Furthest South 65º 20.854’S; 64º 04.862’ W
65º. The magical number for the Adelie penguins in the western Antarctic Peninsula. One has to sail this far South following the Graham Land coast and the Lemaire Channel to see them in their rookeries. And they seem to like it at Berthelot, a group of islands just a handful of miles south of where we spent the night, right in the middle of the Argentine Islands.
A distribution limit for the species, but also a latitude that holds a historical significance too. Northwards the lands explored by Gerlache during his Belgium Antarctic Expedition (1897-99), to the south, Jean Baptiste Charcot territory. During both his expeditions in 1903-05 and 1908-10, the work that Gerlache started was extended southwards along the West Antarctic Peninsula reaching latitudes over the 70ºS.
Icebergs surround the area, amongst them bergy bits, brash ice, and even some remains of the winter sea ice. Behind them, the rounded hills of the East-most of the Berthelot islands, home to a great deal of penguins. Here Adelies are raising their chicks, Kelp gulls, and Skuas too.
With the ship drifting and repositioning in search of more open water, an exciting zodiac shuttle brought us ashore. An unspoiled site. No footprints or paths over the snow, just the Adelie tracks and highways.
A winding route brought it to visit almost all the reachable corners of the island and its numerous penguin colonies. The high alpine peaks of Graham Land shine in the background, with its large glaciers tumbling down to the sea. Between them and the islets, a maze of icebergs glitter under the sun. A panorama of truly Antarctic atmosphere, a desolate and striking setting, the home of the Adelie penguins.
The ship didn’t have to move from Collins Bay to offer yet another great activity in the afternoon. With the zodiacs and the sloop in the water, hours were spent cruising the area. Islands, rocks, and most of all, ice. Ice in all kinds of colors, shapes, and forms icebergs can have. In the background, looking not so far away but in fact with a couple of miles of ice-covered waters between it and ourselves, the mighty Trooz Glacier. Its vertical tidewater front reaches about 100 meters in some areas and can calve monumental icebergs. Sure some of them are the ones that fill up the waters where we cruised this afternoon. The full coverage of brash ice, bergy bits, and icebergs carved into sculptural shapes by the erosion of wind and waves, makes for slow maneuvering of our boats. We cruise in search of the best angles for photography, carefully choosing our way and keeping a sharp lookout all the time. Penguins are spotted now and then on the ice, a Weddell seal rests on some rocks close to the islands and a Leopard seal takes a rest stop on its swimming atop an ice floe.
A scenic and breathtaking cruise under unbeatable sunny weather and still conditions, over the mirroring waters of Collins Bay.
Back on board, we hope for the weather to continue as it has been for the last couple of days. That would make for easier watches for our Mates and Captain as it will be a night of drifting. Calm as it has been, the strong currents still flow here, moving with it the floating ice in a continuously changing scene, requiring attention at the engines and wheel.
The sun sets over the icebergs dying the surrounding glaciers with a warm light, with the Europa sitting in the flat calm waters in an open water spot. A fantastic ending to yet another great day in Antarctica.