Ross Sea Antarctic Diary

Monday, 30th January 2006

We gathered from afar on an overcast morning at Princess No 2 Wharf in Hobart, to board our big, blue ship of adventure, Marina Svetaeva. What high excitement! Greeting new friends, exploring the ship, unpacking the robes that took months to pick and pack. We finally heard the blast of the horn as Marina’s lines were cast-off and we slipped neatly away from the dock. Figures on the shore became specs as we left behind a misty Mount Wellington and headed down the Derwent River, we were underway!

We slipped past the Iron Pot Lighthouse and out into Storm Bay. As we headed out into open ocean, we were accompanied by a flotilla of Southern Common Dolphins and squillions of Short-tailed Shearwaters. These amazing birds fly all the way to the Bering Sea to pass the Austral winter. It was glorious getting used to the gentle roll of Marina as she elegantly plunged into the benevolent afternoon waters south of Tasmania. Some took advantage of the peace to snooze and get used to the roll of the ship. Others continued to explore the ship and view the surrounding seas. The air bristled with seabirds; some very Shy Albatross and our first big Wanderer.

Tuesday, 31st January 2006

Who would have thought we were on a ship crossing the Southern Ocean bound for Antarctica? It felt like being on a bus or a train chugging across a desert in China. There was a very relaxed mood on board yesterday, with only a few down with ”mal-de-mer”. The overcast morning developed into a delightful sunny day with a few fluffy white clouds and a brilliant blue sea: just a small herd of white horses galloping across the swell.

The day passed pleasantly with much chatting, watching and learning. Out on deck it was possible to find a quiet posy to sun-bake out of the wind. Mind you there were also a few sleepy heads lying flat out on their bunks presumably dreaming about the adventures to come. There is an overwhelming sense of happy anticipation on board as we steam ever south.

Wednesday, 1st February 2006

We awoke to another sublimely calm day at sea as we steamed smoothly across a grey ocean. A host of sea birds wheeled about having difficulty getting lift with such a light wind and low swell. It was a busy day today as we geared-up to make our first landing with a Zodiac briefing as well as lectures about the human history and wildlife of Macca.

Walking around on the outer decks was a good way to exercise, others sat on the pontoons of the Zodiacs or were found chatting on the bridge. This took up most of the afternoon before our 9 Macquarie Island scientists took to the stage to tell us what research they will be involved in for their 10-week stay. Gale force winds were predicted for tonight, but luckily for us from the northwest.

Thursday, 2nd February 2006

Where did that storm go yesterday? Smudges of blue pushed their way through the cloud cover as we surfed along in front of the waves with albatross enjoying the extra lift. The air was definitely cooler today so everyone who was out on deck had discarded their t-shirts for long sleeves and beanies. There was a contagious air of anticipation as we peered at the horizon waiting for Macquarie Island to materialise out of the mist. Miraculously, just after 1100 the grassy outline of Macca evolved, fringed by foam-spewing jagged rocks. By this time the sun was beating down and it was a scorching 10°C, out of the wind. In no time at all we had rounded the northern end of the island and all out on deck we witnessed our first lowering of the anchor. Four TASPAWS rangers returned with the Zodiacs who will accompany us during our stay at Macquarie Island, guiding us and informing us about their work and monitoring our landings.

Kapitan Ivan up-anchored and headed for Sandy Bay. What a landing it was! Rounding the spit there were so many king penguins lined up along the shore that it was almost impossible to decide where to bring the boat in. As we cruised ashore, yellow-splashed heads popped intermittently in and out of the water, cormorants sat side by side with royal penguins on top of kelp-covered outcrops. If one sat still on the beach, curious birds boldly walked up to bite our fingers or taste our boots. Moulting royal penguins stood like a patchwork quilt covering the shingle beach while the still breeding clean and shiny birds, marched clockwork like up the muddy creek bed to their rookery. The sheer number of animals walking about unafraid of our presence was enough to put a huge grin on everyone’s face and the superb light had the photographers in seventh heaven... not to mention the Orcas! There was a highly celebratory mood at dinner last night with champagne corks popping a treat.

Friday, 3rd February 2006

Oh glorious peaceful night!! Instead of the whine of the engine, the honk of crowds of curious king penguins lulled us to sleep. Several virgins were sacrificed this morning to ensure another sunny day. We moved to Buckles Bay. Eagerly, we hurtled to shore with a decent wind on our faces, to be greeted by the station rangers who escorted us in groups along the foreshore and through the buildings of the ANARE base to arrive at the mess. What a spread, a never-ending supply of freshly cooked scones with softly whipped cream and jam. There was a lot of posting, stamping and purchasing going on in the warmth of the common room.

