Antarctica and Patagonia: An Adventure on the Seabourn Quest – Part III (Drake Passage and Greenwich Island-Yankee Harbour)
|Seabourn Quest, Seabourn Ventures
and Gentoo Penguins
After the Seabourn Quest departed the Falkland Islands it was a day at sea. Oh, but we had things to do!
The first, and most feared thing: Cross the Drake Passage! With fear and trepidation our crossing actually started the evening before, but now we were deep into it. With the wind and the sea it was…How can I explain it?…actually totally anticlimactic. No Drake Shake; just Drake Lake.
|Antarctica appearing out of the fog|
But back to the interesting stuff!
The guests are divided into five color groups. You find your group out when an armband, that also acts as a keycard carrier, is delivered to your stateroom at turndown. Your armband determines when you engage in the landings. Myself: I have a white armband. That means I got to be the first group on the first day. It also means I will probably be one of the last groups tomorrow. But you must also keep in mind that being “first” doesn’t necessarily mean being “best”. So today, while I loved being out there without waiting impatiently, and also photographing in the mist and gray, the later groups are being blessed with blue skies and bright sun.
[I will also jump ahead. If you have kayaking scheduled and your kayaking time interferes with your group’s landing time, you have the ability to use a “wildcard” and land with whatever group you desire that doesn’t conflict.]
|Young Elephant Seal
(Should be at sea, so hopefully it is OK.)
About mid-morning we had a mandatory IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) Briefing. It was actually quite interesting, with Iggy’s humor definitely assisting. Basically it sets out the rules which everyone is required to follow in order to ensure the areas visited remain as pristine as possible. Trust me, after the first landing you will begin to understand just how much penguin poop there is and how it coats everything that is near it…and how to clean it off.
This was followed by a mandatory Zodiac Briefing where you learn how to properly dress, use the life vests and board the zodiacs (which are semi-rigid inflatable boats…commonly referred to as RIBs).
And this was followed by a mandatory Bio Security Check. You simply bring with you any outerwear (jackets, pants, gloves, hats, backpacks, etc.) that you have used previously (i.e. not the Seabourn Antarctic jackets you just received or those new waterproof pants you purchased…unless you used them on the trip). You are called by color group (get used to it) to the Club, your items are inspected and, if necessary vacuumed, and then given back to you.
After a leisurely afternoon and the clocks being set forward a second time (so you are two hours ahead of actually time so that you do not realize you are getting up and going to bed so early!) there was the first of the Recap and Briefing Session. At these sessions the events of the day (animal sightings, etc.) are discussed and then what is expected to happen the next day is laid out. Through my experience with other expeditions and safaris, these are well and truly most valuable.
I have to admit it: After the recap I decided that I just couldn’t and didn’t want dinner. I laid down in my suite and, ever so nicely, my stewardess did the turndown with me assuredly snoring away! I did venture out around 9 PM to have a glass of wine and a look-see out of the Observation Lounge, as it remains light very late (and especially with the artificial time change). But as the guests were as quiet as the sea, I called it an early evening.
I awoke early, at 6 AM, to a glass-like ocean and thick fog. Were we going to be on time? What would we see? In order to answer those questions I had to wander up to the Observation Lounge for Early Riser’s Coffee where there were about half a dozen others. Thick fog. So disappointing.
But then, literally in an instant: Antarctica! It was a spectacular entrance. (Thank you Captain Bjarne Larsen!) “Breathtaking” just doesn’t properly describe it. And, being that there were so few of us seeing it, it just seemed so very personal.
|Antarctica appearing through the fog
on the Seabourn Quest
And then, feeling the fog must have delayed us, Captain Larsen made an announcement: We arrived a half hour early! Time for breakfast!
|Yankee Harbour, Greenwich Island, Antarctica|
It was now time to gear up. Seabourn requires that you be “Zipped and Clipped”, meaning you have everything on: Jackets, waterproof pants, hats, life vest, etc. all on and zipped up before heading into the Club and onto the deck (now behind protective all-weather curtains) to the lockers where your boots are stored. Once your boots are on you head to the portside doors leading to the stairwell and Deck 3, where you are staged, dip your boots into disinfectant and board the zodiacs. On the return, after cleaning your boats on shore and then disinfecting them after your zodiac ride, you are directed to the elevators (which are smartly modified to only allow you to go to Deck 5) where you are directed aft to store your boots before being set free about the ship.
|Gentoo Penguin colonies are not exactly the cleanest places!|
We had a short zodiac ride to the beach at Yankee Harbour on Greenwich Island. We were met by quite a few of the Seabourn Expedition team, who were ready, willing and very able to answer any questions and also make you feel comfortable. They had arrived before us and clearly marked out the permitted areas with flags and ropes so keeping the proper distance was easy.
We are also met by hundreds of squawking Gentoo penguins (many with small chicks), Skuas and Petrals flying about trying to capture chicks, three elephant seals and a wayward Chinstrap penguin.
Even though I love animals and photography, I spent most of my time just soaking in both the enormous views…simply far to large and majestic to capture on a photograph…and the fact that after decades of dreaming about coming to Antarctica I was here.
Travel can be emotional, personal, fulfilling and inspiring. This moment was all of that and more.
|Gentoo Penguin and her chicks
Most had two chicks, but one is larger than the other.
The smaller one will probably not survive.
I will not degrade my personal experience by saying I have now been to all seven continents, for that means nothing to me. But to be fair there are a number of guests onboard the Seabourn Quest that it is a milestone of sorts that fulfills their goals. I am happy for them and do not begrudge them their view of Antarctica being a place to tick off. However, I am not a “tick it off the list” kinda guy, but you knew that!
|Gentoo Penguin protecting her chicks from a Skua.|
Once you have had your fill there are zodiacs that can shuttle you back as you wish, with the last shuttle (at least today) about 1.25 hours after you arrive. If you miss that shuttle you have to wait for the next group to start arriving, which is about 30 minutes later. Personally, the time flew so quickly for me that not waiting for the last opportunity to depart wasn’t an option, but a requirement.
After returning to the ship, many of you know where I went: “My” hot tub. It was the perfect place to unwind and “soak” in the magnificent views.
|I’m working hard for you:
Making sure the forward hot tub
on the Seabourn Quest is properly operating and
confirming its unobstructed views of Antartica
After lunch there was a very interesting lecture on ice and glaciers. It was of note that attendence was down about 75% for this lecture. I am not sure if it was the topic (which everyone should understand if you want to understand the basics of Antarctic geology and biology, the effects of global climate change, etc.), being off the ship exploring or taking naps after an exciting morning.
I then arranged a special event for my clients sailing with me: a “Welcome to Antarctica!” Cocktail Party in my Penthouse suite.
|Executive Chef Gerard and Chef Mahesh
created quite the cocktail party for Goldring Travel’s clients
Chef Gerard (new to Seabourn) and Chef Mahesh (who seems to be on every Seabourn cruise I am on) put on a show providing us with:
- Crispy Shrimp Cigars with sweet and sour dipping sauce
- Fish Poppers with garlic mayonnaise
- Stuffed Tomatoes with Vegetable Ratatouille
- Nicoise Crostini
- Warm Potato Cakes with Caviar
- Baby Scallops in Peruvian Jus
- Avocado Shrimp Maki
- Lobster Vol au Vent
|Seabourn Quest’s Penthouse Suites are great for entertaining|
After our celebration, it was time for our evening Conversation with the Expedition Team reviewing our first day and getting ready for the next day of our Antarctic Adventure. And once again, I was simply too full to even think about having dinner.
It was another memorable day…and one that allowed Antarctica to truly touch me.
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