|Tabular iceberg in Antarctic Sound (click to enlarge)
On the morning of Dec. 23
we arose to the announcement that we would not land at Brandy Bay after all. Weather and ice conditions were simply too bad. Instead, we would proceed through the Antarctic Sound and possibly make an afternoon
landing on the peninsula itself. The morning passed quickly enough. We were all
in need of some down time, and after lunch I indulged in the luxury of a nap beneath the cozy quilts that covered our bunks.
After about half an hour I woke and looked out my cabin window to see a seal passing by on an iceberg. As I stirred myself
to take a closer look I saw there was a penguin too. It definitely called for a closer look.
|Blue iceberg in Antarctic Sound (click photo to enlarge)
Beyond the icebergs on both
sides of the channel were spectacular mountains, some in the perfect cone shape of recent volcanoes. Our ship pulled in towards the line of mountains on the left and found anchorage. This place was named View Point. It would be our landing for the day and our last chance to set foot on
the Antarctic mainland. View Point overlooks Duse Bay, named for Lt. Duse of
the Nordenskjold Expedition, who was one of the three castaways at Hope Point. The
trio discovered the bay in 1903 as they tried to make their way to the main encampment on Snow Hill Island.
|Explorer in icy Duse Bay (click photo to enlarge)
We were now on
a part of the peninsula claimed by Chile, and the Chilean government had provided a refuge hut, apparently for the use and
protection of explorers stranded here. Most of us climbed up the hill to the hut just to have a look, then followed a rough
track to the end of the ridge for a breathtaking view of the bay. A bitter wind made us shiver in our parkas, while above
us two gulls circled and dove in an aerial ballet. Out on the bay the pack ice
stretched, creeping perilously near to our little red ship. It seemed a good idea to head back, and some of us began to retreat
toward the boats. But Christmas was in the air, and there was plenty of snow - perfect snow, fluffy white snow, just right for rolling in and for…snowballs!
The young people
started it – the 13 and 15-year-old grandchildren of Lee and Lisa Shugart began pummeling each other with fistfuls of
the white stuff. Soon snowballs were flying all around, and the battle expanded until (as we were told) two zodiacs loaded
with snowballs ammunition pelted each other amid the icebergs. But that is a battle I only read about when our fellow passenger,
the young Dutchman Martijn, composed an epic poem on “The Battle of the Weddell Sea.”
the Bay of the Duse rode the elevenEyes hidden by shades, but displaying no fear
Past View Point they rode, dodging the growlers
Canonneers at the front, Captain Marc in the rear.
Zodiac steed filled with air and with purpose
Shielding the brave from the cold icy sea
Weapons of snow always held
at the ready
Waiting for action and the evil enemy
There, suddenly rounding the ice-covered headland
raft of Birdman Ken and his breed
Notorious pirates, scourge of the Antarctic
Brave Marc guns the engine and soon we're
In seconds the snowballs are thick in the air
Ken's band of pirates scream in fear and surprise
is impossible, every man-jack is hit
Trying to run only hastens their demise
Victory is total, the victors rejoice
enemy pirates dotted in white
Thus ends the notorious Weddell Sea battle
The good guys have won, and that's only right.
Martijn's weblog and photos: Hola Gringo
When we returned, the ship’s
company was setting up for a Christmas celebration. In the lounge, the Filipino cabin staff decorated a Christmas tree, and
a huge penguin in Santa Claus cap adorned the sideboard in the dining room. That
evening we had our Gala Christmas Dinner – served two days early because on Christmas Day we would be once more in the
merciless grip of the Drake Passage. Philipp, the Austrian chef outdid himself
with a six-course banquet that started with veal liver mousse, proceeded through lobster bisque, beef ragout, wild berry sorbet,
and grilled salmon, and ended with warm Black Forest cherries ragout on cinnamon ice.
After dinner we moved to
the lounge upstairs to watch Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro in Now Analyze This.
The movie was hilarious, but we didn’t see the end because we once more heard the call of a whale sighting. I ran for my parka and saw that the captain had again opened the bow area for closer
viewing. Our ship had slowed almost to a stop to observe the leviathan surfacing
and blowing just in front of the ship. It was a large humpback, and Chris, the
ship historian, noticed that it was displaying some unusual behavior, rising from the water and lunging down to get larger
mouthfuls of krill – something that is called lunge feeding. The ship’s
engines stopped, and we glided so close to the whale that we could hear the great whoosh of its breath. It was 11:30 PM, but still light enough to see details of the great animal as it surfaced just in front
of us - even to the knobs on the top of its head.