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12/16/2008

Paulet Island and Hope Bay

Overnight the Minerva cautiously sailed through Antarctic Sound on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula. This area is known as iceberg ally and is filled with magnificent tabular icebergs that have calved off of the ice sheets. The Captain and officers of the bridge had a very demanding night as not only did they navigate through the ice but there was dense fog as well. This slowed our timings a bit and we reached the area near Paulet Island in the mid-morning.

There was just too much ice to bring the ship close to the shore for a landing so it was decided to have a zodiac cruise instead. We had sailed by small icebergs coated with Adelie penguins all morning and now there was a chance for a much closer view.
It was still quite foggy but we could just make out the top of Paulet Island through the mist. This island is a small circular volcanic cone, approximately 1 mile in diameter and 1,158 feet high, lying off the south east coast of neighboring Dundee Island. Discovered by Ross's British Expedition (1839-43) the island is named for a Royal Navy Captain. The island is also home to 100,000 or more pairs of Adélie penguins.

The zodiacs weaved through the icebergs stopping to photographs small groups of Adelies’ resting on them. Eventually we made our way towards the main penguin colony and as we approached the beach we could see the thousands of penguins - it was an overwhelming sight! We saw a Weddell seal also resting on an iceberg and some of the boats were lucky enough to see a leopard seal. It was great chance to see such an impressive colony and experience being out in the ice.

After lunch we had the chance to step back on terra firma for a landing at Hope Bay. This small bay, just three miles long and two miles wide, was discovered by Nordenskjöld and the Swedish Antarctic expedition in 1902. It was named in honor of the three expedition members who spent the winter there, and the remains of their hut can still be seen close to the landing site. These days Hope Bay is home to the Argentine Esperanza Station.

We were welcomed ashore by some very friendly Argentines and after being split into groups we went for a tour of the base. Our first stop was at an overlook of the base where we took pictures of the station and also of the remains of one of the huts from Nordenskjöld’s expedition. From there we were invited to join the base personnel for a cup of tea and a chance to send postcards or purchase some souvenirs. It was a very interesting to see what it would be like to live in such an isolated part of the world.

   

Paulet Island appears in the fog

A young Weddell Seal at Paulet Island's shoreline

Heading northwest through Iceberg Alley towards the tip of the peninsula

Suzanna leads us to the cook house at the Esperanza Base in Hope Bay

A male Adele Penguin trumpets triumphantly at the Esperanza Base rookery


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