Glaciers, Penguins, and Zodiacs

Trip Start Sep 30, 2009
Trip End Sep 08, 2010

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MS Prince Albert II

Flag of Antarctica  ,
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sailing from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula aboard the Prince Albert II, we needed to cross the Drake Passage over 2 days.  The Drake Passage is the body of water directly below Cape Horn and is notoriously rough as it is the confluence of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Named after Sir Francis Drake, who reputedly discovered it, it is not unusual to have 8-10m swells during a crossing.  Our first day was calm, 1-2m swells, but on the second, we got a bit of mean reversion and experienced 7-8m swells.  Needless to say, most of the ship, including us, were sea sick.

Our first landing (Dec 2) on the Antarctic Peninsula was at Brown Bluff, a volcano at the northern tip of the continent.  Here we encountered our first penguins, a colonly of Adelie and Gentoos.  They were in the middle of their breeding season, as it is summer here.  It was -4C. Later that afternoon some of the guides took us around Hope Bay on zodiacs.  Hope Bay is famous because it is the site of a large Argentine military base and is also the location of the first human birth in Antarctica in 1978.  This occurred during a period when Chile and Argentina were jostling over territorial rights to Antarctica, and the Argentines began sending pregnant women down here to give birth, in an attempt to lay greater territorial claim.
Dec 3, we landed at an old Norweigian whaling station on Deception Island.  The island is really a collapsed caldera and geothermal activity is still present.  Very few of these collapsed calderas exist in the world, with Santorini being another example.  The first foot of water from shore is about 30C, but quickly declines to 0C by the third foot.  Some people have been known to take a quick dip here, but not us on this day.  The air temperature was -6C.  It was windy and the passage we came in from had frozen over as we headed out.  Good thing that the ship is strong enough to break through the sea ice as we departed.

Leaving had us sail through the Lemaire channel, which is home to glaciers, granite peaks and enormous icebergs.

Dec 4, we visited Port Lockroy on Goudier Island, and old British base.  The site is now a post office and museum operated by the British Antarctic Heritage Trust.  The musuem is staffed by 4 young women, who run the museum and do research on the penguin colonies nearby.  The conditions in which they live will surprise you - 1 room, 4 beds, no bathroom.  This means no showers also.  Lucky for them, our ship's captain invited the 4 on board to bathe and have a nice breakfast.  I think it was more for our benefit than theirs as spending time with 4 unwashed Brits would not be pleasant for the ship's guests.

Dec 5 - Cuverville Island.  Heavy snow helped mask the stench of penguin guano.  Before this trip, I would have never considered how awful penguins smell.  It is almost as bad as a feed lot.
Dec 6 - Almirante Brown.  An Argentine sea base which is unmanned.  Home to yet another penguin colony.  In the afternoon we spotted about 5 humpback whales.  The whales come down here for the summer when the daylight and abundant krill allow them to feed almost 24hrs a day.

Dec 7 - Aitcho Islands.  Home to more Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins.

Overall we had seen many penguins, seals, and a few whales.  The one type of penguin which you will not see around here are the Emperor Penguins that were made famous in March of the Penguins.  They are currently much farther south in the Weddell Sea.

A quick note on how locations on Antarctica are named.  Two ways: fund and expedition and you will get something named after you or die on Antarctica and you will get something named after you.  There are still many unnamed locations here...
The Prince Albert II was very comfortable.  We had our own butler, 5 course dinners in a Relais & Chateaux restaurant, and a staff to guest ratio of 1:1.  The guests onboard were an interesting mix of travelers, mostly older, but still young at heart and adventurous.  We met a few retired CEOs of public companies, a few ex-politicians, and one ex-Nomura trader who quit his job and is traveling the world.  Next stop is Buenos Aires where we will rendez-vous with some of TuUyen's friends.
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Michael Denning on

Great pics Brent! did you really catch that huge rainbow? Thanks for sharing with us all. not sure if you have internet access on Easter Island, but Happy New Year! I am sure this trip is making for some wonderful memories for the both of you.

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