A Journey Back In Time

March 13th 2007
Published: March 13th 2007
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The Ghost ShipThe Ghost ShipThe Ghost Ship

This is the shadow of the ship on the iceberg. I think it looks like a wrecked ship.
My time in South America had come to an end. All that remained was to gather my things and walk down to the dock. I flashed my passport to the guard in the passenger terminal and he checked my name off of a passenger list, scanned my bags and said have a nice day as he directed me through the glass doors that led to the dock. It was easy to find my way from there, because the ship that would be my home for the next seven weeks stood out like a brilliant beacon, a living monument to the past, amid a sea of modern vessels. I walked past a large icebreaker and came to a stop at the quay site were my ship was moored. I was greeted by a few of the crew members and I was invited to come on board. In just a few steps I managed to travel more than one-hundred years back in time, back to an age when sails ruled the seven seas.

I was on the main deck of the bark Europa, a 56 meter, three-masted, bark rigged sailing ship. The Europa sails under a Dutch flag, but it started its
Farewell UshuaiaFarewell UshuaiaFarewell Ushuaia

We were greeted by snow covered mountains the morning we headed out of Ushuaia and headed south.
life back in 1911 as a German light ship on the river Elbe. In the 90’s the neglected hull was restored and converted into its current configuration as a bark, which means the fore (front) and main (middle) masts are rigged with square sails and the mizzen (rear) mast is rigged with fore and aft sails, and since then it has sailed the world’s oceans continuously as a sail training vessel. As I took my first look around the deck and I saw all of the different sails and ropes, I remember thinking that there was no way I would ever learn the functions of them all - Time would prove me wrong, of course!

I spent my first half hour on board meeting the crew and my fellow passengers and doing my best to remember everyone’s names - I struggled a bit with this, because, as would be expected, several of the people on board were from Holland and, I admit it, I couldn’t even pronounce some of their names at first; time would cure this as well! One by one we were shown to our rooms and given a quick tour of the ship and then we
Sailing Across the Drake PassageSailing Across the Drake PassageSailing Across the Drake Passage

We had beautiful sailing conditions for the first day of the Drake, but then we lost the wind.
spent the time until dinner getting moved in and getting acquainted with our roommates. I was placed in Cabin 6, located in the middle of the ship next to the galley. Later, as we got into the stormy seas and the Europa started doing its unruly dance with the southern ocean, I learned how lucky I was to have a cabin in the slightly smoother middle of the ship - The wonderful smells wafting into my room from the galley were icing on the cake! I shared my room with two others, a professional photographer from Holland and an engineer from America who was also on an around the world trip, and we got along great from the start. We all gathered for our first dinner on board, which was wonderful, and then we had our first all-hands meeting where we did formal introductions and went over a few things that one would expect to go over before beginning a voyage like the one we were about to begin. Our departure time was set for the first thing in the morning and we were told not to be late. That evening several of us decided to have one last night
The South Shetland IslandsThe South Shetland IslandsThe South Shetland Islands

This was our first land sighting and our first stop in Antarctica.
on the town and we headed off into the rainy streets of Ushuaia for the last time. It was late when we returned to the passenger terminal and our journey back through security ended up being one of the most humorous ‘border crossings’ I have ever had - We all walked in, dripping and rain-soaked, and we found all of the guards huddled around a small screen in the corner laughing. They immediately tried to put on a serious appearance, kind of like when your boss walks in when you are surfing the internet, but the tangle of their joysticks revealed their secret - They were playing a serious game of football (soccer) on the Playstation! One of the guards jokingly shouted, “No Pasar!” “No Pasar!”, but we ignored it and took our places behind them to watch a little bit of the game - There was a lot of laughing and then, after a few minutes, we were through security and on our way back to the boat.

Morning presented us with fine weather. The mountains behind town were blanketed in newly fallen snow and the sun was shining brightly. At the appointed time we cast off the
Flying PenguinsFlying PenguinsFlying Penguins

I always knew they could fly, now they have proved it!
mooring lines and gave three blasts from the obscenely loud ship’s horn and we were off, our grand adventure had begun! We made a lengthy stop at the fuel dock and then we set our course out into the Beagle Channel. We passed Ushuaia’s famous lighthouse and then Puerto Williams on Chile’s Isla Navarone as we sailed down the beautifully scenic Beagle Channel towards the open ocean. We spent most of our first day getting familiarized with the sails and the ropes and their purpose. The first thing I learned was that sails are not called sails, they go by names like ‘t’gallant’ or ‘royal’ or ‘upper top sail’ to name a few, and the ropes are not ropes at all, they may look like ropes, but they actually go by names like ‘sheets’ or ‘clue lines’ or ‘bunt lines’, so needless to say it would be a daunting task to learn them all. We dropped off the pilot in a daring night time boat-to-boat maneuver and then we pointed our bowsprit to the south and headed out into the open ocean and the famous Drake Passage.

Ahead of us laid some of the Earth’s most notoriously stormy oceans
A Chinstrap PenguinA Chinstrap PenguinA Chinstrap Penguin

This is a lone chinstrap among gentoo penguins.
and some of its most scenic and remote lands - We were sailing across the South Atlantic from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope, but we were taking a somewhat circuitous path, visiting the wildlife rich areas along the Antarctic Peninsula and the islands of South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha along the way. First, we would have to cross the Drake Passage, the tumultuous stretch of ocean that joins the vast Pacific with the Atlantic, one that has claimed the lives of countless sailors and has devoured countless ships and the dreams they carried. I was excited about the Drake crossing. I have always wanted to see and feel the fury of the southern ocean and I was excited about the big waves that are so common in the higher latitudes of the world. I was fully prepared to be sick and uncomfortable - I wanted the full Drake experience! Our crossing of the Drake was far from what I had imagined and even farther from what I had hoped for. There were no adrenaline pumping storms or Mt. Everest-sized waves to contend with, in fact, I have seen more tumultuous conditions on lakes! Despite the strange
It Looks Like a Rock...It Looks Like a Rock...It Looks Like a Rock...

