We were jolted awake at 6.30am by the dulcet tones of Mario over the PA welcoming us to the day. Jesus fucking Christ, Mario! A bit of warning would have been nice! We’d set an alarm for 7.30, I’d gotten up for a wee at about quarter past six all smug that we still had over an hour to snooze in our outlandishly comfortable beds. He was only waking us up to tell us how awful the weather was too, putting his usual optimistic spin on things with, “…the snow is coming in sideways so it’s an Antarctic blizzard!” Oh, and the fact breakfast was in half an hour.
It was indeed actually snowing which was quite cool so we popped upstairs to the stern before heading into the dining room. The snow had stuck to the deck, perfect for snowballs, so after rewarming with a tea and a disgusting quantity of food a few of us headed back up for a snowball fight. Lela already had her armoury built by the time we got up there and we warmed up by lobbing balls of snow and ice at each other. To be fair, if we’d come all this way to the Antarctic and not had at least one blizzard we’d have been disappointed.
We were sailing down the Gerlache Strait this morning and we alternated between braving the wind and sleet of the deck and sipping various teas in the lounge. If we had this kind of weather back home we’d draw the curtains, put Netflix on, order something suitably fattening from Deliveroo and refuse to leave the house. Head south of 60° and we’re out in it whilst hoping our eyeballs don’t freeze, brandishing photographic devices at lumps of ice.
Despite the wind the water was still pretty calm which was very conducive to not pebble dashing the walls with my obnoxiously large breakfast. Apparently the crew had cycled through several plans for the morning before settling on Port Lockroy which I was really, really hoping to see on account of my obsession with pillar boxes. It’s a new obsession, it cropped up around four years ago when I joined the Royal Mail, and now I can’t stop looking at foreign pillar boxes. It’d be awesome to get a photo with the pillar box at the British post office at Port Lockroy.
Sadly it was not to be. Big “awwww” from the audience please because I was genuinely absolutely gutted. I was hoping to get a photo of a pillar box on every continent and it’s not like we can just pop back here next year. It wasn’t even the current weather, conditions had improved to the point we could have landed but Port Lockroy couldn’t receive us on account of the fact they’d taken damage in the previous night’s ridiculous winds. We were looking at gusts of over 100 kph so to be fair I’m surprised they still have a building.
Nevermind then. At 11am they had Katie the historian, Lyn the ornithologist and Keith the geologist give us short lectures in something they called the Power Hour. I feel like that should be said in a deep, dramatic voice with an echo at the end. It was fascinating though. Katie told us all about Lynne Cox, an American woman who was the very first person to swim an Antarctic mile. Like, actually swim. In the water. In just a cozzie, a swimming cap and goggles. Like what the fuck. She actually swam over a mile and it’s fair enough that she’s Katie’s Antarctic hero.
Lyn explained how seabirds sleep because basically, albatross don’t land for, like, seven years when they’re ready to start breeding which sounds quite frankly awful from the point of view of a species that needs a minimum of eight hours sleep if they wanted to function at a level that didn’t involve drooling. Turns out they shut down half their brain for a few minutes at a time in a process known as uni-hemispheric short wave sleep. It sounds horrific. I think I’d lose my shit. It’s only the threat of prison that stops me from massacring everyone within a six metre radius with a biro when I don’t get enough of that sweet, sweet REM.
Keith regailed us with the differences between Antarctica and the Arctic which are plentiful. Did you know if all the ice at the Arctic melted it wouldn’t raise the sea levels? It’s because the Arctic is already the sea, it’s just frozen. I mean, I’m not saying we should take a hairdryer to it, it’d completely fuck up the eco system but at least your favourite seafront bar wouldn’t flood. If the ice at the Antarctic melted it’d be utterly catastrophic because the Antarctic is a landmass covered in ice. There are other differences too. The Antarctic is way colder and windier. The Arctic has been claimed by various states just waiting for the ice to melt so they can get at the oil whereas sections of Antarctica have been claimed but there’s nothing anyone can do due to the Treaty. There are flowers in the Arctic. Antarctica just has lichen.
After lunch we cruised to an area called Paradise Bay which is home to an Argentine base called Almirante Brown. In 1984 the resident doctor had asked to not have to endure another winter there. He was told tough tittes, he was going to have to stay so he burnt the fucker down. Everyone was rescued which was all part of his cunning plan but he did spent a few years in jail for it. I’m not sure what would be worse out of an Argentine jail or another winter in Antarctica. These days they just man it every now and then to maintain a presence as they’ve claimed this slice. Unfortunately Chile and the UK have overlapping claims so that’ll be fun if the Treaty goes to shit.
Conditions were favourable albeit a bit cold and wet but I guess you don’t throw an embarrassing amount of money at a trip to Antarctica if you don’t fancy being cold and/or wet ever again. We were the last group today so we waited as everyone else was called to the mudroom to kit up and board the zodiacs. We were in the very last zodiac so we were taken on a little bit of an exploration as we waited for people who’d already landed to finish up and leave the shore. I think they’re only permitted a certain amount of people on land at a time but that was fine. They took us to see a blue-eyed shag colony and they had big, fluffy chicks.
Then a humpback whale casually decided to show up and it’d be rude to refuse a gawp at that. It was pretty fucking special, it was so close and it only got closer, all by itself so there wasn’t much we could do about it but gawp in absolute awe. Sarah, the marine biologist with an obsession with whales, was driving our zodiac.
“Do you actually want to land?” she asked us. I think she was only half joking. She was eventually called over the walkie talkie to head to the landing point which she reluctantly and slowly did. I can’t believe how close it was!
So we couldn’t enter the base but we did walk through a gentoo penguin colony, over their little penguin highway. Fuck me, it absolutely stank! Penguins are cute little fuckers but shitting hell, they smell worse than my arse after curry night. I no longer wish to steal one and keep it in my shower. We had to wait for them to cross and when there was a break in the adorable traffic we shuffled through so we could walk up a slippery hill in the snow. Why? Because eyehole fodder. That’s why. Who wouldn’t want to drool over a big, icy bay? Getting down was emotional though, combine the snow compacted to ice and the fact I have the balance of a giraffe on ketamine and it’s not a picture of grace and elegance.
We got back to the zodiac and a couple of people hadn’t seen the shag colony so we were taken back around to that. Guess what? Another fucking humpback whale showed up, and it got even closer than before. Oh my gosh, what an absolute honour! It didn’t give us any tail but it pretty much escorted us in, swimming between us and Almirante Brown, showing off the sheer power of the air the whale blasts from its lungs, betraying its position before diving, flashing us its dorsal fin. Penguins swam and jumped mere metres from the boat, far too quick for me to photograph but an absolute treat for the eyeholes. Utterly magical.
We were so giddy when we got back. The ship was moved to a lovely sheltered bay where we’d be moored for the whole night and, later on, the bar was absolutely buzzing. This afternoon more than made up for the disappointment of the morning. There was a lot of downtime today and we honestly didn’t think we’d get to land at all given the wind, rain, snow and sleet but I think we’ve readjusted our idea of bad weather now. It’s all about the wind. As long as it’s not blowing a gale it’s practically beach weather.
🇦🇶 Gerlache Strait, Neumeyer Channel, Paradise Bay & Leith Cove, Antarctica
Stayed at: On board the G Expedition