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02/20/2009

Drake Passage

An even more tranquil morning greeted us as we pulled back the curtains in our state rooms to survey the scene outside. During the night, the reputation of the Drake Passage as a menacing force to be reckoned with went completely out the window and, as the sun rose over the sea, the name “Drake Lake” became much more appropriate. One member of the Expedition Staff commented that the ship’s movement had become so slight that it felt as if we had arrived back at the pier in Ushuaia during the night.

The entourage of wandering albatrosses and white-chinned petrels which had materialized during the day yesterday had disappeared while we slept. The Minerva had crossed the Antarctic Convergence during the night, placing us squarely in Antarctic proper. There was a chill in the air, and the drastic increase in red parka sightings on the outer decks clearly reflected that fact.

After breakfast, we joined Geologist Ralph Eshelman for his lecture entitled “Rocks, fire and ice: Geography, geology and glaciology of the Great White Southern Continent.” Ralph gave an excellent introduction to the White Continent, which holds the title as the coldest, driest, and windiest place on earth. Its massive ice fields are as much as 3 miles thick in places, towering above sea level by as much as 12,000 ft. Ralph’s primer to this land of superlatives left us eager for our arrival at the seventh continent.

After enjoying some time out on deck, we gathered in the Darwin lounge with Expedition Leader Aaron Russ for a mandatory briefing about conduct while ashore in Antarctica. The essential aims of this talk were to ensure that our visits there are conducted safely, and that the environment and wildlife are not disturbed by our presence. We also learned about the ship’s zodiacs, which are the transport of choice in this part of the world.

We enjoyed a long lunch and a nap before meeting Photo Coach David Salmanowitz for his talk “Dials and knobs: Getting the most out of your camera.” David went into more detail about some of the camera features we may choose to utilize to get the best photos we can on this trip. He went into detail on concepts like histograms and exposure compensation, which would help us greatly in capturing Antarctica in photos. Following the talk, we had the opportunity to meet with him one on one to get assistance with specific questions or issues with our cameras.

We then grabbed our parkas, cameras and binoculars and headed outside to see if the numbers of seabirds around the ship had increased as the Minerva headed south. We were pleased to see that a group of pintado (cape) petrels had decided to spend some time with us, and were banking back and forth across the ship’s wake. Those of us interested in practicing our action photography found them to be the perfect subjects. Some of us headed up to the front deck of the ship and were rewarded with sightings of fur seals and occasional porpoising penguins.

In anticipation of our arrival at our first Antarctic penguin colony, we joined Ornithologist Rich Pagen for a lecture called “Penguins: Black and White and Guano All Over: The penguins of Antarctica”. Rich provided a fascinating introduction to the penguins that inhabit this southernmost part of the world. We learned that the brush-tailed penguins build nests out of stones, and these stones are like jewels or currency to them. They present them to mates, steal them from neighbors, and quite literally these stones are the foundation of their ability to raise young. We learned a lot, and we left the lecture hall overwhelmed with anticipation of meeting penguins firsthand.

Before dinner, we gathered for the first of our evening Recaps, during which the Expedition Staff went over some of the highlights of the day and briefed us on what we hope to do tomorrow. After a relaxing dinner, many of us bundled up and headed outside to watch darkness fall over the Southern Ocean. Back in our state rooms, we drifted off to sleep thinking excitedly about the new world in which we would find ourselves tomorrow.
 

   

Our staff captain, Alex, introduces us to the workings of the Minerva bridge.

Geologist, Ralph Eshelman, lectures on Antarctica's geology, geography and glaciology.

As there is little wind this morning, many guests are on the Pool Deck enjoying the sun or exercising on the Promenade Deck.

We are shown the proper way to dress for zodiac operations by Pablo and Aaron.

Russ supervises some extra boot scrubbing in preparation for tomorrow's landing in Antarctica.


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