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Prospect Point, the Grandidier Channel & the Penola Strait VIDEO

We had a very quiet night traveling south along the Grandidier Channel, a navigable channel between the west coast of Graham Land and the north end of the Biscoe Islands. This channel was named by Jean-Baptiste Charcot for Alfred Grandidier, the President of the Paris Geographical Society. National Geographic Explorer arrived at Prospect Point, our destination for the day, setting anchor at 7 a.m.  Prospect Point, at 66 degrees 00'S is the most southern location in our voyage and is located very close to the Antarctic Circle (66 degrees 33'S). As we were preparing ourselves for Zodiac and kayak cruising the climatic conditions deteriorated indicating the potential to have a wet and windy morning. Read More>

Feb 21, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica

Danco Coast, Antarctic Peninsula

After leaving the South Shetland Islands in our wake we awoke to new adventures along the peninsula of Antarctica. Our first stop was Cuverville Island. The small beach area on this otherwise steep mound of an island has the largest gentoo penguin colony in all of Antarctica. During this part of the summer many of the adults have left and the large crèches of young birds await their return. Some of the adults will come back and feed their chicks but many of the young are fledged and will figure out that their parents are done feeding them. Some adults have returned to molt. This process of replacing all their feathers in a rather short period of time means the adult birds can’t go into the ocean, and therefore can’t feed, so there are hungry young and adult birds. The weather was wet and windy but many braved the slippery walk to see the penguins—and many skuas that also nest here as they keep an eye for a wounded or weak bird to prey upon. Once back on board we warmed up and dried out over lunch. Read More>

Feb 20, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica

Aitcho Island

Motoring south with purpose, National Geographic Explorer traversed the notorious waters of the Drake Passage in order to reach the first landfall in Antarctica. Just before lunch, the call went out—Land Ho! Before us stood the rugged geography of the South Shetland Islands—the first appearance of land since leaving Ushuaia—rising out of the water to welcome us. With a dim hue of fog hovering along the horizon, the set of islands held the great promise of the wildlife to come. Setting out on our first Zodiac cruise of the trip, our guests ventured to explore Aitcho island. Stepping foot on land we were greeted with two different species of penguins—Adélie and chinstrap. With the small birds rousting about atop the topography, guests found ample opportunity to gasp and wonder at the small creatures they had come so far to see. Many chose to level themselves upon the ground to achieve the penguins’ perspective, aiding them to capture a more dramatic and dynamic photo. Beyond the small, waddling friends that covered the shore, there were additional creatures occupying the space to cause the head to turn. Read More>

Feb 19, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica

Crossing The Drake Passage

Calm seas in the Drake! Over the past four centuries, many sailors have prayed for a gentle passage here and been disappointed. There is always another storm on the way, endlessly circling the southern continent, shredding the sea into violent waves. Just two days ago winds as strong as 60 knots were howling past Cape Horn, but the storm has moved on and we have ideal conditions. There is a low swell rolling through (just enough to rock us to sleep last night) and a light wind blowing (just enough to please the albatross that skimmed the waves around our ship all day). We slept in a bit this morning, resting up from our travels and building our store of energy for the adventures soon to come. Read More>

Feb 18, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica

Cape Horn & The Beagle Channel

The seas around Antarctica are notorious for their temper. After being favored by good weather throughout the trip, we finally got to experience a taste of what the Southern Ocean is best known for. Though in reality a truly rough crossing is not the norm, despite the Drake Passage’s fearsome reputation, it is certainly well capable of flexing its muscles on occasion. The morning provided us with strong winds and big seas, creating dramatic vistas bathed in sunlight, broken by dark, snow-bearing clouds. True seabirds, such as the albatrosses, shearwaters, and petrels, favor windy conditions such as these. Dynamic soaring allows them to harness the power of the wind in their almost effortless flight. Several wandering albatrosses, with their enormous wingspans, loitered around the ship for much of the morning, providing us with clear views of these magnificent beasts. As we approached Cape Horn, the ship changed course, returning us to stability and granting a view of the famous albatross monument atop the cliff. Read More>