This gentoo penguin jumped up on my bag looking for a new nest.
absence of the ‘normal’ conditions there was a multi-directional swell that made it a not-so-pleasant few days and sea-sickness was prevalent on board and nearly everyone was compelled at one time or another to feed the fishies, some people liked the fish so much that they donated nearly every meal to them - Luckily I didn’t fall into the latter group. The wind was good for the first few days and we made reasonable progress towards the south, but even the wind died and we were left motoring across the calm seas, accompanied by large groups of seabirds. Albatrosses, the graceful, wind-driven ocean wanderers and bringers of good luck, stayed with us for most of the way across the Drake and when they disappeared and when the water temperature dropped we knew we had crossed over the Antarctic Convergence, a boundary created by ocean currents and upwellings that serves to isolate the southern ocean from the Atlantic and Pacific and contributes to the mind-boggling biodiversity that the waters around the Antarctic continent are known for.

Once we were officially in the southern ocean and the Drake Passage was behind us we began keeping a look out for the immense
Footprints in the SandFootprints in the SandFootprints in the Sand

I have seen these same footprints in the Jurasic Park movies.
and beautiful ship-killers that are so well known in the polar oceans - Icebergs. On the fifth of March we had a big day. The wind returned to us and the sails were set again, our first ice berg was spotted and early in the morning land was sighted. The land came in the form of the South Shetland Islands where our first landfall in the Antarctic region would be. We had to cover a lot of sea to get to a safe anchorage in the islands before a storm that was forecast for later in the day hit, so we set all of the sails we could. As the day went on the islands began to take form, going from a faint white, mountainous outline on the horizon that was barely visible to a distinct, brown, craggy shoreline with majestic, snow clad peaks. As we got closer to the islands the wildlife began to appear. First we came across several groups of whales including fin whales and humpback whales and even one sperm whale, some of which came very close to the ship. Once we were in among the islands we started seeing our first penguins, in fact, the
Aicho IslandAicho IslandAicho Island

The scenery on Aicho Island was stunning. This is the view from the top of the island.
water was filled with swimming penguins and we watched as they humorously jumped out of the water like dolphins - Some of them even had their mouth open and their tongue hanging out of their mouth like an excited puppy, that is what I saw at least! We dropped anchor in a fairly sheltered spot and the sea watches were exchanged for anchor watches. I signed up for a late-night anchor watch and I was in the wheel house as the strong, Antarctic winds howled around me -It was a great welcome back to one of my favorite places in the world!

The following morning we moved the Europa around to Aicho Island and we dropped the zodiacs, the inflatable rubber boats of Greenpeace fame, into the water. The weather was amazingly beautiful and the aquamarine water was as smooth as glass and it was even warm, in short the day was perfect for our first landing in Antarctica! After gathering our cold weather gear and going over a small safety/animal-etiquette talk we donned our rubber boots and headed to shore. I swung my legs over the side of the rubber boat and stepped down into about six inches

Here are some vain penguins.
of water and then I walked into a scene straight from the pages of National Geographic Magazine! The beach was sandy and covered with lots of debris, including everything from penguin carcasses and seaweed to small, heavily worn pieces of wood, and penguins were everywhere! I found a nice place that was relatively free of the pink and white streaks of penguin poo that criss-crossed the beach and I sat down and took in the spectacular scene that unfolded before me - There were hundreds of gentoo penguins, including several downy chicks, standing all over the beach and there were several chinstrap penguins and even an old friend of mine, the weddell seal. The sound that filled the air was one of shrill ‘caw’ like calls, sounding almost like a chorus of amplified kazoos and it was deafening at times. The smell - I wish I could describe the smell! It was a very pungent and somewhat overwhelming ‘fishy-poo’ smell that was both foul and strangely wonderful at the same time - It was a smell that I had heard many stories about and it was exciting to finally experience it! Due to strict rules regarding tourism in the Antarctic we are not allowed to approach closer than fifteen feet to the wildlife in Antarctica, but the strict rules don’t apply to the animals - For penguins, the best way to view them is to just sit quietly and wait for them to approach you and approach you they will, because they are very curious animals. From my sandy seat on the beach I watched penguins emerge from the surf like rockets and go into a hyperactive run around the beach in an attempt to shake the water from their plumage and I watched happy and vocal reunions between family members and I (quietly) laughed as groups of penguins waddled by with their wings outstretched, stopping occasionally to marvel at the goofy looking creatures that had deposited themselves on the beach. At one point a lone gentoo penguin walked up to my backpack and, with a springy hop, jumped on top of it as if it were a rock - The penguin stayed up there for a few moments picking at the straps and looking around, but boredom eventually set in and it hopped off and walked away, leaving a little streak of pink, krill-poo down the side. After a
A Whale TailA Whale TailA Whale Tail

Here is the coveted whale tail shot that everyone tried for, of course I missed and only got part of it - They were too close!
while on the beach we gathered into a group and started walking up the hill towards the interior of the island, being careful not to disturb the animals or block their paths. At the top of the hill we discovered a massive colony of chinstrap penguins all gathered in a large noisy group. We stopped there for a while to take the obligatory pictures of the penguins set to a backdrop of water and ice and a majestic sailing ship and then we moved on. We wound our way through expansive fields of green moss, following paths worn down to the dirt by large lines of penguins. As we walked we would pass a resting skua gull or a patch of snow and the unbroken blankets of moss added a scenic element to the hike that was completely unexpected - I knew that there was moss and grass in the Antarctic, but I had no idea that it was so extensive! The trail changed from green moss to brown scree fields and we began ascending towards the summit of a small sea cliff in the center of the island. From our small rocky outcrop we looked out across one of
A Humpback WhaleA Humpback WhaleA Humpback Whale

