We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time
First week aboard the MS Expedition.
Has been amazing spectacular stupendous and awesome. In other words “adequate”!
Boarded in Ushuaia pondering what kind of people we would be spending the next three weeks with. 123 passengers and approximately 70 crew. Of course seeing people at hotel it seemed like a bunch of old people, but then I realized I was one of them.
Once onboard introduced to life boat drill and emergency procedures, then we were off. One gal exclaimed “I am little kid excited”. One began to realize it may be a bit older crowd but rather adventurous although I do not think very many will go off on a bicycle tour of South America or Nepal or Germany. Only 8 from the United States, others from Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Canada, Norway, Czech Republic, and a multitude of other places. All speak English. Ages are all over probably around 60 as an average, with several I am guessing in their 30’s. All are excited about learning and seeing. As we mingle about I am learning they all have incredible stories accumulated through out their lives.
The crew is again a variety, Filipino cabin crew, a Brazilian hotel manager. First mate and captain from Ukraine.
Warned the seas may be a bit rough after leaving beagle channel but proved quite calm in the full days travel to the falklands. I took a Benadryl as precaution but it proved totally unnecessary.
And thoroughly enjoying the knowledge level and excitement on board. Birds were amazing. Giant austral petrel, cape petrel, Wilson’s storm petrel and a variety of others. About noon a couple of fin whales went by. Photographers are going crazy. With the fin whales I spent about half the time trying to adjust my camera before I just put it down and watched the whales. Sometimes one must just deal in the present and forget the future.
Accommodations are wondrous, the bed incredibly comfortable with just a comforter over. Alden is our cabin attendant, and cleans the room twice a day, makes up the bed in morning, and turns it down in the evening. Amazing service and incredibly friendly. They work about 10 months a year with 2 off, and seem to work 18 hour days 7 days a week. In other words very hard working. Boat crew is standard 4 hours on with 8 off. As the captain said this has worked for centuries and continues.
The guide crew is in a constant friendly smile. There are 16 of them 13 paid, and three volunteers and very knowledgeable.(three unpaid are the lead scientist, photographer and MD) Brent from San Diego has doctorate in marine biology and lead scientist. (Born in Fairbanks and used to work in Barrow in 1978 when Geoff and I were there working with bowhead whales). Annette with doctorate in biology from Germany, focusing on habitat of southern humpback whales, the medical doc is from New Zealand, Phil from Catalina island in California is kayak guide, Kevin from England is bird guide, Lyn’s specialty is penguins and is from Australia, Shayne is the photographer and her classes have been full of a massive amount of information. The lectures go on. This mornings lecture was Southern Hemisphere marine mammals, and Penguins. This afternoon, bird identification of the Falklands, followed by the first of two lectures on Shackleton expedition, after which is followed by an on deck class of bird sighting, then a BBC movie on springtime in the arctic and Antarctic regions. (No landings as travelling between Falkland Islands and South Georgia, a two day journey, currently 300 miles southeast of the falklands)
Food is good with varying hours usually each meal an hour long. All 128 passengers fit in dining room and breakfast and lunch are buffet style with dinner being served. Usually 3-4 courses. Trying to limit myself.
First day out on crossing to Falklands we had classes on dressing for Antarctic, getting into and out of the zodiacs, boot fitting (they provide the muck boots) and general introductions to life aboard ship. Quite fascinating.
Arrived west point island in the falklands and our first landing. Made the landing and appeared to be a nice hike of about 2 kilometer up a bit of hill across some flatlands and to the headland.
Oh my gosh, on arrival in a bit of a valley was black browed albatross soaring about and then you saw it was a nesting area. And interspersed amongst the albatross were the rock hopper penguins. Zounds!
Windy as the albatross require winds to take off. Amazing birds with their 2 meter plus wing span.
Incredibly delightful just watching the albatross skim just feet above your head. The penguins just doing their penguin cuteness (standing there, occasionally preening, or yelling at their neighbor.
Back to the ship and on to Saunders island with a beach landing. Nothing serious but the staff is incredibly protective. Walked over the little spit, beside the gentoo rookery with maybe 100-200 birds standing on a tiny nest on a very slight upraised area. Hike to a beautiful white sand beach about a mile long covered with numerous penguins with small surf coming in. Had been warned to watch out for leopard seals hunting penguins coming in. And some skinny king penguins standing there with fluffy fat chicks of same size.