We walked along the cobble beach, which was littered with rotting kelp and wallows of elephant seals. Stunned gentoo penguins wandered in and out between jousting juvenile ele seals framed by the wildness of Wireless Hill and swirling tendrils of fettuccine-like kelp choking the Southern Ocean rollers pounding on the shore. What a gem is Macquarie Island and how fortunate we were to have struck another good weather day! Lunch was brought forward and we headed south along the coast towards Lusitania Bay, one of the largest king penguin colonies in the world. As soon as the anchor dropped the welcome party surrounded the ship, thousands of sticky beaks darted about on top and under the surface, intrigued by our presence. On shore, what an incredible sight – wall to wall kings stretching for about 2 kms along the coast. We headed towards the chorusing hordes of kings packed between the tussock grass and the breaking waves. Right in the middle of the masses stood a grisly reminder of the sealing days, three rusting iron boilers. The kings have certainly made a come back since then!

Saturday, 4th February 2006

After a quite relaxed communication with the pillow, we were woken by soft light creeping through the porthole, a little earlier than usual this morning, as we plodded south. It was a leisurely breakfast, then, there was walking to do out on deck watching a picturesque sea of choppy, emerald, waves tossing salty spume in our faces. If walking did not grab you then you could have been part of the throng attempting to hold a Tai Chi pose in the middle of the lecture room or you could have just stayed in bed all morning. Those seeking some mental stimulation joined Prof Pat in the lecture room for a truly fascinating talk about why the Earth is at it is, plate tectonics, the geological time scale and how the Southern Ocean was formed. Lunch was not needed, but thoroughly enjoyed and a nice social interlude in the middle of the day. The corridors were rather quiet afterwards until Syd’s lecture was announced; his talk brought took us on a journey through the discovery of Antarctica. Quite a lot of serious napping occurred until it was time for our recap about our landings on Macquarie Island. The decibels increased as we swapped stories of who saw what where and how many, all over a beer or three.

Sunday, 5th February 2006

An urgent call shattered our sleep and threw Cinema 1 into chaos with the news that an Aurora Australis was shimmering and shaking up there in the heavens. What an ethereal sight, green pillars of intense light streaming down through a dark sky; swathes and wreaths appeared and disappeared. The best view-point was on the top deck and we were up there for hours. Chilled and ecstatic expeditioners congregated in the mess sipping hot chocolates before heading out again. It was a late night last night but lucky for us, we could sleep in……

Today was another calm sea day, overcast, windless, good speed and later in the day we hit a band of fog. Hardly any wildlife about at all, although we did have our eyes peeled for whales. We came upon our first iceberg in the afternoon, which surprised us all. It was a beauty – a gigantic tabular berg, pocked marked with holes and streaked with intense blue crevasses. Kapitan Ivan took the ship right around ‘Ingrid BERGman’ so we could admire her from all angles. The evening air was really keen out on deck as the temperature plummets. More icebergs broke the monotony of a grey sea heightening everyone’s imaginations and expectations of the continent beyond.

Monday, 6th February 2006

We passed many beautiful icebergs during the night, they stood out like sentinels against a ribbon of apricot sky. We thought that the day before yesterday was calm, but this morning was oily, we just slid across the surface. A light-mantled sooty albatross was seen flapping its wings trying to find lift over the surface of the flat sea. We were about 60 nm NE of the Balleny Islands, when Peter decided to take advantage of the good conditions and move in for a closer look. This fortuitous call brought us in through some life filled seas. Our first snow petrels and many Minke Whales and thousands of Short-tailed shearwaters, our mates from Tasmania, were feeding in ice-laden waters. The sea must have been full of krill. We drew closer to Young Island, one of the rarely visited Balleny group. These islands are a spectacular mix of precipitous cliffs and tumbling glaciers, layers of black volcanic rock with red scoria intrusions covered by a thick snow-cap.

Kapitan Ivan cruised Marina gently along the coast of Young Island in marvellous sunshine. We continued to cruise south and at about 4pm we crossed the Antarctic Circle (66°33’ S) with a cheer; we are no longer “Antarctic Virgins”. It is impossible to define the feelings one gets when first encountering the Antarctic coastline, but already it is possible to discern a familiar change of unity amongst us. There is a shared humility and reverence for such a hauntingly beautiful environment. A short passage, which coincided with a wonderful dinner, had us beside Sturge Island, the southern most of the Ballenys. We turned south-west for our final leg to the mainland. What a huge day!!

