Today we hit the southern most point of our journey, alas, that means that from now on we’ll be heading slowly but surely homewards.
We set off from our anchorage at Cuverville in the middle of the night, and in the morning approached Port Lockroy, a sight of historic interest, and home to what I believe is the only post office in Antarctica. I must apologise to all those who might have been expecting a postcard, as in the end I never landed at Post Lockroy. Because of the limitation on how many people can land at any one time, we’ve done a number of split landings and this was one of them. Half of our group landed at Jougla Point, and the other half at Port Lockroy, with the possibility to switch part way through in the morning. In the end, I stayed on Jougla Point, photographing the gentoos, since I’d visited Port Lockroy on my last trip. The spot was quite picturesque, and I took some wide angle shots, but unfortunately my CF card got corrupted. Fingers crossed I can restore them once I get back to terra firma, and can download some recovery software.
After lunch we passed through the well known Lemaire Channel. It’s an impressive route with jagged mountains on either side, but rather difficult to do justice on film, or indeed pixel. I stayed out on the deck through the passage, but eventually had to take refuge back inside as my face was freezing solid. It’s incredible the difference that the wind direction makes when you’re out on deck. A warm afternoon can turn frigid in seconds.
The popularity of the area was highlighted by the presence of other cruise ships passing close by, disturbing our solitude. Unfortunately that led us to changing our afternoon plans, and instead of visiting Petermann Island, we turned about and returned north to a small spot called Booth Island. Changes in plan are par for the course on this kind of trip, but I was particularly disappointed in this instance as Petermann was to be our only chance to see an Adelie colony. The Adelie penguins are dependent on the presence of pack ice, and the warming of recent years is driving them further southwards, opening up more colonies to Gentoos which seem to be rather ubiquitous.
For the first time we had the chance to see penguins in snow, although the snow in question was particularly grubby looking due to the presence of algae. It’s fair to see that penguin colonies are rather more photogenic earlier in the season, such as on my last visit, when there is plenty of clear, fresh snow. Still, coming later in the summer gives the opportunity to see chicks, something I missed the last time.
The penguins wear down highways through the snow, and I spent some time trying to capture the patterns they made. Although we were in a gentoo colony, there were a few interlopers. On landing I saw a couple of chinstraps, but more excitingly, after sitting for an hour or so in the snow, I spotted a lone Adelie, who stopped and posed for me.
Before returning to the ship, I took the opportunity to go for a zodiac cruise through the ice, and as luck would have it, I managed to miss the crowd, finding myself with only two others on the zodiac, perfect for photography as usually you have to jostle with 10 people or so for space.
We saw some fine icebergs, but the main focus of our little tour was leopard seals. On my last trip I didn’t see any leopard seals, so I was really excited when this afternoon we happened upon not just one, but five of them, hauled out on icebergs. Unfortunately they weren’t particularly active, although a couple of them did briefly check us out. Our colleagues in the zodiac before us had a far more exciting time, mind you, as their zodiac was attacked and chased by a leopard seal, acquiring three punctures in the process!