After a two day crossing of the Drake Passage, our first landing in Antarctica was at Neko Harbor among a colony of Gentoo penguins. Since the seasons are turning over on the white continent the penguins are molting. For a few weeks the birds sacrifice their vanity to shed their worn feathers for new ones. Not only will the new feathers keep them warmer and more hydrodynamic, but once the molting process is over they'll look as fresh as a pair of '96 Jordans.
After our brief landing, sixteen of us took to the sea. The first day of kayaking was incredible. There were no whales breaching or penguins leaping from the water, but who needs that when there are views like this?
There are no crabs in Antarctica. Crabeater seals eat krill.
Palmer Station is the only American base above the Antarctic Circle. At the peak of summer there can be forty people residing there. Through the winter that falls to about ten. There's a gift store on base (naturally, it's American), and after our tour I bought myself a Palmer Station zippo. I've always wanted a zippo and an American gift store in Antarctica seemed like the place to get one.
A little before nine I slipped into my dry suit and stepped outside with the other of the kayakers. I expected everyone to be milling about as they waited to board the zodiak, but instead they were whooping and shouting along the railing. Something was happening. Three humpbacks were weaving between zodiaks. I found a spot on the railing to watch. We hadn't been so near to such playful whales before.
We spent a peaceful hour kayaking around an island of chinstrap penguins then boarded our zodiak to return to the Ioffe. As we were on our way back we were radioed about a whale breaching. When we reached the other zodiacs, we were greeted by a humpback swimming directly under us and pushing up. Our zodiak tilted. Everyone turned to Ehren and by the look on his face we knew our fate was up to the whale.
The humpback set us down though, and rather than tipping us into the water put on a show. The humpback rubbed against the zodiak, turned over, sprayed people, and poked its head out of the water. At times the humpback was so close I could have touched it. The humpback went from zodiak to zodiak, giving each group of yipping adventurers their fair share. Soon a second humpback joined in. Together they circled our zodiaks with more maneuverability than a shark. After twenty minutes the humpbacks separated themselves from the zodiaks and rose their dorsal fins high above the water in preparation for a deep dive. Then they dove and their tails slipped fully out of the water, put on full display against the setting sun. The closure was so perfect I nearly knocked an Irishman from the zodiak as I hit him on the back in adrenaline fueled bliss.
What could top being within touching distance of two humpback whales? Probably nothing. But the next day was still pretty damn cool. We went to the old whaling station on Deception Island, harassed some fur seals and took a polar plunge.