The whales came back after I climbed the mast and I was able to see them completely from above.
the most amazing landscapes I have seen - Below us was a large coastal plain bound by sheer, black, craggy cliffs on one side and the blue ocean on the other. In the center of the plain a steep, conical spire rose to a point and around it, hundreds of chinstrap penguins were congregated - There was a lone, mountain-climbing penguin standing high up the steep spire like a king surveying his domain! Beyond the spire there was a low spit of land that jutted out into the sea and there was a large muddy pond on it that was filled with basking skuas and penguins and beyond that, across the salty, blue channel were more rugged islands and glaciers. The warm afternoon sun bathed the whole scene in a lovely orange light and everything was bound by a deep cerulean sky - It was spectacular! We walked down a steep slope to the beach and we made our way past the spire, stopping briefly to marvel at a trio of enormous elephant seals, and then we headed to the mud pond to watch the penguins play. We made it out to the end of the pond where we found
Iceberg ArtIceberg ArtIceberg Art

Several of the icebergs at Trinity Island had interesting designs on them.
a few whale vertebrae and then we turned around and started working our way back. We passed a fur seal that bellowed its throaty roar in our direction, but was content with that and didn’t move. We walked back up the hill and through the fields of green moss and then we were back amongst the chinstraps on the hill. We sat there for a while amongst the penguins and we had several very humorous encounters with them - One of the gentoos became very amorous with one of the guys in our group and went as far as bowing and offering a few stones to him to help get the nest started! Our time to return to the ship came and we made our way back down the hill to the beach we started on and then, amid a kazoo chorus serenade, we boarded the zodiacs and headed back to the Europa, brining an end to a wonderful day.

We weighed the anchor and headed towards the south, leaving the South Shetland Islands in our wake. We sailed through the night keeping a close lookout for icebergs. I was on lookout when the sun came up and I
A Leopard SealA Leopard SealA Leopard Seal

This guy was huge and he never took his eyes off of us.
watched the sky turn from a dark, star-filled night to the soft blue and pink of the early morning dawn, culminating in a spectacular sunrise. I finished my watch, ate breakfast and climbed into my bunk for some badly needed sleep. That is when the day got interesting! Right as I pulled the curtains closed and turned my light off the call came in on the intercom, “Whales!” I quickly got dressed and headed out on deck and that is where I stayed for the following two hours. At first the whales were a long way away, but there were several spouts and even a few nice dives complete with exposed flukes, a show that would be considered a good whale watching experience anywhere. We had been traveling on motors since there was not even a hint of wind in the air, so the captain shut them down and we came to a stop. The whales then approached us and started circling the ship at a distance of less than twenty feet. There must have been ten humpback whales around the ship, including one youngster, and they would surface on one side of the boat and then the other, which
Trinity Island (1)Trinity Island (1)Trinity Island (1)

Some of the lovely scenery around Trinity Island.
caused everyone on deck to run from the port side to the starboard side in unison and caused the strangest motion in the boat - We were certainly rocking the boat! The clear water made it easy to see the entire bulk of the massive whales and what a show they gave us. Several of the whales did ‘spy hops’, which means they stuck their entire nose out of the water so that they could get a better view of us - Their intelligence was apparent and they were clearly interested in us! One of the whales came out of the water on his side with its blow hole pointed right at us and let go a fishy smelling burst of warm, moist air, just missing me. The last of the whales surfaced and then went into a dive and disappeared. The show was over, but I went and found one of the crew and asked him to give me the necessary orientation so I could climb the mast, something I have wanted to do for a long time - I grabbed a harness and my camera and we climbed up to the first platform. I was sitting there admiring
Trinity Island (2)Trinity Island (2)Trinity Island (2)

Some of the lovely scenery around Trinity Island.
the view when a gasp came from the poop deck and I looked out across the ocean in time to see a breeching whale crash back into the water. I had my camera ready when the second one shot out of the water, but I was too mesmerized by the sight to get a picture - It was amazing! The whales then returned and the circling started again in earnest. From my perch two stories above the main deck I could clearly see the whales and what a show they gave us - Again! One of the whales let out a thunderous belch just behind us, opened his mouth and expelled a large quantity of pink krill, possibly as an offering of food to us. The large leviathans gave us one last farewell and then they were gone and I was left amazed - I have tried, with no success, to see whales in New Zealand and California and I managed to see one at a distance in Mexico, but I will always remember this day as my first up close whale sighting and it was certainly an extraordinary whale watching experience, as was confirmed by several people on board
Trinity Island (3)Trinity Island (3)Trinity Island (3)

Some of the lovely scenery around Trinity Island.
who know a lot more than me! We continued to the south!

