Thursday, January 1, 2009
Since we were up late the night before, we slept right through breakfast. We made sure to get up, however, for our continental landing at Neko Harbour. Before the trip started, we wanted very much to have a "continental" landing, but after being here, the idea seems pretty dumb. All of the places we went the day before were on islands just off the west coast of "the continent." Why these wouldn't qualify as a continental landing is weird. It's not as if someone who had been "only" to Manhattan couldn't properly say that they stepped foot on North America. But anyway, we wanted to go Neko Harbour.
The bay was enormous, with numerous glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife. It was perhaps the most scenic place we had been, and this time we had the ship to provide some perspective on what we were seeing. At the landing site, most people went up a hill to a vista point. After our experience walking in the snow yesterday, we passed, and stayed near the bottom with the penguins and another lazy Weddell seal. It was all Gentoo penguins, with a lone Adelie penguin. The view was more than good enough for us, anyway. We sat on the snow for probably an hour, watching the Weddell seal move from one sleeping position to another, watching the penguins do penguin things, and watching for avalanches and/or calving glaciers. There wasn't an enormous calving, but there were several avalanches from one of the hanging glaciers near where we were. One of the larger ones actually woke up the Weddell seal - for 2-3 seconds, at least.
We took a slow zodiac ride back to the ship, checking out some of the icebergs in the bay. Pasha was our driver, and we could tell it was troubling to go so slow, but he was a good sport about it and took us very close to some good stuff, including a small berg where a lone penguin was checking out where to jump into the water from. We could tell when he was about to jump, but were still too slow to get him mid-jump - at least we got the last little bit, with his tail sticking out of the water.
Back on the ship, the views got even better, as the sun came out. There were some other cruise ships around - the first we had seen in some time - and gave some idea of how big the surrounding mountains were. At lunch, people were constantly running out of the dining room to get more photos of the mountains, the ice, the reflections from the still water, and so on. We were worried we were missing a bunch of stuff, but after lunch we found out that we hadn't moved an inch - there was some hangup with raising the anchor.
Shortly before the end of lunch, Crystal overheard some talk about the doctor, and what the crew was going to have to do with him for the next couple of days. Someone had been up on the bridge late in the night and pushing buttons (including turning the engines on full blast), and there were concerns it was he. There were also concerns that he had spent the night with one of the female passengers (which apparently the crew and staff are forbidden from seeing).
After lunch, most everyone went outside. With little if any wind, and sunshine, it was actually a little warm (sweathsirts alone were fine), and the views were great as we cruised through the Gerlache Strait and Dallman Bay. We saw some whales, and Justin spotted a pod of Orcas off in the distance. There were also more penguins porpoising through the water. We went up to the bridge for a bit, and saw even more whales and Orcas. Just as we were about to leave Antarctica and get back into the open sea, we went into the bar, figuring we had seen the last of the good stuff. But just then Anja got on the intercom and told us there were several whales just in front of the ship.
This time, there were several, and they were much closer to the ship. They were also a little playful, and we actually turned the ship around to go back towards them. They were very close, and everyone was yelling when they were spotted (there were 2 or 3 points from which different individuals kept popping up). Gordon was especially exuberant, and everyone got a kick out of his exclamations. His voice shows up prominently on our videos. We got much more video than photos, but some of ours are okay (albeit not nearly as good as everyone else's).
Because of the whales, the Antarctica Q&A session got pushed back. Waves from the open sea hit us around 7, just before dinner. They weren't that much, but they were relatively quite strong because the last few days had been so calm. Crystal was unable to make it through dinner, so Justin spoke with Gordon and Lachland about a number of subjects. Justin went down to the bar to work on the diary a bit around 9pm, and by 10pm it was empty - an early night for everyone.