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12/11/2009

Drake Passage and Aitcho Island

With a smooth crossing of the Drake passage, our Antarctic Adventure has started early! The calm conditions allowed Minerva to make good speed and we made landfall in the South Shetland Islands around midday. Proceeding through the Nelson Strait, we arrived at Aitcho Island. (Its strange name is derived from the initials of the UK's Hydrographic Office.)

At 0741, Sue Holt won the bottle of champagne for spotting the first iceberg (which had to be at least as large as Minerva.)

During the morning we had geologist Ralph Eshelman's talk on "Rocks, Fire and Ice: Geography, Geology and Glaciology of the Great White Continent." Ralph compared the Antarctic with the Arctic: both regions are cold, but they are very different. The Arctic is a deep sea surrounded by land while the Antarctic is a continent surrounded by ocean. Ralph also explained how glaciers form and icebergs are born and summarised the changes in temperature that are taking place. Some parts of Antarctica are warming and others are cooling. This was followed by Expedition Leader Larry Hobbs' mandatory briefing on the procedures for landing by Zodiac inflatable boats, how we should conduct ourselves ashore and he also told us what to expect at the intended landing places.

In the late afternoon, we prepared for our first landing. Aitcho Island is still mostly snow-covered but it was not too difficult to plough up the slope from the beach to small colonies of chinstrap and gentoo penguins. The birds were incubating their eggs and, by keeping at least 15 ft away, we could watch them without causing disturbance. A great surprise was a king penguin standing among the much smaller chinstraps. This species breeds on the island of South Georgia and is rarely seen so far south.

In the evening, our guests of the Jewish faith met for the lighting of the first candle to celebrate Hannukah.
 

   

An early morning sighting of the 1st iceberg by Sue Holt wins the contest!

Discussing navigation with the Captain on the bridge

An Antarctic Petrel joins our usual escort of Cape Petrels this morning

Larry Hobbs briefs us on the important rules of behavior in Antarctica

We find a King Penguin at our very first landing at Barrientos Is!


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