Quark Expedition Day 12 – Cape Horn

“A sense of the future is that the present generation is morally responsible to future generations.”

~ Andrew Aakharov and C.P. Snow

Woke up – still have the lurgy – but after another decent nights sleep thanks to the rocking of the ship, not feeling too bad.  Today we had another light schedule to look forward to and then the saddest bit of any trip, the packing that signalled the end of our adventure. *sniff sniff*  I can’t believe our trip is coming to an end so soon.

We had a light breakfast and then a mid-morning presentation called “Looking North”, that I had really been looking forward.  The Expedition Staff were going to tell us all about their northern hemisphere summer jobs – most of them work the other half of the year in the Arctic!  We had already heard tales from some of the staff over dinner, or just while chatting when hanging out around the ship or on shore; this morning’s presentation was effectively a ‘Where else can Quark take you?’ which told through the experiences of their expedition staff.

Franny:  “Well, golly gosh we are nearly at the end of our trip friends and no doubt you are feeling sad about having to leave Antarctica and our beautiful Ocean Diamond.  Well, friends, fret not! We have the Expedition Team in the Main Lounge with a presentation of exciting Arctic adventures!”  We are going to miss Franny and her “golly goshes” and her “fret nots”.  🙂

Woody our Expedition Leader was up first, he works out of Svalbard, Spitsbergen, Greenland and Iceland, taking people on trips deep into the Arctic region searching for polar bears and walruses and other crazy wildlife.  He also spoke about how unexpectedly green and flush with wildflowers some of these areas can be.  These voyages start in the very north of Norway and then go further north from there.  I didn’t have any of the materials they showed us in their presentations, they were mostly personal photos and such, but I found some content on the Quark website, and Woody is in this promotional video I found basically explaining what a typical day is like on a trip like this in the Arctic.

Next to speak was Naomi, and she spends her northern hemisphere summer working in the high Canadian Arctic.  These trips are often photography land stays where visitors can explore the high tundra regions looking for musk ox, polar bears, arctic fox, beluga whales and other unusual wildlife. Visitors get to explore in Unimogs (all-terrain vehicles) or go hiking as you choose to get in amongst the ‘Badlands’.  These trips start from Yellowknife in northern Canada and then go to a static camp called the Arctic Wilderness Lodge.  It looks very remote and very interesting as well.

But the presentation I was really looking forward to was Pato’s.  He had mentioned to us over dinner, how he was working next season on the ’50 Years of Victory’ – the Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker that Quark does expeditions to the North Pole on… and when they get there, his main job is taking people on hot-air balloon flights.  This trip looks simply amazing… I mean who would even think that hot-air ballooning at the North Pole should be a thing?!   The expeditions start from Helsinki where you then fly to Murmansk in northern Russia to board the icebreaker and head to 90° north.  Pato said being on the icebreaker is like ‘living through a mild earthquake for a week or so’.  Sounds like a truly unique journey.

We left the ‘Where to next?’ presentation feeling inspired… with so many travellers on this ship having a wide variety of interests and experiences, we had already gathered a huge list of cool places to add to our respective ‘Bucket Lists’ – but now that the expedition team has shared some of their favourite polar expedition experiences in the north, we have even more places we would love to see.

Just after the presentation, we had an announcement on the PA that we were coming up on Cape Horn.  The weather was a bit overcast but we had been given permission by the Chilean government to approach the Horn. It looks pretty much how I remembered it from last year… a remote little rocky island with a solitary statue/monument of an albatross on it.  Only last year we had bluer skies and nicer weather.
It was raining and most of the rain was definitely frozen… We did see a remarkable ocean to ocean rainbow though – that was very cool and I haven’t seen that phenomenon before. Back to moody, ‘romantic’ weather!

After this, we had a bit of lunch and then there was a ‘Global Warming and Climate Change’ lecture with Norm, the geologist.  I chose not to attend the climate change lecture in favour of getting a headstart on my packing.  By all accounts later, it was as doomy and as gloomy as I would have anticipated and all I can say when I think about the polar regions melting and sea levels rising is – what are we going to do about Venice?  Build a bio-dome over it and only visit it by submarine?  The environment is going to hell in a corporate handbasket of greed, and globally our governments – all of them – are not doing enough to halt the destruction.  It’s sad, and it’s depressing and it’s going to be a mess our children end up having to clean up.

After Norm’s lecture, we got to hand back our delightful clown shoes and PFDs (Personal Floatation Devices).  Goodbye clown shoes – I won’t miss you even though I will miss the amazing places we went together.

Then we had a disembarkation briefing which was basically to let us know what to expect in the morning and that people who had booked to fly home the same morning that the ship was due to return to Ushuaia were to mark their luggage differently and were to disembark first so they could go by bus directly from the ship to the airport to make their flights.  We met people who had flights booked to leave Ushuaia at 10am, which I have to admit just had me baffled.  Travel by ship is oftentimes unpredictable, so booking a flight home barely two hours after your scheduled disembarkation seem to me, to be almost inviting trouble… What if we had bad weather and were held up?  What if we had technical problems and ended up completely off schedule?  It happens all the time with sea travel, so I’m not sure why people would court disaster by allowing themselves so little time to make connections.  *shrug*  With people from all over the world on the ship – many of us had long transits ahead to get home.  I’d say the average transit home was ranging in the 24 to 30-hour bracket.  A LOT of people were finding themselves in the same situation as us, a 3 hour flight from Ushuaia, followed by an annoying 8-10 hour layover in Buenos Aires, followed by long-haul flights.  Yuk.

