Antarctica 2016

All times are local, zone letters per NATO standard.
Dates are Australian format, ie dd/mm/yyyy
Note on photography: Antarctica is a very black-&-white place so, besides my regular digital camera (Finepix S1000), I brought along an old Russian 35mm camera (Zenit 12XP), loaded with monochrome film.

21/02/2016

0948D

Airborne, Abu Dhabi - Sao Paolo.
Etihad is fine, in the air. But not much worked on the ground in Abu Dhabi. There are no airbridges, just stairs & buses. One lucky break: we were offered a ride on a golf-cart: saved us a long & uncomfortable walk to immigration. Possibly because we arrived on the cart, we were waved into the "gold" lane at immigration, so didn′t have to queue.
Arriving late at night, with our next flight in the morning, Etihad had booked us a night in a hotel.
After clearing immigration, we go to the Etihad desk for our hotel booking, & find they don′t seem to know of it! They send us to another desk, which does know, but their voucher printer is broken. So down to another floor (the same agent followed us down), & a long wait before it was fixed. Then, everything worked again: a 5-minute car trip to the hotel, which gave us a complimentary meal voucher (they have a 24-hour restaurant.) You can tell it′s a Muslim country: there is a "Qibla" (pointer to Mecca) on the ceiling of the room.
Finally to bed around midnight, having lost 2 hours′ sleep (a precious commodity, with another 14 hour flight tomorrow) in various bureaucracies.
On getting up for breakfast at 0600, we find Abu Dhabi covered in fog.
Breakfast was excellent (with plenty for vegans), then the shuttle-car back to the airport. We find the terminal is being rebuilt (what terminal isn′t?), & a very lengthy queue for passport control. Just as well we left the hotel asap after breakfast, instead of waiting (as earlier advised) until 90 minutes before the plane left.
Once through passport control, we find the fog has delayed departure 40 mins. Finally, we board the bus (which has no seats), & out to the plane, where we wait in the bus for 20 minutes. The driver had stopped the engine (possibly a requirement near aircraft), so with no air conditioner, the temperature rose rapidly. People becoming increasingly mutinous, banging on the windows, etc. "Ah brothers, come the revolution..." Finally, the driver restarts the engine for the air conditioner. Temperature, both air & emotional, cools rapidly. Eventually we board, & off about 1 hour late.

1047C

Over Saudi Arabia, probably just north of the Empty Quarter. The name is right: there is nothing but brown sand & black rock - it makes Australia look fertile!

1105C

For the first time, I see a road crossing that desert. By the time I write this, it has gone, with no evidence of what it connects.

1120C

Approaching the Red Sea, north of Jeddah. There are dark areas which may be some kind of vegetation, & several roads & small settlements. We may have passed within sight of Mecca, but I was on the wrong side of the plane to see it.
The general appearance is still as barren as ever. The heat through the plane′s window is intense.

1130C

What could be a duststorm, dirty brown, reaching up to our height - 10,000m.
Just crossing the Red Sea coast, leaving Arabia.

There are newspaper reports of a plan to build a bridge across the Red Sea around here. The sea is some 200km wide: that will be some bridge!

1132C

As we cross the sea, we leave the dust storm behind.

1144C

African coast, on a latitude just south of Jeddah. A chain of offshore islands & reefs, before the coast proper. This should be Sudan. It looks as empty as S.A., but a long road seems to run parallel to the coast. There is considerable cloud cover - there was none over Arabia. This speaks to a milder climate? As we move inshore, tangled mountains. The mountains have no cloud cover: perhaps they are too high. Quite empty, no sign of human activity. Distant mountain peaks rising through the cloud. We are now past the coastal mountains, over what seems to be a sandy basin, surrounded by mountains.

1154C

No cloud, just sand & mountains.

1159C

More of the same. Ground speed 868k/h.

1216C

Passing over a wide, dry, river course, some way north of Khartoum. Nothing visible to the south, but a large "sand sea."

1241C

Another duststorm - probably the cause of the turbulence we are having. No ground visible.

1311C

The duststorm has ended, ground being featureless sand. Turbulence as bad as ever.

