Ice Cubes

January 26

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It was past midnight and I had just finished writing the travelogue and the increasingly tedious task of image sorting when I looked through our porthole. Despite the hour it was still bright, or at least dim, and I could see a mountain range in the background and huge, I mean huge icebergs in the foreground. I immediately ran onto the deck with my camera - these were no standard issue icebergs and needed to be captured. About half an hour later I realized that I was standing on the main deck wearing my PJs, in sub-freezing temperatures; I was so excited and it took me this long to realize that I was actually cold. When the ship came almost to a complete stop around 1:30 I thought that this must be the place that we are planning to see in the morning, and went to bed.

When I got up just after 6 I quickly realized that we didn't stop where I thought we would, or maybe since the scenery did look somewhat familiar, that the icebergs floated away. I went to Bill to the bridge and told him about my nightly sighting of very large, impressive and certainly not commonplace icebergs, supporting my story with images on my camera. Bill looked at me in his usual friendly way, probably thinking that these tourists are amazed by every ice cube that floats in the water, and commented only with "that sounds interesting." John the filmmaker was a bit more enthusiastic but still skeptical. Oh well, these will be my private icebergs, with images to support my story.

Click on the first image to start a slide show for this day (127 pictures)
Images shown below are a small selection.
In slide show, click on image to return to index.

After breakfast we got into the Zodiacs and drove through some light ice to the Stonington island, site of an abandoned British research station back from the 40s and 50s, while they still thought this was part of the mainland and not an island. We walked around for an hour and got to see some lion seals as well as the usual skuas, which attacked me because I came too close to their improperly marked nest. I mean, what were they thinking? I didn't know their nest was there, but through their attacks now I knew it. These birds...

From the island we went back onto the Zodiacs for a quick ride through the bay. This was most exciting for me, since I always wanted to go through these ice fields. Unfortunately, this was not where the excitement of this ride should be. When I asked Matt, our driver, whether we would go to the ice field like everyone else, he answered more or less literally "yeah, that's where you can get incredible pictures, but it's a pain in the ass so we won't go there." I guess it's the luck of the draw - to be on the only boat with a driver who doesn't want people to see the best possible areas. Note to self: avoid Matt; nice guy, lousy driver.

However, we did get my share of excitement through other means. While approaching the boat the Zodiac's engine failed and could not be started. We sat there in the water about half a mile to the right side of the boat, ironically in a minor ice field which just happened to float by, engine dead, and to make things more fun, Matt's radio dead too. People started waving and shouting at the boat, but even my yellow hat - properly waved - didn't attract the necessary attention. It was not so much a concern that they would leave without us, but rather how long it would take them to come and get us.

Sean, the driver of the boat that eventually came to our rescue, came on board and looked at the engine. A quick look revealed that the fuel line had slipped off, and a quick fix got it running again. We made it safely back to the ship and were among the first to join the Australia Day BBQ at the rear of the ship.

Once we raised the anchors we backtracked from the bay. It occurred to me that this will bring us past the big icebergs from last night again. The icebergs were many, big, and beautiful, showing their full splendor even from a distance, much better than last night. Once I saw how close we would be getting I ran down to get my 24-70 lens. I should have gotten the 17-40 instead, for two reasons: it would have been wider, what I desperately needed; and since according to tradition I had to drop a lens I would have dropped the cheaper one. With a clonk the lens fell out of my pocket onto the steel deck just as I was picking up my camera. It didn't fall apart and it still takes sharp pictures, but turning the zoom ring is now quite a workout. This didn't reduce the incredible sight in front of us - the icebergs were an amazing display of nature's bizarre wonders and the pictures can't come even close to reality. Should have had the 17-40...

In the late afternoon we anchored at Horseshoe island, the southernmost nesting place of the Antarctic Shags. From a distance they look just like penguins, but can be very easily differentiated from these once they fly. After a quick drive through the bay we landed on shore - even for Bill it was the first time here, and there were no other signs of any previous landings. Ah, being in the first boat to land somewhere, we felt almost like the early pioneers. From the landing spot we hiked up the hill from where we could overlook the bay, and where we tried to keep the anger of the local nesting skuas to a minimum.

We got back to the boat kinda late, just in time for dinner, which was as always plentiful and most delicious. It was my desire to go to bed earlier than before, because I can live on 4 hours of sleep only for that long. However, I still had the task of sorting pictures and writing the log ahead of me, and I was really, really not feeling like it. I shall not disclose how many pictures I took on an average day, but it was more that two hundred. Weeding things out is tedious, especially if during the process you peek through the porthole and see this incredible ice formation, adding more pictures to the collection. I finished again around 1 with the pictures of a humpback whale not simply just showing its fin, but rather slapping it up and down on the ice covered sea. There were only very few people on deck at that time, but we all got an impressive show of what our whale expert said was whale communication - indeed, on the other side of the boat, again a few miles away was another whale doing just the same.

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