December 08, 2012 GMT
Antarctica - Part 2

Day 6 Saturday 1st December Yet another overnight transit, and we awake to 10 cm of fresh snow on the front deck of the ship, but by the time we have had breakfast the crew have hosed it off.

Snow on the deck

We are into the zodiacs for a landing on Almirante Brown an Argentinian field base surrounded by nesting gentoo penguins. We do a slow but steady hike up the hill in fresh powder snow, enjoying the views out over the bay, by this time the sun is out and we enjoy the warmth, while in the other direction there are dark clouds looming. Like 5 year olds we play in the snow and bum slide all the way to the bottom.

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Almirante Brown Base - Argentinian (currently unmanned)

Lan being a 5 year old

Back in the zodiacs we cruise around the corner to Paradise Harbour. The water is glassy and absolutely still. Santiago (Aurora's Naturalist) is such a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guy that you are swept along in his wake. He turns off the Zodiacs motor and we just sit and enjoy the silence, it is breathtaking. By the time we return to the ship the cloud closes in and it is snowing again.

Weddell Seal - they are not scared of us at all.

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Gentoos, going, going, gone.

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Exploring the glaciers by Zodiac - Glacier doesn't look so big?

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Spot the Zodiac near base of glacier - now it looks big!

Another ship cruise through the beautiful Neumayer Chanel to Port Lockroy, where there are four people stationed during the summer months. Port Lockroy is a British base that is undergoing restoration, it houses a museum and post office.

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Port Lockroy British Penguins saluting the flag

Port Lockroy Museum

Lan at Port Lockroy

We do a quick zodiac ride over to Jougler Point and revel in the beauty and sunshine. It is an amazing feeling to be walking on the frozen ocean.

Jougler Point

Lan and Skill at Jougler Point

Yacht at Jougler Point - crossing the Drake Passage in that would only be for the brave!

Sleepy Weddell Seal enjoying the sun too.

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God this place is just so beautiful. Panarama

Later that afternoon we have the Polar plungers, full immersion in the icy Antarctic waters. We didn't try it, must be old enough to realize it was only for the young, brave and fool-hardy. Some plungers have to wait for the floating ice to clear before taking the plunge from the gangway, but James tops everyone's efforts by jumping from the top deck in the nude, well not entirely nude, he was wearing gumboots and socks!. But it was OK, couldn't see much when he emerged....

That night we have a BBQ on the back deck, we cannot believe the weather, nor can the staff, they keep telling us how lucky we are, days of calm conditions and sunshine are not common in Antarctica and we have got more than our fair share. It is a really bizarre feeling, listening to music, eating fantastic food, drinking glu wein, dressing up in silly hats, in a word partying in this pristine location.

Funny Hats - Lan with Cath and Tony from Newcastle

BBQ on the back deck - that has to be the best background scenery for a party we have ever seen.

The brash ice starts coming in around the ship

More brash ice sets in at sunset about 11 pm.

Next morning, - will we get out? Luckily the Polar Pioneer has an ice strengthened double hull.

I guess I should also mention how lucky we have been with the group of people on this trip, with the exception of one or two more eccentric characters, everyone on board is an experienced independent traveller. We have all mixed really well, young and old alike, it really has been quite extraordinary. Most nights the bar is packed with people, having a few drinks and chatting, meal times are always loud and boisterous, everyone has made an effort to be part of the family. Tim and Kathleen our chefs and the Russian girls do an amazing job with the food which brings everyone together.

That night some hardy souls elect to camp out on the ice but we both decide we paid too much for a warm cabin not to use it and we don't need to say we slept on the ice in Antarctica. Our decision was vindicated when the campers admitted they didn't sleep much anyway in the overnight minus 5 degrees Celsius temperature without a tent and almost 24 hour sunlight. We slept just fine in our warm cabin!

Day 7 Sunday 2nd November We can't believe it, we awake to yet another sunny still day, after breakfast we pull up anchor and it is on to Neko Harbour, It is an absolutely stunning day, I decide that it cannot be any more beautiful on land than it is from the flybridge so stay on board drinking cups of tea revelling in our last day in Antarctica. Skill goes ashore and sits with Gentoo penguins, listening to the creaking, cracking, groaning of the very active glacier. He witnesses a huge piece of glacier calving into the still waters of the harbour causing sizable waves for a few minutes, then all is still again.

On our way to Neko Harbour

Arriving at Neko Harbour

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Another Weddell Seal welcomes us - actually they really could't be bothered whether we we there or not.

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The kayaks in Neko Harbour

We up anchor and journey over to Enterprise Island. The day is so gorgeous, most of us stay out on the front deck and Terry provides us with gallons of hot chocolate with a nip of mint liqueur, absolutely delicious! I now know what I am going to do with the aging Creme de Menthe in the back of the cupboard at home. On arrival at Enterprise Island we get in the zodiacs and go cruising through the brash ice, bumping and clunking our way through. We eventually find the wreck of an old whale factory ship before making our way back to our ship through icebergs and vast amounts of ice.

