It's a … Big World 2 See

Unbelievable Antarctica

 
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

 

We embarked the MS Expedition at 4pm on February 17th. The Expedition is owned and operated by G Adventures (formerly GAP). The captain is a Canadian from Toronto with 25 years experience in these waters. He is also the head honcho at G. Nicola and I had separate rooms. She was in a triple with two other women and I was in a double with another guy. The maximum number of passengers is 134.

 

We set sail at 6pm. We watched the sail away from the deck. The route out of Ushuaia was through the Beagle Channel and then into the Drake Passage. The Drake Passage is notoriously rough sailing. It is the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific and it is not uncommon for half of the people on board to get sea sick. During our orientation the ship's doctor said we could get sea sickness patches from her. I have never been seasick in my life but I thought I may as well get one. Better safe then sorry.

 

During the initial orientation session in the Discovery Lounge we were told some of the basics about this cruise. The key word is flexibility. If the weather kicked up things could change. If the ice socked in things could change. For this reason there was no set itinerary. Instead they would brief us daily about where we would be going and doing. For most people they wanted to go to Antarctica and see penguins and other wildlife. No one cares which place exactly. We also got to meet the full expedition team. These include experts on birds, sea mammals, geology/glaciology history etc. There are also kayak leaders, camping leaders, zodiac drivers, etc. Nic and I had not signed up for either camping nor kayaking.

From the ship, one of our first encounters with penguins. Hundreds of the porpoising away from the ship

 

On our second day we were still making amazing time through the Drake Passage. No doubt that this is the Drake Lake not the Drake Shake. We are so lucky to have such a smooth crossing. I was told by someone who was told by one of the crew that the captain said that his smoothest crossing of the Drake in 25 years was three weeks ago and this is a close second. I might take off the sea sickness patch and save it for the return trip if there is anything left in it. We got our first sightings of icebergs and whales around midday. We crossed the Antarctic convergence in the night, quite a bit ahead of schedule. You could see the excitement and anticipation on people as we began to see more things.

 

Petrels and Albatrosses follow the ship

There were lectures scheduled throughout the day. We had a lecture on sea mammals, birds, and ice. They were all amazingly informative. The focus was all on what we would or might see on this trip. There was also a lecture on the Antarctic Treaty which was less helpful. He was all over the place which made it hard to follow.

 

Our first whale sighting was humpback whales. They were not too close and the ship kept moving. I think people would have liked it if we could have gotten closer but I am certain the crew just knew there was many more where they came from.

 

By mid-afternoon there was an announcement for an unexpected meeting. We were told that due to such good seas and our amazing time in crossing the Drake we were going to have our first expedition that afternoon. People clapped and cheered. I was getting so excited it was hard to calm down. Before we could have any landings though we needed to do a mandatory bio-check. What this is involves the crew checking all of our outerwear and vacuuming it to ensure we are not taking any foreign biological stuff ashore. For example, we might have pollen or seeds of some sort from home that cannot be introduced into this ecology.

 

Once everyone was bio-checked, we began the landings. Since no landing site can ever have more than 100 people ashore according to IATTO rules, there were two landing sites. Held would go to one and the other half to the other. Then people could switch between them. There is 130 people on the MS Expedition so it was pretty flexible. We first went to the better of the two islands. On this island there were colonies of gentoo penguins and chinstraps sharing the same general area. They do not necessarily intermingle but they share the same common areas.

 

High speed penguin

Each zodiac is named after a different Canadian province or territory

It is late February and it is late in the breeding season. The chicks are out of the nests and the adults are moulting. The parents take turns going to sea to get food and then return with food. The chicks stimulate the parent to regurgitate the food which the chicks then eat. The chicks are almost as big as the adults but they look fluffy and furry instead of having smooth feathers like the parents. Later in the season the parents will just not return which forces the chicks to take to the sea themselves and learn to fend for themselves or perish.

Chicks stimulate mother to regurgitate food for them

 

The adults are moulting. This means that they are shedding all their feathers. They look scraggy with some feathers still their while the rest have been lost. They grow new feathers once the old ones are gone. During this time they cannot go in the water and often look tired and lazy.

