Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
220Trip End Jun 17, 2009
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Settling in to our double bedded (what - no bunks!), en suite cabin, we had plenty of room in our home for 12 days. The "Antarctic Dream', an 82 metre ex Chilean navy, icebreaker, patrol vessel, was our transferred booking (Thanks Ben), following our original GAP tour ship sinking after hitting ice last December. There are a total of 78 travellers on board and after the welcome briefing, in which it was stressed that the first and last two days "could be rough", we had a lifeboat drill.
Dinner was a four course affair - Donald, I should have bet you on a basis of a pound sterling for each pound weight loss or gained, whilst we set sail eastwards down the calm 'Beagle Channel' out of Ushuaia
We checked our sea sickness tablets with the ship's doctor and were issued with a stronger version, which we took as we went to bed. Just as well because sometime after midnight we were awakened as the ship started to roll around, having turned south to cross the 'Drake Passage', the legendary stretch of water between Cape Horn and Antarctica. Any sleep from then on was only fitful as we rolled about in bed.
Bidden to breakfast at 0730 by the ship's address system, we dressed carefully. Our cabin is about ten feet above the water line and as I looked out of the port hole, I could see big, white crested, grey waves, the tops of which were sometimes up above the port hole and then way down below it, as the boat rolled around. So this was "could be rough"! We found out later that the wind was a Force 7 and sea state was more than fifteen feet waves.
Breakfast was an interesting exercise of helping yourself to the buffet and then struggling to a table as the ship rolled about. Regularly there was the sound of crashing plates from the galley or a bump, as some other diner overbalanced in their chair and fell to the floor
Seriously tired, I returned to bed whilst Norah stayed on her feet and attended one of the ship's lectures on sea birds, several of which had been trailing the ship. I think someone said they were storm petrels but as they were juveniles with incomplete plumage, this was unconfirmed. I watched one with a thin wing profile, plunge and soar around the waves, before swooping so low he actually ran up the front of a wave, leaving splashing footprints in the water. Fascinating. There were also albatross soaring about in the storm tossed waves.
I awoke to the lunch tannoy and made my way to the still heaving dining room. The wind seemed to have come round part way behind us, which meant that the ship was now pitching (ie nose diving) as well as rolling (side to side). The general opinion was that this was a 'normal' sea state with about 5 metre high waves and was nothing to write home about. Well, this could get really interesting !!!!!
Dinner was another enjoyable three course meal, except that the ship was rolling about more, causing several people to be tipped from their chairs
We heard the wind rising and the ship started to roll about even more, which prevented any sleep. Sometime in the early hours the rolling lessened and we both managed to get a little sleep.
Woken by the breakfast tannoy to a grey, misty day but with a little less roll, Norah chose to stay in bed to catch up on serious lack of sleep. There was really very little to see, just a grey, overcast sea with the odd petrel that had ventured out.
After lunch the skies started to lighten and we attended a protocol and safety briefing on the Antarctic. We had also been issued with wellies and waterproofs, so now things were looking promising. By 5pm there were signs of the sky lightening and our first icebergs were spotted, in two rows sailing line astern like a navy convoy - a strange but special sight. Soon after we caught a glimpse of a humpback whale, as he passed us going in the opposite direction
By the 7.30 pm dinnertime we had entered the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula and were moored near Aitcho Island, ready for tomorrow's landing. This sheltered bay gave us some protection and we were able to have a good night's sleep.
A dull but calm day. Norah had been quite ill during the night with severe stomach cramps and stayed in bed. After breakfast I dressed in several layers, fleece and waterproofs and waited for my group to be called to board the zodiacs for the four hundred metre trip to the beach and a 'wet' landing in the low surf on Aitcho Island. It just felt like being in the marines.
The wind was cold and I was glad of the hood on the sailing jacket that we had been issued with. There were dozens of penguins in separate groups on the beach, gentou and chin-straps and they paid little attention to our invasion, indeed one or two youngsters wandered up to us, curious to inspect the new arrivals to their world.
The beach was dark sand and rock, with an overwhelming smell of fishy penguin poo. We walked upwards away from the beach onto a small hill that gave a view over most of the island. We could see more penguins scattered everywhere and elephant seals, fur seals and sealions, both in groups and singles along the shingle cove below us.
The volcanic rock formed elaborate shapes on the island and out in the sea around it, where many small icebergs were piled against the rocks.
As we descended down into the cove we carefully walked past the sealions, occasionally being challenged by the young bulls who would give a roar and then rush forward a few paces to warn us off. The beach here was littered with large whale bones, we were told from carcasses that had been washed ashore. There were Brown Skuas nesting amongst the rocks and their chicks sheltering from the steadily freshening wind.
