It started as a barely discernible rattle that drew our eyes to the glacier. A few small chunks of ice bounced down the sheer face and hit the sea with a thud. Before you could move, or get your camera out, a block the height of a 2-story house disintegrated in mid-air and collapsed with a roaring clap of thunder, slamming into the sea, pushing up a vertical wall of water with frightening force. We all silently evaluated how far away we were and how much energy the wave would have when it reached us. We had paddled as close to the living ice cliffs as we thought was safe, but the scale in Antarctica is deceiving. There are no trees, or plants or people on the ice to help you judge distance. Was the calving glacier 20 meters or 200 meters tall? As we sat and waited, we realized we were actually further away than we had thought. Seconds passed, and nothing happened. Slowly we discerned that the multiple blocks of floating ice from dinner plate to campervan size were being lifted and dropped by a rolling swell. By the time the waves rolled under us, they were probably 30cm tall and bore no threat. You could hear the energy though, as brash ice and icebergs shook besides us. In a second icefall later, a van-size iceberg was rolled multiple times by the ensuing wave. It was humbling to watch the power of nature and realize there was no way to predict what would fall when. I also felt lucky to be able to witness such a spectacle of nature – the changing shape of the landscape.
An hour later, we pulled ashore on a rare rocky point which wasn’t overshadowed by an overhanging icecliff. As we munched on sandwiches, someone noticed tiny krill in the shallow clear water – the lifeblood of the Antarctic foodchain and what brings all the whales, seals and penguins here. Just after we launched, a strong sleek head emerged from the water with a noisy exhale. The leopard seal wasn’t phased by 7 kayakers heading towards him. He stared right into my eyes, giving me a wonderful view of his spotty strong neck, although I was happy that he kept going.
We have paddled 3 days so far after we arrived in the Melchior islands on Tuesday evening. On Weds, we explored that cluster of islands, enjoying calm serene waters on the south side and dynamic swell and boomers on the north. The morning was bathed in sunlight with blue skies and view of the dramatic 1000 meter+ peaks on neighbouring Anvers and Brabant islands. A few chinstrap penguins hung out on the rocks while fur seals sprawled out on low snowy islands. A snoozing humpback was chilling out in the bay while another couple were feeding ahead of us.
On Thursday, the yacht moved us to the West coast of Anvers island and we spent 5 hours exploring Chiriguano bay, the scene of our icefalls and incredible scenery. Our captain and 2nd mate, Zigg and Santi, then moved the yacht to Enterprise island on the other side of a choppy Gerlache Strait, as we huddled inside eating and drinking tea.
Today it started off raining, windy and misty, not inspiring conditions for a paddle but we are only here once so most of us put on an extra layer and headed out to explore relics of the whaling industry. They weren’t hard to find as we are moored up to the 100 meter wreck of a whaling boat that caught fire in 1919 and was ran aground purposely. On nearby islands, small wooden whaling boats have been left to rot and whale ribs lay discarded next to glaciers and under the water. Dave picked one up on the end of his paddle until he realized how rancid it smelt. At some point the rain turned to snow and began to pile up on our decks and PFDs (buoyancy aids), and on the rocks and bergy bits. Hundreds of fur seals watched us, ignored us, or went totally silent as we passed by.
Tomorrow should be nicer weather and we plan to explore Wilhelmina Bay, where there are often lots of humpbacks so fingers crossed. Meanwhile,it’s 7pm and there is some glacial ice onboard that is asking to be combined with some gin, tonic and lemon so I’ll sign off and help it out.