Amazing AntarcticaDiscovering The 7th Continent
“I set foot on Antarctica, my 7th & final continent. Pictures were taken with the Antarctica flag while a few gentoos, traversing the Penguin Highway behind me, added some conspiracy-quelling authenticity to the scene.” – Excerpt from day 5. November 30, 2015.
Image || Slowly does it. Navigating through Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. Day 6. December 1, 2015.
There’s a lot I miss about Antarctica. I miss the clean cold. I miss the towering, deep-blue icebergs that reminded me how small I really am. I miss the daily challenge of trying to take everything in & to adequately record the experience. I miss the enchanting, endless light. I miss the knowledgeable & affable Expedition Crew & their fervour for all they do. I miss my cosy cabin. I miss the zippy Zodiacs taking me twice a day to somewhere I’ll never, ever forget. I miss the rocking, ducking & diving of the M/V Ocean Endeavour as she tackled the notorious Drake Passage. I miss the serenity, the Chinese aside. I miss taking a coffee up on deck to keep me company as I watch the Antarctic world glide by. I miss the 5-star service, the incredible food, & the bottomless wine at dinner, all served by the placating waitstaff. I miss the smell of penguin poo, the defining aroma of Antarctica. I miss the informative expedition lectures & being educated on my surroundings & its fauna. I miss the fresh air, the cleanest on earth. I miss tracking our progress via on board maps. I miss hanging out (& staying out of harm’s way) on the bridge. I miss the ‘Good morning, good morning!’ announcements over the PA signalling the start of yet another unforgettable day. I miss feeling so remote. I miss the all-encompassing whiteness. I miss the challenge of sending sporadic tweets while not trying to run out of on board Wi-Fi credit. I miss getting robed up in my thermals, my canary-yellow parka & my rubber boots in the Mud Room. I miss feeling very special & very, very privileged. I miss being a photographer in Antarctica, an unrivalled photographers nirvana. I miss whale watching off the bow of the ship & the sound the whales make when they surface & expel air through their blowhole. I miss giving right of way to the locals on the Penguin Highway. I miss the friends I made and shared many a side-splitting laugh with. I miss drinks in the bar at night. Yes I miss all of that & more from my time in Antarctica, but mostly I miss the penguins, the awkward, boisterous, smelly & comedic little penguins that were everywhere & that I grew to love so much.
Lonely Planet Antarctica
Antarctica || Driest, Windiest, Highest, Coldest
A little over 1000 kilometres south of Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s most southern city, astonishing, mysterious & amazing Antarctica is the least explored continent on earth. Receiving only some 200 millimeters of precipitation a year, the desert that is Antarctica is not only the driest continent on earth, but also the windiest, highest and coldest – the lowest temperature ever recorded on earth was -89.2 °C at a Russian Antarctic research base in July 1983 (the continent’s average low is a balmy -60 °C… a domestic deep-freeze runs at about -20 °C). Covering 14 million square kilometres, 9% of the world’s landmass, the southernmost continent is the 5th largest. Bigger than Australia & 1.3 times the size of Europe, it is almost entirely (98%) covered by a sheet of ice that averages almost 2 kilometres in thickness and holds 90% of the world’s ice & 70% of its fresh water; estimates say that if all of Antarctica’s ice melted, the world’s sea level would rise by 60 metres.
Antarctica || Environment, Preservation & The Antarctic Treaty System
– The Antarctic Treaty
Antarctica’s environment, the world’s last great wilderness & boasting the smallest human footprint of any environment on earth, is all gigantic glaciers combined with white mountains, flat highland (tableland) and an irregular 18,000 kilometre-long coastline of ice formations with fjords, estuaries and bays, home to an amazing variety of marine mammals and birds. Preserving this pristine & spotless environment, an international zone of Peace & Science, is the job of the Antarctic Treaty System. Brought into force in 1961 by its initial 12 members, today it comprises 53 parties/countries that effectively govern the politically-neutral continent & supposedly protect it by prohibiting military activities, mining & waste disposal while promoting scientific research. The only continent on earth without countries, certain countries do routinely claim parts of the continent for their own, moves that usually cause friction among other treaty members but moves that are largely ignored by the Treaty & its members.
Antarctica || Exploration & Tourism
The most inhospitable place on earth is one of its least explored regions. Captain James Cook, on his second voyage of discovery, sailed across the Antarctic Circle in January 1773 while searching for another continent in the southern hemisphere, the fabled Terra Australis, noting with pride in his journal that he was “undoubtedly the first that ever crossed that line.” However, he never laid eyes on the continent, deciding to sail north after encountering large masses of ice. The Antarctic continent was first sighted, it is widely accepted, on January 28, 1820, by Russian Naval explorers Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev. They beat, by two days, Irish-born British mariner Edward Bransfield, who sighted Trinity Peninsula, the northernmost part of the Antarctic Peninsula, on January 30, 1820. Anglo-American sealer John Davis is credited with captaining the vessel that may have seen man take the first steps on the continent of Antarctica in February, 1821. Thereafter vast, ice-chocked Antarctica remained largely neglected because of its hostile environment, lack of resources, and isolation. It was almost another century before man set foot at the South Pole when, on December 14, 1911, Norwegian Roald Amundsen famously pipped (Robert Falcon) Scott to the Pole, albeit by some 5 weeks. Scott & his party died on the return trek in what is probably the most widely published event in the continent’s history and certainly the most well-known, not to mention tragic, event of the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, an era beginning at the end of the 19th century and ending with Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in February 1917.
– Scott commenting on the South Pole in his diary shortly after realising he had been beaten to the prize of the South Pole by Amundsen. January 17, 1912.
Today Antarctica is still the only continent on earth without a native human population & while there is no industry on the continent per se, small-scale tourism, which first emerged in the late 1950s, is making inroads. The continent attracts about 40,000 visitors a year (in comparison Chad gets approximately 100,000 visitors a year, France some 85 million), very few of whom would agree with Scott’s above observation. While these numbers are rising, they are still below the Antarctic high of 46,000 visitors during the 2007-2008 season shortly after which, in 2009, larger boats carrying 500+ passengers were banned from Antarctic waters.
Antarctica || Through The Lens
Lt. Adrien de Gerlache of the Belgian Navy conceived, organised and led the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-99. This expedition, whose Second Officer was a then unknown Roald Amundsen, was the first truly scientific expedition to visit Antarctica. The program was very broad and included hydrography, exploration of lands, meteorology, glaciology, soundings, dredging, study of fauna & flora, magnetism & photography. Indeed, this expedition is credited with producing the very first photographic records of places in Antarctica with some of the images returned of astonishing quality. The expedition’s photographer (& Doctor), American Frederick Cook, would later, in 1908, go on to claim to have discovered the North Pole.
The above text is reproduced from information on display in the Museo Maritimo (Maritime Museum) in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.
dMb In Antarctica
I kept a diary in Antarctica. Both a digital & a written one, neither of which were very structured; a few typed observations here, a few scribbled titbits of information there. Collectively they formed part of a strategy of preservation, to help me try and retain as I grow old as many memories as possible from my time in Antarctica. Those diary entries are the basis for what follows, a day-by-day, picture-heavy recap of a 10-day period during which I regularly commented that life probably doesn’t get any better than this (being in Antarctica will do that to you). I’m far from concise but an epic once-in-a-lifetime jaunt to Antarctica deserves an epic write up. This is my epic write up. It’s long & there’s quite a bit of reading. If it’s only pictures you’re after then fine, simply scroll (or click, link below) down to the Amazing Antarctica gallery. Chances are en route you’ll see something you like, something that stops you in your tracks. That happened to me almost daily in Amazing Antarctica.
