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The Unpredictable Antarctic: South Shetland Islands

King George Island is the largest of the South Shetland Islands. Eight separate year- round research stations are maintained by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, S. Korea, Poland, Russia, and Uruguay.

This morning we awoke to exciting news — we were nearly through the Drake Passage. It had been a very tolerable journey.
On our way out of the breakfast room, we spotted our first iceberg. One of our guide estimated that it was about 300 feet high! After that, we plunked ourselves down in the 7th Deck Panorama lounge to view our approach to the continent. More bergs appeared and we began to see pods of penguins "porpoising" through the water on their way to their favorite fishing spots.
At 11:00 a.m. the naturalist/ landing manager gave us an orientation on the landing protocol. All of the passengers are divided into 10 groups; each group will be called — one at a time — to board the PolarCircl landing craft. When reporting for debarkation, we need our ID card (they scan in as we go out and return, to insure that no one is left behind), our lifejacket, waterproof pants and waterproof jacket. Once on the second deck, we put on knee high rubber boots, check in, walk through a trough of antibacterial liquid (they want no new germs in Antarctica), and head down the ship-side steps into the landing craft.
Our first scheduled landing was to be in Admiralty Bay on King George Island at the Arctowski Station; however, rough surf made landing impossible. So goes life in the wilds at the end of the earth. So that his passengers would not be too disappointed, the captain cruised around to the west side of the island to Maxwell Bay. It was here that we made our first landing in Antarctica. At the end of the bay is a Chilean base and a Russian base. Permission being given, we were allowed to land at the Chilean base of Eduardo Frei. Despite the fact that no penguins reside there (everyone on this ship is penguin crazy), it was wonderful! We had finally set foot on Antarctica.
The two of us visited the base souvenirs shop (yes... since Antarctica now has about 30,000 visitors per year, even these remote bases have a shop...) and then we walked up the hill to the Catholic chapel to thank God for getting us here — and with such good weather!
We had about 45 minutes on land and then it was time to head back to the ship. By the time our turn came around it was 7:00 pm. After a celebratory toast (of a hot coffee drink...despite the warm temperature of 35 degrees F, our feet were cold...), we headed for the dining room and ate a big dinner. All of the getting in and out of boats and walking through shin-high, wet, heavy snow definitely stimulates the appetite.

Once dinner was over, it was time to retire. The ship was already on its way to the Antarctic Peninsula, where we have two more landings scheduled for tomorrow. Sleep came easy, but we woke up around 4:00 a.m. to find the ship bouncing around like a cork — and it was snowing like mad. But as we were powerless to do anything else, we went back to sleep. (There are elastic straps on the beds that can be used to fasten oneself into your bunk so you don't fall out of bed in real rough seas, but we didn't need those.)

Tomorrow promises to be even more exciting — we are headed down the Gerlache Strait for Cuverville Island where we hope to visit the world's largest Gentoo penguin colony.

Stay tuned!

Posted by jeburns55 02:10 Archived in Antarctica

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