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Fletcher

Quest for the Holy Grail - A Voyage to South America, Antarctica & South Georgia

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THOUGHTS FROM TERMINAL 5 HEATHROW

Reader, please allow me to start with a confession which might colour this forthcoming account of my cruise to Antarctica and South Georgia aboard the good ship Seabourn Quest.

I am by nature a warm-blooded person. I do not like the cold. I live in England which is cold and wet and that’s just the people. It has tupperware skies. In deepest winter it gets dark by 3pm and only becomes vaguely light at 8am. The climate rots the bones and cartilage and makes them scrape together in painful ways. Penguins are built for the cold. So are polar bears. And Canadians, Kazakhs and Russians. Not me.

Four months ago my wife and I had the Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World open on the kitchen table. It presented us with two choices. One choice was this little chilly jaunt on the Seabourn Quest and the other was aboard the cargo vessel Aranui 5 bound from steaming Tahiti to the even steamier Marquesas. The Aranui was to have been followed by a week at The Brando resort on Tetiaroa. The fact that The Brando charged as much per night as Seabourn charge for an entire cruise didn’t necessarily play a significant part in our decision. But here we are. On the Quest, bound for the freezer.

There was another aspect to our decision. We started our cruising lives on expedition ships and have done a dozen or so trips on them. Precisely six years ago we were on a 100-passenger expedition ship called Island Sky. The itinerary was incredible and unmissable - sailing from the Cape Verde Islands we would make a leisurely inspection of Her Majesty’s loyal possessions in the South Atlantic - Ascension, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and the Falklands. All went swimmingly well until two days out of Tristan when the captain, a loathsome man, announced we would not make South Georgia and would instead sail for 10 days to the Falklands. While the seas outside heaved, we were locked inside the claustrophobic ship, seething.

South Georgia has been called the Holy Grail of Antarctica and, just a day distant, we failed to get there. It was more than just a flesh wound; it gnawed at our insides and inside our minds. All because our stupid little ship would have run out of petrol or have been engulfed in the high waves. The captain called a general meeting of all passengers and said we would have died getting there. Our cruise line, Noble Caledonia, gave us a two-for-one deal on our next cruise and when that was cancelled two days before departure we got a completely free cruise from New Zealand to New Guinea.

All this has led to our slow but inexorable falling out of love with the little expedition ships. This is why we are on the Quest which seems to be the perfect hybrid. Let’s hope so. Anyway, we have a balcony cabin as low and as amidships as we could find to avoid the worst of the pitching as we traverse these southern latitudes. Captain Cook grew quickly bored of this area, ‘where nothing was to be found but ice and thick fogs,’ as he wrote in his log. Let’s hope I am not infected with that form of ennui.

I have my wife, my rented wellies and lots of woolies to keep me warm. I have binoculars, cameras and this MacBook to keep me occupied. I’m inviting you to come along with me as I intend to write a regular if not exactly daily diary of our trip, as far as incidents inspire and satellites permit. I have done this before on my previous Regent, Silversea and Seabourn trips. As a former journalist and author, I am opinionated. What follows may not be the way that guy over at the bar there sees this cruise or the way that woman leaning on the rail sees this cruise. This is the way I will be seeing it.

(Feel free to chip in and comment, commend or criticise but, PLEASE, no little queries about ship’s shampoo, Thomas Keller menus or brands of soapsud in the DIY laundry. I don’t expect to read or respond to any comments until I get to the airport at Buenos Aires in 24 days’ time. Also, I won’t be uploading any photos - my photos will be available on Flickr in due course.)

 

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We will be joining you and 400+ others, some of whom we already know from prior cruises, along with a few we have just met the past few days when staying at the Ritz (although we are now at Le Reve) tomorrow afternoon. From everything I have heard from the many people I have sailed with on Seabourn who have done this cruise, it is the ultimate experience. Look forward to seeing you on-board.

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As another warm blooded person by nature, and and as I, an un-published author, I am awaiting your comments with gusto and...trepidation, as I think I would not follow your lead into these frigid areas.

