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Day 11 - December 21, 2008 - Drake Passage And Beagle Channel

By Chris Harbard

Noon position: 55° 24’ 19” S 66° 06’ 48” W
Temperature: 5°C 42°F.
Wind speed: 40 knots

The day began with the Drake Passage at its calmest – a true ‘Drake Lake.’ Many seabirds were following behind the ship, including some ‘great’ albatrosses. These were identifiable as several Wandering Albatrosses and a few Southern Royals, since they both dwarfed the smaller Black-browed Albatrosses. Cape Petrels and Southern Giant Petrels also entertained us, occasionally landing, this attracting others to land just in case there is food.

At 10 am Juan told us all about ice, looking at the life and death of continental ice from its formation as glaciers to its breaking up into icebergs and then its final disappearance. Before lunch Expedition Leader Robin treated us to his talk about the history of the Prince Albert II, including the secrets of how the ship was refitted to become what it is today.

Channel. As we entered the channel, the wind and seas began to pick up as we caught the very edge of some rough weather that we later found was bringing Force 12 winds to the Falklands, making other ships run for cover ... thank goodness we missed it!

In the afternoon Gennadi gave us a talk about the ozone layer, based upon the research work that he had assisted with when he was based at Vernadsky Station in Antarctica. It revealed just why we needed to be careful to wear plenty of sunscreen when outside!!

As we sailed along the Beagle Channel, it was strange to see trees again although the snow capped mountains were more familiar. A few lone Black-browed Albatrosses still followed the ship to show us where we were, but gone were the Cape Petrels, replaced by Kelp Gulls and South American Terns.

The final recap was an opportunity to see all of the Expedition team together onstage, and the passengers showed their appreciation for their contribution to the trip. Dominic presented his amazing collection of more than 800 photographs which was later given to everyone as a memento of the trip. Then came the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party and Dinner. How quickly it had arrived!

All that was now left was packing and a last opportunity to venture into Ushuaia on a Sunday evening. The sun was still high in the sky as we docked and just behind us came there National Geographic Explorer, which had left only a few hours before us when we departed all those days ago.

As we retired to our rooms it was difficult to believe the wonderful things we had seen and experienced during the last 10 days. A trip of a lifetime indeed!!

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