Classic Antarctica: December 28, 2016 – January 8, 2017
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Last evening our new guests arrived at ‘Le Lyrial’ between 4 and 5 pm. After lunch at the Arakur Hotel, many had gone on a hike, and brought a huge amount of mud on board via the soles of their boots. It is easy to see how grass seeds, etc are easily transferred to places like South Georgia and Antarctica in this manner. Ship’s staff who had so diligently cleaned ‘Le Lyrial’, were once again working hard to get the vessel back to her usual, spotless self, whilst the guests sipped champagne. After an opportunity to exchange their rental boots, guests took part in the mandatory life boat/abandon ship drill. Excitement levels at dinner were palpable as we slipped down the Beagle Channel. Bunkering of fuel took place between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. at Port Williams in Chile. The Chile/Argentina border runs down the middle of the Beagle Channel. ‘Le Lyrial’ has capacity for around 120 000 liters of diesel-sufficient for an uninterrupted run from Marseilles to Buenos Aires. The Captain often asks for volunteers amongst the guests to bring their credit cards and pay for the fuel-there were none last evening.
What a wonderful way to start the day, on an open deck, coffee in hand, looking out over a calm Drake Passage. Ernest Hemingway wrote “The old man knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into the clean early morning smell of the ocean”. In the distance we could just see South America disappearing, as we make our way southwards.
After guests had the opportunity to exchange their Parka jackets, Patricia Silva began the enrichment lecture program, with her presentation on Sea Birds of the Southern Ocean. Patri spoke about the threats to sea birds, their fidelity to breeding sites and to partners, feeding habits and mighty flight paths. Various species were shown-perhaps the best aids to identification being Patri’s imitation of their flight patterns. A Giant Petrel, covered in blood, looked more like a lion at its kill, and the genteel Wilson’s Storm Petrel (Jesus Bird) dancing over the water’s surface. Guests are so looking forward to seeing these birds, and learning to identify them with the aid of naturalists on deck daily. Photographing them is the real challenge.
Richard Harker spoke about photographing Antarctica to a large audience, and the challenges with white/grey backgrounds, cold, rain and snow, the difficulties of getting to eye level with the subjects, etc. With much advice around basic camera set-up, Richard mentioned that the best camera is the one on you, and available for immediate use. He cited an example of a Leopard Seal chasing two penguins, which took refuge in the Zodiac. The only person who got a photograph, was the Zodiac driver on his cell phone. Interesting how many guests are using cell phones as their primary cameras, and the picture quality is excellent. Portable, always accessible and so convenient to share on social media platforms. Richard takes magnificent photographs, and guests are fortunate to have a man of his ability and patience to assist with their photographic experience down here.
The Young Explorers (there are 22 on board) have excitedly begun their program with Helen and Dean. There are many adults who would love to be part of the program. At the Welcome ceremony, Jannie told everyone about the CCTV cameras, and knowing what we are all up to. This was aimed at the youngsters, some of whom were very poorly behaved on the last voyage, and caught out “on camera”.
Rob Caskie spoke about Amundsen-the Norwegian who took the prize. Without any images, Rob explained Amundsen’s career, the Belgica Expedition, then being first through the North-West Passage. With vast Polar experience, he raced Scott for the South Pole, after Cook and Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole a year apart in 1908 and 1909. Amundsen would be first to both Poles in due course, and died in an airplane crash searching for arch-rival Italian Nobile, in 1928 aged 56. Perhaps the greatest Polar explorer of them all.
Olga, one on the Ukranian singers, is singing in the main Salon on Deck 3, with not a soul paying her an iota of attention. Larisa, the classical pianist, is being treated similarly in the Observation Bar on Deck 6. It must be such a thankless, demoralizing job to be sharing your talents so beautifully and ignored by everyone present. Ever the professionals, these young women all dress beautifully and acquit themselves with distinction-guests are very fortunate to have them on board. During the turn-around day yesterday, two pianos on board were being tuned by somebody who appeared to have stepped straight out of a Harry Potter movie. With a long, grey beard, he appeared completely focused on the piano’s. With subtle turns of his head, he looked so much an owl trying to focus on the exact whereabouts of a mouse in the grass. The Steinway on Deck 4 will be tuned next. These heavy instruments are wheeled out, and secured to the floor. During recital, the Steinway is opened and a camera focused on its workings, that the audience be even more involved in the performance.
Larry Hobbs, who has not an ounce of blubber on his body, titles his talk “Where blubber is not a bad thing: the Whales of the Southern Ocean”. That Larry loves whales is abundantly clear, and some of his anecdotes regarding studying these gentle giants are hilarious. Everyone is hoping to see whales, so guests love to learn more about these creatures, their migrations, breeding habits, how to identify them and their communication/songs. With information too about the three Seal species we are likely to see, and footage of Orcas hunting, it was a wonderful presentation. If there ever was a Whale Whisperer, Larry Hobbs is he.
Recaps involved the Antarctic Convergence Zone, the Beaufort Scale for wind and weather, the incredible flight abilities of Albatrosses, before Suzana ran through the lecture program, etc. for tomorrow. Captain’s Dinner has been combined with New Year’s Eve for tomorrow evening.
