Seabourn’s Antarctica and Patagonia – Goldring Travel’s Third Expedition – Part IV (Hope Bay, Cuverville Island, Lemaire Channel and the Iceberg Graveyard)

Hope Bay, Antarctica
Argentinian Base Esperanza

My expedition on the Seabourn Quest to South Georgia Island and Antarctica continued with two days at sea. After an initial few hours of slightly rough seas it was smooth sailing as we crossed the Scotia Sea and headed to Hope Bay, Antarctica lying right at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

It struck me as Day 2 of our passage from South Georgia Island took us by Elephant Island, where Ernest Shackleton and three others took off in a 23-foot boat for South Georgia Island to find rescuers for his stranded men. The time, the heavy seas and the ability to find this tiny island in the middle of nowhere in a small wooden vessel really struck me.  As did the fact that Trevor and Rob, part of the Seabourn Expedition Team, followed in Shackleton’s path in their own 23-foot boat, recreating the incredible feat and I (and all the Seabourn guests) have been given the gift of speaking with them and their friendship.

Arriving into Antarctica was, yet again, an emotional experience for me.  I don’t really know why even though I have thought about it quite a bit. But there are somethings, whether it be a painting, the love of your life or this, it is better to simply appreciate it than analyze it.

I was given permission to be on the bridge as we approached the White Continent…which, at the coast, is white with huge black basalt mountains that provide incredible contrast and are so powerful.  At 4:00 a.m., as the Seabourn Quest was still out of view of land and there was a good bit of fog, I saw the waters were filled with ice; and I mean lots of ice.  Were we going to get through?

Run Away! Run Away!
Seabourn Quest maneuvering through the ice

It was fascinating watching and listening to Captain Joost and Ice Pilot Sasha playing chess with the ice. There was a strong wind coming right at the ship, giving the impression that the bands of ice were coming towards us; but, in reality, the currents were causing them to travel in our same direction, but at different speeds. And, as the ice shifted location, should the Seabourn Quest go hard to starboard or take a more forward line…because the next three moves needed to be considered so we didn’t get trapped. What speed does the Seabourn Quest need to maintain? For if we go too fast the maneuver will be too soon; not giving the ice enough time to move. If we go too slow the ice on the port side might hit the ship rather than slide off within the wake of the bow.

But with two lookouts, two officers, another able body seaman and the two in command the Seabourn Quest made it…and the Silversea Silver Explorer (which was contemplating turning back) followed the master seamanship the Seabourn Quest’s bridge had just shown.

This being my third journey to Antarctica I wasn’t really sure how many photos I would take since I have a nice catalog already and how much my mantra of “Put the camera down!” would come into play.  I think I found a good balance.  (I also found a better balance of appreciating the history and explorers of the Antarctic far more than I had in the past. In a humbling, but a proudful moment, Trevor Potts came up to me and read my earlier article on the subject and said, with the famous cock of his head “Good article. Aye, I listened to you goin’ on about the animals, but I knew you’d eventually come ‘round.”)

Hope Bay, Antarctica

Having arrived at Hope Bay, Antarctica on time at 6:30 a.m., the Argentinian base, Esperanza, came into view. With its reddish-orange buildings contrasting against the stark black and white landscape it was almost as breathtaking as the view of the mountains, glacier and over 100,000 Adelie penguins nesting and running about.  It was also time to inhale the incredibly clean and crisp Antarctic air (with a touch of aromatic penguin guano)…and get my butt out on a zodiac to see Adelie penguins; the most amusing and active of the penguins.

Because my kayaking time interfered with my landing group slot I took advantage of being on the first zodiac out for the day.  It was cloudy, windy and cold, but magic.  As Brent Houston, penguin expert extraordinaire, says, “These are the toughest birds. They Work. Work. Work. Go. Go. Go. They never stop!” And, of course, Brent sarcastically asks the question: “How many Adelies does it take to make a decision?  Ten.”  This is because they will pile up at, say, the shoreline, stare at the water and eventually one of them will decide to go in…and they all follow.  

Adelie Penguins are frenetic
“Let’s go over here!” “No, over there!” “No, over there!” “How about we just stay here?”
OK, Adelie penguins, Let’s run up the hill

OK, Adelie penguins, Let”s run down the hill
Adelie Penguins

An Adelie penguin chick…not exactly the cutest thing.

Upon returning to the ship, the adrenaline of the morning subsided and exhaustion set in having been on the go since 4:00 a.m. Time for a nap; a really long nap.  

And then kayaking!  We took the zodiac to a protected cove where a crabeater seal decided to haul out.  It wasn’t exactly happy to see us and eventually made its move to the water; not through the path we made for it, but over the kayaks.

A crabeater seal hauled out where our kayaks were located

It was then time us to make better use of the kayaks and the kayaking was magical. It was snowing…just enough for it to accumulate on the kayaks, but not enough to interfere. The wind was more of a breeze…just enough to gently move the snow sideways.  The water was calm…but with just enough of a wave to give it some texture. It was cloudy…but with just enough light to make the blues of the ancient ice glow.  (And, of course, I had a great kayaking partner: Chris, the head of Guest Services.)

I took a couple of quick photos, but this was definitely for me a “Put the camera down!” experience.  We were all pretty much frozen by the end of the kayaking session, but I didn’t want it to end.
Back onboard it was definitely time to warm up.  I usually keep away from hot chocolate, but it was definitely the way to go. Seabourn’s warm foamed milk with a chocolate stirrer and just a touch of spiced rum was perfect.