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If it is of any consolation, when we were in the Antarctic, the weather was warmer than it was at home.

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Fletcher, I look forward to reading your reports,

I remember having quite a debate with you 3 years ago on these boards after I returned from Antarctica.

IF I may quote you:-

"No, it's true, I've not been on the Seabourn Quest and I'd never choose it for a trip to places like the Falklands, South Georgia or Antarctica. "

I'm pleased that you've chosen Quest, and if you enjoy it even half as much as I did, you'll have a great time.:)

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Fletcher, I look forward to reading your reports,

I remember having quite a debate with you 3 years ago on these boards after I returned from Antarctica.

IF I may quote you:-

"No, it's true, I've not been on the Seabourn Quest and I'd never choose it for a trip to places like the Falklands, South Georgia or Antarctica. "

I'm pleased that you've chosen Quest, and if you enjoy it even half as much as I did, you'll have a great time.:)

 

 

 

 

 

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I too was surprised to see you had chosen Quest, as you have said that you regard the ship as merely a way of getting to the places you wish to visit. I would have thought Hurtigruten, at considerably less cost, would have been a reliable way of seeing the Antarctic, as they do seem to know what they are doing, operating generally in colder parts of the world.

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ZIPPING UP AND SETTLING IN

We’ve been on the Quest before. A little over a year ago we took it out for a test drive from Miami to Barbados. We liked it a lot. In fact, it is probably the best ship we have ever been on. And now that we are back on board we still think that.

Yesterday, after our 14-hour flight to Santiago, it took two hours to clear the airport. There were lines everywhere and a lot of officialdom, including a pack of sniffer dogs. It was as if the airport had missed out on Chile’s economic drive; this was Third World chaos. Considering the number of tourists and cruise passengers who arrive in Chile they do need to get the airport sorted. One of the reasons we chose the Quest was the avoidance of those internal flights down to Punta Arenas - hassle, cancellations, lost luggage are routine.

Escaping the Third World scrum of the airport we were bussed down to the scruffy San Antonio port, a drive of nearly two hours, past vast orchards and vineyards with the backdrop of the Andes and soaring birds of prey. Things at the container port looked as bad as the airport except that the multitudes were destined for a floating apartment block called Emerald Princess. Seabourn had found a way of cutting through the red tape and whisked us quickly aboard the Quest.

We discovered we had been upgraded, which was nice of them, so now we are about as midships as midships gets. Our parkas had not arrived in either our old suite or our new one so we are to pick them up at the parka exchange tomorrow morning.

We were told by the cruise director that they had bunkering problems and they did. The captain said the port authorities had denied the Quest permission to take on fuel owing to the high swell in the harbour. At 4pm, just as we should have been leaving, we were moved around the Emerald Princess, where the water was calmer. Bunkering is scheduled to take about four hours so even before we have started a threat now hangs over our visit to Puerto Montt. Frankly, the water in the harbour looked calm to us and I think this is all to do with the belligerence of Chilean unions which made Seabourn move from Valpo to San Antonio.

The next morning, Thursday 21 December, we woke to a perfect sunrise and clear skies. We got ourselves zipped into our medium and small parkas and the inner layer which fit perfectly and are of excellent quality. We like the penguin beanies and the backpacks. Seabourn have this sorted, we think. At 11am in the Grand Salon the Expedition Team line up to say hello and explain why they are getting paid to take the same holiday as we are taking.

At midday, as we were sipping lobster bisque on the sun-drenched back deck of La Colonnade, the Captain announces we are in rough seas, tearing along at a rate of considerable knottage. The Quest handles all this like a rowing boat on the Serpentine. We are due to arrive in Puerto Montt tomorrow just one hour behind schedule. A few passengers who have been stranded in Atlanta will be joining us there. Maybe.

 

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Fletcher - lovely report. Feel we are still with you but instead living it up at the ritz Carlton in the club lounge, having been up south America’s tallest building this afternoon.

 

Responding to two comments you’ve made which I hope you’ll see back in Blighty sometime...