1319C

Location: just north of due west from Khartoum. Sand, near More Sand.

1327C

Still desert, but features such as rock outcrops & dry rivers appear.

1312A

Same terrain, but saw the first settlement, with apparently metal roofs, catching th sun. A road leading to it. Possibly a mining camp.

1316A

About halfway between Khartoum & Lagos. Same desert. Ground speed 948k/h. SE of Lake Chad.

1333A

Still barren, but signs of human activity (rectangular features, purpose unknown.)

1345A

Duststorm, obscuring view of the ground - I was watching for the transition from desert.

1351A

Ground still obscured: leaving Africa between Lagos & Douala. ETA Sao Paolo 1730. (Time now at SP 0953)
We change at Sao Paolo (Garulhos) for today′s final flight, to Buenos Aires.

21/02/2016

2354P

Pestana Hotel, Buenos Aires.
Sao Paolo was covered in cloud, so little to see.
Garulhos is much improved from last time I passed through (in 2010), probably enhanced for the Olympics. Contrary to advice received in Perth, you don′t need to "immigrate" into Brazil when transiting: show the onward boarding pass at the airline service desk, they photograph your passport with a mobile phone! That′s all the record they need.
The gate numbering now works properly: we had no trouble getting to the right place.

I am using my British passport, as Argentina charges a $100 "reciprocity fee" to Australian visitors, but not British.
Apparently the Falklands/Malvinas dispute seems to be brewing again, but this Britisher encountered no problems.
Pestana Hotel is 15 mins in the taxi from Aeroparque, cost US25.

22/02/2016

0715P

Monday morning: a rest-day! Time here the same as at Sao Paolo.

0834P

Breakfast a bit limited for vegans: the only hot choice being toast!
I am writing out the airport name (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery), for tomorrow′s cab driver, as last time, they didn′t understand my pronunciation of it.
We tried a bit of shopping, but couldn′t explain ourselves adequately in Spanish. The solution was to go back to the hotel (for its WiFi), & use BabelFish. Then go shopping, with our needs written out ready.

1454P

BA (in February) is very hot, & heavily humid. Air conditioning is little used in shops, etc. We both found it very heavy going outside, & quickly retreated to the hotel.
Interestingly, we are only a couple of blocks from the hotel where Rik & I stayed 6 years ago (apparently it is no longer operating.)
Bank teller machines will only do cash withdrawals on overseas cards from "Credit" accounts, "Savings" accounts elicit an undefined failure, it simply says the withdrawal is invalid. Most South American ATMs only recognise 4-digit PIN numbers, 6-digit PINs are rejected out of hand.

1612P

Trying to check-in tomorrow′s flight, the website says "that flight has been changed, please contact the office." But nothing more, specifically no contact details.
So I ask the hotel desk to help. Turns out I was looking at the wrong airline! Surprisingly for a domestic sector, it is not flown by Aerolineas Argentinas, but by their rivals LAN Chile! Going to LAN Chile′s site, they at least recognise my booking (once my old eyes distinguish "8" & "B" in the booking code), but tell me to try & check in later. So far so good...
Now out to try for some food at a nearby Subway sandwich shop. This worked out OK, despite the operator having no English (& we no Spanish!) Just pointing at items in the tray is sufficient.

23/02/2016

1738P

Albatros Hotel, Ushuaia.
My written-out airport name worked fine with the cab, & we were quickly checked in. The flight started 30 minutes late, the reason was (I think) announced in Spanish, but not translated.
Unlike the flight into BA, the food was edible to us (there was no vegetarian option), being just biscuits & nuts. There were very good views of the mountains from the plane, but as we had aisle seats, not much chance with the camera. Once arrived, Quark′s courier (Paula) met us & led us to a minibus. The icy wind outside was a violent change from the heat & humidity of BA. We quickly reached for the jumpers we had packed at the top of our baggage, expecting something like this.
I asked Paula if there was a vegetarian restaurant in Ushuaia. She didn′t know of one: has that one Rik & I saw in 2010 closed down?
Once checked in, we went out to look for it, just up the hill from Hotel Mustapic where Rik & I stayed 6 years ago. It was there, but it is take-away only, not a restaurant. So Paula was right, too. Called El Bambu, it is run by a Taiwanese. We got some take-away to eat back at the hotel.
Ushuaia weather had closed in: clouds & icy rain, so we didn′t stay out, & abandoned any thoughts of photography. That can wait for the trip tomorrow.