 

Tuesday, 7th February 2006

A spectacular sunset glowing from the glaciers on Sturge Island was a fitting farewell to the Balleny Islands last night. Not an iceberg or a whale in sight this morning although a squadron of friendly snow petrels accompanied us. Three sixty degrees of nothing greeted us out on an ice-coated deck and the sea was almost as calm as a millpond. The morning drifted by with Tai Chi, and stimulating talks from Prof Pat Quilty and Syd Kirkby keeping us up to speed with the movements of the magnetic poles and the achievements of our Heroic era explorers.

The flat grey empty sea continued all afternoon until suddenly we were surrounded by massive tabular bergs clumped together like bizarre fortresses. We could see the coastline on the radar screen, but it was difficult to distinguish it underneath the layer of dense cloud hiding the continent. The bergs got thicker, the growlers rolled by and the brash ice appeared. A large pod of about 15 orca whales greeted our arrival as rocky bits of land fringed by ice and snow emerged through the mist like a curtain opening for a concert. We could not believe our eyes and our luck, the flat sea now became a mirror reflecting the colours of the sunset and we had to drag ourselves into the dining room to eat dinner and celebrate Jamie’s birthday.

It was magical, as we stood dumbfounded on the decks watching an unbelievable icy landscape with hundreds of penguins drifting by on ice floes. Going ashore was a dream come true for many of us and feeling the atmosphere inside Borchgrevink’s hut was something we will always treasure. A group of about 20 walked with Paul and Peter up to the gravesite of Nicholas Hansen at 125 metres above the spit. Hansen was the first man to die in the Antarctic. The rookery was in the last stages of the breeding cycle with groups of chicks huddled together with little chance of mum ever coming back to feed them. One little fellow really thought he had struck it lucky when so many blue-clad monsters came walking across his back yard. He followed everyone, trying to eat our walking sticks, rushing between our legs and pecking at what ever he could reach, to no avail.

During our landing the neat summit of Mt Sabine loomed above the clouds and the massif of Mt Minto and Adam towered over Robertson Bay and sunset turned into an even better sunrise before the snow started to fall.

Wednesday, 8th February 2006

It was about 0400 this morning when we all finally got back on board. The black and white landscape turned an amazing colour of pink and blue as the sun rose almost as soon as it had set. Snow fell lightly as we returned from being ashore at Cape Adare. We had been off the ship for about seven and a half hours by the time the last trekker had returned. Great frivolity reigned, cups of hot chocolate and coffee were consumed and tales of personal encounters were swapped in the dining room.

There were only four hours to breakfast time, hardly worth going to bed, but we did.

Many still weary expeditioners rose for breakfast and wolfed down delicious pancakes with maple syrup then looked out on an unfamiliar environment. Visibility was down to a few metres and the wind was blowing a treat. We were on course for Cape Hallett but decided to keep plugging as far south as we could because it did not look at all promising for a landing or a helo flight. Secretly, it was a good excuse to recuperate from the night before and catch up on some sleep. The Tai Chi followers did their balancing act in the Temple, after which, the companionways were deserted. We slept the morning away rising only when called to lunch.

The wind increased rapidly during the afternoon to around 60 knots and large waves streaked with foam whacked the bow and splattered the bridge windows. We were definitely experiencing our first storm. Marina punched staunchly into the waves providing us with a nice smooth ride. We hoped all the wind was blowing the ice out of the Ross Sea to open our path to Ross Island.

 

Thursday, 9th February 2006

The wind was screaming through the rigging and the temperature was plummeting almost as fast as the barometer and any exposed metal was decorated with icicles. Even though it was the middle of the night, it was broad daylight because now we are below the latitudes where the sun never sets. The bow of Marina plunged into the furious waves splashing the bridge windows with foam that immediately solidified, making the helmsman’s task challenging.

