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Antarctica – Feb 2020

Thur Feb 20

Collected from house, surprisingly traffic-free journey to LHR

Tedious 14 hour flight to Buenos Aires

 

Fri Feb 21

Chaos at Buenos Aires airport as we waited around for over an hour for the final couple in our group to clear customs and immigration.  After repeatedly insisting that she had confirmation that they were definitely at the airport the rep eventually discovered that they had arrived the previous day.

We reached hotel after coach journey through very heavy traffic.

After checking in at the hotel we walked to small railway museum near the hotel where we found an interesting collection of ephemera, mainly of British origin.  Two of the best exhibits were beautiful models of steam engines. One of these was sectioned to reveal in detail the various working parts of the engine, and was apparently built as a teaching aid for the trainee engineers

While walking back to hotel we noticed some slight smoke drifting across the street.  We then spent a few minutes watching a  TV outside broadcast van setting up outside the entrance to the hotel’s underground car park.  When we tried to re-enter the hotel we were prevented and made to stay outside.  Some ten minutes later the fire brigade arrived, laid hoses and headed down into the car park, all carefully filmed by the cameraman.  Within a few minutes there were police cars an ambulance and a larger outside broadcast van lining the street outside the hotel.

After another half hour we were allowed back into the hotel lobby, but there was no electricity in the whole hotel. After sitting in lobby for another hour power was restored. 

While waiting in the lobby we met one of our party who had been in a lift when the lift suddenly stopped between floors.  There was an emergency phone in the lift but no-one answered his call.  Luckily there was a member of the hotel staff in the lift with him who was able to make contact through his mobile phone. It took another fifteen minutes for the rescuers to open the door and help the captives to escape through a narrow gap just below the top of the lift doors.

 

Sat Feb 22

After a very basic breakfast we were collected from the hotel and taken to the nearby short-haul airport for the 3 ½ hour flight to Ushuaia.   After a brief drive through the town on arrival we had 1 ½ hours of free time before re-boarding the coach for the very short ride to join  the ship. 

After boarding we collected our jackets, which were ours to keep after thr trip.

We had a rough night in Drake Passage with waves up to nine metres high.

 

Sun Feb 23

Slightly less rough day in Drake Passage, but restaurant noticeably quiet for breakfast in spite of the fact that most people appeared to be popping sea-sickness pills.

One particularly big wave brought crockery and cutlery crashing to the floor during lunch.

We saw a number of different birds but no other wildlife

 

Mon Feb 24

Much calmer morning as we has crossed the Drake Passage

During the morning we had to collect our loan boots (In order to avoid contaminating the environment we were not allowed to use our own footwear ashore).  We then had to take our outer clothing for vacuum cleaning.  This was done under strict supervision to ensure all hems, pockets and Velcro fasteners were cleaned.

In the afternoon we entered through the very narrow entrance into the almost circular anchorage which occupies virtually the whole of Deception Island.  Having sailed past a deserted whaling station we stopped at  Pendulum Cove.

Deception island is classified as an active volcano, but there have been no eruptions for a few decades.  The anchorage is the remnants of the caldera of the volcano. Steam was rising from water in one part of the bay as we approached.  Apparently some patches of water in the bay are warm or even hot due to the volcanic activity.

We had our first trip ashore. 

Before going ashore we had to walk through a disinfectant tray.

The visit was very brief, apparently to get us accustomed to donning our boots and various layers of clothing.

On returning on board we had to pass through a machine which scrubbed our boots.  This was followed by walking through another disinfectant tray.

In the bay the sea was flat calm with an air temperature of 1 degree C.

We sailed past the remains of a long abandoned whaling station.  Still visible in the distance were the tanks used to store the whale oil.

We landed near the remains of a Chilean base abandoned during last eruption when staff escaped to a British base by climbing over the mountain.  This base was then threatened by the eruption so all personnel had to be rescued by repeated flights by two small Chilean helicopters from a Chilean naval ship.  The only casualty was the base cat which had panicked and run.

There were no penguins or other wildlife but we watched friendly researcher flying drone to do IR surface temperature mapping of area.

 

Tue Feb 25

Danco Island

Lots of whales, seals and penguins as we approached.

Lots of penguins when we went ashore in the morning.

Zodiac ride in afternoon. Saw two seals sitting on ice-flows and two Hump-backed whales, all within 10 metres of our boat.