1831P

CanalFun advise they will pick us up at 0830 tomorrow, for the "Lakes Tour".

24/02/2016

1737P

Returned from the CanalFun Lakes tour.
Our driver is Franco, highly knowledgeable, & competent. One passenger, Diana, is also on the Antarctic cruise. Tierra del Fuego is an industrial centre for Argentina, largely due to a tax-free incentive scheme. They are heavily into electronics (lightweight, high-value products make sense, considering the transport costs.)
The "Wooden Horse of Ushuaia" still stands, but is now defaced with graffiti (it was pristine 6 years ago.) I still don′t know its meaning.
Leaving Ushuaia, we pass a police check-point. Franco: "Please hide your drugs under your seat!"

This is National Highway 3, aka Pan American Hwy. There is still a gap at Darien, possibly also in Brazil. Many adventurers do the length of it, finishing in Ushuaia. By push-bike, it takes 3 years!
We enter the mountains, being the tail of the Andes. The southern face is barren & rugged, the northern side much milder, the lower slopes heavily forested, then snow.

The lower peaks are rounded by glaciation, 25000 years ago. The higher peaks stood above the glacier level, & are sharp & jagged.
We pass Carro Castor ski resort, which is inoperative in summer. A chair-lift runs across the main road. A nearby winter-sports centre has rows of kennels for Siberian huskies.
Camar Is. had cattle ranching until 1995, when an extra-hard winter killed all the animals.
0943: We cross the Andes, at Garibaldi Pass, overlooking Lago Escondido (Hidden Lake).
Here we join with a second CanalFun vehicle, with the balance of the passengers on this tour.
The vehicle is Brazilian built: an Agrale Marrua. It is solid & capable (as seen later today.) Picture a Land Rover Defender diesel, with a crew-cab ute setup for driver & 4 passengers. Then add a custom rear cab, with another 3 seats.
Apparently roads get fixed here every 4 years, ie with an election approaching, the politicians curry favour with the voters by mending infrastructure. (Now, where have I seen that before?)

[Photos from here are very patchy, due to shooting with a hand-held camera, in a vehicle bouncing furiously.]

