Day 2 |
Jan 31, 2012

Drake Passage en route to Antarctic Peninsula 

By Peter W. Damisch, Historian and General Naturalist

Co-ordinates: 58o 01’ S, 063o 54.5’ W
Weather: Sunny, good weather with virtually no whitecaps in the ocean
Air Temperature: 4o C / 39 o F
Pressure: 973 HPa
Wind: 45 km / hour

We’ve had a great start to the voyage with almost near perfect ocean conditions in this area of the world, south of Cape Horn, which can see a bit of storms from time to time. Throughout the day, the sea state became even more flat, easily handled by the Silver Explorer’s stabilizing fins.

As is often the case, I started out the day with a brisk walk on the outer deck. Deck 6 extends all the way around the ship, which provides a wonderful way to catch some fresh air as well as having the chance to see some of the graceful sea birds that trail behind the Silver Explorer. Today’s most numerous bird, early in the day, was the Wandering Albatross. This beautiful soaring animal is well known for both its long distance flying behavior as well as for having the largest wingspan in the world, which can reach up to 3.5 meters. I was also keeping a lookout for our first Cape Petrel also known as the Cape Pintado or ‘Painted Wing’. This beautiful and soaring bird will generally accompany us throughout our voyage from the southern tip of South America all the way down to the Antarctic Peninsula.

This first full sea day of the voyage initiates our professional presentation program. Our large, 11 person Expedition Team includes individuals with many decades of expertise in a wide range of topics including biology, botany, geology, glaciology, history, ornithology and more. We all have guided for many years and originally came from a variety of countries, including Austria, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Latvia, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, United States and United Kingdom.

The first presentation was appropriately, ‘Ocean Wanderers – The Tubenoses’. Will Wagstaff, our world traveling expert on bird species, gave a wonderful overview regarding many of the sea birds that we hope to sea during our ocean transits. This includes multiple varieties of albatross, prion and petrels, each with their unique coloration, feeding, breeding and flying behavior. Of course just one great aspect of such a lecture is the ability to go directly outside immediately after completion and put new-found identification skills to use!

Later on in the morning, it was my turn to have a bit of fun with the history of the region with a presentation titled ’Search for the Unknown Continent’. I like to put people in a time machine to go back hundreds of years to look at the people along with their motivations and emotions, not focusing on dry facts or figures. In this case we spent some time looking at the very first explorers who carefully pushed their way south across the Drake Passage towards the Antarctic, the very same thing that we do today, following in their footsteps.

After a very nice lunch with a guest from Europe, I joined the rest of the Expedition Team along with all other guests for our mandatory International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) briefing. This presentation, given by our Expedition Leader, Robin West, provides an overview of the guidelines that we adhere to as one part of Silversea’s responsible environmental tourism program. This important topic covers many subjects, including our guidelines for wildlife viewing as well as safety issues.

The IAATO discussion was immediately followed by our Zodiac Briefing. This topic covers the safe operation of our small but tough rubber boats with outboard engines, which are essential to our future work throughout the Antarctic and other remote regions of the world. Robin West covered safety issues as well as boarding procedures and lifejacket procedures that will be followed during our entire time while conducting both landings and Zodiac cruises.

Our full day of events at sea continued with a presentation by our superlative onboard professional photographer and worldwide experienced film maker, Richard Sidey, titled ‘Photography Basics’. This lecture, like most others, is purely optional but highly recommended. Richard did a great job reviewing how to the get the most out of your camera in this high contrast environment with bright snow against sometimes dark ocean. The multiple composition techniques that Richard recommends can be applied at all levels, from point and shoot cameras to high-end professional models. I always learn something new every time I attend one of these most informative photographic reviews.

Soon enough Captain Alexander Golubev was hosting his traditional welcome aboard reception and dinner. Although by this time during our first full day on board the Silver Explorer I have generally met almost all of the guests, it is now a great opportunity to get to know people in more detail. I very much enjoy being able to learn where people come from, learn their varied motivations for coming to the Antarctic and perhaps even better, pick up a few suggestions from them where they have previously traveled to as suggestions for my possible future travel.

All in all it was a very pleasant and informative day at sea as we continue to make excellent progress across a smooth Drake Passage towards our ice-encrusted and penguin-inhabited land of the Antarctic, which we expect to reach in just over one more day.