Sunday, February 5, 2023
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The Frozen Continent

The Proposal came via email. I accepted immediately, stars in my eyes.

As the momentous occasion drew closer the last few months turned hectic – planning, preparing, thinking things through. Tasting sessions, lists being changed and chopped, planning meals and most importantly, shopping for my “trousseau”. Oh!! And dieting and exercising as well (err…as best as I could). Had to “listen to my body”, as one repeatedly hears. Pay heed to a knee-joint that had seen better days.

As the “big day” loomed closer, grand visions and thrill gave way to apprehension, tension, and self-doubt. Wasn’t it crazy, this decision to take the plunge?

Too late now.

As ‘D-day’ approached, out came the bags. And the “trousseau”. Must-have and practical apparel waged a war with sheer indulgences. Bags were filled. Emptied. Filled again. Time melted. Dali-esque. Normalcy, long gone, had been replaced by paranoia. Will everything be O.K.? What if I forget something? There would be no going back. 

The “big” day arrived. Finality set in. Messages and wishes poured in. A sleepless night, and I was on my way. Along with 6 others. To the ‘Frozen Continent.’

ANTARCTICA.

We flew 5.30 hours to Addis Ababa. From here to Buenos Aires via Sao Paolo, a mind-numbing 16 .5 hour flight. After an overnight stay in BA, we flew over the Valdez Peninsula to reach our port of embarkation, Puerto Madryn.

Where we would board our ship the next day, at 4.p.m. 

DAY 1                                                           Tuesday, 25 October

Wind Force – 1, Sea state – calm

 

Embarkation at Puerto Madryn

Our ship, the “Ortelius” was an ex-Russian ice-breaker, retrofitted into a passenger ship. Opposite our ship was anchored the ‘National Geographic’ liner – far more luxurious than ours. But, which, due to its size, would not be able to access the smaller islands and allow for passengers to go ashore to them, as could our smaller ship. Apprehensive excitement was palpable all around as we joined the other passengers on the docks. We hauled ourselves up an extremely steep gangway into the bowels of the ship to register ourselves and complete formalities.

Anchor lifted at 17.30 – and we were off. Our adventure had begun. My cabin-share partner, Urvi Piramal & I entered our cabin on Deck 5 – and looked at each other in despair. Our 6 ++ bags covered the entire space. A slim cupboard to be shared by us both, a small cabinet with meagre bedside tables completed our storage space. Add a small bathroom. This was to be our home for the next 21 days. All our clothes, heavy winter wear, boots, food and camera equipment crammed into these tiny spaces.

Soon the tannoy boomed out loud, calling all pax to the lecture room on Deck 3 for briefings regarding safety guidelines and procedures. Followed by a mandatory lifeboat drill on Deck 6.

Clear warnings were issued that not following safety procedures could result in injury or serious falls. And as our route did not make it feasible for air-rescue, the ship would have to return to base. Which would be the end of the journey for all.

The day closed on a glorious sunset as we made our way towards the Puerto Madryn narrows and the open South Atlantic Ocean. We were about to enter a belt known as the “Roaring Forties”.

DAY 2                                                          Wednesday, 26 October

Wind Force – 3, Sea state – slight swell

 

At Sea

 

Days on ships began early, with a “Good Morning” call booming over the tannoy at 7 a.m. Post a well laid-out breakfast in the single restaurant on Deck 4, all passengers filed into the Lecture Room on Deck 3 for briefings on how to board and exit the zodiacs – the rafts that would take us ashore to various islands. How to grip crew hands while boarding and exiting the zodiacs, how to don our life jackets and layer our clothes including wet suits and muck boots were taught.

Post these briefings and  lunch, most passengers moved between the various decks enjoying the bird life around us – white-chinned Petrels, Giant Petrels and Pintados. While of course keeping a watch for dolphins and whales. The weather was fair – not too cold.

Talks on whales and dolphins and sea-birds given by our expedition experts followed.

The bar cum library on Deck 6 was where most gravitated to when not on the decks or in their cabins.