The old whale factory ship

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Amazing blue hole in the Iceberg

Clear still waters – you can see the icebergs extending to huge depths below the waterline

Skill marooned on floating sea ice

Who needs to go to Egypt - Pyramid Iceberg

Day 8 Monday 3rd November
Yet another transit overnight, we find ourselves in much choppier conditions near Elephant Point on Livingstone Island, part of the South Shetland Islands. The crew first check to make sure there is a suitable landing point and tell us that it will be rough and we will all get wet in the zodiacs, but the beach landing is OK. Amazingly no one flinches, especially not our 70+ lot and everyone makes the 15 minute ride to Elephant Point, so named because of the Elephant seal population. Upon exploring the shore we find 18 trapped elephant seal pups. Because of the very late snow falls this year they had become trapped by walls of frozen snow around them. After a little debate about the rights and wrongs of us interfering with mother nature Santiago initiates the inevitable rescue and we pitch in with ice axes, shovels and hands digging ramps out of the holes. Santiago, James, Tarn, Maggie and Don worked like trojans to get the baby seals out of water-filled ice holes, some of these seals must weigh 80 – 100kg and trying to lift them when wet and struggling must be like wrestling a greased pig.

Elephant seal pup rescue

More seals to rescue

Elephant Seals - so ugly they are kind of cute.

Baby Elephant Seals

Don't cry baby seal

Gentoo walking very carefully around the elephant seals

Lan walking very carefully around the Elephant seals

Antarctic Gull - much larger than the Aus version

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Giant Petrel - with a wingspan of about 2 meters these guys are huge!

Itchy seal - some of their faces look like cartoon charactures.

Big male seals make a racket with their bellowing.

Because we had taken a fair amount of time with the rescue the wind and seas had picked up, the ride back to the ship in the zodiacs was slow and pretty rugged, we were absolutely drenched, and had to have three goes at lining ourselves up with the ship gangway. Getting out of the zodiacs onto the gangway was also very interesting, one minute we are level with the gangway, next we are 2 metres lower, but everyone managed to get on-board with no injuries thanks to our guides and the fabulous Russian crew.

After lunch Dr John appears in the dining room “Who needs drugs?” was the question. Nearly everyone was the reply. Bugger we are heading back into the dreaded Drake Passage. Don tells us it will probably be a “lively and bouncy afternoon and evening but not as bad as first crossing” and it was, but everyone handled it much better this time. I had no seasickness at all, Skill was OK but sleepy from the drugs, he makes dinner but heads to bed early, we are rocking and rolling again. That night I spend a late evening in the bar enjoying a few beers with a great group of people, there are only eight of us and we stay up till about 12.30 in the vain hope we might get sleep later in the evening.

Day 9 Tueday 4th November
Sleep was not an option, it was a reasonably rough night although it did get calmer as the morning went on. Most of the day I spent mooching around, reading, having a few beers in the bar and generally enjoying the company of our fellow passengers. Skill was not seasick but really sleepy from the medication so slept on and off for most of the day. He also had developed a head cold so was not a happy camper. That evening most of us made dinner and afterwards the bar. A pretty laid back day, catching up on sleep, we were all pretty exhausted it had been a non stop action packed 8 days. Not only were there multiple landings everyday, but also lectures, information sessions, and we also had access to the bridge any time we liked. We spent a lot of time up there admiring the way the crew navigate the icy waters and watching the world go by, not to mention the whales, dolphins, penguins, birds and icebergs. It had truly been amazing

Up on the bridge

Day 10 Wednesday 5th November
Another sleepless night for me, I am sure the drugs I was on were uppers, I was like a startled rabbit caught in the headlights. Skill was taking Phenergan so was sleepy but it was still a reasonably broken sleep. It was another quiet day on board in the morning until we got the news that Santiago (who is Argentinian) had negotiated with the Chilean authorities to allow us within 2 nautical miles (about 3.7km) of Cape Horn, a great privilege so were told, usually ships have to stay about 12 nautical miles off shore. We crammed onto the bridge and out of the cloud Cape Horn appeared, a sight I certainly thought I would never see in my lifetime.

Dodgy photo of Cape Horn in the rain and mist

Radar image of Cape Horn as we approached

Later in the day Skill signs up for the engine room tour, it must be a boy thing, the smell of diesel was overpowering as soon as the engine room door was open, I would have been sick so passed up the exciting engine tour opportunity.

Polar Pioneer Engine Room - pic for the boys

After that everyone seemed to be in party mode, the seas flattened out and finally we were back in the Beagle Channel.The bar filled with people and later in the afternoon Captain Yuri came and joined us for final Captain's drinks. After dinner we went downstairs and watched a slide show of photos taken on the voyage, before retiring to the bar for a late night, later for some than others. We anchored in the Beagle Channel for the night so finally had a good nights sleep in calm waters.

Day 11 Thursday 6th November We awake to find ourselves nearly back in Ushuaia, a last breakfast before we disembark, swap emails, say goodbye to new friends and disappear back to our respective lives. It truly has been a remarkable experience, one that we will reflect upon for years to come. We cannot speak highly enough of Aurora Expeditions and their amazing staff. We are so pleased that we made the choice to take an Expedition style cruise on a small ship.

The Aurora Staff

“A journey is a person in itself, no two are alike, and all plans, safeguards, policies and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” John Steinbeck

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Panarama photo of Paradise Harbour

Posted by John Skillington at December 08, 2012 07:14 PM GMT

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