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01/21/2010


At sea, en route to Antarctica

We awoke to a new world, one defined by an ocean view in all directions, with the South American continent now far out of sight behind us. During the night, the seas had picked up and by the time we got out of bed, the ship’s motion in the large swell was quite substantial. We put on our sea legs and carefully made our way upstairs for a hearty breakfast.

After sipping coffee in the warm sunshine on deck, we headed downstairs to exchange our parkas for better-fitting ones, and to borrow rubber boots if we had not brought our own. We then roamed back up to our staterooms in our thick socks to prepare for the first lecture of the day, “Photography in Antarctica – What to expect and how to prepare”. Photo Enrichment Coach Richard Harker covered everything from protecting our camera equipment from unpredictable weather, to understanding how to best deal with the challenging lighting situations that are the norm in Antarctica.

Before lunch, Ornithologist Rich Pagen highlighted the lives and habits of the albatrosses and petrels that make this windswept ocean their home. His talk, entitled “Seabirds: Ambassadors of the Southern Ocean”, introduced us to some of the species we hope to encounter. We were fascinated to learn about the tremendous journeys that these birds embark upon, crossing thousands of miles of seemingly featureless ocean in search of food to bring back for their one chick.

After a restful nap, we went back to the Darwin lounge for a talk by Marine Mammalogist Chris Cutler entitled, “Where leviathans flourish: Introduction to cetaceans of the Southern Ocean”. It was fascinating to learn that the hippopotamus is the closest living relative to the cetaceans. Chris also spoke of whale longevity, including the fact that a bowhead whale from the Arctic was recently aged at 130 years, making it the oldest known living animal in the world!

Following the talk, we grabbed binoculars and parkas, and joined the Naturalists out on deck to learn about seabirds. Several wandering albatrosses were now following the ship, their bright white feathers gleaming in the bright sunlight. Also in attendance were giant-petrels, and we looked carefully at the bill tips of each to determine which of the two species we were looking at.

The final enrichment lecture of the day was given by Historian John Dudeney and was entitled, “The discovery, exploration and exploitation of the Antarctic Peninsula”. John took us from the early Greeks’ suspicion that a Terra Incognita existed at the bottom of the planet, all the way through the various expeditions that went out to better understand this remote part of the world. John Davies is credited with the first landing on the peninsula on 7 February 1821, but certainly sealers had been in the region long before, carefully concealing the records of where they had been to protect their valuable sealing grounds.

We then all donned our Sunday best and met Captain John Moulds and many other members of the ship’s staff in the Darwin lounge for the Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party, carefully swaying back and forth with the ship as we mingled over champagne. The Captain gave us permission to come up and visit his officers on the bridge, and then introduced his staff. It became clear that, just like those of us traveling as passengers, the crew has a very international flare. We all had a very enjoyable evening that was rounded off by a superb gala dinner.
 

   

Ornithologist Rich Pagen shows a guest which birds are following the ship.

A guest looks at the bulletin board chart to see how far the Minerva has traveled in the Drake Passage.

A Black-browed Albatross soars effortlessly on the wind behind the ship.

Captain John Moulds greets guests at his Welcome Cocktail party.

A group of passengers enjoy a pre-dinner drink at the Captain's party.


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