Published: February 6th 2011January 28th 2011
28th January 2011
Day 1: Setting sail for Antarctica!
This is the day that we set sail for Antarctica- and we are all very excited! The boat leaves at 4pm and we had a few jobs to do before then. First stop, get the laundry back and repack the rucksacks. There is no laundry service on board and it was imperative that the penguins see us in clean clothes that smell delicious ☺ We put our luggage in storage and headed over to the office to pick up our Antarctic jackets and ski pants…… the rubber boots we will get on board. Next stop, to the shops to buy proper gloves for Sid and I, and finally to the supermarket to stock up on cheap wine and chocolate to bring on board. At 3.30pm we walked to the pier with the 10 other backpackers who were leaving on various boats and there was a distinct air of excitement. A mandatory photo at the sign saying Antarctica 1,000kms this way was taken and then we went to find our boat. There were four boats leaving around the same time, one of which was the National Geographic boat- twice the price and
no kids under 12 years allowed! Bill Gates also had his boat moored (called the Octopus) fully equipped with 2 helicopters on deck and a yacht underneath.
Everyone left their bags on the pier and boarded the Ushuaia. We instantly spotted the other family; Isacc 8yrs, Peter 7yrs and Arthur 3 yrs- a present from above…… they are living in Chile but on their ‘summer holidays’. The boys instantly hit it off and within 30 seconds were comparing notes on how to get to the next level of Starwars on the DS. We checked into our cabins and since we were a last minute special, all the family suites were taken, but they gave us 2 rooms joined together with a bathroom which was fine, in fact, it gives us an extra room when Sid goes to sleep!
We wandered round the boat and saw our bags being put on by crane, zodiacs (rubber boats used to bring us to shore in Antarctica), the life boats and the BBQ on deck! There was a welcome champagne toast at 5.30pm and a buffet of finger food and afterwards a compulsory briefing about safety on board. They mentioned sea sickness
(we are crossing the Drake Passage for 2 days, open water notorious for big waves), and getting hands trapped in steel doors and about emergency evacuations….. We were then told to go back to our cabins and wait for the evacuation drill. The bell went off and we took our life vests and went to the bar for a roll call and then outside to the lifeboat, which looks a bit like a submarine, decked out with food and water etc. When Augustine explained that we would all climb inside in an emergency the children all chorused “COOL” which got a laugh from the crowd and the guide admitted that it would be an ‘unforgettable experience’. Then a special request from the boys, we were allowed inside for a look.
Suddenly it was 8pm and time for dinner. There are only 64 passengers on board which is a nice small number for landings and the boat has capacity for 84! At 9pm we got Sid ready for bed but Nigel came back at 9.30pm to witness the amazing sunset on deck- with 2 rainbows on the horizon.
29th January 2011
Day 2: Drake’s Passage
And so begins
Security drill -
The kids got to go inside the lifeboat / submarine.
the long two day journey across the open sea. So far, so good as we are all feeling fine. The tanoy woke us up for breakfast served at 8am. The boys immediately gravitated back to their room where they gorged on DVDs and games and books and teddies. We dragged them all out on deck under duress with exclamations of ‘there’s nothing to see!’ so we brought them to see the captain’s bridge and he explained the radar and how they send signals to the engine room. We took the kids to one of the many lectures during the day, but the one on birds of Antarctica even put me to sleep so in the end they were excused after 5 minutes.
Steak and mash potatoes for lunch, and then onto the deck where it was lovely and sunny and we spotted some Albatross birds and Petrels native to the Antarctic. Nigel and I went to another lecture on Antarctica Records where we learned that it is the coldest (-89°C), driest (classified as a desert), windiest (320km/hr), highest (if it’s ice sheets melted the world would rise by 60 – 65 meters) and most compressed (it is pushed into
the earth by the weight of the ice and would spring back about 500m) continent in the world and that it doubles it’s size in winter! We learned that every blue whale eats 8 tonnes of krill every DAY….. in the words of uncle Eoin – every day’s a school day!