Off to the south end of beach where rockhopper penguins are attempting to climb hill to nests above. Hopping from ledge and rock and rock to ledge. Definitely more graceful in water. At one point maybe 100 came in at same time and we could watch them in the water. Swimming fast leaping out very graceful, then they get on land. One did not make leap of about a foot (30 cm) and fell about a meter (they are about 45 cm high) but just shook himself and proceeded to find another route.
Then walked the beach watching the birds sort of work their way to nesting area stopping to preen, return for a swim in the water. Incredibly cute.
Back to ship and penguins swimming along side porpoising through the water. And we are moving along pushed by a 50 hp motor. Everyone excited about seeing penguins.
During the night ship drove around north end of islands arriving Stanley about 7:30. Beautiful harbor where we tied up to dock. Buses to drive us to gypsy cove for bird watching or photography or to tumbledown mountain hiking. Jeanne and I chose the hike. Had a great guide who showed flowers and Falkland war history. This time the story was from British side as opposed to the story told in Argentina. As far as they are concerned Argentina is very bad, a very different from viewpoint of the Argentinians. One of the last battles was at tumbledown overlooking Stanley. Interesting walking about areas which were major battles and a war zone. Numerous minefields left and one must know where you are walking. Human species are amazing in their ability to try and destroy themselves.
Back to the bus where we returned to ship for lunch, then walked back into town. Obviously the weather is usually a fright here with wind. A beautiful day for us warm(15C, 60F), and not much wind but it obviously blows here judging by plants, and buildings.
Now enroute to South Georgia island. 900 miles from falklands to South Georgia. A gale behind us which we are just ahead of and seas relatively calm. Every once in a while we push or hit a wave and Jeanne and I think “earthquake” then realize we are on a boat. Just rocking but not bad, just make sure you can grab something to hold on and valuables (cameras, binoculars) are on the floor.
Wow yesterday on our second day of driving to South Georgia island was great. Crossed the Antarctic convergence and water temperature dropped from 8 to 2 Celsius. Big ice berg appeared (as in much larger than the ship) 1000 kilometers from falklands we circled the shag rocks a point of land sticking up then another 250 kilometer and this morning we arrive at northwest end of South Georgia. Cloudy and snowing but through the fog one can see the mountains. We are driving back and forth in front of right whale bay currently. Excited again to go ashore and see one of largest king penguin rookeries with fur seals, and elephant seals. Weather now at 6:30 outside bay the wind is 15-30 knots the temperature is 2 c and a slight snow. Nice
Well the scout party went to check landing at right whale beach despite winds 25-30 gusting 40. Cutoff for them is 40 knots. But alas the fur seals have taken over beach and totally unable to land anywhere, so we all went for a 1 hour zodiac cruise. Would have been 1 1/2 hours but winds increased to gusting at 60 knots (about 75 mph and 110 kph). Everyone totally bundled as temp still about 2 degrees C just above freezing. A bit chilly. Rain gear a requirement and the nice parka given us is very good. I took a good splash upon returning and came in dripping. Yahoo life is great!
The beach was spectacular. Second largest breeding colony of king penguins and they covered a huge area, but the fur seals dominated. They are not necessarily mean but defend their territory vigorously. Herded the penguins around keeping them from water, chased other males away and we have been warned they will charge us, hence no landing. I do not want a fight with a fur seal. And the behomoths of the elephant seals are totally slackards. Huge lumps of blubber just laying about pretending to be a rock, although at nearly 6 meters are in length and 4-5 tons it is not recommended to mistake it for a rock. Everyone agrees they resemble Jabba the hut in Star Wars. The king penguins are as cute as the rockhoppers and gentoos but bigger (up to 95 cm, 3 feet in height.)