In terms of a Drake crossing, our guests could not ask for an easier one than this. For most of the day, the ocean has indeed been more like a mill pond-absolutely calm, quite surreal. In many ways a marvelous way to bid 2016 farewell. Nobody on the team can recall the Drake this calm. One disadvantage being that the absence of winds means there are no sea birds around ‘Le Lyrial’. Having spoken about the Antarctic Convergence last evening, it would be worth considering that the usually stormy waters of the Southern Ocean encircle Antarctica in a continuous ring of mainly eastward-flowing (clockwise) water. This water comprises 10% of the world’s oceans, and connects the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. The Circumpolar Current isolates the continent from warmer waters, and on average has a rate of flow 4 times that of the Gulf Stream. Where the warm and cold water meets comprises the Antarctic Convergence or Polar Front. The seas south of the Antarctic Convergence contain the coldest and densest water in the world. This water is formed as sea water sinks to the ocean floor when ice shelves melt. It then moves along the ocean floor into the Northern Hemisphere, where it adds oxygen and reduces the temperature of those seas to less than 2 degrees Centigrade. The movement takes around 100 years northwards, and 100 years southwards again. This cooling effect on tropical and temperate seas is an important feature of the world’s heat balance.
Jason Hicks, the new geologist on board, gave an inspiring lecture titled “Breaking Plates to form a Continent”. Taking the audience through geological time over the last 15 billion years, Jason then explained the complex matters of continental plate shift, ocean ridges, volcanoes and the mighty nuclear forces pushing the plates apart. Some plates move at a rate of an inch/year, others at 6 inches/year. India perhaps the fastest moving continent, and still forcing the Himalayas skyward. A very detailed lecture indeed, and a complicated subject. Geology may seem like Hieroglyphics to many-thank Heavens we all have different skills, otherwise none of us would have a job. Like many, with a PhD in his field, Jason makes geology look simple, despite many very puzzled faces in the Theatre. Antarctica, the fulcrum or anchor at the bottom of the world, with other continents moving away from her.
Expedition Leader, Suzana Machado D”Oliveira, then explained the IAATO requirements for visiting Antarctica, along with the Zodiac protocol on board ‘Le Lyrial’. Lots of fun was had regarding falling overboard, carrying walking poles and tripods on Zodiacs, guano on clothing and walking poles, etc. Passengers are bursting to disembark tomorrow, and begin their landings in the great White Continent.
Photo coach, Richard Harker, explained the basics of mastering one’s camera. For most, the complexities of white balance, automatic ISO setting, white or grey backgrounds, depth of field and getting away from automatic mode seem daunting. Richard has the patience of Job, and is always willing and able to assist guests with their cameras and photography-a great asset on these A&K departures. The advantage of exposure bracketing was emphasized, which most folks are intrigued by. There is no doubt that those willing to follow his advice will take better pictures, and finish better photographers than they are at present.
Patricia Silva gave her lecture on Birds in Tuxedoes, and why they look so different. The bi-polar coloration is largely to do with predation. The black/grey top is practically invisible from above in the water, and likewise the white front from beneath. Patri explained the differences between the Penguins we are likely to see, their habits and social behavior. Most guests are unaware that in this harsh environment, many eggs and chicks fall prey to marauding Skuas and Giant Petrels. Another good reason for all to respect the minimum approach distance of 5 meters or 15 feet, and not disturb breeding birds.
After a lovely Captain’s Welcome cocktail party, we all adjourned to Le Celeste restaurant for a magnificent New Year’s Eve dinner. Whales and penguins were seen regularly-the kids running from side to side, watching them. In the distance the snow/ice clad islands of the South Shetlands. A more stunning scene would be difficult to imagine, along with the sunset which down here lasts forever. At 10.45pm the dancers gave a spirited show in the Theatre, in beautiful costumes. These four young, sinewy women are clearly very fit, and able. There are festivities galore tonight, with a gathering on Deck 3, and disco alongside the heated pool on Deck 6.
With 2017 almost upon us, I would like to share a wish from Neil Gaiman-“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you are wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art-write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself”. Wishing you every success and happiness.
‘Le Lyrial’ began the day somewhat subdued. The scene that awaited them outside was Antarctica at her very best. Blue skies, absolutely no wind and ice everywhere. From icebergs in every shape and form to the massive flat-topped tabular icebergs filled the ocean. The most quintessential scene. We anchored at Gourdin Island-the largest in a group of islands and rocks situated off Prime Head, the most northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and entrance to the Antarctic Sound. The sound runs through to the Weddell Sea beyond. Guests were treated to Zodiac tours in this wonderland. All 3 species of brush tail penguins were seen-Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adelie. There is something very special about being transported through the ice in a Zodiac, with seals hauled out, penguins swimming all about, and the odd whale showing itself. For any Expedition Team, a first day like this one makes the remainder of the voyage very challenging-better to finish with a day like this.
After the Zodiac tours, we moved into the Antarctic Sound or “Iceberg Alley”- 50km long, and 11-20km wide. This sound is named after the first ship to pass through, the Antarctic, commanded by Captain C.A. Larsen carrying the Swedish Antarctic Expedition under Otto Nordenskjold. During lunch guests were hard pressed at to quite which way to look, as we slid through what everyone most hoped to see. A Leopard Seal was spotted on the ice, and a number of whales. ‘Le Lyrial’ passed very close to some large tabular icebergs, providing guests with wonderful photo opportunities. Geologist, Jason Hicks gave commentary on their formation and movements over the PA system.
