Happy Solstice! Our Astral Summer Solstice began with the first iceberg in sight! Painted petrels fluttered by the ship in cascading whirls. Their black and white markings waved like flags over the blue and white scenery. Soon volcanic islands came in view. We crossed the top of the Bransfield Strait and into Antarctic Sound. We have arrived!
Preparations for our first day in the Antarctic landscape began in earnest. Our outer gear was inspected for seeds that might bring foreign species to this pristine wilderness. Then we started to see the icebergs. Huge icebergs, like dashes in the distance, caught our imaginations. Then the water was full of them. We sailed among white and blue sculptures of unimaginable proportion. Smaller ice floes filled in the spaces between the behemoth icebergs. Occasionally little black and white penguins stood in groups watching us pass. They contemplated our presence. Friend or foe? Safe or unsafe? Brave little birds went back to the business at hand which was difficult to discern from our point of view.
Solstices have their own sense of time. They stretch moments into experiences. The Solstice has an other-worldly feel to it, and we were in another world entirely.
After lunch the Zodiacs were deployed, and off we went to the land of the Adelie penguins. Heroina Island, in the Danger Island chain, is the breeding site for 285,000 pair of Adelie penguins. They were everywhere. They porpoised out of the water in groups of a hundred or more. They lined up along the shores as if waiting for the next subway car to arrive. This gathering had a bit of urgency to it. They scanned the water for any sign that the deadly grasp of a leopard seal might be near. Then in a moment of abandon, they charged the water in a mad splash. This was entertaining enough but a glance upward revealed hundreds of thousands of birds on their long journey to their nesting spots on the top of the island. All of this was surrounded by the fanciful icebergs.
Prior to dinner was the Captain’s “Welcome Aboard” cocktail party. Captain Arron Wood introduced us to his team and gave us a warm welcome. We all thought that after dinner we might get an extra bit of rest but then came the announcement. Killer whales had been spotted and we were going to see them. Back into our outer wear we went. Spread out across the vast Antarctic Sound we could see the blows and glimpse the dorsal fins of these magnificent animals.
The sun was getting low on this, the longest day of the year. Once again, the icebergs took center stage. The subtle pastel colors of sunset set the ice to glowing. Slowly, ever so slowly, we said goodbye to this amazing day.