The ship pulled in to Cierva Cove around 5a this morning, and Ted made the wake-up call at 6a. Unfortunately, even at 6a the winds were still blowing at 25 knots – more than what a landing or zodiac cruising could tolerate. Ted delays the 7:30 landing by 30 minutes, but by 6:20a he’s scratched the morning landing entirely. (We’ll be back by this way on Friday; our course is to travel south along the west side of the peninsula then return north and begin our at-sea days Sunday night.) Instead, we haul anchor and head to our afternoon spot early: Cuverville Island. Cuverville is a dinky island, much smaller than its name on any map, and in a protected bay; we’re hopeful we won’t be blown out of this landing. The relocation takes us until 11:30a.
Along the way we pick back up on the lecture track from the other day, with a photo critique at 9a. Tom Murphy and Rod Planck look through about 45 photos, submitted from passengers, and critique each. I’d submitted one photo, of St. Andrew’s Bay, and the comments are useful: the hills in the distance are too crowded on the left – give more open ocean horizon for them. The lower third of the frame is dirt and grass from my feet, which isn’t interesting. Walk forward 20 feet and aim the camera lower to remove it. The mountains and the sky aren’t interesting, either, and aiming lower will help that, too. There stream going through the photo is doing something interesting on the left – pan left to show more of what it’s doing. Advice from other photos: don’t crowd key elements near the edge. Don’t have bright blobs, or black blobs, in the background as these are distracting to the viewer. Don’t just barely cut a penguin flipper or other key item in a photo – either entirely crop it out of frame, or include it and with some margin. I was happy with the commentary; I’d submitted a photo I liked but knew needed something more, so the comments were useful. This wasn’t a photo contest, so no need to find my very best photo. One other point made was that, although one can edit photos with Photoshop, to clone out bad bits or to crop more elegantly, one is better served by creating better photos in the camera than subsequently. One can start with only so many pixels in the camera; if one crops in Photoshop one loses total pixels. Tom and Rod don’t have a no-Photoshop dogma, but “get the best image to begin with” is a good bit of advice. It makes me wish I did have a tripod on this trip, if only to be more deliberate with composing photos.
The winds did die down to about zero when we reached Cuverville Island, and we made a successful anchorage. The bridge was filled with passengers as we arrived – we’re all awake and ready for a landing (only our second landing in, like, five days). Lunch is at noon, and Ted announces that zodiacs will begin running at 1:30. I’m glad to hear this information, as I was beginning to wonder if people would suit up and be standing on deck waiting for zodiac launch before eating. So we do eat a well-paced meal.
The weather and scenery finally are what Antarctica ought to have: the island and the neighboring island that makes this protected cove are rocks a few hundred feet tall and covered with snow, ice, and glaciers. It’s snowing lightly outside; the air temperature is just about 32F. The water has very small swell, and ice bergs are scattered about. Some bits are tiny, and others have weathered months or years in the water, wearing down into interesting grooves, scallops, and arches. Much of the ice is bluish white, but some parts show a deep, vibrant cobalt blue. The parts of the ice just below the water are bluish green – a color Melinda and I would very much like to have as a transparent color in borosilicate glass. The cloud level is at about the top of Cuverville Island, and there’s no direct sun to be seen. It certainly feels like we’re in Antarctica.
Melinda and I dress appropriately. We’re wearing the base layers, top and bottom, mid-layers (eg, thermal pants, turtleneck shirt, and fleece top), and outer wind- and water-proof layers. Melinda’s wearing two pairs of wool socks (and will don a third if there’s another outing tonight), I’m wearing one, and we both have hats and gloves. We plan to zodiac cruise at this site, rather than land, because the site has only a Gentoo colony easily accessible, and we’ve seen Gentoos before. But the protocol for the zodiacs is that first, everyone lands, then, the cruisers get back on boats and go out. So we do step on the island for a few moments. There’s a big group of us who want to cruise – the cruising at Paulet was in 2m swell, and many people haven’t gone at all. But Melinda and I do manage to be on an early zodiac for cruising.
At this site the main goals for cruising are to see icebergs in the water and maybe see a seal on a floating bit of ice. We head to one nearby berg and shoot a bunch of nice deep blue color on the ice. I discover that my gear is not well suited for cruising in light snow, as we have presently. The strap on my camera doesn’t reach around my life vest easily, and moving the camera between the dry bag and it being in use is fussy. With the light snow on the camera, the lens smeared when I try to dry it, and it just being a bit wet overall I soon do give up taking photos. The scenery is nice, though. The second berg we see is pretty big – about the size of a diesel locomotive – and while we’re about 20 feet from it, it rolls 90 degrees to the side, exposing what was previously on the bottom. Being that close to a locomotive as it rolls over is every bit as impressive as you ought to think it is. No one shot video, but we were close enough that it wouldn’t have shown much. It didn’t produce much wake is it rolled, either, which is good considering our distance. We motored on to other bergs, took some photos, and then heard over the radio about a leopard seal on a berg. We quickly headed there and found what was promised: a leopard seal resting on a bit of floating ice. We photograph it, including when it yawns to show its menacing teeth, and I’m content with my handful of photos. There’s another zodiac here, and we float with the ice for about 20 minutes watching the leopard seal do approximately nothing. I’m not sure why we spent that long, but a few people took photos the entire time. I guess, if it were an Emperor penguin, I’d have shot more exposures, but I’ll admit I was a bit bored near the end. The seal wasn’t doing anything, just lying there and occasionally yawning. Dunno. I guess I wouldn’t have been so bored had my camera not been wet with a smeared lens filter at this point, either. Oh, well. We finished our route by rounding the island, past a shag colony, and back to the landing site. The zodiac was refilled with new cruisers, and Melinda and I hopped out to check out the scene.
