We spent a refreshing night in Santiago after our long flights
from home. We had come from all over the globe--the United States, the
United Kingdom, Germany, Argentina, Austria, New Zealand, Puerto Rico,
Switzerland, and France.
On the southbound Ladeco flight, we flew over an endless procession of
peak after Andean peak. This spectacular mountain range, running between Chile
and Argentina, boasts impressive glaciers, which wind a tortuous path through
mountainous valleys. Glacial lakes reflected the bright rays of the sun, as
our pilot turned the aircraft at right angles to the mountains, to give us an
even more spectacular view.
Those who took the first flight to Puerto Williams, enjoyed a meal
at the casino. The group remaining behind in Punta Arenas took buses to a
restaurant, while guides described the sights along the way. At the Arierra
Restaurant, we were served a delicious buffet meal, that started off with a
Chilean drink called a Pisco sour. After the meal, a group of Chilean singers
and dancers entertained us in their national costumes, and we were able
to buy some local crafts. At 2:00 P.M., we departed from the southernmost city
in the world, to fly to Puerto Williams.
Ultimately, we all arrived at the dock to see the gleaming blue and white
World Discoverer tethered to the quay, mongst several military vessels. As we
anxiously boarded her, we were excited by the prospect that this beautiful
ship was to be our home for the next ten days.
After being shown to our cabins and unpacking, we surveyed the layout of
the ship. At 7:OO P.M., we were sumnoned to dinner by a melodious
ding-ding-ding-dong, a sound which was to become a familiar and welcome
Pavlovic summons to mealtimes and other activities.
As we finished our first delicious meal on board, we gathered in the
Discoverer Lounge to be formally welcomed by our Cruise Director, Nadia.
She greeted us with a friendly and spirited introduction, in her wonderful
South African accent and introduced us to her staff. We next met Mike
Messick, our Expedition Leader. At the ripe old age of thirty, Mike has
probably traveled to more destinations in the world than anyone many times
his senior. I have since seen him on television.
Mike told us about some of the areas we would be likely to visit over the
next two weeks, during our Antarctic expedition. He introduced us to the
ship's doctor who gave us a few words of advice on sea-sicknness prevention.
Tnen he introduced the naturalist/lecture team that would guide us
through our our travels. He told us that he and the captain confer every
evening, deciding where we'll go the next day, depending on the weather .
There is no hard and fast itinerary.
Mike had an early morning landing planned, so he conducted an
informative briefing on how to board the versatile Zodiacs--the rubber
inflatables that would be taking us ashore. Sonja acted out the role of the
"accidental tourist," complete with clothing and life jacket askew.
Survival in the Antarctic depend many factors, two of which are having
sufficient warm clothing and keeping dry. Clipper, our tour company, had
supplied each of us with a cozy red parka, some of which were a little too
big or a little too little. Also, some of us had brought boots that were a bit
too short. To rectify the situation, earlier in the evening we had the Great
Parka and Boot Exchange. Sufficiently suited and booted up, we were now ready
for the geat cold and wet outdoors.
(For every Zodiac landing, my roommate and I put on tights, long johns,
wool pants, and waterproof pants. I wore insulated booties under two pair of
wool socks in my boots. On top I wore insulated shirt, turtleneck shirt, wool
sweater and over all, the red parka they gave us.)
The first officer announced over the loudspeaker that the World
Discoverer was ready to pull away from the dock. After all the long hours of
traveling to get this far, it was exciting to realize that our expedition to
Antarctica was really about to begin.
At 10:15 P.M. the World Discoverer set sail for the coldest, highest,
driest, and windiest place on earth: ANTARCTICA!
Wednesday: Cape Horn
After arising to Nadia's early wake-up call, "Good morning everyone," we
were more than mildly interested in seeing the Horn for ourselves.
After donning all the clothing necessary for the landing, we went to the
proper deck, got our life-jackets (which are quite small) which we put on, and
then with help placed the backpacks containing our cameras, etc., on our
backs. Then we waited until it was our turn to get aboard the Zodiacs. Those
who helped us get on and off the Zodiacs were very efficient and insisted
we hold their arms in a particular way. It worked very well.
The World Discoverer anchored off the small bay at the foot of the
cliff, on which stands the Chilean station, Cabo de Hornos. We boarded
the Zodiacs for our first landing, on a beach made up of smooth stones, many
covered with slippery algae. It was raining as the first few Zodiacs set off,
but as the morning progressed, the weather cleared until the sunlight was
perfect for those "Cape Horn photographs."
Once on shore, we scampered (?) over the rocks and began climbing a steep
wooden staircase to the top of the 120-foot cliff, while a turkey vulture
hovered overhead. Breathless and exhilarated, we gazed down at the World
Discoverer in the bay below.
