Prologue – The internet connection on the ship is pretty slow, so that’s why we haven’t been able to load any pictures. We will continue to upload the blog, and will add photos at the earliest opportunity.
Well, I spoke too soon about the swells last night. The ship is definitely rocking and rolling. We are getting a little used to it, although you still feel like a drunk trying to walk straight down the hallway. There are hand rails just about everywhere, and we definitely make use of them. There are also sickness bags placed every 20-30 feet – fortunately, we haven’t made use of those!
The mandatory Zodiac and IATTO briefing was this morning. The IATTO is an organization that provides best practices to preserve the ideals of the Antarctic, and prevent tourism from negatively impacting the area.
Following the briefing, we had the biosecurity check of any and all equipment and outer wear we were planning to take ashore with us – this applied to previously used gear only. For us, this included my ski pants (can you believe that I am still using the same pair purchased in Germany – I guess I don’t ski very often!!) and Mark’s camera bag. All pockets and Velcro are checked for seed, dirt, etc. and vacuumed to remove any residue.
We were also told that before boarding the Zodiac, and again upon returning to the ship, each person is required to step in a tray of disinfectant. There is a mudroom where the boots are cleaned, sprayed once again with disinfectant, and stored to dry in designated cubby holes. Also, there is no food allowed to be carried on to shore, including chewing gum and mints. These procedures ensure 1) that neither the land nor the boat are contaminated; and 2) that no cross-contamination occurs between landing sites.
Today is the 100th anniversary of Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen being the first person to ever reach the South Pole . That has to be a harbinger of good things to come.
And so it was!! At 11:30, Mark spotted our first iceberg as we were out for a walk on the deck. We went into the bridge to ask how far away it way and were told that it was 3.2 nautical miles. Just as we were returning to our suite to get cameras, the announcement was made of the first iceberg. So, I think Mark was among the first to spot it, other than the crew on the bridge.
More good news at lunch – after 600 miles, and 40 hours at sea, the expedition team leader made the announcement that we had reached the South Shetland Islands. The Drake Passage had been “kind” to us (if this was kind, I would hate to see unkind!), and the ship made very good time, despite our late departure from Ushuaia. As such, the team was preparing the Zodiacs for our first landing!! Everybody in the dining room was so excited.
We are in Zodiac Group 1, so we have a little less than an hour to prepare. We amass several layers, pull on our boots, and are off on our first Antarctic adventure!
This afternoon, our landing site is on Aitcho Island. On the way out, we circle a small ice floe to get a close up view of four Crabeater Seals.
14 December, 2011 at 2:30pm we set foot on our 7th continent. Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins are the first in line to greet us and cheer for our amazing accomplishment. There are also whale bones scattered on the shore – one in particular was a vertebrae. It had to be about 2 ½ feet square – it was enormous!! We trekked up to the ridge, where the views were really beautiful. Near the top, there was a colony of nesting Chinstraps. Funnily enough, there was one Gentoo nest on the edge of the colony, and there was a chick in the nest. We stayed in the area for close to 50 minutes before the adult stood, and we were able to see the chick. It was adorable, and worth every minute of waiting time!
Later in the evening, I decided that we need to name the chick, so we call him Roa, in tribute to Antarctic pioneer, Roald Amundsen.
Before dinner, the first recap and expedition briefing was held in the theater. The Expedition Team took us through our day, emphasizing the various wildlife sightings. Then Robin informs us what to expect the following day. Once again, very exciting news was coming our way. For the past 2 days (really, since we left port in Ushuaia), he has been working with the Captain on our route. A few other ships have reported Emperor Penguin sightings near Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea. These penguins have never been seen from this vessel before, and in fact, in 10 years of experience doing Antarctic cruises, Robin has not seen Emperors. Needless to say, a murmur of excitement goes through the room.
Robin also tells us that sunrise will be at 2:22 tomorrow morning, and that between 2:30 and 3:30, we will be passing through Antarctic Sound, and entering the Weddell Sea. The route is expected to be icy with magnificent views of tabular ice.
When we went to dinner this evening, Laszlo (Maitre d’ / restaurant manager) seated us, as usual. He reminds us of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter. When you walk in to the restaurant, he puts his fingers to his chin, and mumbles something that sounds remarkably like “where shall I put them”? He then indicates to the wait staff to seat us at table xx tonight. It’s really funny!
Later in the evening, the ship once again entered the open sea, and things started to churn up. Throughout dinner, we encountered swells, and had to keep a close eye on our plates and glasses as they were slipping and sliding! At least the chairs are chained down, so we don’t have to worry about slipping and sliding ourselves. A very exciting end to a very exciting day!!