March 15th – Drake Passage

We made it through the Drake – Woo Hoo! Arriving into the Beagle Channel around 5pm this evening. I was feeling much better today and was able to enjoy the open seas much more.  Getting around the ship all day today was very entertaining. All the guests had very wobbly legs, straight line walking was impossible. Big waves all day and very unsteady movements.

March 14th – Drake Passage

Set for sail into the rough waters to make our Ushuaia port on time…..I do not have much to report. One word – SEASICK!!!! Don’t forget to put your patch on behind your ear in time for this to take effect.  I did not!

4.5 – 8 metre swells. What a roller coaster ride that was. A few people made it to lunch. While I was feeling a little ‘under the weather’ so to speak, I did still enjoy the roller coaster ride.

At 5pm we had a friendly fund raiser Auction, I would have loved the ship nautical map. Was not meant to be.

Other breaking news…as the world was shutting down, we were informed on this evening we would be required by the Argentinean government’s direction to go into Quarantine on the ship upon arrival into the port.  While they wanted us to do an additional 14 days, we negotiated 7 given that we had already been together on the ship.  This is when life really got crazy for everyone, getting back home was not looking good for many guests.  We were stuck!

 

 

March 13th – Wilhelmina Bay

Waking up to the cloudiest, snowiest day….it was finally cold. A day you would honestly picture what it actually felt like to be in Antarctica. We have been so lucky with sunshine and beautiful temps; however I thoroughly enjoyed this day. It was mystical and provided different kinds of lighting to see nature at its best. We were able to see beautiful reflections of the Icebergs because of the gloomy weather on the zodiac rides.

Arriving in Wilhelmina Bay, we were promised whales…..and that is certainly what we got!

Wilhelmina Bay is a bay 24 kilometres (15 mi) wide between the Reclus Peninsula and Cape Anna along the west coast of Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula. It was discovered by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-99 led by Adrien de Gerlache. The bay is named for WilhelminaQueen of the Netherlands, who reigned from 1890 to 1948.[1]

Wilhelmina Bay is dubbed “Whale-mina Bay” for its large number of humpback whales. It is a popular destination for tourist expedition ships to Antarctica thanks to its abundant whale population and spectacular scenery. The bay is surrounded by steep cliffs full of snow and glaciers. An almost perfect pyramid-shaped peak towers over the water.

Whales whales and more whales alright. I was blown away by these magnificent humpbacks.  Even though we were so close on the zodiacs, it is hard to appreciate just how huge they really are.  I counted 20 whales in viewing.  WOW!  Waiting patiently while watching these wonderful creatures….I wanted that perfect flute picture.  I was blessed with a double flute and some fellow guests on the zodiac in the background.

Throughout cruising around this area we saw rafts of penguins, an iceberg turn over, leopard seals once more and crabeater seals while looking at the whales.

This would also be our second 7th continent landing!  Another exciting day! While we only walked along a small piece of shoreline, the views were most impressive. How can they not right?  It started to snow wet flakes, I was sooo happy!  I loved it, this was the site of a whaling station, which has since moved to the Falkland Islands.

After a morning of excursions and a nice hearty lunch….It was time to get what turned out to be 95% of the guests from the ship into the freezing arctic waters for the infamous polar plunge.  What a brave bunch of people.  I am Canadian now and I have experienced some pretty cold glacier fed waters, and this still took my breath away! Totally recommend the dip…you are perfectly warm once out of the water.

Water temp – 2.6 Celsius and -1 for Air Temp.

After all the action for the day, we were informed that the Drake passage weather was no looking so good and it would be in our best interest and safety to leave a day early.  We had been so fortunate with weather and fit so much into our itinerary, this worked out very well. This was also our first information that the world was changing and that International flights were being cancelled all over the world due to COVID. It was best for everyone that we high tail it home.

 

March 12th – Errera Channel to Danco Island & Neko Harbour

Now with a routine and an understanding of how each day works, this morning was a sensational day to be woken up to. With breakfast down and the sun shining ever so brightly you could feel the buzz of the guests eagerly scattering to their areas ready to start the day’s excursions.

AM: We could not believe our eyes when we arrived into the Errera Channel with Danco Island in our sites. The sheer size of the stunning blue icebergs even more impressive than ever before were just jaw droppers!

Time to set sail on our zodiacs and start cruising around Danco Island. Danco Island or Isla Dedo is an island off Antarctica, 2 kilometres (1 nmi) long lying in the southern part of Errera Channel, off the west coast of Graham Land.

Danco Island was the location of the British research Station O. It was active from February 26, 1956 to February 22, 1959 with the intention of searching in the survey and geology. The main hut was named Arendal and was demolished and removed by British Antarctic Survey in April 2004.