I finally got some sleep, but, just before lunch, I was awoken again, this time by the anchor chain clanking its way into the ocean - We had arrived at Trinity Island! Shortly afterwards the zodiacs were in the water again. Trinity Island, a small, heavily glaciated island just off of the Antarctic mainland, was described to us as a sort of iceberg graveyard with some interesting geology. I donned my life vest, grabbed my massive, waterproof bag and stepped down into the small, grey zodiac and then we waited for the other two boats to fill up before we started our tour. For the next two hours we motored our way through some amazing seascapes of narrow, blue, saltwater channels bound by sheer black cliffs that towered hundreds of feet above our heads. There were icebergs everywhere and their surreal shapes and textures and thire brilliant colors, ranging from bright white to deep blue, made them wonderful to look at. The wildlife was also abundant and we spent our time watching fur seals frolic in the waves or argue on the shore, we watched the skuas
Trinity Island (4)Trinity Island (4)Trinity Island (4)

Some of the lovely scenery around Trinity Island.
soar overhead, occasionally coming in for a closer look, we found a few penguins and even a massive weddell seal sunning itself up on some very cold looking rocks, but the star of the wildlife show that day, not counting the whales of course, was our first sighting of a large leopard seal. The sea leopard was sitting on a small iceberg passively resting in the shade, but his menacing eyes never left us as we circled around his icy perch! The massive jaws and serpentine head made it clear who was the king predator in the region! We pushed our way through a small band of floating ice and then we tied the two zodiacs together with sloopy, a small motorized sloop, and we sat there drinking some hot chocolate and enjoying the amphitheater of sheer ice cliffs and giant seracs that we were floating in, knowing that if one of the massive blocks of ice fell it would send a large wave our way for sure! The sun was descending rapidly towards the horizon and the temperature was falling even quicker, so we left the amphitheater, headed back beneath the sheer cliffs and we returned to the safety
A Giant IcebergA Giant IcebergA Giant Iceberg

Some of the icebergs down here are massive. This one looked like a mountain next to the ship.
of our floating home - We were all quite cold when we got back on board, but the majesty of the scenery and the bountiful wildlife we had seen made us forget all about it!

By the time I awoke the following morning we had been underway for some time, having pulled up the anchor at around four in the morning. Just as I finished off my breakfast we got word that we were about to pass through the narrow Graham Passage. I gathered on the fore castle deck at the front of the boat with several other people and watched the spectacular scenery go by. There was a driving snow storm pelting us on deck and a low fog on the surrounding icy slopes and it was a little difficult to see the true majesty of the area at times, but it was still exciting - To come all the way down here and not get a good snow storm would have been disappointing anyway! As we made our way between the tight, heavily crevassed ice walls and the sheer cliffs of the passage we occasionally hit small, floating chunks of ice, or ‘bergy bits’ as they were
Antarctic Scenery (1)Antarctic Scenery (1)Antarctic Scenery (1)

The scenery along the Gerlache Straight was stunning.
called on board and, though we were all watching the beautiful scenery go by, these small, harmless collisions constantly reminded us of the importance of keeping a good ice watch. The snow storm seemed to only last long enough to conceal the beauties of the passage from us, because just as we reached the open water of the Gerlache Straight the sun began fighting its way through the clouds. At first only patches of distant, snow capped peaks and gleaming glaciers were visible in the sun’s hazy orange light, but, as the day progressed, the stormy grey veil was ripped apart and blue skies reined victorious - It was a marvelous day! Just before lunch we slowed the motors and paused for a while near the rusty hulk of a large, wrecked whaling supply vessel called the Gover Noren, which caught on fire and was grounded on a rocky coast back in 1916 - I can certainly think of a more hospitable place to crash a boat, but I suppose the large whaling presence in the area back then would have made it a little less perilous. Up to this point we had not seen any other vessels since we
Antarctic Scenery (2)Antarctic Scenery (2)Antarctic Scenery (2)

The scenery along the Gerlache Straight was stunning.
left the Beagle Channel a week before and the seeming remoteness of the area was very apparent, but as we were admiring the rusty remains from a not-so-pleasant age, we were passed by a large vessel headed in the other direction - We were not alone! After lunch we finally got some wind that was headed in the right direction, so we set all of the sails that we could, we shut off the motors and we were once again sailing towards the south. The wind intensified and the ship healed over to a point where it was difficult to ‘climb’ up the deck from the starboard side to the port side and then it changed directions and we were sent scrambling to take in all of the canvas that we had set only an hour before and then our short sail towards the south was over. As we were coiling the ropes at the bow two large waves, both towering above the surrounding surface of the sea, rolled in and hit us bow on, one after the other, and the water flowed up through the safety net on the bowsprit and submerged one of the crew members up to
Antarctic Scenery (3)Antarctic Scenery (3)Antarctic Scenery (3)

The scenery along the Gerlache Straight was stunning.
his chest in icy water and then the waves came up over my head and crashed over me as I held on to the rail to keep myself from being washed away - The First Mate was up in the rigging and he said it was a great show from his vantage point! We continued motoring our way to the south, passing some of the most amazing seascapes of ice and snow, and by late morning the following day we arrived at Neko Harbor under a thin grey shroud of puffy, cotton-like clouds.

Neko Harbor was a stunningly beautiful, narrow bay bound by sheer, blue, glacial-ice cliffs hundreds of feet high and steep, rocky hills leading down to a clean, pebbly beach filled with penguins. The surface of the harbor was blanketed with several large icebergs surrounded by a flexible, slushy mixture of small chunks of ice that moved to and fro with the swell and made zodiac navigation a little tricky. The harbor wasn’t always a scene of pristine beauty, back in the whaling days Neko Harbor was the site of a whaling factory ship and at that time the waters were stained red with the blood of
Being HuntedBeing HuntedBeing Hunted

This is one of the leopard seals that was hunting us in Neko Harbor.
the massive, slaughtered beasts and the scenery was one of unspeakable horrors and insatiable human greed - Thankfully the whaling days have mostly left the Earth! Neko Harbor was a special stop for us, because, in addition to its beautiful environment, it was the only landfall we would have on the actual continent of Antarctica! While we were lowering the zodiacs into the water we spotted a large, reptilian head popping up out of the slushy mix just off of the starboard side of the ship. We quickly identified the elongated head and muscular jaw as that of a massive leopard seal and he was coming in to see what we were up to. The first boat load of people made it through the icy slush and planted their feet on the continent without any excitement. I took my seat in the second zodiac and just as we dropped our bow line off and turned the zodiac towards the slush we heard someone shout, “Leopard seal!” Everyone in the zodiac turned in unison and looked past the driver seated at the rear of the boat - Up from the dark, icy water, just feet from our little inflatable rubber dingy,
A Reptilian FoeA Reptilian FoeA Reptilian Foe

