After a night of pushing through dense ice in the Bismarck Strait, we arrived at our morning’s destination of Palmer Station, one of three year-round research bases operated by the United States Antarctic Program. Only 12 ships each year are permitted to visit the small station occupied by 45 participants, and all of the previous visits this season had been cancelled due to excessive pack ice blocking access to Anvers Island. In fact, the ice surrounding Palmer Station had been so impenetrable that even the local scientists had been unable to get out in their boats to conduct research on nearby Torgerson Island. Until just a day or two before our scheduled visit, we hadn’t thought we would be able to make our landing but just enough wind broke up the ice and allowed us a clear passage to our anchorage.
Our Zodiacs crunched through last night’s formation of grease ice and we were greeted by the smiling and energetic staff ready to lead our groups around the station. Tour guides shared information on the long-term ecological research studies that are underway, as well as sharing stories of life on a remote and isolated outpost of the United States. As always, the visits concluded with informal chats with scientists over Palmer’s famous brownies and fresh coffee.
Departing Palmer Station was a stunning journey through ice floes and past lounging crabeater seals. The sun’s rays glinted off the array of dense, but small chunks of pack ice which made for an otherworldly scene. We sailed through this wonderland for most of the afternoon, finally reaching open water and a few Humpback whales as we entered the Drake Passage.
We celebrated the incredible weather and our great fortune to experience such a pristine environment with the hotel team’s Antarctic blue ice dinner followed by the talented stylings of our very own crew dancers and musicians (and even some staff musicians, too!). It was a perfect end to a great voyage to Antarctica!