Day 10 |
Jan 24, 2011

 Beagle Channel and Ushuaia 

By Uli Kunz - Oceanographer and Zodiac Driver


Coordinates: 54˚55’ S, 67˚13’ W
Weather: Bright with scattered clouds, light rain in the evening
Air Temperature: 8.5 °C, 47.1 °F
Sea Temperature: 12 °C, 53.6 °F
Pressure: 989 hPa
Wind: 50 km/h

The pilots for the Beagle Channel were still very busy in the morning, so the Prince Albert II could still not lift the anchor and sail for Ushuaia. Instead, our guests enjoyed the very pleasant weather after a rough passage of the Drake Passage and the continuation of our lecture program.

Expedition Leader Robin West gave a talk about the history of the Prince Albert II and his work during the refit before the ship sailed for Silversea Cruises. The ship was built in 1989 in Finland as the Delphin Clipper. It already had the highest ice class for a cruise ship and sailed between Finland and Estonia as a luxury passenger vessel. In 1997, Samsung bought the ship, renamed it Dream21 and fixed it to a mooring block in order to use it as a mere conference vessel. In 2003, the company Society Expeditions took over the ship and it underwent a major refit to get new cabins, balconies and railings. The company named the vessel World Discoverer (actually the second one, as the original World Discoverer hit a reef off the Salomon Islands and had to be abandoned) and used it as a luxury expedition ship, but went bankrupt twice within the next few years.

So eventually in 2007, the owner of Silversea Cruises, Manfredi Lefebvre, bought the ship and it was sailed from Singapore to Trieste in Italy, where it underwent another refit, but this time mostly on the inside. Silversea reduced the number of possible passengers from 165 to 132 to become the most luxurious expedition vessel on the market.

The refit was started in November 2007 and the naming celebration of the ship was scheduled for June 2008. Within that time, amazing changes to the ship took place: The swimming pool was taken out (the original plan was to cruise in French Polynesia, so there was no need of a pool as you are constantly floating in one...), the complete interior of The Theatre, The Restaurant, The Library and the Observation Lounge was ripped out and completely rebuilt.

The suites underwent the biggest changes; Silversea increased the sizes and improved the design to maintain their standard. After a very busy voyage (the contractors were still working on board the ship), the ship was eventually christened as the Prince Albert II in Monaco! What an exciting history! Ever since, Silversea’s expedition product has done exceptionally well and we are looking forward to new the adventures this vessel will undertake.

Marine biologist Robin Aiello presented the next talk about amazing animals living beneath the surface of the Southern Ocean. These creatures have to be adapted to extreme temperatures (In the sea, the temperatures vary between 0 to -2 °C.) and therefore are sometimes found nowhere else on the planet. Robin showed the audience the immense diversity of marine life and presented highly intriguing facts about these little critters. Did you know that the first Antarctic Icefish ever discovered in 1842 during the James Clark Ross expedition could not be investigated further as it was eaten by the ship's cat? Did you know that the “Sea Angel”, a tiny winged snail, would better be named “Sea Devil” as it is a true predator and feeds on other winged snails? You didn't? Join Robin for her next talk on another voyage!

Our guest lecturer Alex Filipenko, a renowned astronomer, presented a talk in the afternoon about black holes, their formation and their relevance for our universe.

Teatime was soon followed by the usual last presentation of the voyage: the always much-anticipated display of Kristine Hannon's pictures and movie! The amazing film brought back incredible impressions we experienced during the last ten days! The first landings in Aitcho and especially Brown Bluff showed us how rough this remote place called Antarctica can be. The next days however, some of them even without a breeze of wind, can only be described as perfect! I remembered some of the guests walking ashore in shorts and t-shirts, wondering whether they really would walk on the White Continent of eternal ice...

We had two of the most magnificent sunsets of the season in Port Lockroy, and in the Lemaire Channel, we had seen Orcas and lungefeeding humpback whales... and we had paid for it during a very rough Drake Passage. That voyage was truly complete!

So it was not at all bad news when Robin announced that the port of Ushuaia was on strike and that we could go alongside only the next morning. We were still in time. And another delicious dinner is waiting...