Thursday 27th February
Yesterday we spent the morning in Ushuaia before departing to Buenos Aires arriving in the evening. After check in at the hotel we went to our favourite barbecue restaurant for lots more meat on the bone. This morning we have explored Buenos Aires by foot seeing the French side of the city and the mausoleums in the Recoleta cemetery. Another meal followed and we soon we will be boarding the Air France flight to Paris then onwards to Manchester.
Our hotel from the cemetery. Our room is the second floor down from the top and on the far right.
Our favourite restaurant is the one to the right of one grey roofed building and in front of the other at edge of the cemetery. It is the one with a circle on a white background!
We have had a fantastic time which words cannot convey!
Tuesday 25th February
As we write (mid-afternoon) we have started our journey down the Beagle Channel to Ushuaia. It is calm here following a night and morning of large waves and a big swell. In the restaurant it was fun as meals, drinks and crockery went from side to side along the table! The calmer weather after lunch gave us an opportunity to visit the bridge where we saw the trusted combination of traditional sailing techniques with the latest hi-tech navigation. This evening is the farewell meeting with the captain, followed by an auction of expedition and Antarctic artefacts.
Monday 24th February
This day at sea gives us an opportunity to reflect upon our experience. The ship is a converted car ferry and has been specially fitted for work in icy waters with lots of stabilising devices and special radar that enables it to get close to land. Our cabin is roomy with a large window, fully fitted bedroom furniture and has a small, but efficient bathroom. The ship is carpeted throughout, except for the mudroom on deck 2. This is where we change into our outdoor and wet gear before disembarking by Zodiac dinghy to the places we will visit. It is also warm, being above the engine room so that everything dries out and one doesn’t have the smell of ‘penguin pooh’ in your room!
On deck 4 is the forward lounge where talks are given and we are briefed about the places we visit. It has AV resources and comfortable chairs to relax in. On deck 5 is the 360 degree observation deck, the Polar Bear bar and the restaurant. Several of each day’s highlights have taken place here. There is a wide range of foods for breakfast and buffet lunch. Dinner is waiter service with at least 4 main course choices. On Tuesday it was an Irish theme, Wednesday a barbecue served on the observation deck (at 65S) and Thursday we were invited to dress in black and white if we wanted. There was a parade of people who wanted to enter the competition, with a prize for the best. As we knew nothing about this event before Thursday it was interesting to see how imaginative some people could be.
We are currently crossing the Drake Passage and at the time of writing we are at 59S with a moderate swell.
Sunday 23rd February
Overnight we sailed northwards to the South Shetland Islands and in particular Deception Island at 63S. This is an enormous caldera, (a flooded volcanic crater) formed 10,000 years ago, with coves lining the inner walls where later eruptions have taken place, the last being in 1970. We entered the caldera through ‘Neptune’s Bellows which are so narrow that the wind is naturally accelerated as it is squeezed through the gap. The first landing at Telefon Bay shows the results of all of the volcanic activity. There is a fumarole here, surrounded by a large and elevated crater as well as an outwash plain filled with blocks of lava and massive amounts of tephra. Tephra is the jumbled mass of ash, pumice, small rock pieces and fine rock dust. This is produced especially when volcanoes erupt through ice sheets.
During lunch we moved closer to the entrance of the caldera in order to visit the remains of the whaling station which was operated first by the Norwegians and Chileans and later by the British. By 1931 the whaling station closed because of a slump in whale oils prices, but mostly because of the introduction of factory ships where all the processes of flensing the whale took place, whereas at Deception it all happened on the beach. A lot of the whaling station is in ruins, not simply because of neglect but also as a result of the damaging 1969 lahars (mud flows) which destroyed everything in their path.
Overnight we are heading back into Drake’s Passage.
Saturday 22nd February
We had stayed overnight at 65.09S and early on we made our way through the Penola Strait to Peterman Island and then onwards to the Yalour Islands. The landing here enabled us to see at close quarters a colony of Adelie penguins and exposed granite which had been glaciated making the small hills on each of the islands into roche moutonnes (these are mounds of rock that have been scratched by the ice and the end of the rock where the ice moved onto another part of the island is jagged as the ice plucked the rocks away. This makes the rock look like a sleeping sheep and hence the name.) The islands also have examples of orange lichens and green mosses.
