December 31, 2012 – Petermann Island, Vernadsky Station
Posted on January 2nd, 2013
Temperature: 34° F
Wind speed: 10 knots
Cloud cover: 50%
Under misty morning light, ‘Le Boreal’ approached the northern entrance to the legendary Lemaire Channel, often aptly referred to as “Kodak Alley” for its spectacular scenery. This 7-mile-long and one-mile-wide channel separates Booth Island from the Antarctic continent with dramatic, towering snow-covered mountains lining the route on both sides.
Expedition leader Larry Hobbs gave us an early morning call on the PA system to tell us that conditions were excellent, and that it was most certainly worth bundling up and heading out on deck to watch as the captain maneuvered the ship through this narrow passage.
Once out the south end of the passage, we were in the midst of some impressive icebergs. We mingled over tea in the Grand Salon, all the while watching as the impressive scenery kept changing before our eyes.
After breakfast, we boarded Zodiacs for Petermann Island, the site where a French expedition led by Charcot overwintered in 1909. The island was covered in a blanket of snow with bare rocky outcrops occupied by penguins. This is the southernmost breeding colony of gentoo penguins on the planet, and approximately 1,000 pairs of Adélie penguins breed here as well.
We wandered out past an old Argentine hut, as well as out to a rocky promontory where a group of Adélies nested among gentoos and a few blue eyed shags. We watched in awe as the penguins traveled overland by means of “tobogganing,” lying on their bellies and propelling themselves across the snow fields with their feet and flippers.
Some of us hiked over to the backside of the island, where there was view out across an “iceberg graveyard,” an area of shallow water where huge remnants of tabular icebergs had become grounded. They went on as far as the eye can see, and each was totally unique in shape.
We headed back to the ship for lunch, and Captain Etienne Garcia maneuvered ‘Le Boreal’ through the ice and anchored off of the Argentine Islands. This scattering of low-lying rocky islands hosts the Ukrainian base called Vernadsky Station.
Boarding Zodiacs to explore the maze of channels that make these islands so spectacular, we all dispersed in various directions, stumbling upon interesting wildlife and great scenery wherever we went. Some of the sights we encountered included a dozen crabeater seals resting on ice, blue-eyed shags perched on rusty rock outcroppings, and an orange sea star in the intertidal zone.
After the cruise, we landed at Vernadsky Station itself, where we had the opportunity to chat with some of the personnel. We also saw their beautiful wooden bar, where we started New Years Eve early with a shot of vodka.
Back on ‘Le Boreal,’ we met for recap and then a special New Years Eve dinner. We then mingled over champagne in one of the ship’s bars, awaiting the midnight hour. We dashed out on deck on and off to take photographs as the ship made its way back north through the Lemaire Channel. Finally, the countdown began and we all celebrated a New Years Eve that none of us will ever forget.
– Rich Pagen, Naturalist