Here, we leave the main road, & take the "old" N3, which was the only road until the 1970s. Seriously rough & steep. At one point, bashing through a mud puddle, the windscreen is covered in mud. Lacking (!) a screenwasher, Franco simply steers for another, cleaner, puddle, to wash it off! Sometimes he alarms us by driving hands-free: he really needs 4 hands, 2 for the wheel, 1 for the gearshift, & 1 to gesticulate or use the CB radio.
The rough stuff runs down to the lake, past an abandoned tourist hotel. (Franco isn′t sure why it was abandoned: apparently the government repossessed the site, but you would expect they would then try to get someone else to make it pay.) A little way further, we stop for a coffee break, beside the lake. Franco points out a lichen called "Old Man′s Beard" (he demonstrates with a piece), everywhere on the trees. Apparently this is a good sign: it will not grow if there is pollution around.
More track until we re-join the main road a few km later. Some time later, we turn off into a forest: Franco points out the numerous fallen trees. There are 3 reasons for this: shallow soil (so no good root holding), intense winds, & insect damage.
We stop at a beaver dam: the animals were introduced by the army some years ago, in the hope of using their fur for uniforms. However the climate differs from Canada, & the beavers adapted their skin & fur, which are now useless! However they bred furiously, & are a destructive pest in the state forests. This site is apparently the work of only half a dozen animals, a single "lodge".
This beaver dam is a pivotal point on our travels: we pass it several times more.
Shortly after, we leave this track, turning right on to a side track. Here Franco stops, engages the front hubs & selects 4-wheel drive (What! Had he come down all this rough stuff in 2-wheel drive? Yes!) Clearly the "Fun" part of CanalFun is about to begin...
We pass another area of beaver destruction, they can cut a tree as neatly as a chainsaw! Apparently their teeth grow continuously, & they must gnaw to keep them down (as is common in rodents), else they grow together, locking the mouth, & the beaver starves. Beavers being nocturnal, we didn′t actually see any.
Franco stops as we pass a bush with some black berries: he tells us these are "Calafate" berries, & good eating when ripe, which these are not. He passes them round, being unripe, they have a sharp taste.
The "track" is unspeakable: hideous ruts running everywhere. I call them "ruts", but it is unclear if they were caused by water flow, or by traffic. They are very deep. We jam frequently, & backup & run at it. We are here leading, at one point the other driver calls on the CB to ask what the road is like. Franco, concentrating fully on his driving, just snaps back "Malo!" [Bad!]
Diana remarked "I don′t think they pay you enough, Franco!" He agreed 😊
We reach the edge of a lake, the only way on is to actually drive through the edge of the water, up to the doors. Shortly after, Franco reverted to 2-wheel drive, & soon after, we reached the first beaver dam again, having been round a loop. Following another track to a different lake - Lago Fagnano, with more very rough ground, which Franco took in 2-wheel drive, while the other driver (here leading) "chickened" into 4-wheel drive.
Arriving at the lake shore, the vehicles drove on ahead, leaving us a 15 minutes hike along the shore, to reach the camp-site for lunch. Driving ahead, the guides would have the cooking well on when we arrived.
The campsite is set back from the lake in the forest, which greatly abated the otherwise bitterly cold wind. Lunch was excellent, plentiful, & (for Xum & me) fully vegan.
2 small reddish foxes hung around, not pestering for scraps, but quite fearless. Xum fed them some cheese pieces, which they readily took.
Going to re-embark after lunch, the vehicle′s rear door had jammed. Some solid banging by Franco eventually freed it, & the tour resumed. Back along the lake shore, then another horribly rutted track. At one point, we had our rear wheels spinning idly in the air, as we straddled 2 ruts. Franco drawls "All right..." (he didn′t add "that′s enough of the nice guy," but you could hear it!) & gets out to engage 4-wheel drive. Back off from the jam, & charge over it. Then more slaloming along the ruts. So back to the beaver dam, & turn back on the road we came in, to the highway.
A final photo stop above Lago Escondido, & back to Ushuaia.

25/02/2016

0801P

Embarkation day! As per the plan, we check out this morning, leaving our bags for transfer to the ship, & embark this afternoon.
So we have most of a free day in Ushuaia - graced as on Tuesday, by lousy weather! At least it was good for the tour yesterday.
It′s no weather to take a camera outside, so photos are confined to what I can get from the upper lounge floor of the hotel.

1436P

The weather cleared up, & we were able to walk around Ushuaia & get some photos. Now 45 mins. to the boarding bus, waiting in the hotel lobby (they let us come & go after checking out this morning.)
Ocean Diamond is French (built at Le Havre, 1989), chartered to Quark, who don′t own any ships themselves. The big Quark logo on the side is just a stick-on!
The ship was remodelled, with new superstructure, at some point. (So my hunch on looking at the line of rivets where the blue & white parts join, was correct.)

1942P

At sea. We boarded the buses at 1530, the shore agent collected our return air tickets for checking-in. Then waited some time before driving to the dock. Boarding, Quark collected our passports, which are returned at the end.
The ship′s upper deck provided a good vantage for some final photos of Ushuaia.
Our twin cabin is much larger than Vavilov′s equivalent: this ship is not a workboat, but a floating hotel! When the steward makes up the cabin, he makes a little "animal sculpture" with a towel!
Lifeboat drill consisted in donning our lifejackets, then mustering on the outside deck, & waiting about 10 minutes, before going back inside. Nothing happened regarding the lifeboat.
We then collected our heavy parkas, & are now awaiting dinner. (These parkas apparently cost Quark USD700, & are ours to keep afterward.)