 

Very curious chick

Making friends

There are rules about what we can and cannot do. The rules are created by a consortium of the international tour operators of Antarctica (IATTO). We were told not to go within 5 metres of the penguins but there were no rules for the penguins. So, if we sat still and a penguin approached us that was fine. The chicks are curious. I sat on the rocks and just remained quiet and still. Two chicks approached me. They pecked at my pants and my coat. One of them came up between my legs and tried to climb up on my legs. He could not get up but fumbled his way over my legs to the other side. It was so adorable and to have these penguins so close to me was something I will never forget. And we must have a million pictures to help me remember.

 

Also on this beach were two elephant seals. They just laid there and slept. They did eventually wriggle their way down the beach and into the water. Elephant seals have a proboscis kind of like an elephant trunk which is how they get their name.

Female elephant seal

 

All bark... Little bite

There were four fur seals hanging around as well. Fur seals are the funniest guys. These are upright seals unlike the reposing elephant seals. Fur seals are somewhat aggressive but their bark is worse than their bite. We were told that if a fur seal rushed you, do not back up but rather stand your ground and bark at them. We stopped to watch them and almost immediately one adolescent male started to rush me. No one else, just me. I am guessing that because I was the tallest he was trying to challenge me. I barked at him and he backed right off. I liked the power ;-). He did it several times. A couple of times he got very close and instinctively I backed up a little. They told we could also bang rocks together and they would back off. I did not have rocks but I clapped my hands and he backed off. Interestingly, he only came at me when I stood up completely straight or when I crouched down to take a photo. It was very cool and we took many pics and a few videos of it.

Tough guy

Juvenile males fight to be beach master

 

We also climbed over a plateau to see that there were several distinct colonies of penguins all in the same general area. It is fun to just watch their behaviours. They are funny creatures. Tie your belt around your knees and then go about your business. Then you can learn how it feels to walk and hop the way they do. Sometimes they chase each other and often they are on guard because of their predators from the sky. I think we were generally just in awe that we are here. Frolicking with penguins and seals.

 

We are in Antarctica!

I congratulated Nic on getting to her 7th continent. A couple of the crew suggested this isn't really the continent because it is an island. One of them even lives on Manhattan and so I said “then I guess you do not live in North America if islands are not parts of continents?” This is crazy to me but nevertheless we would get to the mainland the next day.

Chinstrap

Screaming chinstraps

Chinstrap Chick

 

We switched over to the other island with only about 20 minutes left. There was less to see here. There were more penguins. What this island had that the other one did not was nesting petrels. There was one nest with a chick still in it.

 

All in all, our second day was phenomenal. We did not expect any of this on day two. Normally it is on the third day when you get to start having these experiences. It was hard to talk about anything else that evening. Everyone was beaming with excitement. Not to mention that the weather was so wonderful that you were not cold.

 

Killer whales

Day 3 of our Antarctic adventure started out with action pretty much from the moment we woke up. This was the day that was supposed to be our first day of landings. However, as I mentioned above we got lucky and had our first expedition the day before. Shortly after the wake up announcements they announced that there were orcas off the front bow. We saw a pod of probably 15 killer whales. They were phenomenal. It gave us a good opportunity to use the new information we had on how to use our camera. I set it to shutter speed priority and 1600 which is fast enough to catch action without any blur. It is still difficult with the ice, water, and sky to get it perfect because on this semi-automatic setting the camera can be tricked into thinking there is more or less light than there really is. So I kept playing with pushing and holding back the exposure.

 

Killer whale tail

The killer whales kept rolling on their backs and showing their flukes as they dove. It is still a challenge to get the perfect photo because the moment is so fleeting. Luckily they kept doing it giving us lots of chances to get some good photos. These were type A orcas. They eat minke whales.

 

There were also tonnes of icebergs that we manoeuvred through and they can also be difficult to photograph. The white ice can look kind of grey. Trying to capture the whites and blues against a grey sky can be difficult.

 

After breakfast we went on our first expedition of the day. The first half would be a zodiac safari. Half the passengers would do that while the other half went ashore in Neko Bay. During our zodiac safari, we immediately went looking for humpback whales. They were sighted not too far from us. The water was like glass in the bay. That is glass speckled with sea ice and the odd iceberg or bergy bit… oh, and about half a dozen zodiacs bombing around.