Lying in our bunks we could hear the ice bashing and crashing against the hull as we met undulating bands of brash ice and giant icefloes. We awoke to see the southern tip of Coulman Island sliding by. The sun broke through the clouds briefly to reveal clumps of huge tabular bergs that had been jammed up against the island by the ferocity of the storm. As the day progressed we could see a change in the weather, first the barometer crept up, the waves calmed down and the wind abated somewhat. Flocks of snow petrels played with the thermals around the ship, flaunting their snow white feathers as they banked. What a sight greeted us when we emerged from the darkness of lounge onto the bridge, the wind had eased, the sun was shining and a combination of the formidable cliffs of Cape Washington surrounded by clusters of sculptured bergs was a sight to behold. The Kapitan took Marina into a heaving band of pack ice beside a substantial weathered iceberg and parked. We were surrounded by ice. The cliffs and snow slopes shone in the late evening light, which changed minute by minute. Whiskey and Foxtrot our helicopters were prepared and we spent a magical night flying like angels above one of the most unique landscapes on earth. We went to sleep at some stage during the night/morning with the beauty of Antarctica etched on the inside of our eyelids. The ultimate ending to ‘a perfect storm day’!

Friday, 10th February 2006

It would be right to assume that many of us had had minimal sleep last night, but many of us were still running on over drive after the adrenaline charged evening. Marina had remained snuggled into the ice all night and grinding and groaning she punched out of the pack and into open water. We could hear the katabatic winds hitting the ship on our way to Inexpressible Island. We watched streaks of foam rushing across the surface interrupted by swirls of frazil ice. It was bitterly cold on deck and soon became apparent that it would be foolhardy to try and launch the Zodes, so we sat and watched and contemplated that lone rocky shore for a while and tried to imagine how those early explorers survived the frightful cold and hardship.

This was the site where Scott’s Northern Party led by Campbell in 1912, was dropped at Cape Evans to be collected six weeks later, but due to heavy pack ice the Terra Nova was unable to reach them and they were forced to winter over and then endure the long walk back to Ross Island. A long rocky shore stretched across the island rising to snowy slopes, in the distance a wonderful range of peaks cut the horizon like the jagged teeth of a hyena. The wind did not show any signs of abating so we turned tail and headed for the warmth and hospitality of Zuchelli Station. The base was a collection of neat blue and red buildings built on an ancient glacial site. The surrounding granite hills had been ground relentlessly by prehistoric accumulations of snow which had long since melted, leaving an amazing relief picture of what lies underneath Antarctica’s glaciers. It was a delightful visit.

Antarctica really turned it on today, with glorious 360° vistas and cloudless weather so we couldn’t resist having another go at flying into the sunset and out of the sunrise! Mt Keinath overlooking the enormous stretch of the Priestly glacier was chosen. There was a good 20 knots of wind atop the rocky knoll where we landed. The flight was only short and we were out there to experience the silence and commune with nature. Instead, it was a bit like doing battle with the universe as the wind increased to a good 30 knots and the operation was cancelled in the interests of keeping our pilots fresh and our expeditioners warm.

Saturday, 11th February2006

Peter kept making announcements all night the night before last to keep us up to speed with our sail past of the Drygalski Ice tongue. It would have been about 0400 yesterday morning when some of us leapt out of bed and rushed to the bridge, eager not to miss a minute of the action. Katabatic winds thrashed Marina and flurries of swirling ice crystals danced in the -16°C temperature. The ice tongue filled the horizon from east to west like a gigantic iceberg, but this one was still attached to the land, a 20nm glacial snout suspended over 1000m of water. Somewhere near this ice tongue in 1909, Mawson, Edgeworth-David and Mackay set out to locate the South Magnetic pole and claim the area for the British Empire. We were hoping that we could find open water to the south of Drygalski and sneak down the coast to position ourselves closer to the dry valleys and fly the helicopters into the Taylor Valley, but this was not to be.

Solid ice blocked our way south so during the morning we had to head north again and skirt around a particularly heavy band of pack. The Kapitan nosed Marina’s bow in between the 2 metre thick lumps of heaving ice and skilfully pushed the ship through. We were fortunate that our ice masters were able to manoeuvre our strong little ship through this barrier so we could continue deeper south towards Ross Island and the historic huts. We watched with bated breath as the Kapitan used different strategies to proceed. At one stage we came to a halt, slowed down by the immense pressure of the ice. There was a pregnant pause as full power was employed to get us moving again. The helmsman picked exactly the right angle to force the wide floes aside and at the same time make headway breaking the less daunting pieces in half. Great exhilaration out on the bow and in the bridge as we made our way forward. After our action packed morning, we ravenously devoured the delicious minestrone soup with homemade bread prepared by our chefs and then filled in the afternoon reading, catching up with diaries and watching videos before listening to Syd Kirkby talk about his personal experiences in the Antarctic which he enjoyed as much as we did. During the afternoon the wind eased, it was sunny out on deck despite the very low temperature, which burnt any exposed skin. We passed Franklin Island making good time, our sights set on being in position near Cape Royds tomorrow morning for our attempt to visit Shackleton’s Hut. We have to keep pinching ourselves to make sure this is all true.