After this, we had our Final Expedition Recap, on the way to which I went out on decks and could see land – it was probably Chile that I could see, but it meant that we weren’t far off from heading into the Beagle Channel, and from there only hours to Ushuaia. The whole Expedition Team were at the Recap to briefly talk about how their area of the expedition went. Woody had been updating the laminated maps that were kept near Reception, but he put up a more detailed map now that gave a better idea of where we went.

The proper map:

We also had a look at the Bridge Reports and abstracts from the Expedition Log which shows exactly where we were each day:

Annie shared some information on the vast array of wildlife that we had seen throughout the duration of our voyage – there had been a running tally of sightings that was kept at the Expedition Counter near Reception which staff and passengers were able to update and it was an impressive variety of wildlife by the end of the trip.

We also got an opportunity to see some of the photos that passengers had been sharing in the Photo Journal.  Some of my photos made it into the slideshow which was nice. Acacia showed us a video she put together of our entire trip, which was very cool – that first landing at Stonington Island seemed like ages ago now! 🙂

Jean announced the winners of our poetry competitions – this entry from Bill (a paediatrician from Boston):

The penguin is a concept absurd,
in behaviour, more fish than bird.
And its pectoral fins are just vestigial wings
Which only makes the distinction more blurred!

And this entry from Paul from Houston:

Ode to the Humble Krill
I watch in wonder as humpbacks breach,
while all around seabirds wheel and screech.
I walk with Gentoos on the shore
while high above, cold mountains crack and roar.
I gaze in rapture as leopard seals stalk and glide
while swimming penguins baulk and hide.
And as I close my eyes tonight
I have a clear and sharp insight
All this beauty would be for nil
Were it not but for the humble krill!

Then Pato showed us a video he had put together of our crazy Polar Plunge swim!  Trish is in here, seen jumping into the water, and the photo of me coming up out of the water makes an appearance towards the end too.  🙂

This is the last voyage for these guys this season and they too will scatter all over the world tomorrow after we disembark.  Our guides are from Australia, Canada, the US, Switzerland, Germany, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, and basically as diverse as the passengers. So they were getting a little sentimental with their farewell speeches as they don’t know when or if they will be working together again… so there were some choked up staff and a few sad faces among the passengers too.  Then it was time for cocktails before dinner.  We had another amazing dinner, and an opportunity to thank Gunter and his wonderful kitchen and Dining Room teams.  The food service on the ship was exceptional – it far exceeded our expectations.

This was followed by drinks and fun in the Club.  But being still in recovery mode, I had decided on a fairly early night instead.  Well, that was the plan anyway…

My early night involved having a shower and going to bed and of course, updating this.  And by the time I had written most of the above it was just after midnight.  I thought we must be getting close to Ushuaia by now – I knew we were ahead of schedule thanks to missing the storms, so I drew back the curtains and what greeted me, but we were not only close but through my salt-grimed window, I could see we were docked at the Ushuaia pier!  I mustn’t have heard the thrusters positioning the ship because I was listening to music as I was writing.  I was immediately excited that I would be able to call the family in the morning when I found some wifi, and I put the laptop away, brushed my teeth and tried to go to sleep.

That lasted all of about five minutes before I was up, out of bed, and quickly rugged up and out on deck making ridiculously expensive phone calls back home to let everyone know that we were back safe!  I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep until I had called home.

Best $36.40 I ever spent.  <3

Quark Expedition Day 11 – Crossing the Drake

“I find the greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as is which direction we are moving. To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it, but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

The fantastic movement of the ship meant I slept in until 0730. What a simple pleasure after being on someone else’s schedule for the last couple of weeks. We had some respectably rough seas overnight causing the ship to rock and roll a bit and it was awesome. I love it when it gets a bit rough 😉 so I slept like a dead thing and if it weren’t for the fact that I’m still having trouble breathing from this flu, I might even have been able to say I felt ‘rested’ for the first time in years. I need a bed that moves like this at home; keeping your body moving all night and no particular pressure on any one point on your spine.

For a change, we went down to breakfast to get some tea and a bit of Vegemite on toast… (yes, second last day and I found out they had Vegemite on the ship) whereupon we ran into a young American couple wearing seasickness wristbands who claimed they hadn’t slept at all because the weather was so rough and their cupboard doors and coat hangers in the closet had been clattering about all night, and they did not like the motion of the ship at all. I think perhaps that they might not have travelled by ship before or they would have taken the coat hangers out of the closet and put them on the floor or in a drawer, or tied them together with a bathrobe belt. Before we went to bed last night, I had taken nearly everything off the desk and secured stuff in drawers, bound the coathangers in the closet together with thick rubber bands, that I always bring on ships for this purpose, and basically secured anything that could slide around. We have two heavy chairs in our room, which they could have been placed in front of cupboard doors that wouldn’t stay closed, but apparently, they were trying to just line up their Muck Boots in front of the closet…? You live and learn I guess.

