Exploring the Antatctic

Between the tip of South America and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula lies the most ferocious body of water in the world — the Drake Passage. The winds howl from the west through this narrow gap causing crew, tourists and scientists alike to wonder the outcome.

On January 31, 2023, my husband Hannes and I boarded our beautiful two–year–old ship, Ocean Victory, and prepared for the two– day crossing to Antarctica. It is said that one can experience a “Drake Shake” or a “Drake Lake.” We lucked out as we sailed through two–to–three–foot swells all the way.

Forty–eight hours later we sighted the first icebergs — all shapes and sizes — all shades of white and translucent blue. Stunning!

Preparing to go ashore is exhausting in itself. Our group of one hundred and seventy was divided into four smaller groups, which were called down to the “mud room” in turn. There we climbed into heavy–duty boots and struggled into waterproof coats and life vests. These items were on top of all the layers we had put on back in our cabin on deck six.

Then to the Zodiacs, which were surging up and down next to the ship. The crew was well practiced at handing us from the slippery step of the ship into the bouncing Zodiac. By then we were pretty exhausted but also excited about our first landing.

We mostly landed on the numerous islands that surrounded the peninsula. February marks the end of summer at that latitude so it really wasn’t very cold. That said, on one trip the weather had deteriorated with strong wind and blowing sleet.

The next few days were filled with landings, Zodiac cruises around glorious ice formations, views of sheer cliffs and magnificent glaciers. Mother nature provided seals, whales, penguins and many birds. The sea is full of life.

The high point of any Antarctic cruise is to reach South Georgia Island where spectacular cliffs rise up to snowcapped mountains. Well known for its whaling stations, now abandoned, the island is also home to the grave of the great explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. I was tremendously excited to pay homage to one of my heroes but it was not to be. While in transit to the island, Hannes and I tested positive for Covid and we were isolated in our cabin for five days. Fortunately our cabin had a balcony where we sat and watched our fellow passengers being shuttled to and from land. From a distance we could hear the noise made by thousands of penguins and seals, but we had to entertain ourselves watching penguins race through the water and many birds, including giant petrel and albatross, swoop near the ship.

The last stop was supposed to be the Falkland Islands, site of the ongoing tug of war between Britain and Argentina over ownership. The Brits call the islands Falklands and the Argentines call them Malvinas. We were warned — please don’t get the names mixed up! After two day’s transit from South Georgia the rough weather doomed us to circling the island for three days looking for a suitable landing place. Zodiac crews scanned the coastline for a safe spot but decided conditions were too dangerous, so we never landed.

On February 18 we returned to our departure port, the city of Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world! Then we endured a grueling thirty–six–hour trip home, dreaming of returning to Antarctica with no Covid and several landings on South Georgia.

For those interested, Road Scholar tours provided us with the trip of a lifetime.