A Travellerspoint blog

Antarctica Expedition Part 1

December 8th to 12th

all seasons in one day 2 °C

Day 1 - 8th Dec
At 16.00 hours we met the rest of the Antarctica expedition team at the wharf to be escorted to the Polar Pioneer, our home for the next 12 days. IMG_7091.jpg
We quickly settled into our cabin by unpacking and making ourselves at home. Then we navigated the convoluted and sometimes hidden stairways, finding our way around the ship including the bar, dining room and lecture room. We went out on deck and had a lovely view of Ushuaia.
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Next was a warm welcome up on the bridge, where we were introduced to the crew and our fellow passengers. There are only 40 passengers this trip, along with 4 Ukrainian Scientists that we will be dropping off in a few days’ time, if we can reach Verdansky.
At 18.00 hours our Russian crew expertly navigated away from the wharf. At last we were under way and headed for much colder climes. The constantly changing landscape of Tierra del Fuego slipped by as we coasted east along the Beagle Channel. While we were still in calm waters we undertook our safety lecture and then had a real life boat drill. The life boats are polar boats so they are totally enclosed. With life jackets on, they loaded us into the life boats and for the full experience started the engines. It was an interesting experience huddling together in the life boat contemplating our survival in case of an emergency dressed in our orange jackets.
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After the drill, we watched Giant Petrels and South American Terns following in our wake.
Five hours after our departure a small boat came along side to allow our pilot to climb nimbly down a shaky rope ladder and leave our ship and captain to their own devices. The pilot had been with us for our journey in the Beagle Channel.
Once leaving the Beagle Channel the seas went from calm to rough, although we were told that this was actually good for the Drake Passage. Shane and I popped sea sick tablets and went to bed.

Day 2 – 9th Dec
Despite Polar Pioneer rocking and rolling across the Drake Passage overnight, we awoke to a glorious day of gentle swaying on a relatively calm sea, still, neither of us could tolerate breakfast and stayed in bed. Lesley the ship doctor popped her head in to see if we were ok. Apparently we were not alone as a lot of us had not surfaced for breaky.
We arose midmorning for the great gumboot give away in the lecture room. This allowed us to select from a stylish array of rubber footwear for our land excursions in Antarctica. We then staggered up stairs where the sun was out and the Black-browed Royal and Wandering Albatross wheeled around the ship.
Lectures for the day were on “Seabirds of the Southern Ocean” and “Marine Mammals of the Southern Ocean”.
Before dinner we gathered in the bar to toast Captain Aleksandr Evgenov who warmly welcomed us on board. We also enjoyed the opportunity to meet our fellow travellers and sample a glass or two of punch, along with tasty canapés from our talented Australian chefs.

Day 3 – 10th Dec
Feeling better this morning we had a little breakfast with a nice cup of tea.
During the night we crossed the Antarctic Convergence and were then eagerly searching for a sighting of our first iceberg. Of course for a bit of fun there was a competition to guess the time and location of our first iceberg. Our first sighting was at around 3pm. Whilst viewing the iceberg there were dozens of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross wheeling and souring alongside us. There were also Cape Petrels and Wilson’s Storm Petrels soaring really close to the waves.
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Our lecture today was on the Antarctic Penguins. There were also 2 compulsory briefings on Zodiac Operations and Environmental guidelines. One of the key points was to ensure that before and after each landing we washed down our gumboots and put them in disinfectant so that we did not carry any germs from landing to landing.
In the afternoon we headed southward towards the South Shetland Islands which were guarded by fortresses of floating ice and Humpback Whales. As we had made such good time surfing across the Drake Passage we had an unplanned stop at Elephant Point on Livingstone Island. We set out for our first landing at 8pm to be back for pick up at 10pm. It felt really weird wandering around in daylight at 10pm. In fact it was still light outside when we finally fell asleep around midnight. At Elephant Point we found ourselves in the company of several hundred Elephant Seals. Most were immature males ashore for their annual moult. Even though they were not mature bulls they were still impressive in size. The sounds and smells were impressive too. Some budding beach masters were bashing at each other like sumo wrestlers, practicing for a few years down the track when they will fight bloodily for their chance to breed and increase the size of their harems.
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Gentoo penguins paraded along the beach and over the other side of the island were small nesting mounds with very new born chicks.
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What a delightful place to start our adventure. Once back on our ship we headed overnight along the Bransfield Strait to the northern end of the Gerlache Strait.

