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Day 10 - December 30, 2009 - At Sea, En Route To Elephant Island

By Victoria Salem, Historian

Co-ordinates at noon: 56°46.4’S, 041°17.4’W
Weather: Fine, with very calm seas

Today we were able to sleep late as this was to be a sea day – we are now en route to Antarctica itself! I enjoyed a full English breakfast in The Restaurant around 9am and then spent some time on deck, fully appreciating the relatively warm weather and impressively calm seas we are having the good fortune to experience.

At 10am I joined many guests in The Theatre to hear our environmentalist, Claudia Holgate, speak on “Ice, Wind and Waves: An Introduction to Antarctica and Its Climate.” We heard about Antarctica’s extreme conditions of cold and darkness and of how the surrounding Southern Ocean – with its treacherous currents and swells – isolates the Southern Continent still further from the rest of the world. The wind and weather systems at the bottom of the world combine to make it uninhabitable for humans and, through explaining such phenomena as the Coriolis effect, Claudia made it clear why this is so.

Two-thirds of the way through her talk Claudia ran into some stiff competition for guests’ attention…and lost! Who can compete with wildlife? “Whales” were announced from the bridge and The Theatre (with Claudia’s encouragement!) instantly emptied. For the next 20 minutes or so, the lecture was suspended while we whale-watched. We had found four fin whales and Captain Peter slowed the Prince Albert II down and turned to follow them as they calmly moved along, shallow-feeding. They blew again and again and we had some extraordinary photo opportunities!

At 11.45am it was Conrad Combrink’s (Expedition Leader) turn to take the stage and he gave us a fascinating insight into the conversion of this ship into the Prince Albert II we see and experience today. He explained the arcane workings behind itinerary and product development decisions, ending with an introduction specifically to the Prince Albert II’s 2010 and 2011 itineraries.

After a light lunch (not enough exercise to justify more!) and a stroll on deck to enjoy the sea views and fresh air, I headed back to The Theatre for Franz Bairlein’s talk entitled “Living In the Cold: the Astonishing Life of Penguins.” These small flightless birds can withstand appalling weather conditions and Franz was able to explain their physiological and behavioural adaptations to the Antarctic climate in some detail. How they find food to feed themselves and their chicks is of course all-important and we learned of penguins’ diving skill – so very much is going on beneath the surface of this ocean we are sailing across!

And for some light relief, what could fit the bill (no pun intended) better than afternoon tea in the Panorama Lounge, accompanied by the fine music of Lou? After tea, numbers swelled further as 5.15pm approached, the time set for the start of the Wine Tasting Seminar conducted by our Head Sommelier, Predrag. This was a lecture with a difference and the opportunity to learn more about and sample fine wines was enjoyed by many guests.

Things went pretty quiet for an hour or so, when many of us gathered once again for a pre-dinner cocktail in the Panorama Lounge. The atmosphere was relaxed as we all marveled at the continuing fine weather and moved down to dinner in The Restaurant from 7.30pm. Then it was time either for a quiet evening walking on deck, reading in our suites or continuing to enjoy Lou’s piano playing at The Bar for an hour or so. Many of us retired for the night somewhat earlier than usual with the date in mind. Tomorrow will be a late night as it is the last day of 2009 and we will want to stay up late to toast the arrival of 2010.

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