This morning before leaving the area, the ship paused in Dallman Bay for whale watching zodiac outings. Humpback whales had been spotted in the area and we had some time before moving on to the American Antarctica research station at Palmer Bay. It was another very cold and gray morning. Icy blowing snow stung my face as I stepped into the zodiac. Everyone was in full cold weather regalia. I was thinking this might be a very miserable morning, but all of my protective clothing was doing an admirable job of keeping me warm. I’d been keeping the lower part of my face completely covered on every outing since being released to keep the direct cold air from invading my lungs. So far I’ve had no problems and am feeling better every day.The idea here is to putter around the bay keeping an eye open for any wildlife, especially whales, to surface. It’s another crap shoot as to what one might see, if anything, but it wasn’t long before we indeed did begin to see whales. A fluke here, a tail there. Almost silently, these behemoths break the surface, then exhale in a explosive burst of mist and whale breath. If you are too close you can smell everything the critter has eaten for the last week.
It was snowing harder now, and the overcast got heavier. Fine for whale watching, but not whale photographing. Most of my images are choked with snowflakes between the whale and I. Quite often the camera’s auto focus was fixing on the snowflakes, making the whale go out of focus behind. I did get to see more parts of whales than I ever had before, and it was pretty special to be this close to them again, but it wasn’t the best of photo outings for me. These are such odd creatures. The little bits I could see when one surfaced gave few clues as to just how large they are. Sometimes I simply couldn’t identify for sure just what I was looking at. We motored around the bay for an hour or so. Every iceberg was inspected closely for wildlife. Sometimes penguins could be seen just kind of loitering about. On another berg, more crabeater seals were seen. I was disappointed that I never got a look at a Leopard Seal. These guys look kind of cute from afar, but if you’d ever seen a photo of one with it’s hugely open mouth full of teeth, you could understand why they are feared by man and animal. They will chew you up.Eventually a bit of sky and even a little sun broke through. When things got less interesting with the wildlife, I again turned my camera to the shoreline and other icebergs. Landscape is what I do best, so I tend to gravitate to this subject anyway. By mid afternoon, everyone was back onboard and we headed out of the bay. There was little time to relax though because the iceberg-packed bay commanded attention. More sunlight was breaking through the overcast creating both grand and subtle scenes of ice and water. Once out of the bay, it was time for meetings and dinner. It wasn’t long before many of us were back on deck again. The weather had gotten much calmer with a little more sun. It looked like the clouds were going to break up entirely. It was still deadly cold, but didn’t feel so bad under several layers of thermal wear, jacket and gloves. I think this amazing landscape had something to do with keeping me warm as well – running from one side of the ship to the other. With the lowering sun and lifting cloud cover, it soon became clear that this was going to be a special evening. As evening began, most of the low clouds had dissipated revealing a layer of lovely lenticular cloud formations above. As the sun lowered on the horizon, fiery reflections contrasted with sea ice creating a golden burnished effect. One just had to step over to the other side of the ship to see the water and sky soften, taking on much more of a pastel look.Looking toward the horizon, I’d see this (below).Step to the other side, I’d see this:What was most striking was how quiet it was. No ship noise, no wind. People, when they spoke, spoke quietly. This was a special moment and people knew it. It was icy cold outside as we slipped silently along. Had to be below 20 degrees. My hands would go numb after just minutes out of gloves.As we approached the edge of Avers Island, new mountain ranges came into view. By now it was around 10 pm and the low light was doing wonderful things to water, mountains and sky. It was difficult to know where to point the camera. How does one frame such a place? Again I found myself wishing we could stop at a location and just watch, but we kept drifting along. Even though we were moving kind of slowly, perfect compositions would still only exist for a moment before falling apart. Again, only a moment in the perfect spot and then it’s gone. It was great fun afterwards when comparing images we all took of the same place to see how each had approached the scenes.About an hour later, we got our first look at Mt. William. It’s peak stands at 5250’ – not huge by mountain standards, but one of the most impressive mountains I’ve seen on this trip. We approached from the southern tip of the island and slowly cruised around and up all along the shore – all the time the light was changing. I shot dozens of images of this mountain and nearby peaks as we cruised by. Here is a selection: The further up along the island coast we cruised, the better the light got. It was approaching midnight and still the sun was up. This time of year, the sun travels in a low arch that, while it does eventually set below the horizon, provides sunset-like light for hours and hours. This is almost the first evening cloud-free enough for us to witness it. I think I can honestly say this is the best light I’ve ever photographed during.
A little after midnight, we came around a point and arrived at Palmer Station. Palmer Station, on Anvers Island, is the only United States research station in Antarctica located north of the Antarctic Circle. Initial construction of the station finished in 1968. The station, like the other U.S. Antarctic stations, is operated by the United States Antarctic Program. In the morning we are going to be landing at the station for tours, but just now, the light was still getting better. The ship maneuvered around a bit in the bay before finding a spot behind an iceberg for the night. Somewhere around 12:30 AM, I went to sleep for a few hours. An amazing long day. I will remember this forever.Tomorrow we land.