To date I’ve posted many colorful still images, stunning 4K videos, and briefly discussed noteworthy topics like navigating the treacherous Lemaire Channel, Humpback and Fin Whales, Penguins, Seals and Birds, Icebergs, Pack Ice and more. Today I’ll discuss our crossing below the Antarctic Circle and trying to scuba dive in these formidable conditions. Few expeditions achieve or attempt to voyage this far south. Weather conditions are unpredictable and can pose many dangers, especially this late in the season. During our 14-day voyage, the MV Hondius sailed a total distance of 2547.5 Nautical Miles reaching our furthest southern position of 66°62.2’S / 067°29.7’W in Crystal Sound.
Shortly after our arrival at Detaille Island, many passengers went ashore to visit the historic and well preserved British “Base W”. It had been hurriedly abandoned in 1959, but many of inhabitants’ original artifacts, such as books, gear, clothing, coffee cans, etc., still remain as a monument. A few of us were extremely fortunate enough to scuba and snorkel the frigid ice filled waters nearby. The zodiacs were loaded down with our heavy dive and camera gear, and we headed through a maze of Icebergs and Pack Ice, with strong winds pounding the little boats. Winds quickly gusted to over 70 mph forcing us out of the chilly depths, fortunately though we were able to snorkel within the relative safety of a small bay nearby. As we approached the bay, a group of Gentoo penguins greeted us on the rocks, but remained safe and secure from the large teeth of hungry Leopard Seal lurking just offshore. The Crab-eater Seals resting on the ice must prepare for the impending winter.
Although difficult to get exact numbers, the best estimates according to the IAATO* 2019 – 2020 season data show that annually about 55,000 to 75,000 people visit Antarctica, including scientists. Of those who dare to venture to the massive and amazing frozen continent, most will visit only a relatively small section of the Antarctic Peninsula known as Graham Land. Many will venture ashore, but not all. Of the roughly 75,000 visitors, fewer than 750 accomplish ‘Deep Field Tourism’. These are the individuals that actually walk onto land this far south. Even more impressive, the very best estimates are that fewer than 70 people in the world will scuba in the waters below 66º33,49.4' South as we did. Only eight were able to attempt a dive at Detaille Island, an accomplishment I will not soon forget.
4K Video Short of Scuba Dive and Snorkel at Detaille Island - below the Antarctic Circle.
Winds to 70 mph, Water Temp: 0°C, salinity 3.5%, Air Temp: 3°C.
Our expedition soon began to journey northward heading towards Fournier Bay. Stunning views with another opportunity to scuba on and below a massive iceberg. Besides the cold water, often at or below 32º Fahrenheit, choosing to scuba around an iceberg can be disorienting and deadly dangerous. Barely 10% of an iceberg is above the surface, most of its mass and weight are far below. Its constantly melting, even in freezing waters. The continual shedding of fresh water into the surrounding saltwater can wreak havoc with a diver’s buoyancy. The mass of a large glacier can attract a diver much like a magnet. Getting one’s sea legs, as it were, is challenging, even for the most experienced diver. Another unique danger of diving an iceberg is that it may roll over at any time. Depending on how close a diver is, it can roll over and crush a human with no warning.
4K Video Short Iceberg Scuba Dive at Fournier Bay.
Winds to 20 mph, Water Temp: 0°C, salinity 3.5%, Air Temp: 3°C
The sheer beauty of an enormous glacier seen from below the surface is spectacular. As the blue ice melts thousands of tiny air bubbles are released and escape toward the surface. The release of air and freshwater continually forms irregular lines and grooves and ridges. The visibility beneath the surface is deceptive as well. At first glance it may seem clear, allowing one to see quite far. In reality, because only minimal ambient light from above is able to penetrate a few meters of depth, it can be misleading and potentially dangerous to the unwitting scuba diver. Overall, a unique experience filled with beauty and wonder.