 

The swell in the harbour was very big when we were waiting to disembark in the morning. It delayed our departure and we commented that in 40+ cruises we’d never seen a ship rise and fall as much (including emerald princess) in harbour

 

Regarding the captain and rough seas.... we called him mr health and safety, which I guess is what you need for Antarctica and we did love him BUT if he said rough we translated that to a moderate swell in the bay of biscay that British cruise lines would think was a usual day at sea! He warned the ladies off high heels a couple of times; honestly it was fine. By the end it was a bit of a joke and he ribbed jan the lovely cruise director. But it’s better to be safe than sorry and it gave fair warning to those who needed to take the medication. I think we were more worried if he predicted calm seas!

 

Happy travels and please keep posting. It’s helping me think I’m still there, not about to face the dreaded Santiago airport and that 14 hr flight tomorrow!

 

 

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ZIPPING UP AND SETTLING IN

We’ve been on the Quest before. A little over a year ago we took it out for a test drive from Miami to Barbados. We liked it a lot. In fact, it is probably the best ship we have ever been on. And now that we are back on board we still think that.

Yesterday, after our 14-hour flight to Santiago, it took two hours to clear the airport. There were lines everywhere and a lot of officialdom, including a pack of sniffer dogs. It was as if the airport had missed out on Chile’s economic drive; this was Third World chaos. Considering the number of tourists and cruise passengers who arrive in Chile they do need to get the airport sorted. One of the reasons we chose the Quest was the avoidance of those internal flights down to Punta Arenas - hassle, cancellations, lost luggage are routine.

Escaping the Third World scrum of the airport we were bussed down to the scruffy San Antonio port, a drive of nearly two hours, past vast orchards and vineyards with the backdrop of the Andes and soaring birds of prey. Things at the container port looked as bad as the airport except that the multitudes were destined for a floating apartment block called Emerald Princess. Seabourn had found a way of cutting through the red tape and whisked us quickly aboard the Quest.

We discovered we had been upgraded, which was nice of them, so now we are about as midships as midships gets. Our parkas had not arrived in either our old suite or our new one so we are to pick them up at the parka exchange tomorrow morning.

We were told by the cruise director that they had bunkering problems and they did. The captain said the port authorities had denied the Quest permission to take on fuel owing to the high swell in the harbour. At 4pm, just as we should have been leaving, we were moved around the Emerald Princess, where the water was calmer. Bunkering is scheduled to take about four hours so even before we have started a threat now hangs over our visit to Puerto Montt. Frankly, the water in the harbour looked calm to us and I think this is all to do with the belligerence of Chilean unions which made Seabourn move from Valpo to San Antonio.

The next morning, Thursday 21 December, we woke to a perfect sunrise and clear skies. We got ourselves zipped into our medium and small parkas and the inner layer which fit perfectly and are of excellent quality. We like the penguin beanies and the backpacks. Seabourn have this sorted, we think. At 11am in the Grand Salon the Expedition Team line up to say hello and explain why they are getting paid to take the same holiday as we are taking.

At midday, as we were sipping lobster bisque on the sun-drenched back deck of La Colonnade, the Captain announces we are in rough seas, tearing along at a rate of considerable knottage. The Quest handles all this like a rowing boat on the Serpentine. We are due to arrive in Puerto Montt tomorrow just one hour behind schedule. A few passengers who have been stranded in Atlanta will be joining us there. Maybe.

 

Thanks for your detailed reporting! Can you kindly describe the backpack? Size? Pockets/Compartments?/Logo?

 

Thanks!

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Backpack is a good size. Quite slim. Exterior pockets. Think it has an internal one. Not waterproof. We liked them

 

 

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The backpacks are about 12 by 18 inches - definitely not waterproof (old hiking trick is insert a garbage pack tied upside down to keep things inside dry). And I just checked - no interior pocket - just the exterior small zip pocket at the top. 4ffc38dc9de7dbb4229d79db84511cbf.jpg

 

 

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I will be following. We have booked a Seabourn cruise to Antarctica (plus many other locales in So. America) for November, 2018. Your experiences and tips could prove to be very useful. Thanks!

