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Waking up to Antarctica

Sea kayaking excursion in Antarctica
Sea kayaking excursion in Antarctica
Latitude: 64 3.0' S, Longitude: 62 37.0' W, Wind Speed: 0 knots 0, Weather Conditions: Sunny, Distance covered in previous 24 hours: 146.3 nautical miles (nm), Air Temperature: 1 C, Sea Temperature: -1 C

By the time we had breakfast and dropped anchor at our position off Cuverville Island, the wind too had dropped to nothing -- perfect conditions once again when combined with the cloudless sky. Some people even were walking around in only their long sleeve shirts!

Three hours ashore Cuverille Island gave us the chance to study another species of penguin breeding, the Gentoo. Much larger numbers exist further north, but the peninsula is home to about 20,000 pairs. Cuverville is home to roughly a quarter of these pairs. As with the Chinstraps yesterday, the birds were spread through a variety of small groups on the more prominent rocky outcrops (the first areas to become snow free in the spring). They were sitting or lying on nests made of pebbles, and were busily incubating eggs and protecting them from the unwanted attentions of the ever watchful skuas. One or two Weddell seals were also observed, and, for a lucky few, a female elephant seal swam by.

Our route back to the Molchanov was somewhat circuitous to take in some of the prettier icebergs. The range of colors and textures, and the endless variety of intricate and ornate designs were to be marveled. Our skilled drivers wound their way through these icy masterpieces, sculpted by the Antarctic wind, water, and sun.

Proceeding around Lemaire Island and into Paradise Bay, we anchored during lunch just off the unoccupied Argentine Almirante Brown Station. The Zodiacs were launched and quickly boarded for a cruise to the Petzval Glacier at the head of the tranquil Skontorp Cove. We motored between sea ice and small icebergs, passing Blue-eyed Shags on their nests (some with chicks). Then in a sweep, passed along the huge mass of the fractured and splintered ice front of the glacier.

The cruise culminated in our disembarkation at Almirante Brown, a somewhat unimposing cluster of boarded up huts, but a special site for us nonetheless. It was our first opportunity to set foot on the actual continent of Antarctica itself; a primary objective of the trip for some. To celebrate, it was time for some fun! We quickly weaved our way through the base and found the well-beaten track up onto the snowy slopes made for us by previous visitors. Then came the down hill derby! Down out of the mist rocketed, tumbled, ploughed and spun a steady stream of noisy yellow jackets. The techniques, grace and style of the descents were rather varied, but all survived. And so back to the Zodiacs and Molchanov.

We had dinner on the back deck in the form of a barbecue. Everyone enjoyed the sun, Russian music, and the chance to interact in such a festive atmosphere with our hosts, the Russian staff and crew members. They invited everyone to join them in dancing to traditional Russian music.

For some, there was yet one more activity to do before grabbing a few hours of sleep. About half of our team went back ashore to spend the night camping. We had already set up the tents in a line along a ridge, ten small shells that we would call home. Leaving them on shore, it was a special moment when the ship upped anchor and sailed off sounding its horn. It may have only been going around the corner, but it still gave something an eerie and romantic impression of Antarctica's solitude.

What an incredible experience to spend the next 12 hours on shore in Antarctica to watch the sun drop below the horizon only to rise a few hours later, never getting dark. I didn't have too many hours of sleep due to a snoring tentmate, so I watched the penguins as they too tried to catch some sleep after their busy day of swimming, rock stealing, and nest guarding.

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