Wednesday 25 November, 6.20pm, off Cuverville Island
I know this is a sentiment I've expressed on more than one occasion, but Zodiac cruising just does not get old, it really doesn’t. Whether zooming along at a million miles an hour bouncing up and down with the spray hitting your face, or gently putt-putting along a coastline checking out the wildlife and chatting, it’s just the best possible way to spend time, in my opinion. I should have been born by the sea.
This morning we cruised Foyn Harbour, which wasn’t so much about checking out wildlife as it was checking out icebergs. It was truly spectacular. The colours you see seem unbelievable, it’s like they are lit from within with the most incredible blues. They periodically flip, when the weight of snow or exposure brings about a change in the centre of gravity, and so you get incredible variation when parts that were previously underwater pop up on top. As a rule, you shouldn’t really get too close, because most of the berg is underwater, so if it flips when you’re near it, there might be a big chunk of it underneath your boat and they can easily topple a Zodiac and its unwitting passengers into the water. Sometimes though, if the berg is grounded, you can afford to get a little closer, which is very cool.
Whilst the main aim was to see some ice (which was good, because yesterday’s abortive attempt at cruising meant that I didn’t get a chance to see the iceberg that the others got to see), we also got a chance to see some Weddell seals when we caught up to the kayakers. They were sat on the shore, just chilling out, but we could get quite close, which was great. We were just happily watching them when all of a sudden, they started singing. Not, like, chart hits or anything – they make these high pitched sounds that literally only need a bit of drum and bass to make a banging tune. It’s so interesting, because most of the time, their vocalisations are something along the lines of "BLARGH!", a cross between barking and retching, so it’s pretty nifty to hear this sound, and be unable to believe it’s coming from them, even though intellectually, you know it is (Jamie had played me an audio file he’d recorded underwater some time earlier of the same thing, so I knew what it was as soon as I heard it). Very very cool.
After lunch, we were back on it, this time for a landing on Cuverville Island, where we had to clamber quickly up some ice steps the staff had cut out before the water tried to wash us away – they get pretty big swell on the beach there. The weather wasn’t great, it was snowing hard, but the wind was staying more or less constant, so I just shrugged and walked with the direction of the wind, figuring I’d deal with the snow blowing in my face later. We were there visiting a couple of small gentoo colonies, which are always nice, but this time they were particularly entertaining because the snow was quite deep. The staff were getting very stressed about us stepping off the path and creating holes that the penguins could fall into and be unable to get out of, so if your foot did sink into the snow, you had to be sure you stamped it level with the rest of the path so the animals would have a sort of ramp out of the hole. And you can well believe that they’d have trouble, because the little lambs were barely able to stay upright as they toddled about the place. Perhaps it’s cruel, but there are few things funnier than watching gentoos fall over. The kings are pretty good at keeping their balance, and will stop and have a think about it if they can’t handle the terrain. The rockhoppers and Macaronis love leaping about so rarely worry about any kind of lumps and bumps. Gentoos,
on the other hand, are quite determined to try and stay upright as much as possible, but barrel forward as though they’re always in a great hurry. They’re absolute morons, and as a result fall over every three steps but insistently push themselves back onto their tiny legs and struggle on, only to end up within seconds back flat on their faces. It’s bloody brilliant.
Tomorrow we arrive at Neko Harbour, and the Antarctic continent itself. Technically we’re already in the region, but you don’t say you’ve been to England just because you had a holiday in Guernsey, do you. So if all goes according to plan weather-wise (and we’ve been amazingly lucky on that front so far, so hopefully we can retain that luck for the last few days), then by this time tomorrow, we will all be able to say we landed on Antarctica. Cross your fingers.