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Category Archives: Antarctica

Once we were clear of the listing Explorer and the threat of the other lifeboat dropping onto us my attention turned to my new environment. The lifeboat was surprisingly crowded even with two short of the stated seating capacity.

Fortunately, this was not a typical cross section of people; we were mostly slim to medium sized, no XXL’s here. I can’t image what it would have been like if we had a full Thanksgiving dinner. Even though the lifeboat was under capacity with thirty-seven trim passengers there was no wiggle room. And let’s not forget we are going to be here for at least six hours without a toilet.

Before we left the Explorer, Captain Wiman announced there were three ships on the way to rescue us. The nearest was six hours away. He cautioned us it could take longer as they may have to sail around pack ice.

Clearly, comfort is not part of the design brief given to lifeboat architects. It would also seem they are not required to spend any time on a fully populated lifeboat testing its functionality. I can’t believe our lifeboat could properly function using the oars while fully loaded. I guess the assumption is when you board a lifeboat from a sinking ship in the middle of the sea you will take what’s there and be forever grateful. Read More »

The captain told everyone to move outside and assemble near our lifeboats. Sola and I could only get as far as the door before the line halted. There were too many people on the catwalk and insufficient space for all the passengers to gather outside. The passengers outside tried to make more space by repositioning themselves. I think the cooperation and mutual support by each of the passengers was a major factor that ultimately resulted in no injuries. Reflecting on the entire ordeal, we were fortunate to have such a well disciplined and focused group.

We’d moved a little then waited before being able to move again. There was never any pushing or shoving. What was going on while we waited might surprise to those not present. There was quite a bit of joking as we waited to get outside. One person started singing, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” then another, followed with “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. Someone else started a game of Complete This Sentence. “Rather than boarding a lifeboat right now I’d prefer to …”

More space became available on the catwalk as the aft lifeboat started loading. By the time we got outside the aft lifeboat was nearly full. We turned forward and waited again. At this point there was some grumbling about why it was taking so long to board. In fact, why weren’t we boarding, rather than waiting alongside our boat? Read More »

The Penguin Room or lecture room was used in the evening to show movies such as “March of the Penguins” and “Happy Feet”. During the day, more sober presentations on sea birds, penguins, mammals, geology, icebergs, weather, research and history – Shackleton, Antarctica and its environs were presented. The scientific presentations were given when we were not boarding Zodiacs to experience firsthand the wonders of Antarctica. The room is laid out like a typical lecture hall with theater style seating but with benches and coffee tables around the perimeter.

When Sola and I entered the lecture room I looked for Simon. If anything happened to Simon his wife would feed me to the leopard seals. As I looked around the room for Simon I was surprised to find both computers at the rear of the room engaged with email writers. Once I spotted Simon, looked through the window to check the weather condition and wondered if shipboard computers have become the modern day message-in-a-bottle.

Everyone arrived wearing an orange lifejacket, properly dressed in warm clothing for the occasion. The atmosphere in the room was charged with anticipation and apprehension. Certainly there was no panic. We were all very keen to learn more about the ship’s condition.

Damian came to the front of the room looking reassuringly ordinary. He wanted to know how the Dutch were able to get everyone to wear the Dutch national color. Then, Raymond, from Ireland, challenged him on the rights to the color orange. Bob, the stoic ornithologist rolled his eyes. Read More »

Just before midnight on Thanksgiving Day we were now sailing southwest through Bransfield Strait having spent the morning at Elephant Island; we were not heading to Antarctica. Bransfield Strait is south of the Drake Passage, the body of water between the southern tip of South America at Cape Horn and Antarctica. The cruise was titled the “The Spirit of Shackleton”, no one knew when we left Ushuaia how aptly this cruise was named.

I was particularly keen to go on the Explorer as it is well known for being the only purpose built ship for exploring the Arctic and Antarctic. Unlike my first cruise to Antarctica aboard the Ushuaia, the Explorer cruise included visits to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island with King Penguins, as well as Antarctica.

When we weren’t boarding Zodiacs, visiting historic sites or viewing the wildlife, we were onboard the Explorer attending lectures given by prominent scientists in ornithology, geology, sea mammals, climate and glaciology.

Damian, the historian, was present in the Falklands during the war in 1982. Brad Rhee has been leading GAP tours to Antarctica for twenty-seven years. GAP is an acronym for Great Adventure People, no connection to the jeans.

We spent Thanksgiving Day visiting Elephant Island where Shackleton’s crew waited while he sailed about 970 miles to South Georgia Island in a twenty three-foot boat. By now we were accustomed to hoping from the small platform at the side of the Explorer into Zodiacs, with assistance from the crew. Zodiacs are small inflatable boats and the most common form of transportation between ships and beach landings in Antarctica. We were all very adept at boarding the Zodiacs in rough seas and accustomed to riding the swells and getting drenched by the waves breaking over the bow. Read More »

Bransfield Strait, Antarctica
22 Novermber 2007

On 11 November 2007 Sola, my daughter and I departed from Ushuaia, Argentina aboard the M/S Explorer on a cruise meant to follow in the wake of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endeavor. Little did we know how closely we would follow Sir Ernest.

The M/S Explorer, nicknamed “The Little Red Ship”, formerly MS Lindblad Explorer (1985) and MS Society Explorer (1992), was purpose built in 1969 for Arctic and Antarctic cruises. The MS Explorer was originally commissioned and operated by the Swedish explorer Lars-Eric Lindblad. G.A.P. Adventures, a Canadian based travel company, acquired the ship in 2004.

The first time I went to Antarctica was in 2004. I had a few free days before I was returning to Bangkok after being in Bariloche, Argentina to celebrate Simon Bonython’s sixtieth birthday with Jon Olson. Simon, Jon and I have been making annual trips together for over the past ten years usually mountain treks. Prior to leaving Bangkok, Gary Heager, a well-traveled friend, had suggested I visit Ushuaia to earn “visited the southernmost city in the world” bragging rights.

While in Ushuaia I took a guided tour to see a beaver lodge. Beavers, in Ushuaia? Yes, but introduced from Canada by enterprising Argentines after World War II for their pelts. The Predator-less beavers being left unchecked have become an environmental disaster as evidenced by large sections of felled trees. The beavers are felling trees on large tracks of land for material to build their dams; dams to create ponds enabling them to isolate their lodges from nonexistent predator bears. Entire hillsides have been denuded of trees resulting in erosion and loss of habitat for indigenous species. Read More »