Day 1 – January 31 – King George Island
Our first stop, Bellingshausen Station, is a Russian Antarctic research facility at Collins Harbor on King George Island. Adjacent to this set of buildings are research stations operated by Chile and China. One of the South Shetland Islands, the summer temperatures here are relatively warm, with much of the accumulated melting away, and giving opportunity to lichens, mosses and other vegetation to grow. Unfortunately, much of the snow free areas are muddy. On land, we were allowed to wander around the area, follow one of the expedition staff on a hike along some of the roads, and visit the small Russian Orthodox Church. There were a few Chinstrap penguins along the beach and it was our first exposure to observe these medium–sized seabirds as they interacted with each other.
One unique activity today was the short run prepared for a group of avid motorcyclists who booked a trip to the Antarctic with the intention of being able to ride a motorcycle on the continent, which will have completed their goal of riding on every continent. One of the expedition staff photographers took video of each person riding the single motorcycle on the road; documenting the (minimal) environmental impact of the event on the site.
After exploring the immediate area, we boarded a zodiac and cruised along the shoreline and around a point to a Gentoo penguin nesting site on Ardley Island. This was our first introduction to a breeding colony and it was surprising how extensive an area the nest site covered, and the amount of uphill travel these birds had to travel. Also on board our ship were two volunteers for Oceanites who were tasked to count penguin chicks, as well as nests and chicks of any birds observed, at each of the sites the ship will visit. At this stop they counted about 5000 Gentoo chicks.
Our evening landing was planned to be at Deception Bay, which has a narrow opening in the rim of an extinct volcano. However, due to increased winds with a direction that would make passage into the bay unsafe the captain and expedition leader canceled that visit. The evening did prove to be energetic with waves crashing into the bow and so cold that snow began to accumulate on the outer decks.