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1.24.2013

It’s snowing again this morning, and the travels down to the circle are much more rocky. We couldn’t pass through the more protected channel due to the ice conditions so we are in the open waters. The circle is 66°33′ latitude and during the summer solstice, the sun shines here 24 hours a day. Currently the sun sets at 11:31 and rises 4:01, though it seems like it never gets fully dark.

We crossed the circle at 9:30 am. In celebration, the captain pulled in the ships stabilizers to make for a more rocky ride (but more importantly to protect them from ice). All the passengers dressed in their yellow parkas and loaded on the bow of the boat for a picture. The captain blew the horn as we passed 66°33′ in snowy, sleeting conditions. As usual, the staff had a unique celebration planned. Dressed in costumes and carrying oars, they pounded them on the deck in a three beat rhythm chanting “kiss the fish”. We all had to kiss a frozen mackerel in order to pass up to deck four! Nicole and I even got to brandish the fish at the end as we stood at the bow for a “Titanic” picture.

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20130214-095238.jpgFellow kayakers Don and Donna kissing the fish…photo taken by expedition staff

As we continued further south for the morning, we passed some of the most picturesque icebergs we’ve seen yet. Arches within arches…just spectacular! Weather permitting, our goal was to land at Detaille Island, 66°55′, the most southern stop on our journey. The British established a base here in 1956 to conduct geological and topographical surveys. It was only open for three years due to difficult ice conditions. The first two winters, the ice didn’t form hard enough to support sledging through. The third winter, the ice was too thick and the ice breakers couldn’t break through the ice to bring supplies, so they abruptly closed the station.

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Now the base is declared a historical site. Three scientists were living in the wooden huts for three weeks, and thus the base was open during our trip. Furthermore, for the first year ever, they had an operating post office! It was so exciting to land and mail a post card from south of the circle. We were so fortunate to have such good weather. All morning it had been windy, sleeting, and snowing. The conditions worsened over time. At one point in time, the island wasn’t visible from the ship. Being the second group to disembark due to restrictions, Nicole and I were beginning to wonder if we were going to get to go. Amazingly, while we were in the zodiac, after we maneuvered through the incredible icebergs and through a channel of ice, including growlers which is heavy clear ice, the skies cleared, the snow stopped, and the sun started shining. It was the first time we’ve seen the sun since the first day. What a glorious experience!

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After visiting the base and mailing my post card that will go to Lockroy in Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, and then the UK before it even makes it to the states in two and a half months, we came back to the ship and stood on the deck enjoying the light that reflected off all the icebergs. Each time I walked around the ship deck, the island and the icebergs looked different…simply marvelous!

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Despite the sunlight, that was very welcomed, the seas were still choppy, and higher than anything that we have been used to, so we didn’t do a polar plunge. We turned North as soon as possible and departed as quickly as we pulled in. Ice conditions still didn’t allow us to travel through the protected channel, so once again we took to the rougher, open seas. Hopefully we will continue to be blessed with this new sunny weather, and we can try the polar plunge later in the week.

While I enjoyed cocktails and appetizers with our new friends Bev, Peter, Marion, and Harvey, Nicole decided to try out the hot tub on deck five, as the view of the icebergs are simply fantastic. The hot tub was a cool 96 degrees. She had to keep moving to keep warm. Personally, hanging in lounge sounded like a better option to me. I could see the icebergs out the window! Peter was retired from oil and gas. Harvey was retired from the computer industry. The foursome liked playing bridge, so I got to learn a little about that card game. I wish I knew more…love cards!

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It was a really special day in a totally different way. We were 1 of 3 ships or 400 visitors that will even make it to Detaille Island this year. Most trips don’t go south of the circle. I liked being one of the first to use the new post office!! And it was shocking to hear that even our zodiac driver Mette, who has spent years in the world’s most remote regions, had never set foot on Detaille Island. I already appreciated the adventure, but hearing such statements really puts the experience into perspective. ETB

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