The program for the day consisted of a few lectures – “Life of Plastic’ with Liliana the ornithologist on board. She is currently working on a project where she is collecting plastics from every single zodiac cruise she goes on. She has a 1m wide net that she drags behind her zodiac and it sieves the water for plastic particles which are then funneled into a tiny collection bottle at the end of the net. These are then sent back to a university she is working with to study the presence of micro-plastics (beads and plastic fibres) in Antarctica. She was telling us about a story of a shipping container that had 90,000 plastic rubber ducks that fell off a Chinese cargo ship 17 years ago, and how these had been washing up all over the world. Ocean plastic is not becoming a huge problem, it already is a HUGE problem – there is now an estimated 80,000 tonnes of plastic floating in the Pacific Garbage Patch. 

She also talked about an Albatross colony in North America where all the baby chicks were inexplicably dying, confusing scientists and creating a terrible smell of rotting chicks in the colony. Scientists removed the dying chicks and lay them out away from the colony to decompose. After a few weeks, they returned to find that most of the chicks had their little guts full of plastic – plastic bottle tops, plastic pen lids, even a plastic toothbrush. The chicks, with their guts full of plastic, were unable to fit enough real food into their little tummies and they effectively started – and the poor unwitting parent birds were bringing them back more and more plastic contaminated food.

This is happening throughout the marine food chain from seabirds and fish, to seals, dolphins, sharks and whales… all of them have masses amounts of plastic in their guts. Microplastics are just as bad and even harder to eliminate.  Did you know that a single washing of a polyester polar fleece jumper/jacket can put up to 19,000 microplastic fibres into the waterways? They are too tiny to be filtered by any water treatment plant and will end up straight in the oceans.  The biggest culprits are plastic drink bottles, single-use plastic straws, styrofoam cups, and plastic bags.  We all have to work harder to keep this shit out of our ecosystems.  :/

Later there was another presentation on “The Antarctic Food Web” which focused on what is feeding on what in the Antarctic environment – a lot of which boils down to ‘everything eats krill’ – poor krill – then the higher order animals eat the krill-eating animals.  🙂

After our lectures, we returned to our room to find a certificate for us saying that we had completed an Antarctic voyage below the Antarctic Circle. Approximately 35,000 people each year travel to Antarctic but barely any travel below the Circle. For example, this was only one of two Quark Expeditions to go below the Circle this season – and they have been running two-week trips on this ship from last November to March. Most Antarctic voyages spend a fair bit of time in the South Shetland Islands or the South Georgia Islands or even going as far north as the Falklands before heading briefly towards the tip of the Peninsula. So it’s quite rare for tourists to come as far as 68° south. We were also presented with a sew-on cloth patch commemorating our Polar Plunge!

This afternoon there were some more presentations – a screening of Jacque Cousteau’s, ‘Voyage to the Edge of the World’ which showed some very old school irresponsible ecotourism practices from the world famous oceanographer, including doing dangerous stuff like climbing through tunnels in icebergs that could roll?! ☺

As well as another history lecture – “From British Imperial Expeditions to International Polar Science’ which was talking about the geopolitical status of Antarctica over the years.

Before we knew it, it was time for the evening recap where we got a weather update from Woody – we were making good time across the Drake Passage, and the South American storm cell that had been of considerable concern had fortuitously moved off to the west while the other storm cell was losing steam, so it looked like we were going to be lucky and not get caught up in either. So much so that the Captain has set course to take us to sail around Cape Horn in the morning, if we can get permission from the Chilean government to approach – ordinarily you are required to keep 12 nautical miles clear of the Horn, but if we get permission to enter their waters, we may get up to 3 miles off the Horn. Aunty Mary, Lyn and myself sailed around the Horn on the Sea Princess last year – twice even, as our at the time, Captain Genaro Arma was so excited to be finally (after over 20 years at sea) be able to be sailing around the Horn for the first time, that he turned the ship around and circled it clockwise and counter-clockwise. It’s kinda cool and not a little bit crazy that we are going to get to sail around the Horn for a third time considering none of us works at sea.

Scotty was busy out on decks photographing seabirds still, and overall we had a lovely quite day at sea.

After the recap, we had a Toast to Antarctica in the Main Lounge with the Captain and a Charity Auction in Support of an organization called Penguin Watch. Penguin Watch counts the numbers of breeding pairs of penguins in the Southern Antarctic Ocean and on the Peninsula. So we had our wonderful Expedition Team walking around filling us up with champagne while they auctioned off some wonderful and exclusive Antarctic souvenirs – including the Antarctica flag off the front of the ship, a charted map of our journey complemented by hand-drawn wildlife, a unique Antarctic Heritage woolen blanket and a backpack covered in Antarctica patches. (I didn’t have my camera on me, but Acacia shared some photos:)

After this, it was time for dinner – and we had Ema our onboard microbiologist and her friend Rachel from Switzerland joining us for dinner. Ema and Rachel met on an Arctic trip last year and have kept in touch, so when Rachel decided that she wanted to visit the Antarctic, she found out which ship Ema would be on. Most every meal we have been sitting with lovely people from all over the world*. Travellers, every single one of them – people who have been to some amazing places, and are happy to share their tips and favourite sites, and people who have plans to visit even more amazing places.