 

Wed Feb 26

Damoy Point, Dorian Bay

Slightly more wind today.

Landed in the morning and walked to within sight of disused British interim base which was used to land freight and personnel which were then forwarded to Rothera Base by air using Twin Otters on skis.

In the afternoon we landed again on a trip specially for photographers.  We landed at the same place but took a different route accompanied by the ship’s photographers who gave us advice and tips.

Anchored overnight after those camping ashore had departed.

 

Thur Feb 27

Paradise Harbour.

Moved from the anchorage to just past yesterday’s landing spot to take the campers back on board, then continued to visit the Gonzales Videla Chilean Air Force station on Waterboat Point.  First attempt failed as the channel was blocked with ice.  The second attempt, by a slightly longer route was successful, but all Zodiac activities were delayed by 2 hours. Two Humpback whales came close to the ship before sounding just as we approached the station.

The station is manned by 15 airforce personnel for five months each summer as a rescue co-ordination base.

Normally we are not allowed within 5 metres of wildlife, but this distance was impossible to maintain as the base was littered with penguins and chicks. We were not allowed off the concrete footpaths, so had to step over the occasional chick sleeping on the path: they just seem to crash out wherever they are standing.  Some of the chicks were curious and one even pecked at my boots.

On the way back to the ship we passed a Leopard seal hiding between ice-floes to catch the occasional unsuspecting penguin as it returned ashore.

 

 

Our Zodiac ride took us almost to the place we had reached before the first approach was abandoned.

One penguin, a well-known regular visitor to the same nest on the island every year had very pale, almost cream, back plumage.  (Isabellene ???? genetic defect) Her partner, and all her chicks have normal coloration.

We were just about to return to the ship when Pat spotted a whale, so we headed off at high speed in the opposite direction.  The whale hung around for long enough for us to get fairly close before sounding, giving a fine display with its tail in the air.

Snow flurries late evening

 

Fri Feb 28

Early morning rise to go through narrow channel. Snow flurries

Saw Minke jumping, rolling etc. in channel.

Squeezed past large iceberg in channel.

Met Fram just after channel, then dozen or more Humpback.

Stopped at Yalour Island.

One Humpback swam directly under one of the Zodiacs, surfacing just a few feet beyond it.

Zodiac ride saw more penguins, Leopard Seal, more humpbacks and even more Adele penguins.

Saw four men drive by in tiny rib. Rib dropped passengers off on an apparently deserted island then returned with only one on board, apparently heading for another island.  Saw the men apparently tending monitoring equipment on the island.

Moved to Petermann Island. Closed bow-to-bow to within 10 meters of Fram. Fram then turned for home.

While we were eating lunch another unidentified black ship passed close by, following Fram into the narrow channel.

On landing saw penguins, including one chick which was trying to climb into the bag that the shore party had used to bring equipment ashore.  Having failed to get into the bag it laid on the bag and went to sleep.

Next to an Argentinian refuge hut was a memorial to a British Antarctic Survey team who went missing in the 80’s.

On the far side of the island were two Crab-eater seals (misnamed as they do not eat crabs) resting on an ice-flow.

While walking back to the landing place we had to wait as our path was crossed by a penguin running at full speed while pursued by its hungry chick. The parent eventually relented and fed the chick.

At the evening briefing we were told that in view of the deteriorating weather conditions we would not be travelling any further South, but instead be heading for a sheltered inlet to the North.  Although disappointed not to be continuing South we were extremely grateful for the otherwise unseasonably good weather

 

 

Sat Feb 29

Charlotte bay

Woke this morning to snow flurries

From ship saw two seals trying to climb onto ice floe and two Humpback whales approach to within  4 metres of a Zodiac.

On our Zodiac ride saw the two seals who had by now succeeded in climbing onto the ice-floe.  There were a couple of light snow flurries while we were on the Zodiac.

After the Zodiac trips we moved to different location for landings (??? Point).  Lots of Humpbacks en route. Snow was getting heavier so Pat and I did not go ashore.  We  felt justified in our decision after talking to those who did venture ashore who said the going was treacherous with virtually nothing to see.

Much heavier snow overnight. Someone had made snowmen on the top deck.

The ships sailed into the snow with the way ahead lit by two powerful searchlights above the bridge wings. (Radar in not very useful in detecting ice-floes.)