FUN FACT: All passengers were issued a warning to turn off all mobile and roaming data else our devices would latch on the ships satellite. And our bills would be astronomical.

Guess what? News spread like wild-fire that a passenger had hacked the system. And who was he? Of course, a Chinese national.

FACTOID: Nature’s Marvel Petrels filter salty sea water through their tubular noses, which sit on top of their beaks. So, this way they drink desalinated water.

 

DAY 3                                                          Thursday, 27 October

Wind Force – 5, Sea state – moderate

At Sea and Grand Jason Islands, Falklands.

Post breakfast we heard a talk on the Falkland Islands (comprising  788 islands). We were scheduled to visit one of them, called Steeple Jason, post lunch. Unfortunately, the weather reported squalls in that area, with winds gusting up to 60 knots (equal to 110 kmph), making a landing on that beach impossible. Changing course, we headed to another island, Grand Jason, home to the largest Albatross colony in the world. Though favourable conditions prevailed, we had to balance our way on a rocky uneven island in our ungainly 7 lb. + muck boots and 12 lb. + life jackets. A pole-marked trail through massive clumps of yellow-green Tussock grass led to the enormous colony of Black-Browed Albatross and Rock Hopper Penguins. Unfortunately as is wont to happen in Antarctica, the weather did a volte-face, winds gusting at Force 12, the waves 4 metres high. Many found it extremely challenging to walk up the now wildly swaying gangway and had to crawl up on their hands and knees.

Towards evening, around 5-6 pm, the sea turned even choppier. Though a warning had been issued earlier that the weather would turn very rough, another announcement told us to batten down everything. Absolutely nothing loose on table-tops. It added – “Either knock yourselves out with sleeping pills or drink yourselves into oblivion.”

And, God, did the weather turn nasty!! In spite of nausea patches in place, domstal already taken, nausea set in. We crawled into bed, the massive rolling and rocking of the ship at unbelievable angles and slants. No condition to even talk, leave alone have food or sip water

We were caught in a live nightmare!

 

DAY 4                                                                   Friday, 28 October

Wind Force – 6, Sea state – heavy swell

Waves through the night had been 10 to 15 metres high with wind speeds of over 40 knots. Neither of us was in shape to do/eat anything. Sitting up for over 3 minutes was enough to get our nausea welling up. Regular announcements were made, to take great care while moving around, with one hand gripping the safety rails – and to keep our fingers out of door frames. Weather forecast predicted further deterioration. We were in the eye of a hurricane.

The swaying and rocking of the ship was horrific. At one point, I was sitting up on one side of the bed – in a nanosecond, I was thrown to the other end. The portholes were double sealed, like airplane windows yet, the curtains would fly up. Ramrod straight. Stay suspended in space. Then suddenly, slam back. Our dustbin too, was possessed. It would run from under our bedside table and crash into the door at the other end with every swing of the ship. I very cleverly placed a heavy muck boot in it, since the weight would hold it in place. Hah!! Bin and boot, both kept racing up & down constantly. Had us in hysterics, even between my bouts of throwing up. Not only the bin, even both of us kept slipping down our beds through the night. Going to the loo, all of 5-6 feet away was a terrifying feat. Sometimes you are thrown back, other times, hurled forward. Or slammed into something sideways. So immense was the rocking of the ship that our bedside drawers – both locked, flew open and were thrown 10-12 feet away, with all their contents scattered all over. Dinner was our first meal in over 24 hours.

Mashed potatoes. Brought by staff who must have done a major balancing act, holding a plate in one hand, the other clutching the staircase railing for dear life.

The winds, by this time, were gusting at over 70 knots with the swells well over 50 feet.

For those who made it to the dinner tables that night, the Captain had to change course to allow for food to not fly off plates.

This hurricane claimed two victims. One, a 120 kg + and well over 6 feet busted his ribs – he was thrown across the mezzanine. The other broke his leg. He remained in plaster and on crutches for the remainder of the trip.