26/02/2016

1041P

In Drake Passage, swell about 3m (mild). Apparently there is a storm zone to west: will check the wind direction later.
A talk on bird species, now we have a break until a mandatory safety briefing at 1115.
Going topside to try the Russian camera, & the Navman GPS.

1346P

Zodiac briefing this morning. I mean to look in the shop for a better backpack than my camera case.
Checking the Zenith camera: in cloudy daylight (as today), Ultimate Exposure Computer suggests 1/250 at F/16, with 400ASA film. The camera′s lightmeter concurs, with 1/500 at F/8, dropping to 1/250 at F/8 inside the bridge.
Lunch, then waiting for the 2nd safety briefing at 1400.
Outside, no bird or water life seen.

1456P

Now collected rubber boots - unlike Vavilov, we keep these in our cabins; there is no separate "mud room" for dirty gear.
(Unlike the parkas, these are returned at the end of the cruise.)
Sky overcast above us, but increasingly clearing to West. As this is the direction of the predicted storm cell, I wonder what is coming...

1526P

Sky is definitely clearing. We are advised our speed is 14kt; the position of the flags suggests a westerly wind of about the same speed.

27/02/2016

0638P

2nd morning at sea: Drake continues kind to us: possibly 3m swell. Out on deck, a pronounced pitching motion is visible against the horizon, but little roll. However, lying in bed (beds lie athwartships) the roll is more noticeable.
A small iceberg visible to starboard, a quick dash topside to get pictures. Outside, wind from starboard quarter, probably similar speed (14 kt) to us.
A film of hoarfrost on the railings on deck.

0708P

The iceberg slips past to starboard.
Outside temperature 8C, parts of the deck are slick with ice.

1135P

Approaching the South Shetlands, course 150M, sky clear.
Taking many calibration photos, with both cameras.
A long procession of bergy bits to port, presumably a large berg has broken up recently.

1230P

Approaching Barrientos Island, our first stop. Conditions excellent: clear sky & little sea.

1723P

Afternoon Zodiac-ing around S Shetlands. We are divided in 2 groups: "Gentoo" & "Chinstrap". We are Chinstraps, & went on a run around the islands first, then go ashore (there is a limit how many can be ashore at once, hence the 2 groups - Gentoos landed first, then tour.) We saw a group of Gentoo penguins bailed up by a leopard seal - their principal predator. I caught a glimpse of the seal, but not enough for a photo.
One scene of 2 large chicks (penguins usually have only 1 chick per season, so this mother was unlucky!) ganging up on their mum for a feed - just about pushing her off the rocks into the water.
Later, as we were buzzing across some open water, I saw what I thought was a seal, so called & pointed it out. It turned out to be a rock awash - the driver was glad I spotted it!
Landing at Aitcho Is. - the name should be "H.O." (Hydrographic Office), but they wanted a word! Gentoos & chinstraps everywhere.
Just as we went ashore, I was dropping my lifejacket in the pile, when 2 penguins came rolling & squabbling down the slope, to end up a bare metre from me. They then started "kissing" - I first thought they were courting, but it was the wrong season. No, it was a well-grown chick, trying to cadge a feed from its mother, who clearly felt the chick was able to fend for itself!
The usual skuas prowling above the rookery. These are a principal predator of young penguins.
There were several dead penguins in all the rookeries we saw: we are told the season has been to warm for many of them; possibly due to global warming.

28/02/2016

0632P

Up early, as breakfast is advertised for 0700, for an early getaway in the Zodiacs.
Should be Foyn Harbour, & Danco Island.
Fully overcast, little wind & calm sea.
I went topside with binoculars, & saw my first birds from the ship - others had seen them earlier.

1056P

Zodiac cruise around Wilhemina Bay. The ship′s original name - Exploration Starship: Nassau - is still on the stern, in welded-on letters, painted over.
Sea was practically dead calm. Cruise around the islands, past the wreck of the Guvernoren. Built originally for trade in Africa, later converted to a whaler, Guvernoren caught fire here in 1915, & was driven ashore. There are also the remains of the crew′s boats.
Note: there appear to have been several ships named "Guvernoren", at about the same time. One, originally named "Runic", subsequently renamed "Imo", was in 1917 in collision with "SS Mont Blanc", loaded with munitions for World War I. The collision triggered the Halifax Explosion, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions on record. "Imo" was repaired & renamed "Guvernoren" in 1918. This "Guvernoren" was wrecked on the Falkland/Malvinas Islands in 1921.
We also saw several icebergs about to calve; this occurs when a large chunk of ice breaks off the end of a glacier.