The afternoon was spent at Brown Bluff-named for its prominent reddish-brown volcanic rock. Probably the closest one will get to a Martian landscape on Earth. The Captain got ‘Le Lyrial’ much closer to the landing site than usual, with skillful navigation through a labyrinth of icebergs, facilitating the Zodiac operation considerably. The first group landed in fantastic conditions, so much so that I went ashore in shorts. By the time the second group arrived, the wind had come up, out of the birthplace of the winds-the Weddell Sea. It was as cold as a witch’s tit, and everybody was covering/layering up as best they could. Considerable chop on the water wet many folks riding back to the ship, after we had watched the tide come in alarmingly fast, covering rocks and the stony beach. Brown Bluff boasts nesting Gentoo Penguins, Kelp Gulls, Skuas and a huge rookery of breeding Adelie Penguins. These birds literally “fly” out of the water onto the beach, as if something were chasing them. We watched Kelp Gulls eating young penguin chicks. Nature certainly can appear cruel to us.
Recaps involved Jason explaining the formation of Brown Bluff geologically. He promised to show a photo of Matt Damon, which of course kept all the women carefully focused, and one of the shots from The Martian movie was shown on account of the likeness of the landscapes. Damon could not grow potatoes on Brown Bluff were he stranded here, however. Dinner was enjoyed gliding through mighty tabular icebergs and others of every form imaginable. Many guests were horrified when Suzana explained that the first group are going ashore at 7am tomorrow. Best light and less chance of wind early in the morning. Given the choice we would begin even earlier, but fear a mutiny were we to do so. Our guests could not have asked for a calmer Drake crossing, nor a finer first day in Antarctica-what an incredible way to start 2017. Happy New Year everyone!
That famous poem, “Shall I compare thee to a Summer Day” springs to mind. This complement of guests had the most incredibly placid Drake Crossing, and have subsequently enjoyed two sublime days weather-wise in Antarctica. Their weather karma must be very good. It is hard to remember two such incredible days, consecutively in the Antarctic Peninsula. This morning when ‘Le Lyrial’ anchored off Half-moon Island, the water was absolutely still, not a breath of wind and near to us, an Argentine military vessel. The vessel may be supplying the summer research station, Camara. Under a blue sky, early breakfast was enjoyed, and the scout boat was on shore by 6.30 a.m. Half-moon, tiny in its own right, enjoys the encirclement of Livingstone Island. As a result the vistas are awe-inspiring. Reflected in the perfectly calm bay lay glaciers and lofty, white mountain peaks, accompanied by the regular sound of glacial calving. The cheeky Chinstrap Penguins went about their busy breeding program, and Larry found his friends, the Weddell Seals at the far end of the island. Guests walked about stunned by their environs, no doubt far mightier than they had ever imagined. Everyone wanted family/group/couple pictures taken before the extraordinary backdrop. The Weddell Seals called to one another in a manner even Larry has never heard before-not unlike elephants trumpeting. Regularly they roll over by 90 degrees, to enjoy the cooling of the snow, generally looking extremely content with Life. Although they do not have the sleek lines of a Leopard Seal or even a Crabeater Seal, they have the most appealing faces-a bit like a benign Labrador. As summer days in Antarctica go, it does not get any better than our morning at Half-moon.
It was decided that Rob Caskie would do his talk on Scott for the guests, at 11.30 a.m. before lunch, and between landings. With regular references to Amundsen, Rob explained how the drama unfolded and ended. Just at the penultimate moment, with Scott, Bowers and Wilson about to perish in their tent 11 miles from One Ton Depot, Suzana came over the PA system saying there were whales surfing alongside our ship in perfectly calm water. Well, a fire could not have emptied the Theatre more dramatically! The guests poured out to watch the whales. In 15 or 20 minutes, many returned to the Theatre, so clearly the story was good and they wanted to hear the end of it. Rob duly finished his lecture with Scott’s Message to the Public, and there were many worthwhile questions. From a speaker’s perspective, having one’s lecture interrupted in this manner is most challenging, but thankfully all ended well. Many guests chose to enjoy lunch on the outer deck alongside the pool. On a perfectly calm sea, with Antarctic Grandeur sliding by, a magnificent setting. La Comete restaurant on Deck 6 is extremely popular, and the buffet fare up there is excellent.
During the afternoon, the Captain deftly negotiated Neptune’s Bellows into Whalers Bay within Deception Island. Jason Hicks provided geological commentary over the PA system, leading up to volcanic eruptions as late as 1969. These eruptions effectively wiped out two bases on the island, and covered much of the island with lava. Deception is one of the South Shetland’s most famous islands. Used initially by American and British sealers in the 1820’s, then by whalers between 1904 and 1931. Buildings from the whaling days include an aircraft hangar. In magic conditions our guests walked up to Neptune’s Window, from where they could clearly see the Peninsula, probably 70 miles away. This is usually unheard of. A young Leopard Seal appeared on the beach, and everyone rushed across to view one of these infrequently seen animals. Nesting Skuas and Kelp Gulls provided further interest and viewing pleasure. In the middle of the narrow Neptune’s Bellows entrance (230 meters) is a submerged pinnacle of rock, making entry somewhat dangerous. Pete Clement tells a wonderful story of a Russian vessel which hit the rock on the way in, and managed to do so again upon their exit. Damage was sufficient for them to have to limp back across the Drake to Ushuaia. Ships are obliged to stay close to the cliff face on the right-hand side, which is very exciting for the passengers.
