As we continued our journey across the Drake Passage, the slightly tumultuous seas we had the day before continued to calm through the night, providing us with a smoother passage to start the day. Early risers were greeted with whale blows off in the distance and throughout the day cape petrels, light-mantled albatross, and blue petrels kept pace with the ship as we continued our journey south.
We were kept busy during the morning hours with an important briefing on how to prepare for Antarctica following the rules set out by IAATO. Our expedition leader, Lucho, briefed crew and passengers alike on the safety protocols to follow so we do not disturb the wildlife or have a harmful impact on the beautiful continent of Antarctica. After the briefing, everyone was required to come down to the mudroom to clean all boots, jackets, pants, and backpacks that would be accompanying every individual onshore. We do this to ensure we do not bring any foreign organic material to places where they do not belong.
In the afternoon Madalena Patacho, one of our naturalists on board, treated us to a wonderful lecture about the whales that inhabit the Southern Ocean. As the afternoon continued, we slowly but surely made our way south until finally we spied the first signs of land, the South Shetland Islands were in sight! In celebration, we raised our penguin flag. We passed through Robert and Greenwich Island, soaking in the beautiful icy landscapes that surrounded us. We curved west around Greenwich Island and dropped anchor at Half Moon Island. The weather continued to cooperate with us, and after a delicious dinner, we headed out on an evening adventure to make our first landing in Antarctica!
With a wet splash, we made our way to shore and were immediately given the precious gift of watching gentoo and chinstrap penguins just fifteen feet away. With the late waning hours of an early Antarctic summer evening, we tramped around the snow viewing the chinstrap penguins as they made their way to and from the shore. In the air, we caught our first glimpses of the snowy sheathbill, Antarctic tern, and Antarctic skua. Returning to the National Geographic Explorer, smiles were wide on the faces of everyone who adventured ashore, and it was clear the magic of Antarctica was just beginning.