This is one of the leopard seals that was hunting us in Neko Harbor.
rose the same menacing head we had spotted from the deck of the Europa! From our heavily exposed position just inches above the surface of the water, the leopard seal took on gargantuan proportions and he was definitely interested in us! Just as the head disappeared below the surface another one popped up right next to it - There were two giant leopard seals hunting us in the slushy Antarctic ice of Neko Harbor! There were two people sitting in the bow of the zodiac with oars and their job was to clear a path through the ice and they had to work hard to keep up. We also had someone at the rear of the boat with the boat hook who’s job was to keep the leopard seals from biting the inflated rubber hull where it narrowed down to a point - They had their hands full as well! The leopard seals circled the boat, popping their head up out of the slush from time to time to get a breath and to look upon their fleeing prey. We never knew where they would be next and a few times they came up so close to the boat that
Neko HarborNeko HarborNeko Harbor

This beautiful place was the only place we set foot on the actual continent of Antarctica.
they could have easily grabbed one of us if they decided to. At one point the driver was looking back at our colossal pursuers in awe when we ran into a large piece of immovable ice, which slowed our progress a bit, but he quickly recovered and we were underway again. We made it into the shallows near the shore without loosing anybody to the leopards and then we pulled up to the beach where we swung over the bow of the zodiac and officially planted our feet on the rocky shore of the continent - I looked back into the bay as I stepped off of the zodiac and there were the two leopards about ten feet away, one of them sticking straight up in the water, with half of its body sticking out, looking me right in the eyes as if it were saying, “Please come back and play some more!” I didn’t want to end my time with them, but the scene on the beach was overwhelming and I decided to stay with the penguins. The zodiac backed away from the shore and started back towards the Europa, followed closely by the two leopards, which, from my
A Gentoo PenguinA Gentoo PenguinA Gentoo Penguin

I love these penguins. They were the most common ones we saw in Antarctica.
new vantage point, appeared to be longer than the boat! From what I have heard about leopard seals, our encounter was not abnormal or exceptional in these waters, but it was still and exhilarating experience that I won’t soon forget! I took my place on a rock near the shore and I sat there among the gentoo penguins and I listened to their kazoo chorus and I looked out across the ice filled bay towards the majestic sailing ship that was my home - There was no place in the world I would have rather been in that moment, life was perfect!

We left Neko Harbor knowing that our time there could not have been better and we headed south. We motored our way past more humpback whales and gleaming icebergs and we passed through more of the most scenic icescapes imaginable and then we reached paradise! In this case paradise didn’t come in the form of a warm, palm-shaded beach and palm thatched bungalows, though many on board were hoping it would. Our paradise was a sheltered little bay ringed with sheer ice cliffs and tumbling blue glaciers and jagged, black peaks. There were several colorful icebergs and

This crevass field was above Neko Harbor.
lovely ice formations and the water was a deep blue-green - It was definitely a scenic place! We dropped anchor in the middle of the bay and went out to tour the ice formations in the zodiacs. Some of the features were somewhat plain, if you can call a beautiful wall of bluish ice plain, but others were extraordinary! My favorite was found accidentally when we were cruising along the heavily crevassed face of the big glacier at the end of the bay: It was a narrow ice bridge linking two tall ice towers together, which looked exactly like a mysterious path through the high Himalayas that leads to a lost world and only exists in my mind - It was nice to finally see it in real life! We spent several hours in Paradise Harbor and then we headed around the corner and dropped anchor for the night, this time just outside of an Argentine research station.

I was on deck early the following morning for an anchor watch and it was a beautiful way to start the day. We had a pair of minke whales come in and circle the boat for a few minutes, but then
Another Penguin (1)Another Penguin (1)Another Penguin (1)

I tried to not include too many penguin pictures, but I couldn't help it.
they left us. The sun began to rise behind the mountains, bathing the islands and peaks in a warm, early morning light and the calm water was as smooth as glass and acted as a nearly perfect mirror making for some beautifully symmetrical reflections. Just as the sun was peaking up above the mountain tops we were passing a massive iceberg that was slowly flipping over right before our eyes, which was a strange sight to see, and then we passed a small tabular iceberg that had a large leopard seal swimming past it. The wind returned and we quickly went about setting all of our sails and, as if we had planned it that way, just as we finished the sail work a large Russian icebreaker, which was serving as a tourist ship in the area, passed us heading north. All of the passengers on the icebreaker were on deck with their cameras ready as we passed - It must have been a shock to them seeing a grand sailing vessel, straight out of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, under full sail amongst the icy landscape! The icebreaker tooted its little ship horn as a greeting and we
Another Penguin (2)Another Penguin (2)Another Penguin (2)

I tried to not include too many penguin pictures, but I couldn\'t help it.
responded with the throaty blast from our much noisier ship horn - It was rather humorous to hear such a quiet toot coming from such a large vessel, but I suppose our horn was more fitting for a massive ocean freighter than an antique sailing ship! A few hours into the day we reached our furthest south point at 64° 58’ S latitude and we all gathered on deck to celebrate the moment with a toast - We had had some bad luck with the wind to that point in the voyage, so it meant a lot to be under full sail with the motors silenced when we reached our furthest south! It was time to turn towards the north, but first we had a stop to make at Port Lockroy. We learned how to turn the ship under sail, a maneuver called jibing, which involved a coordinated effort pulling on the fore and main braces to turn the yards and change the direction of the sails. As we approached the anchorage at Port Lockroy we took in all of the sails and then I went aloft to help furl them. I have always been interested in ‘tall ships’ and
Clearing the IceClearing the IceClearing the Ice