At Recaps, Richard gave some special tips on photography on an iPhone, before JJ explained the nomenclature of icebergs, and just how big they are. The volumes of fresh water contained with these behemoths is staggering. Patri finished with penguin behaviour, playing a special piece from Happy Feet movie. Tomorrow we are going to Cuverville Island, and Neko Harbour via the Errera Channel, ice permitting. On the Nimrod Expedition Shackleton wrote “Tongue and pen fail to describe the magic…” Today, absolutely, was one of those rare days in Life, forever etched into our memories.
For readers believing that Antarctica’s weather is fickle, and can change within minutes, you may be incredulous to read that we had our third magnificent day in a row today. Early morning found ‘Le Lyrial’ cruising in the scenic Gerlache Strait, separating the Palmer Archipelago from the Antarctic Peninsula. Initially named after the ship, Belgica, during the 1897/98 expedition, the name was eventually changed to honor the commander, Adrien de Gerlache himself. Belgica was involuntarily obliged to overwinter in Antarctica, and when scurvy set it, it was indeed Roald Amundsen and an American doctor, Frederick Cook, who saved the expedition by providing fresh seal meat. De Gerlache did not cover himself in glory, and his leadership was found wanting, so he is fortunate to be honored via this beautiful body of water today.
The expedition team were out early, scouting on Cuverville Island, at the northern end of the Errera Channel. Having been here just last week, it was a simple task to flag our hiking route on fresh snow, and mark the Gentoo Penguin colonies. With the bay full of large icebergs, surrounded by icy peaks, it made for a gorgeous scene beneath a partly cloudy sky. The ship, Hebridean Sky, made an appearance, and landed their guests about 3 miles from our position. This cruise has many families on board, with children, who were given the option of a snow slide. Quite who enjoyed it more, parents or kids, remains unclear-even grandparents screamed their way down the slope. Having enjoyed the hike, and the penguins, passengers were taken on a Zodiac tour through the icebergs, en route back to the ship. One guest asked Larry Hobbs why we don’t go south of the Antarctic Circle at 66 degrees South. Larry explained that this would require two more full days travel out of their itinerary, without adding much by way of scenery. Distance, travel speed and little advantage scenically make this itinerary perfect. Strange the obsession that some have with a line of latitude-‘Le Lyrial’ is hardly going to go “bump in the night” as we cross the Antarctic Circle.
Breaching Minke Whales put in an appearance right next to the ship, so many guests returning from the Zodiac tour were treated to this spectacle. The Captain carefully threaded his way through numerous icebergs in the Errera Channel, between Ronge Island and the Peninsula. This channel was named by de Gerlache (again) in honor of Leo Errera, professor at the University of Brussels, and member of the Belgica expedition. The mountains adjacent to the channel are sometimes referred to as the “Antarctic Alps”, and rightly so. Minke and Humpback Whales delighted guests; one Minke Whale breached right in front of the ship, much to our delight lining the outer decks. Minkes are known as the marathon runners of the ocean-fast, sleek and capable of vast distances. As small whales, they are often targeted by Orcas. (Orcas have just been spotted alongside our ship as I write this blog after dinner, and everyone is scrambling to see these beautiful creatures). Two Humpback Whales spent time very close to the ship, that we could photograph their blowholes, and even see their white pectoral fins-16 feet long and 5 foot wide. Their fins are indeed the same size as the stabilizers made by Rolls-Royce, for this ship, weighing 11 000 tons! Humpbacks weigh 45-50 tons, so clearly they have the better deal.
The afternoon was spent at Neko Harbour-a small bay on the eastern shore of Andvord Bay. In 1921 Neko Harbour was named after Christian Salvesen’s floating whaling factory ship, Neko, which operated in the South Shetlands and Antarctic Peninsula between 1911 and 1924. Neko hosts a large colony of Gentoo Penguins, and offers guests another opportunity to step onto the Antarctic Continent. Surrounded by active glaciers and mountains, it is a truly spectacular place. For some on the team, their favorite place in the whole Peninsula. The glacier failed to disappoint in warm, sunny conditions, and calved a number of times. There was even a small avalanche of snow that lasted some minutes, and created large white clouds above the water. A strenuous hike was offered to a vantage point 800 feet ASL. Richard Harker supervised the slides, and almost everyone took the slide option. Many kids went back to slide 3 and 4 times. Listening to families chatting, many rated today as their favorite day thus far, largely due to the slides and weather. Dean and I agree, that the full richness of this experience will only be realized by kids as they get older. In the distance, on Anvers Island, Mount Francais could be clearly seen rising to 9000 feet ASL. The highest point in this neck of the woods, and impressively so.