Day 5                                                               Saturday, 29th October

Wind force – 8, Sea – very rough

 

At Scotia Sea

A combination of force 8 winds with 6.6˚C air temperature, drives wind chill factor to -0˚C, with the waves slamming our portholes on deck 5 at night. However, the good news was that wind speed would drop through the day and with the swell too, would ease. However, all decks, excepting deck 6 would remain closed for safety reasons.

To protect biodiversity and to avoid introduction of any invasive plants or animals, laws in South Georgia are extremely strict. Every piece of outerwear – boots, waterproof pants, jackets and backpacks had to be cleaned by us with brushes and paper clips to dislodge the tiniest bits of mud, grass or seeds. All of our cleaned equipment was vetted by the expedition team.

FUN FACT: Ivan, the young and handsome had more than a couple of youngsters giving him the glad eye!!

Day 6                                                            Sunday – 30 October

Wind Force – 6, Sea state – rough

Heading towards South Georgia

Though the worst was over, the seas were still rough. The ship had crossed the Antarctic Convergence (i.e., the biological boundary of Antarctica) at night. We woke up to Albatross, Petrels, Sootys swooping and diving around us – a visual delight.

The Ortelius was now in whale friendly waters and it wasn’t long before whale blows were spotted. Unfortunately, at a distance, and very fleeting glimpses of females with calves were caught.

A frisson of excitement ran through the passengers as people started spotting their first tiny ice-floes. Around 4pm, we passed Shag Rocks with their awesome ragged peaks.

Come evening it was bar and dinner time. Windows were blacked out to prevent bird hits. Nausea was a thing of the past.

Day 7                                                                  Monday, 31 October

Wind – 5, Seat State – Slight roll snow

Grytviken & Jason Harbour, South Georgia

Post breakfast, both Urvi & I rushed up to the room to don our “armour”, to go ashore. This “armour” consisted of 4 layers of thermals, fleece, regular clothing, waterproof pants and jacket. Over which came 7 lb muck boots and a 12-15 lb life-jacket. Over that came your backpack with your cameras, lenses, water bottle etc..,. To an island called “Grytviken”. Earlier a zodiac had been sent to King Edward Point, the admin centre for South Georgia, to collect the Government officer who came on board to conduct the necessary bio-security inspections.

“Grytviken” is Norwegian for “Pot Cove” and was named after sealers trypods found on site. We got there, snow flurries swirling around us, wind whipping our faces. Welcomed by snorting, yelping, barking, belching & farting Fur and Elephant seals. And their overpowering “fragrance.” The entire beach & inwards, was littered with 100’s of lying around, resembling huge logs of wood or boulders. This island also boasted a church, museum and post office cum gallery. Three decaying whale catchers (boots), stood on the beach in front of the whaling factory.

Amidst the seals, penguins & birds, lay massive, rusted tanks, drums, machinery and humongous whale bones – all witness to a bygone era.

Walking on the beach was by no means an easy task. An uneven stony surface, heavy muck boots & layers of clothing one is not accustomed to, made walking very awkward. I plodded on to witness a massive elephant seal – 13-15 ft look up lazily, snort, belch and then slide on his belly (called galumph) towards the water. Resting every few feet, then moving again. The black rocky hills in the background, dressed in places with sheets of snow added to the raw beauty of the island. By now, snow was swirling thick. After 3 hours, we headed back to the ship. And a well-deserved lunch and rest.

Late afternoon boarding our zodiacs we headed to Jason Harbour. It presented a unique landscape.

With huge Tussock grass, growing out of seemingly barren rock. Light snowfall had already powdered the tops of these grasses. The Seals had penetrated these grass thickets and lay almost invisible among them. We had been warned to keep a healthy distance from these – at least 10-15 ft, since if they feel threatened, they can attack. And bite hard into you. Proof of their aggressive fighting showed in a lot of them – their hides scarred with open wounds where they had been gouged.

Back to ship and bar.

