While I was in Santiago, Chile I met some travelers that had just returned from Antarctica. They shared with me that in Ushuaia it was possible to book last minute trips to Antarctica at a pretty steep discount. It peaked my interest. I researched it a little bit and found it to be true. But, there was a catch. The arctic exploration season is short, generally lasting about 4 months from late November to early March. I was told the last voyages typically leave the first week of March. I would have to rush.
And so I rushed through Southern Chile riding at a pretty rapid pace. I traveled most days and only stopped for short excursions. I jumped on a ferry which helped me cover quite a bit of ground/sea in a short amount of time.
I arrived in Ushuaia on March 7th
I booked a voyage to Antarctica on March 8th
The ship set sail on March 9th...here's the story with excerpts from the ships log.
Day 1 – 9th March 2012
Embarkation: Ushuaia, Argentina
GPS 16.00 Position: 54°15’S / 68°19’W
Weather: Wind SW force 4, Overcast, Temperature: 4°C
Day 2 – 10th March 2012
At sea in the Drake Passage
GPS 08.00 Position: 56°20.2’S / 655°20’W
Weather: Wind WSW force 6, slight swell, clear visibility, Temperature +5°C
Day 3 – 11th March 2012
At sea in the Drake Passage
GPS 08.00 Position: 60°39.2’S / 063°48.0’W
Weather: Wind SW force 5, good visibility, Temperature +1°C
During the night we crossed the Antarctic Convergence and the 60th parallel so we were then officially in Antarctic waters (using both biological and geographical definitions). The sea had calmed considerably but a light breeze guaranteed good conditions for sighting sea birds around the ship.
After breakfast Andrew, a geologist and guide, convinced us in his interesting lecture about glaciers, icebergs and sea ice in the Antarctic that “Ice is not just for cooling drinks”.
Delphine, a biologist and guide, then followed on swiftly with an introduction to the ”Antarctic Food web” where she told us all about the key creatures, small and large, that make up the Antarctic marine ecosystem.
Day 4 – 12th March 2012
South Shetland Islands
GPS 08.00 Position: 62°35.4’S / 59°54.4’W
Weather: Wind force 1‐2, sunny, Temperature +2°C
Amongst the Chinstraps we found one Macaroni penguin, also molting. This was a nice treat as the species is usually nesting further North on South Georgia.
From the shore we also saw three humpback whales feeding at the mouth of the bay.
Some of us went for a more vigorous hike up Ronald’s hill with Delphine and Johan.
Later on that evening we were in the Bransfield Strait enjoying calm waters on our way South towards the Antarctic continent!
Day 5 – 13th March 2012
Cuverville Islands and Neko harbour
GPS 08.00 Position: 64°39.9’S / 062°37.6’W
Weather: Wind SW force 3‐4, clear sky, Temperature: +1°C
Day 6 – 14th March 2012
Lemaire Channel, Peterman Island, Vernadsky station
GPS 08.00 Position 064°50.3’S / 063°46.3’W
Weather: Wind force 2‐3, overcast, Temperature: 0°C
Day 7 ‐ 15th March 2012
Crossing the Antarctic Circle
GPS 08.00 Position: 66°24.0’S / 066°40.2’W
Weather: Wind NE force 6, snowing, Temperature 0°C
As Plancius sailed northwards through a wet blizzard, the expedition team quickly organised a programme of lectures. Ivan described the techniques and challenges of Antarctic Fishing, and later Sonja gave us “A Whale of a Tale” where she talked about the biology of the cetaceans in the Southern Ocean.
Our second attempt at a landing, near Prospect Point, also fell foul of the weather and the approaching onset of darkness, which arrives about 10 minutes earlier every day.
During recap, Rinie outlined our aims for tomorrow before Jim, Delphine and Kelvin took over with a blend of educational comedy on subjects as diverse as flying penguins, whaling history and underwater explorations.
Day 8 – 16th March 2012
Pleneau Island and Paradise Bay
GPS 08.00 Position: 65°05.6’S / 064°02.3’W
Weather: Wind force 1‐2, overcast and snow squalls, Temperature: +1°C
Late morning the Captain weighed the anchor and we headed for the second time for the Lemaire Channel on our way to Paradise Bay.
The evening was spent at anchor in Paradise Bay and we all enjoyed the southern‐most, and probably the coldest BBQ in the world!
Day 9 ‐ 17th March 2012
Cierva Cove and Bransfield Strait
GPS 08.00 Position: 64°07.7’S / 060°58.1’W
Weather: Wind force 1‐2, calm seas, cloudy; Temperature: +1°C
at the surface near the glacier’s edge.
Day 10 ‐ 18th March 2012
Rock and Roll in the Drake Passage
GPS 08.00 Position: 60°54.7’S / 063°33.3’W
Weather: Wind NW force 7, overcast, Temperature +2°C
The dining room at breakfast rang to the sound of breaking cups and plates but most of us seemed to enjoy the drama of a new and exciting day at sea. For those of us mobile and nimble enough to move around, an easy day lay ahead. Some took the opportunity to catch up on much missed sleep, swap photographs and contact details, or simply enjoy the the ever‐changing spectacle of the southern ocean before them from the relative comfort of the lounge.
For those well enough to think about food, lunch was served to us to avoid a repeat of the morning’s plate flinging. Ivan entertained us with an interesting talk of “Whaling in Antarctica” followed after lunch by Sonja’s talk on “Seals and Science” which provided her audience (in the relative stability of the dining room) with insights into the lives of Weddell, fur and elephant seals amongst others. Some retired to their cabins to enjoy an episode or two of BBC’s superb new series The Frozen Planet to relive our recent memories of the white Continent. The waves continued to pound the vessel throughout the remainder of the afternoon and many of us were now looking forward to some Terra firma. The calm of the Beagle Channel however is still a day’s sail away as the Plancius continued to plough through Drake’s waves.
Over 24 hours I read the book The Hunger Games.
Day 11 ‐ 19th March 2012
More Rock and Roll in the Drake Passage
GPS 08.00 Position: 56°44.4’S / 063°33.3’W
Weather: Wind NW force 7, rough seas, clear; Temperature +4°C
The waves were crashing over the dining room windows during breakfast, and some spray even reached the lounge windows. We were reminded to keep both hands free and hold on to the rails and the ropes that had been put up to help us keep our balance as our floating home lurched and corkscrewed over the waves. Some of us joined Jim in the dining room for his entertaining presentation on poetry and Antarctic explorers.
Shortly before lunch we made our way into the lounge (hanging on to rails, ropes and chairs) as Kelvin and the dive team shared magical images from the Antarctic underwater world that they had explored during their eight dives in icy cold waters.
Lunch was again served to us but just as we started to tuck into our pizza breads a few rogue waves sent people, food and crockery flying through the dining room. Lunch had never been more adventurous…..
The afternoon was spent doing ship’s business such as settling our ship’s accounts and returning boots, and starting to think about packing up our gear. The islands of Cape Horn provided some much welcomed shelter from the prevailing westerly winds and swell.
Captain’s Farewell drinks and the final dinner aboard were scheduled for the calm waters of the Beagle Channel where we will pick up the pilot for the six hour sail to Ushuaia during the night. The Plancius will be docking in Ushuaia early on the 20th March and we will disembark our floating home away from home soon after.
Over 24 hours, I read the book Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet.
Some parting shots...