February 8, 2006
Antarctic Cruise Day 3
The Plan: Anchor at Halfmoon Island and take a zodiac to shore to watch a penguin colony.
It was another early start for me today. The sun came up at 5:00, and I immediately rushed out of my cabin to the deck to watch it. At about the same time, I got my first look at Antarctica. We had arrived at Halfmoon Island, and it seemed like half the ship was fully awake with me to watch the glaciers pass by. We saw lots of birds, and Chris, the Expedition ornithologist, was always quick to point them out to us. Everyone was in absolute awe at the beauty of the land that so few had seen before.
As soon as the anchor was down, preparations began to unload the zodiacs, small rubber rafts that would take us to shore. It was sunny and somewhat warm, which would make for a great day of exploration. I felt comfortable on deck without even using my big red parka. The ship had been split into five groups of about 100 people each for going to shore, and as luck would have it, I was in the last group of the day. I only had gotten a few hours of sleep, so after eating a gigantic breakfast, I went back to my room for a nap.
At around noon, my turn to board the zodiac had finally come. I got on with a dozen or so other passengers, and we were driven so shore by a guy decked out in diving gear in case one of us fell in. The sea was rough for such a small boat, and we all got splashed by the antarctic waters a number of times. Now I see why the cruise line felt the need to give everyone a warm, waterproof coat.
We reached shore in the middle of a large rookery of chinstrap penguins. Some of them were walking around in a seemingly aimless pattern. Others were molting, an annual process in which a bird generates a new coat of feathers. These penguins had to stand completely still and expend an enormous amount of energy for two weeks to complete the process. A few other penguins were busy fighting and feeding their young. The rest just seemed to look at us and wonder what we were doing there. The entire place was covered in guano and smelled accordingly. I'm glad I was able to borrow a pair of rubber boots for the landing.
The only other thing to see at the landing site was a broken down wooden boat, although nobody was able to offer an explanation of why it was there. Despite the smell, the area was quite beautiful, and I was very excited to set foot on antarctic land for the first time.
After being there for 30 minutes, I was told that the expedition had been canceled. Everyone was rushed back to the landing area. The rumor was that the anchor was sliding, so the captain wanted to get moving ASAP. Because we were last, my group was the only one that had to leave early, so it wasn't too much of an inconvenience overall. I later found out that last year, the Marco Polo hit some ice and damaged its hull, so the captain is pretty paranoid about such things nowadays. The ship may seem like Disneyland, but Antarctica still disagrees.
I spent the rest of my day going to a series of lectures. The expedition team continues to teach us many things about the white continent. Later I had a quick, huge dinner at the buffet. Even though we had only been gone for three days, it felt like I had been on the cruise forever. It didn't take long for me to become accustomed to the cruise lifestyle. I guess now I can see why so many people choose to spend their golden years cruising around the world.
Penguin Passion with Chris Wilson -- A long slideshow explaining the different species of penguins and which ones we would be likely to see on the trip. Unfortunately, the chances of seeing any emperors, the biggest penguin of them all, would be low. Still, we would almost certainly see chinstraps, gentoos and rockhoppers, and we could get lucky and see some macaronis and kings at some point.
Rocks and Ice with Dr. Marco Taviani -- This lecture talked about the history of Antarctica. The continent was once part of Gondwanaland, a super-continent that contained all of the southern continents of the world. Before Antarctica broke away from Gondwanaland, it was located in much higher latitudes, which meant that it was full of forests, lakes, and dinosaurs. It's strange to think that the world's coldest, driest, most isolated continent was once full of so many plants and animals. We also learned about the ice core drilling that is going on in Antarctica now. By removing deep cylinders of ice, scientists can learn a lot about Antarctica's past.
March of the Penguins - This was a movie, not a lecture, but it still was informative. It's about the breeding pattern of the emperor penguin, the only species that doesn't migrate north during the winter. Even though I won't get to see any emperors on this trip, it still gave a lot of general information about penguins, so it might be a good movie to check out if you haven't already done so.
The photo album for this entry is here.