Day 3 |
Dec 12, 2009

At Sea, En Route To Antarctica

By Victoria Salem, Historian

Co-ordinates: 62°06’S, 57°54 ’W

Weather: Overcast with snow and rising winds, brightening later

Today began gently with breakfast served from 8.00 – 9.30am.  On sea days I like to indulge myself with the sort of full cooked breakfast I would never dream of having at home!  The sea had calmed down considerably since yesterday, so it was good to meet so many guests up and about.

This morning was devoted to bio-security precautions, designed to enable us to go ashore in Antarctica without introducing any alien species.  To this end, Expedition Team members invited guests deck by deck to the mudroom with whatever outer clothes they had brought from home. These were then brushed, shaken and vacuumed to make sure that no seeds or grasses, etc. were still attached when we came to land in Antarctica. This process took most of the morning!

For those guests not involved in the biosecurity procedures, I gave a history lecture in The Theatre at 9.30am, which was repeated at 11am. Its title was “Ernest Shackleton, the Greatest Explorer of the Antarctic Heroic Age?” This talk was an attempt to put Shackleton and his expeditions in perspective, to explore both the man and the myth. What made this brilliant failure of a man so admirable?  What kind of men sailed with him and how should we think of them all?  I always feel that Shackleton has been elevated to a rather higher pedestal than he deserves, but attempted in all fairness to give a balanced picture of his life and achievements, both at home and in Antarctica.

Between my two talks, I went out on deck to get a breath of fresh air. I saw immediately, that we had bergy bits and icebergs in view, so we had truly arrived in Antarctica!  Despite grey skies, this was an impressive sight.  One guest revealed how he had mistaken the first chunks of floating glacier ice for plastic bags, before remembering how unlikely this was in such a pristine environment!

Straight after my talk, Conrad came up to The Theatre to give a pre-lunch briefing on this afternoon’s activities. We had made amazing progress across the Drake Passage in the last day and a half and had arrived at Penguin Island (in the South Shetland Island group) half a day early. The plan was to attempt a landing here after lunch and for each group to make a circular walk around the chinstrap rookery, taking in our first real sight of “Antarcticans” going about their daily lives.

The scout boat departed for the shore at about 1.45pm, closely followed by a second Zodiac full of emergency equipment and staff. We struggled to shore with difficulty through a thick band of brash ice, disembarking onto huge boulders and slippery rocks before making our way up a steep snow bank onto Penguin Island proper. Even as staff assessed the landing site and evaluated our chances of getting all groups ashore, weather conditions deteriorated and wind speeds increased. Nevertheless, Conrad went ahead with his plan and began to land Group 1.  Sadly this was not to be – such is Expedition Cruising!  Three or four guests were brought ashore, but conditions were such that our Expedition Leader was forced to cancel the landing.  Well, Shackleton had his problems too!

We headed back to the Prince Albert II in the staff Zodiac, arriving wet through and peppered by driving ice and snow. It was quite a relief to shed our soaking layers and relax for a while. Many of us gathered in the Panorama Lounge for afternoon tea and a chat. Staff were around drinking tea, eating sandwiches and discussing all aspects of Antarctica with guests. 

At 5pm our naturalist and Zodiac driver, Rich Kirchner, gave us a lecture entitled “Southern Wings”. In this he introduced us to the seabirds of the Southern Ocean, their specializations and amazing lives.

Our final activity of the day was a Recap & Briefing in The Theatre at 6.45pm. We were all able to relax over a drink and hear Conrad Combrink’s briefing on tomorrow’s activities in Antarctic Sound and possibly on into the Weddell Sea. Conrad then handed over to the expedition staff.  I introduced Claudia Holgate, who explained the mechanism by which birds soar and glide over the Southern Ocean. She then answered questions about birdlife, ably assisted by other Expedition Team members – in the middle of some questions about penguins we appropriately enough took a short time out to admire a group of penguins standing high up on a passing iceberg of great beauty! Luciano Bernacchi brought recap to a close with a summary explanation of where icebergs came from. 

We all went off to dinner eagerly anticipating our continental landing tomorrow and I finished off the evening with a nightcap and a chat in the Panorama Lounge bar, enjoying the smooth sounds of our pianist, Lou.