Day 3 - Marguerite Bay, Red Rock Ridge and Jenny Island: After a hearty breakfast on board the ship, we head back to our cabins and dress for our first landing on this journey in Antarctica. Now when you are dressing to head out in to snow and ice, it’s a very different process from home in Florida. First on the bottom is the regular socks, then long johns, then jeans then wool socks and the waterproof pants. We have special boots which, of course, are waterproof and very warm. Now you have to have your long johns go over the tops of your first layer of socks, but under the wool socks. And of course, your jeans are over your wool socks, but tucked into your boots. And lastly, your waterproof pants go OVER your boots. Got all that?
For the top, it’s insulated underwear, flannel shirt, sweater, inner jacket for warmth, and outer, waterproof jacket topped off by a good scarf, gloves, wool cap and hood of your waterproof jacket. Notice, there are a lot of “waterproofs” in that description—and for a good reason!
The only way to get to land is by zodiac - basically a big rubber tube with an engine on the back that bounces through the water between the ship and the shore. The captain and head of the exploration staff make the decision each day as to where we will be going. That all depends on weather, rain, snow, ice flows, and wildlife, so you don’t know where you are headed until almost the time you get there. But at any rate, NONE of the places we are headed have a dock - or buildings, roads, or anything else. It’s truly in the wilderness. If we are lucky, there might be a stony beach we can land on. Or it might be a 12-foot-high snowbank (in which case the Exploration Staff gets out the snow shovels and cuts a path or steps into the bank.
The Exploration Staff is off into the Zodiacs early, first to find a good landing zone and prepare it and then to take provisions from the ship to shore. This is in case we land there, go off exploring, the weather changes and we find we CAN’T get back to the ship. In this case it’s sleep in the tents and eat the food the Exploration Staff brought out to the landing zone and hopefully we can get back to the ship tomorrow. Don’t worry, it doesn’t happen very often (but it’s good to know they are prepared just in case).
After we are dressed for the wilderness, we head down to the “base camp” - the area down on deck 3 where we load into the zodiacs. Today it’s snowing and windy as we head toward shore, but we are lucky to have a stony (and snowy) beach to land on. Now when I say “land”, I actually mean the front of the zodiac hits the stones. We then sit on the edge of the zodiac, swing our legs up over the side and step down into the water below—could be in a few inches of water or a foot and a half, all depending on the wave action at the moment.
Sounds like a lot of work, huh? But oh, is it ever worth it! Here we stand in what is truly the wilderness. The snow is falling and as we look around there are high, rocky mountains behind us, the bay waters filled with white and blue icebergs in front of us and thousands of Adelie Penguins just down the shore from us. So, we head toward the penguins, of course. The penguins are about twenty inches high and the first group we come across are just playing in the snow - some standing watching us, others waddling along together. So, they look like they are walking hand in hand and a couple are kissing. Others are scrambling about and when they really want to move quickly, they just flop down on their bellies and “toboggan” by pushing with their flappers. We could watch them for hours. Moving on down the beach through the snow, we head up the hill to a rockery where there are thousands of pairs of penguins sitting on the nests hatching (or getting ready to hatch) more penguins. It’s a great morning to be hiking through this area and we all feel blessed to be here.
After heading back to the ship for some lunch, the ship sails across the bay to Jenny Island for an afternoon landing. On this landing instead of Penguins, we see seals. Lots of very big elephant seals. After we land on a stony beach, we walk through the deep snow along the shoreline, coming across many of these giant mammals. The one group all piled up on the shoreline numbers about forty-five. At up to sixty-five hundred pounds for the male (bull) seals, that’s a lot of blubber.
These are southern elephant seals and are named after the large nose of the adult males, which is used to make loud roaring sounds, especially during the mating season which is right now. So, we are in a symphony of noise today. These guys are big and cumbersome on land but are superb swimmers and divers. Biologists have recorded them diving over a mile deep and holding their breath under water for up to 2 hours.
This evening, we are back on the ship for a delightful dinner with friends, after which we start pushing ice to see how far up into the bay we can go. About 9:30, the captain calls it quits and turns around, but all during this time we have been surrounded by beautiful scenery - mountains, sharp shorelines, icebergs, penguins, and an occasional whale.
It’s great scenery sailing back down the bay, which we can really enjoy since it stays light twenty-four hours a day at this time of the year.