1625P

We set off for Danco Is., but found ourselves amid a pod of humpback whales, still in Wilhemina Bay. The plan was quickly changed: the ship was stopped, & after lunch, the Zodiacs re-launched amongst the whales. The guides said this show was unprecedented, they had never seen the like. The Zodiacs grouped, & the whales played around & among us. About an hour in, some Minke whales joined the fun: these are known to be inquisitive. We stayed out as long as possible, before (reluctantly) returning to the ship.

Some movies of the whales:
Surface
Blowing
Fin waving
Why they are called "Humpbacks"
Head
Fluke
Farewell!

29/02/2016

0719P

At anchor, in Dorian Bay. Beautiful sunrise, all around views. One couple out on the aft deck, throwing water buckets over each other! (External temperature reported as 0C.)
Conditions flat calm.
Ancient authors, writing about the Arctic (the Antarctic being then unknown) said that if you sail far enough toward the Pole, you reach a place where land, sea & air merge into one. Provide a little fog, and you can see what they meant.

1319P

Morning: landing in Dorian Bay, visited Argentine & British bases. The Argentine is still used, the British one is basically a museum.
We then climbed a hill to an old British airstrip. Quite a hard climb: it helps to step in other people′s footprints: the snow is packed. Diane took a photo of me on the top.
From the top, one can see across a further section of bay, to a group of mountains dubbed "Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs".
Then a run round the bay, finishing with a long, fast run dead south to the ship.
More pictures from Dorian Bay.

1416P

Arrived at Port Lockroy, a former British base. The base was established as part of Operation Tabarin in World War II. When weather prevented ships reaching it, it was supplied by air, from the strip where we climbed this morning.

1822P

Landing at Port Lockroy, we visited the old base, now a museum. The radio equipment was definitely World War II vintage.

The area is full of penguins, as usual, quite fearless. I sat down on a rock, a penguin promptly came up & started investigating me. Very thoroughly: pecking where he definitely shouldn′t! (I was glad of thick clothing.)
The penguins don′t have it all their own way: there is also a cormorant colony here.

1/03/2016

Heading towards Lemaire Channel, a spectacularly narrow passage between 3000m high cliffs.

0700P

An unplanned event: turning away from LeMaire Channel, heading NE to rendezvous with another ship ( Sea Adventurer, also Quark) to loan them one of our engineers. They sent a Zodiac to get him. Meanwhile, a vicious wind on the starboard beam, which died away once the transfer was done. Now reversing course to head for LeMaire.

1244P

Here we re-visit places I saw 6 years ago. This is now the end of summer, where then was the beginning, so hard to make any comparisons.
LeMaire was well clogged with brash ice, which we shoved through with no trouble. At the southern end are the Pleneau Islands. Notable here are the extensive areas of algal growth on the ice. This is significant, as such growth on the underside of floating ice provides the base for the marine food chain (algae feed krill feeds plankton feeds fish...). It all starts here, powered by sunlight passing through the ice. So if the floating ice shelves are compromised (eg by global warming), the entire marine food chain is jeopardised.
Here also is the " iceberg graveyard"; bergs are regularly driven ashore here by the prevailing wind, & are weathered into increasingly unlikely shapes as they gradually melt.
We made a Zodiac cruise around here, stopping for penguin colonies, etc. At one point following another Zodiac, whose driver said he was clearing a track for us through the floes.
At another berg, stopped to watch a group of about 4 seals, trying to climb out on to a sloping ice surface. They failed repeatedly, before one succeeded (& he slipped off again later.) While we hung around there, a sound like a gunshot: somewhere out of sight, a berg had "calved" (broken off the parent glacier.)
On the run back to the ship, we ran over a submerged rock, & broke the skeg off the engine. With the propeller undamaged, we continued back to the ship.
The Zodiac drivers do carry a personal GPS, but don′t usually need to use it. Apparently, 8 satellites are normally visible, but this time none! A check revealed a flat battery - bad planning there!

