Our Antarctic adventure begins on 6 December with our arrival in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We’ll cover that and Ushuaia next post. We chose Silversea & Silver Explorer voyage 7824. The Silver Explorer boards 123 passengers and 119 crew. There are a lot of other providers and formats but we could not be happier. We are treated to daily presentations and wrap-ups by the ace expedition staff and spoiled with top notch niceties and service throughout the cruise.
Mornings and evenings are spent with people, discussing the day’s events, our pasts, presents and futures. Dining and dancing, singing scary-okay. Celebrating each other; the couple on their 70th wedding anniversary, Nana in her late 90’s and on her first cruise, the newlyweds. Days belong to Antarctica and the continent holds court as only a sovereign can.
Every dawn and dusk is different, every zodiac ride an adventure. Yes, I freeze my socks off during the lava stone dinner on the open aft deck. Yes, I misjudge the tide and spend an entire excursion with wet socks and my wife wrenches a knee in The Drake and again getting out of a drift that swallows her up to her chest. We’d do it again. All of it.
3. Paulet Island 63°34’S 55°45’W
Our first zodiac ride. Seas are not too choppy but visibility is down. We love it. As soon as the engine is cut we hear the penguins, Adélies. Then we smell them. Ah, fresh krill. We learn quickly that penguins are too curious for their own good and evil mimes. Especially Adélie. They walk right up to us, block our path. We wait. They wait. We step to one side. They step with us. We shrug our arms. They shrug their wings. Oh-kay.
Fun fact. Penguins can teleport. You stop on open ice, not a penguin in sight. Blink. You hear another explorer laugh and you turn to find, of course, a penguin right beside you. You take three steps. Penguin takes three. Two steps? They match. You begin singing “Smells like teen spirit” to the penguin. They Rickroll you. As I said. Evil mimes.
The scenery is sublime. Snow begins to fall as we photograph the ruins of the stone shelter built by the 1903 Swedish South Polar Expedition. The wind picks up and more snow falls, big flakes that remind us we are visitors here. We grin like kids. We are kids. The world is suddenly so much bigger and we such tiny frail creatures. It is a wonderful feeling.
4. Brown Bluff 63°31’S 56°52’W
Brown Bluff brings a rugged departure from the shores and snow we encountered on Paulet. It also brings us our first encounter with the slightly larger Gentoo penguins. They aren’t as relaxed as their smaller cousins. The Gentoo seem to have pickets posted at the borders between Gentoo and Adélies colonies. Are they there for the Adélies or ever-present Skuas? The Adélies don’t care, brazenly walking through braying and squawking what I swear sounds like “We know the game and we’re gonna play it.”
5. Mikkelsen Harbour 63°53’S 60°47’W
Clear skies and glass seas greet us as we scamper into the zodiacs. So clear in fact that we will soon be doffing parkas as we skirt the Gentoo colonies and resting Weddell seals. Our eyes scan the horizon and we experience the same disorientation we felt when we saw our first shelf iceberg. Times ten.
The scales are just all wrong. Too big. That iceberg is miles away but from the shore it is three times as tall as the ship. The shoreline on the horizon rises up gently into clouds that oh wait those aren’t clouds at all but snow my gawd. We gawk and giggle. A lot. Mostly gawk. And B-b-b-baby we just ain’t seen n-n-nothin’ yet.
6. Cierva Cove 64°09’S 60°53’W
More perfect weather and more good fortune. The cove is filled with ice, and earlier zodiacs spent most of their time just getting in and back out. We make for the Chinstrap Penguin colony on a rock outcropping that by itself is stunning. The Crabeater seal basking in the sun next to it seems to agree. Chinstrap and Crabeater photo op over, plenty of time left, and our driver Scott asks if we’d like to go iceberg and whale watching. Do we.
We pair up with Cory and her zodiac. The race is on. First stop is an iceberg that looks like the Matterhorn. The colors, the blues and whites, they are just–There! On the horizon. Go go go!!! Scott guns our zodiac and Cory hers. Spouts in the distance, then two, maybe six flukes. Scott tells us they are young probably Humpback Whales chasing krill. Periodically we pause, wait, sight them and race on.
Then it happens. Both zodiacs are stopped, silent, maybe 50 meters apart. Scott & Cory’s best guess at where the whales might surface. And then they are there, three of them, maybe 30 meters away. We aren’t talking, breathing, moving. But we are more alive than we’ve ever been. And then, as majestically as they arrived, they depart. We don’t. Not right away, anyway. Not right away.
Morning brings the news that our planned landing on Pettermann Island is cancelled. The overnight snows haven’t abated and the wind is picking up. Not the best of conditions to be on deck but most of us are. We sail through Neumayer Channel and some impressive icebergs. Somehow missing out on Pettermann doesn’t seem so bad after all.
7. Damoy Point 64°49’S 63°31’W
The weather worsens slightly, and deep snow makes leaving any of the cleared paths treacherous at best. Even with walking sticks. But it’s worth it. Damoy Point is home to a hut built by the British Antarctic Survey personnel providing logistics for Rothera Research Station. By one of our expedition staff, Clive. His eyes beam as he describes the experience. The hut is fully stocked, and visitors are allowed to sign the log book.
The rest of our time on Damoy is spent watching Gentoo colonies, Skua forrays into the Gentoo colonies, and an ineffable parade of iceberg in the distance. Clive? I swear he looks forty years younger.
8. Ronge Island 64°34’S 62°41’W
Yaaas, more Chinstrap Penguins. My favourite, I have no idea why. And Gentoos. We’re worn out from Damoy and skip this trip. Besides, somebody needs to support the spa staff. Speaking of, one of the best parts of the shore landings are the new crew members making their first landfalls. They are almost more excited than we are. Their energy just adds to the mix.
9. Cuverville Island 64°41’S 62°38’W
Cuverville ups the ante. Our first rolling iceberg. Our first calving, and it’s a big one. All just the opening act. At 7:25 am part of our group begins the climb up the Northern peak. The skies are blue. Halfway up Antarctica reminds us what we are. Where we are. By 8:09 am they are invisible to those of us near the base, swallowed up in a storm that seemingly comes out of nowhere. We know who sent it, and why. Message received, Antarctica. This is your realm, and we are interlopers.
Evening and dinner brings yet another reminder. The ship shudders and a large iceberg now sporting paint from our starboard hull glides past. Quietest meal of the entire cruise. In return, Antarctica rewards us with more whale sightings. Works for me.
10. Paradise Harbour 64°51’S 62°54’W
The highlight in a week of highlights. Amazing glaciers, two of them, crabeater seals, birds galore, and zodiac rides that are as educational as they are inspirational. We return to a ship slowly being surrounded by ice. The zodiacs take turns herding the bigger floes away so that we can be recovered.
It is Polar Plunge night. Or would have been. A berg too big to be diverted by the biggest zodiac damages the gangway platform we were going to jump off of. Our Captain isn’t amused. But you can feel the continent chuckle.
11. Deception Island 62°59’S 60°34’W
Yeah, just cruise into the caldera of an active volcano. No problem. The weather is problematic but there is so much history here in Whalers Bay. We hike to the ridge line and then up part of Mount Pond. I’m gassed, but it is worth it. It is the ugliest beautiful place I have ever been.
Later about twenty of the passengers sans Link P. make their polar plunge from the shore. It is our final landing and a fitting end to an amazing journey. But it isn’t the end. The Drake wants one more go at us.