Since I was quite young, I have dreamed of getting to Antarctic, this mighty frozen continent that until recently was completely inaccessible to ordinary people.
In 2010, I visited the continent for the first time. In connection with my big trip around South America in 2016-17, I had the opportunity to visit Antarctica for the second time.
This is the story of the trip, which started with a passage from Cape Horn across the Drake Strait, the terror of all sailors, to the tip of the continent, The Antarctic Peninsula.
We are approaching the white continent
We had actually been given a whole sea day in view, but Drakestrædet has shown itself at its best, so already in the middle of the day 30 December 2016 we get a land survey of the white continent.
There is more and more land on both sides. We head towards Gerlachestrædet with Brabant Island on port and the large Anvers Island on starboard.
It is clear from the naming here that Adrian de Gerlache was here on his famous Belgica expedition in 1897-99, where they were stuck in the ice and became the first to experience an Antarctic winter.
The scenery is already very nice and the weather is absolutely perfect with high blue skies and sun. The ice glistens in shades of white and blue. It seems to me that there is more to it than the first time I was here, but maybe I remember wrong.
It takes a long time to walk around Anvers Island. We turn into Gerlachestrædet to the right, and I'm happy when the captain announces that we'll be going down the Neumayer Channel, the stage for the most beautiful travel day of my life in 2010.
The weather is just as good today so I'm looking forward to it. Already on the way in there are amazing icebergs. We see swimming penguins, humpback whales spraying and diving and leopard and crab-eating seals lying and sunbathing on ice flakes. All that Antarctica has to offer, even before we start!
The water is mirror-shiny, and the icebergs are reflected with a beauty that can only be found here. I have been in Greenland since last, and there is no doubt: Antarctica IS even more beautiful. I'm in love again with this white pristine continent.
We begin to glimpse the entrance to the Neumayer Channel. It will be an equally beautiful and breathtaking day as in 2010, and I stand in front of the bow almost with my head down in the water, scouting for ice and wildlife. Here are plenty.
We spot seals and whales and also swimming penguins. The mountain sides are evergreen due to copper deposits and the rocks are quite steep. The canal is also deep, several hundred meters, so there is no danger of bumping into the ground. It's a great experience again and I'm happy.
Out again we sail past the old English base Port Lockroy, which today serves as a tourist attraction and post office, and then we are in open water.
The captain wants out of the ice before nightfall, so we set course south of Anvers Island. It has been an amazing day with so much of what Antarctica has to offer and as he says, we were not even destined to be in Antarctica yet. We can only look forward to the next many days.
Next day is the last in 2016. We are at the American Palmer Station at 6.00. It is also a nice walk crossing the Gerlache Strait from west to east. Here are several humpback whales this morning that are both squirting and diving.
Entry into the mainland of Antarctica
Just before eight we are ready to sail into the Lemaire Channel, the southernmost we come on this trip. I have been looking forward to it, because right here we had bad weather last time I was here.
It is doubtful if we can get all the way through due to the ice, but the captain would like to try. I'm in place in the bow well in advance of the entrance to the narrow canal.
There are already starting to be high mountains on the port side, and the ice cover is getting thicker with both ice cubes and plate ice. There are seals - both leopard and crab-eating seals - sunbathing on several of the flakes, and we get several good pictures quite close.
Brown skua dives towards the water, and the wildlife is generally the best Antarctica has to offer. Penguins fly through the water like projectiles, Antarctic terns fly in the wind, and the sea lies still, while the black ice-clad mountains make perfect reflections in the clear water. It does not get any nicer anywhere on Earth.
Two jagged cliffs mark the entrance to Lemaire, which cuts off the Antarctic mainland from Booth Island. It is no problem to sail in, because the canal is up to 400 meters deep, reminiscent of a Scottish glen.
The problem is the ice. The last time we were here, an islavine went off right in front of the boat, and the steep cliff sides create unstable conditions, just as the canal tends to get packed with ice even in summer.
It looks closed further ahead, but on closer inspection we can get through. It's a breathtaking quiet morning and I'm enjoying it to the fullest and am happy.
Two kilometers before the end, however, we have to turn around, as large blocks of ice lie across, and although we think there is a passage to the left towards the peninsula, the captain obviously does not agree, because he turns Zaandam, and we sail the same way out. 65,10º was the southernmost we came on this trip.
On the way into the Lemaire Channel
Instead, we take a walk around beautiful glaciers north of the canal. The wildlife is still impressive. Penguin colonies dominate the cliff sides.
One can see the penguin tracks marked by red krill-colored fringes of feces, and bare spots reveal the penguins' nesting sites. Here are both chinstrap and donkey penguins.
We are now out in more open waters and despite the fact that there is undoubtedly still beautiful scenery, I go down to Mondrian Lounge and hear the second round of the lecture with the nine researchers and people from Palmer Station who have come on board this ship morning.
The head of the station, Bob Farlane, is a charismatic and good speaker who talks about life at the base and the American Antarctic program. The base is staffed all year round, but like other bases has the largest staffing in the summer.
The head of the labs, Josh, talks about science, and several young researchers and students talk about their projects. The chef and electrician are also on stage at the end. An interesting lecture, and the good researchers willingly answer good and bad questions from the audience.
The most beautiful travel day of my life
We sail up through Gerlache towards Paradise Harbor. On the way there is beautiful scenery with whales, seals and small ice floes floating calmly in the blue water. The most beautiful travel day of my life so far. And by now it says not so little.
We pass the disused Argentine base Almirante Brown, which was abandoned in 1984. The station doctor did not power another Antarctic winter and set fire to the station in desperate hopes of being evacuated.
