Tag Archives: Drake Passage

Antarctic Voyage – The Journey Back to Civilisation.

Find Days 1 – 3 here: We’re Going South Baby, WAY South!
Days 4 – 5 here: Along The Great White Peninsula
Days 6 – 7 here: Next Stop, The Polar Circle

Day 8 – Returning Along The Peninsula

Last night the swell rocked the boat so madly many people were unable to sleep. While the seas weren’t often bad and many of us no longer show signs of sea sickness, some can barely get out of bed to attend meals.

On the morning of Day 8 we anchored off Verdnasky Island and were invited by the Ukrainian science team there to visit Verdnasky station.

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We broke into three groups: a third visited the station first, another third visited the abandoned Wordie station on the other side of the same island, and the remaining third were the kayakers and divers.  Each group eventually got a turn to visit the main research station.

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Wordie Station was the original research station and must have been built for short, thin people as it’s pretty cramped.  When researchers moved to the newly built Vernadsky station, Wordie station was converted into a museum.  To get between the two stations we had to cruise through sets of pure blue icebergs with amazing natural textures on them.

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Verdnasky Station is huge in comparison to Wordie with a pair of long sprawling corridors leading to many different science labs. Outside there are other rooms and silos for storage, additional labs and fuel. Upstairs there’s a relaxation room which holds the southernmost gift shop and the southernmost Post Office in the world, where we got our passports stamped and sent postcards (most took more than a year to arrive). Through an archway was the world’s southernmost bar where we could buy large shots of vodka for US$3.

After exiting the station and waiting for the Zodiacs to collect us, we gathered on the pier to watch a leopard seal torment a penguin. When it noticed it had an audience, it made a display of tearing its lunch to pieces before consuming it.  While macabre, it’s part of nature and we couldn’t take our eyes from it. Back on the ship we headed further north to Petermann Island for another short hike. The island itself has different colours of snow – green from algae and pink from penguin poo.

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The hike was a walk up a slippery mound to a cairn and down the other side. This island had some beautiful views, but was the smelliest island I’ve ever been to. While the old saying: ‘Don’t eat the yellow snow’ still stands, a new one came from this trip: Definitely don’t eat the pink snow.

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As we made our way back to the ship we spied another leopard seal enjoying a penguin. Penguins are considered the rabbits of the south, they breed like crazy and provide good food sources for the seals and larger sea birds.

Across the bay, we could see the base of several majestic looking spires their tops hidden behind the cover of clouds.  Thankfully the clouds began moving as we were leaving, giving us a partially better view.

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Day 9 – Final Landfall – Deception Island

The plan for the day was to make landfall in the morning and begin the journey back across the Drake Passage in the afternoon. This was not to be, however, as the wind and seas were too harsh. Instead we sailed back to the South Shetland Islands to attempt Deception Island again. When we arrived the wind was still strong, but thankfully in the right direction allowing us to enter the volcano via a stretch of water known as Neptune’s Bellows.

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We sailed through and even with the low clouds it was picturesque. The bay inside was huge and we anchored in a smaller bay just inside called Whalers Bay. On reaching land, we set foot on black volcanic pebbles and sand. There were a number of old broken down buildings which we were warned not to enter because they were unstable.

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Deception Island erupts every 40 years, the last time being 40 years earlier. We were prepared should it go up but it didn’t, obviously. On land there were few penguins and many fur seals. We walked along the beach for a while and climbed the semi-collapsed wall to Neptune’s window…

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…which provided great views both inside and out.

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We then followed a stream up the side of the volcano…

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…to a higher perch. With the clouds and the blue-green of the sea, the sight looked like a mystical world that photos just don’t do justice to.

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Back on board, we set sail for the Drake passage and as expected the seas were a little rough.

Day 10 and 11 – Back across the Drake Passage

For two days we sailed across the open and slightly choppy seas. It wasn’t as crazy as we’d expected, but after making landfall twice each day in the Antarctic, hanging about the ship sent many of us a little stir crazy. There were lectures to bide the time but I dove into a book and managed to finish the second of two novels I’d begun on the journey.

We arrived into the shelter of the Beagle Channel in the late afternoon of Day 11 and docked in the early morning at Ushuaia. We disembarked after breakfast.

Overall

My Antarctic trip will always be one of the most memorable experiences of my life and worth far more than I paid for it. The many places where we made landfall and the multitude of wildlife were unreal. People on board were friendly, although with 37 different nationalities it was sometimes difficult to communicate well. There were many new experiences and I’m glad I chose the Plansius from Oceanwide Expeditions, as I’ve heard some of the other cruises were not as well organised or the crews were not as interested in giving passengers the best experience.

Next, after a couple of days in Ushuaia, I began my long journey north along the Andes starting with Patagonia.

