Days of Ice and Sea Life … and Snow

Day 29, Grand World Voyage 2020

Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020; Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

By the third day of sailing along the Antarctic Peninsula, time felt suspended. We spend our days mostly inside staying warm, watching this world of snow, ice, rock and water pass by.

Once again the day dawned (very early) cloudy with temperatures around freezing. By 8 a.m. the Crow’s Nest on the front of the ship was pretty full as we anticipated a journey through Lemaire Channel, considered one of the best known on the continent. Near-vertical peaks rise on both sides of seven miles of spectacular scenery. Or so says our Antarctica Cruising Guide. We didn’t see it because the channel had iced in.

We explored the area near the channel, the farthest point south we will go on this Grand World Voyage – 65°1´ south in latitude. Fairbanks, Alaska, would be its counterpoint in the Northern Hemisphere. We dropped a tender to take the ship’s photographer out to shoot a segment for the ship’s video (which Holland America will gladly sell us).

I don’t think it was colder than the day before, but the wind picked up. No more darting out for a quick photo without a coat. I regretted going out without my gloves and hat. The clouds were low for much of the day, cutting off the tops of nearby mountains.

Once again we passed the giant tabular iceberg, and from one angle we wondered if we had found Trump’s Wall….

The Amsterdam moved north to Errera Channel, cut between Rongé Island and the mainland of Antarctica. This channel is known for its many icebergs and other forms of floating ice.

Technically, icebergs must reach at least 5 meters (or 16.5 feet) above the water. Smaller floating ice pieces are called bergy bits (1 to 5 meters), growlers (less than 1 meter) or brash ice (small pieces that crackle as they melt and ancient air escapes).

We slowly made our way into the channel, moving from side to side to avoid the larger pieces of ice. Our Antarctic Expedition team in the bridge alerted us to sea life along the way.

Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins entertained us from their ice stages as they slowly drifted by our port side. Another leopard seal floated by, moving his head from side to side to check out the ship.

Not being a bird watcher, I probably would not have even noticed the small white bird flying around a nearby iceberg as we entered Errera Channel. Our Antarctic Exploration Team guide mentioned excitedly that it was a rare sighting – a snow petrel. This bird breeds farther south than any other bird species in the world. It was difficult to get a photo of the small bird through the window of the Crow’s Nest, and it is easily lost amid the floating ice. So I magnified it in my pictures. The guides say my birdwatcher friends will be jealous.

One of the pillow gifts we received a few days ago was the Antarctica Cruising Guide, a beautiful full-color, 300-page book about the continent. Peter Carey, who along with Craig Franklin wrote the guide, is aboard the Amsterdam as part of our Antarctic Expedition Team. The book has been a wealth of information and the source of some details in my blog.

Next we moved north up the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, arriving in Charlotte Bay a couple of hours later. It was growing close to the early-seating dinner hour on the ship, but in the bay the dinner hour had arrived. Several groups of humpback whales were feeding all around us. They floated along the surface while eating, only their humps and fins visible, until they flipped their tails to dive deeper. Our guides observed that as a group the whales were releasing air bubbles to drive the krill close to the surface, making feeding more efficient. The crowd in the Crow’s Nest oohed and aahed with each tail flip.

Of course I didn’t have my DSLR camera with me, but they were so close to the ship that even my iPhone caught marginal photos. The wet windows didn’t help.

And before we knew it, the misty rain turned to snow. As the flakes grew bigger, more crew members came outside to frolic. Of course, the snow melted the minute it hit a surface. But it did cause a stir of excitement throughout the ship.

Tomorrow we head north to the Antarctic Sound at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula for the last of our four-day expedition to the bottom of the world.