Saturday, February 19, 2011

Friday (2/18/11) Islands of the Antarctica Peninsula

We were up at 6 and dressed warmly (temps were to be around 32) so we could go outside and check out Elephant Island (which is part of the South Shetland Islands – located at about 57 degrees west longitude and 62 degrees south latitude).  If you look at the tv image of the island, it really does look like an elephant with a long trunk.

We checked in the night and didn’t see any icebergs and noticed that it was a bit foggy (oh no).  When we got up, still no icebergs and real serious fog.  Great.  At 6:50, we arrived on the north side of the island.  We could not see a thing except a few “bergy bits” (the term for fairly small iceberg pieces – the smallest are called “growlers”).  Bob is unhappy in this picture because of the fog.

We also saw some penguins swimming and “porpoising” – which means they jump out of water (which has less resistance and so hey can conserve energy).  
This island has historical significance relating to the story of Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to cross Antarctica back in 1914.  If you haven’t read or watched the story, you should, as it is an amazing story of man’s survival.  The synopsis of the story is that his ship (the Endurance) got trapped in ice in the Weddell Sea (just to our south east) and destroyed.  He had to abandon his quest and then worked on trying to survive.  He and his 27 men walked north across the ice sheet dragging three lifeboats until they reached water.  Then sailed north until they hit Elephant Island (they landed on the South side of the island after over 400 days of not walking on solid land).  They found that side was terrible and moved to the north side of the island.  They camped there.  Shackleton realized that they were not near any shipping lanes and really had no hope of survival.  He took five other men in one of the lifeboats (that they added some decking to try and seal it a bit)and sailed for 800 miles and hit the island of South Georgia which he knew had a whaling village.  They made it in their 30 foot life boat (which everyone still feels is one of the most amazing saling ever, considering the navigational skill it took to get there.  They only saw the sun 5 days during this time).  They landed on the wrong side of the island and had to climb over the mountains/glacier in the middle to make it to the north side and the whaling village.  Eventually Shackleton went back and rescued his men.  Every single man survived.  It was amazing. 
Anyway, we could not see the encampment site due to the fog.  The Smithsonian’s researcher was discussing the island and Shackleton’s adventure.  Eventually we rounded the east side of the island and the fog cleared and we could finally see the island.  It is very inhospitable (temps today were about 32 degrees and the wind was really blowing). 

Anyway, we could see the site of where they originally landed.  Pretty much it was just a big rock with tons of glaciers.   Notice in the second image, the blue ice is clearly visible.

There were lots of small ice bergs (one huge one was wandering by). 

Eventually we made it to the “Endurance Glacier” which was named after Shackleton’s ship.  It is HUGE.  We could see the blue ice (which is blue because it has been compressed so much that the trapped gas pockets have been squeezed out causing it to appear blue. 

Note - the tunnels that you can see in the glacier face are where water flows out from the glacier.
Overall, it was pretty cool to see.  After we passed the island, we were informed that we will proceed southwest by several large islands to the right of the ship.  On the left is the Antarctica peninsula.   We would then sail into the Gerlache Straight, eventually ending up in Paradise Bay.  Both of these are on the western side of the Antarctica Peninsula, between several bigger islands and the coastline.  We will hit the straight and the Bay tomorrow (Saturday) between 7am and noon.  After cruising around, we will head up through the Drake passage (more on that when we get there) to Cape Horn and Ushuaia, Argentina.

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