It is 0620 here. We put our clocks forward an hour last night so, while we are anchored just meters off the Antarctic Peninsula at 56 degrees 52″ west, we are now on South Georgia time.
The sun is rising over the hills to our east (which I think are on Dundee Island) and Venus is hanging low and bright in the sky. I just tried to take a picture but the long exposure needed in the early dawn combined with the motion of the boat herself make for a squiggle of light rather than the single point one can see.
I’m up early after a two hour anchor watch, mostly spent discussing the joys of remote travel in British Columbia and the Pacific North West. We’ve had two anchors down in the gravel of the bay and despite some strong katabatic gusts (36 knots or so) have stayed put the night through.
Several of us are experiencing moments of unreality about where we actually are: you look at pictures of seals and icebergs and sas, ‘hey! that’s Antarctica!” before remembering that you took it yourself an hour ago. Beautiful photos are emerging of sunsets and icebergs, whales, and the leopard seal we saw sunning herself on an ice-floe yesterday afternoon.
Friday was an interesting, mixed day. The morning saw us visit the Argentine base at Esperanza, in Hope Bay, our first steps on the continent itself. Even the names epitomise some of the complexities and shelved conflicts of the area. There are 14 children set to overwinter at this heavily Navy station which is a bunch of ugly orange huts set amongst grandiose mountains, the walkways patrolled by gentoo penguins. It contains the small stone hut in which three men of the Nordenskiold Expedition overwintered in 1901. (More on that extraordinary story another time.)
In the afternoon we came here to Brown Bluff Bay, constructed of great pillow lava extrusions. These look like current buns, the chunks of black lava embedded in a strange brown composite made from compressed ash mixed with other fall out. These were formed when a volcano erupted under the ice, putting enormous pressure on the lava flows before they reached the surface.
A group of us walked up and along the ridge. (For those of you in the UK, think of Striding Edge, with loose scree, snow and gusts of 35 knot winds, in -2 degrees.) We slid and slipped down the scree slopes to the moraine at the glacier’s edge to pick our way carefully to the sea.
The anchors are coming up now. We are heading into the Weddell Sea proper today, hoping to get through the pack ice to Devil’s Island, a small twin-peaked islet off Vega Island.