Day 4 – 11th Dec
We awoke this morning to arrive at our next destination which was Enterprise Island. This was not a landing but a 3 hour zodiac ride around the amazing ice sculptures created through the combined forces of nature.
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We were well and truly rugged up in layers like onions, just not as smelly. Firstly our thermals, 3 pairs of socks so our feet didn’t get cold, then a set of clothes, then our waterproof jackets and pants. Beanies, gloves and neck warmers were also required.
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As our journey started we heard from another zodiac that there was a leopard seal nearby and there it was a solitary leopard seal with his own ice amphitheatre, and then we saw a lonely crabeater seal.
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We came across the relic of an old wooden whaling boat and the rusting burnt out hull of the 1900’s Norwegian whaling boat the 'Governoren' which apparently caught fire one Christmas eve and was run aground, all the crew survived.
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Riding around the amazing icebergs was beautiful as the blue palette of ice colours reflected the density of ice.
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After lunch we sailed towards Cuverville Island which is book ended between the Artowski Peninsula and Ronge Island. A pebbly beach landing amongst scooting and wave hopping Gentoo’s proved exciting as we scrambled up into the snow between multiple penguin highways.
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As wandering expeditioners we walked between busy rookeries seemingly floating in lakes of penguin poo.
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With keen eyes we spotted the occasional mating attempt and Gentoo parents constantly fussing over their eggs and nests as Skuas stalked for unguarded eggs and chicks.
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Whilst on the island the sun came out and gradually lit the landscape.
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In the evening we sailed through the Errera Channel. Once again the weather put on a show. The mountains glowed in sunlight. We stayed up to around midnight to look at the scenery and never ending Antarctic sunset as the sun had still not gone down.
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Day 5 – 12th Dec
We woke to a mystical morning and came to anchor at the mouth of the Peltier Channel just off Port Lockroy. Base A, as Port Lockroy was once known, was one of the British bases built for Operation Tabarin during World War II. Through the 1950’s the base operated as a weather and research base, collecting data and contributing to our understanding of the ozone layer. Abandoned in 1962 and left to disrepair until the early nineties, the hut has been painstakingly restored to a museum, post office and shop.
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We set off to Jougla Point. It was a grey bleak day and the wind was blowing, very typical Antarctic weather. All rugged up we headed out to brave the elements. At Jougla Point we enjoyed the Gentoo colony and the nesting blue-eyed cormorants and marvelled at the piles of gigantic whale bones.
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At Port Lockroy we posted our post cards in the little red British post box, admired the museum and shopped enthusiastically to boost the funds of the British Antarctic Heritage Trust.
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We indulged in more Gentoo watching until the wind picked up and the snow started to fall.
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We then headed off further down the peninsula. Captain Aleksandr skilfully manoeuvred us down the misty, mountainous and narrow 7 mile long Lemaire Channel. The channel is 0.7 miles at its narrowest and 1 mile at its widest. At the end of the channel we encountered an absolutely fantastic David Attenborough event, a pod of orcas patrolling an iceberg with a couple of seals hugging themselves into the tranquil blue safety of an ice shelf. It was a crabeater and a leopard seal, and even when the pod had left they were reluctant to move.
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We could see the Argentine islands but there was an ominous thick band of ice ahead, which we had to break through in order to be able to drop off our Ukrainian guests. The bridge is open to all guests on the ship so we were able to watch in the warmth or first hand at the bow. I chose the bridge and Shane spent some time out in the cold. Slowly and steadily Captain Aleksandr navigated our ice class ship (not an ice breaker) through the ice flows to an open lead where we could drop the zodiacs in and ferry the team and their equipment ashore. It was an exciting moment as we had reached our furthest southerly point at 65o15’S, 16o13’W.

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The captain turned our vessel northwards back through the ever thickening ice. This was as far as we could go this time of the year due to the ice. This was also the furthest south this ship had been able to go so far this season.

Posted by shaneandnicola 18:58 Archived in Antarctica

Ushuaia

Before Antarctica Trip

semi-overcast 12 °C
View Antarctica and Patagonia on shaneandnicola's travel map.

Visited the dock this morning to see if we could get a look at our big ship for the crossing of the Drake Passage to Antarctica.

Guess which one is ours!

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If you said the one on the right - you would be wrong.
Ours is the Polar Pioneer - the one in the middle.

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We have 53 or 63 people on board.
We chose a smaller ship that gives us more opportunity to get in close to the ice fields and more zodiac landings.

We have had a bit of a wander around Ushuaia but we have lots more time upon our return. It is a lovely little town on the Beagle Channel with lovely mountains in the background. We will be heading off this afternoon for our 11 day Antarctica expedition so will once again be out of contact. Stay tuned.

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Posted by shaneandnicola 07:07 Archived in Argentina

Stella Australis Cruise

Day 4

overcast 9 °C

Today was the day that we were looking forward to, all be it with trepidation. We were visiting Cape Horn and were unsure how rough the sea was going to be. We awoke to hearing the anchor being released and looked out of our big window to see Cape Horn. We had made it. It was quite overcast and windy but safe enough to disembark on Hornos Island. Today was important to put in to action everything we had learned about getting on to our zodiacs as the waves were pretty rough. These rules were: do not refuse a helping hand, do not grab them by the hand but by the elbow as this gives you more stability, then the 3 step shuffle by stepping on to the edge of the zodiac, then on to the board at the front of the zodiac and then on to the bottom of the zodiac. Then sit down immediately and slide along the edge of the zodiac with every person boarding alternating sides. Anyway we both made it safely on to our zodiacs and headed off slowly to Hornos Island. Once on land we climbed to the top of a 160 step staircase and visited Cape Horn monument and lighthouse.