Day 8                                                    Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Wind Force – NW 6, Sea – Slight swells

Fortuna Bay & Stromness

Morning saw us alongside South Georgia’s rugged coastline, approaching Fortuna Bay. Cold gusty winds and sleet showers mocked us as our zodiac pilot warned us to “batter down our hatches” for the very choppy ride. We were welcomed onto the uneven beach by …..What else? The Orchestra of Southern Elephant Seals and gorgeous King Penguins with their utterly gorgeous yellow-orange dotted neck and beaks. Some standing statue still flippers out. Others walked gingerly in single file, bodies swaying side to side, heads suddenly ducking as they too, negotiated difficult patches. Groups stood at the water’s edge, ready to plunge in – but kept waiting as if for the right wave to come in. Truly delightful to watch.

Meanwhile, their friends, the fur seals seemed to love the frigid waters as they frolicked and swam flipping round & round like toy tops. Returned to the ship a couple of hours later, fingers frozen stiff trying to get decent shots in that bone chilling rain, sleet and wind.

Late afternoon saw us on the shingle beach at Stromness Bay. Towering peaks and a glacial terrain formed a stunning backdrop to the home of fur seals, Snowy Sheathbills (birds) and skuas that harassed a small colony of Gentoo Penguins, waiting to snatch their eggs.

Day 9                                              Wednesday, 2 November 2022

Wind Force – E1, Sea – calm

Gold Harbour & Ocean Harbour

The stuff of nightmares!!

Wake-up call at 3.30 a.m.

The 1st rays of the sun hitting this harbour island is meant to be a spectacular sight. Dragged ourselves out of our warm snug beds to find cloud cover. No Sun. Later, left for Gold Harbour which was packed with seals, isolated moulting King Penguins and aggressive male fur seals. Elephant Bull Seals have harems of up to 150 females, which they guard zealously. If a young adult male dares to approach one of their harems, a huge battle ensues, usually resulting in the younger bull retreating. The bulls, 15-17 ft in length, mate with any female, age notwithstanding. The Bertrab Glacier formed a spectacular backdrop to the surroundings. Meanwhile, the snowfall had grown heavier, turning the black sand to pure white. Truly magical!!

The beach gave way to patches on which grew big clumps of grass – in the midst of which nestled albatross, seals – humongous, large, medium, small were lying around. Just about everywhere. We were warned to keep a healthy distance from them. It was akin to walking through a minefield. They were everywhere. And resembled rocks so closely, it was difficult to spot them. They just tend to lie in one place, almost immobile, till they decide to snort or grunt. Their upper bodies then come up, faces skyward and then, opening their red mouths & exposing their teeth, they let forth bellows and grunts. Albatross flying around, would land among them and walk around, huge wings outstretched to dry. Some were indulging in some sort of mating (?) dance, ducking their heads up and down, then clapping their beaks against each other. This ritual would continue for 2-3 minutes, to the non-stop seal orchestra. I witnessed a giant bull elephant – at least 15 ft in length charged towards a very small 5 ft seal – obviously a juvenile, threw a flipper around it, and proceeded to copulate. This went on for about 20 minutes. With a couple of 100 seals lying on the beach, albatross and terns swooping around, and the seals lolling in the waters occasionally raising their heads and snorting, releasing a fine but huge spray, the whole scene was truly fascinating.

Late afternoon we landed at Ocean Harbour, a tiny sheltered bay surrounded by spectacular rock mountains. The sandy beach was home to the usual seals and highly sensitive nesting Giant Petrels. This island had a wailing station until 1920 and houses plenty of relics including an old steam locomotive which was used to transport coal and other goods from the jetty to the whaling station. Arctic Terns and South Georgia Pintails ran around the green areas like little rabbits.

FUN FACT: On board romances blossomed. Set in gossip mills churning.

Day 10                                               Thursday, 3 November 2022

Wind – WNW 3, Sea – slightly choppy

ANDREWS BAY & AT SEA

 

St. Andrews Bay greeted us with finger numbing cold, the wind whipping in our faces. The bay was a huge C shaped one with 3 giant glaciers tumbling down from the craggy peaks to a vast plain, home to King Penguins, Skuas and seals. An estimated 1 1/2 million penguins & their little brown chicks. An eye-popping visual. New-borns to a few weeks old, cloaked in fuzzy brown fur. An absolutely delightful visual. The squawking volumes of that entire colony had to be heard to be believed. A superb morning!!

