Friday, 16 January 2009

Crossing the Antarctic Circle 07/01/2009

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Day 11 January 7th 2009

The morning wake up call announces that we are at 66 degrees 15 minutes and still heading south for the magic 66 degrees 33 minutes 66 seconds mark. The crew are just as excited as us about the possibility of crossing the Antarctic Circle because very few of them have crossed over.

After the regular breakfast briefing when it is announced that we do not really know what we are doing that day because it depends on the weather and they have not been here before and have not been able to find anyone else who has within the past two months(reassuring!), all of the ship's lights go out and the engine stops and the ship becomes becalmed somewhere near the Antarctic Circle. The emergency generator starts and we are asked to unplug all unnecessary apparatus so that its power can be used for the ship's navigation equipment - all of this is quite reassuring when you are miles from no where with no one else around.

After a number of long minutes and presumably someone hitting the engines with a large spanner, everything starts up again and we are on our way once more.

We are invited to attend a briefing for Antarctic camping.

Equipment issue:

One bivvy bag; one blue plastic insulating mat; one four seasons sleeping bag; one shovel; communal ownership of Mr or Mrs Yum-Yum.

The modus operandi is:

1) Dig a body sized trench in the snow;

2) Use the excavated snow to build a wall around your trench so that wind and snow are diverted over you;

3) Open the bivvy bag, slide in the blue insulating mat; slide in the sleeping bag;

4) Undress as far as you want to;

5) Stuff your clothes into your sleeping bag pack (as a pillow); take your boots off; get in; lie down; and

6) sleep?

7) Mr or Mrs Yum-Yum? Under the Antarctic Treaty we are not allowed to leave anything behind or take anything with us so we are provided with a communal usage big blue barrel into which you ............. should you get taken short during the night.

Lots of people express an interest but it remains to be seen how many are willing to do it when the crunch comes.

Crossing the circle

As crossing time approaches, everyone gathers on the bow for a crossing party. Appropriate wear for such an important occasion is a must together with a record showing that you took crossing the line seriously.

We have crossed the line

At the exact moment (around 1015), the ship's fog horn sounds and everyone jumps out of their skin and Pat nearly drops her drink with shock. A great moment and a goal achieved.

Two Explorers

The view around the ship at this moment is of sea and some distant icebergs

Iceberg at crossing time

(There is a small iceberg in the middle of this picture a few miles away!). GPSs are photographed to proved that we are below the circle, this GPS is showing which is obviously below

GPS over the line

Anyone who studied physics at school in the 1960s may remember the dip circle experiment where a magnetised needle was used to show the angle of dip of lines of magnetism pointing towards the pole. If you were to do that experiment here, then the needle would have an angle of declination of about 40 degrees.

Now we heading east towards the mainland, through fog towards the Pack Ice and Tabular Icebergs, and if the fog lifts, a chance to get onto the mainland again.

Tabular Icebergs soon start to appear - these are absolutely massive and seem to generate their own microclimate on top.

Three Icebergs

How smaller bergs are created is clearly shown by the large crack appearing down the side of this iceberg.

Iceberg end showing calving

Some Icebergs are very large and clearly show up on radar

A big Iceberg

Radar showing Ship and Icebergs

The agenda for the afternoon is "enter Matha Strait which lies between Adelaide Island to the south and Lavoisier Island to the North.If the ice permits, sail through Crystal Sound to Detaille Island. This is a small island with an Adelie penguin colony and an abandoned base, British Antarctic Survey's Station W which was evacuated in 1959 when sea ice and weather made relief by ship impossible."

Ships Position

After lunch: Scrap the agenda for the afternoon, the pack ice is closing in and the fear is that if we go on shore, the Ioffe will get trapped.

Iceberg with pack ice

Apparently we are the only boat to have been able to cross the circle this year, all the

Surrounded by pack ice

others have had to turn back because of the ice. So it is suddenly announced that we are going out in the zodiacs to look at more pack ice and some of the very big bergs which are

Zodiac and Iceberg

drifting our way from the Ross Ice Shelf and any wildlife which we might come across. The first thing you notice is the blue ice which

Blue Ice (1)

Blue Ice (2)

Blue Glacial Ice

varies in blueness from almost neon blue through to dark blue. The water is so clear that on some of the smaller bergs you can see how far down they go.

Iceberg with underwater element

Some krill are seen in the water, these are


the bottom of the Antarctic food chain and are food to penguins and whales. And then, as the snow starts to fall and we are beginning to feel a bit cold, someone on the boat calls out "Whale at one o'clock" and there right in front of us are two humpbacked whales doing what whales do in this area, slowly cruise

humpbacked whale showing hump

around and eat krill. Whilst humpbacks spend most of their life alone, they eat in groups of two to four because their eating technique (similar to that of Orcas) is more effective when their are a number of them. The whales dive only to come up again after a

Whale showing dorsal fin

few minutes and it soon becomes obvious that the whales are as interested in us as we are in them. After about 30 mins of popping

One whale

up, diving, swimming under the zodiac (upside down so that they can see us better (whale eyes point downwards)), two whales surface

Two whales

just in front of us, huff and puff for a bit and then dive once goodbye. On the way back to

Whale goodbye

the ship. someone comments that this afternoon we have in fact seen the top and bottom of the food chain this afternoon.

The day is not quite over yet, as we head north, there is yet another sounding of the fog

Crossing the Circle going north

Chart going back to the circle

horn as we cross the Antarctic Circle for the second time that day, toasted with Beer

Beer with glacial ice

cooled by glacial ice shortly afterwards and champagne during dinner.



  1. Awsome.....wanna go here too...:)

    1. If you can afford it (it has become very expensive over the past few years), it is an unforgettable experience.