DAY 01 – Settling In
DAY 02 – The Drake Passage Southbound
DAY 05 – Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula
DAY 06 – Cuverville Island & Paradise Harbour
DAY 07 – Danco Island & Wilhelmina Bay
DAY 08 – The Drake Passage Northbound
DAY 10 – Disembarkation
Amazing Antarctica || The Gallery
Drake Passage Southbound on the Ocean Endeavour
Plain sailing. Southbound across the notorious Drake Passage en route to the South Shetland Islands aboard the M/V Ocean Endeavour. November 27, 2015.
Arriving South Shetland Islands Antarctica
Arriving at the sub-Antarctic Aticho Island group of the South Shetland Islands on board the M/V Ocean Endeavour. November 28, 2015.
On The Bridge
On the bridge of the M/V Ocean Endeavour arriving at the sub-Antarctic Aticho Island group of the South Shetland Islands. November 28, 2015.
Zodiacs being lowered from the M/V Ocean Endeavour into the water after arrival at the sub-Antarctic Aticho Island group of the South Shetland Islands. November 28, 2015.
Penguin rookery Barrientos Island South Shetland Islands Antarctica
A penguin rookery on Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Island group of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.
Chinstrap Penguin Barrientos Island Aitcho Islands South Shetland Islands Antarctica
A Chinstrap penguin on Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Island group of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.
Gentoo Penguin Barrientos Island Aitcho Islands South Shetland Islands Antarctica
A Gentoo penguin on Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Island group of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.
Chinstrap Penguin Barrientos Island Aitcho Islands South Shetland Islands Antarctica
A chinstrap Penguin on Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Islands, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.
Rookery Barrientos Island Aitcho Islands South Shetland Islands Antarctica
On Barrientos Island of the Aitcho Island group of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 28, 2015.
Chinstrap penguin Half Moon Island Antarctica
Chinstrap penguins on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.
Weddell Seal on Half Moon Island Antarctica
A Weddell Seal hauled out on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.
Lone Chinstrap penguin Half Moon Island Antarctica
A Chinstrap penguin on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.
Chinstrap penguins Half Moon Island Antarctica
Chinstrap penguins on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.
Rookery Half Moon Island Antarctica
A Chinstrap penguin rookery on Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.
Iceberg Bransfield Strait Antarctica
An iceberg in the Bransfield Strait, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.
Iceberg Bransfield Strait Antarctica
An iceberg in the windswept Bransfield Strait, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.
Ocean Endeavour Bransfield Strait Antarctica
On the M/V Ocean Endeavour sailing down the Bransfield Strait in Antarctica. November 29, 2015.
Deception Island no go Antarctica
Blocked. Outside Neptune’s Bellows, the narrow entrance to Deception Island, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.
We’re on Thin Ice Antarctica
The message for COP 21, the November 30-December 12 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, is simple – We’re on Thin Ice. On the M/V Ocean Endeavour in the Bransfield Strait, Antarctica. November 29, 2015.
Zodiac Neko Harbour Antarctica
A zodiac in the snow as seen from the deck of the M/V Ocean Endeavour. Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.
Overlooking Neko Harbour Antarctica
The M/V Ocean Endeavour in Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.
Storm Neko Harbour Antarctica
Battling the elements. Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.
Neko Harbour Antarctica
Overlooking the massive glaciers in Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.
In the zodiac Neko Harbour Antarctica
Zodiac cruising in Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.
A growler Danco Island Antarctica
A growler in the waters off Danco Island, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.
Zodiac Danco Island cruise Antarctica
Zodiac cruising near Danco Island, Antarctic Peninsula. November 30, 2015.
Penguins Cuverville Island Antarctica
On the Penguin Highway on Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.
Climbing Cuverville Island Antarctica
Climbing in the snow on Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.
Rookery Cuverville Island Antarctica
A penguin rookery on Cuverville Island, Antarctica. December 1, 2015.
Ice off Cuverville Island Antarctica
Ice formations while zodiac cruising off Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.
Elephant Seal Cuverville Island Antarctica
A baby Elephant Seal on Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.
Iceberg off Cuverville Island Antarctica
Cruising of Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. December 1, 2015.
Iceberg & base Paradise Bay Antarctica
An Iceberg towering over the nearby Chilian González Videla Base in Antarctica. December 1, 2015.
Arriving Paradise Bay Antarctica
Slowly does it navigating through ice in Paradise Bay, Antarctica. December 1, 2015.
Sampling a growler in Paradise Bay Antarctica
Getting to grips with a growler while zodiac cruising in Paradise Bay, Antarctica. December 1, 2015.
Brown Base Paradise Bay Antarctica
Brown base as seen from the waters of Paradise Bay, Antarctica. December 1, 2015.
Early morning in Paradise Harbour Antarctica
Early morning perfection in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.
Humpback Whale Paradise Harbour Antarctica
The tail of a humpback whale in the placid early morning waters of Paradise Harbour, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.
Lone penguin Danco Island Antarctica
A lone gentoo penguin heading uphill set against the massive glaciers off Danco Island, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.
Hanging with the penguins Danco Island Antarctica
Hanging with the penguins on Danco Island, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.
Gentoo penguins Danco Island Antarctica
Gentoo penguins on Danco Island, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.
Whale watching Antarctica
Whale watching in the driving snow off the deck of the M/V Ocean Endeavour in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica. December 2, 2015.
Day One || November 26, 2015
Boarded, Settled In & Set Sail || Departed Ushuaia, Argentina. Entered the Beagle Channel en route to the Drake Passage.
Day 1 Diary & Pictures || Settling In
So far so good. This seems to have been worth the wait. I boarded the Quark Expeditions M/V Ocean Endeavour shortly after 16:30. I was 2nd on board (1st place for losers, dang) & was greeted by a champagne reception with fancy finger food in the Nautilus Lounge. Nice. I took advantage while trying to remain unobtrusive, a pointless enterprise; I’m sure budget-conscious travellers on these big-money sort of jaunts stick out like sore thumbs. I was led to my cabin, cabin 5146 on deck 5, by Jang, my smiley, eager & affable Filipino housekeeper, my bag, having been taken off me at the rendezvous earlier in Ushuaia, nowhere to be seen. Jang, still grinning ear-to-ear, departed to lead others, me wondering should I have tipped him. Probably not. It’s a bit too soon.
