Category Archives: Lemaire Channel


Early this morning we delicately twisted the huge hunk of steel that is our ship through the narrow and twisting leads in the ice that stretched across the narrow Lemaire Channel that separates the mainland of Antarctica from Booth Island. On either side the 800 meter channel the rock rises steeply in sheer cliffs and stretched before us was a tumbling array of sea ice and floating icebergs that taunted us in our ambition of driving further south for the day.

Eventually we made it through the channel only to be stopped by an impenetrable barrier of ice. One we had assessed our chances of proceeding we submitted to the power of the ice and checked our southerly passage for a morning of exploring the ice in zodiacs. Right now my left arm (the arm I drive with) is like jelly after having spent hours at the helm pushing the zodiac in amongst the bergs to discover seals and penguins hidden in the labyrinthine maze of leads and piled up ice.

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The birds that make the wind blow (R.C. Murphy)

We are now half way across the Drake Passage with our bow pointed towards the Lemaire Channel which is much further south than we normally aim for the start of a trip. Very much looking forward to getting in amongst the serious ice right at the beginning of the trip!

But right now we are gently rolling in languid seas with an escort of albatross soaring around the ship. Wandering albatross with their wingspan of over three meters surround us and display their plumage like badges of rank denoting their age. Some birds still present the dark cap and brown plumage of juveniles, some have discarded the brown feather but retain the collar that proclaims them as sub-adults, some hold the black and white plumage of breeding adults and a few proudly display the broad expanse of white wings that marks them as mature adults approaching the full 50 years of their lifespan. Amidst these colossal ocean wanderers are a host of other albatross including black browed, grey headed and light mantled sooty albatross, as well as smaller ocean birds like the Wilson’s storm petrel, cape petrel, Antarctic prion and the slender billed prion.

It’s a vast ocean but it is hard to feel lonely when surrounded by such splendid companions.

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High and dry

Today we have spent the day in the Lemaire Channel and Port Lockroy basking is sunlight and scenery bathed in one million shades of blue and white. Ice prevented us passing through the final stages of Lemaire but neither the less the sheer cliffs raising on all sides and the ice stretching out in to the horizon is a sight to instill wonder on even the most jaded of souls.

Despite the views though, the highlight of the day was actually related to the general day to day running of the operation here in Antarctica. Today I was driving the zodiac (rubber boat) back to the ship when I noticed one of the other zodiacs looked slightly odd. So … after a brief investigation and a lot of laughing I realized that the driver had managed to drive up onto a block of sea ice to the extent that they were completely high and dry with ice on all sides!

This was a zodiac carrying kayaks, and in order to prevent a long journey towing kayaks through a strong wind they had piled all the kayaks at the front of the zodiac and left the passenger at the back. The problem? You can’t see where you are going. Despite the apparent disadvantage of this mode of travel, they had successfully  maneuvered through a few hundred meters of water before hitting a slab of ice at speed and coming to an abrupt and rather hilarious stop. Literally a boat out of water. Took a lot of effort to drag the zodiac, kayaks and grinning passengers off the ice but I can guarantee they all left with a story that they will be retelling for years to come! Amazing how it’s the misadventures that loom large in the memory.

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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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