Written by kwasiak on 12 Jan, 2005
This was my first landing on the Antarctic continent, and what an amazing landing it was. The Zodiac glided onto the rocky shore, and after taking one step in the water (I was glad I was wearing waterproof boots and pants), I was onshore…Read More
This was my first landing on the Antarctic continent, and what an amazing landing it was. The Zodiac glided onto the rocky shore, and after taking one step in the water (I was glad I was wearing waterproof boots and pants), I was onshore among thousands of Adélie penguins. Also spotted at Brown Bluff were a few Gentoo penguins, a Chinstrap penguin, and a Brown Skua.
I could have stayed at Brown Bluff all day, watching the penguins crawl on their bellies in the snow, waddling in lines across the beach towards the water, diving into the water and swimming, and sitting on their eggs and chicks. It was like watching people in a big city go about their different activities. I had never encountered so many animals in their natural habitat at one time. Back in the U.S., you can find animals in their natural habitat, but you do not find such a big group together, with the exception of pigeons. The penguins were like pigeons being they did not fear humans, and if you stood still, they would come right up to you. The most successful way to get them to come up to you was to kneel or lay on the ground. By expedition rules, you cannot get closer than 10 feet to them unless they walked up to you.
The most surprising things I came across while at Brown Bluff were jellyfish. On the beach I found several large frozen jellyfish. I never imagined jellyfish in such a cold environment. When I thought of jellyfish, I used to think of the coast of California, but now I think of them frozen on the beach in Antarctica.
While on the beach, I enjoyed touching my first iceberg. There were many icebergs that had washed onto the beach. On the beach and in the water close to the shore were icebergs in many shades of white, blue, and green. If anyone ever tells you that Antarctica is only black and white, they are very wrong.
Written by kwasiak on 11 Jan, 2005
The Beagle Channel is where the journey begins and ends. On one side you can see the mountains of Chile, and on the other are the mountains of Argentina. In total, I spent less than a day on the channel, but it was…Read More
The Beagle Channel is where the journey begins and ends. On one side you can see the mountains of Chile, and on the other are the mountains of Argentina. In total, I spent less than a day on the channel, but it was enough to get a taste of what it has to offer.
The Beagle Channel was very calm, which gave us a chance to unpack our suitcases and Drake-proof our cabin before reaching the Drake Passage. Drake-proofing involved putting everything you did not want to end up on the floor in a closet or drawer. On the way back, it gave us a chance to pack before leaving the ship, without our suitcases sliding across the cabin.
I sailed through the Beagle Channel in the evening on the way to Antarctica. On the journey, I spotted my first penguins in the wild, Magellenic Penguins. They were swimming alongside the ship, and you could see them only when they popped their heads above the water for air. Also spotted were some dolphins.
On the way back from Antarctica, we were in the channel at sunset and after it was dark. It was the first time we had seen the stars in at least a week. Before the sun set, a beautiful double rainbow was painted across the sky. After the sunset and the stars became visible, I located the Southern Cross for the first time since my trip to Australia 16 months before.
You can cruise just the Beagle Channel by taking boat tours from Ushuaia, I have been told. Close
The Drake Passage is named after Sir Frances Drake, the English explorer who first sailed on it. It is the roughest sea on earth, due to the large amount of water that is squeezed through in a short amount of time. The area…Read More
The Drake Passage is named after Sir Frances Drake, the English explorer who first sailed on it. It is the roughest sea on earth, due to the large amount of water that is squeezed through in a short amount of time. The area is also very geologically active, due to plate movements under the Passage. The South Shetland Islands average 100 earthquakes a year.
I spent two days on the Drake Passage on the way to Antarctica and two days on the way back to Ushuaia. The first day was pretty smooth for the Drake, and the second day was rougher, but not as rough as the Drake can get. The return trip was about the same as the second day. I did not get seasick, so I enjoyed the waves splashing on the bow deck when the deck was not closed. Always remember: one hand on the ship at all times, and when it is rougher, both hands on the ship.