After dinner Nigel and Sid went to see a 45min movie on the first explorer in Antarctica - ‘Shackleton’ ….. and when Sid went to bed we watched a DVD in our private suite!
30th January 2011
Day 3: Drake’s Passage continues….. & our 1st unexpected landing on Half Moon
Sid slept till 9am, which means he missed the breakfast buffet, so we got him a take away. There is a competition today where you have to write down the time that you think the first iceberg will be spotted (and it has to be as big or bigger than the ship). We had 1 shot each so we put in around 3, 3.30 or 4pm. The person who guesses the closest will win a bottle of wine. We sailed till 2.30 pm and then we docked at ‘Half Moon Island’ which was an unexpected landing.
Normally it’s too windy to dock here, but we got lucky and so everyone went to the cabins to get on the layers. Before you get onto the zodiac rubber boat which brings you over to the island you have to dip your boots in disinfectant and brush any dirt off in case you take any diseases to the penguin colonies. You are also prohibited from bringing any food or drink over and if you need a wee, you have to go back to the ship.
We were some of the first to get dressed, so we were on the first passenger boat over! As we arrived the smell was very intense – all we could smell was poo. It was a rocky beach with a hill full of penguins and their chicks. The snow was covered in green and pink poo, the colour coming from the pink krill they eat and seaweed. The penguins were squawking for food and chasing each other around. All the boys wanted to do was slide down the hill, but there wasn’t a patch available that didn’t have shite all over it, so the inevitable happened! Half Moon Island has an Argentinean station
One of our rooms.
We had two rooms like this, joined by a bathroom in the middle
called “Camara Station” manned on the island and they welcomed us in with hot chocolate and coffee. They made a fuss of Sid as he was the only kid around and he got his photo taken with the staff and got a bonus can of Sprite. We got back on board, delighted to have finally stepped on Antarctic land!
31st January 2011
Day 4: The day it snowed
We were awoken to the tune of Indian Jones at 7am – and when you looked out the window we were moored beside icebergs! We all rushed to breakfast and then back to the get dressed for our first landing on ‘Danco Island’ Amazing icebergs bigger than the ship were everywhere. This was the place littered with penguin highways- the penguins had made routes / channels to walk up and down from the rookery to the beach and back. The penguins on the way down were covered in mud and poo and when they came back up from fishing they were sparkly white and clean. They were so cute waddling up and down, passing humans unperturbed. Sid and Isacc had fun making a slide down the side of the hill,
which the adults used as well. There were some really big ice sculptures on the beach and near the shore so we took some photos standing on and around them. A fantastic start to the day! The zodiac whizzed us back to the boat via an iceberg with seals on top – it was so tall we had no idea how they managed to get up there.
Just before lunch the boat set sail for ‘Paradise Bay’ and at one stage we had to slow down to navigate through two massive icebergs. Our next landing was at 3pm where one group stayed in the zodiacs for a tour around the icebergs while the other group stayed on the island to visit the penguins, and then after an hour we swapped. The view from the top of the hill was magnificent and the water was so still that the reflection of the icebergs in the water made amazing pictures. There were a few baby chicks with their Mums sitting in their nests, but besides that there wasn’t a lot to do on the island, so Sid made a tunnel in the snow and tried to climb into it, and when
it collapsed it was time for a snowball fight. Finally the zodiacs came to pick us up for our bay cruise. As we were cruising around the icebergs spotting crab eating seals and penguins, the snow came! Because Sid was wet from rolling around in the snow, he became quite cold and miserable, so the end of the zodiac tour came as a relief for him, but nothing a hot chocolate couldn’t cure. The snow turned into a blizzard and so the last landing was cancelled- but they still sent a zodiac over to the base to post our postcards and apparently our passports were stamped with an Antarctic stamp!
1st February 2011
Day 5: The day the poor chick got picked on!