||17:30 || A Welcome & Introduction briefing back in the Nautilus Lounge. It was informal & light-hearted but informative. We were introduced to the crew, both the Expedition Team who’ll look after us off the ship & the housekeeping & waitstaff who will do likewise on board. Both crews seem a content bunch and one can’t help but get the impression that collectively these guys, emm, run a tight ship. Myself and the other 175 passengers on board were told to expect a 5-star treatment throughout – while the Endeavour is clearly an oceangoing vessel, to some she’s a floating 5-star hotel. That’s fine by me. I’m easy. I’d take 4 stars. Hey, I’d even be happy with 3. It was recommended we ‘Drake proof’ our cabins by placing valuables or breakables on the floor ahead of our arrival in the notoriously choppy waters of the Drake Passage in the early hours of the morning, the early hours of cruise day 2. Seemingly things move around when the Drake rocks, which it does more often than not. That shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. It certainly wasn’t to me; I’ve anticipated the Drake Passage challenge for many years & was looking forward to it finally fronting up. Back in my cabin. Still no sign of a roommate but at least my bag has materalised. Given the choice, I’d take my belongings over a roommate any day. || 18:30 || Mandatory Safety Briefing time. I’m to wear appropriate footwear when moving about the ship (no flip-flops), I’ve to mind the door jams (closing with quite a force, it’d be a nasty place to catch one’s fingers), & I’ve to try remember my designated Muster Station. Again I was led from the Nautilus Lounge, this time for a meet-and-greet with my designated lifeboat, number 4, out on deck. It was a beautiful evening as we were making our way down the Beagle Channel and I’m sure the Endeavour & her crew, marooned in Ushuaia for the past week-plus, were just as happy as I was to be finally underway.|| 19:30 || Dinner in the Polaris Restaurant. Wow. A five-course menu, crisp linen, spotless, reflective cutlery, gleaming classes, attentive waiter service, & seemingly bottomless wine. I can, & probably will, get used to this.
After dinner, & with unfinished wine in hand, it was time to sort out some important logistics; to collect an expedition parka & a pair of rubber boots and sign up into one of 4 disembarkation teams – Leopard, Minke, Gentoo & Albatross. I’m a Gentoo and I like that; when in Antarctica I’d much rather be a penguin as opposed to a seal (leopard), a bird (albatross) or a whale (minke). Back to the cabin. The lights were dimmed & my bed turned down, a little mint chocolate perched on my puffed pillow. A small touch but a noticeable one. 5-star service indeed. Oh, and still no roommate. It looks like I do actually have a cabin all to myself. Yes, this was definitely worth the wait. (Update: It was only later, post-Antarctica, that I realised that the Ocean Endeavour accommodates single travellers in a private cabin without charging a single traveller supplement. Whoops). I popped a Drake-busting Agirax Dimenhidrinato, a seasickness pill that surely could have been given a more user-friendly name, before popping back to the Nautilus Lounge one final time on this day for a few beers. A nightcap. I’ve a feeling I’ll sleep well tonight.
Day Two || November 27, 2015
All at sea || Southbound on the Drake Passage. More Drake lake than Drake shake.
Beaufort 2 (Light breeze, 4-6 knots)
Beaufort 2 (Small wavelets, 0.2-0.5 metre waves)
Sunrise || Sunset
04:35 || 21:40
A benign crossing. That’s what they are calling it. On this particular cruise, the southbound Drake Passage has been more Drake lake than Drake shake. Less than one metre swells, although large enough to rhythmically rock a 137-metre-long vessel, are nothing, seemingly. Maybe I don’t need to pop the seasickness pills I’m popping at 8 hour intervals. I made the effort to buy then so I may as well, their side effects notwithstanding. Conditions can change in an instant but the forecast is good & right now, a little over 24 hours since departing Ushuaia & some 17-20 hours from our first port of call in the sub-Antarctic South Shetland Islands, it’s plain sailing, or about as plain as sailing across the notorious Drake Passage gets.
Day 2 Diary & Pictures || The Drake Passage Southbound
– James Clark Ross (1800-1862), British naval officer and explorer commenting, on January 28, 1841, on the discovery & naming of the Victoria Barrier, later changed to the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest ice shelf in Antarctica, a nearly vertical ice front to the open sea that is roughly the size of France, a rather big country.
After the lecture I poked around, eventually finding myself up on the bridge. It was fascinating. We were in open water and, I assume, on maritime autopilot but lots of numbers were still being brandied about. Mariners communicate in numbers or, and as they would know them, coordinates; coordinates are called out, coordinates are repeated, coordinates are verified, & finally coordinates are put into action. I saw a lot of things I dared not touch on the bridge – dials, leavers, buttons, binoculars, charts, maps, manuals – but what I didn’t see was the ‘No Access/Crew Only’ sign to the starboard (that’s right-hand side I was to learn) side of the bridge. Marla brought that transgression to my attention. Supervising the bridge at the time, Marla is Canadian & loves whales – she’s the on board Marine Biologist.
|| 12:30 || Lunch. A buffet again. I went for the smoked mackerel, veil steak & some rice pudding. As you do sailing across the Drake Passage. Exploring again saw me ending up reading about real explorers in the Endeavour’s Polar Library.
– Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922)
|| 14:00 || Mandatory IAATO briefing in the Nautilus Lounge. All about landing procedures & bio-security. Lots of don’ts – don’t pee on shore, don’t eat or drink on shore, don’t stray off defined paths (marked by flags) on shore, & definitely don’t disturb the wildlife. The latter is a big finger-waving, head-shaking, tut-tut-inducing no-no – while the curious penguins are free to investigate humans, humans have to keep a distance of at least 5 metres from the penguins. Oh, and I almost forgot. No drones allowed either. Dang. We were briefed on where we were hoping to go (weather & ice permitting), we were instructed how to dress – layers is key people, layers – & on safety/medevac procedures should anything go seriously wrong. It was then off to the Mud Room to have our clothes & bags, anything going ashore, examined for environmental threats – any alien, non-native species like seeds, algae, dirt etc. – & to sign a Antarctic Pre-Arrival Bio-Security Declaration. The Antarctic environment is pristine, its inhabitants protected. Steps are taken to ensure it stays that way. Make no mistake, Antarctica is the world’s ultimate leave only footprints & take only memories location.
I started into writing the 80+ #PostcardFromAntarctica project postcards this afternoon. Maybe I should have started sooner. Boy, this is going to take some time. || 18:45 || The first of the daily recaps in the Nautilus Lounge. Adrian reviewed the birds spotted over the Drake Passage throughout the day; we were told the ‘benign crossing’ means we are making good time; we were told to expect (more) fog; it was pointed out that as we are heading south so too, and as if we hadn’t noticed, are the temperatures – at 08:00 it was 7.1 Celsius, at 18:00 2.5 Celsius; and finally, it was pointed out that we’d crossed the Antarctic Convergence, a.k.a. the Polar Front, an irregular, mobile zone some 30-50 kilometres wide where the cold, northward-flowing Antarctic waters sink beneath the relatively warmer waters of the sub-Antarctic. That’s all well & good but it was also pointed out that crossing the convergence is considered to be entering Antarctica proper. Yay. I’m here and I didn’t even know it. || 19:30 || Dinner. Escargot & peach melba, among other delights. I think I’m into my stride now.
Day Three || November 28, 2015
Morning || Still at sea approaching South Shetland Islands. Afternoon || First disembarkation, Barrientos Island of the Aitcho group of islands (map pointer 1) in South Shetland Islands, & meeting the penguins.
Beaufort 4 (Moderate breeze, 11-16 knots)
Beaufort 4 (Small waves, 1-2 metre waves)
Sunrise || Sunset
03:32 || 22:07
I knew when sitting having lunch this afternoon and seeing a massive iceberg float by the window all matter-of-factly that today, cruise day 3, was going to be special. And it was. The smooth crossing means we made good time in getting here to the South Shetland Islands which means this afternoon saw us wrap up & disembark the ship for the very first time, whisked to shore in groups aboard the zippy zodiacs. November 28, 2015, when I first saw Antarctic ice, penguins & set foot on the sub-Antarctic islands. It’s not quite the continent of Antarctica just yet – that’s a bit further south via the Bransfield Strait – but as an appetiser today did just fine. Just fine indeed.