The Drake Passage is a great place for bird-watching, if you’re not seasick. Our ship was being followed by albatrosses during most of the trip through the Passage. There were also petrel and prion sightings during the crossing. The specific birds I saw were the Wandering Albatross (these birds may not touch land for up to 7 years at a time), the Grey-headed Albatross, the Southern Giant Petrel, the Wilson’s Storm Petrel, the Cape Petrel, the Soft-Plumaged Petrel, and the Antarctic Prion. These seabirds spend 90% of their lives over the ocean. To deal with the salt water, they have a salt gland that takes the salt out of the water and secretes it through the nostrils.
The Passage is also a great place for whale-watching. During our crossings, we saw a Southern Beaked Whale and a Southern Bottle-Nosed Dolphin.
On the afternoon of our second day on the Drake Passage, I saw my first iceberg. It was a tabular iceberg, meaning it looks like a table, as it name suggests. It was the first sign that we were nearing Antarctica. On our way back, the last iceberg was what really signaled we were leaving Antarctica to return to the real world, where we would learn of the tsunami disaster of December 26, 2004. Close
Written by rodeime on 02 Aug, 2003
By its very name, Deception Island conjures up vivid images of bleak and foreboding shores swathed in slowly swirling mist and gloomy grey cliffs. Pretty close actually.
The approach to Deception Island is almost certainly the key to its name. As we neared its insanely steep…Read More
By its very name, Deception Island conjures up vivid images of bleak and foreboding shores swathed in slowly swirling mist and gloomy grey cliffs. Pretty close actually.
The approach to Deception Island is almost certainly the key to its name. As we neared its insanely steep and craggy cliffs populated by thousands of screeching, wheeling seabirds, Kapitan Kalashnikov, at the helm of the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, ordered 'dead slow' and the 6,000 tonne vessel gradually and imperceptibly came to a crawl.
As the Vavilov bobbed gently on the brooding sea, I ducked in and out of the wheelhouse, alternately examining the maps on the plotting table and the entrance to Port Foster, slowly revealing itself in the 40cm window of the radar. Amid a stiff, whistling breeze, our ship slowly and precisely came about, lining itself up with a navigation marker now visible just inside the bay.
A picture of concentration, KK, flanked by his officers at the radar and depth-sounder, threaded the Vavilov through the eye of the needle that is Neptune's Bellows, a narrow chink in the encircling cliffs that form a natural bowl for the port. Deception Island is a dormant volcano with its peak imploded, forming a caldera that is now flooded by seawater that enters via Neptune's Bellows.
Once inside, the wind came to an abrupt stop and the sea flattened markedly. Like a stole of continuous, frosty ermine, a delicate yet opaque mist tantalisingly obscured the peaks of the protective ridge. But we are not alone. A yacht slips past the bow on its way to the open sea and an RN helicopter buzzes back and forth ferrying crew to a shore camp adjacent the abandoned whaling station and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) base.
In mock invasion, we put ashore in front of the ghostly buildings weathered, not just by time, but by the ravages of several fierce eruptions in the late 1960s that ultimately led to the evacuation of the old facility. Originally set up at the turn of the century to shelter whalers and sealers, it quickly grew into a full-scale, if grossly inefficient, processing factory. Early whaling was messy and wasteful, and at one time it was reckoned that about 6,000 partly butchered, putrid beasts floated in the bay.
A small party set out to explore what was once an Operation Tabarin base. A precursor to BAS, Operation Tabarin was a secret British wartime activity that secured allied control of the southernmost regions and kept a lookout for Nazi Killer Whales and fascist penguins. The boredom amongst these poor, god-forsaken men must have been maddening.
Despite the savage incursion of molten lava and scorching volcanic ash, some portions of the old base are still in relatively good shape. Rations of scotch oats and canned pilchards remain intact, deep-frozen, in the old storehouse, while over in the hangar, a carefully dismembered ski-plane appears to await restoration.
The old Norwegian whaling relics, on the other hand, are certainly on their last legs. Against the backdrop of stark, yet delicately frosted peaks, bleached and busted barrels, orphaned metalwork and sundry detritus, mixed with randomly scattered whalebones, form an almost supernatural landscape. It's hard to imagine even the most Dadaistic artist producing a more effective "installation".