Humpback tail

You can see the hump in the dorsal fin

Humpbacks are about 40 feet and 40 tonnes

 

Minke whale head

It is usually not too difficult to find where whales are. They surface and blow and you can follow the sound and the spray. We saw a few different small pods of humpbacks. They are massive and as they are about to dive deep they raise their fluke into the air and then disappear for about five minutes. It was so cool to be in the zodiac and so close to them. I am not sure how close we got exactly but I would guess within 100m.

 

Crabeaters

We also went seal hunting… Well, not hunting in the traditional sense… I left my club on the ship. There were random seals reposing on top of bergy bits. The first one we saw was a Weddell seal. Then we saw a crab-eater seal. These are two types of reposing seals, along with the elephant seal we saw the day before, meaning they cannot sit upright like a fur seal. They lay on their side and move around land by bellying and wiggling around. We did see on skittish fur seal laying on the ice but as we got close he disappeared into the water.

Lazy crabeater

 

Weeeee... Porpoising Gentoo

As we approached the shore we encountered more porpoising penguins. This is not a type of penguin, these were gentoo penguins, but rather how they swim like a porpoise. To swim fast they shallow dive and then fully breach the surface and dive through the air. It is the neatest thing to see because there will be large groups of them porpoising sometimes in unison and sometimes out of chorus. It is fantastic to see them fly through the air. We saw them several times from the ship but up close in the zodiac is much more amazing. This again was a great chance to use a fast shutter speed and continuous shooting. I got one amazing picture of a penguin in mid air. On the land they are the silliest looking things that wobble around tripping over everything, however in the water they are speedy and smooth.

Gentoo chicks

 

Halfway through the expedition we went ashore and the first group went into the zodiacs. On shore there is a large colony of gentoo penguins. They primarily stay up on a plateau above the beach level. The iceberg on the far side of the bay calves occasionally and large waves have been known to hit the beach. The penguins know that it is best to stay up high. It is the end of the breeding season. Most of the chicks are wandering around now. There is a few still in the nest and we even saw one guy with his egg still in the nest. Chances are these very young chicks won't make it and there is very little chance the egg will make it. It is too late.

This egg will never make it

 

Gentoo parent and chick and a snowy sheathbill

The colony looks a bit like a blood bath. There is lots of blood around. Generally speaking penguins are not very afraid of humans because they have no land predators. Their predators come in the water and in the sky. Petrol sand skuas are perhaps the two birds they must watch out for the most. We saw one dead penguin being munched on by a skua. For the most part it is the chicks that fall prey to these birds. The colony makes quite a racket when one of these birds is about.

Marching Penguins

Hey guys that's the MS Expedition

 

This chick has been left to survive on his own. He will likely never make it.

Penguins slide on their bellies sometimes to get around

On shore, we also climbed to a peak for some amazing panoramic views. There is a well established which is sometimes a penguin highway. As we climbed up we were stopped several times by the sound of the cracking ice on the far side. At one point there was an avalanche of snow across the bay and probably a couple of tonnes of snow raced down the hill side and blended into the glacier below. I was hoping that it would trigger some fantastic calving but it never did. The glacier made a lot of noise but did not calve for us. Maybe somewhere else. From the summit you can really see how spectacular this all is. The glasslike crystal clear water, surrounded by walls of glaciers, and nearby summits make it all breathtaking.

 

At the Argentinian Research Base

Following the first expedition was lunch while the ship repositioned itself to Paradise Bay. This is where our next expedition would happen. We arrived in Paradise at about 3pm which was enough time for a wee bit of a kip (according to Allen, my British roommate). It is called Paradise Bay because whalers used to tuck into this bay to avoid rough waters and bad Antarctic storms. There is an Argentine research base here.

 

Albino chick

Our group, the Ross group, was the first to go ashore this time. The zodiac dropped us at the research base. We met a young girl who works there. It is manned for two months this year. They are doing research on penguins and cormorants at the moment. The penguins are all around the research base. They are gentoo penguins except for one chinstrap penguin. There is apparently also an Adelie penguin here but we did not see it. I am wondering if we misunderstood them and it was one chinstrap. Interestingly, there was also an albino gentoo chick here. The chicks are all fuzzy but have not grown their feathers yet. This one was beige and white instead of grey and white like all the other chicks.