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Great backpack, nice and light, good capacity AND doesn't protrude too far from your back so that you don't knock your Zodiac neighbour into the water when you swivel around to look at something !

 

I have used mine daily for the last 3 years to take my swimming gear to the beach, apart from the grommets rusting (top left in photo) it still looks like new

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Thanks for all the information/picture of the backpack! I knew CC Seabournites would come through!

 

Happy Holidays!

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Backpack is a good size. Quite slim. Exterior pockets. Think it has an internal one. Not waterproof. We liked them

 

 

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I thought the backpack was lightweight and poor quality. It did the job on the cruise but the zips went soon afterwards and on both our backpacks. $25 buys you a far better quality one at Walmart.

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THE LONGEST DAY

Today, the summer solstice, was spent skimming the west coast of Chile. Land was visible most of the time and because the sea was fairly playful there were a lot of white horses frolicking in the surf. Birds, too.

We like our cabin. The bed is sublimely comfy and we want to take it home with us. We travel light - one shared suitcase weighing 18kgs plus a carry-on and a camera bag - so there is easily enough storage space for us. For people who travel less lightly, indeed heavily, there may be issues, especially when you factor in the parkas and quilted jackets. The only major issue I have with the design is the lack of convenient power sockets. Remembering this from our previous Quest trip I brought along an extension lead with four sockets which I run off the main socket on the floor. This MacBook and our cameras will get all the juice they need.

In the afternoon we attended a lecture on photography, given by a young husband and wife team who studied at the Glasgow School of Art, a magnificent building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh which almost burned down last year. I once escorted the Hollywood auteur Paul Schrader on a tour of this building. The photography lecture was interesting enough and especially useful for those who wanted to travel to Bhutan to photograph the Buddhist temples or go to the Solomon Islands to photograph the islanders. It wasn’t so useful if you expected to see albatrosses, whales or penguins or icebergs. Happily these two expedition team members will always be on hand to personally tweak your white balance and switch you into RAW mode.

In the evening it was the skipper’s welcome party and the first of four formal nights. We were impressed by Captain Larsen’s speech. He said there were 420 passengers from 18 nations. More than fifty percent were from the USA. Fifty were from the UK (hooray clap clap). None were from Burkina Faso or Kiribati. Captain Larsen was at pains to play down our expectations - the weather, he said, could play terrible tricks and kick us in the groin area. Yes, we might get to Antarctica but we might just sit there on the ship, staring at the fog doing jigsaw puzzles until we all got bored and went back home. Please Captain, I thought, turn the ship around now and head for the Marquesas.

We chose the main dining room for dinner and had a rather wretched time. I normally ignore all dress codes and regard them as anachronisms. Last August we did a Regent cruise to Greenland and liked the enlightened lack of a dress code. On Silversea they are still quite keen on dressing up to the nines, so we avoided the main dining room on the Cloud and got a few sneers. However, on this cruise I have brought my one and only suit, even a couple of ties, and the main reason is that Mrs Fletcher wanted to wear a smart frock and didn’t want me trailing behind her dressed as a slobbish Apple executive. Another reason was the weather. I reckon the main dining room will be where almost everyone eats when we hit Antarctica and that’s where a suit will come in handy. I’m not sure about the tuxedo thing - there are enough penguins in Antarctica as it is without Seabourn men channelling their inner chinstraps.

We joined the queue for the MDR and chatted with the couple behind us. She was feeling seasick already and hadn’t dared look out of the window. At the desk we asked for a table for four so that another couple might have the benefit of our irresistible charm and our searing wit and wisdom. We were told they didn’t have any tables for four but they’d open a table for six for us. We declined that because it’s a nightmare if no one joins you - it looks like you might have ebola or maybe voted Trump. So we had a table for two. The odd thing was we were surrounded by tables for four with only two diners at each table. I have to say the food tonight just wasn’t worth scrubbing up for.

I am writing this at 10pm and it is still broad daylight. This has been the longest day. And now the shortest night. Tomorrow it’s a transit of the intriguing Canal de Chacao and then Puerto Montt.