Slowly circling the beach we returned to the hill and climbed to return to the landing point. It was now starting to snow in the form of hard round pellets and this intensified as we came over the top of the hill, passing the small crèches of penguin chicks that adults were trying to shelter from this change in the weather
We boarded the zodiacs in the increasing waves for a choppy and wet return to the ship. It had been an interesting morning and the warmth of Copacabana beach seemed a long way away!
In the afternoon we motored south west through the 'Bransfield Strait' towards tomorrow's landing sites. There was a warning of rough weather en route and sure enough the ship soon started to pitch forward and roll slightly. Norah had still stayed in bed and I found it more comfortable to lie down to cope with the bouncy seas. I had decided not to take another sea sickness tablet so as to avoid the constantly drowsy feeling we had had during the two day voyage over here. I attended a briefing for tomorrow at 7pm and then did not bother with dinner, opting to go to bed and weather it there. We motored until nearly midnight, when the swell decreased and we were able to get some sleep
We were still motoring through the 'Gerlache Strait' but the sea was relatively calm as I went for breakfast. We were mooring in a sheltered bay at 'Fort Lockroy', an ex wartime secret base for monitoring German shipping, then an initial British Antarctic survey base and now a tourist stop - yes, even down here.
Norah was feeling better but skipped breakfast as a precaution to being able to go ashore. Kitted up again, we boarded a zodiac for the trip to the Fort in a steady snow shower. Clambering up the rocks we were surrounded by Gentou penguins, most of them trying to shelter from the wind but a few inquisitive youngsters came forward to see if we had any food, which was strictly forbidden.
The old Fort had a couple of huts left and one, as well as being a museum, had a surprising range of touristy goods, including stamps and postcards at their Royal Mail Post Office! Outside on the snow covered rocks we surveyed the surrounding low mountains and the glaciers, which were showing signs of cracking
Next we were transferred across the bay to 'Jougla Point' on 'Wiencke Island', where another rocky landing put us amidst more gentou, skuas and gulls. Nearly all the youngsters were moulting and as they stood there in the wind driven snow, wet and muddy and waiting to be fed I felt quite sorry for the poor little beggars. It only seemed to be the adults who wandered to the water, plopped in but then came this magical transformation. They zipped about, bobbing and shooting up out of the water and you could see the white patches on their bodies, when they were underneath the surface, wheeling and darting at an amazing speed in incredible whirling manoeuvres. Magical.
It was getting colder and we made our way back to the pick up point for the transfer back after an interesting morning.
After lunch we passed through the Anvers Island channel, which was a narrow gap between two islands. The tall peaks on each side were covered in snow and glaciers and we passed by ferry sized icebergs coming the other way
In the afternoon there was a sudden tannoy to go on deck as humpbacks had been spotted ahead. On deck we saw a mother and calf about 100 metres from the ship and a larger, solo humpback a bit further off. Fascinating creatures. There were occasional sights of groups of penguins out fishing, as they bobbed and 'flew' through the water.
Here we were at our furthest southerly point - Latitude 65 deg 14 min South.
In the afternoon we were due to visit a Ukrainian research station but it happened to coincide with a staff change-over, so was cancelled. Instead we had the option to take a zodiac ride round an iceberg area. Interesting, except that as we kitted up and boarded the boats there was quite a snowstorm blowing and it did make the excursion quite exciting, manoeuvering around the carved shapes of these big 'bergs. There were some fascinating shapes and at one point we disturbed a leopard seal from one of the floes, who then followed us in case he got the chance of an easy meal! We were out for an hour and were just starting to feel cold(er) when we returned to the ship.
In the evening the snow stopped and the sun started to break through, giving us a better view of some of the peaks around us and some spectacular sights of the late sun on the mountain tops.
In the night we stayed in the sheltered sound and had a good night's sleep, the first for many days.
A dull, misty day but no snow! We landed on the rocky shore of Petermann Island to be met by the neighbourhood Gentou penguins. Walking inshore we came to an area where the last of the Adeli young penguins were finishing their moult before they could join the rest of the colony at sea. We walked round a sleeping fur seal in the rocks and watched Atlantic Cormorants, still in their breeding pairs with grown chicks, dozing on the rocks. One pair were dancing and preening each other, a somewhat touching sight for us romantics.