 

The penguins do it on their belly

We climbed up to the top of the hill. The ship's expedition team marked out the route with flags. It was quite a slippery path in our rubber boots. At the top their is another good vista of the entire area. After a few minutes though I think you have seen it all. To get down from here, you can slide down on your bum to the bottom. Their is a grooved out track to the bottom. I shot a video as I went down. It was fun but their was no way I was going all the way back up to do it again.

 

Humpback Tail

Next we had another zodiac safari in Paradise Bay. We immediately heard their were humpbacks near the ship. We zipped over to where this humpback was. He stuck around for the longest time. We got so close it was incredible. In fact, it felt like we were so close that it could surface below us and flip us. I am sure the driver knows what she is doing and we were never really that close. That said, the heart pumps a little faster with that unknown. Several times he raised his fluke right out of the water. We got a couple of pictures of that. More of a challenge to get a picture of was when he raised his mouth out of the water and sprayed the water out trapping the krill in his baleen. We saw it but did not get it on film.

Close enough?

 

Leopard seals have a huge head

After stalking the humpback for a long time, we zipped to the other side of the bay where Osi, our zodiac driver, knew there was a leopard seal. He was just laying on an ice chunk. This is another reposing seal. They are very big and their head is very large. These guys are different from the other seals. Besides krill, these guys eat other seals and penguins. It is funny to see them just lying there. I guess in the water they are much more mobile. We were probably about ten or fifteen feet away from him.

Relaxing leopards

 

What an amazing third day. It was a day of marine mammals. We saw killer whales, humpback whales, and minke whales; we saw fur seals, crabeater seals, elephant seals, and leopard seals; we saw chinstrap and gentoo penguins; we saw skuas, petrels, snowy sheathbills, blue-eyed shags, and terns. I was not sure how day 3 could be topped.

 

Day 4 was Friday February 21st. Again we were woken by a 7am announcement. We had dropped anchor last night at Port Lockroy. We were supposed to have been further away however the group that had paid for the camping excursion could not camp because of winds and poor visibility. As a result we arrived at Port Lockroy ahead of schedule.

 

Port Lockroy is an old British Antarctic base which dates back to WWII. Now there is a museum, gift shop, and post office run by the British Antarctic Heritage Trust. It is the most visited spot in Antarctica. Two ships a day stop here. It is manned by four young ladies who spent 4 months here. They have one week to go. They came aboard before we went ashore to give a bit of history about this place.

 

Mailing post cards from Antarctica

We went ashore at Base A first. This is where the gift shop and post office are. We are not really big into buying souvenirs but we went a little wild here. We spent about $250 in the gift shop including buying and sending post cards. We each bought a t-shirt. They are neat showing the latitude and longitude of where we were. We also bought a few things like Christmas ornaments, a USB drive shaped like a penguin, some pins, nothing we needed but stuff we thought would be neat to have. Then we wandered around the museum for a while.

 

Perhaps most exciting for me is finding a geocache here. It did not take much hunting. Spoiler alert: it is behind the cash register. We just asked for it at the counter. We left one of our lanyards and took a trackable. I thought Ushuaia was our furthest south cache found but I do not think we will beat 65' south latitude. Amazing!

 

We spent way more time at Base A then we should have. This left very little time at Jougla Point. There were two things to see here and we only saw one. We did not see the colony of nesting gentoos. We have seen lots but I hate to miss any chance for a chick to crawl in my lap. We went to see the collection of whale bones. This is a historical site where whalers used to come into the bay to seek shelter from the weather and the sea. They would drag their whale catches into this area to collect the blubber. The bottom of the bay is apparently littered with whale bones. Someone relocated a bunch a couple of years ago and assembled them into the shape of a whale skeleton. Not all were from the same type of whale though. They are just a jumble now though because a large calving iceberg sent a large wave on shore and jumbled them all.

 

After the morning expedition, we set sail through the Lemare Channel. It is a very narrow channel that requires some manoeuvring around the ice and between the land on either side. It was a beautiful sail and to boot they served hot chocolate with Kahlua and fresh whipped cream on deck. We saw seals sunning themselves on ice flows and the ship even stopped and turned towards one leopard seal.