A Zodiac cruise followed and took us past icebergs which were ready to tumble and turn over, as well as ones which still had the remains of moraines that were originally on the surface of the glacier before it reached the sea. We also saw and collected for this evening’s cocktails, black ice of about 20,000 years of age. This only looks black when in the water because of the refraction of the light, but once out of the sea it is crystal clear and contains samples of the ‘air of the day’ when the snow fell those thousands of years ago and was then compacted into ice. It is anticipated that the ice for this evening’s G&T will be from this ice!!!!
During lunch the ship was repositioned to 65.13S to enable us to visit the Academician Vernadsky Station, a Ukrainian base on Galindez Island.
The Ukrainian base is a working establishment and continues the work of the British Antarctic Survey when this was, until 1996, the Faraday Base. It was sold for One Pound and this coin is embedded in the bar between the two beer taps. We were able to tour the base and at the end visit a small gift shop and sample the home-made ‘hooch’ Gorilka. It is best drunk in one go, and according to one member of the Lisle Tours team, it was interesting!!!
On a nearby island is Wordie House. The original building was imported from the UK in 1934 for the British Graham Land expedition. The aim of this was to prove whether the area known today as the Antarctic Peninsula was actually connected to the Antarctic mainland. It was, and from 1960 this region has been known as the Antarctic Peninsula, and not Graham Land. The latter is reserved for the massive glacier that overlooks the house. Inside Wordie House are the rusting tins of food, coffee, milk powder and the like as well as the domestic and scientific equipment of the days until the sale in 1996.
A walk up the nearby hill provided amazing views of ice fields, glaciers and the bay, open to the Southern Ocean, all in the most amazing sunshine. It was hard to believe that this was the bottom of the World.
As we write the sun is setting and the colours are spreading over the glaciers and ice fields as we ply our way north towards Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands in time for a breakfast time landfall.
Friday 21st February
Before going ashore this morning we had a short talk about the British Base at Port Lockroy – 64.49S. These people stay here meeting visitors and operating the most southerly British post office in the world. It is a beautiful morning and flat calm. During the night icebergs and growlers (lots of mini bergs packed together) surrounded the ship and 2 other cruise ships that were last night have slipped away leaving us in the silence. Now it is our turn to work our way through the ice to the island base. The whole of the bay is surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
On arrival at the base we were greeted by a guard of Gentoo penguins. Some of these rarely move and have been given names by a BBC TV crew for a forthcoming BBC2 programme entitled Penguin Postman. For example, the penguin near the entrance doorway is called ‘Norman the doorman’, the two birds on top of a low hill beneath the Union Jack flagpole are known as ‘Jack and Jill’. The base is part museum and part shop and post office. There are remains here of tinned provisions and domestic equipment as well as meteorological and other scientific apparatus.
There are also here remains of two whaling boats and their equipment but on an adjacent island are many whale bones which were a few years ago placed in the correct position to resemble a whale, though the waves from calving ice has destroyed the model. Following this landing it was back to the ship for lunch and a reposition to a cove at the end of the spectacular Lemaire Channel. We are now at Pleneau Island 65.04 S. This is where a French explorer called Charcot over-wintered during his 1903-05 expedition. This is a solid lump of rock which is now home to Gentoo penguins. Our Zodiac cruise took us through what is locally known as the ‘iceberg graveyard’. This was so photogenic as icebergs here rarely move so some have started as vertical blocks of ice and due to saltation have tilted over. This creates unique and amazing turquoise blue shapes of a variety of sizes. Leopard and Crabeater seals were basking on several icebergs. This whole area is so photogenic that in the days of roll film this was known as ‘the kodak gap’ and we can see why. At every turn there is a spectacular view and as we close, following a barbecue, at 65S in February, the sun is setting over the Antarctic ice-bound landscape.
