Browse Tag

antarctica

A typical “Sea” day aboard an Antarctic cruise Expedition

note: picture gallery of entire trip here
note: full itinerary of cruise here 

penguin looking at cruise ship
Photo Credit: Yiwen

This blog is going to be a little different. It’ll be more of a “Captains log” style of post. I chose captain to keep a nautical theme. It’s simple a log of what would happen on a day at sea with no landings. I’ve described a landing day here.

On the way out we had a drake shake and it meant that about half the boat was seasick come the next morning.

01:00 (night): Woke up with stuff falling down from the shelves and serious rocking of the boat. I took another seasick pill, just in case, so as to get some sleep. The pills I took also had a drowsing effect (like allergy pills) which is great when you’re trying to sleep.

01.30: Fell asleep but only after being annoyed that sleeping on the side was impossible. I would wake up on and off many times that night

08.00: Woke up and went to get breakfast. The boat was rocking and it was hard to get your food. I’m amazed at the waiters and kitchen staff. How do they do it? There were now barf bags everywhere hanging on the side of the walls and railings so people could go and get them.

09:00: Visited the bridge. Somehow it feels like more rocking up here but it’s nice that you can see the horizon. Crew didn’t speak much but it’s nice with a ship with an open bridge so you can watch.

09.30: Bird lecture by Georgina, a local from the Falkland Islands. She told us about the Wandering Albatross, a bird with a wingspan of 3.5meters. I saw Aegean Condors in Patagonia and with a measly 3m wingspan, they’ve got nothing on the albatross.

South polar skuas are noisy bad birds that steal food and penguin eggs but at least their chicks are adorable! They take food from other birds in the air – bullies of the air.

The Antarctic tern can take a bite off your scalp if you don’t watch out. They’re aggressive birds

11:00: Falcon Scott, grandson of Captain Ross gives a lecture about Captain Ross’ expedition (Albatrosses are flying around the ship and when you look out the windows during the lecture you can see them).

Captain Ross’s expedition had been deemed “the worst trip in the world”. The mission was to recover 3 emperor penguin eggs. In minus 70 degree Celsius.

One expedition member had perished earlier to frostbite and when Captain Oates (the expedition leader) later had frostbite in his entire leg he left his tent at night as he knew he was going to die; Famously saying “I’ll just go out for a walk. It might take some time”. He did so to avoid his team members having to chose between carrying him or letting him die.

Eventually they all perished, although the eggs were later recovered. This was mostly due to -40 degrees weather towards the end and warm weather (slush) in the beginning. Warm weather was bad as well as the snow turned to slush making it very slow and very hard for them to walk and pull their sledges.

This lecture gives perspective on the danger and fearlessness the early explorers must have had to endure in this dangerous and inhospitable continent

12:00: Since I was joining the Kayaking Club I would have my briefing here. Safety, what to expect, etc. It was really exciting to go kayaking so I gulped it all up but also felt a little anxious, shy of the two hour lesson I had in Denmark, I had never been sea-kayaking. And never in actual sea – let alone the antarctic sea!

12:45: Finally some lunch. Lunch aboard is phenomenal!

14:00: Lecture on the geology of the South Shetland Islands. They are the first islands you meet after crossing the Drake. Voice of the lecturer was like hypnotic sleep but trying to stay awake. Thickest ice is up to 5km thick and there are two parts of the Antarctic peninsula – the Graham land and the Palmer Land.

14:30: Fell asleep…

16:00: Teatime with muffins and tea. What a treat!

16:30: Safety and IATTO. They went through all the various things you have to be careful about when going to Antarctica. Both for our safety but most importantly for the safety of the fragile eco-system there. Foreign bacteria, animals and seeds threaten the ecosystem and therefore we have to wash carefully every single thing we bring on land and between every landing!

17:45: Lecture on Photo Composition. It was interesting and very helpful!

19:00: Meet the crew

As you can see a day like this is fully packed with hardly any time to just do your own thing. With lack of sleep and many people sick it can feel like the lectures are a bit empty but I managed to (almost) go to all of them and got a lot of interesting information. It also helped me get excited for the coming trip!

Life aboard an Antarctic cruise expedition

note: picture gallery of entire trip here
note: full itinerary of cruise here 

 

After crossing the Drake passage you’ll first reach the South Shetland islands which has large penguin breeding colonies. It’s interesting, it’s worth the visit but it’s not why I’m here. I can see breeding penguins in the zoo and breeding penguin wild life colonies in Argentina, South Africa or New Zealand. I’m here for the 7th continent.

It has always been my dream and finally the expedition leader would announce over the loud speakers that if you looked port side you’d be able to see land. Needless to say the inside of the ship was empty and like a cartoon the only thing left was half empty teacups and clothes and shoes still hanging in the air from people leaving so quickly. Some people rushed for their cameras but the point is that the outer decks were full.

