Neko and Lockroy ~ 17th January 2023
Neko Harbour is a particularly scenic bay, with an actively calving glacier. Our morning began early (7am), to the landing site where snow and freezing temperatures made for very slick conditions. The walking poles provided by A&K came in very handy indeed. Gentoo Penguins ignored us as we hiked up the hill, to a higher penguin colony. The views were spectacular, looking out over the bay, with glaciers and mountains abounding in all directions. Snow and sleet fell consistently. The Zodiac drivers were kept busy clearing a channel through constantly shifting brash ice along the shoreline. Le Lyrial had to reposition a number of times to avoid large, mobile icebergs. Many guests enjoyed the opportunity of being photographed with a number 7 sign, indicating their 7th Continent, and the most difficult to get to. The Zodiac rides back to the ship were certainly invigorating, with snow landing on our faces. Probably one of the coldest landings I have had yet.
Over lunchtime the ship sailed through the beautiful Neumayer Channel, 16 miles (25km) long, and roughly 1,5 miles (2.4km) wide. Visibility was good and certainly the guests were blessed with an Antarctic wonderland. This is THE most appropriate way to spend our last day in Antarctica. I had lunch on my own on the pool deck, counting my blessings whilst this wonderland slid by. By 1.30pm we were ready to disembark at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island. Discovered by Charcot, it was named after Edouard Lockroy, a French politician who assisted Charcot in obtaining government funding for his French Antarctic Expedition. Port Lockroy Bay was used for whaling 1911-1931, then secret British military Operation Tabarin established Port Lockroy Station A in 1943. The base operated as a British research station until January 1962. In 1966 renovations were effected by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and today the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust run the museum, Post office, shop and Gentoo Penguin research projects.
Storms this past week destroyed windows on staff accommodation quarters and the museum. The wind blew down the Iridium antenna on the roof, so the carpenters were busy effecting repairs during our visit. The unusually habituated penguins, Skuas and Sheathbills delighted the guests, whilst Humpback Whales provided interest for those on the Zodiac tours. One of the British women stationed at the base, has insulated boots which leak, and a pair of uninsulated boots. Her feet have been freezing, so a pair of boots were given to her off the ship. Her delight was a treat to witness.
During Recaps, Sylvia Furtwangler and Russ Manning provided information on dog racing, mushing, nutrition and the history of dogs in Antarctica. Sylvia keeps a team of 40 dogs in remote Norway, and regularly enters the Iditarod (1000 miles/1600km). Yukon Quest and races in the Volga with her A-Team of 16 dogs. The real deal in terms of dog mushing/racing.
Patri followed with her hilarious, memorable Red-jacket Albatross presentation where she cleverly compares our guests with albatrosses. This day completes a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime journey for so many onboard. Tonight we begin our 48 hour journey back to Ushuaia, across the Drake Passage, hoping for a smooth, calm crossing. The Drake is not looking very calm, the dance show planned for 9.30 (now) has been cancelled, and I think we are going to sadly see a lot of sick guests over the next two days.
Crossing the Drake ~ 18th January 2023
The Circumpolar Current flowing around Antarctica in a clockwise direction, along with the winds funnelled between South America and Antarctica, create what is regarded as the wildest ocean crossing on Earth – the Drake Passage. This passage played an important role in trade, before the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. Always a stiff test for ships, especially early sailing ships and their crews.
We entered the Drake Passage last evening, and had a fairly bumpy night. Le lyrial took some hard blows on the bow, which ripple through the ship. Today has been considerably calmer with swells of about 5 meters, rolling across the bow from the 10 o’clock position. The ship with her stabilisers deployed is riding the ocean very well.
