A Travellerspoint blog

First Icebergs

Sunday, 24 December 2017

View 2017 Antarctica on greynomadm's travel map.

As we go up to breakfast we see signs of land and also our first iceberg. There's even the hint of some sunlight and the breaking up of the overcast.

The next activity is again in the lounge where we are briefed on the environmental rules when going ashore. Basic common sense but needs to be stressed. Basic distances from wildlife, avoiding nesting areas, stay within marked areas and look out for each-other. The correct procedure for boarding the Zodiacs was explained and a short talk on appropriate clothing and wearing of life-vests.

Next activity was the 'bio-security' check. During this process all our external clothing was checked and vacuumed to ensure there were no contaminants taken ashore. We then moved on to the 'mud room' where we we selected our boots and we found our assigned location. We were then asked to sign a declaration stating we had been processed. A considerable amount of time and effort but for a vital cause.

I've noticed that the photo-chromatic lenses are darker in the bright light here than they are back home. This is making it difficult to compose an image on the camera and most times I press the shutter and hope for the best.

After lunch it was determined that conditions were suitable for us to go ashore. An interesting exercise for us as much of the gear had not been previously worn and we had no idea how it would perform. The waterproof trousers were excellent and worked beyond expectation when we stepped off the Zodiac into 50 to 60 cm of water. The gloves proved difficult to put on but once on functioned very well. The parka proved perfect for both wind and wet, the only bit of gear that let me down was the backpack.

The trip from the ship to the beach was exciting as the zodiac was pushed into the wind and the waves. We were drenched as the spray driven by the wind splashed over us without respite. When we stepped off the craft it was onto a rock-strewn beach with waves breaking over us. I found the footing almost impossible to negotiate and would have fallen many times but for the assistance of Jenny and one of the crew. There was no chance of me doing anything adventurous as I constantly tripped over the rocks. Took the advice of one of the crew and sat on a boulder to quietly observe.

Managed to capture an image of a penguin and also the ship lying at anchor. The wind was relentless and after an hour or so we made it back to the beach to be back-loaded to the ship. The guys who stood almost fully immersed to hold the zodiac and help us board definitely deserve a lot of credit. Returned to the ship and stripped our gear off in the mud-room.

On reflection I'm more than pleased to have made it ashore but will need to seriously think about doing it again Perhaps if conditions are more favourable I'll give it another try. Meanwhile nothing but high praise for the whole crew.

Christmas Eve Diner was a very festive affair. There were pixie hats for each of us and an impressive menu including a glass of champagne for the toast. After the meal we gathered in the lounge where the crew assembled to form an impromptu choir leading us through a range of Christmas songs. To top off the evening we had Santa drop in with presents for everyone.

Once again it was well past our regular bed time when we returned to the cabin and crashed. All together it is proving to be a busy trip with little time to read or write.

Of significant concern is the increased frequency of the camera failing to respond. Some functions like the zoom and the focus appear to work intermittently. I'm inclined to suspect that there has been some moisture introduced despite the 'dry bag'. Looks like I'll have to invest in a waterproof model.

Stay healthy and safe.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 14:20 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

Crossing the Drake Passage

Saturday, 23 December 2017

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A full day of lectures and briefings. Breakfast at 08:00; talks starting at 09:30 as we buck our way across the Drake Passage. The weather has been overcast and the ship's reactions to the sea conditions had me dozing off to sleep. Meals are well presented and offer a good range of choices.
There is not much point venturing outside with the temperature down to 0 °C, a strong wind and the ship's movement somewhat unpredictable.
Looking around our fellow passengers there are only a few that are as old as us, most are from young to middle-aged. At dinner there were two who turned sixty. The age distribution on this trip is different to what we tend to find on our Princess Cruises.

It is announced that the ship has made good time and that we should reach the South Shetland islands early tomorrow. The ship continues to roll gently as we drop off to sleep.

The Drake Passage has a reputation for the most violent seas in the Southern Ocean. The 800-kilometre (500 mi) wide passage between Cape Horn and Livingston Island is the shortest crossing from Antarctica to any other landmass. The boundary between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is sometimes taken to be a line drawn from Cape Horn to Snow Island (130 kilometres (81 mi) north of mainland Antarctica). Alternatively, the meridian that passes through Cape Horn may be taken as the boundary. Both boundaries lie entirely within the Drake Passage.

The other two passages around the extreme southern part of South America (though not going around Cape Horn as such), Strait of Magellan and Beagle Channel, are very narrow, leaving little room for a ship. They can also become icebound, and sometimes the wind blows so strongly no sailing vessel can make headway against it. Hence most sailing ships preferred the Drake Passage, which is open water for hundreds of miles, despite very rough conditions. The small Diego Ramírez Islands lie about 100 kilometres (62 mi) south-southwest of Cape Horn.

There is no significant land anywhere around the world at the latitudes of Drake Passage, which is important to the unimpeded flow of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current which carries a huge volume of water (about 600 times the flow of the Amazon River) through the Passage and around Antarctica.

