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Trip Logs

Antarctic Cruise Adventure: A Changing Landscape Trip Log: December 9–21, 2022

Trip Logs

Antarctic Cruise Adventure: A Changing Landscape Trip Log: December 9–21, 2022

By Rob Caskie with photography by Renato Granieri | December 15, 2022

December 11, 2022 | Ushuaia, Patagonia

Having arrived in Buenos Aires the previous day, many of us had enjoyed city tours, tango dancing and the splendid hospitality of the Palacio Duhau — Park Hyatt Buenos Aires before today’s flight down to Ushuaia. The approach into Ushuaia greeted us with stunning views of snow-capped Patagonian peaks and the Beagle Channel below. After landing, we transferred to our hotel, the Arakur Ushuaia, its bold façade standing sentry over the town from the mountainside.

After lunch, coaches transferred us to the quayside where our luxury expedition cruiser, ‘Le Lyrial,’ awaited our arrival. The quay was a hive of activity, with window washing, re-bunkering fuel, crew changeovers and the restocking of fresh supplies. The A&K Expedition Team welcomed us onboard as we sipped Champagne and greeted our fellow guests. After a few formalities, our Cruise Director, Paul Carter, shared a brief orientation of life onboard.

As we settled in, the Captain informed us that a technical issue would delay our departure for the Drake Passage until tomorrow. For those of us looking for an alternative adventure tomorrow morning, our quick-thinking Expedition Team would arrange an optional catamaran tour highlighting the channel’s resident Magellanic penguins and sea lions. Later, we gathered for a magnificent dinner, each of us eager for our voyage to begin tomorrow.

December 12, 2022 | Departing Ushuaia

Despite a rainy start to the day, the weather quickly improved for our morning catamaran excursion. As we plied the calm sea, we were welcomed by winged wonders to fellow birdwatchers’ delight, including Magellan penguins and black-browed albatross. As the vessel approached Bird Island, imperial cormorants with chicks, austral thrushes, kelp geese and dolphin gulls came into view. Upon arriving at Sea Lion Island, we were welcomed by its namesake creatures, with their enormous necks, manes and Mastiff-like faces.

Back aboard ‘Le Lyrial’ after our catamaran excursion, we enjoyed a sumptuous seafood lunch as the officers and crew prepared for departure. By mid-afternoon we disembarked and set off down the Beagle Channel for Antarctica. Later, ornithologist, Patri Silva, shared a talk on seabirds, her 37 years of expertise on full display. Next, Renato Granieri, our entertaining and knowledgeable photo coach, shared photography basics and tips for capturing the Antarctic landscape.

Later that evening, we gathered in the Theater to meet more members of our Expedition Team as our vessel neared the Drake Passage.

December 13, 2022 | Crossing the Drake Passage

The day began with an enlightening talk by Mike Hamill on “Marine Mammals of the Southern Ocean.” During the fascinating and informed overview, we explored the evolution of whales and gained insight into Antarctica’s top predators — including an array of seals and massive blue, humpback and killer whales — all of which lent context to the journey.

As we spent the day at sea, our Expedition Team kindly delivered life jackets to our cabins in preparation for the following day’s shore landing in the Antarctic Sound. Meanwhile, Professor James McClintock shared an introspective discussion on the effects of climate change on Antarctica. Learning about receding glaciers, rising sea levels and the waning Adelie penguin population helped set the tone for the gift we then received — a copy of his book, "Lost Antarctica.”

Once apprised of the protocols for maintaining safe, environmentally sound Antarctic travel — including for our upcoming excursions by zodiac — we watched Argentina triumph 3-0 over Croatia in the World Cup semi-final. Then, storyteller Rob Caskie shared the history of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, "The Man who took the Prize," beating Captain Robert F. Scott to the South Pole.

In the evening, everyone gathered in the Theater for a cocktail party hosted by our captain, who noted this was his calmest crossing of the Drake Passage. Upon meeting our crew, we were prepared for our morning arrival in the Antarctic Sound. The reception was followed by a superb gala dinner and a chance to interact and form new friendships with our fellow travellers.

