Day 16 |
Dec 10, 2011

Drake Passage en route to Ushuaia, Argentina

By Peter W. Damisch – Historian, General Naturalist, Cartographer

Co-ordinates: 58o 50’ S, 064o 24’ W
Weather: High clouds and moderate seas
Air Temperature: 5oC / 41oF
Pressure: 975 HPa
Wind: 40 km / hour

This morning was a great day to be up early and take a walk around the deck. During our crossings of the Drake Passage there are always a large number of tremendously graceful sea birds soaring around the Silver Explorer and today was no exception. Of course albatross grab the most attention as their huge wing spans reach up to an enormous 3.5 meters. These wonderful creatures utilize the winds circulating around the ship to gain energy, which allows them to travel greater distances with less effort, thereby improving their ability to feed. In addition, our ship’s propellers churn up phytoplankton as another food source.

Early today the largest flock was Cape Petrels, otherwise known as Cape Pintados. These beautiful birds have brownish coloration with a pattern of white across the top of the wings, which yields a nickname of ‘painted wings’. I could easily watch them hour after hour as they glide just above the wave tops.

Soon enough I found myself in The Theatre to listen to Kara give a presentation titled “Comparison of the Polar Regions”. Kara, one of our on board professional naturalists, has completed more than 100 voyages to polar regions and, as you might expect, is an expert in both areas. Her review covered climate, geology and biology of these remote and stunningly beautiful areas of the world. Fortunately, the Silver Explorer spends much of each year in the Far North and Far South, exploring unique environments with our fleet of Zodiacs, which allow us access to areas unreachable by any other mode of transportation.

Later in the morning began the collection and organization of rubber ‘gum’ boots, which had previously been borrowed by guests for use in the snow and ice. We always have a limited selection on board for those guests who don’t bring their own footwear or rent boots through a special program.

However, I had to sadly leave the boot operation behind to set up for my late morning presentation titled “Search for the Unknown Continent”. This is a bit of fun and perfectly suited for our return voyage. It gives me the opportunity to review some of the famous and yes, some infamous, early explorers who tried to push back the frontiers of knowledge. Slowly but surely they exposed an entirely new continent to the world’s surprise.

One more quick spin on the deck now highlighted shearwaters and prions flying about, and then in for a quick lunch before having the chance to listen to Liz’s new presentation titled “Got Krill?” Liz is a world expert biologist and provided a comprehensive review of the tiny, shrimp like creature that is virtually unknown to most of the world but which forms the absolute foundation of the Antarctic food chain. As she so insightfully mentioned, all animals in the deep Southern Ocean and landscape either eats krill directly or eats something that eats krill.

Next up on the agenda was the Expedition Team’s daily Recap & Briefing where the Expedition Leader can review the projected options for tomorrow along with a best-guess estimate of the upcoming weather. The Expedition Team then usually covers topical issues regarding biology, geology, history, ornithology, etc. However, today was skewed a little bit more towards the humorous end as we reach the end of our voyage. Michaela gave us a great peek into the lifestyle of a scientist who lives at a remote Antarctic research station. Shoshanah then reviewed the dozens of nationalities represented by both the guests and crew on board the Silver Explorer and I finished up with a short but funny film originally done in the late 1920s but with a modern voiceover that covers many of the educational topics that we try to cover during every voyage.

Days at sea can be busy and today was no exception as we finished off with the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party and dinner. It was quite intriguing to speak with two different guests, each of whom had already taken more than 230 GB and 400 GB of images respectively during this 17-day voyage, truly a clear indication of such memorable vistas of snow, ice, penguins and seals that we have seen during these past magical days.