Many of them want to visit Australia ‘one day’ but for a change, they seem to know that they can’t just come for two weeks and expect to be able to ‘see Australia’ – believe it or not this is quite unusual. Many people we have met in our travels, (particularly Americans… who, I know I am generalising, but I have to say have a dreadful grasp of geography in general) expect that they can come to Australia for a 10-14 day holiday and will think that they have ‘seen Australia’. I have spent collectively roughly 3 months in the US, and haven’t even scratched the surface.  The travellers on this trip all seem to have plans for a minimum of 6-8 weeks to come see Australia and are full of questions on where they should go as they feel it is such a big undertaking.

We had a wonderful dinner (ooh, I should find some photos of the farewell dinner…) and exchanged details with Ema – I do hope if she ever comes to Australia that she looks us up.

* a couple of exceptions – the very odd man from Sydney with the carb-on-carb-with-a-carb motif, full-sugar diet. And a particularly odious man from South Africa. This bloke, John, sits down at a table of women and started immediately telling us stories of how he always travels first class, and how his grandchildren keep telling him to buy a Ferrari so they can drive it and blah blah blah… If you can’t hear my eyes rolling at his bragging, well, let me insert them for you: *ROLLS EYES VERY LOUDLY*. He told us about flying Emirates (first class of course), and how the flight attendants were asking him when would he like to have his shower – there are showers in first class you know, and how he started asking the ‘little Indonesian hosties’ (Indonesian? Really? On an Emirates flight?) which one of them was going to come in and scrub his back because first class should come with someone to scrub his back… I wanted to tell him that sexually harassing airline staff in their workplace was hideously inappropriate, but he was such a dinosaur it didn’t seem worth the effort. He too, also only went ashore on the first day and has now ‘seen Antarctica’!  Perhaps the two of them spent the entire trip hanging out together at the Club Bar!  The second time we had the misfortune to have him join our table he told us that his roommate was busy packing and that ‘he’d make someone a good wife one day’… to which, yet again, a table of five women, collectively sighed.  Am thinking about avoiding the entire country of South Africa to make sure I never run into him either.  😛

Quark Day 10 – Deception Island

This morning’s quote:

“If you plan to pay your shipboard account by credit card, please register your card at Reception”

~ Ocean Diamond Reception Staff


Last night we were told that were going to be outrunning a storm on the way back to Ushuaia. Can’t be too bad or we’d be hightailing it back already, but it has pushed up our schedule by a few hours at least. We have excursions planned for Deception Island this morning and instead of our usual 0715 wake-up call for a leisurely 0730-0830 breakfast, we were being given a 0615 wake up call in preparation for immediate pre-breakfast zodiac cruising and landing excursions.


As we entered through Neptune’s Bellows and passed Neptune’s window – the narrow passage that allows entrance to Deception Island (one of the South Shetland Islands), we had conditions of 2°C and 35-knot winds. The passage is very narrow and very shallow with apparently some areas with only two meters in depth – the ship has a four meter draft so seriously windy conditions are not ideal. Once passing through the Bellows passage area we entered the bay to find less windy (25 knots) conditions but unexpected gusts of up to 40 knots, leading to zodiac cruising and kayaking being cancelled for this stop.

Instead we would be doing land tours only and that meant half of us would go ashore early and the other half could go back to bed for a couple of hours – thankfully our group, Amundsen (I think I mentioned our zodiac groups were named for explorers – Amundsen, Wild, Shackleton and Scott) was in the latter group and we were able to lay in a bit and not rush straight out into the cold.

I’m not feeling any better than yesterday, and have spent most of the night awake coughing. I went to sleep around 2300 and unfortunately was awake about 0135 and 0250 and 0420 and about this time I pretty much gave up. Between the coughing fits and the pain that coughing causes my back, and worrying that I was going to wake my cabin mate, I’ve had a pretty shit night’s sleep when I really need some rest.  So be it.  Today is our last excursion and I’m not missing it no matter how crap I feel. It’s 0820 now and we are going to be loading up and heading out in our zodiac group at 0915. It’s cold, windy and rather dreary looking outside and I have no idea what there is to see on Deception Island – we were told there is a walk to a lookout point atop a sheer cliff (not a clear shift), but with so much low cloud and fog about, lookouts may be a waste of time and energy. Let’s hope it lifts a little over the next hour or two.

Deception Island lies in Whaler’s Bay which was named by the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot, due to the heavy whaling activities undertaken here in the 1900s. There are many old buildings on the island including the dilapidated remains of the Norwegian Aktieselskabet Hektor Whaling Station and a British Antarctic Survey base, which was evacuated during a volcanic eruption which occurred in 1967. The BAS Base, Station ‘B’, had been a centre for aircraft operations in 1955-1957 and again from 1959-1969. It was from this base that in 1928, the Australian Hubert Wilkins, and American Carl Eielson, made the first powered flight over the Antarctic Peninsula, a hazardous 10-hour exploration.

Meteorological and geological research has also been conducted at this site. The beach is covered in ash and cinder, which also covers large barrels, whalebones, water boats and artefacts from the whaling and research groups that once operated here.