Ice bergs about and big ones plus several growlers about. Currently repositioning to afternoon operations in bay of isles. Will see what weather and animals bring us. This morning catabatic winds were totally unpredictable and again offshore about 5 kilometers. Cruising along just looking at steep cliffs and glaciers. Beautiful
What an afternoon. Sailed to a bay but catabatic winds at 60 knots and could not get an anchor down. Tried another nearby bay in bay of islands and when tucked in behind an island the winds suddenly died, but shortly before dropping anchor the winds picked up again and we had to depart. Back across to a place called rosita bay and found calm. Kayakers went out but for the rest of us landing on beach was again impossible due to fur seals. But all got to do a zodiac cruise which brought us right to beach but could not get out nor did we want to face those 200 kg masses of fury. One was dead and being picked apart by albatross, one was very bloody with gashes and tears over shoulders and rump, but still guarding his 5 females and pups. Amazing creatures and a bit smelly. The elephant seals just lie around belching and farting. We are assured it is not belching and farting but their vocalizations, but sure sounds like belching and farting.
Grytvikin 1 December 2016
What a place: steeped in history. Zodiac in to the cemetery and a toast of whiskey to Earnest Shackleton and a walk into whaling station guided by the watchful and careful guides who are quick to point out our errors, in not seeing a slumbering brown pile which we have seen can erupt into massive fury and return to slumber in a few seconds. The whaling station is steeped in history and fascinating to walk through. (amazing to think of the whales that went through there, up to 40000 a year decimating the populations. In 20 minutes an entire fin wheel could be taken apart into tiny pieces scattered about the station rendered into food, fertilizer, creams and cosmetics.
Return ship for lunch and opted out of hiking to take the photography class with Shayne in the whaling station. She is amazing with her knowledge of cameras and photography. Learned (well she taught) bringing out the colors by using landscape instead of portrait mode and changing the white balance. Numerous points one such was, think about taking only one picture to sum up the entire whaling station. I took about 150.
But to think of the history and what had gone on there, Blaine the musician guide did a concert in the church and one could sit where the men of years past sat contemplating who knows what. But I realized I had not seen the museum and hence skipped the concert running through the museum which one could spend an entire afternoon at. Viewing exhibits of whaling, shackleton, falklands war, and general history of the area. Then to the art area which was a replica of the James Caird. Amazingly small. Shackleton crossed 800 miles of southern ocean to reach South Georgia island in that boat performing what has become known as one of the greatest rescues in history. His trip took 3 years with 24 men without a single loss of life. For those who have not read about shackleton and his amazing story and rescue it is a classic of one of the greatest rescues and expeditions to occur in the Antarctic heroic age of 1895. – 1920.
Back on board and we are headed back to attempt anther beach landing at salisbury plain where king penguin rookery is and Jeanne and I are going on a zodiac cruise. Then beach.
Friday 2 December 2016
Return to plains but although the water somewhat calm the fur seals were not and the beach masters were in charge. No landing but did have a leopard seal playing about boat in kelp. Yahoo. Magnificent if not ominous looking. One of the two animals I really wanted to see. The other is a blue whale but that is very rare.
Afternoon to a smaller colony of king penguins and able to somewhat precariously work our way through a few fur seals hiking up to a colony of several thousand . Wow impressive and the sun was out whereas in morning snowing and raining. Temperature is just above freezing.
Then a good zodiac Cruise about ice berg probably 40-50 meters tall, in three spires.
And just back from seeing the southern cross, not for first time but still good to check in. Always nice to see old friends.
3 December South Georgia island
Jogged back and forth last night until breakfast time then into stromness harbor to see another whaling station, hike and explore the area where Shackleton finished his over mountain portion of his epic story. Alas the place was covered in fur seals and totally unable to land hence decided to move to our afternoon destination of Hercules harbor. Alas again fur seals and fur seals again and wind blowing about 35 knots. So decided to move southward on island to see if there might be a bay which would offer protection and be interesting. Tried another bay finally ending up at gold harbor which was delightful. Alex the head guide said he had been there before but always blocked by fur seals but this time it was quiet, no fur seals to be seen, although numerous elephant seals, and a huge king penguin colony, and a massive hanging glacier at one end with an overpouring glacier at the other end of glacier. Beautiful although a bit of drizzle nearly snowing.