In a final act of indulgence, we made a quick flit around the headland to Pendulum Cove where the volcano's still-smouldering plug forces piping hot water up through narrow fissures along the shore. Our heavy kit was tossed off with gay abandon before we went tiptoeing to the steaming water's edge. The sensation is difficult to describe, but imagine your bum on a hot plate with your feet in ice water!
Deception Island is still popular with governments who seek to maintain a presence in the Antarctic with several modest bases still sporadically occupied on the relatively safer western shore of Port Foster.
Completely absorbed by this dramatic and aggressive landscape, I stood on the rear deck of the Vavilov observing our cautious exit through Neptunes Bellows and snatched a few departing snaps of the overwhelming cliffs. I couldn't help wondering what it must have been like for the expeditioners who were forced to beat a hasty retreat amid the fury of the last great eruption 30 years ago.
Written by rodeime on 01 Aug, 2003
Travel about 2000 kilometres east from Tierra del Fuego, at the very tip of South America, and you might stumble on its precipitous and windswept shores. At 54 degrees S and 37 degrees W, South Georgia is about as remote as any place on earth…Read More
Travel about 2000 kilometres east from Tierra del Fuego, at the very tip of South America, and you might stumble on its precipitous and windswept shores. At 54 degrees S and 37 degrees W, South Georgia is about as remote as any place on earth could possibly be.
First sighted in 1675 by a hopelessly lost British merchant vessel, South Georgia didn't feature again until our beloved Captain James Cook stuck a flag in it on January 17, 1775. Tipped off by Cook's reports, sealers later arrived in their droves to liquidate the island's fur seal population, which they did in less than ten years.
Numerous intrepid and enterprising soles traversed its shores since then, including the famous antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, whose arrival at Stromness after the loss of Endurance is the stuff of legend. With him on the outward voyage at least was his photographer, Frank Hurley, who snapped this vista (left).
My first vision of this harsh and foreboding land would have been almost identical to that of the first explorers. Standing on the bridge of the modern 6,000 tonne Akademik Sergey Vavilov, a converted Russian oceanographic vessel, I first saw its snow-encrusted spinal ridge pierce the thick bank of clouds that almost constantly shrouds the island's stark features.
Around almost every corner of the jagged coastline is another glacier. Huge creeping masses of metamorphic ice beating a slow-motion path to the sea, occasionally calving great deep blue chunks to form icebergs.
The ship skirted the northern edges and its islets, making for Cumberland Bay and King Edward Point, the nominal capital of South Georgia. Embedded deep in the sheltered fjord, the British garrison has been there ever since the brief Argentine occupation in 1982. Housed in sparkling new barracks at King Edward Point, they overlook the sprawling desolation of the abandoned whaling station of Grytviken just a few hundred metres away.
As recently as thirty years ago, this tranquil and splendid harbour would have been stained red for months on end as the mighty mammals were carved up for their flesh and blubber. The putrid stench of decaying meat, the acrid smoke from the many cookeries and the clamour and bustle of messy industry was the norm here for over fifty years.
After the last whales were dismembered and gutted on South Georgia in the mid 1960s, Grytviken, and the similar shore stations at Leith, Stromness and Husvik, were simply abandoned and left to crumble. Walking around the rusting and decaying ruins of these enormous factories is an unsettling experience. It's like Auschwitz for whales and I'm continually troubled by visions of the enormous carnage that must have occurred here and in the nearby seas.
On the fringes, and often in the midst of this chaos, seals, penguins and numerous seabirds now congregate, oblivious of its dark history. Playful fur seal pups, now back in abundance, confront you in mock attack. Pods of enormous elephant seals loaf like great stinking, belching blubber-filled condoms, occasionally squirming for a better view of me as I walk cautiously past. These are the small ones, perhaps just a tonne apiece. The larger males, often three tonnes or more, have gone fishing for a few months.
South Georgia, once again replete through isolation and human inactivity, has all but returned to its former glory, marred only by man's untidy monuments to greed and cruelty.