1725P 1/03/2016

Arrived at Petermann Island, the algal growth very visible.
The Zodiacs did a cruise around the island & the bergs around, then landing at the alarmingly named Circumcision Cove. On the island, a sound I hadn′t heard before: meltwater running. There were solid streams of it running from the foot of the ice sheets.
Petermann is mostly colonised by Gentoos, but 3 Adelies had been seen there, presumably having lost their way & joined the only penguin colony available. They seemed to have been accepted OK. Adelies differ from Gentoos in having black, not orange beaks, & lacking a white patch on the head.
I decided against doing the Polar Plunge: the water here is colder than at Deception Island 6 years ago (that is heated by vulcanism.) Besides the crew at the landing steps, the swimmer was tethered to the ship by a harness, & 2 Zodiacs were on station, one for photography & one for rescue! The decider was when I heard they have the doctor on station at the stairs, with a defibrillator!

2/03/2016

0807P

Neko Harbour. Billed as our last landing, & the only one on the Antarctic mainland. Disembarking early (should have been 0715, delayed by ice until 0725), after a quick (Continental) breakfast, with brunch to follow.

1208P

Landing at Neko Harbour. So named after a whaling ship which operated here in the early 20th Century. Perfect weather: clear, glass-calm sea, minimal wind. We were warned this is an active glacier-calving area: calving glaciers create mini-tsunamis, so get off the landing beach & get some height under us as soon as we land. A walk through a mob of penguins, then a steep climb up the glacier - we were warned of crevasses: stick to the marked paths. The rock here is granite, very much fractured. There is a steep climb up a glacier, with good views from the top.
Then a Zodiac cruise around the bay: every sizeable floe is occupied by seals, mostly crabeaters (they eat krill, not crabs.) At one point, one rider called "whale", but it was not seen again by anyone.
Distances here are deceptive: everything is so big. At one point I guessed the distance to shore as 1/2 mile, the driver said 2-3 miles.

1608P

Last shore stop, Paradise Harbour, & the unoccupied Argentinian base Almirante Brown. Running around the bay, we often stopped the motor to hear the silence - or more exactly, the ice noises. Occasionally, a heavy boom & a rushing sound - avalanche or calving iceberg. But we never saw anything: they were falling elsewhere, not into this bay.
Climbing the hill behind Almirante Brown: I only went to the halfway point, which still offered excellent views across the bay.
Paradise Harbour pictures.

1718P

Just recovering the last of the Zodiacs. Completely fogged in, the sun faintly visible.

1959P

At 1830 we took group photos on the foredeck.
Later, during dinner, the fog began to lift: horizon is now visible.
Wolfgang (our geologist) gave a talk on why ice looks blue, disproving the stereotype of the humourless German. His theory being that there exists a millimetre-size "ice worm" with blue eyes. It is these eyes we see! Why are its eyes blue? Followed a deep discussion on Rayleigh scattering!

3/03/2016

0846P

Drake Passage, course 350. Last night, we were informed of the reason for yesterday′s altered schedule: there is an Antarctic storm in the offing, & we accelerated the programme to allow the ship to leave early. We cracked on best speed all night, making for a rough ride. The ship′s motion (of course) doesn′t synchronise with the waves: when a wave crest, riding on a swell, meets the ship′s head on it′s downward plunge, the foredeck gets well wetted!
Basically, we are trying to outrun the storm.
A talk by Wolfgang, this time the straight man, on the geology of the Graham Land peninsula.

0913P

Course 351. Speed 15kt. 10/10 cloud, no rain. Ship pitching heavily, with a noticeable list to starboard. - wind on port side?

1328P

Outside +5C, light rain. Sea state unchanged.
Edin, our steward, says this is light weather: last trip was a real storm!

1424P

Weather has closed in: no horizon visible. Sea state unchanged.