The weather was quite cold today and with the winds gusting up to 40 knots, we were having a bit of difficulty remaining upright at some points. The long black lonely looking beach offers no protection from the biting winds. Today was the first time I found myself wondering what sort of person would want to spend a winter in Antarctica. I also for the first time was wondering what sort of ‘emergency supplies’ the Expedition Team was taking ashore with them at every zodiac landing site… not that I thought we were going to need them, but today was the first day that I would say the environment was less than ‘hospitable’.

All these old tank structures were used to boil down or store whale oil. Woody tells me they bring food, water, blankets, temporary shelters, and some items to use for building/securing said shelters. Usually we have around 80 people ashore at a time (IAATO agreements state that no more than 100 should be ashore at any one time for sustainable tourism in the sensitive Antarctic environment and our ship is a good number to allow for the sensible management of visitors), and no, there is not enough food and water for 80 people brought ashore at every landing – but there are enough supplies that they could hold up for a time if needs be, given the very changeable conditions.

Today Deception Bay is cold, extremely windy and almost haunting with its ramshackle run-down buildings and tanks strewn about. It’s hard to imagine this place looking like a bustling and active community of whalers and researchers when today it looks so deserted and run down. The cold air was playing havoc with my already labouring lungs and I was out of breath the whole time we were ashore.

We saw plenty of fur seals – but kept our distance, they have been known to bite.

I took some videos of these seals playing? fighting?  They didn’t seem very aggressive but given they are known to bite, I wasn’t getting any closer to find out.  There is a LOT of wind noise on this video so turn the volume down if you are going to click ‘play’. I was going to dump the audio track, but it sort of captures the harsh conditions – it was so windy, we were having trouble walking into it, and I was certainly having trouble holding the camera still in the high winds we were experiencing.

Mr Whippy seal poo!  

Eventually, my desire to breathe overcame my desire to take more photographs of the hauntingly surreal landscape and we head back to the ship.

Later in the afternoon, we had another lecture “Whales in Depth: Going Deep” with Dany, one of the marine biologists discussing the biological mechanisms that allow these gentle giants to dive to such depths. One of the cutest little jibes I heard out in the zodiacs while we were all marvelling at the enormous humpback whales, was from Dany (marine biologist) – we were all staring in wonder at the whales and he threw Ema (microbiologist) a gentle ribbing: “Yah, why would you study marine biology; microbiology is where it’s at.”

I can’t get over how passionate the crew are about everything in this environment. We have been very fortunate with the weather and have just seen record numbers of whales. The staff are either queued up to say to us, ‘Wow, you have had such luck with the whales, so many whales!’ or we have actually had a very special trip. At various points surrounded by easily more than a dozen of these gigantic graceful creatures – and all of the staff have told us that they have had trips where the passengers were lucky to see even one whale in the distance from the ship. I have seen Naomi with tears in her eyes looking at the whales so close to our zodiac, and Jean saying ‘You saw four whales this outing? That’s amazing, we are lucky to see even one.’  This whole trip has been amazing and today’s foul weather has been the only sign of how inhospitable and harsh conditions must have been here – particularly for sparsely equipped early explorers.

So today is our last excursion and while I won’t be sad to see the back of those clown-sized Muck Boots that I’ve been wearing.  But I am sad to realize that I will probably never be back in these beautiful icy areas ever again.

The rest of the day was spent sailing north as we started to race for a gap between two storm cells – one off the bottom of South America and the other forming over the Southern Antarctic Islands. They had been watching these lows form for a couple of days and knew that we could be forced to make our way back to Ushuaia by going through one of them, but had pushed as fast up the Peninsula as they could so we wouldn’t have to miss our stop at Deception Island. Now the weather radar looked as though we might end up being buffeted around by the edges of both storm cells.

While the Captain and our Expedition Leader worried about the best way to sail back, the passengers were treated to the second half of ‘Penguins: Spy in the Huddle’ in the Main Lounge mid-afternoon while Dr Shannon handed out seasickness medication in readiness for the Drake.

I made it to Dany’s whale lecture, and down to dinner in the Dining Room, but passed on a social ‘Liar’s Club’ in the Club tonight in favour for trying to get an early night.  Have to kick this cold over the next few days before we fly home.


Quark Expedition – Day 9 Graham Passage & Cievre Bay

“Give me this glorious ocean life, this salt-sea life, this briny, foamy life, when the sea neighs and snorts, and you breathe the very breath that the great whales respire! Let me roll around the globe, let me rock upon the sea; let me race and pant out my life with an eternal breeze astern, and an endless sea before.” ~ Herman Melville

Woke up and immediately started coughing up a lung… stepped out of the bathroom and said in my best ‘phone sex operator’ husky voice: “Well, I feel better, how about you?”  It is so annoying that myself and Trish have both picked up some bug that someone has brought on the ship with them – there has been a steady increase in people with an alarming sounding rattling cough, and unsurprisingly in such close quarters, here we are both down with it.

I really don’t want to fly home with this and hope I am better by then… long-haul flights when you’re crook are absolutely shite.  But in the meantime, we have two more days of excursions still to go and another planned in Portal Point this morning which is on the continent proper, so we are both determined to ignore the lurgy and get the most out of these few days in Antarctica.