Written by Ben the Grate on 13 Jul, 2005
Ninety-nine percent of tourists to Antarctica arrive on an expedition ship from South America. The expedition ship experience is vastly different from a traditional cruise. The ships are smaller, and their hulls are ice-strengthened. They carry fewer passengers. The largest expedition…Read More
Ninety-nine percent of tourists to Antarctica arrive on an expedition ship from South America. The expedition ship experience is vastly different from a traditional cruise. The ships are smaller, and their hulls are ice-strengthened. They carry fewer passengers. The largest expedition ship is actually a cruise ship, the Marco Polo, operated by Orient Lines, which carries 500 people. Most carry 250 or fewer.
All ships carry zodiacs, or rigid inflatable rafts with aluminum bottoms, which are lowered off the ship on cranes. Passengers then climb down steps to the waterline and tossed into the zodiac by crew members. Then they are ferried to shore at a variety of landing spots. Arriving there usually involves stepping out of the zodiac into icy water, so expeditions normally require you to bring knee-high rubber boots. Smaller ships carry fewer passengers, which will typically allow you the most freedom ashore. Larger ships may limit each person to one hour ashore at each stop.
Also, be aware that Antarctic weather is unpredictable at the very best, and rough seas mean hazardous landings, so the captain often chooses to abort a landing attempt. Often, he will try to navigate to an alternate landing spot. And since the sun never goes down during the Antarctic summer, even if he has to cruise 6 hours to get to the next landing site, it's usually not a problem to disembark, even after midnight. Expect small accommodations, plentiful (if mediocre) food, and a clutch of really fascinating fellow travelers aboard. But be prepared for high seas, many changes of plans, and the unexpected. Prepare to be changed, for Antarctica is a magical place.
Written by DeAnn on 29 Apr, 2001
I have always wanted to go to Antarctica but it is so expensive! I recently spent about 5 months traveling in South America. While in Peru I met someone who had just been to Antarctica. He told me about how he got this…Read More
I have always wanted to go to Antarctica but it is so expensive! I recently spent about 5 months traveling in South America. While in Peru I met someone who had just been to Antarctica. He told me about how he got this great last-minute deal and I was instantly sold on the idea. I rushed down to Ushuaia, Argentina to try and get on a boat before the season ended. There were about 4 different travel agencies advertising last-minute prices for two different ships within the next 10 days. One was for about $1600 for 9 days on a ship holding about 120 passengers and the other was for $2500 for 10 days and with a maximum of 48 passengers. I decided to spend the extra money and go on a smaller ship. I actually booked and paid just one day before departure! I saved about $1500 from the brochure price. It was worth every penny.
If you have the time, I would recommend going down to Ushuaia and booking last minute. Out of 44 passengers on my ship, about 12 of us booked last-minute in Ushuaia. I met someone who went on the bigger ship and was told that out of 120 passengers about 30 booked last-minute. This was in the beginning of February so I am not sure if it is as easy at other times.
If you have to wait a week or more before your ship leaves there is quite a bit to do in Ushuaia, or you could go visit Torres del Paine National Park and/or Punta Arenas in Chile for a few days.
Written by PennyLisa on 08 Jan, 2001
Before you decide to visit Antarctica, you must consider that there isn't anything to do but look at it. We had scientists on the ship to give lectures, there were movies, and great food. But there was no shopping, but also, there are…Read More
Before you decide to visit Antarctica, you must consider that there isn't anything to do but look at it. We had scientists on the ship to give lectures, there were movies, and great food. But there was no shopping, but also, there are no tourist lines. For four days, we never saw another person who wasn't on the ship.
As we cruised down the coastline on day five, we stopped the ship to look at whales that were playing along the starboard side. Suddenly a large red sailing boat appeared from around an iceberg. The magic was broken. Just when we thought we had the continent to our selves, there was another person. And that person happened to be Amry Klink, a famous South American, who wrote a book, MAR SEM FIM or Sea without End, about his experience sailing around Antartica. His book has not yet been translated into English.
