Here comes the day I have been waiting for, seemingly forever. We will be placing our feet on a tiny bit of the super large continent of Antarctica.
It is early morning and we are slightly south of the South Shetland Islands. We are cruising in a strait on route to the Antarctic peninsula where we will land this afternoon at Brown Bluff.
This video shows how calm the sea was.
There is no sight yet of the Tabular shaped iceberg named ‘A57A’. Cape Petrels still glide on the air currents next to my balcony – they have had a free ride from South Georgia Island 800 miles away.
At 7.30am I was up front looking across the sea and there, above the horizon, a parallel line extended from the right of my vision to the left. One kind person loaned me his binoculars and I could see the white wall of this extraordinary tabular iceberg. I went to breakfast and when I stood up and looked out from the windows, we were beginning to sail past this mammoth ‘beast’ – a beautiful structure. What we could see was an iceberg which extended for 20 kms in length and 8 kms across; the iceberg was taller than our ship at around 30 metres above the water line. The ship’s radar indicated there was nearly 300 metres of iceberg below water. In fact, this iceberg was grounded, and satellite history indicates it had been situated in this location for some time having started drifting around Antarctica in 1987. It is mapped on shipping charts as A57A. Extraordinary scale.
I noticed that generally the sky was a pale muddy brown/grey but over the top of this iceberg a glow extended into the air. Must be the light reflected from that upper white surface. Watch these 3 videos here, here and here.
The lines of different snow falls onto the iceberg, marking the different years, were clearly parallel. The ship spokesperson told us the oldest was at the bottom and most recent at the top. A few of us rolled our eyes but we believe that sort of common-sense detail is for the benefit of the passenger who early on was concerned that we were not going to the South Pole, and another who asked whether the black sand beaches were natural or were man-made. One can never underestimate the ignorance of others. To be a little fairer, with the sensory overload that I am feeling, I know in some moments I really cannot work out some very obvious things.
Now we are becoming blasé about smaller icebergs. The one in the foreground below would probably be labelled a ‘Bergy Bit’. Yesterday we learnt the categories; if my memory serves me correctly they are from smallest to largest – Brash, Growler, Bergy Bit, Small, Medium, Large, Super Large. One Australian suggested a new category this morning – ‘F…g Large’.A wonderful technical man came to help get my computer working again; he felt the problem wasn’t me or something that I had done, nevertheless he also could not determine exactly why it was misbehaving. He has downloaded a different software for me so now I can open my videos; that is a boon. We agreed that when I get back to Argentina into free WiFi land, I should undertake a factory reset; we both feel some ingredient has faulted and needs to be reinstated or reconfigured.
I sat through the last part of a repeat of yesterday’s lecture on Antarctica (this time in English) and picked up a little more knowledge and understanding.
The coastline was dramatic as we sailed toward Brown Bluff, and then the Bluff itself was clearly identifiable.
Once anchored, I looked out to sea as the first Zodiac headed to land; a few blocky icebergs dotted the distant ocean.Situated next to Brown Bluff, a glacier was travelling across land to the sea.I did not go onshore near Brown Bluff (a flat-topped extinct volcano) t so I didn’t see the colony of Adele penguins first hand, nor more Gentoos. Many passengers have offered to email me their photos of same. Some stunning photos were taken on the slippery rocky shore. Did I wimp out? Probably. Or maybe I was incubating a cold. I spent a great deal of time on the balconies around the ship outside in the morning and, even though I was well wrapped, I got cold. Then the announcement was made that it was a difficult landing for the Zodiacs and only those who could get in and out of the craft without assistance should attempt it. In addition, we were informed it was highly likely we would get wet in the process. I was already cold and waiting for the excursion under my duvet; getting wet seemed like the last straw. I chose not to go. Later it seems that only 3 Aussies didn’t make the trip and we were all single travellers – perhaps we needed a prod from a companion traveller. Since then the others have told each of us, that they would be there for us from now on, to make sure we didn’t find reasons not to go and would provide any psychological or physical support to make sure we don’t miss out. Good people. Well – you may wonder – was it difficult and did some get wet? It seems only one Zodiac did have a wave swamp one end of the craft leaving a foot of water washing around everyone’s feet. In this instance, some had the freezing water run down their necks and inside their jackets, but the occasion was a return trip to the ship so minutes later those who suffered were back on ship and could dry out and warm up. As for the difficulty getting off and on the Zodiac on a steep rocky wave-driven shore, all went well (others would have helped me I now realise; my legs are short and so when I stand next to the Zodiac my bottom is below the top edge on which I need to sit in order to throw my legs over. If I could go in face first, I would be fine, however OH&S concerns will not allow me to choose this method.). It is now assumed the announcement was intended to deter those with walking sticks and injured legs (from circumstances prior to the ship’s initial departure) from attempting a landing. For example, we have an assertive 93 year-old French lady who has needed a couple of crew members to help lift her on and off the Zodiacs, and previously she has walked onshore with two sticks to keep her balance. I admire her tenacity. She is one who is not to be beaten by age or physical difficulties.
I finished the day by drinking and dining with the pack, hearing all their news and seeing their photos of the onshore wonders. Then, late evening, we headed to the lecture theatre and watched the Paris C’Show dancers perform a show Constellations. A series of costumed dances with background graphics and colourful light displays. Masterful balance across a stage as the ship rolled, albeit gently. The other passengers in my group went off to have a night cap. Not me. I was in bed and asleep possibly before the first drinks had touched their lips. I am coming down with a ship cold.