Tourists on a hike at Turret Point, King George Island, South Shetland Islands. Photo: Rob Stimpson
That evening, we reach the top end of the Weddell Sea. It is frozen solid from east to west, an area of 2.8 million square kilometres! The winter ice has not receded since September, the beginning of spring in the southern hemisphere. Our ship runs a course along the edge of the pack ice. The seemingly endless daylight hours of the polar summer are beginning; it is 10:30 pm and as bright as day. Penguins bask on an iceberg as we pass by, oblivious to our presence.
Antarctic Sound was our original destination, but the ice has choked our planned route. We set our sights for King George Island in the South Shetlands, an archipelago of islands that sits about 100 kilometres off the coast of Antarctica.
Morning brings large ocean swells and brisk winds on King George Bay — not the best ingredients for an outing. I am driving the zodiac with some photographers onboard. They do not care about the waves — they want images.
We make our way across the bay, riding up and over the waves, sliding down into the troughs — repeat process. Luminescent aquamarine icebergs don’t seem real. Cameras fire at six frames a second; it doesn’t take long for the photographers to fill their digital cards.
Then it is Turret Point, a rocky rise of land with nesting giant southern petrels, elephant seals and chinstrap penguins. Spring here is much like late winter at home: corn snow and many opportunities to leave a posthole as you break through the surface of the snow without warning, which I managed to do on a few occasions!
Our ship moves further south along this archipelago of islands through the Bransfield Strait, which is quite cooperative. The last time I was sailing here, 70-knot winds were sweeping in from the Drake Passage. We make our way towards Deception Island, an active volcano. On this trip, we arrive in the early morning and make our way through a breach in the caldera into the c-shaped island.