Overnight we returned to Cierva Cove, a site that we scratched earlier on our Peninsula visit on account of the weather. This morning the seas were flat calm, and the sky held a low overcast cover. Our schedule from dinner last night only took us through mid-day today, but the plan is to cruise by zodiac for the morning. And that we did.
Ted suggested that anyone who wanted to cruise with their friends, or with other affinities, should group themselves before boarding a zodiac. Melinda and I decided we didn’t much care who we’d cruise with (not entirely true, but close enough), but we did want to cruise with a naturalist, not a photographer, so we’d hear interesting commentary on the wildlife. We spotted Jim Dantzenbaker as one of the drivers, so we chose to wait for his boat for our cruise. As it turned out so did Ann Nightingale, his partner, so we had company.
Jim ably piloted the zodiac on our cruise, running a bit more than three hours. We saw some penguins in the water and on ice flows, and we saw many ice bergs, ice flows, bergy bits, brash ice, and frozen water in other forms and with other names. The ice, and a couple of seals on ice, were the photographic highlights of the morning, and the excursion highlight was pushing the zodiac through brash ice in the cove. The cove was a thin soup of water and ice, some ice as small as ice cubes, some as large as the zodiac, and some the size of airplanes. The combination of tough Zodiac rubber and beefy engine let us push through the ice, albeit at a conservative pace rather than the open-water pace. Some of the better bergs, and at least one of the seals, was pretty far into the ice.
The skies cleared and became almost sunny, then clouded back up and dropped a few flakes of snow during our excursion. We returned to the ship about when the grey was moving back in – just in time, we thought. We knew that the afternoon was still an open question, and we were eager to hear Ted’s plan. Turns out, that plan was to continue cruising by zodiac in Cierva Cove for the rest of the day – back in the water at 2p and staying out until 7p. To be truthful, Melinda and I felt pretty saturated on zodiac cruising, and we thought for several minutes whether to go out again. We let the past of least regret guide us – we’d regret not going out should something amazing happen, and the cost of going out was pretty low. Plus, I got the notion that I’d find a boat that wanted to focus on looking at penguins, not more ice and more boring leopard seals.
After lunch we queued back up for the afternoon cruise. Lots of people were forming groups per preferences, to be with, or not with, certain people. (For example, two people on our morning cruise were terrible cruisers because they stood up in front of others and because they insisted on spending an inordinate amount of time at certain locations.) I wanted to be on a boat going to the Chinstrap colony island, but it turned out that most boats were doing that. Melinda and I ended up on the last boat from the ship, which proved good, because the other boat I wanted to be on had twice the people. Our boat, driven by Rod, first went to open water near the entrance to the cove in pursuit of whales. We found a couple of humpbacks and watched them surface and dive for a bit. At one point a whale swam beneath our flotilla of five zodiacs watching them; we could see the whale just a few feet below the surface of the water. We followed them for maybe 20 minutes and then visited the penguins on the island. The island is mostly Chinstraps and is our first mostly-Chinstrap island of the trip. We couldn’t land, but we saw plenty of penguins in the water and along shore. Chinstraps make a sort of honking or barking noise on occasion when in the water – I’m not sure if it’s an aggressive noise, or a friendly one, or what, but I hadn’t heard anything like that noise from the other species of penguins. One of the people on our zodiac wanted to see leopard seals (boring…) so we headed into the ice to find them. The ice is thicker in the cove than it was before lunch, mostly due to the wind and greater swell; it’s not frozen since then. We find a couple of seals far in to the cove and spend much too long watching them do approximately nothing while Nico took lots of photos. It began to snow around 5p, and by 6p the flakes were thick and heavy; I put my camera away because the precipitation was too great. We were back on board the ship by 6:45, but I was ready to go about 30 minutes earlier. I like watching the penguins; ice and seals aren’t very exciting for me. Seeing the humpbacks up close was neat.
After dinner Joan gave a quick talk on the history of Deception Island, which is our next destination. It appeared on maps beginning in 1822 and is notable because it’s a caldera of an active volcano. Being a caldera, the island is circular from the outside but because the caldera has a bit missing one can sail into the center and enjoy a very protected harbor. The volcano is active, though, with the last recorded eruption in 1969, when the eruption and subsequent mudslides destroyed a few of the research bases there. I don’t remember much else from Joan’s talk because it was late and I’m feeling a bit drowsy (plus, the heavy swell we’re in now causes one to feel tired).
So the plan tomorrow is to attempt a landing at Baily Head. It’s a favorite place for the Cheesemans and is home to about 100,000 breeding pairs of Chinstraps. But Baily Head is a challenging landing because the ocean swell breaks heavily on the beaches – even in light swell and calm seas the surf can be 10’. We’ll anchor off Baily Head tonight and decide in the morning if we’ll land there in the morning. If not in the morning we’ll land inside the caldera in the morning instead and attempt a Baily Head landing in the afternoon. Either way, we will get to visit inside the caldera, which, among other things, has an opportunity to splash around in geothermally heated waters. Melinda may try this treat, but I plan to only take pictures. The ship is rolling about three degrees in either direction (three degrees roll feels like much more than it sounds) so I need to stow a few bits of gear tonight, and, with a 6a wakeup call, I need to head to bed.