December 14, 2022 | The Drake Passage & Antarctic Sound

As we crossed the Antarctic Convergence this morning, warmer, saltier, southward-flowing water met the cold, less saline, northward sea water. The air temperature began to drop, a thick blanket of fog hung about the ship and icebergs dominated the view.

Ornithologist, Patri Silva, led an animated talk on penguins, mimicking their calls and lending insight into the movements and behaviors of these amazing creatures. Next, storyteller and historian, Rob Caskie, lent insight into British explorer and naval officer Robert Falcon Scott’s fateful expedition to the South Pole, only to learn it was preceded by Roald Amundsen’s a month before.

By afternoon, we set out for a landing on Brown Bluff and the Tabarin Peninsula of northern Antarctica. There, we observed breeding colonies of Adelie, gentoo and chinstrap penguins, watching as a large, female leopard seal cruised along the cliffs in search of an unsuspecting meal. Its scraps attracted a flurry of indulgent cape petrels. Upon disembarking, fellow travellers posed for photos holding a “seven” sign, marking the moment they set foot on the seventh continent.

Back aboard ‘Le Lyrial,’ we passed through the Bransfield Strait en route to the South Shetland Islands. Low cloud cover prevailed this wonderland of snow and ice.

Come evening, A&K guests gathered for another magnificent meal onboard, sharing stories from the day and eagerly anticipating tomorrow’s arrival at Half Moon and Deception islands.

December 15, 2022 | Half Moon Island & Whaler's Bay

After an early breakfast on board ‘Le Lyrial,’ we set out by Zodiac to Half Moon Island, its pebble beach blanketed in snow. After witnessing a gentoo penguin colony, we were fortunate to see a few of the remaining breeding pairs of chinstrap penguins, the population of which is declining as they move south.

While reveling in a sighting of seals, we gained insight from our naturalist guides, Osi Shahaf, Mike Hamill and Juan Pablo Seco. Although only one gorgeously colored Weddell seal was initially seen, we spotted many of them further afield. Our photo coach, Renato Granieri, was on hand to help us capture this wild encounter.

Back aboard, we enjoyed lunch while the vessel made its way toward Deception Island, a flooded, donut-shaped volcanic crater. Learning its caldera was a safe anchorage for early 20th century whalers and sealers, we saw remnants of their boats and a myriad of whale bones on the island’s beach.

After a successful landing at Whaler’s Bay, we explored the whaling station’s ruins. The area was occupied during and after World War II by the British and abandoned after volcanic eruptions in 1967 and 1969. We took a brisk hike to Neptune’s Window, a broad gap in the caldera wall with spectacular views. At the tide’s edge, we discovered that the shallows had been warmed to the temperature of bath water by volcanic heat.

Capping the evening, Dr. Reed Scherer, a micropaleontology and paleoclimate expert, talked about the island’s geology, and naturalist, Geraldine Massyn, shared her perspective on kelp gulls.

December 16, 2022 | Neko Harbour & Cuverville Island

We rose early again in preparation for a landing at Neko Harbour, named after Christian Salveson's ship, ‘Neko,’ a floating whaling factory that operated in the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula between 1911 and 1924.

Disembarking amid a thick blanket of snow, we hiked up to view and observe the mating behaviors of gentoo resident penguin colonies. Upon returning to ‘Le Lyrial’ for a barbecue lunch on the pool deck, we made our way to the narrow Errera Channel, gliding past magnificent scenery en route.

The planned afternoon landing at Cuverville Island was thwarted by abundant sea ice, so we embarked on an exciting Zodiac tour along the island's shoreline instead. From our Zodiacs, we marveled at the abundant icebergs in the bay and spotted gentoo penguins up close while our naturalist guides shared their knowledge on the wonders at hand.

