Being in the Antarctic has always been my dream. In an unforeseen way, it has now come true.
As a photographer and tour guide, I have been working for specialized tour operators for several years. A colleague had to cancel at short notice, so I was asked if I would step in, which of course was no question for me.
Many thanks to Waterworld Dive Expeditions for fulfilling my dream!
It has just become light and the seventh continent lies before us. Slowly, the ship glides between the ice sheets. Some of the passengers stand on deck near the railing to experience this fascinating landscape up close. The cold of the Antarctic is clearly felt. Although it's midsummer, a cool east wind blows. Docking is not possible this morning. The outside temperature is -8°C and grey clouds chase over the sky, it's too cold for a shore leave. To offer us an alternative, the captain of Plancius manoeuvres us through the ice fields. Huge ice floes burst under the bow and prove their ice class 1D. Two meter thick ice floes splinter like Styrofoam under her bow.
At 2pm the wind gets weaker, although the thermometer still shows -6°C. Catherine, our dive expedition leader, comes to us and announces that she has found a sheltered location: "We have found a safe iceberg to dive in. It ran aground and got stuck, a free-floating iceberg would be dangerous". I ask her: "Why is it getting dangerous? How can an iceberg roll, when 85% is submerged?" Catherine explains: "When the current, pushing from one side, and the wind, pushing from the other, press against it, a big iceberg can even flip over".
The camera and diving equipment are prepared in no time. To dive here, special equipment is required - only devices that are intended for extreme conditions. It is still icy cold, but we would like to do the first iceberg dive.
From a distance, the selected iceberg still looks grey and unimpressive, but as we approach the zodiac, we find ourselves in front of a bluish glowing block of ice. In no time we are underwater to explore the iceberg. The wall of the giant 'ice cube' is shaped like a golf ball, and we find small cracks and caves everywhere. The background is a photographic dream, I can’t get enough of the icy beauty.
The time passes under water, and before I know it 45 minutes have passed. I can barely feel my fingers on the surface, but my buddy has to stay for a moment to model. I'll do some more split pictures. A great shot, because the icy wind has conjured thousands of icicles on the iceberg. I can feel the cold on the surface threefold because the wind also causes the salty water on my mask and head to freeze immediately. A shore leave is inconceivable after this dive. My fingers, feet and face are burning with cold. What we have just experienced underwater, the current and pain of the cold are more than worth it, but now everyone wants to get back on board and under a warm shower.
Over the next few days we dive at more icebergs. Even a rock face is on the agenda, but we never see such a fascinating iceberg in front of the lens again. The landings on the ice are also impressive. The hilly landscape is covered by a thick layer of 'white sugar'. Wherever you look, there are seals or penguins around. The big Weddell seals are particularly impressive, and are easily confused with the similar-looking Crabeater seals. Both are light grey with dark spots, only the faces distinguish them clearly. While the Weddell seals have 'dog-like' faces, the Crabeater seals seem more feline. Unfortunately, I do not encounter a Leopard seal underwater. These are the largest predators of the Antarctic, and a dive with these animals is a special challenge. They are not considered dangerous but can weigh up to 500kg and they are extremely fast. Penguins must be particularly afraid of them because they are the Leopard seal's favourite food. They're one more reason to come here again.
For the last evening in Antarctica, the crew organizes a special party for us. The rear outer deck resembles a beer garden. There are beer tables everywhere, and several benches and grills have been set up. Despite the Arctic cold, the atmosphere is pleasantly relaxed. The sky is overcast, but the sea is the most calm we have seen it on our journey. The food is delicious and there is beer and mulled wine, depending on your taste. The sun has gone down on the horizon, yet there is still a diffused twilight.
Suddenly, the blow of a whale is clearly audible. A dozen humpback whales swim next to the ship. They lead the Plancius for nearly twenty minutes and are joined by dolphins, penguins and occasionally seals that stick their heads out of the water. Nobody speaks a word anymore. Everyone is just staring at the sea. That's not really true, I think. If this were a Walt Disney movie, I would just smile and dismiss everything as a fairytale, but the scenery we experienced can’t be described in words, it's just beautiful. Thank you mother nature!
Diving Equipment: Mares XR Tec Equipment
Arctic outdoor gear: The North Face
Underwater Camera Equipment: Seacam
A trip on the Plancius or one of her sister ships can be booked from 9,500 euros. Flights are extra. The port is in Ushuaia, which can be reached via Buenos Aires. A stopover there is meaningful and culturally interesting. If you are planning a trip to Antarctica, you should plan at least one extra day in Ushuaia, as the ship will not wait for late arrivals.
Author: Gerald Nowak
Video: Alex Benedik