Bob Marley woke us up at 6.30 with the tune “Wake Up, Stand Up….” And the captain called us on deck to view Lemaire Channel – also know as the Kodak Gap because of its beauty. The channel is very narrow and very impressive watching the ship travel through a narrow space with white cliffs either side. Nigel and I had left Sid in bed and then we continued on to breakfast at 7.30. We
woke him up at 9 for breakfast, and he was ready just in time for our first landing at a Ukranian base ‘Vernadsky’, home of the museum ‘Casa Wordie’ that was left untouched from when it was being used in the 1940’s and 50’s. The kids zoomed around the rooms, not really understanding the significance of the items they were looking at, although Sid was fascinated when I told him that I had learned to type on a typewriter exactly like the one in the house with ink ribbons and handles to return to the next line….. them were the days!
After investigating the house we were brought to the other side of the island to the Southernmost bar and giftshop. The crew from the ship had brought over 3kgs of sugar so that the base could continue to brew their own vodka. One of the Ukranian guys gave us a tour of the base, which ended up in the bar. The boys played pool while we chatted to the staff. Then it was back to the boat for ‘Asado’ – BBQ!
Our next landing was another double one – half the passengers on land and half on
the zodiacs, so we decided to go on the zodiacs first before the children got wet rolling around in the snow and therefore cold and miserable. They put all the kids on one boat with us and we set off around ‘Iceberg Valley’. There was a bitter wind, and it was cold but the sky was blue and the icebergs were a brilliant electric blue. We drove around looking at the spectacular shapes, sizes and varying colours of the icebergs. It was all going great until Isacc and Peter (who didn’t have enough layers on) started whining about the cold so we turned back to the boat. Claire and I took the children off while Nigel and Chris went on to the island.
After dinner they announced another sunset landing at 8.30pm and Nigel stayed on the ship while I went ashore this time. The wind had died down and the sea looked like a pond. The sun was out and I had put too many layers on, so I stripped off a few. We walked to the top of a hill to watch the sun set amongst a penguin colony. I had been taking pictures of a little
chick resting on the top of the rocks- it was smaller that the other ones which probably meant it hadn’t been fed for a while….. this happens when the parents have been eaten by leopard seals or whales….. so we were all watching the little chicks when a big brown skua bird went over to my chick and started pecking it. The chick ran away and stumbled down the rocks with the bird hot on it’s tail. The chick ran towards one of us and stood by his legs for cover. Augustine (the expedition leader) told him to move away from the chick and let nature take it’s course, so he moved away and the chick ran behind my legs….. I stayed put for a minute avoiding Augustine’s eyes, but he shouted at me to move away, so I ran at the bird which only deterred him for about a minute and then he was back chasing the chick. He cornered him against the rocks and started pecking at his eyes. I couldn’t watch any longer, so I moved away, but the sunset was more or less ruined for me! It’s ok watching it on National Geographic, but when the
chick has come behind YOUR legs, it’s a bit more real, and hard to watch.
We got back to the boat after 10pm, but the sunset continued to turn redder and redder until it finally set at 10.45pm. I went straight to the bar for a glass of wine to cry about the poor chick while Nigel went on deck for the sunset photo.
2nd February 2011
Day 6: The day of the Antarctic Swim.
We were told to put on our swimmers if we fancied partaking in an Antarctic swim on the first landing at Neko Harbour! I thought about it, but decided I would be designated photographer. We landed at 9am. There were lots of penguins around and a great long walk up to a viewpoint- where it looked like a giant iceberg had crashed into our ship. Sid and the boys were happy making a base a couple of feet away from the penguin rookery. I don’t know which group made the most noise, but they were certainly in competition.
At 11am everyone gathered on the beach to watch the swimmers. The Dutch were first in, quickly followed by Matt and Adam from the
UK, and the French and Stano from Slovakia…. Nigel had so many layers on that he took ages to get in…. he was one of the last and he dived in head first- burrrrrrr, there were icebergs floating in the water and the odd penguin swam by. Nigel got out and convinced 10 out of the 20 to go back in for a group shot – now that is dedication!