Okay – scratch that.  We had *hoped* to land at Portal Point this morning but the weather had other plans. It was a balmy 3C but we had winds of 35 knots, which is not suitable for zodiac cruising at all. Portal Point lies at the entrance to Charlotte Bay on the Reclus Peninsula, on the west coast of Graham Land. The British named it after they built a refuge hut at this site in 1956, enabling them to use a nearby snow slope as a gateway up onto the Peninsula plateau. The hut was only occupied from 1956 to 1958, and research conducted from this field hut focused on surveying the region and studying the local geology. The building was dismantled in 1997 and taken to the Falkland Islands apparently. Portal Point is also quite scenic due to the surrounding mountains, lots of crevassed glaciers and glacial tongues that extend down to sea level so it was quite pretty to sail through it, but looking at the chop and watching the snow coming in sideways made us glad we weren’t planning on going out in it. Can you tell I’m inside today updating this as we go?

So we have made it into Graham Passage which separates Murray Island from the west coast of Graham Land. It was named by a Captain Skidsmo after his whale catcher ship, ‘Graham’ which was the first to pass through it, on March 20, 1922. The passage is lined with enormous ice cliffs, which makes for really spectacular scenery as well as great opportunities for viewing marine mammals or at least it might if I was willing to go out on decks and watch as we sailed past.

I am currently in my centrally heated cabin, in bed, rugged up under a doona and a blanket wearing pyjamas and a thick polar fleece jumper and leaning against an electric heat pack propped up on some pillows. I am coughing up lots of crap (which is hurting my back) and my breathing is somewhat laboured, and I’m contemplating getting dressed to go out into the ‘feels like -5C and the snow is coming in sideways, Outside™’, to go for a zodiac cruise. I’ve never really been accused of being stupid before… but I think after this it is probably a fairly fitting descriptor.

This may not be my finest moment of self-care…

So… about half an hour after I wrote the above, I went outside to take some photos of the glaciers and ice in Graham Passage (well, look at it – you can’t just look at this amazing landscape through a salt-splattered cabin window!) and the cold air brought on such a huge coughing fit that I have decided to be sensible and *not* go out for a zodiac excursion in Graham Passage. 🙁 It’s still snowing – sideways – and our Expedition Leader, Woody, has just come over the PA suggesting everyone ‘rug up a bit, it’s a bit chilly’… which is rugged and tough Antarctic Expedition Leader for: ‘It’s fucking cold people, don’t make me pull out the emergency blankets because you don’t have enough layers on’.

Instead, Trish and I have spent the morning enjoying the views from the ship and watching some movies on the in-room movie channel in between coughing fits. I’ve rung to see the ship’s doctor primarily just to double check which anti-biotic I should be self-medicating on, and I hope I’m much better tomorrow to get in some more zodiac cruising at Deception Island.

Those of our group who did go out this morning said the bay was very beautiful and there was sea ice forming – it needs to get stupid cold for sea ice to be forming on the surface – but that the whales were not very active, they were just logging this morning so it was a very cold and rather quiet excursion. I’m glad I didn’t miss more leopard seals feeding or a pod or killer whales or something, but not so great every one went out in these conditions and didn’t get to see much.

This afternoon we are heading to Cierve Bay to hopefully try and find a calmer spot to go zodiac cruising. At this stage, I’m unlikely to go – I’m still waiting to see Shannon, the ship’s doctor.

Thankfully just after lunch, Shannon, the ship’s doctor came to see us. She had a listen to my chest and I was so relieved to hear that it was just a virus going around the ship and not the start of some hideous bronchitis thing. She has seen nearly half of the people on the ship with similar symptoms since we all got on board, and most of those that had it at the beginning of the trip are well and truly over it now.   She also said that the cold air and being outside wasn’t going to make us any worse so if we go out, so just rest up and have a few early nights.

Woo-hoo! I felt rather relieved. After having bloody bronchial pneumonia knock me on my arse for about 8 weeks in 2015, I am really wary of chesty illnesses. The result of this fortuitous conversation was that I felt better about getting rugged up and going out with the afternoon’s planned zodiac cruising around Cierve Bay.

A sneaky leopard seal checking out the propellor on our zodiac (damn, where’s my polariser now?!) Traversing the brash ice to get into the harbour – I love the sound that it makes as you cut through it in the zodiacs.

I am so glad I rugged up and went out… With no real notice the weather had lifted and cleared up completely and we spent a couple of hours riding around in the zodiacs in beautiful blue skies and bright sunshine this afternoon.   It was so warm I was unzipping my parka and taking my gloves off to try and cool down. We have really been enjoying the moody and atmospheric conditions that we have had over the last few days of excursions, but now Antarctica showed us a whole different palette of colours.

About four gorgeous whales in front of a tidewater glacier. Not a single one of these photos has been adjusted for brightness, contrast, colour balance or anything.  They are straight from the camera and unfiltered and unenhanced.  A couple might have had yellow jacket bits cropped out of them – but they are compltely unmanipulated.
While earlier we had been lamenting the lack of blue skies somewhat, now that we had some, I was glad for the overcast days leading up to this – everything is so blindingly white and the glare hits you from every direction.  The worst of it is you can’t see anything on your camera’s LCD screen – even turned right up, it’s not bright enough to overcome this much ambient light.  So every shot you take is pretty much composed blind (so many crooked horizons!). Behind us when we turned into the sun:Getting in amongst the ice.Some Chinstrap penguins blending in with the Gentoo.