The Argentines were in the first of many financial crises, but Americans from the nearby Palmer Station stepped in and evacuated. The staff reached Buenos Aires safely, and the good doctor had to go to a mental hospital. Antarctica's winter and darkness do things by people…
We enter Paradise Harbor with Ronge Island on port and the continent on starboard. This tranquil, sheltered natural harbor was a haven for whale and seal hunters and is considered one of the most beautiful in Antarctica. It is well understood this day.
Paradise Harbor also houses an interesting historical site, Waterboat Point, where one of history's most remarkable Antarctic adventures took place.
One had an expedition, but little money, so only four were sent away. The two got cold feet in more ways than one, but the two remaining, aged 19 and 24 and with no scientific experience, chose to stay and follow the penguins' annual cycle.
They built a primitive hut made of an inverted boat, hence the name of the place. Here they lived through an Antarctic winter and a whole year while studying the penguins.
Next year, the promised whaling boat came to pick them up, but the answer was whether or not they could just get 14 more days, because they were not quite through the penguin cycle!
They did, and the scientific results they were able to publish upon their return are among the most notable in Antarctic research.
The penguins have taken over
Then we pass a Chilean base, which is beautifully situated on a promontory in the sun. The place appears to be almost completely taken over by donkey penguins that are everywhere. Even they have surrounded the flagpole with the Chilean flag and are now standing and saluting in the sun in their beautiful suits.
Our last destination of the day is Cuverville Island with its large colony of donkey penguins - a place we also landed in 2010. However, it is clear that there is too much ice between us and the island, so we have to content ourselves with seeing it from a distance. Too bad, but that does not change on a perfect day.
On the way further up and out towards Gerlachestrædet we see several penguin colonies and diving whales. At seven o'clock, the day's scenic cruising ends, and it's high time too, because the New Year's menu is on the stairs.
We get ready, and at 20.15 we are in the Dining Room. We get a delicious menu consisting of salmon with caviar on potato, seafood salad, mango gazpacho, New Year's salad, surf and turf with filet mignon and lobster, chocolate decadence and chocolate cake without flour.
We sit for a long time at the table, and suddenly we see leaping whales aft. They are completely out of the water. What a show to end. We walk on the back deck and watch the sunset - it's 23.30pm and New Year's Eve.
It is magical we can follow the sun below the horizon, from south to east. Normally the sun will be in the north, but we are so far down that it runs completely elliptically skewed in relation to the horizon. It is a very beautiful New Year's Eve and quite different from anything one has seen before.
New year in Antarctica
Next day is the first day of the new year. I wake up a little at nine, am not asleep, but we have to get up, because we have sailed over to Deception Island on the other side of Gerlache.
Here we were also last late one evening, where we sailed all the way into the lagoon which is in the middle of the annular island, an ancient volcano. The island was popular with whalers and early scientists, and several countries had bases here at the same time.
It was at that time that there was great power politics in Antarctica, but scientists lived side by side and settled the island's affiliation with regular darts and football tournaments.
There are penguin colonies on the outside and we sail past the narrow opening into the lagoon. Another ship has made the trip, and next time I will with a smaller ship again.
We sailed up the South Shetland Islands and entered between Livingston Island on the port side and Greenwich Island on the starboard side. We are far away from the shore, I think, but we see more whales and swimming penguins.
Another ship is at Half Moon Island, where we were last. There are ok scenarios, but not like yesterday. On the other hand, we see many whales that are up to blow, including two humpback whales with their mouths open above the water.
Penguins also swim around in large numbers or sit on the ice flakes. The Brazilian station on Livingston Island is being rebuilt after a fire, and a cargo ship is unloading building materials via a small tender boat.
Further along the island we reach Half Moon Island, which was the first place I was ashore in Antarctica in 2010. The island is flat at the front and therefore favorable for the donkey penguins, which are found in thousands, probably 55000 pairs.
It's bitterly cold, but as we sail out of the strait again and up along Livingston Island I stop and spot whales. It's worth it because I get a lot of good pictures. But how cold it is.
The next morning is January 2nd, and at home people are going to work. Instead, we must cruise on along the best continent. We arrive at Hope Bay on the northern tip of the peninsula as early as six in the morning.
It's cold, but I get in my clothes and out on deck, where I immediately spot large penguin colonies on the shore. There is also the Argentine station Esperanza, which is not only a research station but also a mark of the Argentine presence.
Here are families with wives and children, and the first Antarctic child was born here in 2005. Since then, four others have followed, and Argentina trying to maintain their territorial claims by this demographic maneuver. Wondering if it's legal under the 1961 Antarctic Treaty?
We sail around a bit and here is nice. The captain has tried eight times before to get in and this is only the third time it succeeds, so we are lucky. At the same time, we are also on the extreme northern tip of the peninsula.
On the other side are the Weddell Sea and the far more impassable east coast, which is often completely covered in ice and has cost many good ships their lives.
Last stop on the trip
We will not go further down, but instead turn around and sail over towards our last stop on King George Island in South Shetlands. On the way out we see the largest tabular iceberg I have seen - very impressive.
Later in the day we sail into Admiralty Bay on King George Island. It's another breathtaking scenery, and the next four hours are spent in the bow with sun and quite pleasant temperature.
Admiralty Bay was also a popular spot among whalers and the wildlife is nice, although we do not see that many whales here. However, there are seals on several of the ice floes and a large glacier at the end, which we sail very close to.
The ice floes float calmly through the water, and again I feel this Antarctic calm. It is wonderful. Here are lots of birds, showers and terns, and of course penguins in the water.
And then we'm out in the open water again with King George Island on port. It's time to say goodbye to Antarctica after another glorious trip. We are now sailing fast north and I am taking the last pictures.
Antarctica is in my blood and I just dream of coming down here for the third time.
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