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A Walk & Swim in the Ocean

We were told we could get a ride, where's the Captain?
We were told we could get a ride, where's the Captain?
The news this morning is that we cannot reach Snow Hill Island, as we were scheduled to, due to the large amount of ice between our current position and the island. The Sarpik Ittuk has been transformed into an ice breaker vessel. We are leaving a trail of broken ice chunks as we make path through the frozen sea.

It is just too risky to push further when there is still so far to go. There was a note in this morning’s bulletin that Snow Hill Island is rarely visited because of the ice conditions. It wins again today.

New Plan from Laurie – we will all go walking on water . . . frozen ocean water. First Laurie goes out with a walking stick, testing the strength of the ice as we all watch from the decks. We all gasp as he breaks through up to his knees. That marks the farthest point to walk in that direction. Next Brandon tries it, but being a larger guy, he breaks through about 7 feet from the end of the walkway. Capt. Roder decides to try his hand at water walking – and ventures out farther than the others. I guess if the ship cannot go any further, we don’t “technically” need a Captain. Still, I wish he would stay a little closer to the ship. I think we will need him in a couple of hours!! It is deemed “safe” and the Expedition Team all leave ship to pose for a photo. Then the entire crew jumps ship for a photo – hope none of them fall through! I wonder if we should be concerned that they have 3 of the ship’s life rings with them, “just in case.”

Then group by group we are all able to “walk on water” and have our photos taken with the iced-in ship as our backdrop. While this may have not been the planned agenda for the morning, how many people can say they have walked on the ocean?

The brave (or crazy) people posed for a Polar Club shot – in their Swimsuits.

I can see Capt. Roder making his way back toward the ship – that is comforting!

Once all are back on board, we motor out of the ice trench that we made and head back to the open sea, which is very full of ice brash and bergs of all sizes. We all just hope that the Sarpik Ittuk’s hull can handle a few scrapes.

Devil Island is the home of 11,000 noisy nesting Adelie penguin (I counted them all!) and the site of our afternoon Expedition landing. An uphill hike to a great vantage point gave view to thousand of penguins, the tranquil dark sea accessorized by white ice fragments, and the looming black landscape dotted with snow.

Mike and Kristen do the hike to the “horns” of Devil Island with the “snow slide” at the end, but my choice on this excursion was just to hang out with the penguins. I just cannot bear to pull myself away from the curious little things. Down at the rookery area it was difficult to stay out of the way of the hurried marches as the male comes back in from hunting fish to switch places with the female who is sitting on a single or sometimes 2 eggs. Then it is the female’s turn to fish while the male sits on the egg. The rookery itself is comprised of thousand of pebble nests that are meticulously maintained by the males who try to impress their females by bringing them beautiful “gems,” which are really just rocks, to add to the collection in their nest. The ground has literally been picked clean of the small stones. The only thing left are rocks the size of golf balls or bigger embedded into the mud. So the males either have to go further away to find the loose stones or revert to being thieves, which seems to suit quite a few. I think some of these penguin girls need to be on the Martha Stewart Show – as they are in a constant state of “re-decorating” their abode by moving the pebbles here and there, there and here, everywhere.

As I walk around trying to take it all in, it is overwhelming to see all of the nesting Adelie with babies is various stages from egg to 2 small fluffy hatchlings, and every stage in between. I think it is a bonus of coming on this trip early in the season to get to see the penguins hatch! While walking around I spot a mama with a single egg and a tiny beak tip just starting to pop through the shell. After another 15 minutes a bit more is showing. I decide that this is the spot where I want to spend the afternoon. So I drop some of my gear close by to mark the spot and spend most of the next 2 hours watching the miracle of life as a baby Adelie penguin is hatched. As the shell separates and the baby is exposed, I am surprised at the wet little shape, as it is purple colored. Either it is very cold, or we have 1 radical penguin here. I think this might be the first time this mom has hatched a baby, because I see that she is taking each of her wings and trying to shove the baby BACK INTO THE EGG! She is pushing it down with her head & then trying to close the egg back up. She is not successful as the little guy is determined not to go back in and keeps moving just a little too much to cooperate with her plan. This experience was one of the best of the trip. As I look back through the photos, I counted over 100 just of this baby hatching—enough to make a small movie!