Early afternoon the tannoy boomed out calling for an emergency meeting in the Lecture room on Deck 4. Captain Ernesto announced the weather would be changing rapidly. So to ensure our safe passage we would depart and change course immediately. Not only was the frozen continent known for its amazing wildlife but also for the severe and chameleon-like weather.

 

Day 11                                               Friday, 4 November 2022

Wind – NW force 8, Sea – Rough

 

With South Georgia slowly receding in the distance, we awoke to the lurching and juddering of the ship. The wind was quite ferocious, the vessel whipping up dramatic white caps on foaming crests of huge waves.

Those who ventured onto the bridge were treated to the spectacular sight of Ortelius rising over the massive crests and plunging violently into the troughs of the next wave, creating a wall of water which rose to bridge height like an enormous white fan from the bow. Tons of water cascaded in swirling lines across the foredeck and poured out through the scuppers.

The outside decks were closed for the safety of guests, many of whom chose to stay in their cabins. To be horizontal in bed was the safest option. The doctor was busy dispensing seasick patches and giving advice to those who felt unwell.

The many gaps at tables during meals indicated that quite a number of guests were opting to ‘lie low’, rather than struggle and stumble along the corridors and face the prospect of food.

Day 12                                                Saturday, 5 November 2022

Wind force 7, Sea state– rough

AT SEA

 

Conditions remained much the same as the previous day. From vantage points within the ship, we observed Blue Petrels and Southern Fulmars whizzing past the bay windows of the bar, like snow flurries. Cape Petrels with their black & white chessboard plumage, soared too & fro, enjoying the high winds and big waves. White-Chinned and Giant Petrels, Black-Browed and Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross added to the bird medley. The birding highlight of today were the rarely seen Antarctic Petrels, gliding along at eye -level.

Day 13                                                 Sunday, 6 November 2022

Wind force 8, Sea state – rough

AT SEA

Nature continued showing us its might as we progressed on the long passage from South Georgia to Antarctica. While listening to a talk on Antarctic Krill and its importance in the Antarctic ecosystem, we approached a giant tabular iceberg, named A76. Currently the largest free-floating iceberg at around 160 km long and 25 km wide. It measured around 4320 Sq.km when it calved (broke off) from the Ronne Ice Shelf in mid-May 2021. It was a spectacular site, as it emerged through the mist, its ice cliff estimated at about 150 ft high. That only 10% of an iceberg sits above the water surface made it more stupefying. For over an hour, we sailed parallel to this colossal beast. The big swell crashing against this massive wall of ice rebounded, causing a very confused sea state to navigate through. It made the spotting of small but dangerous chunks of ice, called growlers, a challenge to navigate. All of this put together – the raw power of nature, afforded a sight both breath-taking as well as humbling.

Late afternoon we heard a talk on Henry Shackleton, dubbed an explorer by the British. He massacred whales by the 1000’s in the early 1900’s, setting up numerous whaling stations in Antarctica to extract oil and blubber. For trade (and profit). For which he was promptly knighted and declared a pioneering hero. It seems to run through British blood to exploit, ravage and destroy – and then declare these deeds as heroic.

Amundsen, Peary, Edmund Hillary – all explorers. None of these massacred other living beings to attain their goals.

Day 14                                                      Monday, 7 November 2022

Wind force 9, Sea state – rough

AT SEA – PASSING ELEPHANT ISLAND

The ship had crossed the 60th parallel of latitude at night. Since this marked the geographical boundary of Antarctica, we had officially arrived in the “Great White South.” Clocks were set back by 1 hour. The vast menacing glaciers and black rock mass of Elephant Island loomed on the horizon. Gale force winds tossed the Ortelius around causing it to pitch into the very choppy waters, spray slamming the decks. The vessel’s speed dropped as it navigated large lumps of hazardous ice, difficult to spot in the heavy swells.

