White Continent Christmas
28 Dec 2004
|I'm in the club! Only 6 weeks after joining my former employers with 6 Continents to my name, I took the plunge and "Penetrated Deep into the Weddell Sea" on a 10 day cruise to Antarctica to complete the set.
The trip was fantastic. I hope the photographs do it justice.
The voyage started with a nice 5 or 6 hour sail down the Beagle channel (I didn't see any of the beagles it was named after) before we hit open water and waves. There were 87 passengers on board when we set off, it was hard to find more than a dozen by breakfast time. Only 15 people made it to the first lecture of the trip with the resident photographers, a charming (not) American couple ("Good job buddy"), they were lucky to still be on board by the end of the cruise. Virtually all of the rest of the staff were Canadians and great. We had Ken the ever-smiling Bird Man, Chris the 15 foot tall historian, "Free Willy" the whale and mammal man and former trainer and releaser of Keiko the Orca and the 3 Zodiac drivers. Final there was Brad the non-charismatic but efficient tour-leader. How will I ever forget "waking up with Brad" - 'Good morning, its 7am, the Air Temperature is -1°C the water Temperature is -1°C, the barrometer is low but steady and we have lots of beautiful ice for you to see, Philip our MAitre'D informs me that breakfast is now being served, why not come up and join us for a lovely day' or words to that effect.
Oh sh*t, I'm a cruise, New Year's Eve, two treks and a few towns behind so I'd better do the brief version of this, highlights only...
Gap (the tour organisers) did well pairing myself and 12 year old (in mind) Pieter in our subaquatic cabin, together with the wonderful Maria Joao we formed a very antisocial little group, hardly speaking to any of the other passengers. Pieter refused to associate with the other Dutch onboard and I was consistently embarassed by the other Brits, Jo was the only Portuguese so no problem there. Honourable mentions to Dorithy and Walter the very pleasant calm and patient Canadian couple usually also on the last Zodiac of every landing and Ninel and John(? I'm not very good at remembering names)the Chilean/American couple from Florida. Oh yes, nearly forgot Jeff, I've never seen anyone suffer so much from sea-sickness, spent most of the journey in his cabin but did provide some entertainment on the rare occasions he surfaced.
The food was excellent but feeding time, especially the lunch buffet was reminiscent of many zoos. The only real onboard entertainments were the daily lectures, taking hundreds of photographs on the borrowed cameras and when we got to the peninsula the landings, generally 2 per day except for the day we were blocked by ice and only got one.
Overall we made 9 landings, 2 on the Peninsular itself including a visit to an Argentine research station where we got very nice passport stamps. All of the other landings were on islands either in the Weddell Sea on the east of the Peninsular or the South Shetland islands to the North.
We had various whale sightings on the passage down but I neve quite got to grip with identifying a Fin Whale from a Humpback, you only ever see a small section at a time. A large contingent of birds accompanied us most of the way, my favourite being the black browed albotrosses. Our first bit of antarctic wildlife was the Leopard seal who greeted the first Zodiac (rib)landings. I became very familiar with the 3 common types of Penguin in the area - Adelie (or chicken penguins a they became known), Chinstraps and Gentoos. The Gentoos were by far the most watchable, all 3 penguins make their nests from pebbles but the gentoos have made pebble stealing an artform. The usual plan of attack is to wander past another nest as if minding your own business then make a grab fo a pebble from behind the nursing owner. What they never seemed to realise was that while they were off on a sortee another Gentoo was relieving their own nest of pebbles. One enterprising defender defecated straight in the face of a raider leavng one very surprised looking penguin, unfortunately I didn't catch it on camera.
The aim was to get down into the arctic circle which would have been on 21st December so we would have had the midnight sun. However, we hit a complete blockade of ice about 60 miles short. The most southerly landing was at 65°15' South on Robinson Island, apparetly we were the first tourists ever to land on that island, unfortunatley I was the last one off the ship so my claim to fame is being the 87th tourist there.
Another highlight was the Emperor Penguin spotted on an iceberg, very few people have seen them in the wild, or so I was told.
With Christmas being our first day back in the Drake Passage they shuffled the dates of the various formal meals so we had the Christmas Gala Dinner on the 23rd and the Captains farewell dinner on the 25th. The Captain was a very jolly Swede with an open-bridge policy and a sense of adventure. When the sea was very calm on the way back he decided that we had time to sail up into the Pacific and then 'Round the Horn' before heading back up the beagle to Ushuaia, laundries, cheep beer and stable beds.