This morning we woke up moored in the aptly named stunningly beautiful Paradise Harbour.
After breakfast Stuart and I had decided to take out paddle boats (a sort of rubberised canoe) to explore the harbour, the nearby Skontorp Cove, and the Petzval Glacier.
We sported dry suits and splashed about amongst the sea ice and icebergs. The water was millpond calm, the sun shining, and the views spectacular.
We got to spend two hours on the water and saw a humpback whale, crab-eater seals feeding, loads of gentoo penguins, a colony of nesting blue-eyed shags, pintados and Antarctic terns on the nearby cliffs.
We also got a good view of the Almirante Brown Station - an Argentinean summer base camp.
Once back on board we settled down for lunch but were suddenly interrupted mid-mouthful.
There was a massive pod of killer whales heading towards the ship. Within minutes everyone had rushed from their tables and were peering over the side. What we witnessed was incredible. Twenty orca surrounding the vessel. Comprising mainly of females with calves there were two adult males (complete with nearly 2m high dorsal fins) - both keeping an eye in things from a distance.
The orca swam alongside, under, away from and towards the boat. Seeming fascinated by us. We took dozens of photos and videos of them diving, feeding, and the calves rolling around at play. It was simply magical. The crew said it was a truly rare sight to see.
Later we discovered more of what we had seen - they were an ecotype B orca known as “Gerlache form”. They mainly eat penguins, are naturally curious, and are the only type to breed in Antarctica. Their brown algal staining is as distinctive as is the fact that the oldest female runs the pod - the grandmother steers and educates the group.
After the orca departed we returned to our lunch (the dining room had been abandoned like the Marie Celeste) and chatted enthusiastically about what we had just witnessed.
In the afternoon the ship moved towards Goudier Island and Jougla Point where a member of Port Lockroy joined us for a short presentation in the Main Lounge.
We then took the Zodiacs to Port Lockroy itself - which was discovered by Charcot during his French Expedition of 1903-5 and named for Édouard Lockroy, a French politician and sponsor.
There was an extraordinary museum inside the old British Antarctic Survey (BAS) hut on Goudier Island - complete with Union Flag aflutter. The BAS hut was Station A, referred to as Bransfield House, and was occupied between 1944 and 1962. The museum had preserved things since is was abandoned. There were jars of 1962 Marmite, cans of Hunter’s Steak and Kidney Pudding, and rusty tins of Chivers English-Grown Gold Standard Turnips!
The penguin colonies at Port Lockroy are part of a long-term study monitoring the impact of tourist activities.
On neighbouring Jougla Point were more gentoo penguins (also involved in the human impact study), along with a colony of blue-eyed shags. We also saw a reassembled baleen whale skeleton a short distance from the landing site.
It was a fantastic day all told; great paddle-boarding, amazing killer whales, and a little bit of Britain overseas.