As if that wasn’t good enough, we got back on board and after lunch as we were sailing through the beautiful channel, we spotted whales! (Nigel had been crying ‘whale’ for a week, so it was a relief to finally see them) The boat stopped its engines while the whales swam right up to us. Everyone was on deck shouting where it came up next. Great fun was had by all ☺
Before dinner we had a final zodiac cruise to see the Whaler’s boats that have been abandoned over the years. Sid was as good as gold and he helped Tony (who was blind) to touch the different features on the ship. It was a calm evening with little wind, so everyone was warm and happy.
At the evening briefing we were informed about another ship – The Polar Star that had crashed into a rock in the Arctic Circle, and had taken water on in the outer hull. We changed our course and were now on a rescue mission to pick up 20 of their passengers to bring them back to Ushuaia.
3rd February 2011
Day 7: Rescue Mission and our last landings ☹
I decided to skip breakfast and sleep in – we have been having 3 course meals twice and day and I’m feeling the pinch in my jeans! I got up in time for the first landing on Deception Island, a dormant volcanic island. The idea was to pick up the 20 Polar Star passengers while we went to the island. It was snowing heavily when we were dropped off and we walked up the top to see the crater. The beach had black sand and Cecila was pointing out the various types of volcanic rock and lava around. Sid was busy identifying rocks and enjoyed showing them off.
We got back for a very late lunch and I met my new room mate Carol from California. She was
an older lady who had been on the Polar Star this time last year, but had fallen down the stairs on day 1 and fractured her hip and had been medi-vaced to Chile when they reached the Shetland Islands. So, this was her second Antarctic trip that ended in drama!
After lunch we landed on Livingstone Island where only one boat a day are allowed to land given that you are walking straight through the penguin colony. We were walked in groups of 8 in single file and the chicks were very curious. They came right up to Sid and pecked his life jacket string. We saw some Macaroni penguins with the yellow quiff on their heads for the first time at the top of the mountain. The snow came thick and fast and we were covered as we walked to the other side to see the giant elephant seals lolling on the beach and in the water. The seals were brown and blended in so well to the brown soil around. The snow got heavier, the wind got stronger and the waves got bigger and bigger as we made our way back to the ship. Trying to get
back onto the gangway was fun as the zodiac bounced in the waves, but everyone got back safe and sound but thoroughly saturated! I fell asleep putting Sid to bed, and Nigel had to wake me to go next door to my new room mate…. who snores….. earplugs in and away we go!
4th February 2011
Day 8: Back on the open sea – Drakes Passage home.
This skipping breakfast habit is working well and I am thoroughly enjoying the long sleeps in! Since we are on open seas there is nothing to do except eat, sleep and read. The staff put on Pingu for the kids and we managed to get Sid out on deck for half an hour to get some fresh air. The water was quite calm, but some were still feeling a bit queasy and dropped out of dinner. I decided to move my mattress into the cabin with the boys so that I wouldn’t have to wear ear plugs again as they hurt my ears last night. Sid was delighted to see the floor bed and asked if he could take it, so we had Nigel on top bunk, Me on bottom and Sid on the floor, all together again.
5th February 2011
Day 9: Our last full day at sea.
Another uneventful day. We had a very nice meeting where Augustine the chief of expeditions showed us a DVD of where we have been and some photos of our journey. They gave everyone a copy which is a lovely keepsake. Then we settled up the bar bill and exchanged emails etc. The final captains dinner was King Crab to start and then Fillet Mignon. We had a champagne toast and the stranded Polar Star gang that we picked up also bought some bottles of wine to thank us for our hospitality. We put the kids to bed and then the music was turned up and the party started. At midnight they told us we had to go downstairs to the engine room if we wanted to continue, so we all went down and joined the crew there – the music changed from ABBA to Latin American samba music and we were all taught a few moves….. Nigel and I left before the Whiskey came out. A great finish to an amazing adventure!