Day 15                                                       Tuesday, 8 November 2022

Wind force 7, Sea state – slight

ANTARTIC SOUND AND DEVIL ISLAND, ANTARCTICA

Brown Bluff in Antarctic Sound was the venue for today’s off-shore expedition. However, the sea God’s flexed their muscles and conditions turned stormy. The Captain actioned ‘Plan B’, changed course and we made our way to ‘Devil Island’. Sailing through the Antarctic Sound we encountered large stretches of sea ice with Fur, Crabeater, Leopard seals and numerous bird species in large numbers. It had begun snowing and so windy was it that the snowflakes were doing a mad dance, swirling round and round and then upward. Both sides of the ship were bordered by enormous glaciers. Absolutely stunning icy-blue at the base, the middles and tops snowy white, with deep icy-blue veins cutting through them. Simply spectacular!! Smaller ice-floes, as in smaller compared to the massive glaciers, floated by, looking like origami cut outs, foamy waters smashing into them, throwing up swathes of what look like white paint. Reminiscent of Hokusai’s waves. Through my binoculars, in the distant rocky terrain could be seen 1000’s of penguins on the craggy rock cliffs.  Penguins in orderly straight files, as if waiting in a school line, penguins in groups, seemingly handing out and chilling (ha ha!!), in hurdles, or simply flopped onto their bellies. Scanning these floes and glaciers, something stunning caught my eye. A frozen waterfall. Which, from this distance, seemed not to be cascading down, but rather, the other way – solid at the bottom and spray at the top. SPECTACULAR!! All this I witnessed out on the deck. Not able to take photos with my gloves on, my hands and fingers were completely numb from the icy winds and snow.

Afternoon saw us headed to Devil Island, named for its 2 horn-shaped peaks which resembled the devil’s horns. The entire island was snow clad, save a few patches of bare brown ground, showing defiantly through the white. The Ocean wide expedition team had chipped away at a vertical ledge of snow, carving steps into it with a rope on one side, to haul oneself up with. Refusing this challenge, Urvi and I opted to return to base. Given that we could go back at a leisurely pace, Alan, our pilot, stirred the zodiac to an Adelie penguin, all of 15-18 inches, staring back at us as intently. Figuring that we were of no use to it, or a threat, it hopped away, head down, flippers flapping, on its way to its next pit stop. We were among stunning ice-floes, each with its own unique patterns of deep icy-blue slashes criss-crossing within it, much like geometric jigsaw puzzles. So clean and pure were the waters that we could see right to the bottom!!

Back on board and out of our “prison” outfits, I headed to a very empty and quiet bar for a cup of hot-chocolate and a nibble to revive my frozen self.

FACTOID: The freeze was so severe that icicles had formed on the ships railings. While, in the zodiacs, the spray that rose from the waves, turned into ice as it fell into the rafts. Ice formed on our waterproof jackets as water spray hit us.

Day 16                                                Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Wind force 1, Sea state – slight

BROWN BLUFF & PAULET ISLAND

A 4.30 am wake up call. And the living dead arose. Including me. Landing on the stony beach at Brown Bluff we encountered 1000’s of breeding Adelie Penguins. And Gentoos too. Snowy Sheathbills, Arctic Skua, Kelp Gulls and Snow Petrels nesting in crevices in the snow-free areas of rock, flew overhead. A beautiful scene of Antarctic wilderness. On our way to our next off-shore, Paulet Island, we were mesmerised by breath-taking scenery with glossy calm waters and towering tabular icebergs. The island, dusted with a fresh frosting of snow, was home to a 100,000 pair strong colony of Adelie Penguins. Gentoos, Antarctic Shag (aka blue-eyed cormorants) and Weddell Seals mingled with the Adelies. These little Adelies were a sheer delight to watch. They were like little clockwork toys, and I wasn’t the only one who so longed to pick up a couple and take them back home.

