The lousy weather of two days ago messed up our itinerary bigtime, but everything worked out great in the end. The original plan called for us to land at Whaler’s Bay on Deception Island on Friday morning, then head north to Half Moon Island to see the chinstrap penguins in the afternoon. From there we would head through the Antarctic Sound and visit a colony of Adélie penguins at Paulet Island on Saturday morning, in the afternoon visit Brown Bluff and make a true continental landing.
But the snowstorm and high winds on Friday stranded us at Deception Island for most of Friday. The captain had to cancel the Half Moon Island visit, and then had to cancel the Paulet Island visit, but we still held out hope we could at least visit Brown Bluff.
But then when we entered the Antarctic Sound yesterday morning (right around the time I was visiting the bridge), the winds kicked up ferociously. The expedition leader later showed us a visual of the Beaufort Scale and pointed to the worst possible category—hurricane force—and said that that’s what we experienced. Trees would have been flying, he said (if Antarctica actually had trees). Certainly not a situation where you’d want to be putting passengers in Zodiacs.
So the captain turned the ship around and canceled the Brown Bluff landing. But, as the expedition leader told us early in the trip, there’s always a Plan B, C, D, E, and F. So a decision was made to try for Half Moon Island, the stop we had scuttled a day earlier. And, oh man, did that ever turn out well.
The weather cleared, the scenery was gorgeous, and we finally got into Zodiacs again and headed over to shore.
On shore we saw chinstrap penguins in huge numbers, presenting so many photo opportunities it was hard to know where to start. Some of them were close enough that I could zoom in with my rented 80-400 lens and get some head shots:
Quite a few of them had chicks with them, and I filled several memory cards with shots of them. Here’s just one example:
Down on the beach, there were seven—seven!—Weddell seals lying around. Unfortunately every single one of them had its back to us. So I don’t have any photos worth sharing with you. But some of the other Penn State passengers waited around with the seals a while and managed to get some shots where you can see the seal’s face. I hope to share those with you at some point.
There also were a number of birds flying overhead at times, so I could work on my birds-in-flight shots. I photographed brown skuas, Arctic terns (or possibly Antarctic terns—they have both kinds down here and I can’t tell them apart), kelp gulls, Wilson’s storm petrels, and this guy, who I think is a southern giant petrel:
Everyone came back to the ship very happy with the experience at Half Moon Island.
So, in the end, we were supposed to have seven different landings down here, and we got only five. But that’s Antarctica for you. And that last landing couldn’t have been a better note to end on.
Now we’re back on the Drake Passage, headed north to Ushuaia. We’ll get there sometime Monday. From there, many in the group will go off on the optional extension to Iguazu Falls, while others of us will begin the journey home.