South Africa to the Antarctic Pack Ice
30 October to 18 November 2002
A personal account by John Brodie-Good
with photos by Angus Wilson

Part 6 - Iceberg!!

09 November

After another rough night we ploughed on through heavy seas, slowing us down. It seems the captain had tracked west in the night to reduce the rolling but we were now heading south west again. More snow flurries and fewer of the same birds as yesterday. It seemed from the water temperature that we have even re crossed the Antarctic convergence again. The winds stayed in excess of 30mph all day, slowing us down with a now possible arrival time in the ice pack of Monday evening. We were due to leave Tuesday lunchtime and so the mood was grim. No new species today and low numbers of what was seen. The quietest day of the trip so far. Before the evening lecture some heartening news from the captain, the wind was due to abate and we should now get to the ice late tomorrow night, 24 hours in the ice at least.

Energetic fluttering interspersed with short glides gives the Snow Petrel a jizz reminiscent of a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. A number of these exquisit petrels flew out from the large berg to greet the ship.

10 November

Up early and it looked murky through the cabin window. Out on the back deck and the reason was clear, continuous snowfall, small crystals but plenty of it. The really early birds had scored the first Antarctic Petrel, many had missed it. The snow continued for some hours and finally began to fade out. Kerguelen Petrels were very numerous and finally looked grey instead of brown in the now sunlight morning. Blue Petrels, quite a few Antarctic Fulmars, Cape Petrels with the odd Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Just after lunch the cry of "Antarctic Petrel" rang around the vessel, this time most people connected as the bird stayed with us, wizzing around the ship and coming in close to keep the photographers happy too. The only white phase Southern Giant Petrel of the trip was in the wake at this time. The afternoon wore on, the wind picked up a little, it was now extremely cold. Sea temperature in the morning was only 0.3 degrees, air temperature -1.0. By evening sea temp had dropped to -1.5, the air temp down to -4 but in effect nearer -25 with wind chill taken in to account. The brave few on the monkey island strained their eyes for the first penguins, the ice was only 60 or so miles away. We still also had’nt seen any more icebergs since the one two days previously.

Antarctic Petrels are spectacular and very distinctive inhabitants of the packice zone. Milk chocolate upperparts contrast sharply with broad white wingbars and tail.

Mid afternoon and three Sei Whales passed on the port side, showing very little of themselves. Finally two fair sized tabular bergs appeared on the horizon, one dead ahead, the other at 10 o’clock. Another few Antarctic Petrels appeared, becoming one of many people’s favourite seabird, fast and powerful flyers, boldly marked. We were due to arrive by the berg at dinnertime and I went down for a quick three courses in seven minutes job. No sooner had all the outdoor gear come off in the cabin, the cry of ‘Snow Petrel in the wake’ rang down the corridor. I raced outside and joined almost everyone else for superb views of four birds in the wake, sometimes they moved down the port side of the ship. They finally rose to a great height and disappeared again. Much joy and celebration followed but they were only a taster of what was to come. After wolfing dinner down it was back out on deck to find the ship slowed down just by what turned out to be an absolutely stunning berg, with three groups of Chinstrap Penguins dotted on its lower slopes, at least 1500 birds. All around it flew Snow and Antarctic Petrels, Antarctic Fulmars, Cape Petrels and a few Blue Petrels. We learnt later the captain planned to nose the bows into the berg itself but the wind was too strong. We slowly went around it, layers of blue ice with fractures of an even deeper blue in several parts. It was the stuff of dreams and many people stated it was worth the trip alone to see this wonderful sight. An Arctic Tern flew by and just as we finally sailed away a Wandering Albatross flew past. The majority finally went down to dinner, we went to the bar to have a couple of drinks.

Thousands of Chinstrap Penguins roost below towering ice cliffs. Photo by Angus Wilson

Shortly after the captain came on again to advise us we were approaching a patch of drift ice ahead. Gear on again and up and back on the monkey island as the sun was setting. An area of pancake ice lay ahead and our bows carved straight in, yet more Snow and Antarctic Petrels feeding over it and a few more terns. The ship steering an ‘S’ shape just for fun and as we came out on the western side, the sun finally set, behind us the magic iceberg with a purple glow in the clouds above it. Our artist in residence, John Gale had enough material for 10 years work in just a few hours. What a day!

Even the steep, cliff-like, flanks of the berg were lined with penguins. How they climbed out of the viscious swell is a mystery.

Part 01 - (30-31 October)   Pre-Cruise
Part 02 -(01-02 November) Embarkation
Part 03 - (03-04 November) The Roaring Forties
Part 04 - (05-06 November) Marion
Part 05 - (07-08 November) Marion & Prince Edward Island
Part 06 - (09-10 November) Iceberg!!
Part 07 - (11-12 November) Into the pack ice
Part 08 - (13-14 November) Recrossing the Antarctic Convergence
Part 09 - (15-16 November) Petrel Fever
Part 10 - (17-18 November) Landfall

Click here for the Trip List (seabirds and mammals)

Page layout and photos copyright of Angus Wilson© 2002 All rights reserved.
Text copyright of John Brodie-Good© 2002 All rights reserved.
List of the world's best pelagic locations
To the annotated list of the World's Seabirds
To the annotated list of the World's Marine Mammals
Back to the Index Page