Gerlach Strait Antarctica. (These are non-digital photos scanned from my photo album, hence the quality is non-optimal. The originals need to be retrieved from the broken hard drive of an old computer which I keep avoiding! Click to enlarge for better views).
My husband, Jim, handed me a travelogue he kept of our Antarctica trip in 2008. I had forgotten that we both had written trip journals and it is interesting to see a lot of the details I had forgotten. The following include excerpts of these journals.
Day 1-2: Jim’s notes state that we cross the 400 mile Drake Passage with Beaufort force 3 winds. The Beaufort Scale winds range from force 1-12, and relate wind speed to observable effects on land and sea. Force 3 winds are gentle breezes that create wavelets that begin to break, causing whitecaps, i.e., easy-peasy seas. We pass the Antarctic Convergence in the afternoon. This is a continuously circling body of water where cold Antarctic waters converge with warmer subantarctic waters, causing the colder water to sink, leading to upwelling where marine life is intensely prevalent, including pelagic birds such as several types of Albatross, and Skuas.*
The Antarctic convergence is the largest biological barrier on earth. Crossing the convergence marks entry into the Southern Ocean which has it’s own currents. We are entering the world’s largest wilderness, with the highest concentrations of wildlife on the planet. It is also the coldest, highest, windiest, iciest and least visited of all the continents i.e. PARADISE!
Map of Antarctica Convergence:
Day 3- Reach Elephant Island part of the South Shetland Islands, that is named after resident elephant seals. Along with the seals there are several species of penguins. Air & water temperature mid-day, 1 degree. Floating icebergs becoming impressive. Our naturalist explains that most of the bergs we are seeing now come from The Weddell Sea, via The Antarctic Sound. When we leave this area, we will be sailing on seas that will be covered in sea ice all winter.
Day 4- Cross the Antarctic Sound enroute to the Esperanza Research Station run by Argentina. Winds are force 8, which is gale force, 34-40 knots, waves 18-25 feet. Cannot attempt Esperanza due to conditions. Tabular Bergs are everywhere some as big as Rhode Island.
By mid-afternoon, weather improves dramatically, captain sets course towards Admiralty Bay on King George Island. We reach the Chilean and Polish Research Stations and visit with the Polish Scientists, who after many failed and frightening attempts by zodiac, board our ship for dinner. By now penguins are everywhere in the millions, Gentoo, Macaroni, Chinstrap and Adele. Later we will see Kings. The weather is excellent and the scenery magnificent. Sun sets at 1 am rises at 4 am.
Day 5- Captain sets course south through The Branfields Strait. Continue southerly course. Navigate through the incredible Gerlach Strait. Force 3 winds, air temp 1 degree mid-day. Ice surrounds us everywhere. The ship, navigated by the ice pilot, seems to sail through ice not water. It is daunting. Growlers slam against the hull. We hold our breath when the ship approaches the larger ones, they bang along the hull making constant noise.
Day 6- We head to the Neumayer Channel with incredible scenery, glaciers calving into the ocean, craggy cliffs, ice precipes and peaks, boundless untouched snow and ice, sea mammals, birds and penguins everywhere. They are friendly and approach. We see Wedell, Crabeater and Leopard Seals, Orca, Humpback and Minke whales.
Day 7- Course to Deception Island, a collapsed volcanic caldera. Deception Bay is stunning and the island is full of very smelly, very friendly penguins.
The waters are warmed by volcanic process which also makes the island the most ice-free that we saw. You can take a dip if you choose. The water is a mixture of very hot and cold currents, moving in little riverlets around you. Weather this day was gray, foggy, and overcast. (This is a color photo, so it gives you an idea the bleak monochromity!)
Day 8- Course north back through The Drake Passage. As we cross the convergence, the temperature rises to 7 degrees, the warmest in a week! Again we have smooth seas and the albatross are our friends. Enroute to the stunning Beagle Channel and Strait of Magellan.
Towards the end, we get our roughest weather yet, force 9 winds, 41-47 knots, waves 23-32 feet. Strong gale. Wow! It was spectacular and unforgiving. And then we are in the blissful Beagle Channel to Chile, and then through The Magellan Strait to Argentina.
Less than 30,000 people are visiting Antarctica annually now.
* Note: we saw a similar fascinating upwelling phenomena crossing out of the Sargasso Sea which is essentially a large gyro, an ocean bounded and defined by currents. We sailed through the Canary Current where the upwelling attracted scores of Blue Whales, Pilot Whales, Orcas and other marine life, everywhere in incredible quantity! The Sargasso Sea itself seems desert like. Crossing it for eight days, we saw no animals, birds, or ships.