Neko Harbor was filled with an icy slush that we had to clear out of the way for the zodiacs.
it has always been a dream of mine to go aloft and help with the sails - My time had finally come! My previous trip up the mast was only for photography, so, then, I climbed up to the first platform and stayed there. This time I climbed up higher and then went out on the yards, which are the large, horizontal ‘beams’ that support the top of the sails. Being out on the yards was an exhilarating experience, because instead of being positioned safely aboard the ship you are hanging out above the ocean. It is true that I was wearing a safety harness and I was tied off, so falling was very unlikely, but it was still a little exposed and quite shaky at first. Furling the sail, which means tying the sail to the yard in a way that wind can’t catch it, took me a lot longer than it took the crew, but it was my first time and I did get it done just in time for a nice lunch.

After lunch we headed to shore and the British Antarctic Survey station and museum at Port Lockroy. The station staff had gone home for
Paradise HarborParadise HarborParadise Harbor

The ice in the harbor was stunning to look at.
the winter, but we were given permission to stop in and tour the museum, which was located in the original buildings that were build in the 1940s as a means of monitoring enemy activities in the region during the war. We landed on a small pile of natural rocks that formed a nice pier-like feature and then we walked up to the black and red building, passing lots of inquisitive gentoo penguins, and we went inside. The museum was a well preserved snapshot into one of the earliest stations in Antarctica. The first thing I noticed when I walked through the door was the paint scheme - The colors were very bright, pastel blues and greens, which must have been designed to improve moral, I know I felt happier as I walked in! The kitchen was still stocked with the common products of the day and several people in our group remembered some of them. Other rooms had everything from period clothing and books to a monstrous radio receiver. The other thing that Port Lockroy is famous for is its claimed status as the southern most post office in the world and we had our postcards ready to go. When
The Secret PathThe Secret PathThe Secret Path

This is the bridge of ice that fits a Himalayan scene right out of my mind.
I finished touring the museum I walked outside and hung out with the penguins and the gleaming white and somewhat foul sheath bills - It was yet another beautiful spot! When we finished with our tours of the museum we all loaded back into the zodiacs and headed around to another beach on another island and we started exploring again. The island we were on was very rocky with a low, rocky summit in the center. We walked out across the island over big boulders and muddy patches of penguin poo until we reached a small beach littered with whale bones. What made this beach special was a complete skeleton of a fairly large whale that had been reassembled. There were several penguins living amongst the bones and they were as humorous as ever to watch as they ran around visiting each other and making a lot of noise. We stayed with the penguins on the whale bone beach for about half an hour and then we headed across a muddy plain, sinking to our ankle in foul muck as we walked. After about five minutes we reached a small blue-eyed shag colony and we stopped there and watched these
The Bark EuropaThe Bark EuropaThe Bark Europa

This was my home in the Antarctic. I can think of no better way to visit this wonderful place.
beautiful and somewhat shy birds for quite a while. At one point an adult flew in and started feeding its eager chick, which was nice to watch. Our guides gathered everyone up and we started a lovely hike up to the summit of the island. We passed back by the whale bones and through the boulder field and then we turned and started heading up the hill. Along the way we passed several mountain climbing penguins that were on their way to their nests in the small snow fields on the flanks of the hill. Near the top we crossed over a small snow field and then we were on top and what an amazing view! We could see the water where the Europa was at anchor and we could see the entire shore of the land we were on. Across the water we could see several sheer ice cliffs, Port Lockroy, and a massive ridge of the most beautiful peaks imaginable - The Seven Sisters. The sky was grey and filled with snow, though none was falling, and the lighting was somewhat flat, but the Seven Sisters were somehow standing out from the rest, as if their saw toothed
Which Way is UpWhich Way is UpWhich Way is Up

The morning after we visited Paradise Harbor we were gifted with some amazing light and calm conditions.
ridge was glowing against a backdrop of gray - It was beautiful! We stayed up on top of the island with a few skuas and enjoyed a snack (we didn’t share, much to the chagrin of the birds) and then we headed down to the beach and the Europa.

We started heading north the following morning. The sun rose up behind the Seven Sisters and made for an amazing sight and a fitting farewell to our southward journey. We headed through the Neumayer Channel and I climbed out on the bowsprit to watch the amazing, shear peaks and ice walls go by - I was sitting out there when an adult blue eyed shag flew by only two feet away from me, slowing down as he passed me as if to say hello! We spent the rest of the day passing back through the amazing scenery of the Gerlache Straight and the sights continued to impress. The captain steered the Europa closely past several massive icebergs - One had an impressive cave through it, another had a surreal, but very realistic face carved into it, but my favorite one was just a tall ice cliff that was bathed in

The morning after we visited Paradise Harbor we were gifted with some amazing light and calm conditions. It was great for standing on deck.
sunlight and, as we passed closely by, the shadow of the Europa’s masts appeared in deep blue on its bright white face, giving an impression of a wrecked ship! Throughout the day the intercom continuously broadcast, “Whales on the port side!”, or, “Whales on the starboard side!”, and most of these turned into good whale watching experiences, but one call turned into another extraordinary one, even better than the first amazing one we had! This time there were only two humpback whales and they came right up to the boat, just like before, but that is where the similarities to the previous show ended! The whales would surface on one side of the boat and then they would dive and surface on the other side of the boat and they were doing it in a way that suggested that they were seeing if they could get there before we could, or maybe they just liked to see us run back and fourth! The whales did several pirouettes and twists and turns as if they were dancing for us - They were definitely showing off! I got tired of running back and fourth and I seemed to be missing a lot
Sailing South from ParadiseSailing South from ParadiseSailing South from Paradise