 

We anchored in Pleneau Bay. Half the group would go ashore at Booth Island and the rest would do a zodiac safari. On Booth Island is where the French explorer Charcot wintered over for two years. There is one spot where he carved an 'F' into the rock. The F is from the name of his ship the Francais. There are more nesting gentoos. There is also a climb up to a peak for an amazing view. Unfortunately, by the time we were told about Charcot there was hardly any time to go up there.

 

The zodiac stops in front of the hole in the iceberg

Amazing colours and size

Beautiful iceberg

Amazing how the ice is carved by nature

Then we went cruising in the zodiac. This bay is nicknamed the iceberg graveyard. It is very shallow and when icebergs get blown in they get stuck on the bottom. They slowly melt or get warn away by the water. Some of the last multiple years and some melt more quickly. These icebergs are amazing to see. Some are chunks of ice shelves that have broken away and so are flat on one side. Others are huge ice columns that have floated upright anchored below by 9/10ths of its mass. Others have flipped upside down evidenced by the dimpling, similar to a golf ball, on the visible portions that used to be underwater. You can tell the ones that are anchored to the bottom because they have high tide lines on them. If they weren't stuck on the bottom they would float up and down and the water line would always be the same. Some of the icebergs look like they have been carved intentionally and artistically. It is amazing to see how nature has created these massive sculptures.

 

This clear ice is probably thousands of years old

On day 6 we raised anchor from Booth Island after the overnight campers were back on board. We headed further south for the Yalour Islands where again half of us would go ashore and half would zodiac cruise. The trip only took around an hour or so to get there. We were on the zodiac cruise first. Most of the time we spent looking at ice and icebergs. There were some good swells and some of the icebergs were up and down a lot. We were hoping to see one flip but didn't. We saw crabeater seals and leopard seals out on ice pack. I told our zodiac driver, Osi, that I wanted some pics of a seal in the water. She seemed to deliver.

 

A leopard seal swam right up to and under our boat. We could see it under water and it came right up to have a look and check us out. It came right up to where Nicola was sitting and seemed to make eye contact with her. I am not sure if his longing look was as a mate or as food. This was an amazing experience. Now I wanted to tell Osi that I want to see a whale come up to the boat and look at me.

 

Adelie Penguins

After the switch we were dropped at the Yalour Island. This was our first and maybe only chance to see Adelie penguins. Adelies are funny to look at. Their funny looking white circular eye on the entirely black head is quite distinctive. They often move around on their bellies almost like they are swimming on top of the snow. They do this to go uphill and slide downhill.

 

There was also a solitary Weddell seal and a solitary fur seal up on the rocks. The fur seal snarled at me a bit as I went by. Pretty harmless really. More of a warning than anything. We also saw some research equipment on the island. It was solar panelled time lapse cameras which I was told are part of a penguin study.

 

During the afternoon operation we moved not too far away to Vernadsky Station. This is a Ukrainian research station manned by 12 men year round. It used to be a British research station. The British were going to abandon it but when the Antarctic treaty came into force they couldn't. They had to remove it and clean it up. The Ukraine was going to build one but instead they took over this one for a cost of one pound. This is the research station where Feredy discovered the ozone hole. One condition of the transfer is that they must continue to monitor the hole in the ozone. They reported that the ozone is fine! Their English is not great and so it was tough to get more out of them. The base commander is actually the base doctor.

 

Ukrainian Vodka

They have a bar in this research station and the guys here make their own hooch. They sell it for $3 per shot or women can give them their bra for a free shot. I paid the $3. They also sell post cards and stamps as well as have a small gift shop. I bought a patch to put on my parka that I got on the cruise. I sent a post card to the crew at the Aurora Research Institute Inuvik Research Centre. I will be interested to see when it arrives (note that it was mailed from Antarctic on February 22, 2014). Being here made me think about the team I worked with last year at ARI.

 

We also did a short zodiac cruise. It was not the best one we have had. The ice was interesting and we saw a few crabeaters. However, nothing to really mention much more than that. We also went to a place called Wordie House. It is named after a British geologist who was part of both the Scott and Shackleton expeditions. It is set up like a small museum to show how they lived for two years at a time. Very meagrely I would say. I am sure I would go crazy.

