Antarctica – 12/25 – Lemaire Channel and Booth Island

Lemaire Channel

This was a pretty spectacular christmas day.  We woke up when the expedition leader announced on the loudspeaker that we had a pod of killer whales off our bow.  Better than waking up to an alarm clock…

Entering the Lemaire Channel

We then headed into the Lemaire Channel.  The captain had heard earlier reports that it was too packed with ice and we couldn’t make it through.  When we approached the Lemaire Channel another ship, the Ushuaia, had already turned around.  We hadn’t seen another ship until now and we all were pretty disappointed because it seemed like we couldn’t make it through.

The Ushuaia turning back from the Lemaire Channel

However, the captain was determined to get through and through some skillful maneuvering and crashing through even more ice…

Captain maneuvering through the Lemaire Channel

We did eventually make it through the Lemaire Channel. To bad for the guests on the Ushuaia.  This is one of the many reasons to choose the NatGeo Explorer over the other ships that travels to Antarctica.  This ship has proven it can go were others can not.

Lemaire Channel

The Lemaire Channel had a lot of wildlife.  I felt a little bad sometimes when a seal would be taking a nap on an iceberg but was in our way.  The captain would try to maneuver around the seal but sometimes it just wasn’t possible.  This seal eventually slid off the iceberg and went to find a quieter place to take a nap.

Seal trying to take a nap in the sun

Miki taking a picture of me taking the above picture.

Miki taking a picture of me taking a picture of the Lemaire Channel

After making it through the Lemaire Channel we made it to Booth Island.  We had the most spectacular light with the most dramatic cloud cover.  We had some amazing penguin and seal spottings while out on the Zodiacs.  I shot over a 1000 pictures in one afternoon.  Don’t worry… I wont post them all.

The wildlife taken from a zodiac near Booth Island.

Yawning Seal

The 3 Penguins

Headless Penguin

Jumping Penguins

and for the dramatic iceberg shots of the day.

Antarctic Iceberg Landscape

Antarctic Iceberg Landscape

When we got back to ship a couple of people were referring to our boat as the big lens zodiac.  The shortest lens on our zodiac was a 400mm.  Antarctica tends to bring a well travelled crowd and most of the photographers on board have already been on safari (some several times) which requires some big glass.  Antarctica is no different.  The bigger and faster lens you can afford to bring down the better.

Big lens boat

While I was on the zodiac cruise with the Ira Block (the NatGeo photographer on board) and the other big lens crew, Miki went on a hike to the top of Booth Island.

Penguin Highway

Hiking on Booth Island

I also took a few pictures with my infrared converted 30D when we were travelling back through the Lemaire Channel.  My infrared camera spent most of the time in the camera bag because I’ve had limited success with it.  Even with the stunning landscape of Antarctica, I’m still not satisfied with the results.  Maybe I’m doing something wrong but I think simple black and white photos are much more appealing.

Antarctica in Infrared

Antarctica in Infrared

The daily expedition report and a few more photos after the break.

Lemaire Channel and Booth Island, Christmas Day

We awoke this morning to the sound of Expedition Leader Bud’s voice, announcing a sighting of killer whales (orcas) off our bow! Eight to nine whales allowed us to watch and wonder at them for nearly an hour as we drifted in Gerlache Strait, north of our destination of Lemaire Channel. Black and white, with a gray cape across their dorsal side, it was determined that this pod was a group of Type B orcas. Many of the group had pectoral patterns stained yellowish orange from the abundant diatoms in the water.

Shortly after breakfast, we entered the famous Lemaire Channel. This dramatic passage, lined on both sides by steep cliffs and ice falls, begins at a point known as Cape Renard. We were informed by another vessel that passage through the channel was impossible today, but we decided to try our own luck (and our Bridge’s navigational skills!). We threaded through the substantial ice floes and large bergs, examining crabeater and leopard seals through the transit. The length of Lemaire Channel is glacial fall after glacial fall, cascading down incredibly steep rock faces.

Late morning, we arrived at an anchorage just off Booth Island, at the southern end of the Lemaire Channel. Booth Island and the bay surrounding it are wonderful for exploration. Half our ship’s company made a jaunt to shore to see spectacular views of Port Charcot and a small colony of gentoo penguins. The other half took the opportunity to explore by Zodiac, navigating amongst glassy, cobalt icebergs. Many of our party joined a hike to the top of a nearby hill, crested by a rock cairn. The view across the expanse of island and sea was beautiful today, with multitudes of clouds creating incredible skies and seascapes. The gentoo penguins, with their unmistakable white “earmuffs” were plentiful and noisy. We wandered between colonies and watched them traverse large areas of snow cover. After lunch onboard our two groups switched locales, going ashore once again and making more forays into the ice. Very relaxed crabeater and leopard seals became a highlight for many of those on the Zodiacs.

We pushed our way back through Lemaire Channel and returned north toward Gerlache Strait. We arrived a few hours later into Port Lockroy, a small harbor inside Wiencke Island. During our transit, Rick enlightened everyone on the history of Port Lockroy Station, restored through the incredible work of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. We anchored in the harbor and invited the station manager and crew to join us in a traditional Christmas dinner aboard. We remained at anchor through the evening, enveloped by an incredible glacial face cascading down from the heights of Wiencke Island.

For many of us celebrating the holiday today, this was a wonderful, white Christmas. For those here simply to enjoy the beauty of Antarctica, this day was a reminder of why we have all chosen to convene in one of the most remote, pristine, and rugged landscapes on earth. Antarctica is nothing short of amazing. Happy Holidays to all!
by Jen Martin

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