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Lemaire channel and Paradise Harbour
On our last day in Antarctica, the weather finally turned against us, but this enriched our experience of this wild continent!
Minerva steamed southwards through the Lemaire Chan¬nel, a 7-mile long, spectacularly narrow passage between Booth Island and mainland Antarctica. It is no accident that the channel is nicknamed 'Kodak Alley'; it is flanked by glaciated mountains and peaks that soar to over 2000 feet on the island and 3000 feet on the peninsula. Unfortunately visibility was poor but the spectacle was enhanced by the waves and spray kicked up by gusts of 60 knots or more. We arrived off Pléneau Island at the southern end of the Channel, in an area known as the 'iceberg graveyard' because it is often packed with stranded, crumbling icebergs. A zodiac cruise around them is a good experience but the strong gusts of wind were continuing and boating would not have been safe. So Captain Moulds turned Minerva's bow back into the Lemaire Channel. As we proceeded slowly between the towering cliffs, geologist Ralph Eshelman described the many rock features and also pointed out the penguin colonies clinging to the steep sides and other features of interest.
Our next destination was Paradise Harbour where we would make our final landing in Antarctica. The wind dropped during the late morning and we made an easy zodiac landing at the closed Argentine station Brown (formerly Almirante Brown named for the Irish founder of the Argentine navy). We paid our final visit to the penguins – a small gentoo colony that had encroached on the station - and climbed a steep snow slope for a fabulous view over Paradise Harbour and its surrounding glaciers, followed by a slide back down!
The zodiacs took us on a short cruise to inspect a cliff-side colony of blue-eyed shags and – surprise! – there was another zodiac round the corner waiting to dispense glasses of champagne to celebrate the end of our stay in Antarctica.
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