Expedition Leader Larry Hobbs and Assistant Expedition Leader Marco Favero confer about the plans for our last day in Antarctica.
Passengers landed at Neko Harbor in the morning and had ample opportunity to photograph the gentoos nesting there.
A gentoo penguin seems to contemplate what all these people are doing on his beach!
Guests went on their last zodiac tour after visiting Cuverville Island in the afternoon.
At least 2 dozen guests took the polar plunge at Cuverville and seemingly enjoyed the “brisk” Antarctic water!
Neko Harbor, Cuverville Island
Under overcast skies, Le Boreal maneuvered around magnificently sculpted icebergs and into Anvord Bay. After a quick bite to eat, we boarded the zodiacs for a windy and choppy ride ashore to Neko Harbor. This scenic spot was first seen and roughly charted by Adrien de Gerlache during the Belgica Expedition of 1897-99. In 1921, Neko Harbor was named after Christian Salvesen's floating whaling factory Neko, which operated in the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula area between 1911 and 1924.
Many of us decided to make the hike to the ridgeline above, but were pleasantly distracted by the charismatic gentoo penguins nesting in small clusters along the way. Once past the penguins, we ascended a steep snow-covered hill and cut back to a rock outcropping from which we could see Anvord Bay in its entirety. It was a sight to behold! Many of the hikers rested their legs on the way back to the shore by sliding down the snow-covered slope.
Down below, we sat and watched the penguins, and absorbed the scene in its entirety. A massive glacier with cerulean blue crevasses cascaded down to the sea adjacent to the boulder-strewn beach. Gentoo penguins loafed along the shoreline, and made the perfect subjects for photography. From the shoreline up to the nesting colonies stretched steep meandering "penguin highways". The penguins stick to these trails religiously when the snow is very deep, to keep the walk from the sea up to their nests manageable. We couldn't help but think what it must be like for the very first penguin that arrives there each spring and has to break trail for the group.
Back on Le Boreal, we warmed up over lunch as Captain Jean Philippe Lemaire took the ship through the very scenic Errera Channel en route to our afternoon stop at Cuverville Island. This bell-curve shaped island was named for Vice-admiral Chevalier de Cuverville of the French Navy, who supported Adrien de Gerlache's voyage of the Belgica in 1897-1899. It is one of the most verdant places in all of Antarctica, its steep slopes covered with mosses and lichen.
The gentoos at Cuverville have received a lot of visitors over the years, so the nearly 5000 breeding pairs tend to be downright welcoming and quite the opposite of skittish. We watched their behavior closely, noticing how the gentoos constantly add stones to their rock pile nests while attempting to steal stones from the nests of others. While this hilarious show was going on, skuas patrolled overhead in case the skirmishes over stones presented an opportunity for them to snatch an egg or two. Based on the numerous broken eggs lying around, they've obviously had some success.
Naturalist Russ Manning led a hike up to the top of the island to get a view over the iceberg-scattered sea to the mountains and glaciers beyond. It was quite strenuous walking up the steep snow covered slope so, by the time we arrived at the top, most of us had shed our red parkas to cool off. Being at the top of the 800-foot cliff was exhilarating, and we felt as though we were on top of the world!
At the end of the landing, we made our way back to the beach to watch or participate in (or both) the Antarctic swim. Warmly bundled onlookers enjoyed the scene and handed out towels to the brave returning from the drink. Shrieking voices, incredibly fast sprints up the cobble beach, and clothes scattered in messy piles summarized this ultimate Antarctic experience. Before heading back to the ship, the warm among us (the non-swimmers) were taken on a short zodiac ride around the bay, where water-sculpted icebergs and the silence of the bay were striking.
Back on the ship, the hot water was flowing freely in many a shower as the swimmers attempted to warm themselves back up. At the evening Recap, Ornithologist Patricia Silva had us laughing with her study of "Red Jacket Albies". The swell picked up as we entered the open waters of Bransfield Strait, which we would cross during the night en route to the Drake Passage. After dinner, a stroll out on deck revealed up to a dozen light-mantled sooty albatrosses swirling playfully around the ship, their pale backs glowing orange in the last light of day.