The Island of Cape Horn (and its famous Cape) is at the southernmost tip
of the South American continent. A Chilean naval detachment is stationed at
the Horn, manned by three sailors posted from their normal base of Puerto
Williams. A trail of redcoats could be seen winding their way up the hill to
the station. The Chilean sailors welcomed us as we signed the guest
We also visited the small chapel called Stella Maris, "Star of the Sea,"
dedicated to those sailors who had been lost over the centuries trying to
round the horn. A monunent was erected in 1989 to commemorate those passages.
The monument is dedicated to all the captains and crews from all over the
world, who have made the long journey around Cape Horn, and to those who have
lost their lives in the pursuit.
Some of us walked the long boardwalk to a higher ridge line, where stood a
newer, large metal monument. If you concentrated, you could distinguish that
the Rorschach abstract cut-out was in the shape of a flying albatros, wings
outstrerched toward the jagged cliff edge and wave-swept sea.
We turned our red tags over to black to indicate that we were back on
board the ship. It was only 9:45 A.M., but it seemed like late afternoon,
because of our early-mornng acivities. We were congratulated as being the
first group to have ALL turned our tags to the red position on our very first
landing. (I'll bet they say this to every group.)
Now it was time for everyone to participate in the Lifeboat Drill, given by
our Safety-Officer. This included instruction on how to don our life vests and
enter the ship's lifeboats.
There was just enough time before lunch for our first lecture on the
voyage, given by Pete Oxford. He began his lecture, An Introduction
to Whales, with a recording of the haunting songs of the humpback whales.
Pete encouraged everyone to be out on deck during the course of our
expedition to join the unofficial "Whale Watch." ln order to spot whales, such
as the humpback, minke, and killer whale or orca, the more eyes there were the
more lkely we would be to see these nagnificent creatures of the deep.
After lunch, we once again met up in the Lecture Hall. This time we were to
be enlightened and entertained by Tony Soper, an avid naturalist, who
co-founded the BBC's Natural History Unit and became its first film producer.
Tony talked about Subantarctic Island Wildlife. On the Antarctic Continent,
conditions are so severe that they cannot sustain animal life. Animals can
live there only by virtue of the food resources of the surrounding ocean.
In the evening, we attended the Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party. Everyone
dressed up in their "finery" and assembled in the Discoverer Lounge, where
our Captain introduced the heads of staff, the hotel department, and the
ship's officers. He informed us of the "Open Bridge" policy, and welcomed us
all to visit with him at any time. The Captain led us in a toast to calm seas
and a wonderful Antarctic voyage.
As this was an expedition, we were not expected to 'dress-up.' We wore
our shore clothes to the dining room if we expected to take off shortly
for a landing. We wore sports clothing the rest ofthe time. It was chilly
in the lecture hall, so we would bundle up and even wear the parkas up
there at times. Those of us who had been in Santiago for a day or so, had
brought dressier clothes for the city, and wore those to the captain's
Thursday: At Sea, Enroute to Antarctica
The Drake Passage is a notorious stretch of water that lies between
Cape Horn on the north and the South Shetland Islands to the south. It
connects the South Scotia Sea with the Pacific Ocean. Seas in the Drake can
reach 60-80 feet, with winds of up to 70 knots.
We were fortunate not to have to endure such wild sea conditions, but it was
rough enough to force quite a few of us to cross the Drake in a horizontal
position in our cabins. I was one of the fortunate ones who remained
The rough seas, however, were excellent for birdwatching. The wake behind us
was like a magnet to various petrels, and albatrosses, wheeling and
banking on the wind in regal procession.
There was just time for a quick mug of bouillon (which was available with
hot chocolate, coffee, etc. in the aft every morning), before the next
informative lecture. Tony Soper treated us to one of his favorite sujects,
Oceans of Birds.
Somewhere between 8:00 A.M. and 12:00 Noon today, the temperature
had dropped, indicating that we had crossed the Antarctic Convergence.
This is a physical and biological phenomenon where two bodies of water meet.
The water to the south is very cold, and the temperature plummeted from
4 degrees C to 1 degree'C. South of the Convergence, we could expect a
different fauna, such as the fur seal and snow petrel.
After lunch and a short siesta, Christine, our historian from
Germany, was next up on the lecture agenda. She works as a freelance special
broadcast journalist, presenting scientific programs. She also writes and does
translations into Russian. She presented her talk in German, so we did not
attend as we do not understand German. Later in the afternoon, Pete spoke on
Introduction to Pinnipeds. He told us about "pinnipeds," the
"flipper-feet," or seals. We listened to him over the intercom in our
Attending lectures was not mandatory. But we were interested in learning
all we could about this area, so we attended most of them.
It had been a day filled with informative lectures. The scene was being
set, and we were eagerly anticipating our first landing in Antarctica. Armed
with our new knowledge about this fascinating environment, and the infectious
enthusiasn of the lecture team, we were raring to go.
