From Ushuaia, Argentina to the Antarctic on the Anne-Margaretha
27 January 2015: South to Enterprise Island!
Leaving Deception Island
The generator woke us at 4am as the crew started to retrieve the two anchors which had held us securely in Telefon Bay when it was blowing and snowing. Our little world was transformed by the snow. The night before it was stark black and white, snow on volcanic ash. This morning the black had all but disappeared and a new mantle of snow covered everything including our decks.
It was a long slow process retrieving hundreds of feet of chain and two heavy anchors. The dinghy had been hauled aboard the night before. By 6 am we were well on our way, motoring on a nearly flat calm sea. On the way out of Port Foster we were treated to a beautiful sunrise, a bonus for doing the 4 till 8 watch. Outside Port Foster the swell became more apparent and we rocked and rolled and twisted to the rhythm of the sea. Everyone had their sea legs now so all were up and about, some breakfasting, some taking photos and some just enjoying the morning. The sunrise had been quite beautiful, glowing red and gold against the white of the snow and the white of the clouds, a splash of colour in an otherwise black and white world.
On iceberg watch in the early morning
We were on the 4 till 8 watch so were on duty. Heinz set the auto pilot so there was no helming to do. Our job was to watch for icebergs and bergy bits. Bergy bits are bits that have broken off large icebergs. Just a little shows above the surface but there is a lot more underneath so they can pack quite a punch if you hit them. There are also things called growlers, which are iceberg remnants which float just below the surface, hard to spot and equally dangerous. There were two channels south, one each side of Isla Trinidad. The channel to the east of the island was shallower and full of icebergs that had grounded. The channel to the west between Isla Trinidad and Isla Hoseason was deeper so this was the one we took. Both lead into Gerlache Strait which was our route south.
There was an abundance of wildlife around and early into our passage we were visited by a large humpback whale. It surfaced on our port side, hovered long enough to be admired then down went the head, the back arched into the tell-tale hump, up came the tail and down it went. A few minutes later it blew behind us then surfaced again on our starboard side. A real show off. This was the first of many whales we spotted today. We also saw seals porpoising through the waves and many seabirds including fulmars and Antarctic terns. Both Antarctic and Arctic terns travel the furthest of any birds, from south to north and vice versa.
As we entered Gerlache Strait the wind started to increase. We left the big swells behind us and instead had 30 knots of icy wind coming over the port quarter and hurrying us south. Heinz was anxious for us to get to our anchorage in daylight as we were going to moor up to the wreck of an old whaling ship. We took turns on iceberg watch as we hurtled south.
It was bitter out on deck and 6 layers of clothing, including two layers of long sleeved thermals, a double thick fleece sweater, a puffa vest, a long sleeved puffa jacket and a goretex jacket, two pairs of gloves, a woollen hat, a fleece blalaclava over it, a puffa hood and a goretex hood and a scarf, thermal long johns topped with trousers and goretex wateproofs; three pairs of thermal socks, rubber boots, topped off with a life jacket just about kept the cold at bay and Pirelli woman was ready for work. It took a good twenty minutes to kit up ready to head outside.
Henrike cooked up delicious gnocci with tomato sauce to keep us warm and we took it in turns to head into the wheelhouse for food.
It was dusk and the wind had thankfully eased when we arrived at Enterprise Island. Next to the wreck we were to moor to, were two tall masts, signifying another vessel. Sam and Henrike set off in the dinghy and returned to tell us that the folk aboard were happy for us to moor alongside them for the night. It was a tricky manoeuvre getting alongside but Heinz demonstrated how at one with he is with Anne-Margaretha and with a bit of help from the bow thruster we were soon snugged in for the night. No anchor watches required so a few beers and wines were gladly consumed and we all retired to bed.
Near a whalers wreck
We woke next morning to the hum of the generator starting up and the delicious smell of coffee. The boat we were moored to wanted to leave so our crew manned the mooring lines and our neighbour slipped out leaving us free to moor to the wreck. Thomas demonstrated his mountain goat abilities, scaling the bow of the rusty hulk to fix the lines. His reward was finding a tern’s nest with no eggs but chicks instead. He will no doubt make a return journey to take some photos.
Heinz had an outing planned for the day so after breakfast the crew got to work pumping up the second dinghy and retrieving the outboard engine from the depths of the bilges. Since we were not at anchor there was no need to leave anyone on board. We clambered, hampered by all our clobber, cameras included, into the two dinghies and set off to explore this stunning amphitheatre of snow and ice. We were surrounded by mountains of snow and protected at the entrance to the anchorage by three large, grounded icebergs.
A dinghy tour
First stop was at a rocky headland where we clambered out of the dinghies onto the rocks and climbed up to where two more wrecks rested. The wreck we were moored to was of steel, these two were constructed of wood. They were apparently the boats used to gather ice from the glaciers to provide water for the boilers for processing the whale blubber. Behind us was a hill of snow which Heinz encouraged us to climb provided we went straight up and did not divert too far from the middle. The snow was soft enough to get a reasonable footing so up we all went, with the younger and stronger gallantly assisting the oldies. From the top the view was fantastic, snow and ice as far as the eye could see. We just had a glimpse of the masts of our home tucked in behind the wreck.
The easiest way of getting back down our snowy cliff was to sit and slide, the easy way out for those of us not so sure of our footing, or wearing boots with slippery soles. We headed off in the dinghies again around to the next bay where there were icebergs of very old ice, compressed by the weight of years of snow upon snow, and eroded by years of wave action. The old ice was deep turquoise blue and nearly completely clear. It looked like glass. Some of the icebergs, not quite so old were a beautiful shade of soft, pastel blue and the younger ones were white. The underwater sections glowed bright turquoise. They came in all shapes and sizes from tiny growlers to great big bergs.
Along the cliffs of snow, huge cracks left sizeable sections of the cliff hanging in suspense about to break away and crash down. Some of the cliffs had clear horizontal demarcation lines along the walls, where layers of snow had compressed and fresh snow had laid down on top. One particular example had layers of dirty yellow snow and ice, interspersed with clean white. Wonder what caused that?
More and more pictures…
We saw two separate lone penguins, a number of fur seals and many birds with flocks of Antarctic terns wheeling around in the sky. Away in the distance there were whales blowing and on two separate occasions, humpbacks were seen breaching. A breach is where the whale comes completely out of the water and is momentarily suspended horizontally in the air before crashing back into the sea. The humpbacks are the only whales which display this kind of behaviour, so are easily identifiable.
It’s cold outsite…
Taking photos on these outings was quite a mission. Most of us wore gloves inside our mittens so it was off with the outer mittens, fumble around with cold fingers encased in gloves, or frozen fingers in fingerless gloves, to get the camera out, switched on, focussed on the subject, the dinghy moving in the slight chop, everyone around you trying to do likewise and getting between camera and subject, picture taken, camera tucked away to keep warm, gloves quickly pulled back on to warm the fingers, then something else catches the eye and you go through the whole procedure again. There was so much to see and record it was hard to know where to stop. The cold finally got us and we headed back to the mother ship where the layers were peeled off and set out to dry and dry warm clothes were dug out of lockers and gratefully donned. Hot soup followed by scrambled egg and homemade bread was the order of the day, then everyone set to, to sort photographs, write up diaries, complete sketches, attempt watercolours out in the snow (always a tricky one!), collect pure iceberg ice for an evening drink and another day drew slowly to its conclusion, to the enticing smell of meatballs simmering on the stove.
Tomorrow we’re off to visit some penguin rookeries so there will be more to report. Watch this space!