 

Naked guy with curious skua

There was also a bluff here that we climbed up. From the summit there was an excellent view of the whole area. It was rather grey however the sun peaked through in areas and lit up the surrounding mountains. It was quite spectacular. One guy handed his camera to his friend and then warned everyone that if they didn't want to see more than they bargained for they should turn away. He proceeded to strip naked and then his friend took his picture from behind. I guess he wanted a picture naked in Antarctica. I am not sure why but several people snapped his picture too. As he sat to get dressed a skua came flying in and landed right in front of him. I mean within about ten feet of him. It was the funniest thing to see this scavenger come in to check him out. Skuas usually eat dead things. You can imagine that naked guy was the butt of a lot of jokes (forgive the pun).

 

3 chinstrap penguins

That evening was black and white night. A tribute to our black and white friends. There was a dress up contest, you were to dress in black and white. Nicola and her roommates dressed as chinstrap penguins. Other people dressed as Adelie penguins, rockhopper penguins, and even a penguin after a leopard seal attack. You didn't have to dress as a penguin so some people were rather creative. An African-American girl and her Caucasian roommate entered as themselves. A man used his bed sheet and hangers to form a 'sheet house.' It was a fun activity.

 

Finally that evening there was a crew band that played in the Polar Bear Bar. The bar staff, kitchen staff, hotel staff, etc are all Philippino. Some of them have formed a rock and roll band. They were pretty good. It was entertaining.

 

At Deception Island

Sunday February 23rd we arrived at Deception Island. Deception Island is the caldera of a volcano. The island shape is almost a complete circle except for a narrow channel which has allowed sea water to infiltrate the middle of the caldera. The last eruption here was in 1968. The rim of the caldera is actually about fifteen volcanic craters around the outside all venting the same hotspot deep in the earth. It is an active volcano which could erupt any time. There is a Spanish research station inside here monitoring the seismic activity.

Ice climbing

Dead krill

 

Jumping pic

The ship sailed in through the narrow channel called Neptune's Bellows and docked on the opposite side at Telefon Bay. This is a geological stop not a wildlife stop. We hiked up and around the area of the last eruption. You are up high so you get great views of the entire island. After hiking around for about an hour or more we went back to the landing site and did a short zodiac cruise. The cruise entered into a small crater that was opened up off the main caldera. We saw a couple of crabeaters. There is not a lot of wildlife here because the water is sulphuric. On the beach millions of krill wash up on shore dead. They apparently get cooked by warmer waters close to shore.

The caldera at Deception Island

 

Curious fur seals

I am beach master. No I am beach master.

Barking at our zodiac

After lunch we moved to another spot still within the caldera of Deception Island called Whalers' Bay. We got incredibly lucky we found out when we got there. There was a colony of fur seals on the beach opposite our anchor location. You almost never see this here apparently because they are usually much further north. There were perhaps between 800 and 1000 seals. We took the zodiacs over to cruise along the shoreline and watch them. Some were curious and swam around us and others could care less and continued to sun themselves on the beach. Males often fight to become beach master. The juvenile males are the funniest because it is somewhere between play and serious.

 

These abandoned boats got sunk in gravel and ash from the last eruption

After the zodiac cruise we spent some time at Whalers' Bay. At one end there is an old aircraft hangar. In the middle there are the remains of the whaling station. You can see big storage tanks that were used to store whale fat. You can also find old ovens that were used to process the whale bones. At the other end of the beach is an area know as Neptune's Window. It is an area where the rocks have broken away and there is a big U-shaped opening in the rock wall that encloses the caldera. There were also about 20 fur seals hanging around this area.

 

After exploring for a while came the most stressful moment of the trip. I had toiled over this for a while. I would never even think about doing this at home but perhaps a bit of peer pressure is the difference here. Nicola never even considered doing this but I had waffled over it for days. In the end I guess I just figured I would never be in Antarctica again so what the heck! How bad could it really be anyway???

 

This was the time for the polar plunge! The water temperature was zero degrees Celsius. Salt water freezes at -1.8 Celsius. A group of us all stripped off our outerwear. I had my bathing suit on underneath my long johns. We posed for a group picture which was cold enough just standing there in the wind. Then we all bolted for the freezing cold water.

 

Running into the water

I felt like I was going as fast as Usain Bolt getting in. As I entered the water I screamed to myself “I cannot believe I am freaking doing this!” About half a dozen strides in I dove in. My body was in shock I am sure. I immediately stood up and started to run out. I think my feet were trying to move fast but I was having trouble getting a grip in the gravel bottom. As I started to run out I face planted again submerging my body in the ice water. I got my balance again and then got out.