Sunday, 12th February 2006

After not being able to sleep last night because of the enchanting scene passing by outside, we were all dressed up and ready to go when the helicopters fired up. We attempted to pass by Beaufort Island on the western side and found C16 in our path, so the Kapitan took us to the eastern side and we headed for the narrow channel we had heard about from the Americans at McMurdo. The sun was setting behind Ross Island and colouring the clouds that hung around the summit of Mt Erebus and Mt Terror, the sea was covered with a patchwork of icefloes, etched with the evening light. The water got calmer until it was like a mirror reflecting the colours of the clouds. The sun rose casting yellow light on the ice walls of C16. We saw Weddell seals hanging about on the ice and a few surfacing minke whales. Excitement rose as we approached the narrow opening between Ross Island and C16. Kapitan Ivan made his entrance on the packed bridge binoculars to his eyes and directed the helmsman through a small band of pack and we gave three hearty cheers. Our Russian crew have done us proud.

Once we had successfully broken through the ice our Expedition Leader ordered us to bed. Yes, we did need some sleep before our multi-hut operation in the morning. While we slept the crew looked for the channel but failed to locate the entrance, so Marina was pushed into the ice and parked with the gangway down. Two bright and shiny emperor penguins popped out of the lead behind the ship as the 29 walkers set off to walk the 5-6 kms to Cape Royds. Little did they know that a large tide crack was to prevent them from going all the way. Meanwhile groups arrived at Cape Royds, to visit Shackleton’s Hut. Nestled in the fold of a hill looking over a small lake and a penguin rookery it has a comfortable homely feeling. Inside the hut the atmosphere of the past enveloped us like a cloak, bringing to life the spirit of the men that shared hardship and happiness. It was a long extended time ashore today due to the break down of one of our helicopters. All of us applaud our super pilots who ferried us all safely from the ship to shore for such a special time in our Antarctic adventure. We were thrilled to be able to soak up the landscapes, stretch our legs and to find a place to listen to the silence.

Monday, 13th February 2006

What a long night we had the night before last, it just went on and on. Our Expedition Leader skilfully negotiated with Captain Bruce of the Polar Star and it was agreed that we could follow them along the channel. Enthusiastic whoops of joy echoed through the bridge, we were delighted by their generous offer and went to bed in anticipation of the full day ahead of us.

All the best made plans of mice and men then went down the drain. The Master of Krasin, the Russian Icebreaker that was escorting Gianella the tanker supplying McMurdo, spoke to Kapitan Ivan about the difficult ice conditions further down the channel, which caused us to rethink our plan. The Polar Star had arrived at the ice edge earlier that morning and by that time we had decided to abort following the American icebreaker. Serendipitously Polar Star reported that she had broken down and could not proceed, so we would not have been able to follow her anyway. We then enjoyed a lazy morning in Wohlschlag Bay, sleeping off the night before and hoping that the part for Whisky would arrive on the Hercules that afternoon. It was a long shot that did not eventuate. The crew lowered the gangway so we could frolic on the ice one last time before heading north. So when we walked down the gangway it started snowing and a cold wind that burnt our cheeks whipped across the floe. A few activities were in progress, like an ice walk, a ‘polar plunge’ or just slipping and sliding.

A lone emperor penguin entertained us with his/her curiosity by approaching the strange blue clad penguins and checking us out. How special to be so close to a wild animal that shows no fear, one that is arguably one of the hardiest creatures on earth. We watched it respectfully, cherishing each moment. Others found the daring and (according to Dr Giles) stupidity of those who stripped naked and dunked themselves in the clear black water between the icefloes quite unbelievable. As the Kapitan extricated Marina from the ice we could still see poor Polar Star sitting immobile in the channel, not going anywhere

 