Written by PennyLisa on 09 Jan, 2001
On this trip, the ship we were on did provide parkas and rubber boots. We did have to take waterproof pants and wear them over our boots because each day when we got out of the Zodiacs, we had to do it in the…Read More
On this trip, the ship we were on did provide parkas and rubber boots. We did have to take waterproof pants and wear them over our boots because each day when we got out of the Zodiacs, we had to do it in the water, so the boots along with the waterproof pants kept our feet dry. When I sat down to put all the sweaters and fleece pants and gloves and bulky other things in my bag, I realized that it would never fit. I went to the travel store and purchased the vacuum bags that reduce the size of your clothes. They worked great. I filled up the bag with lots of sweaters, then I sucked the air out of the bag with a vacuum hose. The two foot bag became five inches thick. I packed three of the bags in side my suitcase that earlier had only held the contents of one. When we arrived on the boat, I was expected all to be wrinkled, but when I open the air lock on the bag, the air filled the bag and the sweaters were fresh as new. I highly recommend these bags, especially for cold weather packing.
On the ship, dinner did require fancier fare of clothing for the night, but nothing formal. Nice pants, dress, or skirt were appropriate. During the day, we wore warm ups, sweat shirts, and warm clothes on the boat. During the day, it would be warm enough to go out on the deck, but be sure to protect your hands and face -- any skin that is exposed. Cover them with warm gloves and lots of SUNSCREEN. Pack two pairs of sunglasses and high SPF sunscreen for your face. The snow can be blinding, and the sparkle off the ice can cause a bunch of squinting during sightseeing. Also, put in some long underwear -- silk, Thermal, or whatever you prefer.
I did purchase hand warmer packs at the hardware store, and a pair of battery operated socks were used a few times, but they were more trouble than they were worth on this trip. The hand and toe warmers are enough. Use good judgement in packing, and remember to think in layers because you go from freezing to warm to hot in a short period of time during the day. And pack a swimsuit for the day that you might get a chance to dip in the thermal baths at Deception Island. This is fun !!!! Close
Each morning, we would go to the locker room and suit up for our day of Zodiac excursions. These rubber boats hold eight people plus a driver who is an employee of the boat. We got lucky, and our assigned driver was the…Read More
Each morning, we would go to the locker room and suit up for our day of Zodiac excursions. These rubber boats hold eight people plus a driver who is an employee of the boat. We got lucky, and our assigned driver was the doctor. After we suited up, we had to climb down a metal ladder that was attached to the ship, and we walked carefully from the ladder to the Zodiac, which was usually sloushing in the ocean, along with the ladder and the ship we were leaving. All this does require some concentration, but during the week, we had no mishaps, and we were not great adventure types.
Once inside the raft, one sits on the side with handropes for balance that are behind you. These daily rides were my favorite part of the trip. It was cold, but the air was as clean as we all imagine in our dreams, and the invigoration of the wind was great fun. The outboards on the Zodiacs were silent so that we could hear all the sounds that accompanied our journey: penguins, albatross, walrus, and seals. Plus, the cracking of the glaciers and the turning of the icebergs.
One day we were zooming in and out of the tourquoise water looking too close at icebergs. One decided to crack completely down the middle as we passed it. The doctor screamed for us to grab our ropes as he turned the boat around and away from the surge of water that was coming from the iceberg that was turning over -- the top of the iceberg was now under water, and the bottom was inverted. The water coming toward us was quite large and fast, but the good doctor was able to save us. Two elderly ladies in the front of the Zodiac were screaming, but then all was calm. When we got back to the ship, several people said, Did you hear that iceberg crack ? We just smiled and said, Yeah we heard it. Not only did we hear it, we were three feet from it. ..... Usually we would stay outside about an hour, then we would head back to the ship. And we might make this rotation three times a day if there were different areas to visit. You do not have to be in great shape to do this -- but you should have the capacity to steady yourself and hold on for safety. Be sure to pack a good pair of ear muffs for this part of your day because the wind is very cold. There is nothing more fun than gliding through crushed ice in a rubber raft -- give it a try.