Crystal clear water, gorgeous blue icebergs and bright snow and clear skies. It was just amazing out there this afternoon. We saw more leopard seals feeding, at one point were surrounded by about a dozen humpback whales, more crab-eater seals and quite a few chinstrap penguins. The guides here are incredible and you would think they would be used to this place, but every day we have gone out with them they have seemed as full of amazement as we are. This afternoon our guide, Naomi, was so overcome she literally had tears in her eyes when a humpback whale emerged from the dark water right beside our zodiac.   He was so huge and so calm and majestic, and so close I swear you could have reached out to touch him. We have seen so many whales this trip, and the guides have been telling us that on many trips, people are lucky to see one whale, and there we were this afternoon surrounded by about fifteen whales and not knowing which way to look, in the hope of seeing their elegant tails as they dived down to feed.

Chinstrap photo by Arthur:  Photo by Linda:Linda again:Couple of pics from Arthur: Poor little penguin! Nasty ol’ leopard seal.Gulp feeding.  Photo by Jandoc:Photo by Leonardo (Lyn, Mum, Trish and I are in the zodiac pictured!):

We saw some rather rare phenomena today – a large truck sized iceberg rolled right in front of us.  The sun comes out for even just a short time and it will accelerate the melting of an iceberg and with that melting comes a destabilizing effect that causes the iceberg to roll to regain ‘balance’ on the water.  We saw a chunk fall off an iceberg and then saw as it rolled and rolled until it seemingly lumbered its way to a new resting position.

I am so glad I went out this afternoon.

Quark Expedition – Day 8 Danco Island and Wilhelmina Bay

“Once wedded to Nature there is no divorce – separate her you may and hide yourself amongst the flesh-pots of London, but the wild will keep calling and calling forever in your ears. You cannot escape the “Little Voices.”

~ Frank Wild

Woke up feeling like shit and coughing up crap. Dammit. It’s been going around the ship since Day 1 and I was hoping to avoid it.  I distinctly remember someone with a horrid sounding rattly cough sitting directly behind me during our lifeboat drill when we first embarked in Ushuaia, but there is not much you can do to avoid picking up bugs in the confined and enclosed space of a ship.  So yeah, feeling pretty ordinary, possibly have a bit of a temperature but I rugged up for our zodiac excursions anyway…

This morning we are planning to do a land excursion and zodiac cruise at Danco Island. Danco lies in the southern end of the Errera Channel. It is relatively small at only 1.6kms long, but for being so small has quite a high ‘peak’ measuring 180m. There are also lots of beautiful rolled icebergs that tend to collect in this shallow area of the Errera Channel and as we are finding all along the Peninsula, Danco is home to more Gentoo penguins – approximately 3476 breeding pairs (which I thought was rather specific for being an approximation!). Last century, Danco was also home to the British Antarctic Survey’s Station ‘O’. The station was closed in1959 when the work was completed and the hut was removed in 2004 but there’s a plaque indicating where its location was.

More little juveniles learning to swim – they are so funny to watch, hopping in, falling about and hopping straight out again.  The more time we spend with the penguins, the more character and personality we seem to be attributing to them. Yep, that’ll keep you warm… What you looking at? Hey!Run, Gentoo! Run!Photo by Arthur:

Photo by Lorenzo:

We had a wonderful time ashore with just light snow and a bit of a cool breeze.  One of the most fun things to do is just to find a quiet rock and sit on it.  We have a policy of not encroaching on their space and trying to stay about 5m away from the penguins so as not to scare them or cause them to feel chased – but if they come towards where you are, then that’s fine.  So if you just sit and wait for a while or even just stand still long enough, the penguins will come and visit you.  We had quite a few curious little fellows biting at our jackets, boots and gloves as they came and checked us out.

After our visit to Danco, we hit the zodiacs in the stillest and calmest conditions we had yet encountered.  It was only now that we stopped moving that the snowy conditions actually started to feel cold, (Mind you, that could be because I might have been running a bit of a temperature as well…?  who knows?).

Driving the zodiac through the brash ice is a strange feeling, a bit like scraping along a sandbar for ages. Most of the whales we met this morning were just lolling about logging. It seems they tend to be more active in the afternoons when they are awake and feeding more.  We saw some other wildlife this morning – mostly birds and a few crabeater seals.

Photo by Barry: Photo by Arthur: Photo by Jayn: Photo by Arthur: And of course, more beautiful icebergs.