It has been another indescribably beautiful day in Antarctica. One guest after another mentions the impossibility of attempting to describe these sights and experiences to those back home. Certainly photographs cannot capture the essence of Antarctica, the silence, the vistas, the clarity of view, the smells and how a breath of wind has us all racing to get more layers on! These experiences are enhanced exponentially by the luxury afforded by ‘Le Lyrial’, and the organizational expertise of A&K. There can be no doubt that as one’s safari experience is made by the quality of your ranger, the quality of this experience is made by the quality of a world-class expedition team. Suzana and her team, with many years of experience, create a sublime Antarctic experience for all on board. Jason Hicks did a most amusing piece at Recaps about diamonds in Antarctica, before Larry had us entranced with Humpback Whale songs, and their similarity to the Wren’s song.
It was Roald Amundsen who once wrote “Glittering white, shining blue, raven black, in the light of the sun the land looks like a fairy tale. Pinnacle after pinnacle, peak after peak, crevassed, wild as any land on our globe, it lies unseen and untrodden”. Beautifully descriptive prose from the Norwegian, and may just as well applied to the scene surrounding ‘Le Lyrial’ early this morning. We have awoken to another, wait for it, incredible day in this white wonderland. Under a blue sky, peaks, crevasses and glaciers run off in every direction as far as the eye can see. A mass of icebergs precludes the usual approach to Booth Island, where Jean-Baptiste Charcot overwintered in 1904. His ship, the Francais, spent the winter sheltered in Francais Cove, so we landed early with the scouting team in this very cove. On the rocks stand the remains of Charcot’s observatory, and up on the summit to the right, the cairn erected by his expedition. The stone masonry in both constructions is very good, having stood the test of Antarctic winds and storms for 112 years now. Anchor chain across the entrance to the bay protected Francais from icebergs. In confirmation of the shelter this cove provides, a tiny yacht was moored in the cove, and a second arrived during the afternoon. Brave intrepid sailors!
Fresh, frozen snow had created a very slippery surface, so mats from the Zodiacs were laid down to facilitate our guest’s arrival off the Zodiacs. After a short, stiff climb, most stopped, and stared in awe. The bay on the southern side of Booth Island stands filled with icebergs of every size and shape, the very bergs precluding our approaching from that quarter. With not a breath of wind to speak of, blue skies and azure blue water, one guest after another spoke about THIS being the Antarctica they had dreamed of seeing. Larry led a 1.5 mile hike up the ridge line, to Charcot’s cairn, from whence the views in all direction were stupendous. Deep, frozen snow, soon softened under the warm sun, and made the hike considerably more challenging for the second group (we may only land 100 guests at any one time). A number of guests managed to break their rented walking poles, obviously intended for gentler purposes. Patri watched over the penguin colony, containing Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adelie Penguins. South African Cruise Director, Jannie Cloete, came ashore, which we are told is such a rare experience that the officers considered blowing the ship’s horn. Jannie directs all on board operations expertly, whilst Suzana does likewise out of doors. Between them, they create magic for the passengers. The youngsters enjoyed snow ball fights. Booth Island is probably the most awe-inspiring landing thus far on this cruise.
Back on board the special Antarctica BBQ was served. A fantastic assortment of meats and accompaniments were served-all delicious. Most guests chose to sit outside on Deck 6, near the pool, to further enjoy the Antarctic wonderland about the ship. The BBQ is served in two sessions-whilst one group enjoys their lunch, the other watch the IMAX presentation, Shackleton. Odds being very good that nobody has had a BBQ in surrounds like these before.
To add magic to the day, if that were possible, Zodiac tours took our guests into the Iceberg Alley on the other side of Booth Island. Cruising slowly through these ice behemoths at water level is a sublime experience, noticing their shapes and weathering, along with the varying shades of blue and white. It was explained how the ice absorbs and reflects all spectrums of light, except blue and indigo, hence these amazing colors perceived by the human eye. A Leopard Seal was spotted on the ice-the serpentine creature gave us ample opportunity to appreciate its vast mouth and gape, regularly yawning and rolling over. A&K had arranged champagne and glasses, in a well-made wooden box thanks to the carpenters on board. A toast was proposed-on our Zodiac I proposed a toast to the weather Gods and suggested that these guests become ambassadors for the Great White Continent. As Frank Wild said “the little white voices keep calling me back”, and I trust that these folks have had a life-changing experience in Antarctica. A strong current was moving smaller pieces of ice about quickly, reminding us of just how fast this environment changes. We collected a beautiful piece of clear, sculpted ice to use as a display in the bar. Using Charcot’s cairn, up on the high ground, made navigation through the bergs and back to ‘Le Lyrial’ an easy matter.
