Voyage to Antarctica
Half Moon Island
Antarctica: The Unknown Continent
Explorer: Ship and Crew
The Drake Passage
Gourdin Island
Esperanza Base
Into the Weddell Sea
Snow Hill Island
Devil Island
View Point
Half Moon Island
Aitcho Island
Christmas on the Drake
Cape Horn and End of Voyage

December 24, 2004

Curious chinstrap penguin (click photo for enlargement)

During the night we crossed the Bransfield Strait to the South Shetland Islands.  Here we would have a Christmas present from G.A.P. of an extra day of landings before the dreaded crossing of the Drake’s Passage on our return home. 


Our morning stop was at Half Moon Island, so-named because of its crescent shape. This is a favorite stop for Antarctic tours, as much for its picturesque scenery as for the large, noisy rookery of chinstrap penguins.  Small rocky turrets crown the ridge atop the island, providing a favored location for a few lucky chinstraps. Other chinstraps clustered their nests on the slope below, keeping up a constant squawking as they warned off intruders or welcomed their kin. Some nesting birds had tiny chicks tucked beneath them, but most were still incubating. The ever-watchful skuas circled overhead, and I saw one skua finishing off an egg not far from the rookery.


Having seen enough of penguins, I decided to follow the trail that led along the ridge to the right.  The snow was deep, and I had to step carefully to avoid sinking in above my boots, but I plodded on, intrigued by several brown shapes sticking out of the snow down by the bay.  I could not determine whether they were rocks or seals, but I finally saw one shape spread its wings and knew that at least some of them were birds – probably skuas. As I approached my binoculars revealed most of the other shapes to be rocks, but at least one was very questionable.  A Swiss couple was right behind me, and I saw they had better binoculars. 


“Are those seals or rocks, I asked?”


“ Do you want to see seals?” asked the Swiss gentleman. Tracks in the snow indicated that he had already been down the ridge.  “Those are rocks, but I’ll show you seals.” 


He broke a trail through the snow, and as we crested a hilltop I saw five Weddell seals lying on the shore to the right, while one more lazed on the opposite side, camouflaged amid the brown rocks.


As we trudged back to the main group we found that a furious snowball battle had broken out between the younger passengers and expedition staff. No one could approach the crest of the ridge without a pelting, but with the penguins hunkering down to protect their territory from these raucous oversize invaders, it was time for us to move on.


Our buffet lunch that day was a feast. The kitchen was outdoing itself with Christmas bounty.  Maitre d’ hotel Olaf was carving generous slices of roast turkey while farther down the line we found tender beef filet, as well as delicious entrees for the few vegetarians among us. Any calories we had lost in our escapades on Half-Moon were replaced several times over.

Continued on next page

Text and photos by Carol Holtzman Cespedes, Ph.D.
Carleton College, Class of 1961

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