I should note (so I am!) that I am regularly asked what is the best day of the expedition, what is the best location to kayak and whether it is better to be in the first group or the last of the day.  My response always is, “You never know. Just go with it.” And this day was the perfect example. My landing group was the fourth group out and they saw a leopard seal eating a penguin. I missed it because I was in the first group due to my kayaking conflict. Another group had an Adelie penguin jump into its zodiac (after trying twice and hitting one gentleman in the back of his head!).  Alas, I was “relegated” to capturing photos of Adelie chicks and kayaking in a snowglobe; only a few days after photographing a leopard seal with its mouth agape.  

We were told that the next day we would be landing at Cuverville Island, Antarctica in the afternoon, so I had a late night and put the Do Not Disturb sign on my door. I awoke at 7:00 a.m. (wondering why I did that) and fell back asleep…and then the ship’s PA came on and the Expedition Leader, Chris Srigley’s, voice ungraciously knocked me out of bed. Guess what? We arrived early and my sleep-in just ended.

Cuverville Island is a breathtaking place that has just about everything…and Gentoo penguins.  There is snow, stones, glaciers, green lichen-covered mountains, icebergs in the bays and distant views.  This is where “Just pull up a rock and take it in!” well and truly came into play.  I also had a nice chat with Anton Wolfaardt while taking in the views. (As a bonus it was so warm that I had to unzip my jacket and I was still overly warm.)

Seabourn Quest at Cuverville Island, Antarctica

Gentoo Penguin
Gentoo Penguin with Whale Vertebrae

Skua doing what a Skua does

It was interesting that none of the Gentoos had chicks, except one pair, yet. I had thought that by now the chicks would be quite active. It seems Gentoo hatching is very dependent on location.  Fortunately, Jennifer Fought found that just hatched chicks and I was lucky enough to watch the parents change places and the one that just returned from sea feed the two only days old chicks.

After returning to the ship I figured with such a beautiful view and the Wintergarden’s soaking tub, I would do that which I pretty much never do: Take a bath. With a copy of  Fraser’s Penguins discussing the very areas we are traveling in (and what I believe is a mandatory book to understand both penguins and some of the serious effects of climate change) it was a wonderful hour.

Seabourn Quest’s Wintergarden Suite Soaking Tub

followed by a wonderful nap!

Because we were able to move the schedule up scenic cruising was scheduled for after dinner.  It was the perfect time to enjoy dinner with a view at Earth & Ocean. (Note:  I will discuss the ship and the dining experiences in a separate article.)  After some during dinner spectacular views…and having been in this area before…I began to wonder where the after-dinner scenic cruising was. (You see I was told a secret: We would quietly attempt to travel through the Lemaire Channel, but it would not be an event until the next evening when we travelled back through on New Year’s Eve.)

As the Observation Lounge was just getting very quiet I looked up and there it was: Lemaire Channel. In my two prior expeditions we tried to pass through, but could not. And here we were. Was it going to happen? 

As we approached I looked at the photograph I took the prior year with that incredible sunset and tried to photograph the same location….still not knowing if we would be able to make the passage.  And then we did!

Lemaire Channel – December 2019

Lemaire Channel – January 2018

As we were passing by I asked one of the guests pointing to the face of a glacier if they could tell me how high it was. They said about 20 feet. I said to them, “Do you realize you are standing on Deck 10 of the Seabourn Quest and it is higher than we are?”  Yes, Antarctica does make you lose perspective because it is so big!

With us settled in a spot and whales feeding off the bow of the ship, it was time to finally get some sleep; knowing the next day I was in the last group and that since there would be no internet as the mountains blocked the satellite it would be a restful day ahead of New Year’s Eve.

Seabourn Quest

I awoke with the Seabourn Quest anchored off Pleneau Island, also known as the Iceberg Graveyard. This is because the water is relatively shallow so when an iceberg breaks off of a glacier it grounds itself on the bottom and just stays there, be it for five, ten or even fifty years.  Outside of my suite was a beautiful iceberg with arches and caves, little bergy bits floating by and such calm and quiet.  And with the temperatures warming, it was wonderful sitting outside and taking it all in.

The zodiac in the foreground gives you some perspective as to this iceberg’s size

Eventually it was our group’s turn for a zodiac tour around the Iceberg Graveyard. The sun had finally broken through a bit and the ice started to show its true colors…while off in the distance dark skies, almost purple in color, were building. Absolutely breathtaking.

Speaking of breathtaking, as everyone in our zodiac was looking to the left, I was looking to the right and a huge humpback whale rose out of the water to take a breath not even 20 feet away. 

We cruised along looking at feeding whales and sleeping crabeater seals while marveling at the sizes, shapes and colors of the icebergs that surrounded us.

Crabeater Seal with krill drool (not blood) 
They eat krill, not crabs!

I can think of no better way to put one’s mind into a good place for the end of 2019 and the start of 2020.

It was then time for a quick rest and then New Year’s Eve festivities which included a lovely dinner hosted by the Ares, the Hotel Director, with delicious wines and cuisine.

As Antarctica does not have any official time zone, ship’s time prevailed and at midnight a group of us were standing on the deck outside the Observation Lounge…and I took this photo.

Wishing everyone peace and beauty for the coming year…and continued journeys (as our’s shall tomorrow!)

Interested in booking a Seabourn cruise to Antarctica or elsewhere? Please give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!

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