Sunrise 0427, Sunset 2252
Longitude 66 degrees 51.67’ South, 66 degrees 47.79’ West
Today at about 5am we crossed the Antarctic Circle. I thought I felt a bit of a bump as we ran over it (not really), but it turned out the bump was caused by our captain mooring the Explorer by nudging it gently into an iceberg (yes, really!).
The Antarctic Circle is defined as the line south of which you have at least one full day of 24 hours continuous daylight, and conversely one full day when the sun does not rise at all. It lies at latitude 66 degrees, 33′ 44″ South. As we are only a smidgeon south of the Antarctic Circle, and because it is now well after the summer solstice, we do get some darkness, but not much.
I discovered this to my cost last night when I was sitting in the lounge having a few drinks with the staff. There was light in the sky so I thought it was still relatively early – until I looked at my watch and saw it was 11.30pm. I’ve been working out early in the morning, before the beginning of the day’s meals, I mean, activities. I didn’t have long to get some sleep before the alarm would go for my 6.30am session in the fitness room. So I toddled hastily off to my cabin. These long hours of daylight are very confusing to a body.
This morning I woke to the most glorious day, the early low sunlight highlighting the contours of the pack ice as we pushed our way between small bergy bits in Crystal Sound. As I pounded through my hour on the cross-trainer, I watched the passing scenery – seals basking on bergs like oversized slugs, penguins tobogganing across the flat ice on their bellies. I kept my eyes peeled for killer whales – our whale experts had said that there are tagged killers in this area – but to no avail.
The killer whales might have been keeping a low profile, but there was an encounter with a faintly homicidal seal this morning. One of the zodiacs (not mine, alas) was attacked by a seal that had decided it would like to bite a chunk out of the rubber inflatable boat – to the understandable consternation of the occupants. Can’t wait to see the video footage of that one.
I’ve been amazed by how much wildlife there is in the Antarctic. Last night we saw footage from the underwater ROV (remote operated vehicle), which showed an ocean floor teeming with life. Far from being a desolate wilderness, Antarctica is a nonstop parade of weird and wonderful creatures: Gentoo, Adelie, Macaroni, and Emperor penguins; Weddell, Crabeater, Fur and Leopard seals; terns, petrels and skuas; and of course the ubiquitous red-coated homo sapiens. The latter are evidently ill-suited to these extreme latitudes as they waddle around, bundled up in multitudes of layers, while the other critters are perfectly comfortable in nothing but the coats provided by Mother Nature.
Congratulations to Edurne Pasaban, the Spanish alpinist, for winning the “People’s Choice” Adventurer of the Year. Huge thanks to the many, many people who voted for me, especially those who faithfully voted day after day. I really, truly appreciate your support. Even though the “People’s Choice” award went to Edurne, I am still officially a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for 2010, and it has been a great pretext for spreading the word about my adventures and my environmental campaigning – so we can all still pat ourselves on the back!
My sister asked me to say hi to a penguin for her. Today I chose the penguin to receive this honour – the first Emperor Penguin that I have seen. A beautiful creature, with an endearing, shambly, “oh if I really must” kind of waddle. He patiently posed for about half an hour while zodiacs full of red-coated homo sapiens surrounded his iceberg, and a huge blue ship even gently manoeuvered into position about 10 yards away so we could all take a look. The Emperor merely looked down his imperial beak at us, and continued his grooming unperturbed.