The Antarctic Peninsula, Neko Harbor, Paradise Bay
November 17, 2008
Ship's Program Quote of the Day: Glittering white, shining blue, raven black, in the light of the sun, the land looks like a fairy tale. Pinnacle after pinnacle, peak after peak - crevassed, wild as any land on our globe, it lies, unseen and untrodden. - Roald Amundsen
This morning brought partly cloudy skies and some of our first icebergs. As we began to navigate among the islands of the west coast of the peninsula, we were greeted with beautiful views of icy island mountains and bergs and bergy bits. Our goals for the day are ambitious. We intend to land at Neko Harbor to visit a Gentoo Penguin Rookery there, and then in the afternoon, to land at Almirante Brown Station at Paradise Bay, to see both Gentoo and Adélie Penguins.
Cruising the Islands of the Peninsula
0900Hrs Neko Harbor
64° 50' South by 62°33' West
Immediately after Breakfast we found ourselves at Neko harbor, named after a whaling factory ship which frequented this bay between 1911-2 and 1923-4. This landing will be our first that is actually upon the Antarctic Continent. The bay was filled with bergy bits and icebergs. The first Zodiac that was set into the water had to find a path through the ice to our landing beach.
The photo at right illustrates how the Zodiacs are lifted from the forecastle and set into the sea. Look carefully, and you can see Tim riding down with it.
Since it is such a pretty day, and since I am getting used to the Zodiac transfers, I kept my camera out of the pack so I could take pictures. Here you can see our ship in the background, and Kara Weller, our marine biologist, skillfully guiding us through the ice.
In this photo, you can see much of Neko Harbor with our ship in the background. In the foreground, you can see a number of ice chests that are sealed with tape. Out of site behind them is some more equipment in bags. This is important safety gear that the Quark Expedition team always brings to every landing on the first Zodiac or Helicopter. While the weather is beautiful in this picture, the weather can change for the worse in minutes in Antarctica, potentially stranding a shore party. So, everything needed to set up a camp to shelter those ashore and feed them for a few days is in the gear you see in the lower left of the photo.
At Neko Harbor, there is a Gentoo penguin Rookery. You can recognize the gentoos by the white stripe across the top of their head from eye to eye. This fellow is clean, having just come from the sea. Some of the other gentoos at this rookery will be somewhat dirty, from tobogganing through the rookery on their belly, or from laying on the nest on their belly.
As can be seen in the photo at right, Gentoos also like to carry rocks. Similar to Chinstraps, they build their nests on the shore, and use pebbles to build them.
Some of the Gentoos at the Neko rookery nest around an Argentine refuge hut. These huts are found in many parts of Antarctica. Under the Antarctic Treaty, no nation may make new sovereign claim to any territory in Antarctica, and preexisting claims are 'set aside' but many nations do maintain research stations and refuge huts here. The refuge huts usually contain some minimal supplies for those who find themselves stranded, and are also sometimes used by researchers for short stays.
In the Gentoo rookery, there is always a lot of activity and chatter.
While ashore, we kept hearing rumbling noises. Finally I looked the right direction and saw this icefall on the cliff across the cove from where I was standing. There was a lot of unstable snow and glacial ice above the cliffs around the cove, so we were keeping to the side where the slope was gentle and there was no overhanging avalanche hazards.
Penguins don't fly, but they can swim VERY fast and very well, practically flying underwater. And they DO jump out of the water when swimming. This is not a great photo, as I was never sure where the penguin was going to pop out, so I was never able to get a good telephoto shot, but hopefully you can get the idea of how they look "flying" out of the water.
After visiting the Gentoos, we took a short Zodiac tour around Neko Harbor before returning to the ship. Mariano Curiel was our boatman, and he took us through the ice with skill and an eye for interesting sights.
There were lots of interesting ice formations...
We encountered some more Gentoos "flying" out of the water....
...views of the ship and the scenery...
...And then Mariano spotted a Leopard Seal hauled out on an ice floe! These fearless predators eat krill, penguins, crabeater seal pups, squid and fish. They have even been known to try to pull humans into the water.
This fellow certainly seems curious about what we are, and perhaps wondering what we might taste like....
