63 31.09 degrees South, 58 52.65 degrees West
Sunrise 0416, Sunset 2145
This morning I woke to the sight of icebergs outside my cabin window. We were entering the Weddell Sea, and seeing for the first time the great white continent of Antarctica. The quote on our day’s itinerary was apposite – Frank Worsley, captain of the Endurance, describing icebergs:
“Swans of weird shape pecked at our planks, a gondola steered by a giraffe ran foul of us, which much amused a duck sitting on a crocodile’s head…. All the strange fantastic shapes rose and fell in stately cadence with a rustling, whispering sound and hollow echoes to the thudding seas.”
You might justifiably wonder what Frank Worsley had been smoking in the captain’s quarters, but take it from me – anything you ever heard about icebergs can’t even begin to do them justice. This morning in the fitness room, as I laboured on the cross-trainer, I was pleasantly distracted from my exercise by the sight of a cluster of penguins perched atop a slanted iceberg, like a picture straight out of a National Geographic magazine. I looked across at the man on the treadmill, and he was looking and smiling too.
Shortly after breakfast we arrived at Brown Bluff, a volcano at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, and took a walk to the top of the glacier. Shortly thereafter, I was standing on the black rocky beach near Mike Nolan, one of the resident photographers, when an announcement came over his radio that we had the option to take an iceberg tour by Zodiac inflatable boat. I didn’t need asking twice.
The tour was amazing. I never would have known ice came in so many different colours. We saw leopard seals and crabeater seals lazing languidly on flat bergs, and penguins porpoising elegantly through the water around our boat, very different from the ungainly waddling (or should that be Weddelling?) creatures we had seen on dry land. These were adelie penguins, different from the chinstraps, macaronis and gentoos that we saw yesterday, but equally cute.
Just as we pulled up alongside our mother ship, the National Geographic Explorer, a huge section of ice calved from a nearby berg. The main berg, unstabilised by the loss of weight on one side, rolled with majestic slowness. The ten of us in the Zodiac gasped in awe. It was the perfect finale.
A slightly sombre P.S.: our tour guide in the Zodiac told us that the creatures here that feed on Antarctic krill may be at risk. Climate change has had a greater impact on the Antarctic than in other areas of the world, leading to a rise in the water temperature of one degree Celsius. It is expected that this will adversely affect the krill, with a knock-on effect on the penguins, whales, seals and fish that depend on them for their primary food source. This wonderful Antarctic world that I am only just discovering may not exist in its present form for much longer. It is changing already.