USHUAIA, Argentina – claims the title of the world’s southern most city and calls itself – Ushuaia -Fin del Mundo – end of the earth! It’s a quiet little town, well set up for tourists and the jumping off place for trips to Antarctica. There were at least seven ships in the harbour today. Oceania’s Insignia of course and our sister ship Marina, along with Celebrity, Ponant, Fred Olsen, Quark and Aurora, the last two being expedition ships where their passengers will be able to hop into zodiacs and actually step on Antarctica soil or ice I guess I should say, and walk amongst the penguins – mostly chinstraps I’ve heard.
Our journey will be a sail past, but I am very excited to get underway and see this land of ice and snow and mystery. We have a great team of lecturers on board for this part of our journey. All experts in some way with the history, animals, marine mammals, birds and photography. So now we just have to find those seals and dolphins, humpbacks and minkes, penguins and albatrosses. Our lead lecturer, Stephanie Martin, who specializes in marine mammals, whales in particular, said that when people ask her what she does for a living, she says she watches a lot of water. So if you are not out on deck and watching water, you aren’t going to see much.
The Drake Passage is named for Sir Francis Drake, the 16th century English explorer we all remember from our school days. It is also considered one of the most treacherous voyages for ships to make. Currents meet no resistance from any land mass and they say waves can top 40 feet (12meters). Well I guess the sea Gods were smiling on us today because we woke up to a beautiful sunny day and calm seas. It was like a cruise on a lake. ( I had a text from friends who were on Oceania’s Marina about three weeks ahead of us and they had 20 plus foot waves on their return from Antarctica and their crossing took 36 hours. So the sea Gods were definitely with us as we had a calm crossing both ways.)
The next morning we got our first glimpse of Antarctica. A mix of ice, snow and what seem to be islands of black volcanic rock.
However as we approach Dallman Bay, and the islands of Brabant & Anvers, the weather has changed and it is cloudy, cold and snowy. But what a thrill as those first cliffs and glaciers start to emerge on the horizon and to think you are actually looking at Antarctica!! The same view that Scott, Amundsen, Ross, Shackleton and others, plus those plucky whalers in their small boats before them. Pinch me someone please!! The clouds touch the tops of the cliffs giving them a sense of being airbrushed. So Beautiful. As we cruise the area, the ‘berger bits’ – small ice pieces bob along and larger bergs called ‘growlers’ glide by gracefully with a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, and even much larger icebergs as well where we don’t really want to have any contact! The name growler comes from the noise they make should they touch the sides of the ship as they float by. By the way, we actually had an ice pilot on board with us, who was familiar with the area, the seas and the ice.
The snow is enough to give a light covering on our decks and our crew many of whom have never seen snow are so excited. They are out there freezing because many do not have warm clothing, but throwing snowballs and just loving their first snow. Someone on board even made a snowman and he’s pretty cute with golf putters for arms.
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