in some detail. He covered all of the safety procedures for using our inflatable craft, the Zodiacs, as well as the rules governing our conduct while on shore. Quark, the operator of the Professor Molchanov is a member of IAATO and as such honors their regulations. IAATO is a self-governing association that is dedicated to keeping tourism in Antarctica as low-impact as possible. IAATO regulations cover everything from boot washing (to prevent cross-transfer of microbes), to the number of visitors on shore (to minimize our impact on shore), the distances that people should keep away from wildlife (to prevent disturbance) and human behavior around Antarctic wildlife. Observing these regulations enables ongoing enjoyment of visits to the Antarctic Peninsula by all current and future visitors.
Around 1800 hrs we had our first views of Livingston Island in the South Shetlands, still some 65nm distant to the southeast, but clearly visible on the horizon. It was such a beautiful sight to see the sun set behind the icebergs, the colors made more vibrant by the clouds of a storm in the distance.