Excursion Day Three & Four Itinerary Map
Day 3 Diary & Pictures || First Landing, South Shetland Islands
||14:20|| Down below, the bridge was a hive of activity. Passengers not braving the forward deck were getting their first look at penguins in the waters all around us from behind glass. As for the crew. Well, the coordinates were really flying now. Eventually instructions were relayed, we came to a halt, the anchor was dropped, and that was that – we weren’t going anywhere for the first time in almost 2 days… except ashore.
I waited for the announcement over the PA. I waited in my cabin, waited on the bridge, & waited on deck while watching the zodiacs being lowered into the water to do their thing.
Eventually the call came through – Gentoo’s to assemble in the Mud Room at 15:00. Aye aye, I’ll be there. || 14:50 || I was early to the Mud Room. Nobody seemed to notice. Emptying locker 150, I put on my Quarka, life vest & boots for the first time in earnest and walked, like an astronaut walking to the Space Shuttle launch, from the Mud Room to the gangway off the beam of the ship from where I was helped into the zodiac – it’s all about the arm grip. It was raining. It was cold. It was windy. It was downright bloody miserable but I was warm and elated. A few minutes later, and after zipping the short distance across the water in the zodiac while realising in the process that my waterproof trousers were about as waterproof as toilet paper, I was among the penguins on Aitcho’s Barrientos Island. I sensed them long before I saw them, their very distinctive noise & aroma carrying on the breeze and through the haze.
– Lonely Planet Antarctica on Meeting The Penguins
Penguins are birds so they have bodies covered in feathers, they can regulate their own body temperature, & they reproduce by means of eggs. But that’s where the similarities with birds as we know them end. A specialised group of flightless birds, penguins evolved, it is thought, from flying birds some 40 million years ago to reach a high level of adaption to the marine environment. Their body changed to a more streamlined form to allow efficient diving and swimming – unlike other birds, whose bones are light & air-filled, penguins’ bones are heavy and solid, perfect for life in the water. They also lost their ability to fly, their wings becoming stiff, paddle-like flippers. Spending 75% of their 15-20 year lifespan at sea, penguins only visit land to reproduce, molt, or when they are ill, their awkwardness & comedic waddles on land a big reason, along with their relatively small size, why they are universally loved among humans. On land they have no natural predators, hence why they have no fear of humans, but they are prey for Leopard seals when in the water. Reports suggest that climate change is putting these iconic birds in peril. The truth is a little more complex with some species declining while others are not depending on location. Found only in the southern hemisphere, of the 17 known species of penguins only eight live on or near Antarctica, where there is estimated to be 20 million breeding pairs, including the largest of the lot, the regal 1.1-metre-high, 35 kilogram-plus Emperor Penguin.
|| September 9, 1588 || Explorer & privateer Sir Thomas Cavendish returns to England having completed his circumnavigation of the globe via the Strait of Magellan in his ship Desire. The word ‘penguin’ is used for the very first time, describing the southern bird in his journal.
The Aitcho group of islands comprise of several islands and rock formations that were first mapped in 1936. Extending 1.7 by 0.5 kilometres, 160-acre ice-free Barrientos Island is the Aitcho island visited by tour operators. Saddle-shaped, the central portion of the island is elevated and is a favoured hangout for breeding gentoo & chinstrap penguins, the chinstraps favouring the higher elevations. Another feature of the island is the remains of an unidentified ship that are scattered about the island. It’s most likely the remains of a whaling or sealing factory ship – fragments of a ship timbers are to be found among whale bones on the island’s so-called Whalebone Beach, the favoured landing spot for visitors.
||17:55 || I developed a new appreciation for my cabin. It’s such a nice contrast to the cold exterior, a perfect place to thaw out after being on land, a long shower just what the doctor ordered. And I don’t even mind that my cozy confines now smell of penguin poo. My trousers may not be good at repelling water but they like to attract scent. || 18:45 || Everyone was still buzzing, and had made an effort to spruce up, for Captain’s Welcome Cocktails in the Nautilus Lounge. Drinks were had, toasts given, & speeches delivered, Captain Alexey formally welcoming us all to Antarctica in his best broken English (he’s Russian). Looking all maritime dapper, he was an especially big hit with the large Chinese contingent. Pictures all round. Selfies even. I found it strange that the Captain’s Welcome Dinner, the gastronomic highlight of which for me was the freshly seared halibut, was held back until the third (‘turd’) night of the cruise, the utterance of which others found sidesplittingly hilarious. I guess I did too. I haven’t laughed as much in a long time. Drinks flowed this evening, both during & after dinner. It even felt the right time to break the seal on the litre bottle of rum I brought on board. Day 3, the ‘turd’ day of the cruise, the day things really got going. A great day, a great night. Seven more to go. Oh no, only 7 more to go.
Day Four || November 29, 2015
Ups & Downs || A morning of clear skies and Antarctica at what has to be its pristine best on Half Moon Island (map pointer 2). Huge ice formations in the Bransfield Strait en route to an afternoon failure to land on Deception Island (map pointer 3).
Sunrise || Sunset
03:20 || 22:16
They say if you get one clear day on a standard Antarctic cruise then you’re lucky. I’m feeling very lucky today, despite the disappointment of not getting to land on Deception Island, an Antarctic highlight and somewhere I’d really been looking forward to experiencing. That aside, clear skies, towering bergs, awesome wildlife (penguins, seals, & humpback whales) & stunning land & seascapes means today is just the latest day, following on from yesterday, that I’ll not be forgetting for a long time.
Excursion Day Three & Four Itinerary Map
Day 4 Diary & Pictures || Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, & Bransfield Strait
Penguins & Navigation
Most penguins seem to navigate by the sun and are equipped with an internal clock to adjust for the time of day. Experiments have shown that if penguins are captured and released far from their colony, the weather is crucial to the operation of their homing instinct. In sunny conditions they will immediately head in exactly the right direction. However, in overcast conditions it takes them longer to orient themselves and begin the trek to their colony. If it is very cloudy, they simply cannot work out what direction to take and their homeward journey is erratic. They will wander in the wrong direction for hours, then orient themselves correctly during brief clear spells but lose their way again when it clouds over. Evidently penguins know which direction they want to take, but can find it only by the position of the sun in the sky.
Penguins. Amazing little creatures.
Half Moon Island is an ancient caldera with steep raised beaches. Used as a whaling site in the early part of the 20th century, the 420-acre island is home to the Argentine Cámara Base. Opened in 1953 by the Argentine Navy, it is currently unused. The island is designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it supports a breeding colony of about 100 pairs of south polar skuas. Other birds nesting on the island include about 3,300 nesting pairs of chinstrap penguins, a number that has been declining in recent years. Seals regularly haul out on the beaches & whales are often seen patrolling the shores. In September 2010, Google added Street View imagery of Half Moon Island to its Google Earth and Google Maps services, thus expanding Google Street View to all seven continents.