Around 6:00 p.m., the Captain nosed ‘Le Lyrial’ into the Lemaire Channel, known as Fujichrome Fjord or Kodachrome Alley. This channel is roughly 7 miles long, and on average a mile wide. Perhaps one of the most beautiful parts of the Antarctic Peninsula, with mountains and glaciers plunging steeply into the sea. Some glaciers fairly even, others looking like white meringue moving constantly downhill. Irregularities in the substrate beneath creating crevasses. Another ship had tried to pass through the Lemaire this morning, unsuccessfully, on account of ice. As with almost all aspects of this cruise, good fortune was with us, and we were able to navigate all the way through to the southern end, where massive icebergs completely blocked the exit. Guests lined the decks, and the observation lounge on Deck 6 was jammed with people staring out at Nature’s wonderland. Ship’s officer carefully turned ‘Le Lyrial’ around, using the bow thrusters, and we proceeded north again, headed for Wilhelmina Bay in the morning. The Lemaire Channel is as far south as we are coming on this voyage, and indeed as far south as most ships venture in the Peninsula. It is a LONG run back to Ushuaia from here. This A&K itinerary has literally gotten better every day, and with two incredible first days, nobody would have dreamed that were possible. Today, was a standout day in every guest’s mind, and watching guests editing their photographs would indicate lifetime memories saved.
Early this morning, in somewhat grey, overcast conditions, ‘Le Lyrial’ entered Wilhelmina Bay. The bay is surrounded on two sides by the spine of the continent, rising up to 6,000 feet ASL. The other boundaries are dictated by Nansen and Brooklyn Islands. Named by de Gerlache in honour of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands 1890-1948. I went out onto the deck and saw whales directly behind the ship. Imagine my disappointment when I rushed to Larry Hobbs, the Whale Whisperer, having an early breakfast, when he calmly replied that he knew them all by name. Guests were in the Zodiacs by 8am, and were treated with beautiful Humpback and Minke Whales, and even found a juvenile Emperor Penguin! The poor bird was looking somewhat scruffy, not having completely moulted, and no doubt found all the attention a little too much. Eventually it lay down on the snow, and would not rise again before we left the bay. Much sea ice around the ship, but deemed unsafe to walk upon. It goes without saying that the scenery around Wilhelmina Bay is glorious, with the snow looking whiter than ever.
At 11:00 a.m., Jason Hicks did a lecture on Antarctic Ice and what it tells us about global warming. There are some, like Trump, who comment on the extra sea ice being recorded annually. This is a direct result of global warming, and glacial melt water making the sea water less saline. Water with reduced salinity freezes at higher temperatures than normal salt water! Increased evidence of global warming, that the fossil fuel companies wish us to know nothing about. Jason went on to explain the results of ice core drilling, and the clear results over the last 400,000 years of glacial ages, carbon dioxide levels, and mean temperature rise, particularly since the Industrial Revolution. Sobering thoughts indeed.
Lunch was enjoyed slipping through the magnificent Neumayer Channel. This channel, 16 miles long and 1,5 miles wide separates Anvers from Wiencke and Doumer Islands in the Palmer Archipelago. Wiencke was born in Christiana (Oslo) and sadly perished on the de Gerlache Expedition. De Gerlache sailed through the channel and named it after Georg von Neumayer, a German geophysicist who was actively organizing Antarctic exploration. There are many who consider the Neumayer even more beautiful than the Lemaire Channel, and in sunlight as we had today, I would be inclined to agree. There is far more ice and snow here than presently seen in the Lemaire, making everything so stunningly white.
The afternoon was spent at Port Lockroy. This beautifully protected bay was initially named by Jean-Baptiste Charcot in 1904, when he sought refuge here to repair his engine boilers, and then returned to mend his badly damaged ship, Francais. Established as Base A during Operation Tabarin in 1944, largely for matters relating to British security, and named after a Parisian nightclub for secrecy. Gentoo Penguins nest literally on the walkways and guests loved watching these gentle birds with their tiny chicks, along with the Snowy Sheathbills. The shop attracted much attention as guests bought postcards and mementoes of Antarctica. The base was permanently occupied until 1962, and completely restored in 1996. The museum does the tough fellows who lived here, along with their significant meteorological and scientific work fine justice. Wiencke Island surrounds the tiny island on which Port Lockroy stands, and this afternoon, in fine sunlight, looked absolutely magical. The local Post Office deals with 70,000 articles of post in the 3 month Antarctic season. There is also a notice board where letters are left for passengers on other ships-a favorite with expedition staff members, especially if one’s partner is working on another ship. I spoke to one of the 4 female staff based at Port Lockroy, a Norwegian dentist who leapt at this opportunity after 7 years of dentistry. Yes, the appeal of the South is very powerful indeed.
At Recaps, Rob Caskie spoke about Charcot having visited Port Charcot yesterday and Lockroy today, before Patri imitated Rob. Next time she promises to wear khaki shorts! Patri then gave her inimitable Red Chested Albatross presentation, pulling the mickey out of all the guests. It brought the house down, as it always does-foraging trips for food, sexual displays, moulting patterns, long proboscis (lenses), mating for life?, and the fact that Albatross chicks fledge at 5-8 months, yet ours fledge at 30 years! These guests could not have asked for finer weather in Antarctica, calmer crossings, nor a more appropriate last day in the Great White Continent. ‘Le Lyrial’ is now steaming back across the Drake towards Ushuaia. May the little white voices keep calling them back……
As the Captain said, we have calm seas at present, thankfully. Last evening, the light was exquisite on the mountains and Glaciers surrounding Melchior Islands, before we left the Peninsula behind, and headed out into the open seas of the Drake Passage. This complement of guests have been unusually fortunate with the crossings and weather. They no doubt will go home and tell all and sundry that any talk of rough seas and bad weather in Antarctica is absolute poppycock! It was a busy morning, with guests returning their rented boots, walking poles and waterproof pants. Rob Caskie spoke about lesser known personalities of Antarctic exploration. The audience were stunned at the fortitude of Douglas Mawson surviving, after the deaths of Ninnis and Mertx, and the survival of Shackleton, Wild, Marshall and Adams after their furthest South journey in 1908/9. Rob went on to talk about the Winter Journey of Wilson, Bowers and Cherry Garrard in the winter of 1911 to Cape Crozier. Had Wilson and Bowers recovered sufficiently physically to be taken by Scott in his final Polar Party, Bowers added at the 11th hour? No talk about early exploration in these parts would be complete without mention of Wild, Crean and Lashly, the whisky found beneath the Cape Royds hut in 2007, and Wild’s ashes return to Grytviken in 2011. A tremendous tapestry into which to weave a story.
