Monday, Jan. 30, 2012
Up on the Bridge at 4 a.m., the fog has come in again. Elephant Island lies some 50 miles to our south and we are at reduced speed, the chances of ice have increased as of now. The baleful moan of the whistle continues, it must be getting tired by now. We reduce speed to 12 knots and later to 8, targets on the radar ahead of us, it could be some brash ice, or low cloud, the radar can’t differentiate, so caution is the word. Turns out to be low cloud and speed increased.
0630 and the fog is lifting, by 0700 we sight Clarence Island on our port bow, well, the bottom of it at least, the remainder is in the low cloud. We enter the Bransfield Strait and visibility improves enormously, still low cloud, however we can increase speed, the strait appears to be ice-free. We make for Hope Bay, on the north-east tip of the peninsular, ETA 1400. Whales, too far away to identify, penguins and seals in the water around us. Cameras at the ready, guests on the foredeck, braving the wind chill, the air temperature is 0C/32F, with the wind it must be -5 or so.
By 1030, the wind had increased to 30 mph from the south, first rain, then snow, then back to rain again! Breaching whales in the distance and our first tabular berg, bigger than us, passes 5 miles down our port side.
By 1200, tabular bergs were beginning to appear on the horizon, scores of them, all being pushed out of Antarctic Sound, our destination. The wind increased, a katabatic wind, caused by the temperature difference and geography of the surrounding land.
1330 turned to the south, negotiating bergs and bergy bits as we approached the north end of Antarctic Sound, wind up to 40 knots, which makes spotting the more dangerous, smaller ‘growlers’ and ‘bergy-bits’ more difficult amongst the whitcaps of the waves, reduce to 13 knots.
1515, nearing Hope Bay and the Argentine Polar station, a collection of orange-painted Quanset huts. Our intention is to get near the penguin rookery nearby. 1530, drifting 3 cables off the rookery, penguins everywhere, in the water and on land. The ground around their resting sites is stained a reddish brown and you can smell them :-).
Keeping a watchful eye on the Sound to our east, the bergs and ice, which are moving from the south (and the Weddell sea) are moving quite fast with the current and wind, don’t want to get caught in here and unable to retrace our steps. We stay for just under an hour, the decks and balconies are packed with guests and crew, cameras working overtime.
Re-negotiate the sound, weaving and dodging constantly, avoiding the smaller ice and back into the Bransfield Strait by 1800; tabular bergs everywhere, some over 300 feet high and 1/2 a mile long, massive beasts. We are sailing towards the Croker Channel and Gerlache Strait for the morning.
Captain Mercer is at the helm of Amsterdam’s 112-day Grand World Voyage.