It’s 5.32 am, Tuesday the 13th of March 2018 and I have just crossed the Antarctic Circle. A few of us have joined the captain and crew on the bridge this morning to experience this unique coordinates in life. Yes, this is real. I have sailed to Antarctica and have now crossed the most southerly of the five major circles of latitude that delimit the maps of our planet.
Most of us snooze on as the Plancius steams steadily south into a strengthening wind. As our destination, Detaille Island heaves into view, we are confronted by Antarctica in all its ferocious splendor, thwarting our plans to visit this lonely British base from the 1950s. It was only used for three years before being abandoned to the ice. Everything must be, in these latitudes. Cruising tantalizingly close by, we view the huts and radio masts of this time-capsule of history, we turn into the wind and headed further south into Hanusse Bay.
After lunch, we organize for a Zodiac cruise among the ice in this huge bay. As we prepare, the wind begins to moderate and the grey skies lighten as our Zodiacs bomb burst out from the ship in all directions. We cruise amongst the ice floes, viewing crab-eater seals upon the ice. It seems that every floe of any size had its own population of sleek blond seals snoozing the afternoon away.
Phil, our guide stop the engine, and check something in the water. As I’m sitting next to him, he invites me to put my hand into the water and grab, what I start calling “nano-shrimps”. I’m actually holding a tiny swarm of krill in my hands. This is the main nutrient of the Antarctic region and is the most abundant animal species on the planet. Penguins, seals, orcas, whales...everyone is feeding on it. It’s a vital component of this incredible ecosystem.
In fact, here comes the call for ‘Whales’ from both ship and Zodiac alike, as both Minke and Humpback whales cruise by feeding and resting in the big calm bay. We watch spellbound as a Humpback whale cruises towards our Zodiac, remaining at the surface as the competing sounds of the whales breathing and camera shutters whirring disturb the now calm day.
Elated, we approach an ice floe in the bay's center and get to step on it thanks to our very cool guide. As we are heading back to the ship, we realize it is not over yet! As the final staff Zodiacs prepared to come inboard, an inquisitive Humpback raised its huge head to look into Nina’s Zodiac. We watch awestruck as this show plays out in complete silence. We all concentrate not to disturb this stunning interaction between us and her.
Antarctica has changed lives today, as it always has, and it always will, for the lucky few who come here.