Ships in the Passage are often good platforms for the sighting of whales, dolphins and seabirds including giant petrels, other petrels, albatrosses and penguins. We didn't see much in the way of wildlife during the crossing.

Stay healthy and safe.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 13:30 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

Boarding the MS Expedition

Friday, 22 December 2017

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Not a lot has happened since my last entry. Friday was a lot of sitting about and waiting for time to pass. Most of the time was spent in the hotel lobby reading. The main luggage has been checked in and will be transported to the ship.

At 15:30 we assembled in a nearby carpark where three buses were waiting to take us out onto the pier. The 'G-expedition' crew welcomed us aboard, we had our photo taken and shown to our cabin.

The cabin is very spacious and the en suite quite adequate. The square window provides a view out to the water not far below. Our cabin number is 329, one deck below the 'lounge' on deck 4 and two decks down from the dining room. The only way up or down is via the stairs. No elevators on this vessel. A peculiarity is the lack of locks on the doors.

The mandatory emergency briefing was conducted in the lounge after which we were taken to our lifeboat. There are four lifeboats and some additional life-rafts. A roll-call was held and we were free to watch the ship sail out of Ushuaia. Assembled in the lounge for the Captain's greeting, he is reputed to be one of the most experienced Antarctic skippers in the world. His english was not brilliant but he had a ready smile and his address was light-hearted.

Dinner was at 19:00 and we found a table for eight. Unexpectedly the chairs are loosely anchored to the deck allowing some limited movement.
One of our fellow diners celebrated a birthday complete with balloons and singing waiters. Even a birthday cake with candle. After the four course meal we collected our G-expedition parkas from the lounge; as expected they are bulky and in my case quite large. Finally got back to the cabin and unpacked our gear. My intention to keep a daily record was blown out the window, finally put the head down at just short of 23:00.

Will try to add to this series from time to time.
Stay healthy and safe.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 23:34 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

Total Communication Breakdown

We're Back Home

View 2017 Antarctica on greynomadm's travel map.

Sorry for the lack of regular updates there just was no practical means of communication. I've been promised a detailed log available to download. I'll pull it apart and post the sections over the next week or so,

The following is a general overview of the trip .

The ship is the MS Expedition, the tour operator is G-Adventure which specialises in generally small group high activity tours. The ship operates in both Polar regions alternating between the North and South during the summer seasons.

Overview of the Antarctic Adventure

To start with: we should have done this about 10 years ago. The trip is a genuine exploration – definitely Not a cruise as we've become used to.
The level of fitness required to participate fully is at a much higher level than we are. There is a need for a high level of agility to confidently get into and out of the zodiacs. Once on the land (gravel, rock or ice) you need a degree of balance and surefooted-ness that I no longer posses.

Dressing to go ashore is a challenge for me, getting boots on, finding the start of zipper for the parka and the whole process takes me at least twice as long as anyone else.

The long trips on the zodiac are extremely uncomfortable for me, the seating is hard and there's little chance of voluntary movement. The need to hold onto the safety ropes effectively locks me into place and with my limited flexibility I don't get to see half of what is available.

The schedule is totally flexible dependant on weather and ice conditions aiming to undertake at least two outings every day. The zodiac drivers are truly amazing and whilst safety is paramount they make sure there is an element of excitement.

The staff are universally extremely knowledgeable and highly qualified. There are three main groups;
the Hotel staff that look after the accommodation and catering
the Deck staff who operate the ship and
the Expedition staff who provide the lectures, drive the zodiacs and organise the landings.

Overall the organisation was excellent, highly efficient with minimal staff.

Hope to post more details over the next week or so.

Cheers ... Tony

Posted by greynomadm 18:53 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

Ushuaia - Argentina

Thursday, 21 December 2017

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Up at 05:00 for an 06:00 transfer to the airport for our flight to Ushuaia. I was amazed at how busy the roads were even at that early hour. We were dropped off at the Domestic airport and were confronted by a host of confusing signs - all in Spanish. Despite the apparent chaos we were quickly checked in and cleared the Security Check.

The flight was uneventful and we arrived at our destination right on schedule but were held for almost 30 minutes awaiting a vacant Gate. Appears to be a common occurrence - too many aircraft too few loading gates. Collected our luggage and found the G-Adventures representative who collected a number of us and escorted us to the bus. She provided a quick briefing as we were driven a short drive into town and were checked into the Albatross Hotel. We each received a package containing additional information including details of the boarding process for tomorrow.

Dragged our gear to our room and set out to buy some last minute essentials. We'd missed out on breakfast and it was almost 16:00 so we were both looking for something to eat. There were few restaurants open at this time, too late for lunch and too early for diner. We found one that was serving food and were confronted by a menu of strange dishes. We ordered something that we thought would be familiar, but turned out to be quite different. At times like that we would have gladly eaten at McDonald'. At least you'd know what you'd get served up.

This is the last opportunity to post this blog and images to 365, tomorrow we board the ship. Will look into an Internet package aboard the ship with no guarantees of speed or coverage.

Till next time

Stay healthy and safe.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 13:23 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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