In the passage between Antarctica proper and a chain of ice covered islands, lies the Gerlache Strait. Named for a Belgian Antarctic explorer, this body of water is an ice-clogged channel that offers spectacular views sure to make even the most self-assured person feel small.
Your average visitor's experience is in the hands of their boat captain, and he or she in turn is at the mercy of the highly volatile changes in weather that the region is known for. In practical terms this means that there is no guarantee that you'll even be able to pass through the strait, and even if you do, there's no knowing if the fog will allow you to see far up the high cliffs that surround it. However, if the weather allows it, as it did during my visit, a cruise down this icy waterway can be a true highlight of an Antarctic voyage.
My own visit in January of 2008 lasted a mere few hours. Heading south with Anvers Island and others on our right and the continent proper to the left, skies were blue, seas were calm and the biting wind was manageable. Other than a few breaks belowdeck to warm up, I stood perched on deck with my tripod and camera, alternating between my wide-angle lens to capture the two to four thousand foot peaks rising precipitously from the waterline, and my zoom lens to capture small cliques of gentoo or adelie penguins hitching a ride on small icebergs of blue and white.
On each side of the strait there are enormous glaciers in various stages of formation which would have appeared even more impressive had there been some kind of context present to put things in scale. Our ship was the only man-made object to be seen, so I've been forced to explain to those perusing my photos how that mass of snow and ice that they see at the base of the mountain could have buried our ship and then some, even if it only looks like a hill with a snowbank.
Our passage ended in Flanders Bay just as we hooked around to the Bismarck Channel to the west, marking the southernmost point I've visited thus far. From there it was a short trip to the entrance of the Neumeyer Channel which will be discussed in another review.
All said and done this was certainly my favorite destination during my four day visit to the White Continent, and weather permitting this is probably the most dramatic scenery available to your average Antarctic cruiser.