The country and geography certainly changes markedly as one flies south from Buenos Aires, to Ushuaia, a frontier town in southern Patagonia on the Beagle Channel. Amongst the passengers on the flight, one could sense the excitement of people about to travel to Antarctica. Friendly, efficient A&K representatives met them at the airport, dealt with luggage, and transferred guests to buses. The lunch venue, the beautiful Arakur Hotel, sits high up on a hill above Ushuaia, rather like a cosmic power point riveted to the mountainside. Patri Silva and JD Massyn, from the A&K Expedition Team welcomed guests, and provided them with their cabin door cards, before sitting down to a wonderful buffet meal. The view from the Arakur over the surrounding mountains and Beagle Channel is spectacular, and is surrounded by natural Beech forest.
This cruise enjoys a full complement of 200 guests, who began arriving at the gangway at 4pm. The quayside in Ushuaia is very busy today, with no less than 5 expedition ships being re-provisioned, and new guests embarking – a hive of activity. Wonderful to see Le Lyrial’s sister ship, Le Boreal, also in port. The massive Europa 2 belonging to Hapag-Lloyd somewhat dwarfs our beautiful, sleek Le Lyrial directly opposite her on the pier.
The Expedition Team welcomed them, along with the Captain, his Officers and the staff, who assisted in getting luggage to the cabins. Parkas, boots, backpacks and waterproof trousers had earlier today been distributed to all cabins by the Expedition Team. Fantastic canape’s and drinks were served in the Grand Salon on Deck 3 once guests had checked into their lovely cabins. At 6pm the mandatory evacuation/life boat drill was conducted, us all looking rather strange in bright orange life jackets, assembling in the Theatre for instructions, and then walking out on deck to our respective life boats. There are 30 Young Explorers on this expedition, ranging from 7-18 years.
Our Captain Erwan le Rouzic, and Suzana D’Oliveira, Expedition Director, welcomed everyone on board. Cruise Director, Loic Menguy, explained the workings of the ship, and where various public areas are to be enjoyed.
The Expedition Team then introduced themselves individually, Richard Escanilla claiming to the first Philippine Polar Explorer, creating much amusement. Fantastic dinners were enjoyed in Le Celeste and La Comete restaurants. It is clear that all guests are exhausted after long travel days in getting to Ushuaia, at the bottom of the world, coupled with the excitement of their expedition to come. At 9pm the ship anchored at Puerto Williams in Chile, to rebunker/refuel – as Captain pointed out, we want enough diesel to get BACK again.
We then sailed out of the Beagle Channel into the dreaded Drake Passage, but a smooth crossing is anticipated, thankfully. These stormy waters of the Southern Ocean encircle Antarctica in a continuous current of mainly eastward flowing water, comprising 10% of the world’s oceans, and connects the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. It also isolates the continent from warmer waters – the Circumpolar Currents is roughly 4 times the flow of the Gulf Stream. Where these cold waters meet the warmer, northern oceans is called the Antarctic Convergence, or Polar Front. The ocean south of the Polar Front contains the coldest, densest water in the world. Cold Antarctic bottom water moves along the ocean floor into the Northern Hemisphere, where it adds oxygen and reduces temperatures of these waters to below 2 degrees Centigrade. This cooling effect on tropical and temperate seas is an important feature of the world’s heat balance. Sailing over the Southern Ocean carries the fantastic psychological benefit of reinforcing Antarctica’s remoteness and immensity.
Tomorrow is a day at sea in the Drake Passage, filled with lectures and entertainment on board.