Tuesday, 14th February 2006

The expeditionary force took some time to respond to the call to action at 0300 yesterday morning, and heaven forbid the thought of leaving our snug bunks to go Zodiac cruising in the freezing cold. But thank goodness we did! Don had to almost prise the Zodes off the icy deck to get them over the side and collect the hardy, well-clad passengers waiting expectantly on the gangway and whisk them out into the chilly morning. The cruise started along the brash ice blown against B15J where we found Leopard and Weddell seals. We inspected the collision point where B15J had smashed into Ross Island and the chaos that prevailed. Upturned monster icebergs were jumbled, randomly against the shore, tossed like toys into a box. The most memorable feelings out there were the enormity of the place, viewed from a little boat, gazing up at mighty ice cliffs and feeling the blistering cold of -20°C wind chill on our faces. Icicles hanging from icebergs were plucked off and sucked like icy poles. A group of emperor penguins swam around one Zode as it headed across the bay under the conical shape of Mt Terror to Cape Crozier. Cape Crozier was the place that Aspley Cherry Garrad and his mates struggled to, all the way from Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans on the other side of the mountain, in the middle of winter, to collect emperor penguin eggs. It was “The Worst Journey in the World “! At Cape Crozier the Adelie colony was in its last throes of the breeding cycle, with chicks learning to swim, moulting adults and late breeders feeding their chicks.

Meanwhile, some of us remained onboard Marina either curled up in warm cots or patrolling the bridge and decks, drinking in the scenery while monitoring the position of the Zodes and marvelling at the endurance of their shipmates who surely must be freezing to death out there. A couple of our Zodes actually got all the way to the Ross Ice Shelf. Floating under the cliffs of the ice shelf felt like entering an ice-chest and killer whales sped through the waters offshore. Marina cruised along slowly, collecting Zode loads of thrilled expeditioners along the way. Everyone was almost deep frozen when they got back onboard. We then cruised for at least 2 hours in glorious sunshine and still the ice wall stretched to infinity, reminiscent of the Great Wall of China. There were sections where large chunks had broken out, creating alcoves, hallways of ice, caverns carved by waves and piles of debris where icebergs had rammed into the ice sheet. Today was definitely one of the highlights of our voyage.

Wednesday, 15th February 2006

Yesterday morning we missed our view of Mt Erebus as we were out in the middle of the Ross Sea with not an iceberg in sight. It was a beautiful morning with little wind and calm sea and we were making speedy progress towards Cape Hallett. By 1100 we could see the Admiralty Range, shining in the sun, a spectacular mountain range draped with a white quilt. Large geometric icefloes that got thicker and thicker, blocked our way. Kapitan Ivan slowed Marina down to negotiate the puzzle of ice. The decks, especially the bow, were buzzing with people drinking in the scenery or trying to catch that perfect picture.

Antarctica seems to cast a spell on people, enticing them into her web, changing them forever. It is like gazing back in time before man was on earth; it is pristine, unspoilt and totally raw.

After skirting the heavy ice, we turned again towards Cape Hallett making a second attempt to cross Mowbray Bay and enter Edisto Inlet. The floes were still large and heavy but there were open sections of water. Skillfully the helmsman picked his way through to the open water. Edisto Inlet and Football Saddle were not obvious until we were right near the shore, the sky behind us was black as pitch but we kept looking forward to the sun drenched glaciers and the imposing shape of Mt Hershell that towered above not wanting the moment to end. Light snow fell as we lined up to get on the Zodes and go ashore at Cape Hallett. The sea was glassy, reflecting the cliffs and the hanging glacier that flowed down the steep scree slopes looming over the spit. Pathetic half fledged chicks stood about in groups being torn apart by skuas or frantically chasing anything with two legs that might feed them.

Others stood lethargically, obviously starving to death. And there were lots of fat, healthy chicks too. The shingle beach was littered with bodies ancient and modern which stirred our maternal instincts. Above this graveyard the virginal white of Antarctic scenery reminded us of the harshness of the place. Waiting for us on our return to the ship was a steaming tub of hot Glue Wein to toast our farewell to Antarctica.

Thursday, 16th February 2006

There was rather more motion than usual early yesterday morning, which created a washing machine action down on Deck 3. The waves were massive with breaking crests billowing mists of foam. The wind was behind us, but we were having quite a smooth ride despite the ferocity of the gale, which by the Beaufort scale equated to Force 8-9. Everyone enjoyed ‘the big sleep in’ after the business of the last few days. It was a time to be mellow and contemplate, do a little reading, knitting and finally learn about seals from Roger.