The Ocean Cruising Trail Wanderer

Antarctic Voyage – We’re Going South Baby, WAY South!

Day 1 – Embarkment

In the mid afternoon of Day 1 we boarded the Plancius, a converted Dutch naval boat that’s been taking expeditions to both the Antarctic and Arctic regions for the past 9 years.

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Once settled in out rooms, we set sail along the Beagle Channel with the glorious Patagonian mountain ranges along either side.  Before dinner we were called to the main common area where we took part in the mandatory safety lecture and trial evacuation.

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Dinner was then served in the dining hall with a preset menu, which was brought to the tables by the wait staff. All onboard meals were three courses, including breakfast, but with the lack of gym facilities, we figured we’re all going to be putting on weight by the end of the voyage. The seas were calm and outside it was cold. Thankfully the agency I’d booked through had supplied warm clothing for the trip. As we ate our first whale was spotted, a sperm whale. Then as dinner finished we passed the last signs of civilisation, Puerto Williams, Chile.

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The boat wasn’t large but then it wasn’t small either. There’s the main common room/ forward observing deck/bar, where many lectures were held, and then two floors down and towards the rear is the dining hall. There are plenty of outdoor areas, but did I mention it’s rather cold out? This meant when there was a lecture, the only place to comfortably hang out was in your cabin. Mine was a twin share room.  But for the most part we all went to the lectures.

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Day 2 – The Drake Passage

Sleep was difficult during the first night not because of the constant listing of the boat, of which there was little, but that the blankets on the beds were overly hot. But without then it became too cold. It took some adjusting.

We were warned that the thousand kilometre, 2-day journey across the Drake Passage was often subject to high winds and rough seas, but on Day 2 we are blessed with a beautiful clear day and calm seas. Most of us were using sea sickness patches or tablets just in case.

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That morning we attended two lectures, one identifying the seabirds of the south we’d likely encounter and the other about why the weather is like it is in the Antarctic. The lectures were interesting and gave us something to do other than sit watching the expansive ocean go by.

After a three course lunch, including two massive trays of cheese, we relaxed in the common room playing card games and socializing until the afternoon lecture. The expedition leader announced that due to the good weather we’d be arriving in Antarctic waters 12 hours early, and would be going ashore on the South Shetland Islands the following afternoon. While the Islands are considered part of Antarctica, they’re still a distance from the Antarctic Peninsula.

Day 3 – The South Shetland Islands

During our wakeup call on the 3rd morning, we were alerted to a large iceberg floating past the port side of the ship.  While it wasn’t close, it was the first evidence of the great white land to come.

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It had been cloudy overnight, but would turn out to be another fabulous day in the Drake Passage, we even spied whales swimming beside us.

As was suggested, because of the good weather we were on target to arrive at the Shetland Islands 12 hours early.  By late morning we began to see the icy cliffs of an Antarctic Island ahead of us.

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As the hours passed, the white landmass grew along with the number of icebergs.  We began to see rocky islands, dispelling the idea that Antarctica is just a land of ice.

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We started to see signs of wildlife including the Giant Petrels with their 2 metre wingspan, and other birds mentioned in the lectures. There were occasional sightings of fur seals and more whales.

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But it was the penguins that stole our attentions. While we’ve all seen them on land, they swim like nothing we’d seen before, skipping gracefully out of the water for breath every few moments before darting off again at amazing speeds once back in the water.

We passed many small rocky islands and icebergs before nearing our first landfall site, Barrientos Island.

After a briefing, we dressed in out cold weather clothing and got into the Zodiacs that would deliver us to island.

Barrientos Island is a penguin colony with two different breeds of Penguin, the white-faced Chinstrap penguins …

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…and the red beaked Gentoo penguins.

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While on the island, we saw many different penguin behaviours and learnt a lot about them in a short period time. They have little fear of humans, often coming up to peck at our boots. There were plentiful of young learning to swim in the shallows, moulting out of the fluffy grey fur or being weaned off being fed by the parents.  The weaning process is called the ‘feed chase’, where the parent just runs away when the young comes to feed.  The youngster usually takes up a grand chase through the colony until the parent eventually gives in or more commonly escapes into the ocean, forcing the young to fend for itself.

All over the islands are strange white lines, sometimes several splaying out from one spot. It looks like someone has crazily marked the rock with chalk, but it’s actually squirt lines. The penguins lift their tails and squirt in a line up to half a metre in length.

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After a couple of hours Zodiacs delivered us  back to the Plansius in time for dinner after which we settled in for more socializing and card games.

Out first sunset in Antarctica was like nothing we’d seen before…

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…shining pink across the ice.

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Next, we’re off Along The Great White Peninsula.

The Antarctic Voyager.