Featured Writer: Christine Bernasconi
I’m gonna have to say it again – it was the trip of my dreams. Whales, seals, penguins (lots of them) birds, beautiful landscapes and icebergs – I really, really loved the icebergs 🙂
We organised our trip through Quark (click here if you’re in the States) or Peregrine in Australia (click here). We booked the ‘Crossing the Circle’ Tour which was 14 days aboard the ‘Sea Spirit.’ – a beautiful ship. Well appointed spacious rooms, an open bar :), dining room, theatre lounge, a library, gym, a hot tub, gift shop and lots of deck areas to relax and take in the sights. The service? Seamless. Nothing was a chore for the staff and everything was done with a smile.
The ship carried 114 passengers of which 49 of them were Australian. Being such a small group meant great friendships were formed early. We were all linked by the same thread – an adventurous nature and the desire to experience the Antarctic. I met people from all over the world. I know I will remain friends with some of them forever. We all shared something very special.
Our voyage left from Ushuaia (the bottom of Argentina) and it was a two day trip to the Antarctic Peninsula across the Drake Passage. I loved watching the mainland of Argentina disappear behind us. To me it felt like a true adventure. We explored many bays, islands and channels of the Antarctic Peninsula over the 14 days of our voyage.
The most amazing part of the trip however (besides the scenery) was the service and professionalism provided by the expedition leader and her team. Cheli is a true leader and a wonderful, passionate individual. All of her staff have an expertise, whether it be birds, whales, glaciers, photography or history. They have all done many similar trips and their experience and knowledge is second to none.
Each day in the Oeanus lounge, one of them would present a lecture on a particular aspect of the Antarctic – marine mammals, the great Antarctic explorers or sea birds – just to name a few. There were even some documentary movies about this fascinating part of the world. It was wonderful to be educated and to hear them speak so passionately.
Most nights one of the expedition staff would sit at your dinner table to get to know you and mix with the passengers. This really personalised the trip and within a few days, they were also friends.
Each day we usually had two zodiac expeditions to an island or part of the Antarctic mainland. Getting everyone in and out of the zodiacs plus keeping everyone safe and informed was handled brilliantly by the expedition staff.
Each disembarkation and embarkation meant going through a disinfection process (you had to step in a solution) to protect the fragile environment.
These outings were fantastic. Whilst you saw lots of scenery from the ship, getting out on the water, feeling the wind in your face and observing the scenery and wildlife from this low perspective was awesome 🙂
Every single island or mainland excursion offered something individual. The landscape was always vastly different, and yes, there were always penguins 🙂
I never tired of looking at the endless beauty that surrounded us. I loved being on the shore and exploring. Lots of the islands had relics from days gone bye – old whaling boats and whaling stations, whale bones and huts that would have housed the brave people that spent part of their lives living here.
The wildlife was spectacular. Albatross flying at the back of the ship, humpback whales, Minke whales and even Orca’s! Wedell, Leopard and Crabeater seals and of course, penguins. Sometimes these animals were seen from the decks of the Sea Spirit. At other times you were up close and personal with these animals in the zodiacs.
Imagine being in a zodiac – drifting through the brash ice – icebergs all around you and a humpback surfaces around 50 metres away? What a scene. Absolute magic.
The staff organised trivia games, we danced the night away a couple of times , met the Captain at the ‘Cocktail Party’ and I got ‘over enthusiastic’ in an auction to raise money for the penguins (I really wanted that Antarctic water.)
Other nights we sat in the bar talking to our new friends over a glass of wine (or two) – well, you couldn’t go to bed early as there was up to 18 hours of light per day!
We celebrated Australia Day on board with a BBQ up on deck and one patriotic Australian had our flag – I certainly won’t forget Australia Day 2013 in a hurry!
I also participated in ‘The Polar Plunge’ – yes, you could dive into the Southern Ocean (with a rope tied around your waist) to experience the ‘coolish’ waters of the Antarctic. Yep, I did this too. Click here to read about that adventure.
I slept a night on the ice – yes, I did. You can also read about that here 🙂
I also also slid down a mountain at Neko Harbour (it was so much fun, I felt like a 5 year old)
One of the highlights (there were so many) was Crossing the Antarctic Circle. That was a great day. The weather was really cold (-2) and it was a fantastic to think we were at 66 deg 33’44’ S. To mark this occasion, the crew organised a fantastic event called ‘Kiss the Fish’. We all grouped outside on the bow of the ship to Cross the Circle and the crew dressed up in various ‘fishy’ style outfits. King Neptune was there and we all had to ‘Kiss the Fish’ before being given a red mark on our foreheads which denoted ‘Crossing the circle.’ One word – hilarious – especially kissing a frozen fish!!
The most common question I’ve been asked since being home is ‘How cold was it’? On the warmest day it was 8 degrees and the coldest -2. Nowhere near as bad as I thought. The only time I felt really cold was on the ‘crossing the circle day’ and at times in the zodiacs when we were going a little faster than the normal trawling speed. Quark supplies you with a parka (yours to take home) that really does the job. They also lend you ‘boots’ for the duration of the trip. These are used every time you leave the ship.
For anyone thats going on one of these trips, here is what I took with me…..
All the sea sick medication I could find (travel calm, the wrist bands, ginger tablets) – It worked for me, I took one travel calm the first night – just in case and a couple of other ‘rougher’ sea days wore the wrist bands – all good.
2 sets of thermals – bought from the Kathmandu store – black bottoms and pink/black/white and blue/black/white long sleeve tops.
2 really warm zip up hoodies – one from Kathmandu and the other from the gift shop on the ship.
4 pairs of super warm socks (Kathmandu store.)
2 pairs of warm track suit pants.
A warm hat.
2 pairs of water proof gloves (only ever wore one pair) and they were too cumbersome to take pics with, so I bought a fingerless pair from the gift shop on the ship.
A warm sleeveless vest (bought from a shop in Ushuaia.)
Waterproof pants – if your an Aussie, you will pay a fortune at home for these. I bought them in Ushuaia the day before we left at around $50AUD – bargain – (there were plenty of sizes and choices and plenty of shops selling this gear in Ushuaia.)
Each day when we went on a shore excursion off the boat I wore…
A thermal top and bottom and trackpants over the thermals.
Waterproof pants over the track pants (the track pants tucked INTO the boots.)
A warm sleeveless vest over the thermals or, if I felt a bit colder a long sleeve hoodie.
2 pairs of socks (always.)
The parka, hat and gloves.
On the ship (which was as warm as toast) I wore…
Jeans and a tshirt and sometimes a hoodie. I dressed up one night for the Captains cocktail party (if you call a skirt and top seriously dressing up.)
Closed in shoes (my rockports.)
Back in Buenos Aires and Santiago I wore….
shorts and tshirts (super humid.)
So if you’re interested in going and want to know more – Im gonna have to come with you to show you the ropes 🙂
Dont forget to click on the pics to enlarge them….