The morning after we visited Paradise Harbor we were gifted with some amazing light and calm conditions.
by doing so, so I decided to stay on the starboard rail about mid ship and the gamble paid off big time. As I was standing there listening to the ‘oos’ and ‘aahs’ coming from the other side of the ship, one of the whales came out of the water about twenty feet away from me in a graceful spy hop and he was so far out of the water that I could look him right in the eye and then he disappeared below the surface again. I sat there and watched his glowing silhouette approach me underwater instead of going back to the port side and then the whale came up again, this time right next to me! I was greeted with a fishy blast from its blowhole, which was directed in my direction, and then he stayed there looking right at me. That whale was joined by the other one and then they both sat there sticking up out of the water just a few feet away! They stayed there in a perpetual spy hop and just played in the water right in front of me - One of them sat there, looking right at me and started
Sailing South from Paradise (2)Sailing South from Paradise (2)Sailing South from Paradise (2)

The morning after we visited Paradise Harbor we were gifted with some amazing light and calm conditions.
swimming backwards as if it was treading water! With one last dive our whale encounter came to an end and we continued towards the north, but it was yet another amazing experience on a voyage that seems to have an overabundance of amazing experiences! I was talking to a few other people on deck after the whales left us and they were glad that we had gotten another show with the humpbacks, but they were all thinking it was too bad that we hadn’t seen any killer whales yet - We all decided that the big whales were better to see up close during the day and then we jokingly said that the orcas would be better at sunset. As if we had read the future, just as the sun was descending behind a large, snow capped island, one of the people I had had the conversation with, the one who wanted to see an orca more than anyone else on board, looked over my shoulder and shouted, “killer whales!” I looked in the direction he was pointing and decided he was just projecting his imagination on the water, but then the captain confirmed his sighting and changed our course
Sailing South from Paradise (3)Sailing South from Paradise (3)Sailing South from Paradise (3)

Under full sail. We got some good wind as we approached our furthest south point, so I climbed out on the end of the bowsprit to take a look. Yes it was snowing!
to where we would be on intersecting paths - I saw nothing but water and ice! Everyone gathered on deck and everyone else seemed to be suffering from the same seeing disorder I was suffering from, but that changed quickly. In the distance I saw several saber-like dorsal fins rise up out of the orange surface of the sea and they were headed in our direction. Another pod surfaced a lot closer to us. That group had several calves with it and they came relatively close to the boat, but it was clear that they were not as inquisitive as the humpbacks. The orcas stayed with us for about half an hour and then they turned and disappeared into the sunset! We sailed back through the Graham Passage, this time with fine, but darkening weather and then we headed to the north into the night. I was on deck at midnight enjoying a starry sky and a lovely, moon-lit seascape when one last whale came up to visit right next to the boat and then he was gone - We didn’t see any more whales amongst the Antarctic ice.

Early the next morning I was woken up a little
Furthest SouthFurthest SouthFurthest South

We were a long way from the pole, but this is the toast to our furthest south.
early and I was told, “We will be passing through Neptune’s Bellows in a few minutes and it is nice to be on deck for it.” We were approaching Deception Island, a dormant volcano with a massive bay located in the old caldera in the center. To get into the bay, you must sail through Neptune’s Bellows, a narrow gap through the sheer walls of the island’s volcanic cone and the only way in by sea. The bellows have a hidden obstacle right in the middle of the channel called Raven’s Rock, which is a large submerged rock that has claimed many ships. It is one of the most well known ship-killers in the peninsula area, yet it still claims its victims to this day - About a month before our arrival a large cruise ship ran aground on the rock necessitating a ‘rescue’ and a costly cleanup. Thankfully, the only sign of wrecked ships in the area was a rusty old hulk that crashed back in the fifties and was aground on a rocky beach on the left side of the channel. We passed beneath the sheer, dark brown cliffs and we emerged into the calm water of the
Port LockroyPort LockroyPort Lockroy

We stopped here to see the museum and mail some postcards home.
interior. Off to our right was the remains of an old whaling station, now abandoned, and in the distance towards the left were the bright orange buildings of two different research stations. Our first destination was at Pendulum Cove, the site of an old research station that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption back in the late 1960’s. Our main reason for starting there was to visit the Antarctic swim club that calls Deception Island Home. We anchored the Europa close to shore, dropped the zodiacs in the water and headed in to the beach. We walked down the black sand beach toward a section of sand that was shrouded in a blanket of steam. Some made the walk in nothing but a swimsuit, but most of us waited to get there before our cold weather gear came off. I waded in up to my ankles and felt the warmth of the hot, volcanic spring water around my feet, but then I ran out and leaped into the icy water just beyond the warm band. Sufficiently frozen, I found a place in the warm water at the shore and sat down to enjoy the experience. Several other people also ventured
In the KitchenIn the KitchenIn the Kitchen

This is one of the views from inside the museum - Note the paint.
out into the cold water and quickly retreated back to the warmth, but most people were content with just sitting in the warm water. I made a few more forays into the icy, Antarctic water and then I got out and dried off.