This morning was really about getting up close to these giant glaciers, an area known for them to be captured. Each iceberg displayed magnificent shades of blue and interesting patterns based on weather climates they had experienced.  It was soo peaceful out here, you could see the paddle boarders in the distance with glacier backdrops, the kayakers getting up close to rock and ice formations while taking photos of weddell seals basking in the sun. We thoroughly enjoyed our ride with Michelle bouncing our zodiacs through the chunks of ice floating about. We were fortunate enough to see a Cormorant land on a particularly blue iceberg; he was a curious one and also chased one of the other zodiacs, not usual behaviour from such a bird.

Off the zodiacs and onto land…my oh my were we in for a treat! Little did we know how special this landing was going to be? A highlight of the itinerary for sure and noted in Quark itineraries. Here we interacted with a Gentoo colony located up a small hill. Amid the serene silence of Antarctica where noisy interludes become indelible memories, seeing the penguins squabbling over prized pebbles, chasing each into the water’s edge or up and down the hill. This was a magical place you could interact while watching them go about their daily being. The chicks chasing down their mum for a feed were pretty hilarious! However, the experience that takes the cake was when I found a piece of shoreline on my own and sat myself down with distance, and took in their each and every movement…right up until to my rather surprised moment of being shocked by 2 penguins trying to peck at my bottom.  The sneaky fellows came up from behind and nearly toppled me over with surprise. They truly are curious creatures and words cannot describe how wonderful this moment is when you are ‘touched by a penguin’.

Time could not have been delayed long enough to keep taking in this beautiful day. I hiked the hill and viewed back on the colony with giant glaciers and icebergs with their backdrop. Just breathtaking.

PM:  Neko Harbor (64°50′S 62°33′W) is an inlet of the Antarctic Peninsula on Andvord Bay, situated on the west coast of Graham Land.

Neko Harbour was discovered by Belgian explorer Adrien de Gerlache during the early 20th century. It was named for a Scottish whaling boat, the Neko, which operated in the area between 1911 and 1924.[

Here we experienced our ‘7th continent landing’ a very special moment for most of the guests really! Oh gosh…so much to tell. Here we had a MASSIVE moving glacier as the backdrop for another nesting penguin colony.  So many chicks losing their fluffy coat. Again I had penguins nibbling at my legs.   On this landing we had to be careful and stay away from the shores edge.  Lucky for us, we watched a huge piece of ice calve off of the glacier and create a Tsunami wave. Certainly a WOW moment. Another great view from the top of the hill looking back into Neko Harbour, the colony and the glacier.

With light closing in, it was time to hit the zodiacs and experience some brash ice.  You could feel the sea ice closing in as we had lost the sun and really started to feel the cold.  Our first close encounter with a Minke whale. What a friendly guy he was…so curious and kept coming back to our boat.  He or she…came right under our zodiac.  We could see every pattern and colour on that Minke’s skin it was so close.  We saw some crab eater seals hanging about some ice and took 5 minutes to turn the zodiac off and just float…..Here we were truly on our own feeling incredibly small, the sounds of nature at its finest.  So silent, yet loud at the same time.

March 11th – Mikkelsen Harbour/ D ‘Hainaut Island, spert Island, Cierva cove

With a morning PA announcement, you wake to the calming voice of ‘Laurie’ our expedition leader who gives you a full rundown on the schedule, weather & conditions before making your way to breakfast. (If you were not up already that is)!

Early start and it was time to hit the zodiacs for our first full day out exploring the ‘Palmer Archipelago’. We had 3 excursions planed for today because operations and conditions were yet again great!  When heading down to the mud room to board our zodiacs we are called up by group. We had 4 groups (penguins, seals, whales and Albatross).These groups are continually rotating for the first boats to go out and this prevents congestion while gearing up, Good Job Quark!

Excursion 1: Not even 50 metres out on the zodiac and we came across a small piece of iceberg with a very curious Leopard seal guarding it. Territorial behaviour from a Leopard seal is a natural behaviour along with curiosity. Wonderful swimmers in the water, he passed under us and around us, always popping his head out for a peak! A beautiful creature to watch, but you certainly do not want any limbs hanging over the zodiac or he might just see an opportunity for lunch!

It was a calm, cloudy mystical day today. Often thinking, where on earth am I… this can’t actually be happening? We cruised the ice walls and surrounding mountains and really took in how grand this place really was! We could see the layers of algae forming in glaciers by the waters edge, pretty pink and green layers would form.  We could also see in the water something that looked like some kind of jelly fish…. When in fact they are called ‘salp’. These can form enormous swarms and are becoming more abundant than krill in certain regions of the Southern Ocean.

Back to land we put foot on D’hainaut Island where there was a permanent emergency rescue building, a colony of Gentoo penguins and a gravesite to the ‘mighty’ bones of some whales who fell to hunters back in the ‘whaling’ days.  The sheer size of a whale bone really puts into prospective just how huge they really are. Once you have been ‘touched’ by a penguin…All you want to do is see another…… every encounter becomes better than the last! And if you are not careful you will find that all you are taking photos of are funny little penguins.  Feeding their chicks, building their nests, chasing each other or just playing in the shores of the waters edge. You do need to keep reminding yourself that you are actually in Antarctica and stop and enjoy the wider magnificent views as well.

