OK, so our first landing was magical, with the beautiful quiet snowfall. The weather for the next 5 days proved to be almost miraculous! We had bright sunshine the rest of the entire trip. Other ships landing in various spot,s were prevented from landing by rough seas and high winds. No matter where we went, we had bright sun, calm seas and almost windless conditions. The Expedition Team was floored! Each night they would go over the projected activities for the next day and preface it with something like "This isn't in concrete" or "If conditions permit". And each day we woke to this glorious weather! Here's our ship, sparkling in the bay at Cuverville Island.
Here we had a huge colony of Gentoo Penguins (4800 breeding pairs!). Since the chicks had already hatched you can imagine how many penguins confronted our senses!
In addition to the penguins we also saw whale bones on the beach and seals lounging about in the sun.
You have to remember that penguins are flightless birds, so they do have feathers. During their summer months they go into a molting process. The lose their feathers and get this fluffy, plush coat. While their feathers are waterproof, the plush looking coat does not insulate them from the temperatures of the sea. So during this process, they cannot eat. It takes about 3 weeks to complete the process. This little guy is almost done with his molt. If you look closely at the first picture you can see the beginnings of his molt.
In this picture you can see the Gentoo Penguins with a Leopard Seal on the ice flow. The Leopard Seal has no natural enemy and they can be very vicious. This one must have been pretty well fed as the penguins exhibit no fear of him.
Later that day we sailed into Neko Harbor and actually set foot on the continent, not an island. Here we also had the Gentoos and saw a very cool calving of a glacier. The broken piece hit the water and caused quite a lengthy series of big waves that hit the beach just as a group was approaching the shore. They got a pretty cool ride! Fortunately they were in no danger. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of the calving, just the aftermath.
Here is the picture of my foot on the continent. Ice cube and all!
And Grand Circle was kind enough to provide this cool banner so that those of us who were on our 7th Continent could commemorate it in pictures.
We were on our way back to the ship when this seal decided to join up. He stayed with us for quite a while, then lost interest.
Remember I mentioned that the "ground" is actually penguin poop? Well, the way they relieve themselves is quite a show! You'll notice in the next picture that the rocks had white streaks across them. Well, the penguins will turn and squat a little then then let it rip! That poop flies about 4-5 feet straight out and believe me, you don't want to be in the path!
We had some incredible sunsets. It was light till about 10pm and the sun rose about 5am. Fortunately we had black out curtains in the cabins, although that means I never got a sunrise picture.
That night we were given the news that the next day we would be, "if conditions permit", landing at Port Lockroy, and much to our surprise, we could actually do some shopping! Who knew there would be a shopping opportunity in Antarctica?! Woohoo!