 

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Have a great trip. I will be following. We have been to Antarctica once on Celebrity Infinity....purely a scenic cruise but well worth it. Would do it again in a heart beat.

 

Safe travels

 

 

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Regarding twos at a four table - quite often when we have requested a two we have been given a four, if the dining room is not too full, and told we could have it to ourselves. This is no doubt what happened at the fours for two near you at dinner.

 

I believe in previous seasons there have been two Captains on board, a 'regular' Captain and and an 'ice' Captain. This does not seem to be the case now. And I think your Captain has been the 'ice' Captain previously?

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Regarding twos at a four table - quite often when we have requested a two we have been given a four, if the dining room is not too full, and told we could have it to ourselves. This is no doubt what happened at the fours for two near you at dinner.

 

 

 

I believe in previous seasons there have been two Captains on board, a 'regular' Captain and and an 'ice' Captain. This does not seem to be the case now. And I think your Captain has been the 'ice' Captain previously?

 

 

 

I’m on board now and there is an additional “ice” captain. He was introduced to us together with all senior officers at welcome party.

On a different note: everything is fabulous so far!

 

 

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PUERTO MONTT & CHILOE

22 December - I got up early to witness the sunrise and the scenery as we left the Pacific Ocean and ventured towards Puerto Montt. Unfortunately the people who have described this part of the trip as underwhelming, even boring, were dead right. The weather was poor and the scenery just flat and tedious. And when we got to Puerto Montt we stayed on the ship and sat at the back of Seabourn Square watching the birds and the seals and members of the expedition team exercising the zodiacs. The weather veered between bright sunshine and grey rain storms and the mountains which surrounded us remained rather shy in revealing themselves.

The bunkering problems which befell the Quest in San Antonio has rather knocked the schedule here in Puerto Montt so that people on the tours are out until 9pm which meant the restaurants on the ship were empty. Only four people in the Colonnade yet they showed us to the worst table and they whisked us through two courses in about 20 minutes. For the third night in succession dinner on the Quest has been disappointing. Why do they get it so wrong at dinner when they get it so right at Breakfast and Lunch? I’ll tell you why. It’s when they pretend to be a restaurant rather than a mass catering operation.

23 December - The scenery at 6am as we glided into Castro was beautiful. There is intensive mussel farming and many striking houses on the hillsides. And then there was the town, strewn ramshackle around a bay with the yellow and lilac coloured church on the top. This church, along with 15 others on the island, comprises a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being a completist I would have been keen to visit all 16 but this is impossible given our time restraints so I keep to the town and ignore all the tours. We walk around for two hours in warm sunshine. It was Saturday morning and every single shop was closed.

Like a lot of our fellow passengers, Castro is run down but has bags of character. Many buildings are made of wood and they are rotting in various ways. Along the waterfront some houses are on stilts and when you walk underneath them you see that the forest of ancient poles is laden with barnacles and the ground is made up of millions of mussel shells. There are dozens of stray dogs, many crippled by various mishaps, and they don’t seem to pose any threat.

It was warm enough to have lunch on deck and at 3pm we sailed away from this charming place. Captain Larsen has now told us the open Pacific is in a bad mood at the moment so we will navigate narrow inland channels to avoid it until early tomorrow morning as we start our run down to Punta Arenas which we reach next Tuesday.

 

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Out of curiosity, if you didn't like the table you were given in the Colonnade and given that there were very few people dining there, why did you not ask for a different table?

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Out of curiosity, if you didn't like the table you were given in the Colonnade and given that there were very few people dining there, why did you not ask for a different table?

 

 

 

You can choose any table you like. Just tell them. We came back after 9:15 pm and they kept the Colonnade open for over 150 of us on tours. We sat outside and it was magical. The staff rallied to get us drinks and dinner and the service and food was great! We have zero complaints!

 

 

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No, we didn't accept that table! Tonight it's the MDR as the Colonnade has a Thomas Keller re-imagining of pork ribs . . .

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