I’m ready to head back to the ship, but the next zodiac isn’t ready to leave yet, so Melinda and I walk around a bit. We visit a group of Gentoos nearby, and we watch one penguin of a pair steal rocks from a nearby nest, despite the protestation from that nest’s penguin, and deliver them to his partner in his nest. We watch this cycle three or four times before we have to leave; I do shoot a brief video of one cycle. (The video also shows how the penguins eliminate waste – with a substantial amount of pressure. Watch for it on YouTube in the coming weeks…) A zodiac shows up pretty quickly and we head back to the ship.
Back aboard ship we refresh our gear, and I walk about a bit to check out the scenery. I find cookies in the lounge, and I buy a neck cozy for Melinda. I think about my gear a bit and how to keep it dry in the snow. We’re going back out after dinner, so I’d like to find a way to carry less.
At 6:30p dinner starts, and we depart Cuverville, heading for our after-dinner landing at Neko Harbor. Neko Harbor, we find out when we arrive around 7:30, is completely protected; the water surface is glassy and mirror-like, and the water is littered with tiny bits of ice. It’s like we’ve sailed onto a lake. The place is surrounded by tall rock hills and glaciers, including a tidewater glacier adjacent to our landing site. I shoot some photos of the icebergs as we cruise by because it’s easy to see their extent beneath the water’s surface. I suit up and try an idea for the camera: a shorter strap so the camera stays within my jacket while it’s around my head and shoulder. I take only the wide lens, not the zoom, and with this configuration I can ditch the dry bag entirely. This setup ends up working very well on this landing; I think I’ll stick with this plan (but, maybe taking the long lens rather than the zoom).
Neko Harbor is significant because it’s our only continental landing on the peninsula. (Brown Bluff was the other intended landing but we scratched it a few days ago on account of the wind.) Naturally, then, Melinda and I elect to land rather than zodiac cruise this evening. We’re among the first two zodiacs to make the landing, and we get our picture taken at several locations, with glaciers, penguins, and ice in the background. It’s also snowing lightly around us. Finally, a place that looks and feels like Antarctica. 8) The landing site is rather small, with Gentoo colonies around us and a glacier that we’re warned may calve and produce a tsunami. We all have a good laugh at the thought and carefully pick our away along the beach and up the rocky slope, toward the good views and the glacier.
Not more than 10 minutes after we’ve landed and started to walk, we hear thunder in the distance. We look up and see mist moving up and many cubic yards of glacier ice moving down into the water. Cheesemans have landed here 20 times, and this calving event is the first they’ve actually seen. Jim, on staff, yells out to everyone to move up on the beach – this is exactly the thing we’d just been warned about. And sure enough there is a small tsunami from the calving. We watch as the wavefront moves toward us; the water at the shore recedes by a few meters then rushes back in as a wall of water, about 14 inches tall. At the sound of the thunder the Gentoos along the shore scramble; they’re clearly running, not just ambling away from a noise. And with good reason, too; the water extends up the beach by a yard or two, covering where many of them were lounging. Of course, they can swim, so it’s not a big deal, but maybe just scary. Pretty awesome, though.
Melinda and I head up from the beach and on to a snowy hill, at the top of which we’re promised good vistas of our surrounds. Our boots work just as well in the snow as they have in the water, mud, guano, shale, and sand. At the top of the hill we find a handful of other passengers, and we’re all just a little giddy to be on Antarctica. We exchange taking each other’s pictures, and I check the GPS: we’re at 64 deg 50.723’ S by 62 deg. 31.633’ W, and it’s 9:20p local time. It’s still snowing lightly; Antarctic snowflakes (and snow) tastes just like northern hemisphere snowflakes and snow. We admire the view a bit more and head back to the landing site. It’s a short excursion tonight; land zodiac back is at 10p.
I end up taking a zodiac ahead of Melinda back to the ship; it had room for just one person and I have more things to untangle when back on ship than Melinda. When Melinda’s zodiac arrives, though, ice has moved in around the ship. It seems that the water moves very slowly in the harbor but brings with it all the big ice. The staff moves the ice using the zodiacs: they just idle up to the ice then push it with throttle. Seems pretty effective. Hugh, Edward, and others herd several big bergs around, including one with what could be a swimming pool, and the gangway can be lowered safely again.
We’re here at Neko tonight and for a _before_ breakfast landing tomorrow. We plan to make the landing tomorrow as well, but we may end up sleeping it, just because of the hour. It’s 11:30p and still light out; I expect it won’t get fully dark, well, at all tonight. But we’ll get some sleep in nonetheless. It’s pleasant to be on the ship and have it not rocking back and forth.