There are no permanent human residents in Antarctica but a sizeable population of up to 5,000 in the Antarctic summer, less in winter, are based at research stations dotted throughout the continent at any one time. The first Antarctic research stations were established during World War II by a British military operation, Operation Tabarin. The 1950s saw a marked increase in the number of research bases as Britain, Chile and Argentina competed to make claims over the same area. Meteorology and geology were the primary research subjects; ice core and sediment samples from the peninsula are valuable because events such as the Little Ice Age can be verified with samples from other continents. A lot of the present-day stations are mere flags in the ground, small huts built to bolster territorial claims, claims prohibited by the Antarctic Treaty System. Some are used only during the Antarctic summer months while others are abandoned altogether. Permanently manned bases include Argentina’s Esperanza Base, the birthplace of Emilio Marcos Palma, the first person to be born on the continent of Antarctica (1978), & the American bases of Amundesn-Scott South Pole Station & McMurdo Station, the latter the largest of all Antarctica’s bases with a capability of supporting over 1,000 residents.
– Stephen J. Pyne
The Endeavour continued sailing down the Bransfield Strait, named after the early 19th century Irish-born British naval mariner Edward Bransfield who is credited with being one of the first to lay eyes on the continent of Antarctica when he did so on January 30, 1820. We were headed for Deception Island, somewhere Bransfield passed on his 1820 voyage but did not investigate or chart. Once the Endeavour reached Neptune’s Bellows, the narrow passage marking the entrance to the island, she stopped, took a look, shook her head, and moved on. It’s seems like a waste of emotions to be disappointed in such an environment like Antarctica but for a few minutes this afternoon I was disappointed. Very much so. As I said before, you just want to experience all this amazing adventure can possibly offer.
|| 23:10 || Everyone seems a bit tired tonight, a hangover from the Deception Island disappointment maybe. It’s a quiet evening/night, few attending the optional ‘Antarctica: Of Ice and Men’ movie screened in the Nautilus Lounge, the incentive of free popcorn doing little to drum up interest. I’m just back from one final lap of the ship for this day. There’s barely an hour left of cruise day 4, although to see outside you’d scarcely believe that given how bright it is. Sunrise & sunset times are posted – seemingly the sun ‘set’ some 45 minutes ago! – but it never gets dark down here this time of year. As such I’m kind of happy my cabin doesn’t have a porthole. I’ll continue to work though more of the #PostcardFromAntarctica project pile ahead of a big – BIG – day tomorrow. All going to plan, we’ll be setting foot on the continent and I say that knowing now how plans can change in an instant here at the bottom of the world.
Day Five || November 30, 2015
Morning || Set foot on the continent, my 7th & final, in Neko Harbour (map pointer 4). Afternoon || Cruising the Errea Channel (map pointer 5) & around Danco Island (map pointer 8).
Sunrise || Sunset
02:54 || 23:06
A good weather day yesterday, a bad one today. Such is the way of it here in changeable Antarctica. Not that that really matters as today I set foot on Antarctica, my 7th and final continent. Lots more wildlife and all manner of ice, including a mammoth glacial calving & avalanche, were simply the icing on the cake, the cherry on top.
Excursion Day Five, Six & Seven Itinerary Map
Day 5 Diary & Pictures || Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula
Formed by a 1,800-kilometre-long mountain chain, the jagged Antarctic Peninsula, separated from the South Shetland islands further north by the Bransfield Strait, is the northernmost part of the mainland of Antarctica. It is, & unlike the vast & largely inaccessible interior, the part of Antarctica most often visited by cruise ships. The peninsula’s position means it has the mildest climate within the continent – its warmest January temperatures average from 1 to 2 °C with the coldest June temperatures averaging from –15 °C to –20 °C, a tad ‘warmer’ than the average cold winter temperature of -60 °C at the South Pole. The peninsula, & the many islands dotting its coastline, also houses the highest concentration of scientific research stations in Antarctica. Numerous nations have made claims of sovereignty on peninsula territory & presently it is part of disputed and overlapping claims by Chile, the United Kingdom & Argentina, the latter of which has the most bases and personnel stationed on the peninsula. Under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty System, none of these claims has international recognition and nor do the respective countries attempt to enforce their claims.
|| 10:55 || I set foot on Antarctica, my 7th & final continent. Pictures were taken with the Antarctica flag while a few gentoos, traversing the Penguin Highway behind me, added some conspiracy-quelling authenticity to the scene. The two hours spent on land in changeable conditions threw up some special views & some equally special moments.
Neko Harbour is a small bay within Andvord Bay, a 17-kilometre-long inlet on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula’s Graham Land. It’s one of only 2 continental landing points used by cruise ships on this section of the Antarctic Peninsula. Discovered by Belgian explorer Adrien de Gerlache in the early 20th century, it was named after a Scottish whaling boat, the Neko, which used the bay regularly in the early 20th century. The landing area in use today was where an unmanned Chilean refuge hut once stood, one that blew down in a storm in 2009. The enterprising gentoos now use the hut’s concrete foundation as a rookery/nesting area. Neko’s iceberg-filled waters is also where American long-distance swimmer Lynne Cox braved the 0.5 degree Celsius Antarctic waters to swim the distance of 2 kilometres in December 2002. It took her 25 minutes to complete the feat, one that would be a fatal undertaking for mere mortals – although she trained for many years in super chilled waters, Doctors say Cox is also physiologically unique (if a little crazy).
– Douglas Mawson, 1911 Australasian Antarctic Expedition
|| 21:20 || The conditions didn’t improve much throughout the day as we left Neko Harbour for Danko Island via the Errera Channel. We got off the Endeavour again in the afternoon to cruise in the waters around Danco Island. We didn’t land, setting foot on the 7th Continent earlier in the day seemingly enough land-based shenanigans for this cruise day 5. There was a lot of ice about as we cruised – big ice, little ice, deep-blue ice, clear ice. Cruising is all about spotting, circling &, most importantly, avoiding the ice. Well, for the most part.
|| 23:15 || No one really needed to be reminded at the nightly recap briefing this evening ahead of dinner (lamb, oh yes) that we set foot on the continent of Antarctica earlier in the day – I don’t think anyone will ever forget – so the briefing was basically a heads up for tomorrow morning when we hope to visit Port Lockroy in the British Antarctic Territory, the location of the Penguin Post Office. We were told the Polar Boutique would be open into the night to facilitate any last-minute postcard purchases (no need, I brought ALL of mine with me) & we were told to have postcards ready for the off, a reminder I didn’t need. Mine are all ready to go, all 83 of them.
Day Six || December 1, 2015
Another day of ups & downs, the disappointment of failing to visit icebound Port Lockroy made up for by visits to stunning Cuverville Island (map pointer 6) in the morning & equally stunning Paradsie Harbour (map pointer 7) in the afternoon & evening.
Sunrise || Sunset
02:55 || 23:05
I feel we’ve been blessed so far. Today, cruise day 6 & the day when lingering winter ice thwarted our bid to get to the Penguin Post Office in Port Lockroy, was easily the most photogenic day of the cruise, so much so that today’s photographic exploits saw me run out of storage space. Yes, today Antarctica really put on a show.