Thursday 20th February
During breakfast this morning we observed Humpback whales following our route. Today we stepped on the mainland of Antarctica at Neko Harbour at 64.50S. We anchored in Andvord Bay and made our way by Zodiac to a beach with high ice covered mountains as a backdrop. Here we saw more Gentoo penguins and chicks. Many of the adults were moulting and it was interesting to see how many of them stood on the nest like statues and let the feathers fall off! Following this we participated in another Zodiac cruise around the area. We broke through thin ice, past icebergs sculptured into amazing shapes and began to be coated by horizontal snow. We also watched Minke whales circling looking for food. But the greatest thing was we were on the continent and not an island. On approach the water was so clear that not only did we see the submerged parts of icebergs but a possible submarine limestone pavement showing evidence of Antarctica’s sedimentary past.
During lunch we moved further south to Paradise Harbour to the Brown Station, an Argentinian scientific base, although not much science takes place there now. The Zodiac cruise took us through more ice to bays fringed by glaciers, although they were difficult to see because of the snow – but this is Antarctica! As we write this at 9:00 p.m. it is a different day, though freezing on exposed metal. We saw a berg with a complete arch and turquoise blue ice. We saw nature in the raw. As we approached a young blue-eyed shag was being eaten alive by a skua! We passed ice floes with leopard basking but without sunlight! These animals have nothing to fear being at the top of the food chain.
It is difficult to put into words what this place is like or what it means to each person. Tonight we move to Port Lockroy where we will anchor ready for tomorrow morning’s excursion.
Wednesday 19th February
The night was windy and rainy but on our way to breakfast we saw snow and ice had coated the lifeboats and some of the exposed metal of the upper decks. There were rumours of a snowball fight on the aft observation deck. The onboard glaciologist described the crossing of the Drake Passage as the flattest he had ever seen in 10 years. By 11:20 a.m. we had spotted our first iceberg and land on the horizon when we reached 62S. This was immediately announced on the public address system. By the time we were starting lunch at 1:00 p.m. we were slipping past islands, many covered with snow and ice. The swell increased, the sea turned a steely grey and then in what seemed a short time, the sky was blue, the sun shone and we dropped anchor ahead of schedule off the Aitcho Islands, part of the South Shetland Islands at 62.24S, 59.44W. We had arrived!!!
After a short briefing we had a special treat – an extra pair of landings to two small islands of the Aitcho group. We transferred from the ship by Zodiac inflatable dinghies. Upon arrival at the beach on Barrientos Island, we were greeted by hundreds of Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, all standing to attention! We were free to walk from the volcanic ash beach across the boulder field where many of the penguins had nested and were feeding their young. There was a distinct ‘essence of penguin’ in the air! We also saw elephant and fur seals and an extensive ‘meadow’ of moss. Following a transfer to Cecilia Island we were lucky to witness Giant Petrels and their chicks nesting on the volcanic cliffs, Snow Petrels, as well as more penguins and fur seals. The volcanic peaks are covered with red/orange lichens which grow at a rate of 1cm every 100 years!
As we write (6:30 p.m.) the ship is moving to again down the Bransfield Strait towards the mainland of the Antarctic Peninsula. We are surrounded by islands, ocean and ice and have spotted humpback whales nearby.
Monday 17th February
This morning we explored the large Argentinian island called Tierra del Fuego, or ‘land of fire’. Here we saw how earth movements and volcanic activity, coupled with intense glaciation have broken apart and twisted the Andes Mountains in this region. Rocks have been metamorphosed, twisted, pushed in many directions and split apart.
A most interesting part of our visit was to the most southerly post office in the world on a pier above the Beagle Channel. A special stamp in a passport, book etc is available to record your visit. Nearby is the southerly terminus of the Pan American Highway. This road stretches from northern Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, through the Rocky Mountains, the rain forests of Central America, the altiplano of the Andes to terminate in Argentina.
4:00 p.m. was boarding time. After being allocated a cabin and being ‘put through’ an abandon ship drill we set sail along the Beagle Channel for about 4 hours before reaching the South Atlantic and the Roaring Forties. Fortunately it was relatively calm! A light swell quickly put tired travellers to sleep after a fabulous evening dinner.