Day 9 |
Nov 09, 2009

At Sea

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: 53°56.00’ S, 07°20.00’ W

Weather: Overcast and rainy with some snow squalls, clearing in afternoon

Air Temperature: 11°C

Wind: 15 knots

This part of the Chilean fjords makes me smile. It is so beautiful. The ship was heading south for most of the morning towards Cape Froward. Despite the rain and windy conditions, there were always a few red parkas out on deck, taking in the amazing scenery.

According to all the locals, this year has been a really late spring. The strong winds, snow flurries and cold temperatures are more reminiscent of winter than spring. The weather was so variable – one moment it was raining, then clear, then a mini snow blizzard would hit. You never knew from one moment to the next what to expect!

But the recent snow added a beautiful element to the rugged mountain scenery by lightly coating the peaks of the mountains in a dusting of snow. This was particularly striking since the mountains themselves were very dark in colour. To add to the whole atmosphere of the area were the low-lying clouds that draped themselves over the top of everything.

At about 10am the ship was scheduled to sail past Carlos III Island. These waters are well-known for having humpback whales, so we had almost all the Expedition Team staff, except for me, out on deck looking for whales. Why not me? Well, I was giving a lecture entitled “Survivors in Sub-Zero Waters – Life in Icy Conditions”. In this lecture I explored the underwater realm of the Antarctic, and explained the many different physical, behavioural and metabolic adaptations that marine animals must have in order to survive in water temperatures below freezing.

Unfortunately, no whales were spotted – seems like we are a bit too early in the season and the humpback whales have not yet arrived from the northern waters.

Victoria Salem, our historian, gave the next lecture at 11am – “The True Story of Moby Dick”. This is one of my personal favourite lectures by Victoria, full of vivid imagery and amazing stories of survival and hardship. It is the story about the whaling ship Essex of Nantucket that was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale in 1820, and how the 20 surviving men set out in small whaling boats for the Chilean coast. Few survived, but those that did told a horrific story about how they survived – you really need to hear Victoria’s rendition of it!

At one point, Victoria had to put her lecture on hold as everyone gathered outside at Cape Forward – the southernmost point of the South American mainland. There is a large cross marking the cape – this was constructed in 1987 to honour the visit of Pope John Paul II. However, a marker of some sort has been at this location since 1913 – but all the previous ones have been destroyed by storms.

Later, after lunch, the girls from the Spa held a beauty seminar on the “Five Steps to Flawless Skin” – I hope their tips work for me!

This was followed by Chef Lionel and Head Sommelier Pedrag for a “Wine & Food Pairing” seminar in the Panorama Lounge. I could hear the laughter from the Lounge as I walked down the hall – everyone was obviously having a great time!

From the food demo back to The Theatre for another lecture. Hans-Peter, our botanist, gave the last lecture of the day, entitled “Botany of Chile Part 2 – The Green South”. He explained all about the evergreen Nothofagus forests and alpine-like vegetation of the southern part of Chile.

The original sailing schedule had us arriving at Tucker Island, a bird colony, in the late afternoon, but the winds were gusting to 50 knots and there was no protection at the island, the Captain and Expedition Leader decided to head to an alternative location – a glacier about an hour’s sail away. As we approached this other glacier, we were a bit surprised – the glacier had receded so far back up the valley that it no longer came down to the sea. In fact, it had receded more than 2.5 nautical miles from what was on our charts. Juan Carlos Restrepo, our geologist, told us a little bit about how nearly all the glaciers in this region are, in fact, receding due to the increase in temperatures.

But it was still fun – the skies had cleared, the sun was out and the ship was in a protected bay with little wind. Almost everyone was out on deck chatting and laughing and enjoying the ideal conditions. A great way to end the day at sea.