After the talk, there was eating and sleeping, so the day passed by quickly. Walking the decks was not an option as from time to time a rogue wave would leap onto the stern deck and wash along the companionway. At one point there was a BIG roll, which took us all by surprise, bumping a few heads and an elbow and totally untidying our neat cabins. Kapitan Ivan was on the bridge all day, overseeing the situation and assisting the helmsmen who were doing a great job keeping Marina in the right direction while concentrating on remaining steady without surfing. For some it was exhilarating and exciting but for others it was frightening seeing the power and fury of the sea in a storm.

Friday, 17th February 2006

What a contrast to yesterday when we awoke this morning. Lying in our bunks without being thrown about like a sack of potatoes was much more conducive to sleeping in. Overnight the wind had died down and the waves no longer towered above the ship. It seemed almost balmy by comparison.

Another quiet day was had, with a definite atmosphere of relief on the bridge. Sailors were out on deck hammering away at the storm doors and working on various other chores, while others who had been up all night caught up on sleep. It was still overcast and grey but there were no white caps and it was possible to be out on deck safely. There was quite a lot of sleeping and reading going on in some cabins, but some were hard at it getting their laps up running the stairs. We did not do a hell of a lot today to deserve our delicious lunch but at least it stirred us to action and good conversation. Syd Kirkby and Pat Quilty kept us informed with more tales of explorers and science.

 

We passed by our last icebergs this afternoon, gleaming white in the grey swell. We are approaching 60°S rapidly and will soon be north of the Antarctic Treaty area. Late in the afternoon, we gathered in the bar and reminisced about what we had seen and done over the last 2 weeks, since leaving Macquarie Island.

Saturday, 18th February 2006

You beauty! We are closing the gap rapidly between Marina and Campbell Island. The temperature is no longer negative and we started seeing a few albatross circling the ship. The weather has been generally good today, with a few bursts of sunshine and a following wind. A massive swapping of digital images was in full force in the cabins, while the bridge players were huddled over a serious game in Restaurant No 1.

Pat told us more about the global significance of Antarctica, which generated some discussion. Bird sightings were few and far between, but the stalwarts still kept a keen watch out on the bridge, hoping for some whales to pass by. Lunch was the best diversion of the day that ended in the most delectable vanilla slices imaginable.

After lunch we commenced ‘engine room’ tours with Slava the chief engineer who led us down into the bowels of the ship to see what makes Marina tick. Soon after we had started, the groups were cancelled due to a minor repair necessary to the pistons. Tours were cancelled until the next day. We were shocked by the plight of the albatross due to long line fishing, which was vividly described to us by Roger. On the brighter side he told us his story about spending time on Islas Ildefonso and Diego Rameros researching the foraging paths of the black-browed and grey-headed albatross during their incubation period. The gentle action and warmth of the ship makes sleeping easy, as soon as the head hits the pillow we are gone.

Sunday, 19th February 2006

It was a grey day with a grey sea today. Only a few sea birds kept us company. The Zodiac deck and the stern were a popular place to sit and watch the ocean roll by. It was pleasant to venture out on deck without gloves or hats, but extra layers were still prudent. We enjoyed Syd’s talk about his time behind a dog sledge and related with how difficult it must have been to have had to shoot your mate.

Bonza fried rice and satay chicken awaited us when the call came for lunch, we really are fed like kings. Mysteries of the Ocean Wanderers replaced the scheduled ‘engine room’ tours to give our engineers a bit more time to get on top of their mechanical challenges. Saunas and ping pong were the main sporting events of the day. But Timbo stole the show, delivering his ‘Magic Show Extraordinaire’ to a delighted multi-cultural audience. The Auditorium was packed!

Monday, 20th February 2006

Yesterday morning we were greeted by a clear and sunny day and a blue, blue sea scattered with white caps. We noticed an increase in the number of albatross gliding and soaring around the boat, indicating that we must be getting closer to Campbell Island. Roger entertained us with his tall (but true) tales. Clandestine rehearsals for ‘the Cabaret’ were in full progress as well as sleeping, reading and visiting the bridge, which made the morning fly by. We learnt about the history of Campbell Island from Syd and Al presented a short video on the rat-eradication program at Campbell Island, which looks to have been successful. Quickly we moved on to a landing brief from Peter and then there we were, travelling up Perseverance Harbour. Still, nil wind, sunshine – it was almost unbelievable after all the warnings of ‘it’s always windy and rainy at Campbell, twice the rain of the Macquarie Island sponge!!’