Justen and Zoe Dralle from Pietermaritzburg were in touch with me, having just done this very trip, on another ship. They were fortunate enough to see juvenile Emperor Penguins at Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea. Dedicated twitchers, they were up at 4.30am daily scanning the ice floes for birdlife. Their efforts were rewarded. Justen and Zoe were in Addis Abiba, en route home. I hope their experience on Ethiopian Airlines was better than mine…
Astronaut Susan Kilrain spoke about her memories as Navy test pilot, and then Space Commander, many of which were extremely humorous. The Expedition Team received all the rented books, jackets and waterproof trousers, which will leave the ship back in Ushuaia on Friday. Marco Favero and Patri Silva spoke about Seabird Conservation in fisheries, a subject very close to their hearts. Huge progress has been made by changing the fishing season to winter, avoiding the seabirds’ summer breeding season. Baited hooks deployed well below the surface, and streamers to prevent the birds diving for the baited hooks have also helped significantly. However, the discharge of heads, tails and offal makes the ships very attractive to the seabirds, so the by-catch is an ongoing problem. The fact that the majority of birds caught are females and juveniles skews the ratio of breeding birds, further slowing population recovery. A&K Philanthropy donate much to the Conservation efforts for seabirds.
Photo Coach Michelle Valberg gave tips on post processing of photographic images. The Captain and his team are kindly hosting Bridge visits of 20 guests at a time. Since the Bridge in on Deck 5, right at the front of the ship, some guests have opted out as the Bridge is moving considerably on this bumpy sea. My cabin is right next to the Bridge. The movement at the front of the ship makes these cabins less attractive to guests. Suits me fine; means I am less likely to be asked to change cabins. Being furthest from the WiFi routers, means I spend time sitting at my cabin door, with the door open trying to eke out a connection with the Internet. Hence few photos and very short video’s being sent. The fact that we have WiFi in these parts is incredible, so I am not complaining in any way. Trying to look at homes on Property24 is challenging, however.
This evening we donned our glad rags and enjoyed the Captain’s Farewell Dinner. Prior to dinner Cruise Director Paul Carter introduced the crew to the guests, department by department. The applause and cheering was heart-warming.
A number of the Expedition Team went upstairs for dinner. The restaurant was quiet and we had many laughs together. Indeed we are one another’s ship family, and it is wonderful to enjoy such friendships with folks from all over the world.
Drake Passage and Beagle Canal ~ 19th January 2023
The ocean is considerably calmer today than she has been, much to the relief of guests. Visits to the Bridge have been thoroughly enjoyed yesterday, and today. Marine mammals speaker, Pierre Richard kicked off the Enrichment Lectures this morning talking about Polar Marine Food Webs, comparing the Arctic and the Antarctic environments. Studio Ponant gave guests a preview of the beautiful video and photographs they have taken during this voyage, after Paul Carter had given guests their disembarkation briefing for the morning. This is not as straightforward as it may appear, since guests are doing a variety of things upon departing the ship, all arranged by A&K. We were fortunate to watch a DVD presentation of the huge bark Peking rounding Cape Horn in 1929, in a violent storm. Narrated by Captain Irving Johnson is a style and voice that made him a favourite on the lecture circuit around the world. Pastry chef Clementine served crepe suzettes during afternoon tea, whilst Volodymyr Talakh entertained on the piano. Whilst guests attempt to pack their bags in preparation for disembarkation in the morning, I spoke about Charcot and Nordenskjold, both survivors in the truest sense of the word. Quite a relief to locate my USB holding all my PowerPoints in the laundry! It had been through a wash cycle, but thankfully working fine. I had clearly left it in a pocket…Sweated bullet for a while.
Caviar was much appreciated during the evening session before Recaps. Suzana and Paul were most entertaining in the auction of the A&K pennant (destroyed by wind), and the raffle draw for both the Crew Welfare and Save the Albatross Funds. Significant contributions were made to both funds. The visual memoir of our voyage together, beautifully created by JD Massyn was then presented, and brings back so many special memories of this journey. It feels like ages since we were staring in awe at Albatrosses at West Point in the Falklands. Suzana reminded guests about being ambassadors for Antarctica upon their return home, and how difficult it would be to explain the allure of this continent dedicated to peace and science to others back home. Dinner was a lively affair, with deck 2 restaurant packed to capacity. Paul Carter and I hosted 7 guests at the Captain’s table, since 9-seater tables are in short supply. After dinner the dancers gave a wonderful show, which has been postponed night after night due to the movement of the ship. One senses guests were reluctant to go to bed, knowing this was the last night of an unforgettable experience to Antarctica with A&K. May the little white voices keep calling you back….