Wow what an incredible day on the AAE 2013/2014! This is a day that will go down in all of our memories as something truly special. It started out as all days seem to when one smashes through oceans with a 6/10 sea ice coverage - with significant thuds, whacks and shuddering of the entire Akademik Shokalskiy that jostled us from our slumber. Spirits were high as the prospect of our first zodiac tour was being discussed... would the weather conditions permit it? It was foggy this morning - and the sea ice very thick. Would weather conditions later in the day allow us to have our first taste of this Antarctic wonderland? The answer, it turned out, was YES. And what incredible weather conditions they turned out to be!
Four zodiacs were launched into the water by the ever-smiling Russian boatswain Sergue. Lifejackets on, tags flipped, everyone waiting on the gangway to load into the large zodiacs, 11 people per boat... And what better way to start off this intrepid adventure than the sighting of 2 dwarf Minke Whales, cruising past the ship with their blows misting in the sunshine. And that was only the beginning - with Adelie penguins, crab eater seals and snow petrels scattered throughout this ice wonderland, we all got a very satisfying dose of up-close-and-personal Antarctic wildlife. In addition to these awesome animals, two major highlights included the disembarkation from the zodiac ONTO one of the larger floating bits of sea ice (needless to say, several snowballs were thrown); and the adventure into and through the sea ice, weaving in and out of this intricate maze where the thin strips of open water would allow, and finding our way to the base of an ancient iceberg. Wow, what an experience! The sun was shining, not a breath of air to be felt, and this magnificent structure towering above us, snow petrels flying freely at its peaks. That was something I think we will all remember for a very, very long time.
The afternoon consisted of some fantastic lectures by Chris Fogwill and Jon Tucker, and any free time was spent on the bow of the Shokalskiy or in her bridge, watching the ship as it pushed through the never ending expanse of white. Watching the Russian crew through this maze of icebergs and sea ice was a spectacle to behold in itself - these very talented seamen certainly proved their extensive capabilities and dedication today as we achieved some incredible achievements through very difficult conditions.