Sunday February 4th, 2001

Location

Marguerite Bay

Latitude

69.15S

Longitude

69.12W

Wind

Light southerly

Sea

Slight

Air temp

1 deg C and falling

Sea temp

0 deg C

Barometer

995 mbs and steady

Conditions

Very pleasant but getting colder

Visibility

Unlimited


0900 hrs: King George VI Sound beckons. We want to see what has happened to the King George VI ice shelf that fills the channel, the Sound, between Alexander Island and the mainland at the base of the Antarctic Peninsula. Indications are that it has receded dramatically, especially over the past 8 to 10 years.

We probably won’t make it to the face of the ice shelf, because as it recedes it is dropping so much old ice into the sea that the channel is full of it. We are going to have a look for ourselves.

We are in the middle of Marguerite Bay as I write this – heading south and about to turn to starboard and round Flyspot Islands. This calm sea that we are motoring in is normally a mass of fast ice. Not this year.

For the first time that anyone can remember, it is totally free. Sure, there are the magnificent icebergs that are never far away – always in sight – like pale ghost ships many have piled onto the shallow areas around various islands and reefs and will end their days there, gradually decaying away, eventually leaving nothing to show of their having existed. And the bits that are continually breaking away from those magical white-blue cliffs are a nuisance that we need to constantly watch out for.

The mountains away to port near Windy Valley and our destination nearly 60 miles away on the starboard bow are showing crystal clear in the midday sunshine. We could see the high peaks of Alexander Island over 100 miles away before we up-anchored this morning.

The only clouds in the sky are a few lenticular ones over the mountains – otherwise it is a clear Antarctic blue. But it isn’t very summery. The light wind off the glaciers is very cold. Your eyes water immediately you go on deck and take a look around. It is a good day for snow goggles – plus all the other thermal clothing necessary for such a day.

It is exciting. There is a feeling of anticipation onboard. We are going where few have been before.

1430 hrs: There are bergs everywhere, mainly big ones. Not quite the size of the ones in Antarctic Sound earlier this trip, but impressive just the same. Some are full of caves of icy blue; some have obviously turned upside down and now show their smooth, sculptured undersides, instead of the craggy jagged peaks; some are new tabular icebergs with flat tops and vertical sides. Andy and I were looking at one as we passed close by, when a small piece fell from the side – to be followed a few seconds later by an enormous slab – and then another.

Most of the bergs we are seeing today are breaking up. Downwind are vast fields of bits, big and small. They litter the surface of the nearly calm sea, but there is generally room to squeeze between the pieces as long as we are careful.

It is a brilliantly fine afternoon – we couldn’t wish for better. Whilst it’s very cold if exposed to the wind, sun cream is still a must to avoid being sunburnt.

2130 hrs: We are now in the entrance to King George VI Sound. There is a considerable quantity of loose ice spread out across the Sound in front of us. The sun is still up above the very high mountains of Alexander Island to starboard.

We have tied up to an ice floe for the night. We were motoring into the Sound, saw the ice building ahead, and decided to stop in relatively open water – leaving the push through the ice until the morning. But it is too deep here to anchor (approximately 1000 metres down) so we lassoed a projecting finger on a floe with our rope anchor warp. And here we are!!

The sea is flat. The wind is light. The scenery is superb.

We were all able to sit down together for a roast lamb dinner – followed by a freshly made brownie cake and cream – a cup of tea and I am complete. Exploring in the Antarctic isn’t always roughing it…