Excursion Day Five, Six & Seven Itinerary Map
Day 6 Diary & Pictures || Cuverville Island & Paradise Harbour
In winter the Southern Ocean which surrounds Antarctica freezes. Unlike in the Arctic, first year sea ice in the Southern Ocean melts each year meaning the Antarctic sea ice shrinks from about 19 million km² during the Antarctic winter to some 4 million km² during the Antarctic summer. Now, the 1st day of December, isn’t quite summer yet. It’s still early in the season, still the early Antarctic summer, so winter sea ice is lingering in places, including Port Lockroy.
– John Steinbeck
|| 13:10 || Even though the postcards I had prepared for presentation to the Penguin Post Office in Port Lockroy sit beside me as a reminder, I’ve almost forgotten about the disappointment of this morning. I’ve no doubt experiencing Cuverville Island on a gloriously sunny morning, as I did this morning, will make one forget many a recent letdown. Nope, it doesn’t boast a post office but as a last-minute replacement for Port Lockroy Cuverville Island did just fine.
Cuverville Island is a rocky island in the north Errera Channel. Another island designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International, it supports a breeding colony of about 5000 pairs of gentoo penguins, the largest gentoo rookeries on the whole Antarctic Peninsula. I can only assume they like their surroundings.
After a few hours on land, it was time to cruise in the vicinity of Cuverville Island in the zodiac thus ensuring regulations as laid down by IAATO (the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators), regulations that limit the number of people landing on Antarctica at any one time to no more were 100, were adhered to – when half of us are on land, the other half are cruising. Our zodiac pilot was Sam from the U.K. There were only a few of us in the zodiac, most of us keen photographers, including Jamie & his ponderous kit. Sam, herself a keen photographer, asked if we wanted to go on what she called a ‘photography cruise’. ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’ It was calm & peaceful as we cruised around looking for passage through and around massive blocks of white & deep-blue ice. We got up close and personal with some beautiful formations, but never too up close and never too personal. Gotta keep a safe distance of course.
– Samual Taylor Coleridge, from The Ancient Mariner
But the zodiac cruise wasn’t only about ice. We got close to some wildlife too. Young wildlife.
I was aware of it. It had been coming for a while. Almost a year of everyday photography means I’d been low on digital space for weeks. Cuverville Island this morning pushed me to the limit, forcing me to spend some time after lunch freeing up space. Wow. I’ve so much captured from the Antarctic already. It’s going to be a daunting task to sort through the digital mountain I’m building up down here. I didn’t spent too much time resolving space issues or worrying about future chores. Today was too nice a day not to be up on deck as we sailed south from Cuverville Island to the aptly-named Paradise Harbour.
Paradise Harbour is a wide embayment located midway along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, a large sea inlet southwest of Andvord Bay protected by an arc formed by Lemaire, Cramer and Bryde islands. The harbour is home to not one but two research bases – one Chilean, one Argentine – & it boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in Antarctica with peaks up to 1500 metres in height surrounding the harbour & glaciers descending into the sea. It is the second of the Antarctic Peninsula’s two harbours used for continental cruise ships landings, the other being Neko Harbour where I set foot on Antarctica a day earlier.
– Lonely Planet Antarctica
|| 23:15 || We dropped anchor in Paradise Harbour shortly after 15:40. We’re still here now and will be for the night. We disembarked in the zodiacs shortly after, my gentoos first off. We had no plans to land (no reason given) so we simply cruised in the zodiacs for the second time today. According to the location information posted on the Endeavour noticeboards, cruising in Paradise Harbour offers ‘beautiful and varied viewing.’ I’d say.
Not being a fan, I had simply bypassed the hot chocolate station set up to welcome passengers back on board up to this point of the cruise. I partook this afternoon, a sweet treat, with an added optional kick, to signal the end of the excursions for cruise day 6. I didn’t have my camera with me when I paid a pre-dinner visit to the deck of the Endeavour. I tried to take in the beauty of my surroundings, the clam, reflective waters, icebergs & peaks of Paradise Harbour forming a stunning setting, the only sound the hum of the Endeavour. I made sure to nab a porthole seat at dinner. I’ve had meals in some rather pretty locations but I don’t think I’ve ever had a view with a meal like the one I had this evening. I’ve paid a few subsequent visits to the forward deck since, being awed each & every time; the soft lighting is always a different kind of gorgeous. I’m really going to miss this place.
– Jon Krakauer, American writer and mountaineer
It has been a long day. I’m tired but I won’t sleep much tonight. I’ll be gone from here tomorrow, gone from the stunning setting, gone from the tranquillity, gone from the amazing light. This is a rather remote part of planet earth. It’s a hard place to get to. It’s a bloody expensive place to get to. No doubt I’ll be somewhere else unforgettable tomorrow, cruise day 7, our very last day down here before tackling the northbound Drake Passage. But I want to live the Paradise Harbour moment as much as I can, while I can. But I also need sleep. So while I’m setting my alarm for stupid o’clock in the morning I’ve a feeling I’ll be up before that.
Day Seven || December 2, 2015
A (very) early start in Paradise Harbour (map pointer 7), a final, farewell landing on Danco Island (map pointer 8), & whale watching & polar plunging in heavy snow in Wilhelmina Bay (map pointer 9).
Sunrise || Sunset
02:51 || 23:09
An early start gave me Antarctica all to myself, at least for a while. The early bird really does catch the worm or, in Antarctica, sights the whale. Then it was time to say goodbye to the penguins.
Excursion Day Five, Six & Seven Itinerary Map
Day 7 Diary & Pictures || Danco Island & Wilhelmina Bay
I stayed up on deck for about 90 minutes. At one point, while contemplating going back to bed, a humpback whale appeared off the port side of the Endeavour. Two humpback whales even. I couldn’t believe it. I still don’t. When they first appeared they were mere metres from the Endeavour. They hung around for a while circling the harbour. Dive, surface, blow. Dive, surface, blow. They never again got as close to the Endeavour as they did for that first sighting. I followed them around the harbour, easy to do in the placid amphitheatre I was a spectator in. They eventually moved on, me silently thanking them for the performance they gave for just little old me. Wow.
Some other passengers eventually joined me on deck. Appropriately, no words were exchanged. Just a nod & a smile, a silent acknowledgment that said everything from ‘Hello, good morning’ to ‘isn’t this place beyond amazing?’. They were photographers. They had a big kit and sturdy tripods. ‘Only photographers would be up this early’, I thought. But they weren’t up early enough; they missed the whales. I took a few more pictures, said goodbye to Paradise Harbour and returned to my cabin.
When I woke for the second time on cruise day 7 we had already anchored at Danko Island, our last landing of the cruise. It was 07:30. I was a tad melancholy in the zodiac being ferried from the Endeavour to the island knowing this was to be my last jaunt on Antarctic terra firma. Once again the aroma of the penguins of Danco Island hit me well before I swung my feet over the side of the zodiac to set foot on the island itself.
At almost 2 kilometres long, Danco Island was once used as a survey point for mapping the Errera channel. It was also the site of a U.K. base, Base ‘O’, in the last 1950s. The island’s main geographical feature is its ice covered 179 metre-high summit, one that offers great 360 degree views of the aforementioned channel and is home to a rookery of gentoo penguins.
Wilhelmina Bay is a bay some 24 kilometres wide between the Reclus Peninsula and Cape Anna along the west coast of Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula. It was discovered by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-99 led by Adrien de Gerlache. The bay is named for Wilhelmina, Queen of the Netherlands, who reigned from 1890 to 1948. Dubbed “Whale-mina Bay”, it’s a popular destination for tourist expedition ships to Antarctica thanks to its abundant whale population, not to mention its spectacular scenery – the bay is surrounded by steep cliffs full of snow and glaciers with an almost perfect pyramid-shaped peak towering over the water.