When everyone was done swimming we started on a walk along the shore towards the abandoned whaling station, but our path was blocked by a massive ice cliff that was hanging out over the shore and we were forced to call the Europa in to pick us up. The part of the walk we completed was very memorable though, passing by several animals, including a giant weddell seal and a few shags - We also got to see a few small krill and a fish that our guide found. The zodiacs took us back to the boat and then we motored around the impassable coastline and dropped anchor in front of the whaling station and went ashore. Over the next few hours we explored the ruined buildings and the rusty machinery of the long abandoned station - It was amazing to think that in a past time the remote outpost supported a regular population! When I
The Whale BonesThe Whale BonesThe Whale Bones

This is the intact whale skeleton we found near Port Lockroy.
had toured all of the buildings and I had sung inside one of the big fuel tanks (the amazing acoustics inside the massive rusty tanks was phenomenal!) I took a walk down the coast, passing several skuas and fur seals, to a small break in the sea cliffs called Neptune’s Window, which is where the Antarctic continent was first sighted. Along the way I passed several ruined boats that were half submerged in the rocky, brown soil. The view from Neptune’s Window, looking past a hidden black sand beach and a rugged coastline out across the ocean, was stunning, even though the continent was concealed in fog.

Our time had come to leave Deception Island and to put Antarctica behind us, so we set sail as we passed through Neptune’s Bellows and headed towards the north. Ahead of us was more than eight hundred miles of blue water and we were all looking forward to the grand sailing adventures that awaited us on the southern ocean. We were now following in the footsteps of Shackleton!

Additional photos below
Photos: 74, Displayed: 56


A Blue-eyed ShagA Blue-eyed Shag
A Blue-eyed Shag

This colony was near Port Lockroy.
The Seven SistersThe Seven Sisters
The Seven Sisters

This is one of the most scenic mountain ridges we passed during our Antarctic cruise.
At the HelmAt the Helm
At the Helm

I spent a lot of time here.
Icebergs (1)Icebergs (1)
Icebergs (1)

We passed a lot of these during our voyage to the north.
Icebergs (2)Icebergs (2)
Icebergs (2)

We passed a lot of these during our voyage to the north.
Icebergs (3)Icebergs (3)
Icebergs (3)

We passed a lot of these during our voyage to the north. Do you see the face in this one?
The Whales ReturnThe Whales Return
The Whales Return

This is one of the whales that came to visit us on our second excellent encounter.
A Whale's BreathA Whale's Breath
A Whale's Breath

The whale came up out of the water with its blow hole pointing in my direction and then it sprayed me with a fishy mist.
Humpback WhalesHumpback Whales
Humpback Whales

These two whales stuck around for a while and gave us an amazing show.

We had two large pods of killer whales show up at sunset. This was an adult and a baby (or just a little one?)
Sunset on the HillsSunset on the Hills
Sunset on the Hills

I was torn between watching the killer whales or the landscape - Both were amazing.
Sailing Through Neptune's BellowsSailing Through Neptune's Bellows
Sailing Through Neptune's Bellows

We had to sail through a narrow gap in the caldera called Neptune's Bellows to gain access to Deception Island's interior bay.
Deception Island Swim ClubDeception Island Swim Club
Deception Island Swim Club

The steam rising up from the beach is caused by volcanic activity. The water is very hot right at the shore and very cold a little further out, so, naturally, I started swimming in the cold stuff.
Walking on Deception Island (1)Walking on Deception Island (1)
Walking on Deception Island (1)

This is a weddell seal we passed during the walk.
Walking on Deception Island (3)Walking on Deception Island (3)
Walking on Deception Island (3)

These two blue-eyed shags were on the cliffs above the walk.

23rd April 2007

Hi Uncle Keith
Hey Keith-this is great-love the pictures-Griffin is going to take them to school and show his class where his cool uncle is. Hope you are safe and having a great time! We are with you in spirit! :-)
23rd April 2007

Animal Encounters
Where else in the world could you see eye to eye with a whale or be mistaken for a very large penguin by a leopard seal? Amazing pictures, son. Stay safe.
24th April 2007

Sounds like quite an adventure...Impressive pictures!
25th April 2007

Co-worker of your Mother
Keith, we here at work have all followed your journey and prayed for your safe return. We have enjoyed seeing parts of the world with you through your eyes. What a wonderful experience and you are truly blessed to have been able to experience. We are all envious! Stay well.
10th May 2007

Hi Keith, Greetings from India! It's great to see you are back to writing your journal again. Fantastic pictures as always - especially loved the reflections on Paradise Harbour. I almost feel like I'm travelling with you through those weird landscapes. Keep writing... you're an inspiration :))
5th June 2007

I hate you, your pictures are too good...
All your pictures are first class! Its like you can take no wrong... Thanks for sharing!!
18th October 2008

amazing trip! inspiring. travel safe.
31st October 2008

I have an account here as well and I saw your picture on the top of the page and I was stuned! I just have a question- how old was that boat that you were on there?! Looks fantastic!
31st October 2008

The Europa
The Europa started her life as the light ship Senator Brock back in 1911 on the river Elbe in Germany.
3rd November 2008

Hey there- I went to Antarctica a fews years back and fell in love with it. I have always thought of going to work and live there for a bit. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions to get em started. How did you get there? How long were you there and what was your job?
6th November 2008

Working in Antarctica
When I was working down there I got there by flying from New Zealand down to 'The Ice' on a big Air Force Reserve plane, which landed on an ice runway. I was there for nine months through the long, dark winter and my job was field engineer for a construction project. It was a lot of fun. Let me know if you have any other questions.
29th April 2009

Was there a couple of years back thanx for the memories
25th December 2010
Neko Harbor

Stunning Photo
One feels as if they could just walk into the picture.
9th February 2011
The Whales Return

Beautiful pic; whales return
I am new to TB but this pic is stunning. Antartica? Wow...I plan on looking at the rest of your pics! playagal Sally
25th February 2011
The South Shetland Islands

Incredible pictures. Have always wanted to go to the poles. Thanks for posting your voyage. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
27th July 2012
The Ghost Ship

Beautiful photo
Great photo - looks like the ship is entombed in the ice. *Goosebumps*

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