Our last full day in Antarctica was a very memorable one. Due to the malfunction of one of our propellers and the rougher seas in the Drake Passage, we are having to leave a day earlier than planned which means tomorrow after a final zodiac expedition we will sail sail back home around noon. We will get to Ushuaia around 7am on the 8th.
This morning we went out on the zodiacs first thing on an expedition to the Antarctic peninsula, meaning we set foot on the real continent for the first time instead on an island. We were in a bay area surrounded by glacier-capped mountains and filled with icebergs. A few Gentoo Penguins were sitting on shore watchign us come in, and a couple of big fat seals were also lounging around at our landing site. We hiked up to the top of one of the glaciers and took an ice-core sample with a special tool named ‘Old Fritzy’ by the SOI staff. The crew had to dig more than 2 meters down into the snow before they reached the ice! We spent lots of time photographing each other, and had our official 2013/14 SOI group shot taken. We then spent some time in complete silence to reflect on our experiences, ponder the future and soak in Antarctica. It was very peaceful. No one moved, and while I was laying down with my eyes closed I could feel the breeze, the snow, hear seals grunting, the creaking of the glaciers, and smell the faint scent of salt water.
After that, we took our Antarctic swim! Warm towels were stacked on the shore and the zodiacs were waiting to take swimmers back to the ship once they had dried and dressed. It was a very interesting experience, and very cold! But we were lucky – the oceans temperature measured at +1.8C, the warmest water temperature recorded as of yet for the expedition. Many students dove in head first and jumped back out; I walked in up to my waist and then got out. It was so cold – I could barely feel my feet!
The next exciting part of the day was at the end of a peer-to-peer meeting (students gather in groups to discuss our feelings and thoughts about the expedition). We were talking to Geoff Green, our expedition leader, when he suddenly leaned over and said “Is that a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross??”. We raced outside and the massive, sleek-looking bird soared over our heads. This species is considered an extremely rare bird because it has not been seen this far south in decades.
I was in such awe I felt overwhelmed and got all teary. It’s the last full day we have in Antarctica, and since things are winding down and we didn’t see one on the way in, I felt that we just wouldn’t see one at all. For this albatross to show up at this time was unexpected and very special. I have never had such a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment over a bird before. What a moment, and what a way to end our last full day.