Waking at 5 a.m., hauling back the shut down draperies, I wheezed at seeing my most memorable Antarctic ice sheet. A blue-toned mass, about the size of Macy’s structure in New York, drifted by inside yards of the boat and I detected the risk of an ocean make hitting one of these strong ice structures.

We had entered the tranquil and serene Neumayer Channel, which snakes with S-shaped bends and appears to have no exits, the tilt-and-whirl ride of the Drake Passage having passed. Weighted down with layers of apparel, parkas, caps, gloves, cameras and optics, we stumbled to the boat’s bow to encounter this perplexing charm.

As Antarctica’s ice-covered cliffs closed in on both sides, a subtle dawn light, a flurry of swirling snowflakes, and a strong, bitter wind that stung our eyes like glass shards formed a surreal backdrop.

On the port side, Emperor penguins rode in an iceberg water taxi, humpback whales frolicked off the stern, and fifty earless fur seals sat motionless on a flat frozen slab.

We wound up running front and rearward to take everything in.