Day 6 – Monday March 24th 2014 Hope Bay, Antarctic Sound

We awoke this morning after a much calmer night than the previous night. However all was not calm outside, the wind had picked up and the temperature had plummeted to -14 °C. We were just inside Antarctic Sound, named from after a ship that initially explored the area. This is the channel that separates the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula from islands to the north and connects the Weddell Sea with the Bransfield Strait. As we proceeded deeper into the Sound we started encountering first and second year ice-floes that were drifting out of the Weddell Sea. Then on the radar we could see significant ice up ahead and it was clear that we would have difficulty reaching on intended landing of Brown Bluff. It was therefore decided to try and reach the Argentinean Station Esperanza that lies in Hope Bay. However as the morning continued it became increasingly clear that even reaching Hope Bay was going to be a challenge as we weaved through the ice fl oes. The temperature outside continued to drop. It was now -16 °C, however when the windchill factor was taken into account it was actually -35 °C! It was so cold that all around us the sea was beginning to freeze. There were beautiful examples of grease ice and pancake ice seen forming all around. On top of this the sea was steaming. This ‘Sea Smoke’ was due to the sea releasing energy to the atmosphere, this is because there was a large temperature differential between the atmosphere and sea surface. The air was -16 °C but the sea was relatively warm at a mere -1.7 °C.

Just before lunch Esperanza came into view through the fog. We had done it! Or rather the Captain had, we had made it into Hope Bay. While the passengers ate lunch our Expedition Leader Rinie and the Captain discussed whether a landing at the station would be feasible. The trouble with the situation was ice and currents prevented the ship from anchoring near to the station, so the zodiac ride would have been long. Added to this was the extreme temperature and wind. The windchill factor of -35 °C could cause frostbite on exposed skin on people’s faces, so it was decided that unless the wind dropped thus easing the windchill factor it would be unsafe to attempt a landing. We therefore decided to wait for the wind to drop. However after three hours there was no improvement and it was decided it was best to get out of Hope Bay and head South. Head South? Why head south? Well the weather chart was showing another severe storm about to pass through the Drake Passage so it was felt it would be best to wait a day before our crossing to South Georgia and this would give us another attempt at making a landing on the Antarctic Continent itself.

As we left Hope Bay, James started a lecture on Sea Ice. In this lecture he explained all about how sea ice forms and the different types you can encounter. What was really fun about this was we were all able to look out of the window as he spoke and see real life examples of what was being said, and we were able to use photos that were taken only minutes before to illustrate the story.

It was hoped that by the time the lecture had finished we would now be in open water and steaming south, however this was not to be and the ice was closing in on us. Initially the Captain tried to escape the region by navigating to the west but when the sea blocked our path we tried to go east, but there was no way out and by dinner time it was clear we were temporally trapped in the ice. The temperature was now -18 °C and there was ice all over the ship. For the brave souls who ventured out into the cold it was possible to get eerie photos of the ship with the ice all around. We all went to sleep wondering what the night would bring and hoped the Captain would be able to free the ship before too long!

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