Across the island at an inlet was a fascinating wall of wind sculptured snow and an iceberg nestling nearby. Penguins were bathing and swimming in the calm, sheltered waters
Eventually he was disturbed by someone climbing down the nearby rocks and set off down the gulley to the nearby bay, scattering penguins on his way.
Too soon it was time to head back to the landing point but on the way we passed an inland rock pool where several penguins were having a bath in the now brightening morning.
Slowly heading back north and the weather was really brightening up. From the dinner table we could see passing peaks and glaciers that had been hidden in the mist on the way south. This was becoming spectacular and there was more ice and icebergs in the waters all around the ship. The icebergs were many interesting shapes but there was one in the shape of a duck and another that looked like a sculptured fish.
In a large bay we could see dozens of penguins, out on fishing trips, in their practised bobbing and diving progress through the sea
In the afternoon the ship slowed right down to negotiate the narrow, twisty passage near Anvers Island and at times you could not see a clear path through. We would have to manoeuvre round a large iceberg or push through smaller 'bergs and sea ice, with a resultant bump and the noise of the ice as it scraped down the hull. Thrilling.
We entered 'Paradise Bay' just as the afternoon sun had really come out. If your idea of paradise could be just a little warmer, then this was it. The waters were now calm, giving fabulous reflections of the glistening white peaks and glaciers, offset with the dark rock faces and blue sky. A fabulous sight and I was glad that at least we had seen Antarctica, for once, in the picture book blue sky.
We stopped at a Chilean research station, who were having problems with their water treatment plant, to supply them with fresh water. On the rocks and snow slopes all round the station were hundreds of penguins and we could see huge fishing groups of penguins sweeping across the inlet, like some well co-ordinated fishing fleet, before bobbing back to shore
An early dinner and then an evening landing, which was no problem as it stayed light until well after 11 o'clock. We boarded the zodiacs and landed at "Neko Bay', which was to be our only landing on the actual Antarctic continent. Slaloming through trapped icebergs in the glacier surrounded inlet, we were passed by a continuous traffic of penguins, coming and going on their fishing trips. The youngsters, as ever, were waiting on the shore hungry until their parents returned.
The rough, rocky beach was hard to walk on, especially as the first obstacle was a sleeping Weddel seal that we had to walk round. Penguins were scattered all round the beach and up the snow covered slopes. I was walking along the beach towards the foot of the glacier when suddenly there was an enormous cracking sound across the inlet and a wall of ice, weakened by the afternoon sun, came crashing down into the water, sending waves along the adjacent cliffs and out into the bay. This caused the ice floes and blocks in the bay to bob up and down and the waves eventually reached our (opposite) shore. What happened next was spectacular. Instead of a gradual series of diminishing waves, the whole shoreline receeded outwards for about five metres, leaving the steeply shelving rocky beach exposed
As we walked back to the landing point we saw an adolescent penguin building a nest, which they do by picking up small stones from around the area and then arranging them in a 'nest' on the ground. It is too late for this season but was practice for next year.
Back on board and to bed, accompanied by the occasional shudder as the ship hit a large chunk of ice, followed by a severe grating sound as the ice scraped down the hull. Do we put on pyjamas or lifejackets? Goodnight.
A light night's sleep but still afloat
We walked inland overlooking an inlet and some of the group elected to try and walk up a steep, rocky, snow sloped hill for 'the views'. They gave up half way and returned by another route. I stayed and enjoyed the peace and quiet, surrounded by the penguins, who occasionally shuffled past me and watching sea lions frolicking in the waters of the inlet below me. One young pair were playing like a couple of pups, which I suppose they were, around a flat slab of rock in the ice strewn bay. They were using this to tussle on and play 'King of the Castle' in their boisterousness, whilst all round them bobbing penguins were coming and going and Skuas, Gulls and Terns were zooming round the skies. The peaks and glaciers across slowly cleared and, although it was not actually sunny, the snow did stop and I enjoyed quite a magical experience of the Antarctic tranquility.
In mid afternoon we were in Dallman Bay and were told that there could be whales in the area
The next thing is that all three whales are at the side of the ship and crossing under the hull from side to side, leaving us running from one side of the deck to the other in a crazy game of 'Ship in Sight' (Scouts reference). This developed into front left, front right, back left, back right and a wonderful game of 'Spot the Humpback'. They took it in turns to rise vertically in the water, to turn on their sides and wave fins and even a few tail slaps. They were so close to us at the side of the ship that we could see their eyes and their breathing blowholes and all the barnacles on their skin. We had to pinch ourselves to believe what we were seeing, in this unbelievable display from these fabulous creatures. After an hour and a half they left us tired, exhilarated and freezing, as they swam off into the bay to find other amusement. An absolutely wonderful experience.