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We could not believe how windy it was; at times it was hard to stay on our feet. We spent about 90 minutes on the island then headed back to the ship. Heading back to the ship on our zodiacs was fun; we all got quite wet from the waves. Once back on board we decided to go and have breakfast quickly before the ship set sail (just in case we couldn't handle the rocking). Whilst having breakfast they announced that we would be navigating Cape Horn which is not something that they do very regularly. So we even went around Cape Horn which was a bonus.

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Having said that both Shane and I took sea sick tablets and put ourselves to bed once we had rounded the horn. In the afternoon we had headed back in to a sheltered channel and visited Wulaia Bay. This is where the English Captain Fitz Roy and naturalist Charles Darwin made contact with the Yaghan aborigines in the 19th century. Off on our last zodiac trip to land where we did a great 6 km hike to get a magnificent view of Wulaia Bay.

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In the evening we had our final dinner and then headed up to the bar for some last drinks and a toast of champagne where the captain gave his farewell speech and auctioned the navigation chart used on our voyage - this went for $260 US dollars.

Posted by shaneandnicola 12:01 Archived in Chile

Stella Australis Cruise

Day 3

semi-overcast 14 °C

Today we were told that the scenery would be spectacular and it certainly was. We started bright and early enjoying the panorama as we navigated the waters of the Ballenero Channel. The channel was named by Captain Fitz Roy, in memory of his whaling boat that was stolen by the indigenous people and was never recovered. The ship then entered the O'Brien Channel which was named in honour of Jorge O'Brien commander of the Chilean frigate "Lautaro" which carried out important hydrographic surveys in the area. We then cruised up the Pia Fjord only to see the majestic Pia Glacier in front of us. We disembarked once again on our zodiacs landing very close to the glacier. We did a short hike up a rocky trail to enjoy a panoramic view of the glacier. It was stunning and the weather was perfect, in fact at one stage Shane and I had stripped down to t-shirts. The weather certainly changes quickly as within 30 minutes we were back to our warm clothes.

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Once back on the ship the fun began for the afternoon. We continued cruising through the northwest arm of the Beagle Channel to Glacier Alley. We were told that there were surprises to be had as we reached the various glaciers. Little did we know that by the end of glacier alley we were going to be pretty tipsy. We decided to view the glaciers from the Darwin Lounge on the 5th deck; this was where the bar was. Firstly we saw Romanche Glacier; we were already on our 2nd or 3rd drinks by the time we reached there. Then the following 4 glaciers were named after countries that had been involved in exploration in Chile. As we sailed past each glacier our surprises came out.
First glacier was Germany glacier, out came beer and sausage.
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Next was the France Glacier, got into the Champagne and lots of cheese.
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Then it was the Italy Glacier with Vino (wine) and pizza, feeling light headed.
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Finally topped off with the Holland Glacier where the beer and meatballs were accepted in quantity.
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Topped everything off with a couple of Pisco Sours and a red wine with dinner - full as a goog and very merry, this all made for a great day.

Posted by shaneandnicola 11:32 Archived in Chile

Stella Australis Cruise

Day 1 and 2

semi-overcast 14 °C

Day 1
After hanging around Punta Arenas for a few hours in the afternoon we finally boarded our lovely boat the Stella Australis. We were shown to our cabin which had a lovely big window to look out of. At 7pm we gathered in the Sky Lounge where the captain of this expedition cruise welcomed us aboard with a speech and introduced the officers and expedition staff. It was at that stage that we really started to get excited about what was ahead of us. Dinner was at 8pm each night which was very late for us. We sat at a table not knowing who would sit with us; however we soon had some company. We met Julie and Yilin from Las Vegas. Little did they know but they were stuck with us for entire cruise at meal times. After dinner we had an early night and a good night’s sleep getting used to the gentle rock of the boat.

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Day 2
At dawn we navigated through Almirantazgo Sound and put in at Ainsworth Bay, where the Marinelli Glacier and Darwin Range Ice Field were located. We were now in Alberto de Agostini National Park. After breakfast we put on our waterproof gear and life jackets ready for our first adventure in our zodiacs. We landed at Ainsworth Bay where we were lucky enough to see some female and baby elephant seals. The pups had beautiful big eyes. We went for a trek for a couple of hours through part of the National Park.

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Then it was back to our ship to head off for Tuckers Islet. The Magellanic Penguins start arriving at the Islet in spring. We again headed off in our zodiacs for about an hour to see the penguins and lots of other bird life including rock cormorants, imperial cormorants, ash headed geese and flightless steamer ducks. Although we did not get off the zodiacs they did beach them. The penguins were so inquisitive they actually started walking towards us. Then it was up to the bar for a few drinks. This trip includes all our meals and drinks. So you can order whatever you want to drink. They even had a fridge full of beer that you can help yourselves to. I continued on with Pisco Sours which is a drink I got quite used to last year when we were in South America.

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Posted by shaneandnicola 16:01 Archived in Chile

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