Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Drake Passage and Beyond

We left Ushuaia on November 30th and headed south through the Beagle Channel as the sun disappeared to the west and shortly after dark, entered the Drake Passage. The Drake was a bit rough this trip and kept me pretty much confined to my cabin with a couple of forays above deck to see what was about. We spent all of December 1st bobbing around, nothing horrible, but my sea legs must have been in my checked bags. The best part was that we made excellent time across the Drake and made landing at a small island in the South Shetland group called Aitcho Island about noon the following day. Despite a fairly stiff wind, my penguin counting partner Elise Larsen and I were able to get a good count of the number of nesting Gentoo Penguins on the island. During a recent previous visit by the National Geographic Endeavour our Oceanites colleagues had conducted a site-wide census of all the nesting Chinstrap Penguins. We also counted Giant Petrel nests at the far end of the island as well. While counting a Gentoo colony on a small ridge near the landing area, I heard a very different call. I was in the middle of a count and couldn’t afford to look away, but shortly afterward Matt Drennan, our expedition leader, called me on the radio to tell me that a King Penguin was at the next Gentoo colony over. Although somewhat expected based on previous reports, it was still a very nice treat to see a King, particularly a well plumaged adult.
We cut our visit somewhat short as another vessel had this landing on the schedule and we needed to get out of their way. Off we headed to Deception Island in an increasing wind. We made our way through Neptune’s Bellows, a small gap into the inside of the doughnut of Deception, and headed to the far side of the caldera for the evening. After dinner plans for a short walk were canceled by 40 knot winds. We spent the night in the old volcano, with plans for another landing in the morning. After breakfast on December 3rd it became apparent that we would not be doing a landing at Deception Island this trip. The forecasted winds of 40 to 45 knots had materialized and there was no way we were going to make any landings. We headed out of Deception into the Bransfield Straits and headed towards the Antarctic Peninsula further south. During our transit of the Bransfield we experienced hurricane force winds with gusts exceeding 90 knots! Despite my notoriously weak stomach for heavy seas, I managed to make it to the bridge for a short while to take some photos I have wanted to take for years – waves breaking over the bow. I was able to do that before heading back to my bunk for the remainder of the afternoon. We are still heading south trying to get out of the way of this fast moving massive storm and hope to make a landing tomorrow at Peterman Island.
Oh yeah, my bags finally showed up at Ushuaia – on Monday. At least they will be there and I can have my clothes for the next trip south.
Lots of photos but they are too much trouble to try to post until I get a better connection.


Vickie said...

I am so looking forward to the rest of your story and your photos!
Safe traveling in all that weather!

Anonymous said...

Aitcho seemed very mysterious to me. It was our last stop in the Antarctic and it was shrouded in mist. That coupled with the first real green I'd seen in several days just gave it an eerie feel. I got a great photo of a Giant Petral there, and was charged by a fur seal.

Have a wicked cool season.