Fully dressed, we identify each other by our hats
A baleen whale skeleton has been cobbled together at Port Lockroy
Mr and Mrs Snowy Sheathbill greet us at the Port Lockroy landing
The weather is perfect for our outdoor Bar-B-Que
We are treated to champagne in the zodiacs in Paradise Bay
Le Boreal - January 16, 2012
Port Lockroy, Neumeyer Channel, Paradise Bay
Temperature: 39° F
Wind speed: 10 knots
Cloud cover: 30%
Precipitation: Early snow shower, then clear
Our final day in Antarctica began with fog and light snow, but by breakfast the weather had quickly morphed into the most brilliant sun and blue sky imaginable. As our rubber chariot sliced through the glassy sea en route to Port Lockroy, huge mountains with wisps of cloud perched on top towered overhead.
We stepped ashore at one of the most historic sites in this part of the Antarctic. Originally used as an anchorage for whale factory ships in the 1920's, Port Lockroy was later one of three bases established in the area of the Antarctic Peninsula to be on the lookout for German ships using the waters south of Cape Horn. We wandered through the museum, which was filled with relics of early British occupation in Antarctica. Various artifacts gave us an idea of what it would have been like to live at such a remote outpost at the time, and we had an opportunity to buy souvenirs and books in the shop, including one by our very own Historian Bob Burton on the history of the British Antarctic Territory.
A colony of gentoo penguins occupied all available space outside the building, and nowhere were they more photogenic or in such close proximity as here at Port Lockroy. Also present in large numbers were snowy sheathbills, the only non-seabird in the Antarctic. At times, there were as many as ten of them perched on the roof just above the entrance to Bransfield House. After some time ashore, we boarded the zodiacs for a tour of the surrounding area.
Back on Le Boreal, the grills were lit and preparations made for an Antarctic barbeque out on the pool deck, hosted by Executive Chef Eric Torralba, Maitre d' Ludovic Andrée and Bar Manager Mounir Sbihi. While we ate, Captain Patrick Marchesseau maneuvered the ship through the very scenic Neumeyer Channel, a 16-mile-long and 1.5-mile-wide passage between Anvers Island and Wiencke Island. The scenery was spectacular, and we frequently popped up out of our seats to snap photos between courses and cocktails.
Soon Le Boreal passed between Lemaire Island and Bryde Island, and into the shelter of Paradise Bay. We landed at Brown Base, which is situated on the mainland of the Antarctic Peninsula. As our feet planted themselves firmly on the Antarctic continent itself, many of us realized that we had reached the milestone of having set foot on all seven continents. Nesting gentoo penguins were scattered all around the bright orange buildings, while snowy sheathbills were busily running around between the nests picking through the guano.
We followed the boot-packed trail further across the snowfield, and some of us opted make the steep trek all the way to the top, from where the view across Paradise Bay was superb. The slide down the winding track through the snow was exhilarating, and many of us found ourselves trekking back up just so we could do it again.
Afterwards, we boarded the zodiacs for a short tour of the bay. A cliff dotted with nesting blue-eyed shags was just around the corner, the chicks nearly full grown and testing out their wings by flapping constantly. We also came across Cruise Director Jannie Cloete and Assistant Cruise Director Sally Escanilla in a "bar boat", which supplied us with champagne to toast our continental landing.
As the ship was leaving Paradise Bay, three humpback whales provided us ample excitement, as they cooperatively fed by creating a "net" of bubbles to concentrate their prey, which they subsequently lunged through simultaneously. It was the perfect end to our final day in Antarctica.