 

Getting ready to plunge

I grabbed a towel but to be completely honest I think I was warmer out of the water than in it. I understand now what is meant when you learn that a stage of hypothermia is that the body pulls your blood into the core to keep you alive. My hands and feet were stinging and then numb. My core was very comfortable. I cannot believe i freaking did that. I am glad now but at the time I was questioning my own sanity.

 

After my polar plunge, I put my clothes back on and grabbed the first zodiac back to the ship. I went to the sauna to warm up. Within a few minutes the sauna was standing room only. We all talked about our experiences and had some good laughs. They say that this freezing water is the great equalizer for all men! I know get what that means! Finally, after the sauna I had a nice hot shower. I was now warmer than I had been so far on this ship.

 

That was our last experience in Antarctica. Soon after everyone was aboard the ship weighed anchor and began the journey back to Ushuaia. Word on the ship was that the Drake would not be as friendly going back as it had been coming. Apparently a couple of days ago a couple of ships had decided to not even leave the Beagle Channel and one that did had some windows blown out in a pretty horrific storm. The storm had moved through now but we could get some of the trailing winds and rough water. By dinner time we were already feeling the rough seas and we were still several hours from the Drake. We were told that the next day would be worse. Nicola was starting to feel sick probably because we did not put our seasickness patches on soon enough. She was in bed by 8:30pm and hardly touched her dinner.

 

Monday February 24th started out much better. Nicola had slept well and was feeling much better even though the ship was still rolling quite a bit. Many people did not make it to breakfast. I think that was a combination of seasickness and people who had caught a bug on the ship not to mention those who had partied late into the night. We heard about all situations. The ship's doctor was sick. The ship's musician had fallen in her cabin and split her head open (28 stitches). A group of 20 somethings drank until early morning. I am sure there will be much more to come over the next couple of days in the Drake. It is wild.

 

We had more lectures scheduled for this day. I went to a lecture about Scott's 1917 expedition. I skipped a lecture about pinniped behaviours (seals) because I was going through our thousands of pictures. The ship's photographer, Chasi, was collecting one photo per person to put in a passenger slide show later that day. Hard to pick one from more than 2000 taken. In the afternoon they showed The March of the Penguins which seemed fitting. I skipped a later lecture on Shackleton. My mind can only take so many history lectures (sorry Petey).

 

During the night the seas were rough my friend. Things were flying off of shelves and crashing around our room. I could hear things crashing in my closet and in the bathroom. After dinner last night and before bed we watched out a window in the dining room. We heard that this is not nearly as bad as the Drake con get. The ship pitched from side to side as it went over massive waves. Plates shifted on tables. It was a pretty amazing experience. I think however that you are more likely to get seasickness when the boat is gently rolling as opposed to wildly rolling. When you are wildly rolling your eyes are generally seeing the same thing that your inner ears are sensing. However, when there is a gentle roll, your inner ears are telling your mind something different than your eyes are telling it.

 

The Drake was the same in the morning. If you were watching a video of people on the ship you would think they are all drunk out of their mind. People leaning on the walls. Clutching railings on the other side of the hall sometimes to avoid crashing into the other wall. Other times arms out wide holding both walls. One hand for you to hold your plate of food and the other hand for the ship to hold your balance. Now we really understand why chairs and tables are bolted to the floor.

 

After breakfast there were two lectures, one on geology and one on women in Antarctica. By early afternoon we reached the relative protection in the lee of the islands around Cape Horn. Now it would be smoother sailing through the Beagle Channel and into the Ushuaia port by evening. We disembarked the following morning. The end of our Antarctic cruise.

 

We were told how lucky we were on this trip. Only 10% of their trips make all of their planned landings. Only 30% have as good a Drake as we had. Extra landings, extra wildlife, all landings and beautiful weather… who could ask for more?

 

An absolutely unforgettable experience!

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone
Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Pinterest
Contact us

2 thoughts on “Unbelievable Antarctica

  1. Gail Lomatski

    Wow ! These posts keep getting better and better; so happy that you lucked out weather-wise. I have heard horror stories about the”Drake Shake”. I loved the penguins and the tidbit about the Ukrainian research post. Happy trails. Gail

     

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *