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Fletcher

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

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Well count me as a fan of these ribs. Especially considering they don’t have the ability to bbq then over a wood fire for 10 hours.

 

 

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Well count me as a fan of these ribs. Especially considering they don’t have the ability to bbq then over a wood fire for 10 hours.

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Forums

 

+1. And the baked beans and corn on cob!

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A WORLD WITHOUT END

Last night, for the third time we joined another couple for a meal and, as usual, they were from the States. And, as usual, they wanted to talk about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. They say how exciting it must be for you Brits with this wedding in prospect and we say oh yes, it most surely is. All is right with the world when there is a Royal Wedding and of course another Royal Baby. I tingle with excitement.

We amuse and enthral our dinner companions with tales of our own close encounters with Royalty. Once we had been dining at the Berkeley Hotel and were walking back across Hyde Park Corner when a policeman stopped us by one of the arches in the colonnade. Two American tourists were also stopped. The policeman said we should stay where we are because we had a nice surprise coming. And then this Rolls-Royce drew up and stopped briefly. Inside the car, all lit up and wearing lots of sparkly stuff and a fluffy white fur stole, was Her Majesty The Queen Herself. Prince Philip was sitting next to her. We were no more than three feet from them. She smiled and waved at us. I think the American tourists fainted.

We later learned that Her Majesty did this quite a lot, cruising around at night, giving people a little thrill and bringing joy to their humdrum lives. And she apparently got quite a little buzz from it as well. That was maybe 30 years ago. I don’t think Her Majesty does much cruising these days.

Just before we left home for this little trip aboard the Quest we binge-watched Season 2 of The Crown. We were hugely impressed but did baulk at the rather controversial tone of some episodes and by the general portrayal of The Queen as a bit dim and dowdy, jealous of Jackie Kennedy and envious of sister Margaret’s sex life. And Philip as a womanising curmudgeon with a **** past. Phew! Heady stuff. All things considered, and putting budgetary considerations aside, I doubt if the BBC or ITV would have touched it with a royal bargepole.

Back on the Quest it seems that while Americans are happy to spend an entire evening talking about the Windsors they don’t seem to realise that we Brits just want to talk about the Trumps. Compared to the Windsors the Trumps seem so glamorous, so charming, so sophisticated and so powerful. I remember getting on my first Seabourn ship, the Legend, and seeing a photo of The Donald by the reception desk. How handsome he looked. “Donald J Trump. Seabourn Ambassador Extraordinaire” said an engraved brass plaque. I guess they had to take those down. But I do miss giving that plaque a polish each and every morning.

Today the Quest continued on its southerly course, seemingly insistent on getting us to Antarctica. I was woken at 4.30am as we swung right and entered the full might of the Pacific. The sea was quite rough and our cabin banged and creaked a bit. We are good sailors and we rode this out without feeling the slightest bit peaky. The only thing that makes my stomach heave is the memory of a lobster thermidor at the Thomas Keller Grill. And that was more than a year ago.

The weather today has been chronic. Visibility is non-existent, the rain has been persistent, so I go to a couple of lectures, one on seabirds and the other on glaciers. Now, I have a First Class Honours Degree in geology and I have to say that second lecture was way above my pay grade. And delivered in a style that one can only describe as glacial.

A couple of albatrosses have hung off the back deck. The swimming pool is flooded. The library lacks any book anyone would want to read. It was pasta day for lunch and the music was from The Godfather. The chocolate brownies at Seabourn Square are moreish.

The ship ploughs on and on and on and on . . . . there really is no end to South America.

 

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We are seriously considering this cruise in 2019 so your honest commentary is very useful. We are Seabourn regulars and don't need a gushing Seabourn infomercial, litany of petty complaints nor food/menus described in forensic detail. We want to know whether it's worth blowing a chunk of the kids inheritance on travelling to the other side of the world (for us) to gasp at endless snowy wastes and a few penguins. Oh look, I'm already talking myself out of it.

 

I'm no greenie but I have to admit to some misgivings about introducing tourists to almost the last pristine wilderness, even though the visits are very carefully controlled. On the other hand it would be a unique and unforgettable experience so we're still undecided.

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We are seriously considering this cruise in 2019 so your honest commentary is very useful. We are Seabourn regulars and don't need a gushing Seabourn infomercial, litany of petty complaints nor food/menus described in forensic detail. We want to know whether it's worth blowing a chunk of the kids inheritance on travelling to the other side of the world (for us) to gasp at endless snowy wastes and a few penguins. Oh look, I'm already talking myself out of it.

 

I'm no greenie but I have to admit to some misgivings about introducing tourists to almost the last pristine wilderness, even though the visits are very carefully controlled. On the other hand it would be a unique and unforgettable experience so we're still undecided.

 

 

 

I think the views of seabourn Antarctic cruisers in seasons past have also been very informative and honest in this regard. I do hope you find time to read them too for a balanced view.

 

 

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Loving this, Fletcher. Merry Christmas from a balmy Yorkshire!

 

 

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It is good to get several points of view on any cruise, and maybe in particular this one, which is a big investment for anyone. We all have different experiences, even on the same cruise, and according to personality different attitudes. People considering this trip would be well advised, as galeforce says, to read the various recent threads on Antarctica, to hopefully get a balanced view.

 

Can we now do away with the tetchiness entering into this thread, please? :):)

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PUNTA ARENAS

Yesterday, the twenty-fifth of December, we woke to find the dire weather from the previous day had cleared a little. I’d say it was moodily menacing, causing deep shadows and mystical crevices in the fjords. It made for some terrific pictures.

At 7.30am the Quest crept towards the utterly magnificent El Brujo glacier which resembled a mile wide frozen blue waterfall. The ship stayed here for quite a while, turning on its axis as we had breakfast on the back deck of the Colonnade. Steaming English Breakfast tea with scrambled eggs, bacon and toasted muffin. It was tummyummy with a Cinerama view, a definition of what cruising is all about.

Eventually the Quest left the glacier, making way for the Hapag-Lloyd ship, Europa 2, to enjoy the grandstand view of the creeping blue ice. Then we spent an entire day cruising through the Chilean fjords towards Punta Arenas. To begin with the scenery looked remarkably like the Isle of Mull or the Isle of Skye or a mixture of both - the Isle of Skull, perhaps - but as the day developed so did the scenery, which became utterly heroic. By the time we passed the wreck of the Leonora the weather had cleared and we even had patches of blue sky.

Wildlife sightings have been sparse so far - a couple of albatrosses, a few distant blows from whales, several seals, giant petrels - but I think we must wait for Antarctica itself before we get into Attenborough mode. The expedition team are always on deck in the afternoon, happy to chat or share their knowledge. While everyone has some sort of camera, there is also serious high-end kit on board. One man has something I’ve never seen before - a real pro gimballed tripod with a range-topping digital Hasselblad with a lens as long as your arm. I guess that rig costs as much as a Lamborghini. There is also a man with a range-topping Leica fitted with another ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ lens. Let’s hope they both have an eye for a shot because that’s all that counts in my view. It really doesn’t matter what kit you have - just look at that young woman who snapped four youngish people in Sandringham yesterday on her iPhone. Her happy snap went Global.

Today we were in Punta Arenas, our last stop in Chile. Seabourn had several tours, including one to see some penguins which was cancelled and another to the Torres del Paine national park which lasted nearly 12 hours. Thirty-three people went on this trip and I’m happy to report that visibility was fine and those bizarre rock formations were on show. It’s always a massive gamble taking this day-trip and this time it paid off.

Six years ago, when we first visited Punta Arenas, we were whisked from the dock to the airport and drove past this cemetery. We are both fans of topiary and when we saw all those sculpted cypress trees we knew we had to visit that cemetery if we ever returned to Punta Arenas. And so we did and we were glad we did as the cemetery is magnificent, full of grandiose family mausoleums and more humble ones, each adorned with photos of the dead and garlanded with flowers, both real and plastic. The topiarised trees adds to the faintly surreal atmosphere.

Opposite the cemetery is a faintly monstrous church, the Sanctuary of Maria Auxilliadora. Inside there was this incredible Nativity model, running the length of the nave and designed as a rocky valley in Judaea. Above shone a star of Bethlehem and below were the three wise men, an elephant, camels, cave dwellings, the manger, Joseph, Mary and a rather large infant, a field with sheep and shepherds, even a running stream. They really went to town on this one, so much so that the city’s cathedral didn’t even try to compete. They just had a life-size cut-out of the Pope.

The town itself was busy and had several old buildings to admire. Seabourn passengers with their ship’s uniform of penguin beanie, puffer jacket and backpacks looked like an invading army. Getting back to the ship I put my backpack through the x-ray machine along with three others, all of them identical. I need a way to distinguish mine from the others!

Sail away tonight has been magical. The view from the Observation Lounge was as if God took a photograph, quoting from JG Ballard. Tomorrow we are urged to be on deck at 6am for Glacier Alley, then it’s the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia.

 

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QUOTE "Getting back to the ship I put my backpack through the x-ray machine along with three others, all of them identical. I need a way to distinguish mine from the others!"

Try tying some coloured ribbon around the (top) lifting strap

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FIN DEL MUNDO

The organisation on this ship and the attention to detail is outstanding. For instance, we were urged to get up early this morning for Glacier Alley and by 6am there was coffee and pastries in the Observation Lounge for the 100 or so passengers who had gathered to admire the scenic view along the Beagle Channel. We drifted in to Ushuaia at 11am. The weather was warm and fairly sunny. And when I say warm I mean it was 68 degrees.

We have been divided into five colour groups and given armbands which not only identify your colour group they also act as holders for your ID suite card. A brilliant idea as you don’t need to fumble around for the card when you leave the ship.

Exp Ldr Iggy has his presentation skills down to a fine art. He gave an hour-long talk in the Grand Salon about the protocols which pertain to the White Continent. This basically means you can’t smoke, take a dump, build snowmen, collect pebbles, feed the penguins, stroke the elephant seals or throw plastic bottles about. You must keep a minimum distance of 15 metres between you and any animal. The animals know about this protocol as well and love to break it just for laughs. It’s important not to kick the penguin downloading pinkly on to your boot. It’s useful not to get bitten by a leopard seal or any leopard for that matter. Tomorrow we have another mandatory meeting, this one about contamination. All outer garb must be inspected and there will be a declaration to sign. Also, we can exchange our wellington boots if they don’t fit and we will learn about the buckets of disinfectant. It seems we will have to cleanse our own boots of penguin poo. Can’t wait!

The latest news is that we have had a medical emergency here in Ushuaia. An ambulance was alongside for several hours this afternoon. Our departure is delayed by at least five hours - Captain Larsen is hopeful this won’t impede our planned schedule.

 

Tomorrow and the next day we sail in the wake of Sir Francis Drake.

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I have noticed that medical emergencies seem to be rather frequent on this itinerary--or at least I've read about several of them.

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THE DRAKE

We left Ushuaia at nearly midnight, six hours behind schedule because of the medical emergency. This was a crew member who had died in his cabin so there is a rather sombre mood on board right now. The Captain has asked for understanding if some staff are not as smiley as usual. Our favourite staff member has been in tears most of the day.

Last night in Ushuaia there was an amazing sunset and quite a gathering of ships - two Ponant vessels, Le Boreal and Le Lyrial, as well as the National Geographic Explorer which, as many will know, is operated by Lindblad and is by far the priciest option for an Antarctic cruise. There was also Europa 2, standing off and waiting for us to leave the pier. While the Ponant ships are sleek and beautiful, the NG Explorer looked old, ugly and awkward with minimal deck space, yet this ship has a reputation as the market-leader in this sector. Of all the ships here the Quest is the cheapest option and by far the biggest of the four ships. From our Observation Deck we can look down on all of them and see them sneering straight back at us.

We’ve been to a couple of lectures today - Kirstie Yeager on whales and dolphins and Brent Houston on penguins. Brent is quite the character and we sailed with him on our very first expedition cruise, about ten years ago aboard the Island Sky to Aldabra. These lectures are useful resources; a pity that the Grand Salon is an ergonomic mess.

 

We had to turn our clocks back an hour thus increasing the hours of daylight. The Drake Passage is in a benevolent mood and it is not cold out on deck. I’ve not had to wear my parka yet. The puffer or shell jacket is lightweight and blocks the wind chill superbly. Wildlife sightings have been minimal - a few birds and that’s it. Mrs Fletcher’s rented wellington boots were a great fit but I took mine to the swap and went up a size. These boots, made in China, seem totally fit for purpose. I hope I will be for tomorrow’s projected landing on Half Moon Bay in the South Shetland Islands.

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HITTING THE BEACH

Sadly, the Drake Passage was less exciting than a ferry from Liverpool to the Isle of Man. It was grey, flat and boring, with hardly any wildlife sightings. I wanted some rock and roll, a photo or two of the wild ocean breaking over the bow of the Quest. But it was just flat nothingness. I was denied one of life’s Great Experiences. Oh well . . .

Today we made our first Antarctic landings on Half Moon Island which is part of the South Shetland Islands, a British Overseas Territory which also includes South Georgia and the rarely visited South Sandwich Islands. The weather was murky with driving snow but the zodiac landings went ahead from 10am - four groups successfully landed, the last group was cancelled. None of the kayak operations went ahead.

Let me tell you what I’m wearing today. No less than 18 separate items. Starting at my feet and working my way up -

1 pair of liner socks

1 pair of thick socks

1 pair of Wellington boots

1 pair of thermal ‘long johns’

1 pair of jeans

1 pair of waterproof over-trousers

1 long-sleeved thermal vest

1 merino wool sweater

1 shell (or puffer) jacket

1 beanie

1 parka

1 pair of liner gloves

1 pair of outer gloves

Over this is my life jacket and then my backpack with a waterproof lining (the bag in which my wellies arrived) and a camera with its own bag to protect it from the elements (I use a Waitrose freezer bag). This arduously assembled rig makes me ready for a zodiac landing.

The whole zodiac operation was magnificent. There is an attention to detail we have not encountered elsewhere - you get dressed in your suite, walk down to Deck 5 for your wellies, then walk down to Deck 3 for the zodiacs. You walk through a bath of disinfectant and into the zodiac, helped by the team.

We went ashore at 1pm. While the conditions were certainly challenging the experience was worth the effort. We waddled around with chinstrap and gentoo penguins, saw a weddell seal or two - it was hard to distinguish them from big rocks until they moved. Then a couple of supine elephant seals and the jawbone of a blue whale.

Coming back you brush your boots on shore, get back into the zodiacs, back on the ship, walk through the same bath of disinfectant and then take an elevator up to Deck 5. The elevator has been dedicated to this purpose and has been totally waterproofed. There are staff to help you remove your wellies - they have a clever wooden block with a slot that takes your heel and sole, they just pull your boots off and they even return your wellies to your locker. You then put your regular shoes on and walk back by another route to your suite, change your clothes and go to Seabourn Square for a hot chocolate. Now, what could be simpler than that? Or more luxurious?

 

Tonight the weather is appalling - heavy snow, winds and ice. Just like the UK.

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Thanks for your insigts, Fletcher. Questions about the Zodiac experience:

 

1. Do you actually step into water on debarkation to the peninsula?

2. While on the Zodiac, were people taking pictures, or did people keep their cameras in their backpacks?

3. Was one required to use the Seabourn backpacks, or could one use one's own?

 

Thank you!

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Thanks for your insigts, Fletcher. Questions about the Zodiac experience:

 

1. Do you actually step into water on debarkation to the peninsula?

2. While on the Zodiac, were people taking pictures, or did people keep their cameras in their backpacks?

3. Was one required to use the Seabourn backpacks, or could one use one's own?

 

Thank you!

 

 

 

Not jaded. If fletcher doesn’t mind, I can help:

 

1. Yes sometimes. Depends on the site. Some directly onto snow, some a rocky beach, some in to water. Half moon was water for us about a foot deep.

 

2. I took pictures on all trips after assessing the conditions on my first ever run which served as a guide to the sea state. See my photo tips on separate thread re camera cover

 

3. I used my own photo rucksack with weatherproof cover which was more than adequate. I had gone to the expense of purchasing a fully waterproof dry rucksack but never used it as it wasn’t needed and was more cumbersome than my usual

 

 

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ZIPPED AND CLIPPED

We are currently deep in Antarctica, off the edge of the known world. On 30 December Seabourn landed passengers for the first time on a tiny island called D’Hainut where there is an abandoned Argentine research station. The gentoo penguins were living in conditions of some squalor - their own stinking mud-poo as well as a lot of old rubbish left behind by the research people. In the bay were some incredible ice sculptures, twice the height of the ship. The weather was favourable and all zodiac groups and all kayak operations went ahead.

After dinner the Quest sailed down the Gerlache Strait towards Palmer Station. I have to say this was one of my greatest ever cruise experiences - the scenery was staggeringly beautiful, the sky was blue with wonderful cloud formations, there were whales to see at all times and in the packed Observation Lounge people stood and clapped every time a humpback flipped its flukes. Even after 1am it was broad daylight and in fact I believe the sun rose before it had time to set, so we had 24-hour daylight.

We saw quite a few expedition ships - the National Geographic Explorer, the Hebridean Sky and a Hurtigruten vessel making its maiden Antarctic run. These expedition ships carry little more than 100 passengers, so the Quest is much, much bigger. I think the major difference between our ship and something like the NG Explorer is this - in order to get everyone ashore, the Quest has to remain at one spot for the whole day. On the Explorer everyone would go ashore in the morning, then passengers would have lunch while the ship sailed to another location where passengers would go ashore again. That to me is the major difference between our ship and a more traditional expedition ship. And there’s more space on our ship, the cabins are better, the food more delicious, the ride is smoother . . . it’s a choice you make, a set of compromises you take.

Yesterday, 31 December, we anchored off the large US station, Palmer, and everyone got a zodiac cruise since landings were not an option. Our zodiac was skippered by the weathered Scot, Trevor Potts, and he made our tour a delight, pointing out elephant seals, giant petrel nests and even reaching down into the water with his bare hands to haul out a piece of ice so we could study it in detail. Baccarat has nothing on this stuff.

Today, 1 January 2018, it was unexpectedly warm so I have begun to moult, shedding one pair of liner socks and, because the sea is dead calm, my heavy waterproof over-gloves. I have also discarded my spectacles as they get in the way and my eyes are good enough not to really need them. Today we are visiting a Chilean research station, Gonzalez Videla, on mainland Antarctica. This will be my first footfall on my seventh continent. On a gentoo poo scale of 1-10, Iggy rates this place as a 17 though when we arrived in the first group we discovered that the Chileans had done us a great service by cleaning all the concrete paths. The gentoos were even using toilet paper and baby wipes. I regret to say I am beginning to suffer from penguin fatigue and would quite like to press on to South Georgia.

 

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HUMPBACKS GALORE

Tonight, after dining on a nicely sticky osso buco in the Colonnade, we went up to the Observation Bar for a coffee and a nightcap. What we got was an extraordinary wildlife event - a massing of feeding humpback whales. The Quest slowed down and changed course and we watched this display for more than an hour. Our cetacean expert Kirstie said it was the best whale display she had ever seen. There must have been dozens, if not hundreds, of the beasts breaching and diving and blowing, heedless of our enormous ship in their midst. Hundreds of seabirds saw an opportunity and mobbed the whales. And not only this, the weather was freakishly brilliant - cold out on deck it most surely was but the sky was a deep blue and visibility was clear as crystal. I think we all got some great pictures. Kirstie has been asking for decent shots of humpback flutes; well, in the next few days she will inundated.

 

Tomorrow we go to Yankee Harbour on Greenwich Island, part of the South Shetlands. The weather has been so benign in the past few days, I can only hope it holds for South Georgia, still three days away.

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Thanks for all the informative contributions!

 

Question: I've been following the Expedition Blog, and they mention "Biosecurity Checks." What are those?

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Thanks for all the informative contributions!

 

Question: I've been following the Expedition Blog, and they mention "Biosecurity Checks." What are those?

It is a procedure whereby you are asked to bring all outer clothes and any bags, etc. you will be taking ashore to the Expedition team where they check it for any soils, insects, seeds, etc. and they can vacuum them away before you do the first landing to prevent accidentally bringing non-native species to the continent.

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THE ELEPHANT OF ANTARCTICA

Yesterday we were at a place called Yankee Harbour which is on Greenwich Island, part of the South Shetlands. This was a rather grim place but the weather was kind and all the landings and kayaking went ahead as scheduled. We were in the last group and we walked to the gentoo penguins where we were entertained by a couple of skuas looking for a tasty snack in the form of a gentoo chick. It’s a tough life being a penguin. We then did the mile-long walk along the spit of land and were picked up by a zodiac and whisked back to the Quest.

As things turned out, that was our last landfall in Antarctica. We were to have made a final stop at a place called Brown Bluff on the tip of the Peninsula but the icebergs were so numerous, some the size of city blocks, that the Captain turned around. This morning we cruised around Elephant Island and stood off Cape Wild which is where Shackleton and his men landed after their shipwreck and where they spent several desperate months on a terrible rocky outcrop. That was barely more than 100 years ago and today we breakfasted on eggs royale and other decadent things.

Now, deep breath, I know people like to read positive, effusive things on Forums like this. So here’s the fly in the ointment. Yes, there have been one or two spectacular aspects to this cruise - the bubblenet feeding of the humpbacks the other night, the scenery of the Gerlache Strait - but it has lacked the wow factor for me. This has nothing to do with the expedition team who are absolutely wonderful and hard-working. No, for me these little islands and the penguins haven’t been nearly as exciting as I hoped they would be. I’ve had a great immersive penguin and albatross experience in the Falklands and hope to do so again on South Georgia but Antarctica itself has been a bit . . . dare I say it, a bit samey, a bit tame, a bit boring. So far this isn’t the cruise of a lifetime, it’s merely a cruise in a lifetime.

An hour ago we set sail for South Georgia, much earlier than scheduled . . . hip hip hooray! It may be a few days before I write again - as Lawrence Oates said, ‘I am going outside and may be some time.’

I’d like a change in the weather with some wind so we can see the great albatrosses . . .

‘All I ask is a windy day, with the white clouds flying

And the flung spray and the blown spume

And the sea-gulls crying.’


  • John Masefield

THE ELEPHANT OF ANTARCTICA

Yesterday we were at a place called Yankee Harbour which is on Greenwich Island, part of the South Shetlands. This was a rather grim place but the weather was kind and all the landings and kayaking went ahead as scheduled. We were in the last group and we walked to the gentoo penguins where we were entertained by a couple of skuas looking for a tasty snack in the form of a gentoo chick. It’s a tough life being a penguin. We then did the mile-long walk along the spit of land and were picked up by a zodiac and whisked back to the Quest.

As things turned out, that was our last landfall in Antarctica. We were to have made a final stop at a place called Brown Bluff on the tip of the Peninsula but the icebergs were so numerous, some the size of city blocks, that the Captain turned around. This morning we cruised around Elephant Island and stood off Cape Wild which is where Shackleton and his men landed after their shipwreck and where they spent several desperate months on a terrible rocky outcrop. That was barely more than 100 years ago and today we breakfasted on eggs royale and other decadent things.

Now, deep breath, I know people like to read positive, effusive things on Forums like this. So here’s the fly in the ointment. Yes, there have been one or two spectacular aspects to this cruise - the bubblenet feeding of the humpbacks the other night, the scenery of the Gerlache Strait - but it has lacked the wow factor for me. This has nothing to do with the expedition team who are absolutely wonderful and hard-working. No, for me these little islands and the penguins haven’t been nearly as exciting as I hoped they would be. I’ve had a great immersive penguin and albatross experience in the Falklands and hope to do so again on South Georgia but Antarctica itself has been a bit . . . dare I say it, a bit samey, a bit tame, a bit boring. So far this isn’t the cruise of a lifetime, it’s merely a cruise in a lifetime.

An hour ago we set sail for South Georgia, much earlier than scheduled . . . hip hip hooray! It may be a few days before I write again - as Lawrence Oates said, ‘I am going outside and may be some time.’

I’d like a change in the weather with some wind so we can see the great albatrosses . . .

‘All I ask is a windy day, with the white clouds flying

And the flung spray and the blown spume

And the sea-gulls crying.’


  • John Masefield

THE ELEPHANT OF ANTARCTICA

Yesterday we were at a place called Yankee Harbour which is on Greenwich Island, part of the South Shetlands. This was a rather grim place but the weather was kind and all the landings and kayaking went ahead as scheduled. We were in the last group and we walked to the gentoo penguins where we were entertained by a couple of skuas looking for a tasty snack in the form of a gentoo chick. It’s a tough life being a penguin. We then did the mile-long walk along the spit of land and were picked up by a zodiac and whisked back to the Quest.

As things turned out, that was our last landfall in Antarctica. We were to have made a final stop at a place called Brown Bluff on the tip of the Peninsula but the icebergs were so numerous, some the size of city blocks, that the Captain turned around. This morning we cruised around Elephant Island and stood off Cape Wild which is where Shackleton and his men landed after their shipwreck and where they spent several desperate months on a terrible rocky outcrop. That was barely more than 100 years ago and today we breakfasted on eggs royale and other decadent things.

Now, deep breath, I know people like to read positive, effusive things on Forums like this. So here’s the fly in the ointment. Yes, there have been one or two spectacular aspects to this cruise - the bubblenet feeding of the humpbacks the other night, the scenery of the Gerlache Strait - but it has lacked the wow factor for me. This has nothing to do with the expedition team who are absolutely wonderful and hard-working. No, for me these little islands and the penguins haven’t been nearly as exciting as I hoped they would be. I’ve had a great immersive penguin and albatross experience in the Falklands and hope to do so again on South Georgia but Antarctica itself has been a bit . . . dare I say it, a bit samey, a bit tame, a bit boring. So far this isn’t the cruise of a lifetime, it’s merely a cruise in a lifetime.

An hour ago we set sail for South Georgia, much earlier than scheduled . . . hip hip hooray! It may be a few days before I write again - as Lawrence Oates said, ‘I am going outside and may be some time.’

I’d like a change in the weather with some wind so we can see the great albatrosses . . .

‘All I ask is a windy day, with the white clouds flying

And the flung spray and the blown spume

And the sea-gulls crying.’


  • John Masefield

 

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GEORGIA ON MY MIND

It was in 1775 that James Cook, commander of the Resolution, came upon a looming land mass which he hoped would be the fabled southern continent. Running along the north shore, he landed and claimed the land for England, naming it Georgia, hoping that the King’s name would add lustre to the bleak and forbidding land rather than the land adding any lustre to the king, which it surely wouldn’t. When Cook rounded the corner and was able to look back along the southern coast he realised it was just another island. He named that Cape Disappointment, a name that still carries today.

South Georgia was fit only for penguins, seals and whales. But within the space of a century, a grim transformation occurred. According to Michael Smith, the biographer of Ernest Shackleton, ‘the spectacular landscape of mountains and glaciers provided a stark contrast with the odious and overpowering stench of rotting whale and seal flesh and the grimy waste from a decade of blood-soaked plunder. Visitors said it was possible to navigate a path to South Georgia by smell alone.’

It was this very day, 95 years ago, on 5 January 1922, that Ernest Shackleton died of a heart attack on the ship that brought him, not for the first time, to South Georgia. That ship was called - of all things - the Quest.

Our own Quest sailed from Elephant Island to South Georgia, thus recreating Shackleton’s voyage. It was shockingly uneventful - a flat sea all the way. No one in our expedition team has ever seen anything like it. Some of the windows on the ship have permanent black-out blinds and there has been a second, more intensive bio-check, demanded by the UK government here. I think they might introduce a similar thing for England, don’t you?

Because of our early departure from Antarctica we now have four days at South Georgia instead of two. We have anchored in a bay facing Salisbury Plain where 60,000 pairs of king penguins plus thousands of seals gather in front of the mighty glacier and mountain peaks. You can see it all from the deck of the Quest.

The first group was called at 8am and went ashore successfully. However, as the second group was departing all landings were suspended due to worsening conditions on the beach. The expedition crew worked heroically in these conditions, two of them knocked underwater as they tried to hold the zodiacs steady on the beach. A little later we were told all remaining groups would have a zodiac ride parallel to the beach to admire the wildlife. Then that was cancelled. Then at lunch the ship repositioned and landings were on again, on a different part of the beach and a long zodiac ride away.

Our group left at 3.45pm and, I must say, it was one of the exhilarating zodiac rides and shore visits I’ve ever had, anywhere. The early morning group got the classic Salisbury Plain vista of the massed king penguins. We were down the beach a mile or so with tussock grass and lakes and inlets, backed up by South Georgia’s awesome mountains. The wildlife here was principally fur seals, many hundreds of them, with vast numbers of pups. We were warned these seals could be aggressive and they were . . . they barked, hissed, barred their teeth and chased these orange interlopers. The hour ashore whizzed past all too quickly before the splash and dash back to the ship.

Today Seabourn’s operations team proved they mean business and will do everything possible to get their passengers ashore. They did a fantastic job today.

Tomorrow and the next days are promised to have violent weather.

 

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FLENSING OUR MUSCLES

This morning was a miracle and heralded the best day of the cruise so far. Bad weather was predicted and I awoke at 5am to bright sunshine, smooth seas and majestic mountains bathed in the morning light. Jagged peaks reached for the heavens while glaciers tumbled into the depths. The Quest ran along the north coast of South Georgia, as Captain Cook had done in 1775, and I had the ship entirely to myself. I walked the decks, sat in the lounges and snapped away with my Canon.

Later on, at around 6.30am, the Quest turned right and headed into Stromness Bay. The lowest hills were emerald green and so was the water. This was not what you expect of South Georgia. You might have called it lush until you went outside and felt the chill. If there had been a few palm trees this could have been the South Pacific, maybe the Marquesas.

Then there was the sound. Of the gentle rippling as the Quest glided in. But above that there was an eerie animal sound, a constant howling that echoed across the bay. It sounded like wolves, but you knew it couldn’t be. But was it the blood chilling wailing of the Elephant Seal of Baskerville?

And then there two old whaling stations, Leith and Stromness itself. If you had come here 100 years ago, even 60 years ago, the scene would have been entirely different. Just think about it - when The Beatles released A Hard Day’s Night, this place was still rocking and rolling. The bay would have been full of ships, the water would have been red, the noise would have been of steam pumps, saw mills and the screams of half-dead whales. The stench would have been overwhelming. Today, we are appalled by this, of course, as we are by slavery, but things were different then. There is no need to apologise. The past is a foreign country. I’m glad these old whaling stations remain here, red and rusty and rotten. I think they should be made UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In fact, the entire island of South Georgia should be added to that list.

Seabourn usually just enters the bay and turns around. They have never landed passengers here until today. Blue Group went ashore at 9.30am and we got some amazing photos of king penguins and fur seals with the whaling station as a background. Sometimes sharp, sometimes bokeh, depending on the F-stop. Unlike yesterday, the fur seals here seemed oblivious of our presence. We walked towards a grassy knoll to survey the valley. And back again and took the same photos all over again.

 

Then back for a coffee@seabournsquare, followed by lunch at the Colonnade, then another coffee@seabournsquare followed by a little snooze. I have no idea what we are doing later today, let alone tomorrow. I don’t really care. Today was enough.

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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

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Forums

 

Back to the backpacks...is one given per person, or per cabin? Thanks.

 

T-2 from our departure!

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