December 17, 2022 | Paradise Bay, Hidden Bay & Lemaire Channel

This morning, we paid a visit to the Almirante Brown Antarctic Base, or Brown Station, which is no longer in operation. Guests were given the option to hike up the hill behind the station — and slide part of the way back. The views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers and ice fields were stunning. En route back to ‘Le Lyrial,’ we cruised Paradise Bay by Zodiac, seeing nesting blue-eyed cormorants up close.

Back aboard, we continued to Hidden Bay, just east of Cape Renard on the Danco Coast. There, we embarked on a second Zodiac tour, navigating between icebergs as our naturalist guides imparted fascinating details on glaciers, tabular icebergs and the six species of seals living in Antarctica. At Hidden Bay, clouds hung low as we plied the gorgeous waterway between towering peaks, spotting whales at every turn.

After dinner aboard ‘Le Lyrial,’ we enjoyed a beautiful piano recital in the theater by classical pianist, Uliana Chubun.

December 18, 2022 | Cierva Cove & Mikkelsen Harbour

Under low clouds and a brooding sky, we arrived in Cierva Cove, named after Juan de la Cierva, the designer of the first successful autogiro. After boarding Zodiacs, we encountered enormous humpback whales as they fed in the bay; chinstrap penguins nesting on the high ground; and the abundant green lichen for which Base Primavera, the island’s Argentine Antarctic base and scientific research station, is named. Continuing our excursion, we sipped Champagne while marveling at the scenery and taking in every moment of our last day in Antarctica.

Back onboard ‘Le Lyrial,’ excitement ran high as the French and Argentine among our crew and Expedition Team watched the World Cup Final. Although we were unable to make our planned landing at Mikkelsen Harbour, a Zodiac cruise was quickly arranged, affording a close view of leopard seals atop an ice floe. As snow gently fell, we took in ice and glaciers as far as the eye could see. This final excursion proved once again that Antarctica was nothing short of magical.

Making our way back to Ushuaia this evening, guests mingled and danced in the main lounge after dinner, while our cruise director played DJ and we crossed the unusually calm Drake Passage.

December 19, 2022 | Crossing the Drake Passage

While cruising through predictably rougher seas today, our resident paleoclimate expert, Dr. Reed Scherer, presented a talk on "Tiny Fossils and the Big Ice Sheet,” a firsthand glimpse into the Southern Ocean’s ecosystems.

Rob Caskie, our expedition’s storyteller and historian, later shared the inspiring story of Ernest Shackleton, the Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer who led three British expeditions to the White Continent. We then heard from award-winning climate change expert, Dr. James McClintock of the University of Alabama, who discussed the implications of climate change on the region; the migration of predatory crabs; and the ongoing research at Palmer Station. Located on Torgerson Island, this research station utilizes a penguin cam funded by Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy. Dr. McClintock capped off his talk by gifting every guest signed copies of his book, “Lost Antarctica,” a memorable keepsake from our journey.

This evening, the Captain hosted a farewell dinner highlighting the behind-the-scenes work of our incredible crew. After another magnificent meal, guests retired to bed in anticipation of calmer seas the next day.

December 20, 2022 | The Drake Passage & Beagle Channel

The ocean calmed overnight, and by 10:30am, we spotted land. As we sailed onward, many guests opted to attend a stretch class prior to Dr. Scherer’s enriching talk on paleoclimatology. Then, we watched as majestic, snow-white wandering albatrosses rode the wind, encircling the ship. After an opportunity to view the ship’s “nerve center,” guests received an important disembarkation briefing.

Mike Hammill, our resident marine biologist, spoke mid-afternoon about marine creatures and their adaptations to life at sea. Dr. McClintock followed with a presentation on diving in Antarctica. Sharing insight into the 30 years of research he’s conducted at Palmer Station, he recounted early amusing attempts to blast holes in the ice, as well as the subsequent wondrous dives that followed.

Our photography expert, Renato Granieri, later shared a magnificent slide show from our expedition. By 8pm, ‘Le Lyrial’ docked alongside the pier in Ushuaia and guests left the ship to enjoy dinner in town or simply explore amid glorious weather — a fitting end to our spectacular adventure South.

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