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02/26/2008

Crossing the South Atlantic

Many of us slept like logs, the ship’s motion the night before being so slight that some of us wondered if we’d even left the Beagle Channel. We awoke to a new world, one filled with a view of ocean in all directions, and our first giant petrels and black-browed albatrosses careening in the ship’s wake and cruising along the ship’s side railings. The South American continent was now far behind us, and sipping coffee on the back deck amid swirling seabirds was a great way to take it all in.

Our day began with a big breakfast, and then the opportunity to exchange our parkas for better-fitting ones, and to borrow rubber boots if we had not brought our own. During our first enrichment lecture, “Seabirds at Sea: Ambassadors of the Southern Ocean”, Ornithologist Rich Pagen highlighted some of the species we might see out in the open ocean, told stories of their amazing long distance travel abilities, and presented beautiful photos that made us all want to spend every waking moment out on deck, in the hope of catching a glimpse of some of these striking birds.

We then met the Expedition Team in the Main Lounge for “An Introduction to the Falkland Islands”, a medley of information and highlights about the area we would be visiting over the next few days. Geologist Norbert Roland explained that the islands had once been connected to Africa and were in part comprised of very ancient rocks. Naturalist Pete Clement, a native of the Falklands, gave us an insider’s view about life in the Falklands, including politics, communication, the economy and of course the land rover (the vehicle of choice in the islands). Historian David Wilson gave us a brief history of the islands and recommended some “must-see” stops in the vicinity of Stanley. Naturalist Jen Clement went over some of the plants of the islands, and Ornithologist Rich Pagen highlighted the birds we might see in town as well as those that call the remote islands their home.

Because of the gorgeous weather outside, Executive Chef Michael Wiesner and Hotel Director Beat Hofer put together some pre-lunch treats out on the pool deck. The Explorer II Quartet played away in the mist, and deck was full of people watching albatrosses while humming along to the band. After a bit of a nap, many of us gathered with the staff out on deck again to learn more about identifying the seabirds following the ship.

In the late afternoon, we joined Expedition Leader Lou Sanson for an overview of our expedition, and a mandatory briefing about the use of our inflatable landing craft, the zodiac. The sense of anticipation grew when Lou got into the details and logistics for our first landings of the trip, tomorrow in the West Falklands.

We then all donned our Sunday best and met Captain Giovanni Biasutti and many other members of the ship’s staff in the main lounge for the Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party, where we mingled over champagne and got to know one another a bit better. The Captain announced a competition for spotting the first iceberg of the trip, and gave us permission to come up and visit his officers on the bridge. He then introduced his staff and 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.


   

Our Explorer 2 parka exchange team

The line-up for boot fitting

Southern Ocean Party on the Pool Deck

Our first morning on deck on the way to the Falkland Islands

A Black-browed Albatross glides close by our Promenade Deck


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