The Drake Passage, roughest sea in the world, can sometimes have waves over 60 feet. During our trip, the drake passage was kind to us, a Drake Lake, we were told. It surely didn’t feel like one for us, cause we were swaying like in a swing for over a day. Finally, it was nice be on calmer waters, almost standing still. The announcements said we were going to make our first landing, Yankee Harbor.
Yankee Harbor, a small harbor on the south-western side of Greenwich Island was well known to American and British sealers as early as 1820 and was named for them (who called it Hospital Cove). Seal skins were hugely profitable and there was a steady race to discover new sealing grounds. But the boom quickly turned to bust, as huge numbers of animals and rookeries were taken and destroyed without regard for sustainable yields. Nowadays well-developed, raised-beach terraces provide territories for nesting Gentoo penguins, numbering around 4000 pairs with seals scattered around. Nearby Glacier Bluff offers a dramatic backdrop.
It was summer in Antarctica, but it was snowing outside and was a little less than 0 degrees C (32F). We didn’t know what to expect on our first landing, so we dressed up in (too many) layers and were all bundled up! Not a great idea. We were walking like we were wearing balloons for clothing. We got onto the zodiac for our first landing. Being on the zodiac seemed a bit scary initially, but after a few minutes, I got accustomed to it and enjoyed the ride. After a chilly zodiac ride we landed in Antarctica!
As soon as we stepped our foot on the continent, my husband and I raised our hands with happiness and screamed “yay!”. And then we were distracted by a penguin wandering nearby. Then we saw so many penguins ambling around on the island. We wobbled around the rocky coast as the Gentoo penguins wobbled about to take a swim. We had to maintain a 5 meters distance between us and penguins and seals. But the penguins are really curious so many at times, we just couldn’t keep up with the 5 meters rule.
Though Gentoo penguins occupied most of the site, we spotted Adelie and Chinstrap penguins as well. A few elephant seals were basking by the ocean. A little further away, scores of penguins were resting and the colony was making noises in their rookeries with their little ones. We walked along coast as the penguins were busy going about their day. Amazing birds and fun to watch!
No words will do any justice to describe its beauty. I’ve seen thousands of pictures of the penguins in Antarctica, and spent several hours watching videos of the continent, but seeing them in person was totally different. If you can bear with the smell (yeah, the penguin poop all around the island smells bad), the sight of penguins, it’s chicks on the ice with glacier covered mountains in the background is definitely a sight to behold and remember for the rest of our lives.
After spending a little over an hour on the island, we went back to the ship, all happy with smiles. We cleaned up our boots, enjoyed a delicious Indian meal for dinner and went to bed.
The first landing in Antarctica got our heart pumping and got all excited for the rest of our journey.