“If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on Earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it!” Andrew Denton.
Guests are trying to collect adjectives to describe Antarctica, and even Shakespeare may have struggled to do so adequately. I often comment that nothing can prepare one for your first sighting of Antarctica, and this voyage was no different. Guests have been in awe, their breaths literally taken away. Moving about the vessel, seeing passengers editing their photographs, the quality of the images is staggering. Some guests have been kind enough to give me some of their selected, edited images, for which I am very grateful indeed. Meghan Kelly got a lovely shot of me peering over the balcony, with an Orca is the water just below me. Yet even top-quality photographs battle to capture the wonder and magnitude of Antarctica, in my opinion. This extraordinary continent surrounded by oceans, with the South Pole close to 10 000 feet above sea level. No tree line, no tundra, no native population. No terrestrial mammals, and a mean annual temperature at the South Pole of minus 50 degrees Centigrade (-58F). On this expedition we have visited the gorgeous Antarctic Peninsula, which really is the temperate tip of West Antarctica, with lofty Mount Francais rising up to 9000 feet above sea level. Thus far, even the dreaded Drake Passage has treated us benignly, a gentle rolling motion felt by the ship as we sail towards the entrance of the Beagle Channel, our highway into Ushuaia.
Paleontologist/geologist Ian Miller presented a lecture titled “Discovering an Ice Age World in the Colorado Rockies”. Ian has a most congenial, conversational style in bringing the complex subject of geology to life. The Young Explorers adore him. Ian loves deserts, where fossil records are easiest to find, and has embraced his first visit to the highest, driest, coldest, windiest continent on Earth – effectively a desert in its own right.
Of the 6 species of Seals living in the Antarctica, one is “eared” and the other five are true Seals. With small external ear flaps the Antarctic Fur Seal, and uses fore flippers to swim. On land they move on fore and hind flippers to walk, capable of outrunning most people. Males can weigh 200kg, almost 4 times the weight of the females. Crabeater Seals are considered to be the most abundant, with estimates between 10 and 50 million animals, largely Krill feeders. Often heavily scarred from Leopard Seal attacks. Leopard Seals have leopard spots on their elongated bodies, powerful fore flippers with a large serpentine head and menacing 170 degree gape. Females are larger than the males, measuring up to 4,5 meters and weighing 600kg. Eating a widely varied diet including other Seals, but largely Krill. Weddell Seals are the most southerly occurring seal in the world, with their “cat-like faces”. They use canine and incisor teeth to keep breathing holes open in the ice, often suffering impacted teeth in advanced age. Southern Elephant Seals are the largest Seals in the world, males weighing over 4 tons (second only in size to Elephants as land mammals). These mammals can dive to 1700 meters, and remain submerged for 2 hours. Little is known about the Ross Seal, a species confined to the heavy pack ice. Along with Weddell, Ross Seals are known for their singing.
During the morning, Expedition Director Suzana D’Oliveira gave guests an important briefing regarding disembarkation procedures tomorrow, flights, onward connections, etc. Many guests upon departing the ship are being taken on a bus tour of the local national park, before boarding their flights to Buenos Aires. For the ship’s staff and Expedition Team it is an extremely busy day, “turning the ship around”, as new guests board at 4pm.
I enjoyed lunch with Ian, his wife, Robyn, and Matt, enjoying much laughter and banter – Matt usually on the receiving end, especially after Robyn got the very last chocolate dessert. We spoke at length about this industry, building up trust which can be destroyed in minutes, becoming firm members of a team and how well we are treated by A&K. Matt is kindly doing the photos for these blogs on the A&K website, and still being teased for his swim on South Georgia. One of the young members of the team – he has a bright future ahead of him, and deservedly so. Ian and Robyn return to Denver after this trip, we shall miss them both, charming folk.
By 2pm we could clearly see land, and the approach to the Beagle Channel, but still 6 hours sailing to get into Ushuaia. As always, I tend to find the interior of these ships rather warm, and it is a special treat to be sitting, typing, with the balcony door wide open and cool air pouring in. For much of the trip the sliding door will not stay open on account of the ship’s movement, and it tends to damage the curtains when it closes.
At Port Charcot, our last landing, I spent the entire afternoon in T-shirt and shorts, much to the intrigue of the guests, but it really was not cold. (Photo on Facebook). In fairness, whilst walking around, I often sunk into deep snow which has significantly grazed my legs above the boot line. A relaxed sea day like today is rare, and an ideal opportunity to write a blog. Most days are very busy, and finishing the daily blog last thing before bed can be a grind. We have just steamed past one on the National Geographic/Lindblad ships, confirming how fast Le Lyrial really is.
During the afternoon, Casandre, the videographer, showed the video she had created for the cruise available for sale. Highlights of the day probably will be the Red-jacket Choir, and Richard Escanilla’s slide show. A large group of guests got together and led by Prof David Armstrong on the guitar, produced an unforgettable song, pointing fun at every one on the Expedition Team, with the chorus comprising comments each team member will be forever remembered by. I was unmistakably remembered for “Can you imagine?” It was brilliant! Richard aka Blackjack/Professional Pirate choreographed a magnificent slide show from team member’s and guests’ photographs to which he had added music. Every guest and team member featured, and it will be sent to every guest via email. Suzana and Agustin thanked the team and guests warmly for an awesome expedition together.
During dinner, Le Lyrial docked in Ushuaia in rain – it is almost unbelievable to be back where we started only two weeks ago. It feels like a lifetime, the experiences certainly worthy of a lifetime.
For our guests, there is much to reflect upon, as a result of this wondrous journey. Unanimously, expectations have been massively exceeded. There have been no really rough oceans, the weather has been magnificent, and the landings sublime. I mentioned in my talk last evening the idea of considering how we live our lives and how we wish our lives remembered, then live our lives to that end. The team hope that this extraordinary expedition provides the inspiration for each and every one on board to reflect upon their lives, to tread gently, and to correct positively/genuinely where appropriate.