During dinner, the sighting of the first iceberg was made. Mike assured us
that, that "pink ship" on the horizon was indeed an iceberg, and that the
World Discoverer would not need to go off course to get a better view, because
we were guaranteed of closer and better sightings. Little did we know just how
Our evening's video was "Marathon Birds (Or Just Albatrosses)"-- a film
about the lives of these ocean wanderers.
Friday: Hannah Point/Deception Island
Today was the day we had been waiting for. After negotiating the open
seas and considerable swells, the World Discoverer anchored off Hannah Point,
in Walker Bay on the south coast of Livingston Island, our first landing in
Antarctica. The seas had calmed down and we were eager to explore.
Before we could realize our dreams, we needed to know and understand the
Antarctic Visitor Guidelines. Mike's lecture had been postponed due to the
rough seas. To help minimize impact on the continent's fragile eco-system,
several tour operators have organized a recommended code of behavior for all
visitors to the Antarctic to abide by, as they set foot on the most pristine
part of our planet. So Mike explained it with the help of slides.
Taylor said a few words on the "Tourist Trash" survey that he is
conducting all season on board the ship. With our help as collectors, he is
attempting to document the amount of litter being left by tourists on shore in
the Antarctic. It is a "first ever" study, that will contribute information
not previously available.
After landing and removing our life vests, as we made our way in small
groups past the elephant seals, belches and groans came from all directions.
These slug-like forms, with bulging brown eyes, remained oblivious to our
comings and goings to the penguins. We stood our distance as much for safety
as for the assault on our nasal passages. There is nothing that smells as bad
as an elephant seal.
It was the penguins which filled us with delight. These were the first
penguins some had ever seen. I had previously seen the fairy penguin in
Australia. These were chinstraps and gentoos.
The wind started picking up as the time came for us to leave the island.
There were a few unwanted splashes on the return to the ship. This was a taste
of what the water temperature would be like later this afternoon.
While we enjoyed a delicious Italian buffet, the captain sailed the ship
to Deception Island. As we approached, Mike announced that we would attempt
an unscheduled landing on Bailey Head, because the conditions were too good
to pass by. The area is known for its immense chinstrap colony.
The scouting Zodiac drivers returned to the ship. (Before every landing,
they scout the area to make sure we can land the Zodiacs safely.) The visit
was on, but it was going to be a wild landing because of the surge upon the
black lava beach. We suited up in our shore clothes and boarded the Zodiacs.
As soon as the drivers landed us on the beach, a highly-skilled shore party
quickly directed us out of the Zodiacs, turned the inflatables around, and
sent the drivers on their way to pick up more passengers. Terrific precision
As we exited the Zodiacs, we had to be on guard, for there were fur seals
everywhere. We kept our distance from them as we had been forewarned about
their nasty disposition. At the top of the beach, we were immediately
confronted with the staggering thousands upon thousands of penguins. Some of
us climbed up a high ridge where we had a breathtaking view of snowfields,
grey ash slopes, and the distant World Discoverer. The clamor of chinstraps
and their disagreeable smell were everywhere. Skuas were hovering over the
nests, looking for the opportune moment to snatch a weak chick.
After an exciting Zodiac ride back to the ship, the captain sailed for the
entrance to the caldera of Deception Island. This is a natural port formed by
the collapsed volcanic cone. It was suggested we come out on deck to view the
bellows as we passed through. On the port side, barely visible, was a
We anchored off Pendulum Cove. The shore is heated by energy from the plug
of still molten magma more than one mile below. Water from the sea and melting
snow flows through the porous ash and is heated to around 120 degrees F. and
emanates in the form of hot springs.
The swimming conditions were not perfect - cloudy skies and wind, but the
high tide ensured plenty of hot water to mix in with the cold. I have always
regretted not going in. I brought what was necessary, but knowing my penchant
for colds, decided being ill the rest of the trip would have been a
After a warming shower, we met in the Lounge for our usual recap of the
day as well as a toddy for those interested. At these recaps, each naturalist
would touch on whatever we had seen that day in his area of
expertise. Recap always ended with Mike, our expedition leader, giving us our
tentative landing itinerary for the next day.
There wasn't any need to keep a diary because that was being done for us.
Renee kept a day-by-day account of everything and we would receive the final
copy in a couple months. (I am drawing from that log and adding my personal
observations to it in this narrative.)
That evening, the video, Antarctica: The Last Frontier was shown in the
lecture hall. Every evening there was a movie shown or a talk in the
lecture hall. The lounges were always available, plus a small library which
had tables for cards. The observation lounge usually had the same group
of people: those of us who were on the lookout for whales.
Completed in Part 2
TRAVEL TIPS --