What you see is a large massive wall of ice, it is both impossible to land at and even if you had mountaineering gear, the ice walls are treacherous and might roll around and break away any moment leaving you falling towards icy cold water with an iceberg hitting you moments after. Not exactly safe. In fact, even in places where you could technically land a boat and walk onto land many things such as high winds and packed ice will make the sites inaccessible and you most certainly can not just sail the entire cruise ship to land. This is why we have the concepts of “landings”. For those of us fortunate enough, landing on the actual continent makes a big difference because it allows us to take this very cool picture.

antarctica 7th continent
I’ve reached my 7th continent, Antarctica.

When you “land” you get aboard a “Zodiac” which is a rubber boat with an engine (an extremely sturdy military grade one) that holds about 12 people. These Zodiacs will then transfer the passengers from the ship to the landing sites opening up much more options for landing. However, even with these boats, we only had 2 landings on actual continent. The rest were on islands. Some expeditions don’t even have the chance at all!

landing-antarctic-continent
Landing in heavy snow on the actual Antarctic continent!

Another concept is Zodiac Cruises. That’s when there is no landing sites but beautiful landscapes. It basically means that we’ll cruise around for 1-2 hours on the zodiacs and take pictures. It can be be a relaxing alternatively to a full landing.

Finally, of course there are those of us that joined the sea kayak club, we would go kayaking when weather permitted it and then we would typically land as well when the others landed. This meant that we would have some long days which was great! Full value for your time. Sea Kayaking is another story which I will write a separate post about.

sea kayak club antarctica
The Sea Kayak club aboard the M/S Sea Spirit

When we weren’t landing, cruising or kayaking we would be on the boat. There would be lectures, briefings, information meetings and lots of whale spotting, iceberg spotting and even a bridge tour. We would also spend a lot of time eating, all inclusive 3 course meals plus à la carte menus. You want a burger with double patty, no onions, extra mayo  – you’ve got it!

Since the sun is up pretty much all day, we would have daylight from 5am to midnight and therefore some of the days would be exceptionally long and action packed. A lack of sleep was all part of the fun.

Sunset Over Drake Passage
Sunset over the Drake Passage on the way to Antartica

In conclusion, the days while at the peninsula are long, action packed and flabbergasting. You’ll spend your days cruising around unreal landscapes in a black and white world and your evenings trying to copy, edit and backup your photos all while having a beer at the bar, stuffing your face with delicious food and sharing all your experiences with the other passengers-turned-friends.

 

PS: There is no internet!

Crossing the drake passage to Antarctica

cap horn in calm conditions
Picture of the drake sea at Cap Horn taken in “calm” conditions

The Drake Passage

Crossing the Drake passage from South Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula is something you’ll inevitably have to do if you dare venture to this elusive seventh continent by ship.

The Drake passage is a large body of water south of Cap Horn in south Argentina. This passage is particularly rough as on this latitude the water can flow freely all around the world without being slowed down by land. This is the only place in the world where the water flows unhindered without any land mass stopping it.

Furthermore, due to the shape of South America and the Antarctic peninsula this passage becomes very narrow (compared to the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean) and acts as a funnel where the two oceans meet, creating very rough conditions.

Many sailor stories feature ships crossing south of Cap Horn to get to the other side of the Americas and many of those ships end up as wrecks. Now, with the opening of The Panama Canal in 1914, they don’t have to go there anymore (although many ships continued to do so for a while after). Unless, of course, you want to go to Antarctica.

Another way is to fly to Antarctica but even that requires special conditions and planes can be grounded for days, weeks and even months waiting for the winds to change.

 

Drake lake and Drake shake

Depending on the conditions, your trip across the Drake can range from anything from a relatively calm experience to one of the roughest passages in the world. Colloquially, these are known as either a “Drake Lake” or a “Drake Shake”, respectively.

By “calm” we’re talking 2 days of 2-3m waves – not more than most people will be fine with rest, some fresh air and a couple of seasick pills. It’s still a rough time if you’re not used to it but you’ll survive. This is what we had on the way back.

On the way out though, we had a “Drake Shake” with 5-meter waves coming from the side. This is enough to slide plates off tables and it’s enough that you can’t sleep on the side. It was also enough that half the ship was sick in their cabins, even with pills.

Although, it was hard for me to sleep properly (because I was constantly rolled around), I felt fine and a few seasick pills kept me in ace condition.

It takes two days to cross the Drake Passage in a cruise ship and those days can be the longest days of your life if you do it in the wrong conditions. Luckily, in modern times we have charts and weather reports that help us avoid these conditions – in fact, as this post is being written dozens of modern ships are waiting in port in Ushuaia due to weather conditions. They simply can’t cross it without putting their passengers in danger.

Back in the old days, the ships were weaker and they didn’t have proper charts. I wouldn’t want to cross the drake during those times – let alone be the first adventurer to explore south.

One good thing, though, is that when you get to the other side – a new world awaits!

  • 1
  • 2