The Furious Fifties….the Antarctic Convergence Zone

Warning – this post contains many photographs!!

On the 30th of October we crossed latitude 50ºS

Up on the “Monkey” Bridge (above the main Bridge)

It was getting decidedly colder, but wasn’t to unpleasant to be out on the decks. Also we hadn’t really seen any big seas yet, however things were going to change.

Enjoying the evening sun on a pleasant cruise to the Antarctic
Snow showers in the distance to the port side – it is getting colder

As we sailed further south and west the days became longer.

Sunset at around 9:30pm on day 5 of the voyage

On day 6 of the voyage we encountered some very light winds and low seas. This was the calm before the storm. The computer models were suggesting that we would be heading straight into a deepening Low Pressure system.

The AA heading SW…. the Eye of the Storm heading SE

This was early on day 7 of the voyage. As you can see from the next picture we were at 58ºS with a following wind of 40 knots. Under all that cloud we encountered heavy snow.

This from the Ships display – We had a 40 knots wind on our stern
Heavy snow on the helideck. A group does a field training exercise on using a GPS

During day 7 we kept steaming in a SW direction – aiming for the relatively lighter conditions near the south of the deepening low centre. The result was the wind was from the stern which consequently knocked down the heavier southwest swell

The cross marks our position. We set a course for the southern section of the low, to avoid the worst of the conditions to the north of the low centre

The pressure kept falling rapidly during the day – almost dropping to 940 hPa. In the tropics a pressure this low can be found in the centre of a severe tropical cyclone or hurricane.

The barograph on the Bridge shows the pressure dropped 30 hPa in a 24 hour period
A plot of our positions – superimposed on a wind and MSLP forecast chart

On day 8 of the voyage we passed just south of the low where we encountered a bigger swell from the southwest. The temperature of the air as well as the ocean decreased (air -2℃) as we encountered strong to gale force southerly winds which seemed to be blowing up from the Antarctic continent. The Captain also set a westerly course to keep us north of the main pack ice.

The barograph shows that the pressure rose as fast as it fell, ultimately falling to as low as 942 hPa
Ploughing through the southwesterly swell

Around 10am we saw our first signs of sea ice.

First sighting of sea ice at 10am on the 3rd of November

Once we saw the first signs of ice, it became, at times,  a torrent of floating ice. Late afternoon a large iceberg was spotted on the southwest horizon and at 8pm that evening the First Mate (Madeleine) declared the winner of the iceberg tipping competition. My 15 minute time slot was a little after the official declaration.

With the first big iceberg spotted – many of the expeditioners were on the Bridge searching for bergs on the horizon

By late evening  we had sailed into a break in the clouds, so there was excellent viewing and many icebergs, large and small, photographed.

Late evening on day 8 of the voyage and we were in a clear slot in the weather and cloud
The iceberg in the distance was the first large one seen on this voyage
Almost perfect conditions in the far Southern Ocean at 58º 30′ S – This was late evening on the 8th of November

Because of the relatively calm conditions many expeditioners were on the Bridge enjoying the sun and occasional iceberg.

The occasional large iceberg seen in the late evening of day 8 of the voyage
Many icebergs are silhouetted by the setting sun on a crystal clear evening
At these latitudes there were many Cape petrels flying around the ship
Sunset was around 10:40pm

After the sunset the evening twilight lasted for another hour. During this time we entered several ice fields. was beautiful as we encountered more and more ice. In just over 12 hours after seeing the first ice the ship was completely surrounded.

Serene sailing through an ice field at 11pm
As it got darker we started to see more and more ‘bergy bits’
Icebergs come in so many shapes, sizes and colours
The Aurora Australis cuts a trail through the the thin pack ice
At 11:20pm, just before it became dark, we spotted this lone leopard seal on a ice floe

An hour after spotting the leopard seal the darkness was complete, then we were treated to an amazing light show, that is the aurora australis. As I didn’t have a tripod and because of the ships movement it was difficult to capture this amazing colourful spectacle. However I was mesmerised by the ships spotlights – searching for icebergs in our path.

Spotting for icebergs at 12:40am

For the next three days we made our way directly westward along 59º 30′ S – so as to avoid getting into the thick ice to soon. On day 9 of the voyage a larger iceberg did drift by closer to the ship.

First closer encounter with a larger iceberg – Several seabirds can be seen nearby

The weather later on day 9 turned to heavier snow.

Jock was happy with his effort of moulding the snow into a couple of small snowmen

Early on day 10 of the voyage we passed close by to another low pressure system, so again it was an uncomfortable ride for some of the passengers.

A swell running through the drifting ice field
Day 10 – swell, ice and snow – well and truly in the Southern Ocean

Every now and then we would practice the muster – Emergency bells would sound and we would muster, wearing our survival gear and life preserver, in our designated muster area. On day 10 it was quite a rough ride so it was unsafe to muster on the helideck so we mustered in the E-deck mess.

Muster in E-deck mess

Later in the afternoon on day 10 (5th November) the conditions significantly eased. Many of the passengers were up in the Bridge as a big tabular iceberg passed close to the port side.

A large tabular iceberg coming into view on the port side
The amazing colours and patterns in a large tabular iceberg – look carefully and note the many seabirds near the base
Abut half way along this beautiful tabular iceberg
Amazed to see the many seabirds near the icebergs

Only as I was editing and sorting out photos of this iceberg did I notice the birds resting on the top.

Seabirds resting on the top of this tabular iceberg
A couple of Cape petrels flying alongside the AA
Icebergs come in many shapes and sizes – this one is probably a piece broken off a larger  iceberg

One of the lens I purchased is a Micro Nikon 105mm f2.8 – It will be great for close up photos. I decided take some shots with it on Day 10.

Icicle on the Bridge deck – taken with my Micro 105mm lens

Towards evening on day 10 we made our way through some pack ice.

Pack ice on the evening of day 10 of the voyage
More pack ice

At around 9pm on day 10 we had a visit from a giant Southern Petrel This species is one of the largest seabirds – their body measures between 86cm and 99cm (34 -39 inches) and a wingspan of 185cm to 205cm (73 – 81 inches)

A Southern Giant Petrel came along side to see what this big orange thing was

Day 11 (6th of November) was similar to day 10, passing many icebergs and areas of pack ice as well as open water.

In the early afternoon – Jock and I on the port side Bridge deck watching the pack ice drift by

Late in the afternoon of the 6th of November (day 11) we crossed over 60ºS.

Next…. The Screaming Sixties and a visit from the King

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2 thoughts on “The Furious Fifties….the Antarctic Convergence Zone

  1. You are doing a wonderful blog, its cool how digital equip has perfected since your first trip (and my subsequent youtube slideshow). Seeing the interiors of the Aurora Australis is very interesting to all of us landlubbers. Thanks so much, keep up the great work, we’ll all be watching….


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