Ship Cruise at Edinburgh Hill and night at anchor at Half Moon Island.
A day at sea with good whale sightings, live music in the deckhouse, spectacular views of the South Shetland Islands, and a good Christmas Eve party on board.
The icy conditions of the Antarctic Sound, as we get off Brown Bluff, lasted for a few hours while the Europa steers towards the open waters of the Bransfield Strait. Luckily the weather is calm and the seas low for doing this long stretch on our trip, which brings us today from the Antarctic Peninsula to the South Shetland Islands. It just blew a light breeze, not allowing for setting sail and keeping the speed we need to arrive before forecasted stronger winds hit.
A day at sea where those calm conditions made for many to join the live music in the deckhouse, talks, and lectures.
Already in the early times of Antarctic discovery and exploration, the 100 km wide Bransfield Strait was found. Edward Bransfield, back in 1820 confirmed the reports of the first lands spotted a year before by the merchant sailor William Smith and sailed to what at the time was believed to be a large bay or sound, nowadays the Strait that bears his name. Finally, the almost mythical Antarctic territory had been found. Its characteristics, shape, topography, and nature were still to be charted, mapped, and studied. Their discoveries unleashed new times for large-scale commercial sealing and whaling, with many of the hunters and a few explorers venturing soon into these uncharted icy seas, all contributing to the finding of many other Antarctic lands.
The 19th Century saw many of those journeys over those waters. Many tell stories of difficulties and struggles abroad on wooden sailing ships with the only propulsion of their sails facing storms, big seas, unpredictable and changeable weather, and inhospitable lands. These characteristics still last nowadays. Today, a calm crossing for most of last night and day turns into Southwest gusty winds upon arrival to the South Shetlands. The first sight of land is the characteristic jagged cliffs of Fort Point, at the Eastmost tip of the largely glaciated Greenwich Island, that stand up with their rough beauty against the cloudy and windy weather. Stronger and calmer winds blow as the Europa gets close to land and into the Mc Farlane Strait, the channel in between Livingston and Greenwich islands. Sun shines, then is overcast and cold just to leave behind clear skies again in the evening.
Tabular icebergs pepper the Strait and its waters represent also a good area to spot some of the Humpback whales that feed here. But the best sighting we had was of a curious young individual who had a good look at us swimming and diving next to the ship once the Europa reached the shores of the South Shetlands.
We had finished the Bransfield crossing in good timing, so, still, with a bit of time to spare before dropping anchor for the night, Europa headed towards the spectacular rock formation of Edinburgh Hill. Its cliffs stand nearly 150 meters straight out of the sea, forming the N side of the entrance to Moon Bay in the E part of Livingston Island. First photographed and named by Scottish geologist David Ferguson in 1913-14, they show a classic columnar basalt formation, beautifully deformed into a smooth-bellied curve.
The amazing rock formations are left behind and Europa heads towards her anchorage for the night, a steady ship for a good celebration of Christmas Eve.
Something started brewing on deck during the afternoon. A sort of tent over the main deck is rigged, barbecues are brought out, and lights and decorations garland the ship. And by dinnertime, with a drink in hand, we all gathered on deck where the Christmas meal was being cooked.
The sun now shines over the mighty glaciers and high peaks of Livingston Island, while in the foreground Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins nest up the rocky ridges of Half Moon Island.