A Foyn Day

Saturday 24 February 2024 – We were still at Plan C1, which involved us eventually having a go at crossing the Antarctic Circle (which, as any fule kno, runs at 66° 33’ South)  – not for any particularly good reason, simply to be able to say One Has Done It.  However, we were still some two degrees north of this point, which meant we had in the order of 120 nautical miles (as the albatross flies) to cover – thus probably a great deal more due to having to weave through channels and around icebergs.  The distance we had to cover meant that the skipper had to put the hammer down and so we vibrated our way southwards during last night.  The calm conditions that had so favoured us gave way to some pretty substantial winds – I heard 60 knots mentioned, and I certainly heard it whistling around the superstructure at times during the night – and the motion of the ship gave away that we were ploughing through some not insubstantial waves.

However, things appeared to have calmed down as we got up; we had arrived at Foyne Harbour.

However, when I went out on deck to get some more photos of the undoubtedly dramatic scenery

I was practically blown off the boat by the wind.  Since the plan for the morning was a Zodiac cruise, I was a bit worried that the wind would make this an unrewarding experience.  Luckily, by the time we set off, the wind had dropped to almost nothing, and the temperature was around freezing point – once again, we’d been astonishingly lucky with the weather.

Our host on the Zodiac was Saskia, a Dutch lady, who did an outstanding job of taking us around the available sights, giving us supplementary information about them and ensuring that everyone got the photos they wanted.  This expedition was our first chance to get up close to some of the fantastic Antarctic landscape, and wherever we looked there were memorable scenes.  Here are just a couple – I would like to put a bigger selection up on Flickr, but the restricted nature of our internet access on board makes this too expensive a proposition for a cheapskate like me.



As well as the landscape, we had a cloudscape, too, with several lenticular (lens-shaped) cloud formations to be seen, as shown above.

The green and red colours in the photo above are algae, which form within the snow and eventually leak out, going from green to red as they age.

The colours and shapes were fantastic.

There was plenty of wildlife to be seen, too:

An Antarctic shag;

more fur seals;

the occasional chinstrap penguin;

And (considerable excitement all round) some humpback whales.

People do get awfully excited about whale sightings, cooing ecstatically as the things surface, breathe and dive. Maybe I’m blasé, but it’s a sight I have seen so often now – and so dramatically in New England recently – that I’m happy to let them whale away the time without feeling the need to chase after more opportunities to watch them. Hopefully the magic will return when we see whales of non-humpback variety; we’ll see.

The other main objective of the Zodiac cruise was to visit the wreck of a ship called the Governorer, a boat which has an interesting, if rather undistinguished, story behind it.

It was a whaler, an early factory ship operating in 1915 (around the same time as the ill-fated Shackleton expedition to cross the continent). In those days, the whales, once caught and killed, were processed on board the ships, with the carcases often hauled alongside. At the end of its season the ship was loaded with barrels and barrels of whale oil and the crew, having had a fine haul of blubber, had a party to celebrate.  Unfortunately, during the festivities, someone knocked over a lamp onto decks still covered in whale oil and the ship caught fire.  In order to save people’s lives, the captain drove the ship aground and the crew were able to make land and were eventually all rescued.

The hulk languishes there to this day, as a home to nesting Antarctic terns.

It’s actually a very big ship; the vast majority of it is underwater, which is why it doesn’t look too imposing in the photographs.

Water for the whalers was stored in water boats on the rocks.

And that was it for the morning.  We headed back to the Hondius for some lunch, and the skipper spent the next couple of hours taking us to the next destination of the day – Orne Bay – where the plan was a split expedition, with a landing and another Zodiac cruise.

Arrival there is quite dramatic.

The peak is Spigot Peak, and it towers over the straits.

Our Orange group were, once again, landing first and cruising second. The objective, once having landed, was actually to work one’s way a little distance up the flanks of Mount Spigot, to view a colony of chinstrap penguins. And “up” was the operative word, here.

There was a zigzag path through the snow and it was necessary to toil up it.  I was very glad to have brought my walking poles with me, as these made the ascent much less like hard work.

At the top, the views were pretty good

and the penguins very engagingly penguinish.  One thing that stood out was a “penguin highway”, a route on the far side of this slope, which the penguins trudged up from the sea to get to their rookery. Why such a slog? Because they need bare rock for nesting, and the wind tends to whip the snow first off the tops of hills. So they climb.

I have some nice video of them wandering about, but, again, I’m too tight to buy the internet bandwidth for uploading chunks of video, so you’ll have to make do with photos.

Having toiled up the side of the hill, we then had to toil down it, which was actually harder work and more trying than the ascent, as it was icy and slippery. I never normally feel the need for poles to help me downhill, but once again I was truly glad that I had mine with me.

The Zodiac cruise which followed the landing took us around the bay and into the next one, and our guide, Elizabeth, once again talked us through some of the key points about the conditions and the glaciers that made it such a spectacular landscape.

The ice in the foreground is called “brash ice”, which is formed as calving glaciers disintegrate. It can block the bay and make landings impossible, so yet again we were lucky with the weather and the conditions.

Above you can see a glacier which is in the early stages of calving – there are “steps” appearing in the otherwise flat surface, which indicate some slippage is happening; this will lead to a chunk falling off the end as the glacier calves. This was in contrast to the glacier at the head of the bay where Hondius was parked

which displays a much more crumbled surface, indicating a greater tendency to calve.

There was some wildlife to be seen on our Zodiac cruise, too.  We came across some Weddell seals

and some gentoo penguins,

before we headed back to Hondius, just as the weather was beginning to turn.

An interesting day, then, involving enough hard work to justify the g&t we treated ourselves to before dinner.

The relative lateness of the afternoon’s excursions meant that Pippa’s regular evening recap was a brief 15 minutes before we trooped off to dinner. But it was a very interesting 15 minutes as she explained the plan – and particularly the variable nature of the plan – to us.

Our luck with the weather so far meant that we had a reasonable shot at crossing the Antarctic Circle. However, Pippa emphasised the expeditionary nature of the plan, which basically came down to the fact that we were in the territory of making it up as we went along. If the weather continued favourable, it might be possible, she explained, to thread our way along the Grandidier Channel, the only charted channel that took us southwards.  But this channel was narrow, and it was entirely possible that a large lump of ice might stand in our way, in which case we’d have to try again sometime later. This is sort of the route we would have to take, with a pause en route (the upper star) for a Zodiac cruise, and then proceeding to Crystal Sound, just north of the Circle, before the actual crossing bit.

It was impossible to know what was achievable, pretty much until we tried it. But, should we succeed, there would be some kind of celebration organised to recognise that we’d actually crossed the Circle.

Intriguing, eh?

Let’s see if the gods are still on our side as the trip progresses…







6 thoughts on “A Foyn Day

  1. Martin Critchley

    This is another Foyne mess you’ve gotten me into.

    Stunning, absolutely stunning photographs



  2. Ian Burley

    Fascinating reading as usual. And great photos. My browser won’t let me “like” the post (I need a computer update), but like them I do.


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