Excursion 2:  Another rare treat, the captain took us to ‘spert island’. Often the waters are too rough to visit, and many expeditions do not make it here throughout the season. With calm waters on our side we circumnavigated this unique place. Huge Rock Mountains towering up out of the ocean, this was a good Hub for Beautiful odd shaped/patterned Glaciers to gather.  Again, the sheer size of these ‘beauties’ hard to capture! With 90% of the glacier being under the water…. this gives you a little perspective!  We saw some Weddell Seals snoozing on some rocks and to finish this excursion off we got to raft through a natural Arch and cave in the rock mountain. Water turbulence was high as the different direction of waves came smashing together against each other onto the walls. Our driver ‘Jess’ made it look like a piece of cake to navigate through safely!

And the treats keep on coming!  With everyone back on the ship it was time to head to Cierva cove. And guess what…On the journey there were whales everywhere…We watched them from the top platform of the ship while they were Bubble and lunge feeding. Bubble netting is an advanced and necessary feeding method developed by humpback whales to feed multiple mouths at one time. This was extraordinary to watch!

Excursion 3: Arriving into Cierva cove, I really started to feel like I was in Antarctica. As we made our way out for a 16:30 sunset (no sun at all) cruise, it was the coldest I had felt the air and there was ice gathering around everywhere. We spent our zodiac ride getting up close to small icebergs and drifting between all the other pieces of ice forming floating around us. While we did not watch the sun go down over the horizon, we did spend another hour watching ‘whales be whales’ in this great pristine wilderness…by this time our hands were frozen and it was time to head back to the ship. Dusk had arrived, the ship lights shining, and it looked spectacular with the glacier backdrop!

March 10th – Shetland Islands, Robert Point

Ooooo and it begins….so much to share.

Importantly when on an expedition, you must understand that mother nature is a powerful beast and each day we adapt to what weather is being offered. Your itinerary is constantly changing to work with this, the captain of the ship and the expedition leader make important decisions each day to enhance your experience in the region. And for me…mother nature could not have been more kind.

Today was a good day! We sailed past our first iceberg’s and survived a smooth Drake Passage crossing (something everyone hopes for)! This is a deep waterway, (1,000 km) wide, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans between Cape Horn (the southernmost point of South America) and the South Shetland Islands, situated about (160 km) north of the Antarctic Peninsula. Renown for being some of the roughest waters around the world. BUT NOT TODAY!

This enabled us to gain valuable distance and arrive so early at the South Shetland Islands we could fortunately start our magical journey at 2pm today and explore ‘Robert Point’. It was time to put our ship training into real life and gear up for our 1st Zodiac cruise and excursion. Each lasting about 1.5 hours. The 199 guests being split into land and cruise excursions. This method keeps our protected continent pristine, only 100 humans can be on a landing at a time.

March 9th – out to sea

With a full day out to sea we had left the Beagle Channel and straight into the Drake passage South bound we go! Full swing into our adventure now and no turning back.We were super fortunate and experienced very calm seas. Magnificent body of water as you look out to the horizon of nothing! Today was filled with presentations educating us on the wildlife and science of Antarctica. Very interesting and experienced staff who have so much knowledge to share with us on board. Each evening we have a debrief on the days events and talk about the schedule for the following day.

Throughout the day we saw Southern Ocean whales and multiple types of sea birds.

In the afternoon we would perform a safety drill with our life jackets that have been allocated and later that evening Quark would fit us with our incredibly warm jackets and boots for our excursions. These are fantastic quality and a gift for you to take home. The process was seamless, fun and exciting!

March 8th – Quark Expeditions, and we set sail!

The excitement levels are high! An early morning charter flight to Ushuaia, you have the whole day to arrive and board the ship. (And do not forget to put on your motion sickness patch at this point, it needs to be 12 hours before sailing). This is the beginning of ‘Antarctic explorer – discovering the 7th Continent’:

Before boarding onto our new home, we were once again tested for our health and sent up the gang way to join our fellow sailors and settle into our cabins. Quark staff were very welcoming and guided us through the ship to make us feel at home. They put on an incredible afternoon tea ‘spread’ in the Polaris lounge for arrivals which we later learn is part of the daily schedule.

Tonight, we set sail at 18:30 and leave the port of Ushuaia, a beautiful port to leave as we watch the surrounding mountains disappear into the distance and start our adventure!

Tonight, we sit down to a wonderful dinner and are welcomed on to the ship with open arms.  Afterward we meet in the Nautilus lounge and are introduced to the Expedition Team and head crew. Presentations start and we learn about the schedule for each day. Today is about meeting the staff, other sailors and getting to know your surrounding.