Fournier Bay and Danco Island ~ 29th January 2023
After last evening’s blog had been completed, whales were found in Wilhelmina Bay, treating guests to a feast of feeding behaviours very close to the ship. Our ship eased into Fournier Bay this morning, seeking a sheltered position for Zodiac operations – the winds in the Gerlache Strait running over 40 knots. On a calm sea with brash ice as far as the eye could see, the vessel came to a stop. Behind us we could see the windswept, dark-blue water of the Gerlache, but Plan A of Marco, Suzana and the Captain had once again come to pass. We had found a sheltered bay, without W-I-N-D.
Zodiacs were lowered and guests were taken out for a tour, surrounded by Antarctic Whiteness. Brabant and Anvers Islands, with Mt Francais in the distance, the highest peak in the Peninsula – at 3000meters, or 10 000 feet. The same elevation as the Polar plateau and South Pole. The Zodiacs all met up, and were secured in a huge raft (9 Zodiacs), for a Champagne stop. I proposed a toast, saying this trip was even more unusual than most being south of the Antarctic Circle, that A&K hope our expectations have been exceeded, and that I hope “the little white voices keep calling us back”. I went on to suggest that I hoped the bonds of these shared experiences remain unbroken, and that we all strive to the uttermost for our Life’s set prize. To Antarctica, as I raised my glass – may we never tame her. The second group enjoyed the same Champagne bar boat experience and toast, but were fortunate enough to find a huge, relaxed Leopard Seal on an ice floe, which posed beautifully for photographs. I travelled with Chris Srigley, from Toronto, Canada, and very experienced Antarctic expedition team member.
The afternoon activity was intended to be a landing at the Orne Islands, just north of Ronge’ Island. Unfortunately the shore break proved unsafe for landing, so we moved to nearby Danco Island (25 minutes) instead. Guests went ashore, and hiked uphill to a Gentoo breeding colony. Russ Manning had found a suitable place for a slide, and our guests embodied the notion that it is never too late to have a happy childhood. With gay abandon they flung themselves down the slope, acutely mindful that this is their LAST stop in Antarctica. It was a perfect finale’.
Very few crew came ashore today – they are no doubt feeling the effects of last night’s crew party sponsored by A&K… One hour after the landing was completed, and Captain had mentioned a potentially bumpy night ahead in the Drake, snow is falling thickly, and visibility is hugely reduced. By 8.30pm, waves were completely covering the windows in the main restaurant on deck 2. The ocean is a tempest. As Captain suggested, it is time to head North?
At Recaps I spoke about the whisky stashed beneath the Cape Royds hut in 1907, found in 2007, and faithfully recreated by Whyte&Mackay at Glen Mhor in Scotland. I went on to speak about Captain Knowledge Bengu, and the discovery of the Endurance in 3008meters/10 000 feet of water in the Weddell Sea on 5 March 2022. This happens to be the centenary to THE day of Shackleton’s burial on South Georgia in March 1922.
Patri then brought the house down with her hilarious inimitable red-jacket albatross presentation. After dinner it was dance night, with singing by the Crew band, then discs spun by DJ Paul Carter himself.
An utterly magical last day in Antarctica on this extraordinary voyage south of the Antarctic Circle.
The Drake Passage ~ 30th January 2023
Last night was a rough one at sea. As many would say, a rough sea is the tax one pays to visit Antarctica? The Captain predicted the ocean would calm by morning, and he was absolutely correct. We awoke to a far gentler sea than last night’s.
I opened the Enrichment Lecture program, with Lesser known heroes of Antarctica. Cherry-Garrard, Bowers, Wilson, Crean, Lashly, Wild and Mawson were discussed in some detail, and their vast contribution to Polar exploration in the South. The Expedition Team took back the waterproof trousers and boots, all hired equipment and any lifejackets which were not handed in yesterday. Marco and Patri, both passionate Ornithologists, gave their inspiring talk about seabird conservation and fisheries, dealing largely with the measures being taken to reduce the number of bird casualties as a by-catch of fishing operations. A&K Travel Consultant, Tanuja Valmik, is available for any guests wishing to explore future trips with A&K. Egypt and the Seychelles being very popular at present.
Over lunch, I specifically went to sit with the youngest guest (8) to see if I could engage him with a story or two. I was telling the story about Wolhuter and the lion, when a guest at a nearby table exclaimed giving his table away. Turns out a number of tables around us were all listening to our story. Oscar is going shortly to Florida for the Daytona 500 NASCAR event. We started chatting about cars, their engine sizes, and how they are designed to turn left only, since the track is raced anti-clockwise.
Geologist Jason Hicks gave the first of his talks about Climate Change, and Garry Stenson followed with details about how Climate Change is impacting marine mammals. A full afternoon, including a Macaron tea at 4pm. Tonight is the Captain’s Farewell Party, where the Captain introduces many of his staff, some of whom we never see. The French do this sort of ceremony beautifully, and a thoroughly good evening was enjoyed by all. The enthusiasm of the young waiters, stewards and deck hands is a delight to witness. I hosted guests to dinner. Turns out one is a travel writer, engaged by the PR company A&K use. Learning this at the end of the meal is somewhat disconcerting – suddenly evaluating everything one has said and may be quoted as saying. Arthur Diaz acted as MC for the karioke after dinner, which I gave a very wide berth indeed. Reputations built over years, destroyed in seconds…