Yesterday our flight from Punta Arenas to King George Island was mercifully smoother than the storms and turbulence clearly visible below us in Drakes Passage. Despite the flight delays we were so glad we’d flown - taking just two hours - rather than the two days the sea voyage would have.
King George Island is part of the South Shetland Islands and just off the coast of mainland Antarctica. Having descended through the thick clouds our plane skidded to a stop along the makeshift gravel runway and we climbed down the metal ladder to not snow, but mud. This being summer down here the snow wasn’t settling here at the moment so we trudged for 20 minutes through the mud to our waiting Zodiac boats on the shoreline.
Zodiacs are black rubberised motor launches and where to be on main method of transport on water for the next week or so.
The boats took us out to our waiting vessel, the Ocean Adventurer. Dinner was waiting for us and a very warm welcome it was too. We got to meet some of our fellow passengers many of whom seemed to be as excited as we were to be on the White Continent. After dinner we had an evacuation drill (a mandatory thing to do on these vessels).
Overnight the ship motored through the choppy seas of the Bransfield Strait eventually anchoring in the morning at Cierva Point and Cove.
After breakfast we boarded Zodiacs again, this time to cruise around the cove and take in the scenery.
We saw snow, snow and more snow! Oh and sea ice, stunning white and blue icebergs, penguins, leopard seals, a minky whale, and a humpback whale.
We also saw the Argentine summer research station Primavera with its bright orange buildings that stood out against the glaring white background snow.
In the afternoon back onboard we enjoyed wildlife presentations on seals and penguins to help us identify what we were seeing.
While we were being educated the vessel steamed due south towards the famously narrow Lemaire passage. A short-cut to get further south.
The Lemaire passage is only 800m wide at its narrowest point, 7 miles long with 300m mountain peaks on each side. The peaks are covered in thick ice, glaciers, and deep snow. It was some sight and seemingly too narrow to pass through.
But we trusted our captain.
The passage also serves as a funnel for the sea, the floating ice, and much wildlife.
So as we navigated the icebergs in this thin stretch of water we saw minky whales, humpbacks, and leopard seals alongside us also squeezing through.
Once safely through Lemaire we then headed through Martha Strait out into open ocean. The plan was to head still further south - straight towards the Antarctic Circle.
As write we are out here at sea far from land, the swell is increasing - 3m so far - so I shall sign off to baton down the hatches and strap myself in for a rough night.
See you tomorrow.