Offered a zodiac cruise but wanted to walk, then discovered we were last into zodiac again. Somehow our luck has been that way. But crew quickly loaded everyone and we were on shore. Amongst the penguins, and a large volume of elephant seal noises. Crossed the beach and into the tussock grass and mud and a gentoo penguin colony. 2 new chicks were noted beneath one bird. Then on through the mud and slime to another area overlooking the beach and stream where penguins were standing to cool off. We had to be very careful as there were fur seals about although young and not overly territorial, but camouflaged into the grass and mud. One does not want to surprise one and get in a fight or get bit. Everyone realizes an injury is serious stuff. We have one broken arm already and she must wait until we return to Ushuaia in two weeks. A life threatening injury would mean the boat turns around and we all go back to Ushuaia. The closest airport is 1200 miles away in the falklands and none here. Helicopters cannot get this far. We are on our own.
Jeanne and I sat for an hour and half just watching the birds and seals. Finally said we wanted the zodiac cruise and started back knee deep in mud. Great cruise South Georgia shags, penguins in and out of surf, elephant seals , then below the glacier. Incredible country.
Then back to the expedition (that is the name of our boat), another incredible meal movie and now heading toward Antarctica. An occasional wave and a bit of rocking about, although nothing bad as yet. Went up top and was actually surprised how quiet it is.
And the ship is dark except running lights as past 4 nights all windows covered to prevent bird strikes.
4 December enroute South Georgia to Antarctic peninsula
A bit rough last evening as we rounded cape disappointment but smoothed out and just cruising the smooth southern ocean today. Just saw some blue whales and fin whales. A rare sighting, the population is down to 3-4% of its pre hunting days.
Lectures this morn on seals of Antarctica and arctic. Scott gave a lecture on race to South Pole between scot and Amundsen. Great history.
This afternoon biosecurity again to check any dirt. Invasive species are becoming a problem hence a good wash of all external gear, and as yesterday we were wading in the mud, hence before arrival we must vacuum all pockets and Velcro, plus wash boots and any mud on backpack, pants, and boots.
5 December 2016
Each day gets better. This is like the 12th day in a row which is better than the previous. Awoke early about 5 looked out and there was a huge glacier descending down the mountain. Had to go out on back deck which had a small layering of snow, which was very slippery in my crock shoes. We moved along between big tabular ice bergs, arriving and anchoring at shingle cove on coronation island in the south orkneys. Apparently very rare to land here because of ice and wind. Due to flat seas yesterday we were able to go faster allowing more time, plus wind low and bergy bits were few allowing a landing.
Boarded zodiacs and cruised along the ice edge. Always a treat to just cruise along noting the incredible shapes the ice gets in and how deep in goes in that blue green color. Magnificent and I never tire of it. And here the glaciers were piling down the mountains above. I suspect there has never been a climbing trip here and multiple first ascents available although an incredibly remote and difficult place to get to. As noted earlier for almost all the crew, this was first time here. It was the first time for the boat in 5 years.
But onward everyone reveling in this journey. Geoff describes the area as Alaska on steroids. Me, I am running out of amazing words to describe what I’ve it.
But now back at sea heading to elephant island where Shackleton men spent 4 months awaiting a rescue. Gentle rolling and a few bergies out there.
The lectures continue about Antarctic explorers and the southern continent. One thing that has struck me is how Amundsen seemed to learn that locals have knowledge of how to live and work in the particular environment. When he came to the south he had already been to the arctic and discovered how the eskimos lived. Scott was English and since they ruled the world they felt they knew it all already. Stiff upper lip and all that. Amundsen used dogs and skis to reach the South Pole whereas Scott used ponies and man hauling. Scott did not return. Again on this trip I am seeing the history of man in subtle ways. I am better than you and I am willing to die to prove it.
Welcome to Antarctica 6 December 2016
What a day. Started when I awoke and went up for coffee. All were excited about the ice last night and how we were stopped. I had slept through the crashing bashing and rolling. But at 5:30 we were moving along, arriving elephant island about noon, where Shackleton’s men stayed for 4 months which is a bit of miracle as very little there. Glaciers on both side so area to go is less than 100 meters. Apparently only plants there are two species of lichen. There was a chinstrap penguin colony on rock above the beach, but wind blowing at 35 knots hence no landing or zodiac. Lots of fin whales about.