Their polka-dot-like black eyes were ringed by a circle of white. They had the cutest of walks – flippers out, they waddled away on their 3-toed pink feet. In the nestery, where their squawking rose to unbelievable crescendos, many were busy hopping around, heads down searching for stones & pebbles. The right ones. Finding one, they would pick it up, waddle back to their nest, place it there and head back to hunt for the next stone or pebble. Back and forth. Back and forth. In that thick crowd, watching one of them collect pebbles, we chanced upon something very amusing. One little guy would drop a pebble in his “space” and go back to forage for the next. As soon as his back was turned, another clever little fellow would promptly pick up the pebble in his beak and run back to deposit it in his nest. The first one kept at his task innocently as did the other one, cleverly. Little crook!! The weather, for a change, decided to humour us and was copy-book perfect. What a satisfying day. One of the loveliest. Of course, that is not to say it wasn’t cold. It was. Freezing. Numb hands & fingers. But then this is the Frozen Continent. Right?

Day 17                                                    Thursday 10 November 2022

Wind force – 6-7, Sea state – moderate

HALF-MOON ISLAND, EDINBURGH HILL AND DISCOVERY BAY

 

Sunshine bathed Half-Moon Island with its magnificent backdrop of snow-covered jagged mountains.

With the wind gusting at 40-50 knots, the zodiacs ferried the passengers to Half-Moon Island. Long lens cameras with their rapid-fire shooting caught Chinstrap Penguins and a few lounging seals. In a very short time, however, the Captain called the zodiacs back to the ship as the weather Gods whipped up their wind dance.

Day 18                                                         Friday, 11 November 2022

Wind force – 7-8, Weather – Snow

DECEPTION ISLAND

          Our final day in the South Shetlands saw us sailing through a very narrow, spectacular passage called “Neptunes Bellows” into the flooded caldera of the island. The volcano of the island is still active with geothermal activity present inside the caldera. The sea water temperature around here can reach 70˚C.

Bleached whale bones and rusted oil tanks, among other artifacts lay on the volcanic black sand beach. Large patches of Krill, fried by the high water temperatures lay scattered amidst the Chinstraps, Gentoos and Adelies. Moving out into the Bransfield Strait, we were lucky to encounter several Fin Whales, the second largest animal on the planet – average size being 70 ft and weight 45 tons.

A fitting end to the day. The wind had picked up considerably as the Ortelius turned North to journey towards Drake’s Passage.

Day 19                                                     Saturday, 12  November

Wind force 7, sea state – moderate

AT SEA – DRAKES PASSAGE

Drake’s Passage is known to be the most dangerous and treacherous sea stretch in the world. It is said that if you are lucky, you will sail through “Drakes Lake” (calm waters). If not, you will experience “Drake’s Shake” which means, go through a nightmare of stormy and violent weather. We were lucky to sail through a calm passage (already having survived 3 hurricanes). A few fortunate passengers caught glimpses of Humpback Whales and very distant whale blows.

Calm seas and a relaxed second last day saw the bar at peak attendance starting early evening. The mood was “elation” and the bar was swinging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 20                                            Sunday, 13 November 2022

Wind force – 2, Sea state – Calm

AT SEA – DRAKES PASSAGE

The most notorious body of water in the world was in a quiet, gentle mood. The sun shone down, and the temperature showed 12˚C. We had crossed the Antarctic Convergence and returned to a more temperate region.

As Cape Horn appeared on the horizon, bird life increased, and we had a never-ending escort of sea-birds. Magical!!

 

Day 21                                                      Monday, 14 November

Wind force 1, Sea – calm

USHUAIA

          The ‘End of the World’, on Ushuaia, as it is named, is located at the southernmost tip of Argentina. Here is where we disembarked.

End of a dream come true / bucket list. Loads of memories. Spectacular nature, the marvels of God’s creation leave you feeling over-awed and humbled.

The Frozen Continent is truly awe-inspiring. Untouched, raw beauty. It is a matter of time before Man displaces God’s Hand and destroys one of the last remaining wildernesses on Earth.

Archana Mariwala
Archana Mariwala is a consummate traveller, and has issues concerning the environment very close to her heart

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