During the lulls of the hatching sequence, I had plenty of time to take in the amazing views of the seemingly endless stretch of the rookery with its dark mud ground dotted with the black and white of the penguins. Up close and personal at the water’s edge were penguins hopping from ice chunk to ice chunk. Others playing “chicken” on some floating ice seeing who would really be the first to get in the water. Then there were others just sitting and taking it all in on their own little personal piece of ice which had ran aground – looking like they were king of the penguins.

As we re-board the zodiacs and return to ship, we take in the breathtaking expanse of the rookery and all 11,000 penguins (yes, I really did count them!)

Once back on board of the warm ship, it is announced that there will be a Polar Plunge opportunity soon. My mind entertained the thought, although a very fleeting thought about doing it. Then I had a better idea – let’s have Kristen do the Polar Plunge so I can take photos and Mike can take video!! She is not so sure that it is a good idea, but does become an unwilling subject. Over the swimsuit goes a pair of stretch pants and a long-sleeve thermal, which by the time it was her turn and the cold polar wind was blowing up the gangway, she had decided that the covering was NOT coming off, and there was no convincing her otherwise. With both parents in place to document the plunge, we both watch as they tie the “retrieval rope” around her waist (that’s comforting). There is also a zodiac in the water, I guess to catch the person who tries to swim away?? One-Two-Three . . . Wait-Kristen, the water is THAT WAY! As she starts backing UP the gangway. Everyone is hollering and cheering for her to go, and she caves to peer pressure and does the Plunge!! Wow! I now actually feel bad for prodding her to go as I see the shear terror of the cold on her face. All I can think of is . . . Take More Pictures!!!! (Did I mention that I was actually the evil Step-Mom?) I think she had brain freeze as she ran up the gangway – rope and all. The 2 crew grabbed her by the rope and freed her of it as she ran away. Now it was the race to the room, knowing she does not have a key to get in. A hot shower and warm cocoa later, and she is doing well, especially well after she sees the cool photos and video that prove that she really does have more guts than us!

After dinner, it is announced that we are taking a Night Zodiac Cruise. Cool! Another unplanned adventure. This turns out to be my favorite non-land thing that we do on this trip. The zodiacs are loaded with passengers and we head out into Fridtjof Sound full of icebergs of all shapes and lots of floating brash. Jill, the Assistant Expedition Leader, is our zodiac captain. We were given up-close and personal looks at the icebergs with their striated blue colors, sharp icicles, translucent-blue holes, and bizarre shapes. It is like lying on your back and making out all of the shapes that can be found in the clouds. If you looked at the ice long enough you could see everything, if you used a little imagination. Although we were taken fairly close, Jill reminded us that because of the size of the submerged part of the berg, we had to keep a safe distance because they can roll unexpectedly. Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that.

A few penguins go swimming/flying by, seemingly undisturbed by the sudden appearance of 9 zodiacs in their swimming pool. Although it is 9:00 at night, the lighting is just right to see the faint glow of the submerged blue ice below many of the bergs. It is like being in the amusement part of icebergs. Two penguins are sliding down an ice slide and into the water, then shooting back up onto the ice and repeating the fun. They really do like to play. It is getting pretty cold and the wind is very brisk, but you could not pay me to back in our warm cabin. This is just too fantastic to pass up. Have I mentioned that my neck warmer which pulls up over my cheeks has become my new “best friend” on this trip. Don’t leave home without one.

Suddenly there is the loud sound of the ship’s horn and Jill gets a radio message that “here she comes.” Just about that time, we see the Sarpik Ittuk make her way between 2 halves of a "gi-normous" iceberg which make her look like a small toy boat. This really puts the size of the icebergs in perspective, plus it makes for some really cool photos. Capt. Roder puts on a show for us as he does the “Iceberg Slalom” through and around the looming chunks of ice. Steering hard to the right, and then to the left, make for a pretty good wake behind her and send the ice chunks tipping. It’s a great show from a Captain who is making his last voyage on the Sarpik Ittuk this trip. The ship is now ahead of us and stops to collect the zodiacs and the passengers. This is the first time that I have see how the zodiacs are loaded onto ship with the crane system. As we board the ship and go to the balcony for one more look at the icy playground, it starts to lightly snow and the airborne flakes catch the camera’s flash making the photos look as if there are little twinkles of light floating above the somber icy ocean. Absolutely beautiful. What a great night!

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