The Wilhelm Archipelago lies north of the Antarctic Circle and is the most southern point on the majority of Antarctic Peninsula cruises. It also is one of the most popular destinations, particularly scenic Lemaire Channel between Booth Island and mainland Antarctica. The protected waterway often is wind-free, yielding near-perfect reflections of snow and ice in the still waters, and earning it the nickname the “Kodak Gap”.
After passing through The Gullet, the Endurance ran north overnight back across the Antarctic Circle to Petermann Island at the southern end of the Wilhelm Archipelago. There we went ashore to view a Gentoo Penguin colony, our fourth type of penguin seen so far. The Gentoos have a distinctive white band over their eyes and are the most northern of the genus that includes Adelie and Chinstrap. They also have the most flexible diet and their population is growing, while the other two are decreasing, in response to less krill in Antarctic waters.
We visited a second Gentoo colony a little farther north at Pleneau Island. This area also is known as an iceberg graveyard, where the weather sculpts huge pieces of ice into fantastic shapes after they become lodged in the shallow waters there. We toured the graveyard by zodiac after going ashore.
And finally, at the end of the day, we passed through Lemaire Channel. Our passage was rather unique in that the National Geographic Resolution, sistership to the Endurance, was in the area and the two ships went through side-by-side. We’d brought a portable VHF radio with us and enjoyed listening to the crews making and executing the plans for the transit.
Below are highlights from December 26th, 2022. Click any image for a larger view.
Charts of the Whilhelm Arhipelago, top left, where we are now, and the Adelaide Island area, bottom, where we spent the first three days of the trip. In the screenshot at right, a few boats are near Adelaide Island at far left, while the majority are at the Whilhelm Arhipelago or farther north.
An Argentinian refuge hut, built in 1955, on Peterman Island.
Gentoo penguins leaping, left, and a humpback whale, off Peterman Island.
A penguin trail leading from a nesting site, left, and a penguin walking the trail. The penguins nest in muddy rock outcroppings where they get quite dirty.
A memorial on Peterman Island, left, to British Antarctica Survey members Ambrose Morgan, John Coll, and Kevin Ockleton, who died in 1982 attempting to reach Faraday Station across sea ice. Their deaths brought to 26 the number of casualties in the survey’s 40-year history at the continent, or more than 1 every 2 years.
Left: Looking back to the Endurance off Peterman Island. Right: James always finds something more interesting than what everyone else is looking at.
The Gentoo penguins, left, are able to navigate surprisingly steep slopes.
A Weddell seal lounging on the snow.
Lunch on deck off Peterman Island, left, and enjoying the view as we get underway for Pleneau Island.
One of the few pleasure craft we saw in Antarctica, left, and the French cruise ship L’Austral, of the Ponant fleet that includes Le Commandant Charcot that we’ll be taking to the North Pole this summer. We saw few other vessels south of the Antarctic Cirlce, but are seeing more now at the Wilhelm Archipelago.
Ashore at Pleneau Island.
Gentoo penguin colony at Pleneau Island.
The Gentoo penguins build their nests from small rocks that they find in the area. They are also not adverse to stealing rocks from each other’s nests. We watched as one unsuccessfully attempted to protect its nest from rock-stealing neighbors.
We often saw predatory Antarctic Skuas near the penguin colonies, looking for chicks or eggs to steal.
The shallow waters around Pleneau Island are known as an iceberg graveyard. Huge pieces of ice become lodged there and are transformed into fantastic weather-carved ice sculptures. We toured the graveyard by zodiac after walking ashore.
Santa and helpers arrived to deliver hot chocolate while we were out touring the iceberg graveyard off Pleneau Island.
The best way to stay warm outside in Antarctica is to dress in layers. When outside we wear two pairs of socks, long underwear, hiking pants and a turtleneck, a Norrona faltekind mid-layer, and our Lindblad expedition jacket over the shell it came with. That’s a lot of clothes and it’s not even that cold this time of year. But, when sitting down in fast moving open boat, it can get cold fast. Being dressed comfortably makes the trip much more enjoyable. Here is one person’s clothing load minus the orange expedition jacket.
Enjoying a presentation in the Ice Lounge.
Dinner at our favorite table with a view to the spectacular scenery while we are underway for Lemaire Channel.
Lemaire Channel lived up to its reputation as the “Kodak Gap” with near-perfect reflections in the still waters.
Adding to the excitement of passing through Lemaire Channel, we went through side-by-side with sistership National Geographic Resolution. We’d brought a portable VHF radio with us and enjoyed listening to the crews making and executing the plans for the transit.
Ending another amazing day with a nightcap on our balcony. At 10:30pm, this is about as dark as we’ve seen it the entire time on the continent.