Day 16 |
Jan 28, 2012

At sea, en route to Ushuaia

By Uli Kunz – Oceanographer and Zodiac-Driver

Position: 60°05’ S, 63°41’ W
Air temperature: 0.3 °C, 32.5 °F
Water temperature: 1 °C, 33.8 °F
Air pressure: 985 hPa
Wind speed: 30 km/h

We can't complain about the weather, our guests were still doing a great job being in charge of it. It has been one of the best cruises during the whole season! In the morning, the sun was shining and the infamous Drake Passage did not show a single sign of strong winds or high swells that we normally encounter in that part of the world. Welcome to the Drake Lake!

After breakfast, marine biologist Robin Aiello presented a lecture about the amazing life forms that we find underwater around Antarctica. When sailing through these icy waters, we only see the creatures that come to the surface to breathe or feed, like whales, seals or penguins. But well hidden in Antarctic waters there is a special ecosystem with a large variety of seaweed, fish and invertebrates that have adapted to live in this harsh environment. Icefish, for example, don't have red blood cells and show an almost transparent skin and flesh. These fish benefit from the fact that the amount of dissolved oxygen is much higher in cold water, so they could evolve in an ocean where the water temperature always stays below 2° Celsius.

Before lunch, our botanist Hans-Peter Reinthaler made the “Antarctic Connection”. He talked about the different forms of plants and animals around the Antarctic continent and the adjacent land masses in the Southern hemisphere. The distribution of these organisms is linked to the break up of the prehistoric continent Gondwana, which combined all continents we know today in a “supercontinent”. Antarctica at that time was a very warm place to live in and dinosaurs roamed its lush forests. Hard to imagine when we travel to its icy coasts today!

After lunch, Expedition Leader Robin West gave a talk about the history of the Silver Explorer 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 promote the special Silversea product and 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 had to take 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 interiors of The Theatre, The Restaurant, The Library and The Observation Lounge were ripped out and completely rebuilt. The suites underwent the most 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 Prince Albert II in Monaco! In 2011, it was renamed again to Silver Explorer. What an exciting history!

Today all our guests returned their rubber boots to the mud room, where they are stored in between landings, so it was our turn now to clean and store them for our next cruise. Our last landing was at Bailey Head to visit one of the largest Chinstrap penguin rookeries in Antarctica, so we had to wash a considerable amount of penguin guano off the boots.

Later in the afternoon, we invited all our guests into The Theatre for our final Recap & Briefing. Expedition Leader Robin West showed us the weather forecast for the next day, which was even better than the one we had for today in the Drake Passage. Our guests are the luckiest travellers in the world of Antarctic cruise ships...

It was time now for the Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party! To the music of our piano player Alfredo, Captain Alex Golubev invited most of the ship's crew on the stage in the theatre, where they were greeted with loud applause by our guests to thank them for their amazing work as butler, house keeper, cook, waiter, bartender, musician, engineer, sailor or officer. Bon Apétit for the Captain's Farewell Dinner!