1657P

The storm rises. List markedly increased, the wind a continuous keening up on Deck 7 (Observation.) Ship is pitching hard, frequently plunging her head into the waves.

1754P

We are advised the wind is gusting to 35kt. Should moderate around midday tomorrow (ie at Beagle Ch.)
Wind consistently > Force 4 [15kt]: whitecaps general.

4/03/2016

0738P

Sea state unchanged. We are advised we shall enter Beagle Ch. (sheltered waters) around midday. Disembarkation tomorrow.
The Maitre d′ (Idalio) says many felt sick & skipped dinner last night; but this is not a bad storm. (The TV remotes just fell off their shelf.)

1330P

Sea much lower (we are now in the Beagle Channel), sky now clear to port, but still overcast to starboard.

1348P

Sky now clear all round, land visible to starboard.

5/03/2016

1355P

Albatros Hotel, Ushuaia. We docked around midnight (earlier than usual), as there was a storm forecast, with 40kt winds, & the prospect of the harbour being closed. Better get in first.
It seems our Captain (Oleg) hit the spot: storms behind & before us.

6/03/2016

2004P

Sao Paolo, Brazil.
Disembarked early yesterday, & had a free day in Ushuaia, with better weather than feared. With 1 (later 2) huge cruise ships in port, the shopping area was busy.
Some impromptu entertainment in the form of a protest rally blocking the street outside the Governor′s office, 2 blocks from the hotel. Very noisy, banging on improvised drums, but very good natured. I couldn′t get a clear explanation of what it was about, but I think the city workers were on strike. Rather to my surprise (they were blocking the street) the police didn′t move them on - maybe they supported them?
I translated some of the slogans with Babelfish: they appear to be seeking a better deal for pensioners. Interestingly, pictures of Gen. Juan & Ev[it]a Peron were displayed. They are still a force in Argentina.
The beds in this room at the Albatros were much harder than those before, we didn′t sleep well. Our flight was advertised to leave at 0900, with check-in at 0730. Since the hotel serves breakfast from 0700, we had to eat quickly. At 0700, we asked the hotel desk to book us a taxi, a brief worry when they reported the despatcher′s office wasn′t answering! However they tried again, & the taxi duly arrived. Time to the airport about 5 minutes, but about 45 minutes in the check-in queue.
It′s not possible to through-route bags from LATAM to Aerolineas Argentinas, as they don′t have an agreement (is this the Chile/Argentina rivalry again?) I am anyway puzzled how a domestic Argentine sector (Ushuaia - BA) is operated by LATAM, ie LAN Chile! So we had to re-check our bags in BA: this went smoothly enough, however the check-in agent told us we had to re-check our bags again in Sao Paolo, despite issuing boarding passes & baggage tags through to Perth! We couldn′t understand what was happening, so held it over for Sao Paolo - hopefully an agent there would know the procedure better.
Approaching Sao Paolo just at sunset (as seen from altitude), some beautiful cloudscapes, which I chose to imagine as icebergs. The images changed as we descended. One nice image of a highway full of cars vanishing into a cloud: "roadway to Heaven."
The aircraft was a rather ancient 737 (unlike LATAM′s A330), however the fact I am writing this proves that all the important bits worked.
Once on the ground, an Aerolineas agent sorted the baggage muddle in quick order: the bags had been routed through to Perth, as the papers indicated. No need to re-check in Sao Paolo.
All these airports supposedly have WiFi, but this notebook won′t connect them.

7/03/2016

1945D

Abu Dhabi. Still no internet, probably some setting wrong here.
The flight was effectively all at night (with the shutters down), although we passed through a full day (running against the day/night terminator) between Garulhos & Abu Dhabi.
Transferring, hand baggage gets X-rayed (it′s just off one plane), then hand inspected again at the boarding gate. Xum went to go back to get water: must bring her passport. Then the water (just bought at the kiosk) is forbidden in the gate, so we pass it back & forth across the barrier to drink. [Blame where it belongs: this is not Abu Dhabi′s doing, it′s an extra Australian rule: no liquids/aerosols/gels > 20cm square overall.]
The trip to Perth was uneventful: just boring!