We had been on the ship for two weeks, had visited the Falklands, had crossed the Antarctic Convergence and visited South Georgia, after which we had seen always more icebergs before and after a brief visit to Point Wild. Today, we would finally reach our destination: Antarctica, and excitement on the ship was almost tangible. Except for a few of us who had already set foot on the White Continent, this would be a novelty. At the same time, we were curious what we would see - would Antarctica match our imagination? For a few hours, we had been on deck, watching mostly tabular icebergs, flat-topped monsters of ice floating in the sea - or where they grounded? With all the enormous amounts of ice visible above the water, it was sometimes hard to imagine that most of the ice was actually under the water. We were supposed to make a landing at Brown Bluff, and as we sailed into the Antarctic Sound, we finally got a glimpse of the continent itself. Enormous glaciers were running down between mountain peaks, and all we could see was white, white, white, with here and there some rocks. On smaller icebergs, we could see groups of penguins; after the abundance of wildlife in South Georgia, the amount of animals here was noticeably less. Just as we approached the continent and were getting ready to jump into the zodiacs, the winds picked up. Seriously picked up. Within a matter of half an hour, the weather changed from being benign, serene, and friendly, to a brutal hurricane that was lashing out at our ship and all those of us foolish enough to be out on deck.
I sometimes had to grab on to the ship to make sure I stayed on it; while the ship was spinning around. The storm was raging around the ship, and to my amazement, the penguins on an iceberg nearby managed to stay on it - I would have expected them to be blown right into the sea. There was a sound I had never heard before: as if someone was shaking a huge container with wooden sticks. It was the storm blowing away the waves, which were not even very high. A constant spray was being hurled into the air, where it dispersed by the same stormy wind that blew it off the sea surface in the first place. Making a landing on the continent was out of the question now; I was exhilarated by this show of the sheer force of nature. Antarctica is the windiest continent on Earth, well, we were getting the idea. The maximum speed recorded that day was 96 knots, well over 170km/h; combined with a temperature of -4C that made for a chilling experience indeed! The katabatic winds were relentlessly hammering the icebergs and everything on it, our ship and everyone on it; our ship had started to list and at one point was well over a 20 degree angle. One passenger was simply blown off the staircase, and got away with bruises - for safety reasons, those of us still outside were summoned in. It was useless to stay, and we slowly sailed across to the other side of the sound. More icebergs, more glaciers, but the wind was remarkably less here. After a while, we made our way back into the Antarctic Sound, and while still freezing, the weather was improving. So much so, that when we arrived closer to the other side again, it was rather calm, and we slowly navigated around some massive icebergs. The bow was open again, the sun was out, and we all thankfully went down for fantastic views of the ice surrounding us in all kinds of shades of blue. One iceberg had partly capsized; deep tunnels had been carved out of one side by the sea. The others were rectangular tabular icebergs, and being close to them made it easier to appreciate their size. With the clearing of the weather, the landscape on Antarctica was now finally visible; we could see snow being blown off the glaciers, under mountains covered in thick layers of snow.
The weather continued to calm down during dinner, and when we got out afterwards, we were in for a big treat that made us forget the disappointment for not having been able to get ashore earlier that afternoon. The sun was setting over Antarctica, with tubular clouds in the sky above the white landscape, and the scene was just unforgettable. Streaks of orange, pink and grey in the sky above and around the snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and icebergs were of a beauty I had never seen before. At this time of year, sunset was extremely slow, while the winds in the sky were moving around the clouds, constantly rearranging them. Even long after the sun had set, the sky still showed colours while some stars started to be visible. I decided to stay up until sunrise which was only a couple of hours away anyway; night never really set, and after a while, long before the sun was supposed to appear again, pinkish colours returned to the clouds and another long day in the Antarctic Sound was about to start. No matter how long it took, seeing the changing colours, the increasing brightness of the sky, and eventually, the appearance of the sun almost in the same spot where it had set was not less spectacular than the sunset we had seen just a few hours before. At the other side, dark clouds were gathering above the sea, contrasting nicely with the icebergs. That day, we would finally manage our landing on the continent under perfect conditions; but when we wanted to visit the Argentinian Esperanza base, the weather had already made a turn for the worse, making the landing impossible. Instead, we cruised through the Antarctic Sound, allowing us fantastic views of more icebergs and the inhospitable landscape of the continent and its surrounding islands. As the top of the icebergs were only a minor part of the entire thing, we had seen only a tiny bit of a vast continent that we already had to say goodbye to now.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Antarctic Sound (Antarctica). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Antarctic Sound.
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