Our last day of cruising (‘exploring’) in a southerly direction we met with downpours of rain, sleet, snow and wind. As Bob Headland was prone to say (stepping out from behind a rock dressed in foul-weather gear):
“It never rains in Antarctica.”
The rocks on Peterman Island became slippery, the penguin guano like a pink sheen of oil covering every bare surface. Magda left the path to chase a beautiful shot of some stationary huts, leaving me some ways behind. I was walking carefully in pursuit when she went down hard, her first instinct to protect her cameras. When I caught up she was soaking and scrambling to asses the damage. The digital SLR seemed bad, having hit a rock in a puddle of water. The lens cap had taken the blow though and her lens was unbroken. The plastic lens hood had cracked off but as we dried the camera we realized this was the only real damage. The electronics still functioned. Her film camera, the Mamiya 6, was in a dry-bag around her neck and is basically a tank. It was unbroken.
Like clockwork Bob appeared and waxed poetically on the dangers of penguin guano. Then he told a harrowing tale of survival during an Antarctic summer storm that took our minds off the fall. I was really becoming fond of Bob.
The rain came along with mists that cloaked the glaciers and dulled the sky. The sea was choppy and gray, in sharp contrast to the cool blue icebergs that radiated their unnatural hue even under the worst conditions.
The penguins were unfazed as always.
As we began our journey north again, we took a detour into what was both described as an iceberg gallery or an iceberg graveyard – depending on your mood. Either way, dozens of icebergs had floated through the Lemaire Channel, detoured into this little bay and were trapped, slowly melting into fantastical organic sculptures.
We sped around the bay, zodiac visitors to an icy museum, shooting photos against a gray sky. Also in the bay was a little sailboat moored amongst the frozen exhibits. It proudly flew the Polish flag and we later learned it had sailed from Gdansk.
Poles, like Bob Headland, have a habit of showing up in the most unexpected places.
I wish I could say that on the day we left the Southern Ocean the penguins made some sort of plea for us to stay, or a flotilla of whales blocked our passage back. Instead the rain and mist continued, the penguins resumed their endless waddling too and from the sea. As we neared the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula a beam of sunlight struggled through the clouds and illuminated a glacier with golden light. At the same time, a minke whale dove to find more krill and flashed a perfectly symmetrical fluke our way.
On our final night at sea, we gathered for cocktails and a champagne toast. Captain Peter was in his dress uniform and gave an honest assessment of the cruise and our relationship. He spoke of what a peaceful, trouble-free crossing it had been, how much he appreciated everyone’s company, and noted that when we landed, we’d be history. Another expedition (cruise) was starting the same day we landed. We sat with our friends Joe and Susan, the birders from Arizona, and raised our cocktails for a toast. I reminded them it was bad luck to chink glasses aboard a ship at sea.
Joe said, “aw f–k it”, and we toasted the last continent with a clash of icy martinis.