Richard Harker was up next, assisting guests in making good photos into great photos when they get home. Basic digital work flow was covered. Photos are tremendously enhanced by getting the blacks absolutely black, and likewise with white, if nothing else. Matters then of saturation, sharpness and temperature were added, along with stitching shots together to create panoramic images. It is always interesting to observe audiences during lectures of this nature. Richard makes it all look so bloody easy and natural, but I could see many who thought he may just as well be speaking Icelandic. There are, however, many guests editing their own photographs very successfully indeed on board. The sunlight on this particular cruise has created fantastic opportunities for photography, along with many who have badly burnt faces and lower lips. The lower lips seem often forgotten when sunblock is applied, leaving little doubt as to the power of the Antarctic sun.
I had a very lively, enjoyable lunch with an American guest travelling with his two daughters. These cruises provide the most wonderful opportunity to observe human behavior. Two evenings ago, father was frantically searching for his daughters, along with various staff on the ship when they were late for dinner. The daughters were in a Yoga meditation trance in the gym, and had lost all track of time. Quite what was going through their father’s mind, he never revealed. One daughter is a TV talk show host, and well versed in the art of questioning. It was interesting indeed to compare the life paths of 4 individuals around the table, which much laughter and affection.
Helen and Dean, assisted by Tom and Cobus, were teaching the Young Explorers the art of knot-tying on Deck 5. The program created by Helen is just wonderful, and the engagement amongst the youngsters on board has been fantastic.
Patri’s husband, Dr Marco Favero, is on board, recently elected Secretary of ACAP-Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. After lunch, Marco gave a presentation on the threats to these aerial beauties, and the policies being investigated to reduce the effects particularly of long-line fishing on their future. Fisheries also affect sharks, turtles and marine mammals, but the effects hitherto on sea birds have been devastating. Some long-lines extend 80 miles, containing hundreds of thousands of baited hooks, which the birds cannot resist as they leave the ship. Considering that Wandering Albatrosses raise a chick a year, or two chicks every three years, and only reach breeding age at 12 years, the fact that many of these birds do not even reach breeding age is deeply disturbing.
Jason Hicks presented a very detailed presentation on climate change, with some very disturbing statistics for both the northern and southern hemisphere. The USA has discovered gas and oil reserves within the lower 48 states, to serve all their requirements for the next 400 years. The melting Greenland ice cap is disturbing, as is the receding sea ice in the Arctic Sea. This year Polar Bears may be stranded on Svalbard, as the sea ice upon which these creatures are so dependent has not reached the islands. Ever the eternal optimist, Jason went on to speak about lowered population growth rates in parts of Asia, solar power, and ITEL being funded and developed by 22 countries to use geo-engineering to produce electricity. This works upon the same principle as the sun, and produces almost no carbon dioxide. There were many questions around fracking, ground water, earth tremors, etc which Jason dealt with expertly. In Oklahoma, unusable water extracted with gas is pumped into old wells. This in turn lubricates fault lines, common in the state, and produces earth tremors. In Wyoming, a farmer drilling for water, drilled into a gas chamber, and every TV station has capitalized on the horrors of gas coming out of his taps to demonize fracking. The jury is still out, and most folks, including myself, would rather not see fracking conducted locally. Jason spoke for more than an hour, and many people in the audience found the detail, along with the rolling of ‘Le Lyrial’ on the Drake, more sleep-inducing than they would care to acknowledge.
As we are leaving Antarctica, the iceberg factory of the Southern Ocean, it would be fair to say a few words about icebergs. The total volume of ice calved from the ice sheet every year is roughly 2300 cubic kilometers, producing around 300 000 icebergs in the Southern Ocean at any one time. Particularly large break-outs from the ice sheets can occur, some larger than Rhode Island. Larger icebergs are tabular in shape and form when calving off the large Ross, Filchner or Amery Ice Shelves takes place. Erosion from wind, waves, escaping gas and melting from warmer sea temperatures creates instability in these tabular icebergs, and they break and roll over to form jagged, irregular icebergs.
An iceberg with 40 meters visible above the water line, may protrude (ice foot) for more than 300 meters below the water line. Roughly speaking 15-20% of the iceberg is visible, the remaining 80-85% is below the water level. Eventually they melt completely, as they drift into northerly, warmer water.