And chilly. Top decks were closed due to falling ice from superstructure, but sun came out in afternoon which was delightful. Then on to south end of elephant island where crew managed to get ramps and boats over port side. But rough, I told a fellow passenger I gave our chances at 20% of getting off boat. Well we did it totally bundled up.
A rough ride in zodiacs then through a passageway with I figure 8 foot waves crashing on rocks on both sides of us, then around a corner and into a tiny bay also with big waves. We were told the penguins above us on cliffs were macaroni penguins. Ok I will believe them as they were black and white, but I couldn’t hold the binoculars still to see. But definitely penguins hanging onto an exposed cliff side in the 35 knot winds.
Returned watching the zodiac behind us rise completely out of water, only the motor remaining unseen. Quite fun. Returned with everyone smiling. As Alex said welcome to Antarctica.
8 December 2016 just off coast of northern Antarctic peninsula
And onward passing Livingston island and its grand glaciers toward half moon bay and a chinstrap penguin colony. Those birds definitely deserve the cuteness award. On a scale of 10 they rank 10 and the closest thing even close would be a 4. Waddling along or dropping to their belly and to tobaganing along pushing with feet and rowing with flippers. Walked over a small pass having to give way to uphill penguin traffic. They get it in their mind where they want to go and if you are in way they just mill about until you move 2 feet off to the side they then proceed.
And the sun was out and a brilliant day. Walked the beach, just looking at waves, penguins, rocks, skuas, and Antarctic terms. Then returned for boat ride back to ship and time to take a zodiac cruise. Out into the bay and watched a humpback whale moving slowly about. Managed a good picture of diving with fin up.
Back to ship for lunch and motor onward to deception island whalers bay of Neptune caldera which is a volcanic caldera, last eruption being in 1969. The story goes this is the place in Jules vernes novel “20,000 leagues under the sea” where captain nemo had his base. In the novel he had to go through an underwater channel, in reality for us a delightful narrow entrance and quiet inside. Jeanne and I had signed up for the “long” hike up to the nipple on ridge line overlooking bay and outward back to Livingston island views to Antarctic peninsula. 3 kilometer rising to maybe 250 meters above sea level, but the views fantastic. Unfortunately as I walked the last bit up the rock to summit of the “nipple” I was yelled at to come down and unless I had a mountaineering certification I could show now, I was not allowed to go the last 3 meters to top. Alas. Hence we got back in line and marched onward up the ridge to avoid the snow fields and went down a gravel ridge.
Back to beach where steam rising from the heated waters of the volcanic caldera and those that wanted to could swim. I had thought temperatures would be freezing but had to balance out Arctic Ocean swim with southern ocean swim. Turns out temps were guessed at 4-5 degrees( maybe low 40s F). And most of us went in a couple of times, laying in the warm sand after. Returned with bragging rights.
Currently 7 am and cruising along Antarctic peninsula in Wilhimina bay in glorious sunshine and only 10-15 knot wind, temperature is 2 degrees c. Apparently bay we wanted earlier this morning was too ice choked, hence are looking for something different. But looks to be a great day. The mountains and glaciers here in Wilhelmina bay are absolutely stunning. Only in the Ruth gorge in Alaska have I seen such amazing views.
8 december 2016
Wilhelmina bay fabulous! Stuck the nose of ship into ice about 50 meters and we were off for a grand walk on the shore fast ice. Wedded, crabeater, and a leopard seal basking in the sunshine. Occasionally a penguin would march by, but most were standing on the ice bergs floating about. Would have been an absolutely fantastic ski across the flat pan.
Then back to ship with superb zodiac tour about the icebergs.
Today I opted to not carry camera pack and just put extra lens in pocket. Alas when I stepped aboard my leg hit pocket and knocked the 70-300 mm lens out and into the ocean it went, as I was right between zodiac and boarding platform. Three of us saw it and reached, but it was floating similar to a rock. Alas no more telephoto lens.
On to Orne bay and the actual mainland of Antarctica, which explains why it is so difficult to get to. Surrounded by by glaciers and ice falls going directly into the sea. They had a spot just wide enough to get the zodiac in and one could scramble up onto snow and zig zag a hill to a small pass overlooking the Gerlache straight which has a lot of ice. Another cruise ship heading north in it.
