When some ships are on their way to Antarctica they take two full days to cross the Drake whilst other fleet ships like Fram tear across the Drake in a day and a half and manage their first landing on the afternoon of the second day. It is a big deal. An extra half day in Antarctica? A half day less on the Drake? Put them together and what do you have? Wh-o-o-o - H-o-o-o! That’s what!
And that’s just what we did this time and that’s pretty much what we do every time. Less time on the Drake also means we have a little less time to prepare everyone for their Antarctic adventure. We have less time but we still have enough time. It means that we keep everyone hopping on the 2nd sea day because the 2nd sea day is also the 1st day of landings. In order to prepare everyone we held mandatory IAATO and Polar Cirkel boat briefings in the morning. By the end of the morning everyone knew exactly how operations were going to go in order to conduct our ship based Antarctic tourism in a safe and responsible fashion. Safe for us and safe and responsible for the environment.
We were due to enter Nelson Strait at approx. 12:00. Nelson Strait is one of the gateways to the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. It is also a well known place for whales to gather in the summer. We had been enveloped in a heavy shroud of fog all morning long. Everyone wondered how it would affect the landing and would we be able to spot any whales in the dense fog?
Earlier this summer we had encountered heavy fog several times before in this same area. On several of those occasions the fog dissipated as we approached the South Shetlands. And just like several times before, as we approached Nelson Strait and the South Shetland Islands, the fog parted revealing the magnificent coastlines of Nelson and Robert Islands. And, sure enough, we spotted two massive Fin Whales as we were approaching the Strait.
By 14:45 we were at anchor just off of Half Moon Island under glorious blue skies and with very little wind. It couldn’t have been any better. Lots of people signed up for the hike we had on offer at Half Moon - so in order to expedite that, we sent all of the hikers on shore first. Approximately 120 people went on the hike. It took the hikers just over an hour to get to a lofty view point where they could see all the way around tiny Half Moon. I am told by several very enthusiastic hikers that the best part was “bum sliding” in the snow all the way back down a very long slope.
Meanwhile at the main landing site, everyone got a chance to see raucous Chinstrap Penguins. Most of the chicks have completely moulted out of their down, boasting their first real feathers. It was plain to see that very soon all of the penguins would be heading out to sea.
It is now 20:00 and we are making our way across the Bransfield Strait. It is the last large body of water we have to cross before arriving to the Antarctic Peninsula. We have a rather golden sunset to mark our first day in Antarctica.