Cruising to Antarctica – 2nd Quarter

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Published: January 17th 2024

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We left the Falklands with 4 days in a row on board as we head south towards Antarctica. Don and I decided to spend the first day bar hopping – starting in Good Spirits and proceeding to the Wheelhouse, Crooners, The Explorer, Fusion and finally to Skywalker way up on the 16th deck. Our timing was not good as we were caught up in the Drake Passage with waves and swells ranging from ten to fifteen feet. Don and I were not sure whether it was the rocking of the boat or the number of martinis we had that contributed more to our rough feeling. Following the map, our first stop was Elephant Island. We left the Falklands at a latitude of 52S and were planning on reaching 65S. The weather dropped to around freezing as we came within sight of numerous icebergs and rock islands. Time for a little history. The “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration” began at the beginning of the 20th century. Captain Robert Scott lead the first expedition to find the South Pole – he came within 410 miles before being forced to turn back. In 1907, Ernest Shackleton came within 97 miles and barely made it back alive. In 1910, Roald Amundsen and Captain Scott lead separate expeditions racing to the pole. Amundsen set our with 5 men, 4 sledges and 52 dogs, travelling to prepared depots and killing the dogs for food as they went. Two months later, he reached the pole with 17 dogs left. Twelve survived the return trek to base. They stayed two days at the pole, leaving markings and supplies for Scott. They returned a month later travelling 1600 miles in 99 days. Scott’s expedition was more tragic. He arrived at the pole a month after Amundsen and his team felt nothing short of depression over losing the race. They left after only a day – a month later one of their men collapsed and died. Another month later Captain Lawrence Oates walked out of the tent stating, “I am just going outside and may be some time”. He never returned and his body was never found. Three weeks later, an exhausted and dejected Scott wrote, “Had we lived, I would have had a tale of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishmen. These rough notes and dead bodies must tell the tale. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more.” Their bodies are discovered 7 months later only 11 miles from camp. In. 1914, Shackleton departed on his boat Endurance with hopes of travelling across Antarctica from sea to sea. Their ship gets caught in the ice on the Weddell sea and Shackleton prepares to spend the winter on board. But the ice gradually crushes the ship and he is forced to abandon ship in 3 lifeboats and sail to Elephant Island about a 100 miles away. All 28 men survive the winter by living under the overturned lifeboats before Shackleton finds help the following summer. There is a memorial on Elephant Island depicting the heroic nature of all these men who all survived. Interestingly enough, Shackleton returned 5 years later to the Antarctic and died on board of a heart attack. The map depicts our journey best and so I will concentrate on the highlights. We left the Drake Passage and headed into the Branfield Strait at Elephant Island. (I will post the map in this blog when I can). We moved slowly surrounded by islands and pieces of ice bergs. The water was calm and made for an enjoyable trek dotted with numerous sightings of whales, penguins and albatross. It is summer here and so the climate is certainly doable – temperatures around freezing and around twenty hours of sunlight. Doing all of this rubber necking at ice flows and untouched isles, one must mention perspective. Everything appears closer than what it really is and so smaller as well. A colony of penguins that appear to be only a few hundred yards away appear merely as black pepper dots on a bed of white snow. One begins to realize that what appears to be a few hundred yards is actually a few thousand. An ice berg that appears a few hundred feet high is actually a few thousand. The immensity of the ocean is certainly beyond belief. Most of the talk concerns a glacier named A23a. This is a piece of ice that broke away from the mainland in 1986 – it is larger than the state of New York. Until last year, it had been caught on a rock shelf, however the oceans have risen and this has freed the ice berg. It is slowly moving north towards the cape and scientists are predicting that if it melts the world’s ocean will all rise dramatically. Following the map, we headed south to our most southerly position beyond Anvers Island at a place called Paradise Cove. Until now, we had felt very isolated, remote and unique. Suddenly outside of Paradise cove we came within sight of a number of cruise ships – we were forced to turn around without entering the cove and missed seeing the US base called Palmer station, as another ship had priority. On the fourth day in the Antarctic, we circled Deception Island and headed back into the Drake Passage. Many of those aboard who had done this trip before, were amazed at how clear and sunny our weather had been. Travelling to a latitude of 65S is as close as one can get to the South Pole by boat – being a fair sized continent, one must travel the rest overland. In contrast, the Arctic is not a continent but an archipelago – a cluster of islands – with many joined by ice flows.


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