Category Archives: South Shetland Islands

Rainy day in the South Shetlands

We arrived in the South Shetland Islands today and began the day with a landing in pretty windy conditions blowing rain into our eyes as we zipped between land and the ship in the zodiacs. But when we got ashore I noticed something odd. Halfmoon Island, where we landed, is normally a pretty riotous affair due to the chinstrap penguin colony. Chinstraps are an agro bunch and are normally busily picking fights with their neighbours in a noisome squabbling fray. But today the colony was strangely subdued. On closer inspection the reason was apparent. The first chinstrap chicks of the season had appeared the last night and the parents were busily tending to their tiny fragile charges, with the small grey chicks waking into a wet cold world and meeting the Antarctic weather for the first time.

Meanwhile back on the ship we were doing quite the opposite and changing the atmosphere from subdued to festive. With Bing Crosby blaring over the speakers we decked the decks with Christmas cheer and prepared for the merry season by setting up Christmas trees and introducing some season’s cheer to the Akademik Ioffe.

Right now I am preparing to fall into an exhausted sleep after another landing in Deception Island in the rain. Immediately afterwards we spent an hour lugging garbage and fuel between our vessel and another passing ship as a favour and now I am pleasantly exhausted while I sip a pint of Guinness and prepare to say goodnight to the world.

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Back on line

Hello again… my apologies for the break in the updates to the website but one of the hazards of being on a boat in the middle of the Southern Ocean is the inability to rectify computer issues by calling in your local IT professional. Our ship the Ioffe has, in fact, been floating around the Southern Ocean for almost a week with no way of getting in touch with the rest of the world, save through expensive satellite phone calls. Which is not always such a bad thing – these days we are so reliant up being “networked” that a few days cut off can give you back time you never realised you had.

And I have been busy! We finished our last trip amidst strong winds after successfully traversing the iceberg-strewn Lemaire Channel, returned across a placid Drake Passage, stopped briefly in Ushuaia to pick up a fresh load of passengers and are now in sight of the South Shetland Islands ready to start a new series of explorations in Antarctica. This time the snow covered islands and glaciers are the scene of a Christmas festival as we bedeck the vessel with Christmas trees and tinsel and prepare to celebrate in style. Not that this will interfere with the adventure though! Landing on half moon island first thing tomorrow!

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Deceptive Deception

Today I woke up early to prepare for a landing in Deception Island – the very alive volcano that is now about 5 years overdue for its somewhat regular 30-year eruption cycle. Unfortunately a peek out the porthole showed not the rocky crags and cliffs I was expecting but snow being blown in sheets across the water by strong winds. Looks like a landing was out of the question! Instead we turned tail and fled before the growing gale until we found shelter at Mikkelson Harbour on the southern side of Trinity Island. As soon as we jumped in the Zodiacs the weather turned crystal clear and the clouds pealed back to expose blue sky over the glorious white ice of the Antarctic. Thus we had a long landing amidst gentoo penguins and a veritable slumber party of Weddell Seals all lazing on the snow banks happily digesting fish with only an occasional pause to scratch an itch. All up …not a bad day.

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High seas and strong breeze

Today we were up at 5:00 to launch zodiacs in a strong swell off Half Moon Island. My job was to run the skiers up to the landing around the back of the island, which is a long haul in big swell carrying a lot of gear. All went pretty well until we got to the steep beach landing, only to be deluged with a steep swell that must have originated from a glacial carving event. Ended up with waves crashing over the back of the boat and chunks of ice swilling around my feet. Yet another day in wet trousers. Still another fantastic day in Antarctica – and the wet cold feeling rapidly disappears while wandering around the chinstrap colony.

Next landing was at Deception Island were the swell had also picked up and the wind was howling through at about 35 knots. These passengers have had an exciting trip so far with pretty challenging conditions but most of them have taken it in their stride … perhaps its just insanity since nearly a third of them insisted on swimming at Deception despite the weather! But as I said … an early start and I need my sleep…

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Surfing into the Shetlands

We made good speed over the Drake this time and managed to arrive in the South Shetland islands early enough today to squeeze in a quick and cheeky landing at Yankee Harbour. It’s a fantastic landing with a huge spit, which is actually the remnant of a glacial moraine wrapping around a bay flanked by a glacier. On the spit are gentoo penguins and elephant seals. The later attracted the Yankee sailors whom the bay is named for who descended upon the seals for blubber that was sold for oil. The remnants of the sealing are scattered on the beach including the rusting remains of a tripod that was once used for boiling down those seals unlucky enough to be around when the sailors where in port.

The landing was spiced up somewhat by a stiff breeze and a rolling swell that built up over the moraine causing the zodiacs to surf in over the break in the spit. Great fun, but a few of the passengers wore a somewhat grim expression as the waves crashed around us and the spray flew up into the boats… but the staff were having a ball! I was at least … or at least until one of the passengers life vests inflated. The only gallant thing to do for a guide is to sacrifice my warm floatation jacket, give it to the passenger and don the inflated collar jacket over my under coat … very wet and cold trip back to the boat… but still a lot of fun. Welcome to Antarctica!

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27 November 2010

Overnight we steamed across the Bransfield Strait while a party raged in the bar … but there were a few sore heads in the morning! No worries though, remarkable how a quick dip in Antarctic water clears the head. First stop of the day was Deception island where we wandered around the ruins of the British Antarctic Survey base and a few more adventurous types braved the water for 10 seconds of fame and a photograph. Then half moon which is a standard stop but very nice – also got there at low tide which means you can cross the flooded spit of land that is separated from the main island at high tide … doesn’t happen often but if you get across there is a colony of Blue Eyed shag that is pretty cool. Now we are battening down the hatches for the mighty Drake!

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