 

Sun Mar 1

Ronge Island in the Orne Islands.

Snow during breakfast, but soon cleared.

Watched Humpbacks feeding after breakfast.

On Zodiac cruise we saw Fur Seals, Gentu and Chinstrap penguins on the shore and lots of penguins porpoising near the boat.

We then watched three Humpbacks near an iceberg before returning to the ship.

After lunch three Minke whales swam by in the distance.

Our last landing took  place late in the afternoon.  The snow started just was we left the ship, but stopped as we reached the landing spot.  The water at the landing spot was very shallow with a rocky sea-bed.  As It was too shallow to use the outboards for the final approach this made it difficult for the expedition team some of whom waded thigh-deep into the sea to pull the Zodiacs ashore.  The actual landing was difficult for some passengers as it involved stepping from one slippery stone to the next, albeit with much careful help from the team.  Once ashore the going was still extremely slippery, walking on stones covered a mixture of mud, melting snow and penguin droppings.

There were of course thousands more Gentoo penguins to see, but the main attraction were the large numbers of Fur seals: all young males banished from their homes in South Georgia, Falkland Islands etc. until they are strong enough to fight for a place on the beach and a hareem.

With everyone back on board we sailed for Ushuaia, again seeing numerous Humpback and the occasional Minke whales as we travelled.

 

Mon Mar 2

At sea.

Some swell, but much less than on our outward crossing of the Drake Passage.

There was an interesting visit to  the bridge.  Discussed maneouverability of the ship, position holding and the problems in anchoring in the Antarctic with one of the officers.  The position holding is entirely under manual control using the three bow-thrusters and twin Azipods.  The Azipods are capable of 360 degree rotation and each was fitted with a pair of contra-rotating propellers.  The bow-thrusters were also used to help move ice away from the bows of the ship.  We only attempted once to anchor for an overnight stay, but then had to raise anchor to move when the ice started closing in.

After the bridge visit there was a lecture on the various ways different birds have adapted to cope with the extremely harsh conditions of the Antarctic and another explaining how continental drift had ensured that there were no Polar Bears in Antarctica.

 

Tue Mar 3

Drake Channel

Calmer today

Lectures on the pscholological effects of over-wintering in the Antarctic and on the amazing life so far of the diminutive 26 year old woman in charge of the kayaking.

Saw Cape Horne in the distance before entering the Beagle Channel for the final run towards Ushuaia.  Saw lots more whales in the Beagle Channel before arriving in Ushuaia at 22.00.

 

Wed Mar 4

Left ship in the morning.

Visited a museum in the old jail building.  The building was atypical jail of the time with 2-storey cell blocks radiating from a central hall.

There was a wide variety of different exhibits, each topic in one of the old jail cells.  Museum  covered the history of the area as well as the building and its various inmates.

Many of the exhibits included extremely detailed model ships.

On the way to the airport we were delayed when our coach collided with a car.  No injuries, little damage to the coach, but car more serious.

In the afternoon we flew to Buenos Aires: 3 ½ hrs by LATAM.

Spent the night in the Sofitel Hotel.  Very comfortable room, excellent dinner.

Bit of excitement in the hotel.  As the bell-boy delivered our luggage we heard a woman screaming very loudly in a room further down the corridor.  Fearing violent crime the bell-boy and I rushed to her defence.  On arriving at her room we found that she was berating another member of the hotel staff because he had not provided a connector for her laptop as quickly as she expected.  The three of us closed her room door and left her to cool down.  She was still screaming to herself when I returned to our room minutes later.

 

Thursday Mar 5

Excellent breakfast followed by an interesting coach tour of the city.  This of course included the statutory visit to the tomb of Eva Perron, but on this occasion we had the whole area to ourselves, unlike our last visit when we had to fight through a  densely packed crowd.

After the tour we went directly to the international airport for our 13 ½ hour BA flight back to Heathrow.

 

Friday Mar 6

Early morning arrival at Heathrow. As we had arrived before schedule we had to stooge around for 20 minutes before being allowed to land.  Passport control was remarkably efficient with the automated passport authentication machines now much improved.

In spite of the Corona Virus scare no-one asked us where we had arrived from, and there were not even any warning notices.

As we exited customs our driver was waiting for us for an uneventful journey back home.

 

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