This evening, the Captain hosted a lovely cocktail party, and introduced many of the 140 crew to the 190 passengers. Along with the Expedition Team of 14, there are almost 160 crew on board for 190 passengers-running ships like these is big business. Olga sang beautifully, in a dress she had been poured into. Captain’s dinner was superb, as always. The waiters excelled, and one is left wondering how the kitchen to produce such wonderful fare, meal after meal.
Some big rollers passed over the windows in the dining room, but one feels that the sea is reasonably honest and calm for the Drake. Larysa kept guest enthralled with her classical piano recital in the Theatre after dinner.
It is a sad, strange anti-climax when the last day of a cruise dawns, particularly one as extraordinary as this. For the Classic 9-day Antarctica itinerary, these guests have been blessed with unusually calm crossings, and the most exquisite weather. Most on the team cannot remember 5 consecutive days of such fine weather in the Peninsula, ever. After a gentle start to the morning, on a very calm Drake Passage, Larry Hobbs gave a wonderful talk on his studies and experiences to date, culminating with his thoughts on sustainability. Larry, aka the Whale Whisperer, has led a charmed life and travelled extensively studying various marine creatures, including fresh-water dolphins in Burma/Myanmar. Early research with Polar Bears was very amusing, as the tranquillizer had little effect on the eyes. As a result, immobilized bears’ eyes would follow the movements of the scientists disconcertingly. On one occasion, a new antidote to revive the bears was introduced. Manufacturers claimed the drug would work in a minute or more. Well, a bush pilot was standing directly in front of the bear, as the drug was injected. The bear responded immediately, and literally ran right over the top of the pilot, in its efforts to get out of there! The pilot apparently packed his plane, flew back to Barrow, then took a commercial flight south, never to be a bush pilot again. With experience from the Amazon to Antarctica, and almost all over the globe, Larry has an encyclopedic knowledge which he shares graciously, and in the most entertaining manner.
Jannie Cloete spoke to the passengers about disembarkation procedures in the morning. Guests were advised to leave one shoe in the room safe to ensure that they never left anything behind. Getting 200 passengers off the ship, and onto various flights to Buenos Aires, with their bags, requires careful logistics, and Jannie and Sally do an incredible job of it. Rob Caskie spoke to the Young Explorers about Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition, before discussing various survival items to take along from a selection on offer. Helen Ahern and Dean Hattingh have created magic for the Young Explorers, who have learnt a great deal on this program. We then had the opportunity to view the video created by Melanie of this voyage. Seeing our itinerary packaged into a video is a fantastic reminder of just how much we have done over the past 9 days, and ALL the landings conducted in sunshine. Sliding in the snow on two landings was clearly very popular, as was every hiking opportunity.
Dolphins were regularly seen around ‘Le Lyrial’ once we entered the Beagle Channel a little after midday. Plenty more entertained the guests whilst we waited, stationary, for the pilot to guide us into Ushuaia port. Rob Caskie spoke about Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition, with some reference to his earlier voyages on Discovery and the Nimrod. Many guests have read about Shackleton, and were delighted to have the story unfold in the Theatre, as the Endurance was trapped in the sea ice off Vahsel Bay in January 1915. Eventually, in November, the ice would completely smash and sink their beloved ship, leaving 28 men and 57 dogs afloat on the pack ice of the Weddell Sea. Over the following 6 months, suffering the most awful conditions and deprivations, the men having shot and eaten the dogs, would find their way in 3 lifeboats to Elephant Island. From there, Shackleton took the gamble of attempting to sail a lifeboat 750 miles across the Southern Ocean to South Georgia, to get help. What followed is perhaps the greatest feat of navigation in history, and after more than 4 months, Shackleton would eventually rescue all of his men off Elephant Island. Given the luxury and food aboard ‘Le Lyrial’, one could see guests trying to imagine Shackleton’s circumstances and desperation. An appropriate story of triumph and human endeavor with which to finish this incredible journey together. Orde-Lees, in his diary of the Endurance Expedition wrote “And now to conclude. Is it worth doing? Ask any member of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and you will receive the reply :Yes, I would not have missed it for the worlds’ and Would you go again?-Rather! Such is the call of the South!”
Some guests have asked Rob to recommend some books pertaining to his talks. Herewith a selection-
The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry Garrard
South by Ernest Shackleton
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
Shackleton’s Boat Journey by Frank Worsley
Scott’s Journals by Robert Falcon Scott
The Home of the Blizzard by Douglas Mawson
The Quest for Frank Wild by Angie Butler
Shackleton’s Forgotten Men by Beau Riffenberg
Race to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen
Before dinner a collection of photographs taken by the Expedition Team, and prepared by Richard Escanilla was shown in the Theatre. A wonderful collage of shots, many of guests, accompanied by music, and some video’s. Suzana thanked the team and guests alike for a simply sublime cruise, before we enjoyed another wonderful meal on ‘Le Lyrial’. Many have gone off to explore Ushuaia, on a balmy 10 degree evening, reminiscing about this once-in-a-lifetime adventure which has seemingly exceeded everyone’s high expectations. Travel blessings to all travelling tomorrow, and may our paths one day cross again. Goodbye for now.