Saturday, January 27, 2024

Antarctica 2023-4 - Day 8 - 1/2/2024 - Croft Bay & Devil Island

It was an early morning, with breakfast starting at 6:30am and disembarkation starting around 8:30am. We were still on for the day paddle - basically, paddling in inflatable kayaks - and met in the reception area at 8:20am. Like the kayakers, day paddlers are given dry suits to wear over our internal layers. The instruction and preparation process took a while, but we eventually made it down to board a zodiac. The guides were Chris and Marissa, who just happened to be a couple. The zodiac had 5 inflatable tandem kayaks and 1 regular solo kayak tethered to it. Chris drove us out to some open water, and then we began boarding the kayaks.

I took the front seat of our kayak while Fran took the back. This was my first time in any sort of kayak, and I was initially not good at all. Enough so that Fran at one point told me to stop paddling so she could figure things out herself. I feel like I improved over the course of the 2 or so hours, though, and we were probably the second fastest kayak (vs fourth-ish initially) by the end. More importantly, the paddle was quite spectacular despite my initial learning curve frustrations. We spent a lot of the time paddling through grease ice - the thin layer of flexible ice that forms on top of water as it starts to freeze; this only made the learning curve steeper. In some cases Chris used the zodiac to break a path through the ice for us to follow. The weather was great - sunny and calm - so I ended up taking off my gloves and using just the paddling pogies. The harder than expected ice work and the sunny weather (still around freezing temperature-wise, though) meant that I worked up quite a sweat by the time that we were done. We hopped back on zodiac and Chris drove us back to the ship.

Day paddle on inflatable kayak

Because we were paddling, we missed out on the regular zodiac excursion. From what we later heard, we didn’t miss much, as they made a relatively simple split landing (half on land, half cruising; then switch) without a ton to see. The original hope was to make a landing on the fast ice at the south end of Croft Bay, but the scouts had found it not strong enough to hold the big groups.

The second outing of the day was another split landing, this time at Devil Island. The island is home to a large Adélie penguin rookery. We were in the second mud room group, so we were one of the first to disembark around 3:45pm. The first half went to land while the other half cruised, and then they switched after an hour on shore. A flag route was set up along the rocky beach, leading right into the penguin colony. We were directed to stay 5 meters away from any penguins, though this was pretty much impossible at times (and some people weren’t trying too hard to meet that guidance), and to walk at “penguin pace”. They also had us move in clusters at penguin pace so as to minimize blocking of the penguins’ paths between the water and their nesting areas. I had mixed feelings about this landing - while it was certainly nice to be so close to the penguins, it was obvious that we were disrupting them (even if without any significant long term impact) on their home turf. The zodiac cruise after the landing was nice, but less of a spectacle than the landing.

Devil Island

The plan for tomorrow includes two more landing attempts within the islands at the boundary of the Weddell Sea before we head over to the western side of the peninsula. However, there’s a chance that the high winds forecasted for tomorrow afternoon could cause that outing to be cancelled; the wind has already started picking up tonight. In any case, there will be an early start once again tomorrow. The post-dinner activity was a talk by one of the guides who spent the last summer and winter working in inland Antarctica for the US Antarctic Program, primarily at McMurdo Station.


My favorite pictures from the trip can be found here.

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