– Lonely Planet Antarctica
Everyone was in high spirits this evening seemingly oblivious to the fact that the end of our time in Antarctica was nigh.
I spent some time Drake proofing my cabin after dinner, reminding myself in the process that I mustn’t forget to pop a seasickness pill before bed; the forecast is for a rough return crossing, or at least a less benign crossing than we had getting here. The upbeat buzz was pushed into overdrive this evening in the Nautilus Lounge. Some passengers had risen to the task over the last few days of scripting a cruise/Antarctica Limerick, the culmination of which was tonight’s Limerick Contest. It would have been funny anyway but with Huw, the on board historian, author & general comedian, on the mic, it was a highlight of the evening. The highlight of the evening’s Ice Show with Ryan & Dave was the ‘Top Ten’, a list of dumb-ass questions asked by dumb-ass cruise passengers over the years. I like how they keep track of this kind of detail; you can’t fix stupid so, and in my opinion, dumb people’s antics should always be preserved for the benefit of others. A few of my favourites. ‘Does the crew sleep on board?‘… ‘Does the ship generate its own electricity?’… ‘How high above sea level are we?’ (while sitting in the zodiac)… & ‘Is this the same moon we see in Texas?’ Oh yes. A few (more) drinks were had this evening. And why not? There’ll be no alarm call tomorrow, no penguins to visit, no icebergs to see. Just the Drake Passage. Again.
Day Eight || December 3, 2015
Bedbound. Antarctica tax payday.
Beaufort 7 (High wind, moderate gale, near gale, 28-33 knots)
Beaufort 7 (Sea heaps up, 4.0-5.5 metre breaking waves)
Sunrise || Sunset
03:34 || 22:28
The idiom is well-known – be careful what you wish for. I’d read about it, how it can be so bad that some people avoid Antarctica altogether because to do so means suffering the Drake Passage. But I wanted to experience it. Today I did, on a day that everything swayed, everything rocked, & a few things fell, a day when the take-no-prisoners Drake Passage took many a casualty, me included.
Day 8 Diary & Pictures || The Drake Passage Northbound
|| Noon || I tried to get up for lunch. ‘Food will help’ I reasoned, assuming I could 1) make it to the Polaris Restaurant & 2) keep it down. No chance there either. About the only thing was capable of doing was laying down. Even that was a struggle but at least doing so staved off the desire to vomit. Fleeting sleep came and went. The Endeavour kept rocking & rolling – up, down & side-to-side, but mostly up & down. If you concentrate hard enough you know what to expect, you know what’s next as the motion seems to follow some semblance of a rhythm. I’d listen to the few loose items in my room slide around until something stopped them. If I could have risen I’d have secured them better but it was way too late for such labours at this stage. My head was all over the place. Jang, my smiley Filipino housekeeper, attempted to come into the cabin a few times to do his thing. I was impressed with his sea legs. ‘We’re all good in here, buddy!’ I’d struggle to tell him, clearly lying. Jang had obviously seen it all before. By late afternoon I’d somehow managed to convince myself that getting up was to be of some kind of benefit. ‘I can’t lay here all day,’ I’d tell myself when that was precisely what I’d already done. At the very least I had to – JUST HAD TO – get a picture of the culprit, the rocking Drake Passage. ‘I could do that, right?’ This day would have gone from bad to worse had I not. I did. Phew.
The Drake Passage is the body of water between the southern tip of South America at Cape Horn, Chile, and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. Feared by many, the tumultuous Drake connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean (Scotia Sea) with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean and extends into the Southern Ocean. The passage receives its English name from the 16th Century privateer Sir Francis Drake. Drake’s only remaining ship, after passing through the Strait of Magellan, was blown far south in September 1578 implying an open connection between Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Half a century earlier, after a gale had pushed the south from the entrance of the Strait of Magellan, the crew of the Spanish navigator Francisco de Hoces thought they saw land’s end and possibly inferred this passage in 1525. For this reason, some Spanish & Latin American historians and sources call it Mar de Hoces after Francisco de Hoces. The first recorded voyage through the passage was that of the Eendracht, captained by the Dutch navigator Willem Schouten in 1616, naming Cape Horn in the process. The 800 kilometre-wide passage between Cape Horn and Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands is the shortest crossing from Antarctica to the rest of the world’s land – the boundary between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is sometimes taken to be a line drawn from Cape Horn to Snow Island 130 kilometres north of mainland Antarctica. There is no significant land anywhere around the world at the latitudes of the Drake Passage, which is important to the unimpeded flow of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current which carries a huge volume of water, about 600 times the flow of the Amazon River, through the passage and around Antarctica. The passage is known to have been closed until around 41 million years ago according to a chemical study of fish teeth found in oceanic sedimentary rock. Before the passage opened, the Atlantic & Pacific Oceans were separated entirely with Antarctica being much warmer and having no ice cap. The joining of the two great oceans started the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and cooled the continent significantly.
Day Nine || December 4, 2015
The recovery, the wind down & the party.
Beaufort 6 (Strong breeze, 22-27 knots)
Beaufort 6 (Long waves, 3-4 metre waves)
Sunrise || Sunset
04:31 || 21:54
Officially day 9 is the penultimate day of the cruise. It’s effectively the last day, day 10 comprising of nothing more than waking up, having breakfast and walking off the Endeavour for the last time. Day 9, the wind down day and the last opportunity to take it all in.
Day 9 Diary & Pictures
The rest of the day was all about winding down, mostly packing. It was, and as I knew it would be, a sombre endeavour, one I put off for as long as I could. I managed to squeeze the Quarka into the bottom of my bag. When push came to shove, I just couldn’t leave it behind. But I’ll have no choice but to leave the Endeavour behind. I took a few final walks around her innards, walks I’d taken countless times over the previous 8 days. Using the walls here & there for support, I photographed things I’ve probably photographed a few times already. Just to be sure. It was too uncomfortably windy to spend any extended time out on deck, not until later in the afternoon when we returned back into the sheltered Beagle Channel. By that stage everyone was in fine fettle, no doubt their mood bolstered by the sun & the champagne on offer during Farewell Cocktails in the Nautilus Lounge which flowed after the 16:30 Disembarkation Briefing & the 17:15 Charity Auction. Yes, we’d made it back and that was reason enough, as if reason were needed, to celebrate.
The Farewell Dinner was whole tail lobster thermidor. Or slow roasted sirloin of beef. Or both if you had Keith as a waiter. We did so we had two mains, something that just seemed acceptable at the Last Supper. Keith looked after us so well throughout the cruise, especially on the last night. We’d look forward to seeing Keith every evening, getting to the Polaris Restaurant early to ensure no one else would nab our seats and thus get Keith’s attention for the night. He was ours. We’ll all miss him. And Arthur too, he with the wine. Keith & Arthur. Yes, we’ll miss those two. Legends both. We’ll miss Alex too, the Maitre D’ who’d greet us at every meal with a liberal dose of hand sanitiser, & Manfred, the Executive Chef who would do the rounds at dinner asking us if everything was alright. Top-notch Manfred, top-notch. We assembled one last time in the Nautilus Lounge after dinner for the presentation of the End of Voyage Slideshow. Quite a few of my images featured (I’d been uploading images through the cruise to the passenger’s shared Photo Journal). And then all that was left to do was drink, be merry & party into the night, the dance floor in the Nautilus Lounge getting a good workout. We prolonged the day, avoiding bed for as long as possible. But eventually that was that.