Feb 16, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica

The Drake Passage

The Passage between the South Shetland Islands and the island of Cape Horn, Chile, is called the Drake Passage. Named for Sir Francis Drake, after his ship was blown off course after the Straits of Magellan, implying there was a connection between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Many of us learned about this infamous passage while studying the great explorations and discoveries of the world, our imaginations stimulated by the thought of tall-masted ships sailing the Southern Ocean. All ships departing to or from Antarctica need to cross this passage, often the most anticipated part of the voyage, due to the tales of tall seas and the hundreds of shipwrecks lying on the bottom around Cape Horn. Read More>

Feb 15, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica

Port Lockroy & Dallmann Bay

It's hard to fathom that our expedition here in Antarctica is already drawing to an end, the days past filled with astonishment and wonder over the unparalleled beauty and surreal majesty that is Antarctica. This being our last full day here on the Peninsula we find yet another facet to explore and take in. British Base “A” or Port Lockroy as it appears on the chart was established in 1944 as a remote meteorological outpost and also acted as a secret listening post in the Southern Ocean during World War II. From the end of the war until 1962 when the base closed it served as a research station for the British Antarctic Survey. After some major restoration in 1996 to the hut, Bransfield House, and installation of a permanent residence structure this historic site now acts as a living museum, post office, and gift shop managed by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. Bransfield House museum is packed with period artifacts left at the base for decades, probably the most significant of these is the “Beastie,” the weather recording equipment that pioneered some of the leading meteorological work of the time. In fact it was observations made at this site and others around the peninsula that led to the discovery of the massive hole in the Earth's ozone layer. The museum is literally a time capsule, open for us to stroll the decades past and get a real taste of life here in the Antarctic as a passive observer. In addition to our visit to Base “A” we also spent part of the morning visiting a gentoo penguin and Antarctic shag colony at Jougla Point. Read More>

Feb 14, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica

South!

After an incredible and prolonged sunset that started our “day” after midnight, the National Geographic Explorer continued south, way south. Sometime in the early hours of the morning, we crossed the Antarctic Circle, joining a select few who have ventured this far south. Most of us awoke much later, as we sailed into Lallemand fjord. The wakeup call was the crunch of ice as we pushed deeper into the fjord, and farther south. Our goal for the morning was a taste of something different, sea ice. Read More>

Feb 13, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica

Gerlache Strait, Lemaire Chanel & Penola Strait

During the night our stout little ship slipped silently southward down the sheltered waters of the Gerlache Strait. The islands of Brabant, Anvers, and Wiencke lay to our west and the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula’s Danco Coast, our east. Early morning risers were treated to that special light that comes with the dawn when the rising sun illuminates snow-capped peaks with alpine glow of rose and pink. At 6:30 we were passing Cape Renard, the entrance to what is arguably Antarctica’s most scenic passage—the Lemaire Channel. Several thousand feet of near vertical rock of Booth Island bound this narrow waterway on one side and equally impressive mountains separated by tidewater glaciers make up the other. The foredeck, bridge, and observation deck were the posts of choice to witness this spectacular transit. Shortly after breakfast we began the day’s first set of activities. Read More>

Feb 12, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica

Mikkelsen Harbour & Cierva Cove VIDEO

Our day started on the bridge with a burst of sunlight over the mountains of the peninsula, sending a beam of rosy light across our southbound track. Suddenly all the wildlife in the Orlean Strait was spot lit as if for solo performance: kelp gulls, Antarctic terns, southern fulmars, and even the delicate dance of the Wilson’s storm-petrel. Best of all it highlighted the blows of several groups of humpback whales feeding happily out in the calm waters. Tall plumes of rosy mist, succeeded by the slow-motion curl of giant flukes as they dove. Straight after breakfast we had reached our destination for a morning landing: Mikkelsen Harbour at the southern tip of Trinity Island. Read More>

Feb 11, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica

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