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Journal Entry:

Sunday, March 29, 2015 13:46:15

ANTARCTICA & IBERIA 2015: 3 South Shetland Islands to South Orkney Islands

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Yesterday was a quiet day on board. The outside temperature was 1C. In the morning there were sightings of a pod of fin whales, but all I saw was spray blowing from them, and another single whale. In the afternoon there was a pod of Orcas, some southern bottle nose whales and some humpback whales. In the distance we could see Elephant Island, whereShackelton left his men when he went to South Georgia in a small boat to get help.

We did our normal after lunch walk around the deck and visit to the bridge in brisk but sunny weather, followed by my traditional beer and a siesta. Marilynn tied in with some bridge players. The evening beer fest in the bar proceeded as normal before dinner. The selection and preparation of food has become very good. During the afternoon we travelled along the ice shelf that covers the Weddell Sea.

This morning we were greeting by clear skies and bright sunshine in the Orkney Islands, something that this area is not noted for. There are lots of huge icebergs, and the jagged, mountainous islands were brilliant with white snow and ice. Curious seals popped up from the calm sea to have a look at us. The temperature is minus 2C, but was a lot colder in the Zodiacs.

Our next stop was the Argentine base in Scotia Bay on 12 mile long Laurie Island. It was originally a Scottish base, as the English and the Royal Geographic Society refused to fund Mr. Bruce, the expedition leader, so he raised his own funds in Scotland. The base was founded in 1902, and in 1904 he turned it over to Argentina rather than England. It is currently the longest continuously functioning base in Antarctica.

This morning we boarded the last Zodiac at about 10:30 AM, driven by Brent, who we very much like as he is noted for taking his passengers exploring. We headed away from the base towards some small islets below a high ice cliff. We were able to get close to huge, fat fur seals sleeping on the rocks and a colony of chinstrap penguins. There were also sea birds standing on rocks, flying, and one young giant petrel who was trying hard, but not too successfully, to learn how to fly from a gentle glacial slope.

Eventually we joined other passengers on a beach populated by a number of fur seals in front of the Orcadas Argentine Base. Marilynn got a great shot of one of the fur seals in the water catching a penguin. One of our group walked down, stripped off and went for a swim in the 1 degree C water.

The remnants of the original stone building built by the Bruce expedition is still intact - it was also used by the Argentinians before they constructed others. We visited the excellent museum, located in a very well preserved building built in 1905, 110 years ago, before walking to the other side of the gravel bar on which the base is located. This is the windward side, and ice floes had piled up along the beach, moving up and down with the waves.

Our final stop was the recreation building, where the cook had prepared a selection of snack items to be eaten with coffee or matea. They made us very welcome, and many of the staff came to say hello. There are half a dozen or more in our group who speak Spanish, so communication was not difficult. There are 17 staff who winter here, but up to 40 in summer when the maintenance crews arrive. One other ship will visit tomorrow, and they will then batten down for the Antarctic winter.

Now we have two days at sea, as we make our way to the uninhabited South Sandwich Islands.