Lemaire Channel and the Polar Plunge!

I cannot believe it is a week since we landed in Buenos Aires, the time has flown by. This morning we were greeted by more impressive views as we entered the Lemaire Channel. This strait runs between Booth Island and the Antarctica Peninsula. They were not exaggerating when they said it is one of the most scenic locations.  It is a 6.8 mile-long Channel and we were lucky to be able to get through it as can become impassable when ice fills the narrow passageway. Whilst the passageway did have ice in it the Ocean Endeavour was able to push its way through. With the fog hanging in a layer through the channel it was really magical and eerie as we slowly edged our way forward. The mountains were towering over us on each side of the narrow channel with their peaks just poking out through the clouds, all we could think was how stunning the view was and what an honour it was to be here right now. It was really hard to pull ourselves away from the view to go to breakfast.
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After breakfast we took a zodiac ride out to Petermann Island, this landing would be the southern most landing for us on this trip. Once more we were first off the boat as Rebecca and I have got kitting up down to a fine art. We were in the second zodiac boat out and so again had that lovely moment of having the island to ourselves for a while until other zodiac boats arrived. Petermann Island is the southernmost breeding colony of Gentoo penguins and so once again, by just sitting still and waiting, we were treated to a Gentoo getting curious and coming right over to us to say hello. These penguin encounters are so special and they certainly don’t go and say hello to everyone!Out on the water it was the scenery that took our breath away. We were very lucky and had marine biologist, Nick take us on our zodiac trip. His explanations from a biological point of view about the ecosystem that we were seeing were brilliant and I tried hard to absorb everything. The thing that struck me the most was the green and red algae that we could see living in the snow – quite incredible. The icebergs that we travelled around were majestic. At one point Nick just stopped the zodiac and asked us all to be quiet and take it all in. As we drifted, the brackish ice closed in on us – it is noticeable how fast the ice moves around. It was a great moment just to stop it made me think how small we were compared to our surroundings.

After lunch back on the ship, we were back out on the zodiacs, as we were moving Humpback whales were breaching off the side of the boat which generated a huge ohhh from all passengers! Again we lucked out and got Jim the whale expert as our driver who just seems to have a sixth sense as to where the whales will be. He can spot the whales far off and then know how they will behave and where they will come up next. We found ourselves as the only zodiac hanging out with a Minke mum and calf. The mum decided to put her head up above water and come up to take a good look at us, repeating this process a couple of times much to our delight. Mum must have told her calf that we were worth a look at as the next think we knew the calf brought its head way up out of the water to take a good look at us!  Being there having this amazing encounter was a very humbling experience and really makes you think about how powerful and beautiful nature is. No sooner had we left the Minke whales but we came across two resting Humpbacks. It was lovely to spend five minutes watching them just lying there in the water. We continued moving the zodiac around the brackish ice around the icebergs when we came across five or six crab-eater seals lying out on one of the ice flows. We had a young 11 year old on our boat who could do a very good impersonation of a seal which made the seals look up and check us out! Once more all too quickly the two hour expedition was up and we headed back to the Ocean Endeavour.

Lemaire 1

Unlike Rebecca who was now super excited, I was not looking forward to going back in! Why? Our next event was to be the Polar Plunge!!! I was feeling student peer pressure from Rebecca – if she was going to take the plunge I could not let the side down and not do it! So we were told to go back to our cabins and get ready to be called down to the mud room. I went for the Bangkok Patana look in terms of Patana rash vest, PTG T-shirt and TigerShark hat! Over the speakers we heard we were being called down – this was seriously happening. Whilst Rebecca was bouncing around with excitement, I slowly moved forward thinking why am I doing this? Lined up in the mud room there was a party like atmosphere and soon the first few people who had completed the plunge walked back through the mud room grinning from ear to ear. How was it we all chorused?? Terrific, brilliant, best thing I have done were the responses! This just made Rebecca more excited whilst I was thinking what brain washing is going on out there! Before we knew it we were up next. Rebecca was happy to go first – I did not complain! You get a rope attached to you then off you go and walk down the steps to the platform edge. Rebecca had a great entry with a loud scream. She ran back up the stairs exhilarated – it was my go! Stood at the bottom of the steps looking out at the two whales that were hanging out, probably being highly entertained by us, and watching the ice float by were interesting sights but rather than think too much I took a leap of faith and in I went. I cannot tell you how cold it was – just trust me it was cold! For some reason I thought we would be pulled back in by the attached rope but when I worked out I was not moving back towards the ladder I realised I actually had to swim back! The two second swim felt a lot longer – but once back on the boat I was so pleased that we had both completed the Polar Plunge!Back in the cabin, all clean and warm, I was stood looking out of the window watching the Lemaire Channel passing us by and the sun began to set on another incredible day! We headed to the only place to be, the 360 degree view deck where I have to say I have never seen such beauty in nature before. Once more the mountains on either side were towering over us but this time we could see the whole mountain clearly. With the sun shinning on the tops of the peaks and the water being so calm meant that the reflection in the water was truly spectacular! The only problem was knowing which direction to look in as it really was a 360 degree view. Again the crew said the spectacular sunset isn’t one they see very often and how lucky we had been.

After dinner, we had the second part of the energy talk – you really cannot help but think about climate change when you are here in Antarctica watching all that is going on with the ice.

Helen

Disclaimer: Images from 2041.com and are a representation of what Rebecca and Helen will be seeing.

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