In the end, we must not have been worth interrupting a nap for...
So we leave our leopard seal friend behind on the floes.
As we return to the Kapitan Khlebnikov, we notice that our pilots and crew have been busy pulling the helicopters out of the hanger, installing the rotor blades and doing a general checkout.
This is greeted with eager anticipation, as we are all looking forward to our first helicopter operations in a few days.
As we return to the ship, we can see the gangway we use for these Zodiac operations. In this picture, it has been pulled up a little bit, but it will be lowered again as we approach. The part under the "E" in FESCO that looks a bit like a big paper clip is normally right at the water line, and is what the Zodiac is pulled up against.
And we do have a bergy bit to maneuver around to get there!
I hope you enjoyed Neko Harbor, now on to Paradise Bay and Almirante Brown Station for an afternoon landing!
1400 Hrs Paradise Bay, Almirante Brown Station
64°51'South by 62°54'West
Here is a view of Almirante Brown, on Paradise Bay. Like Neko Harbor, this is on the continent. Notice how the weather has changed in the short time and distance since we left Neko.
This is an Argentine station. It used to have another large building that had facilities for wintering over, but in 1984, the station's doctor went somewhat mad, and set it on fire as the last ship of the season was leaving. As I understand, he had been there three winters, and became despondent when there was no relief for him, and he could not bear the thought of another winter. A relief ship took everyone off the station, and it has never been used as a winter station since. The station is intermittently used during summers. The main occupants these days are Gentoo Penguins, who have established a rookery here around the base.
There was a peak above the station that many of the folks from the ship climbed up. I chose to watch them from the bottom of the steepest part of the climb, mostly out of laziness, but also as the weather was getting a little lousy.
Those who made the summit could take one of two ways down. They could either climb down the way they came, or slide down. You can see at left a person sitting down, getting ready to slide down on their bottom.
At Right, you can see Lawrence (in the Blue staff parka) at the end of his slide down the hill.
When folks were sliding down, I was too far away to see who was sliding, but we could hear one voice screaming and laughing that could only have been our wonderful Morale Officer (Bartender) Debbie Larson. I did not get a picture of Debbie sliding down the hill, but I did get this picture as she broke through the snow crust near the Zodiac landing. She was still laughing from her glissade. I don't think I ever saw Debbie when she was NOT smiling and laughing.
As I came back down the hill from my stopping point, I found a couple of folks who, being wiser than I, had stopped even lower at a place with a suitable view. The fellow on the right is my dad John of course. The lady on the left is the Honorable Alexandra Shackleton, noted historian and granddaughter of the Polar Explorer Sir Ernest H. Shackleton. Alexandra was on board our ship as Guest Lecturer. She was also working with Mary Joe (MoJo) Tohill on a documentary project called "My Grandfather's Hut", documenting the upcoming visit to Shackleton's Nimrod hut at Cape Royds. More on that later in this story.
Alexandra graciously agreed to a picture with yours truly as well. She is a very interesting individual whose knowledge made this trip much more memorable. She is President of the James Caird Society, "the only institution that exists to preserve the memory, honour the remarkable feats of discovery in the Antarctic and commend the outstanding qualities of leadership associated with the name of Sir Ernest Shackleton" http://www.jamescairdsociety.com/
I'll take this moment to plug another of her interests, the Falkland Islands Association, Supporting the Falkland Islanders' right to self-determination. http://www.fiassociation.com/
Here is a final shot of John at Almirante Brown. You can see the weather is starting to close in on us, so we are heading to the Zodiacs for a cruise around Paradise bay before it gets too nasty.
Paradise Bay Zodiac Cruise
Blue Eyed Shags nesting on a cliff
Just south of Almirante Brown, and below the summit everyone but me climbed to, there is a colony of Blue Eyed Shags hanging on the cliff side.
Some pictures of Icebergs and glaciers as seen from a Zodiac around Paradise Bay follow. Thanks to our boatman Tim Lane for this scenic tour.
Back to the ship
After returning to the ship, we had a recap of the day and briefing about our visit to Palmer Station the next day. After a satisfying dinner and such an active day, we all slept well. I hope you enjoyed this interesting day at Neko Harbor and Paradise Bay.