While briefing about the next day program, our expedition leader announced that it would the most beautiful day in Antarctica. We will be crossing Lemaire Channel, one of the most beautiful places in Antarctica. It is 11km long and only 1600 meters wide between Antarctica peninsula and booth island. The expedition leader said that “It all depends on the weather. It will not be possible to cross if it is windy, less visibility or filled with sea ice.” He continued saying that “We make the plan and you guys manage the weather!!”. It was one of his hyperbole statements!! We slept in anticipation of a long but memorable day.
Crossing the channel
The wake up alarm sounded before 6 in the morning. Expedition leader announced that there could not be a better day!! The weather was at its best and we were all set to cross the channel. Hurriedly we jumped out our beds, pulled up all our clothes and rushed to the deck. It was very cold but it did not bother us. The ship was on the northern side of the channel and was moving towards it. The cape Renard or Una peaks (I called twin towers) marks the starts of the channel.
The ship was moving towards the channel. It was not clear whether the sea ice was blocking or not. We had to wait till the ship reached the narrowest part of the channel. In the meantime, we were fully enjoying the views outside. It was an amazing experience to be surrounded by towering peaks on both sides of that narrow channel. We were also very near to the glaciers.
As the ship started moving towards sea ice, we heard the ice breaker of the ship breaking the ice. I was very impressed to see the way the ice breaker did its job and the ship moving in such narrow channel. It definitely needs lot of experience from the captain and his team. As we were fully engrossed in the scenery, we heard a sound coming from the sea. They were killer whales or Orcas!! The apex predators as no animals can prey on them. The pod moved very quickly in the opposite direction with least botheration for the ship. It was the only instance of killer whale sighting in Antarctica.
Salpetriere Bay and Petermann island
It took little more than an hour for the ship to cross Lemaire Channel and then ship docked in an area (Port Charcot) surrounded by sea ice. The sea water was as still as a lake. The entire surrounding looked out of the world. Words are hard to describe the beauty. Camera does not do any justice at all. The scenery is many more times beautiful than seen in the photos.
The place was full of icebergs. We saw them in different shapes and form during our morning zodiac cruise at Salpetriere Bay. Some of them were bigger than multi-story buildings. They should be very huge considering that only 1/3rd of iceberg is outside water.
It was also the place where we saw many crab eater seals. As mentioned in the earlier post, crab eater seals do not eat carbs!! It was wrongly named by early finders.
While we were relaxing after lunch, expedition leader asked us to immediately get ready for landing to Petermann island. This was due to ice conditions around the ship. No one wants to get stranded in Lemaire channel!! So, there was a hurry in finishing the activities of the day. We were warned that captain could blow the horn anytime if he sees the conditions deteriorating and we have to rush back to the ship.
Petermann island was the southernmost point (65°10′S 64°10′W) of our trip. It is just 1° above Antarctic circle. Though it seems very small but it is still 100 km north of Antarctic circle!! Another important reason for visiting Petermann island was to see Adelie penguins. There are in millions in Antarctica but mostly concentrated in the southern part of Antarctica. Petermann island is the northern most area that they come for breeding.
After spending quality time in Petermann island, we were back in ship. We just made in time as the weather started deteriorating. The visibility was really bad by the time the ship crossed Lemaire channel. What a day!!