Zodiacs were quickly launched and we scattered. The first group off went to tackle the slopes of Mt Honey. She was very sweet, full of unique vegetation. The highlight was a group of juvenile Royal Albatross that entertained with their clacking and practice courtship. One of these huge white turkeys had no idea of the 5 m rule so got blazoned with digital photographs. Group two went ashore at the old met station then made their way along the boardwalk up to Col Lyall. There they were privileged to see nesting Royal Albatross. Then the third wave was launched, they landed at the station and thoroughly explored its environs. Some cheeky little sea lions checked them out. A group of bird chasers was based at the station, along with their bird-seeking dogs. Then there was Zodiac cruising up Perseverance Harbour to inspect the loneliest tree in the world; a 6m Sitka spruce planted in 1902 by New Zealand’s Governor. It is the only tree for hundreds of miles and was planted near a former settlement at the western extremity of the harbour.

 

Tuesday, 21st February 2006

There was an air of expectation when we awoke to the ship plugging in to a 30-knot wind yesterday morning. Our goal was to explore the Auckland Islands and make a landing at Sandy Bay on Enderby Island as well as Hardwicke on Auckland itself. Thick cloud was not what we had come to expect so there was a lot of anticipation about what the weather Gods would deal out to us. It was delightful out on deck with scores of royal albatross and many other species including the white-capped albatross. The morning was filled with engine tours, cabaret practice and Tai Chi. Miraculously we punched through the mist and with a blustery wind on our bow we thrashed through the gap into Carnley Harbour.

Deep inside, we disturbed literally thousands of sooty shearwaters feeding on the surface. Flocks of birds filled the air, wheeling in unison and surrounding Marina. Kapitan Ivan and the crew did an impressive U-turn in a narrow arm and we steamed back out the way we had come. During lunch the sun had pushed through the cloud and we had our fingers crossed that the wind would be in the right direction to land at Sandy Bay. The advance party went ashore and ‘lo and behold’ reported all systems go for a landing on the rock shelf beside the beach. Another stroke of good fortune and in no time at all our quota for Enderby went off in all directions to explore the island. Some did the long walk all the way around the island, whilst others opted for the more leisurely walk across, to visit the royals on their nests and search for yellow-eyed penguins. Others just sat and soaked up the feeling of trees and the warmth of the earth after the chill of the fast ice. Once the Sandy Bay quota had been dropped off, the ship moved across to Port Ross to visit Hardwicke. We drove ashore in strong wind and entered the calm waters of a little bay where we followed a boardwalk through fairytale forest with black water streams to a lonely graveyard. Further exploration rewarded us with a tree stump carved by the shipwrecked crew of the HMCS Victoria in 1863. Last Zodiacs returned to the ship right on 9:30. Everyone gathered in the dining rooms for a hot chicken dinner and story sharing, then the corridors turned strangely quite as all slipped away to their warm bunks. It had been a long afternoon.

Wednesday, 22nd February 2006

Today is our last full day at sea. We arrived at the Snares Island and despite the swell, we bundled into the Zodiacs for our final excursion before reaching Bluff. It was the most magical experience as we cruised into caves that could hold 4 Zodiacs, muted light sifting into the caves. Our leaders serenaded us like Italian gondoliers as we marvelled at the tunnels running deeper under the island. One cave we were able to enter and emerge on the other side in a tiny garden cove with branches overhanging our boats, then along a small channel into the open sea. Snares penguin colonies were scattered between grassy slopes which were dotted with nesting gulls and Buller’s albatross; a veritable bird’s paradise, only disturbed by groups of sea lions lazing about on the rocks. We had one of the best Zode cruises of our voyage – marvelling at the extraordinary rock formations which had skirts of bright yellow kelp rising and falling with the swells.

We drank our fill before returning to Marina for the final evening of our voyage. What a night! We celebrated with the Captain and officers before our final superb meal and then enjoyed “The Cabaret” presented by members of the passengers, staff and crew.

A fitting ending to a wonderful voyage that we will never forget. Now it is time to return home and reflect on what we have seen and experienced in Antarctica.

* Find out more about the Marina Svetaeva

* Download or order a Deep Antarctica 2008 Brochure

* More details on our Ross Sea Expeditions page.

* Download our passenger Voyage Log from our 2006 Ross Sea Voyage.

For further details, contact Aurora Expeditions on 1800 637 688, or send an email to Aurora Expeditions