Early Risers Get Best Views on Antarctic Day Two

Day 33, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023; Antarctica

I am not a fan of winter. I don’t like to be cold. Hence a cruise to the Southern Hemisphere made sense just as cooler temperatures arrive in North America. But I didn’t really think through the reality that we would arrive in Antarctica not during that continent’s summer, but during its early spring.

Today was just plain cold. The outdoor temperatures were below freezing, and even though we were in the protection of islands, the wind chill was much lower when I ventured outside for photographs. Even my preferred indoor viewing location of the Crow’s Nest was cold, as the automatic door to the outer deck was open much of the time as passengers slipped out for photos. The wonderful crew not only supplied us with hot coffee, but also lap blankets.

Capt. Smit suggested yesterday that we rise early to take advantage of a morning break in the cloud cover and precipitation. From the moment I opened my curtains at 6 a.m., I was stunned by the view (and the 19-degree F temperature).

We started the morning sailing the Errera Channel between Cuverville Island and the Antarctica mainland. This island is a major breeding ground for Gentoo penguins, and as it is early in the spring, they are just returning. The clue to their location is the brown snow.

As we sailed in, a large group of Gentoos swam alongside us as they migrated to the island to breed.

Inside the channel, the Ocean Endeavour peeked out from behind an iceberg.

It is one of a half-dozen expedition ships in this area of the Antarctic Peninsula, according to my Cruise Mapper app. We watched as the ship was just launching its Zodiak boats to take passengers either ashore or exploring.

Watching the process just reinforced my decision to take a four-day “drive-by” cruise in Antarctica rather than an expedition. I am seeing plenty of stunning scenery, without donning waterproof pants, jacket and special boots and climbing into a Zodiak for ride through the waves and spray to a shore maybe reeking of penguin poop.

OK, I am painting a biased picture. I have friends who have loved their expedition cruises. They may question the validity of my Antarctic experience, much as our family did when we camped and backpacked in the Rocky Mountains rather than day visited from Estes Park or other towns.

I know myself, and I’m happy viewing from the comfort of the ship – even when the inside temperatures seem chilly.

As ice blocked the entrance to Paradise Bay, we approached from the south. Expedition ships are reinforced for ice, but we are not. This bay offers some of the most stunning views of the area.

When we see a Chilean station, I kept trying to connect it in my memory with one we saw in 2020, but it doesn’t seem the same. Zooming in, I could see a huge number of penguins making their home – a clue it may be the same station. With so much more snow and ice, things look different now than in late January.

By late morning the weather had settled in, with low clouds and snow predicted for at least the rest of the day. I retreated inside as our scenic cruising commentary ended.

The cold didn’t stop crew members – many from Indonesia and the Philippines – from enjoying the snow. Even those who have crewed during the Alaskan summers hadn’t experienced falling snow like this.

A few birds joined us, enjoying the railing and the aft pool.