Went back to the ship to warm up and have some lunch and we met a man at lunch today who seemed to be the first person I have met here who doesn’t seem excited or even appreciative to actually be here.  It’s truly weird how much he stood out compared to the other passengers.  There is an odd phenomenon on cruise ships, whereby you often encounter people who only seem happy when they have something to complain about!  No, I’m not kidding, they are on holiday and floating in a luxury hotel where they can do as little or as much as they like, and have all their needs catered to – but they will still find plenty of things to complain about.  This guy is probably one of them and I can’t decide if he’s a sorry old sod or just a complete prat. Anyway, he sat down and started immediately complaining about the food that we’ve been enjoying on the ship – everything is too salty, too spicy or too strong, for his liking but he mentioned this in such a way as to disparage the choices we had made for our lunches?! We then watched him have a small token bowl of soup for lunch, followed by three trips back to the dessert table for ice cream, strawberry jam roll-ups and some sort of pudding.  He was also the sort of person who would not shut up… about himself.  He was in the Australian Navy ‘back in the day’ and was telling us that he’d heard a rumour that we may have to outrun a storm on the way back to Ushuaia… whereupon he launched into a story about being stuck on a navy ship caught in a storm that ‘came out of nowhere back in ’84 off the coast of Coffs Harbour’. There were apparently 25m swells, their ship (can’t remember what type of ship he said it was, some sort of warship or frigate), was riding up the huge waves, ‘teetering at the top a bit’ and then plunging down into the sea with the bow going about 50’ into the ocean, which made the ship jag and jerk as it came back out of the water – the feeling was apparently scary as hell and he thought he was going to meet Neptune. He said you couldn’t walk around the ship without being slammed into the walls and the most dangerous things was attempting a flight of stairs as there would suddenly be nothing under your feet – the Captain he claimed, literally left marks from his fingernails dug into the deck on the bridge.

He then proceeded to subtly start playing the Travel Game with us – first person on the ship to do so – telling us all the bigger and better and more remote places that he had been to (Seriously? more remote than Antarctica?) … from Coldfoot Alaska for ‘the best viewing of the northern lights in the world – you know, way better than Iceland or Greenland’, to Svalbard in northern Norway ‘that you can’t get to by road, you can only get there by supply ship’. He was obviously well travelled and for some reason he wanted us all to know it and then I figured out why… He proudly proclaimed that he had only been ashore the first day of this trip and now that he’d ‘stepped foot on Antarctica’, he’d been here he didn’t need to go ashore again.  I couldn’t understand his attitude, he had spent all this money and come all this way and didn’t seem to feel the need to get the most out of the voyage?!  I wanted to roll my eyes and say, ‘Yeah, I’ve been to Bangkok; airports count, yeah?’ but instead, I proceeded to goad him (just a little) by saying ‘Well actually, our first landing site wasn’t strictly speaking on the Antarctic continent, as Stonington is just one of the small islands off the Peninsula.” He completely ignored my comment and changed the topic. I didn’t catch his name and I am only mentioning him here because everyone has been so delightful and full of an adventurous spirit, but this guy had come all this way, seemingly so he could say he had been here but was completely disinterested in actually *being here*. I’m rather hoping that he doesn’t sit with us again, and I’m thinking of avoiding the entire greater Sydney region in case I ever have the misfortune to run into him again.

Anyway, lunch was lovely and we managed to get a few hours to warm up before our afternoon excursion to Wilhelmina Bay.  Wilhelmina Bay is located between the Reclus Peninsula and Cape Anne, along the west coast of Graham Land… yes, Graham Land.  My Dad always wanted to come to Antarctica, I think that is how it has ended up such a thing in our imaginations, and we get here and discover there is a Graham Land, a Graham Island, a Graham Harbour and a Graham Channel – it kinds feels like he was meant to be here and I’m sorry that he never got to visit this place before he passed away.  But I digress… Wilhelmina Bay was discovered by Adrian de Gerlache during the haphazard Belgian Antarctic Expeditions of 1897-99 and was named for Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands who was 18 years old at the time and reigned until 1848. It is a large 24km wide glaciated bay containing many islands and we are going there because it is a favoured whale hangout.

I very nearly piked, as I was feeling rather exausted from the morning’s excursions and the coughing was wreaking havoc with my back pain, but for the first time in my life the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) seriously got the better of me and I trussed myself up in my Michelin Man get up and went out anyway – I mean, what if *today* was the day that we saw *THE* David Attenborough Antarctica moment where the orca hunts a seal off an iceberg and I missed it beacuse I have a bit of a cold?  Nope.  Not going to happen!  🙂

So I added an extra layer of clothing, because it seemed extra cold today (yes, I am pretty convinced I am running a temperature now) and out we went – for a rather eventful and exciting afternoon of very active whale watching in the most beautiful, moody and atmospheric area imaginable.

Landscape photo by Acacia:Uncredited, unfortunately, I assume one of the kayak guides took it: Photo by Leanne: Photo by Leane:Back to the ship and it was very shortly time for our debrief/recap and then onto a BBQ on the back deck for an evening of dining al fresco! Yep, no shit – Gunter, our head chef and his entire team cooked up a storm out on the open decks and we had a crazy hat party.

Today just happened to also be Aunty Mary’s birthday which made it doubly special… who else can say they had an outdoor BBQ in Antarctica to celebrate their 69th birthday?! I mean, seriously. Happy Birthday Mum!  <3  Alex, our Ukrainian Maitre D’ and some of his servers came and sung Happy Birthday.


A great finish to another excellent day in Antarctica.  I’m loving this voyage – it’s simply unbelievable.