Today is our final opportunity for Antarctic exploration before the long and tumultuous excursion back to South America through the Drake Passage. The venue at hand is the Cierva Cove, a deep inlet on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula, on the south side of Cape Herschel, within Hughes Bay. There will be no beach landing here; only cruising through this ice filled bay will be possible given the rugged terrain.
Cierva Cove was named after Juan de la Cierva, the inventor of the autogiro, the precursor to contemporary helicopters. He was a pilot and engineer who successfully patented the first rotating wing aircraft in 1923.
As the zodiacs are lowered and we begin motoring through the sound, I am immediately struck by the massive glacial face that is so prominently displayed in the background. Our guide and driver, Peter, proceeds slowly in between the numerous icebergs and pieces of brash ice strewn throughout the frigid waters. The copious ice-chunks that surround me are largely the result of what has calved off the the glacier's face. Other pieces, however, have blown in from the Gerlache Strait by the prevailing westerly winds.
On this morning, the skies are threatening, with the prospect of precipitation quite imminent. Despite frigid temperatures that necessitate replacing my outer glove layer after operating my camera each time, I am amazed at the beautiful hues of the icebergs in the overcast lighting conditions. Many appear a shade of turquoise, accentuated by the dark ambiance. The geometric patterns of these Antarctic icebergs are incredible, sculpted by ocean tides into fantastic shapes.
While the rugged environment appears to me to be the main show, I begin seeing glimpses of wildlife in and around the icebergs. Peter operates our zodiac cautiously through this frozen maze, as the ocean current will many times close the narrow channels he has chosen, forcing him to constantly alter his route. In the distance, I eyeball my first leopard seal but unfortunately, don't have time to change to a long lens to capture him. Two other pinnipeds inhabit these waters including Weddell seals and Crabeater seals. I'm hoping that the zodiac will happen to be pointing in a favorable orientation for me to photograph them.
Based on the luck of the draw, it turns out the my best wildlife shot today will be of a gentoo penguin trudging up an iceberg. I'll have to admit, he looks lonely out here on this island of ice.
A light freezing rain has just started coming down. Peter asks if we've had enough and want to return to the Sea Explorer. I'll have to admit, my hands are freezing from using my camera. I'd like to go back, but don't want to sound like a wimp and ruin the good time of my zodiac mates. Fortunately, the general consensus is that it's time to return to warmth and shelter, for which I'm grateful.
Our time in Antarctica is drawing to a close. For 3 weeks the Sea Explorer has navigated circumferentially through the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. I can truthfully say that it has been a photographer's dream, with the opportunity to capture some of the most unspoiled landscapes in the world today. The wildlife has been spectacular! The seals, penguins and albatross species, for me, compare favorably with the wildebeest, lions and elephants I have had the good fortune to have seen in the Masai Mara of Kenya.
In anticipation of our voyage through the Drake Passage, notorious for its ferocious current and inclement weather, I take my meclizine to hopefully attenuate my anticipated nausea. Many of my shipmates are using scopolamine patches for this very reason. They don't seem to mind the dry mouth that is a known side effect of this drug. Maybe I'll give this antiemetic a try if I'm ever in this neighborhood again.