Guy gave us a super cruise back next to glaciers on way back to ship driving through the brash ice and up to glaciers. Incredible the amount of snow there is. I suspect the summit up on the snowfield feeding the glaciers it is hundreds of feet thick.
There were set of ski turns coming down and I thought wow some other cruise let someone ski. Looked like a nice ski 15 turns on a gentle slope, beautiful spring corn snow. We moved a few miles for anchorage as it was camping night. It was there I saw more ski tracks and a sailboat. Hence no cruise skis.
Last night was camping night for those opting for the one night event out on ice. We chose not to go as $400 for a night in tent on ice. But a first experience for many. I was surprise when watching the campers load in zodiacs there were two people with skis, but turns out they were not allowed to put them on, just stand there for a picture.
Guess we have been on here for a while little complaints sneaking in. Someone got splashed on zodiac and someone on landing stepped in over Their boot top on landing, requiring a quicker trip back to ship. The staff still is amazing trying to balance all our interests and needs, but as time goes on we seem to get a bit pickier.
And while I am moaning and groaning will note I have managed to obtain a cold. Lungs congested again and nose now giving me lots of exercise. 3 days now and each day I awake after a fitful night thinking it is better only to discover worse. But cannot give up any activity as only here once.
9 December 2016
Worked our way south into increasing ice, finally having to stop at 64 degrees 54 minutes when entire channel blocked. Spent an hour then started trip north, stopping at an island rarely visited due to usual bad weather. Useful island named from the whalers who came in here from the top could watch whales entering the Gerlache straight.
A nice hike to near top with lots of chinstrap and gentoo penguins plus the skuas cruising around.
A delightful zodiac cruise after admiring the infinite forms and shapes of ice bergs. Stunning.
And the cold (cough, fever, runny nose) continues: arggghhh
10 December 2016
Awoke again for 4th day in row thinking wow I think this illnes is getting better. But today seemed more hopeful. Did not start popping pills until at least up for 1/2 hour, then only thinking it just just preventative for later on hike ashore. As I right this it is noon and still very very much under the weather but surviving better.
Another great trip ashore and this time got to actually get to summit: no animals blocking way and guides said ok! Danco island in orne bay where we were a few days ago. Gentoo penguins marching up and down on their melted out highways. Penguins are so incredibly cut one can hardly stand it.
A zodiac ride back to ship to look up close at glacier coming off mainland but interrupted by a sleeping leopard seal on ice flow. Got with 5 meters and he could not have cared less. Mostly just sleeping , once raising his head but quickly returning to some sort of seal dreams I suppose.
Afternoon motored to the Malachi on islands for our final zodiac cruise, and it was a tremendous ending. Basically islands several meters across to I suppose a few kilometers, but all covered in glacier flowing to the water edge. My guess is a hundred meters plus in thickness but spectacular walls as the snow reaches the edge. Huge crevasses seen from below some would be completely unseen from the upper surface. Motored around for over an hour just sight seeing. They found a tiny inlet surrounded by glacier at the head of which was some fast ice (sea ice frozen and connected to land hence fastened ) of which there were 20 plus Weddell seals and one crab eater seal. Delightful viewing. Then return to the ship and begin our return trip north.
Was thinking if someone said let’s go for an open boat ride in prince William sound with the temperature right at freezing, wind blowing 15-20 knots I would say you are crazy. Here nearly everyone jumped at the chance. There is no such thing as bad weather just bad gear.
On another note Geoff noted it is only the three Alaskans who have no accent on this boat. I mentioned this to someone and they say d it is because we learned at the Sarah Pallin school of linguistics. Ok, I now have a major accent.
On the sickness front am down to only replaced handerkerchief once every 3 hours whereas it was every hour. Progress
and half way across drake passage and quiet. A bit of rolling but not bad
Made it across the supposedly roughest waters in the world and it was quiet. Apparently normally everything is on floor as nothing will stay up including people. Hmmm great trip.
And thus it ends. Back in Ushuaia. The above is sort of the daily log I tried to keep, but it comes not even close to representing the trip. The photos are mine except the above by Shayne the trip photographer and those where camera given to someone else photo me. The internet onboard was dialup speed and I felt the photos did more justice.