“The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving…we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.” Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Considering the infamous Drake Passage, we can not have asked for finer conditions. The crossing this far has been extremely calm and gentle. Fog slowed us down somewhat during the early hours, but we are due to pass the South Shetland Islands en route to Antarctic Sound around 4 pm. Weather conditions for this expedition are expected to be good. As Captain mentioned last evening during his Welcome, Le Lyrial is our private mega-yacht, large enough to deal easily with Antarctic conditions, yet small enough for congeniality and access to special areas of the White Continent.
On that note, let me share some specifications of this gorgeous vessel, only launched in 2015. Le Lyrial is 142 meters long (460 feet), and 18 meters wide (60 feet), with a gross unladen weight of 11 000 tons. Maximum draft less than 5 meters, hence her suitability for expedition-type work. Under full power from her two 2300KW (3080 HP) engines, she travels at 17,4 Knots (almost 32km/hr). Bow thrusters fore and aft render Le Lyrial extremely manoeuvrable and able to turn within her own length. Sailing as we are, each engines uses 6 tons of diesel per day. Collectively, around 12 tons (12 000 litres) per day – little wonder 200 tons were required for the expedition of 3200 nautical miles/16 days via Falklands and South Georgia, en route to Antarctica. Bridge Officers were intrigued at my enquiring about fuel consumption yesterday. Stabilisers made by Rolls Royce enhance stability in open water, where ice poses no threat to these vulnerable “fins”(5 meters long and 1,5 meters wide, same size as Humpback Whale fins!)
Ornithologist and Penguin Princess, Patri, gave a masterful presentation titled “Birds in Tuxedo’s – Why they look so different.” Patri took us on a journey of discovery regarding the various penguins we are likely to see on this expedition. The emblematic little Adelie Penguin with its unmistakable black head and white eye ring, was named after the wife of Dumont D’Urville, early French explorer. Spending much of the year on pack ice, these cartoon-type birds are reliant on leads of open water for feeding. Patri explained the identifying characteristics of various species, their distribution and numbers, relative sizes, etc. As always, her talks are beautifully illustrated and presented. Translation once again via Whispas for our Chinese guests.
Every morning on board, around 10.15am hot Bouillon is served in the Grand Salon. Enjoying a delicious cup of chicken broth earlier made me think about early explorers and the deprivations they suffered with poor clothing and even poorer diets, dearth of warm drinks and meals, and most particularly their sense of purpose. And to have tackled these mighty oceans in small sailing ships!
During the night we crossed the Antarctic Convergence Zone, or Polar Front. The ocean south of the Convergence differs markedly in salinity and temperature from northern waters. Where the warmer saltier southward flowing water, meets the colder, less saline Antarctic surface water is considered the biological boundary of Antarctica. The position of this zone varies annually, but water and ambient temperatures drop appreciably. An important feature of the Southern Ocean is the Antarctic Circumpolar Current – the world’s largest ocean current flowing eastwards at one thousand times the flow of the Amazon.
Expedition Director Suzana explained the mandatory IAATO guidelines to all guests regarding going ashore in Antarctica. Take only photographs, leave only footprints, no food or litter ashore, do not approach or touch wildlife, etc. As Suzana explained, common sense really, but a very important briefing before our first landing in the morning, on this continent dedicated to peace and science. Expedition Leader Agustin Ullmann then explained in detail the use of Zodiacs in our landings, stressing safety foremost and for all to enjoy themselves out there. The Expedition Team handed out life jackets to each guest for use in the Zodiacs. These light safety devices contain a tiny canister of carbon dioxide which inflates the jacket upon contact with water. The option exists to manually activate the canister, but the shock of landing in water of this temperature may preclude one thinking of doing so. We trust nobody requires the life jacket on our watch.
It is good to see a lot more guests out and about today, clearly over their jet lag, and seasickness experienced early on. I spoke about Roald Amundsen – the great Nordic explorer who took the prize of the South Pole. With impeccable Polar credentials, vast experience, clinical planning and dogs, dogs, dogs, Amundsen forestalled Scott to the South Pole by 34 days. Some authors suggest that Scott’s party died psychologically when they realised they had been beaten to the Pole? As a brazen last minute and secretive entry to the race for the South Pole, Amundsen’s story is most compelling indeed. Tomorrow I am presenting Scott back to back, as there is insufficient time to fit all the lectures in on this cruise. Be good to close with Shackleton – at least I know something about his expedition.
To comply with biosecurity regulations clothing, backpacks and camera bags along with the zips were vacuumed to remove any seeds and organic matter from entering Antarctica. Boots will be washed in Virkon disinfectant before and after each landing on the Peninsular. As we approached the South Shetland Islands, snow began to fall strongly driven by wind straight onto the bow, so flakes are swirling parallel to the water. This is the sort of weather our guests were expecting, grateful still for a very calm sea. As Captain predicted, at exactly 4pm we began sailing through the South Shetland Islands. The excitement levels at fever pitch, guests pouring out onto the decks to catch and record their first glimpses of Antarctica. Surprising number of comments regarding the wind and the cold – quite what were they expecting?
Richard Harker, Photo coach, gave advice on trying to secure the perfect penguin and iceberg shots down here. From depth of field, light on the eye, animal interaction and avoiding compositions that are “too busy”, Richard used his own exquisite photographs to illustrate his points. Composition and proportion perhaps more important with iceberg photography, along with correct exposure. Observations on animal behaviour, and taking care of your camera equipment in these environs regularly interspersing Richard’s commentary.
Recaps and Precaps was very well-attended this evening, with Brown Bluff and Goudin Island in the offing for tomorrow, in the Antarctic Sound. The casual dining room on Deck 6 was so full, that there was nowhere to sit, so some of the team went down to the formal dining room on Deck 2, whilst others took food to their cabins.
We have an early start in the morning, and all very exciting indeed.