The evening continued to brighten up with blue skies behind the peaks and glaciers
An early, 0545 start as we were approaching' Deception Island', which is a flooded volcano caldera with a small sea going passage. As we watched the approach, we were told that the wind was gusting 40 knots and that it was too risky to try to enter the narrow entry channel, known as 'Neptune's Bellows'. We stood off for over an hour and then as the wind slowed a little we went in cautiously. The whole flooded area is about five miles diameter.
We should have visited an old whaling station and then gone 'swimming' in a hot spring but the delay caused the programme to be revised and instead we motored to the far end of the caldera and landed in 'Telegraph Bay'. As we prepared to go ashore, a ship's maintenance team came and bolted a safety inner steel shutter to our porthole in preparation for the trip back across Drake Passage
We boarded the zodiac to the island for a bouncy landing and then we climbed the steep, black, volcanic ash slope to see another caldera and returned by a circular route to the black ash beach. It was very cold and windy on the island but we were sad that this was to be our last Antarctic landfall. And.........there was not a single penguin in sight! I'm going to miss those little guys.
Back on board and the crew took quite a time to lash and stow everything down, whilst there were several warnings to secure everything loose in our cabin and to take extra care moving about the ship. We were also forbidden to go out anywhere on deck as it would be too dangerous. What was that about interesting?
We took our sea sickness pills before lunch and then went on to the bridge to watch the careful exercise of navigating the ship out of the sheltered caldera. It was interesting to watch the depth monitor as it displayed the perfect volcanic rim outline from over 300 metres of water, sharply rising to 19 metres and then tapering slowly over the outer rim until it fell away again to 400 metres plus
We sailed south and then west to clear Deception, before turning north west through the gap in the South Shetlands Islands, heading back towards Drake Passage. By mid afternoon the ship was starting to pitch forward and backwards and the tablets were taking effect. I felt so tired I went and laid down in the cabin and slept until I was woken by the call to dinner at 7.30pm. Now we were really pitching, with a need to hang on to the table as the ship nosed over the crest of the wave and raced down into the following trough - no, the Gang Show song never entered my head! As soon as we finished dinner we struggled to our cabin and went to bed, pitching about and listening to the waves slamming into the side of the ship next to us. We somehow drifted off to sleep way after midnight when the sea had become less stormy.
We heard the breakfast tannoy at 0730 and decided to turn over and give breakfast a miss, trying to catch up on sleep. At about 1030 we surfaced to a very dull and quite misty day, but at least it was calmer. The ship had slowed down because of the poor visibility and we motored slowly for many hours. In the mid afternoon there was a sudden silence as the engines stopped
Dinnertime, quick chat and then to bed. The calm continued and we slept well.
This time we made breakfast. The mist had gone and the sea was still relatively calm. We returned our expedition gear of wellingtons, jacket and lifejackets and before lunch the first islands which Cape Horn was a part of were in sight. It was strange to somehow miss the excitement of a rough sea on the one hand but we were quite happy to accept the calm that now prevailed.
We sailed up the calm Beagle Channel and finally docked back in Ushuaia at 7pm. There was a final night's dinner, which included a cocktail reception with the crew (again I had forgotten to pack my tux) and a lot of expedition reviews over several bottles of wine
It was a fine, warm(er) evening and after dinner we stretched our legs with a walk into town before returning for a last, quiet, calm night aboard.
Awoken at 7am, so that we could have our packed bags ready for shipping ashore before breakfast at 7.30. It was a sad time saying goodbye to our fellow adventurers and we had made some good friends in the ten days at sea. It was also the longest spell that we had spent in one bed for nearly six months, something we had tended to overlook.
Just a few facts about Antarctica:
It is over 600 miles from Cape Horn to the Antarctic Peninsula at South Shetland Islands.
We covered a distance of 1900 nautical miles during the 11days on board the ship
Reflection; This was not so much a holiday trip as an adventurous expedition. I feel that if we could have flown to Antarctica, got off the plane, taken the photos and then flown out again, it would not have had the same meaning as the way we did it. You had a sense of having earned your place there, by the rough passage we endured going and then were prepared to have to face on the way back, even though it did not (thankfully) happen.
The sense of remoteness (and admittedly we only skimmed the edges) was something that struck me, along with the rugged beauty and grandeur of this part of the planet that I feel grateful to have had the chance to see. The harshness of the continent we can only guess at from the small glimpse that was given to us, but this was a place that I was mightily impressed with and its memory will last a very long time.