Friday, February 09, 2007

My Antarctica Cruise

In 1991, my mother had the idea that she wanted to go on a cruise of Antarctica. My immediate reaction was to tell her "Are you crazy, why do you want to go there?" It took her along time to convince me to go on the trip.

In February of 1992 we flew from Miami to Santiago Chile, then to Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands where we boarded our small cruise ship the M/S Explorer (100 passengers) for our 14 day cruise to Antarctica and the Chilean Fiords.

We sailed out into the Drake Passage to the South Georgia Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. The Drake Passage (which is known for violence storms) was so calm that the crew was calling It Lake Drake.

The weather in Antarctica was cloudy, but we had some sunny days as well. The temperature was 0º - 5º C (30º – 40º F). One of the most beautiful sunny days was when we where cruising by Icebergs near Elephant Island (Shackleton’s men wintered there).

They provided us with red Parkas to wear. We brought Sweaters, waterproof pants, Flannel Shirts, Boots, Long Johns and sunglasses.

Most of the islands and mountains where covered in snow and ice. The Glaciers came down to the sea and had a beautiful deep blue color in them.

Our ship cruised through waterways that had pack ice and small Icebergs. Our stateroom was just above water level. The grinding of the ice sliding against the hall of the ship made me nervous, all I could think of was the sinking of the HMS Titanic.

In Antarctica we saw many old abandon Research Stations. The areas we travel to where remote and often lack substantial docking facilities; therefore, the majority of shore landings where undertaken using Zodiac Boats. We would wade the last few feet into shore. We where told to not block the wildlife path to the ocean and to give the Walrus 50 feet of clearance. Also we where told to "leave nothing and take nothing. One place we actually set foot on the Antarctic continent.

We saw alot of Gentoo Penguins, Adelie Penguins, Chinstrap Penguins, Magellanic Penguins, Wandering Albatross, Snow Petrels, Black-bellied Storm petrel, South Georgia Pipit, Humpback Whales and Leopard Seals. Many people asked me if we saw Polar Bears. No we didn’t because we where in the wrong hemisphere.

Our cruise did have some dangerous incidents. One passenger had a heart attack and was confined to his stateroom until he was airlifted out at Punta Arenas Chile. One time when we where down at 66 Degrees Latitude (Antarctic Circle) the Pack ice closed in on the landing party at a abandon Research Stations. It took the Zodiac Boats one-hour to get the passengers back to the ship. Another time in the Chilean Fiords, a piece of Ice caved from a Glacier, and the wave nearly swamped two Zodiac Boats. Fortunately Mother and I decided to stay on the ship during those two excursions.

At Palmer Station, on Anvers Island there was a hull of a capsized supply ship in the harbor. Our ship had helped in the rescue of the passengers several years earlier. They told us, that if we had gotten into trouble in Antarctica. We would have had to wait for a week before we could be rescued from the main land (South America). Also we couldn't expect help from the Research Stations, because they couldn't spare the fuel for the rescue. They needed it for there own use through the winter months. I’m glad they told us after we had made it through the Antarctic Peninsula section of the trip. I would have been a nervous wreck had they told us that earlier.

On our way to Santiago Chile, We sailed out into the Drake Passage again. This time the Drake Passage lived up to it’s reputation. We had 40-foot waves crashing against the ship. I got seasick for a few minutes.

We landed in Valparaiso Chile, and flew home from Santiago Chile.

All in all, it was an exciting trip. I'm glad I went, but don't think I'll do it again.

1 comment:

Patty said...

Wow Gary, what a wonderful experince for you! Only an American would sk after the Polar Bears, lol. My friend Pete is a Ship's Captian, and Pilot Guide, and he took ships to the South Pole many times, over 5 summers in all.