Day Ten || December 5, 2015
Disembarkation & au revoir.
There’s not a lot to report from cruise day 10. I rose, I ate, I bid everyone adieu, & I walked off the Endeavour. And that was that. It was all done by 08:30, ending one of the most memorable travel experiences of my life.
Ultimately it was worth the wait. Of course it was. But there was a lot of uncertainty as I waited and waited and waited for the green light to embark on my trip to Antarctica. I waited in Ushuaia, Argentina, and waited again. And again. And when I couldn’t bear to wait any longer in Ushuaia, I waited further north in Chile. Here are the archived entries, presented in chronological order, as posted from the road at the time.
November 16, 2015 || The Cancellation
The countdown started at almost 6 days, the countdown from booking to the departure of my once-in-a-lifetime trip to Antarctica. I waited, and waited, and waited, killing time in Ushuaia, the Argentine gateway city at fin del mundo, the world’s end. I was still waiting, still excited, when, with 1 day 19 hours & 15 minutes to go, the e-mail came through.
Gutted. Options are scarce at this stage but options there are, none of which are ideal & none of which I would even consider contemplating for a nanosecond where it not for the fact that it’s Antarctica. I’m in a quandary. I’ve a first world problem of mammoth proportions. My White Continent odyssey is not quite dead but right now it’s on life-support & fading fast. More to come.
November 17, 2015 || The Wait
It’s a miserable kind of day here at the end of the world, cold & wet. But regardless of the here & now climatic conditions, the outlook for today was always sunny. Today was supposed to be the day I set sail aboard the M/V Ocean Endeavour for Antarctica. Instead I’m looking at it in the rain sitting wounded in Ushuaia port, somewhere it limped into earlier this morning after returning back across the Drake Passage. She won’t be going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
So I’ve decided, & to the detriment of a big chunk of the final portion of my 2015 travels further north, to hang around in the hopes of being accommodated on that November 26th sailing, assuming it happens. I’ll know in a day or so and until then I’ll keep waiting here at the end of the world. There’s not a whole lot to do here in Ushuaia & its well-marketed end of the world vibe will appease even the most passive of souls only for so long. Tonight is night 7 here & if I get the green light for that November 26th departure then I might have to find something to do, and somewhere else to do it, while I wait some more.
November 20, 2015 || #PostcardfromAntarctica
I’m still waiting on the word, hoping that the old adage of all good things come to those who wait holds true. As I type the M/V Ocean Endeavour is being seen to, battling to get fit ahead of her next scheduled departure on Thursday afternoon, November 26. I’m confident it’ll happen so, & hoping I don’t jinx things, I’ve started the countdown again. Once again there’s 6+ days left to departure, just like there was when I started the countdown prior to the scratched November 17 sailing.
A Chile Wait || Waiting Elsewhere
I’m waiting out the countdown here in Puerto Natales, Chile. I thought I was done with Chile & I’ve already been to Puerto Natales, the gateway for Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, somewhere I’ll revisit as I strive to pass the remaining pre-Antarctica days. Both Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine National Park are nice places but, & nice and all as they are, they are hardly worth two sojourns, proof that I’d clearly reached the end of my tether waiting at the end of the world. If I was going to have to continue waiting for Antarctica then I was going to do it elsewhere even if elsewhere, as Puerto Natales does, demands you spend 16 hours getting here from Ushuaia via 3 different buses & a brief ferry across the Strait of Magellan. Oh and with an international border crossing thrown in for good measure.
Postcard from Antarctica?
Waiting means I’ve had some time on my hands. A lot of time. I’ve read about Antarctica, read a lot. I was reminded that there’s a Post Office down there, Port Lockroy Post Office, a.k.a. The Penguin Post Office (watch this video on YouTube to find out more about Port Lockroy & its Post Office.). It’s an official Post Office of the British Antarctic Territory, a whopping 1.7m sq km portion of the continent that the U.K. has claimed as its own ever since 1908, even though the 1959 Antarctic Treaty say they are really not allowed to (I get it, it’s more complicated than that). The Post Office, typically only open November to March, the Antarctic summer & cruising season, is a popular stop on the Antarctic cruise circuit, its obvious attraction the ability to send some old-fashioned snail mail home from the world’s southernmost, not to mention remotest Post Office. And that got me thinking – plenty of time for that of late too – as to who would like a #PostcardfromAntarctica. You would? OK, all’s you gotta do is the following:
• Register by sending me an e-mail (Feedback at davidMbyrne dot com) with your name, address & any brief message you’d like on the postcard. I’ll acknowledge any e-mail received.
• Like davidMbyrne.com on Facebook & share this post, requesting others do the same. Tweet it too if you’re on Twitter. On all postings, please use the hashtag #PostcardfromAntarctica
• When the postcard arrives (I hear it could take up to 2 months but there’s no rush, right?), leave a comment on this post telling me it arrived & share a picture of it on social media, again using the hashtag #PostcardfromAntarctica
And that’s it. Easy peasy. You have until 3 p.m. GMT, 10 a.m. ET, on departure day, November 26, to register. This is just prior my scheduled departure (I don’t plan on having internet access in Antarctica, not until I return to port on December 5).
Here’s what I’ll do in return.
• Send you a postcard from Antarctica!
Needless to say, & assuming it happens, I’ll be highlighting my Antarctic adventure right here, a day-by-day recap that’ll be posted once back on shore.
So, who wants a postcard from Antarctica?
November 26, 2015 || Departure Day
This has been dragging on quite a while but I’ve a feeling the wait will be worth it. It is 16 days now since I first arrived in Ushuaia, 15 days since I first booked passage to Antarctica. The trails & tribulations since then have been well documented but today the wait is finally over. In a few hours, & on what is a beautiful day here at the end of the world, I’m finally setting sail for Antarctica.
I’m ready. I’m ready to call the M/V Ocean Endeavour home for the next 9 nights. I’ve got my sea sickness pills & I’m ready for whatever the notorious Drake Passage throws at me, not to mention whatever Antarctica awes me with after that. My camera gear is ready too. Oh, & I have my postcard orders, all 80+ of them from locations around the world; thank you to those who’ve taken part in this little project of mine. I’ll be offline for the most part, save for maybe a few tweets here & there over the coming days. I’ll be back in port on December 5th armed, of course, with pictures & insights from my latest travel exploit. I’ve a feeling this one is going to be a tad more special than most.
A Freestyle Gracias
My 5-star Antarctica adventure didn’t start upon boarding the M/V Ocean Endeavour, it started some weeks earlier when I walked into the Bunker, the office of Freestyle Adventure Travel in Ushuaia. Sarah & Gabi, the dynamic Freestyle duo, made spending many thousands of Euros as painless as it could ever be. Check them out on facebook (or via the Freestyle Adventure Travel website) and if you’re thinking of embarking on a trip to Antarctica, you should do yourself a massive favour by making Freestyle your very first port of call. Tell them Irish Dave, a.k.a. Irish, sent you.