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Antarctica. South Shetland Islands

Landings at Fort Point (Greenwich Island) and Half Moon Island (Mc. Farlane Strait) 

Steep jagged rocks and cliffs extend into the Bransfield Strait along a small low-lying peninsula, framed by the glacier fronts of the ice cap sitting atop Greenwich Island. A site as scenic and picturesque as it can get here in the South Shetlands. Fort Point. 

Penguins and seals seem to enjoy as well this spectacular location. The narrow beaches lead to the 85 m high rocky outcrop at the head of the isthmus. A headland which “fortress“ appearance is considered quite descriptive to give a name to the place. Pushed into the background onto its lower slopes, a Chinstrap penguin colony. More numerous in the past, now dwindling in numbers in favor of the Gentoos, which extend their rookeries over the easier and flatter ground. Amongst them haul out a group of Elephant seals starting their moulting period. 

Not a large location, but a setting that combines the best traits of the South Shetlands, the wild and harsh scenery, sheer cliffs, calving glacier fronts, a short hike over boulder beaches and up an ice field, swell and surge at its rocky shores and plenty of its charismatic wildlife. 

South Shetlands, an impressive Antarctic archipelago, well known as well for its moody weather and shifting winds. And so we went from a calm sunny morning to a full snowy and windy afternoon. By then, facing the rising blows in the Mc Farlane Strait while making way between Livingston and Greenwich Islands, the Crescent-shaped island of Half Moon saw the Europa dropping anchor. Now, in what seemed to be truly Antarctic conditions we set for a landing.  

Right at the beach some Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins snooze and relax, just right next to the beautiful remains of an old dory, dating back to the beginning of the 19-hundreds. She was left behind. She sits here, her pine frames and copper nails slowly decaying and falling apart since those past whaling times.  

Half Moon has seen sealers from all the way to almost the discovery of the South Shetlands, already in 1821. Then its waters were used too for whale hunting. Several remains of those periods lay scattered on its beaches. And more recently, in 1953 Argentina built here the Teniente Camara Station. More in use in the past, nowadays is barely occupied and their Antarctic Program, when there are no scientists working here, takes care of its maintenance. 

The rocky outcrops along the southwestern tip of the island are home to several Chinstrap penguin colonies. There they raise their chicks, which at this time of the year are already pretty gown up. As usual, the penguin rookeries besides attracting visitors to see and photograph them, also draw the attention of predators like skuas and scavengers like Snowy sheathbills, always keeping a good eye around ready to take any chances for a good bite. 

In the middle of a bit of a snowy and windy whiteout, we go back on board, to a ship already drifting and all prepared to start her way south along the coasts of Livingston Island towards Deception. A relatively early departure from here in anticipation of the strongest forecasted headwinds to come. Hopefully when they hit Europa will be somehow at the shelter of Deception and ready to steer inside this volcanic caldera by tomorrow early morning. 

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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