Monday, January 31, 2011

Antarctica, A Ghost Ship


It is just past midnight on Day-2 of my dream adventure  and I am roaming the halls of what seems like a runaway ghost ship.

All the other passengers are apparently tucked away in their beds, probably with thoughts of sugar plums and penguins dancing in their heads.



Library Being the “night owl” that I am, I  explore a bit more of the Ioffe.

I discover a library on one floor and also the way to access the bridge without having to go outside.



Visiting the bridge,  I find there are at least two other night owls on board the Ioffe. They are doing a fine job navigating across the Drake Passage towards Antarctica.



SAM 069 Ioffe Main Lobby Area




SAM 070 At the reception desk, I enter my guess for the Ice Berg Competition.

We are asked to guess what time we think the first iceberg will be seen.




With my purely non scientific, “roll the ice”, 5:25pm calculation now recorded, I head over to the posted navigation chart to check our progress southbound.




 SAM 072 We are in the middle of the Drake Passage



Near the navigation chart there is also other interesting information about Antarctica and the Akademik Ioffe. Did you know there is no sun for 182 days during the Antarctic winter?

Fortunately for us, winter is over in the southern hemisphere. We are still far enough north that our days and nights are somewhat normal. However, we will soon have the benefit of longer days as we head further south.



SAM 077 Looking through a nearby port hole, I stare at pitch blackness.

I step outside and I am greeted by a brisk bone chilling wind combined with light falling snow.



There goes my chance to enjoy a star filled night over the southern oceans. Instead, it’s a nice long warm shower and before long sugar plums and penguins are also dancing in my head.



Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Antarctica, Touring Outside The Ioffe


I awake my first full day at sea and I am surprised how nice the weather conditions are. Foolishly sensing I am still in the tropics, I put on my flip flops and go for a stroll around the Ioffe. Making my way to the back of the ship I find my balance against six to eight foot waves as the Akademik Ioffe seem to maneuver them with ease.

At the rear of the ship one of the zodiacs we will probably be using later for our landings sits secure in place. Here, I can feel the ship pitching and rolling as we cross the Drake Passage.

Climbing one set of steps after another I get to explore the different deck levels of the ship. Some areas are open spaces while others are used as storage for kayaks and more zodiacs. On the upper decks a brisk wind is blowing and my glove-less hands are beginning to feel a bit numb. So much for the idea of the tropics.

Nonetheless, the weather is refreshing and the seas are relatively calm for what I expected crossing the Drake. I imagine the average temperatures will continue to fall as we head further south.

After living most of my life in the tropics, I am looking forward to experiencing some non tropical weather and saving my flip flops for Margaritaville.





Saturday, January 15, 2011

Antarctica, This Is For The Birds



SAM 099 One advantage of taking this trip with Quark as oppose to a normal ship is the fact that we are actually on a scientific research vessel.




On board there are numerous experts on various aspects on life in Antarctica and marine biology. This is a major benefit for us.



Bird Lecture As a part of expedition trip various lectures are offered on our free days at sea.





This afternoon I have the good fortune to attend a presentation on Birds Of The Southern Oceans.

It turns out to be an enjoyable learning experience as I become a quasi part of a scientific research team. Our sightings become a part of the ship's daily sighting report and may be useful in some of the ongoing research on board the ship.

Offers from National Geographic cannot be too far behind.



Friday, January 14, 2011

Antarctica, Crossing The Drake Passage


It seems as if we have found favor with the sea gods as the weather and sea conditions are quite nice for our introduction to the Drake Passage.

Nothing more than a little roller coaster rocking and rolling under mostly clear blue skies.

I am content to take it all and count my blessings.




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Antarctica, My Scientific Reward


Dinner is served and my very, very “exhausting” scientific research earns me a slice of chocolate cake drizzled with a caramel brandy sauce and ice cream.



Chocolate Reward I think I just might continue being a part of this scientific team.






Since our dining is “free style” it gives me the opportunity to make new friends every time I sit down to eat.

I don't miss the chance to learn something new about Bolivia, Germany, Taiwan, Japan, Italy or even San Francisco and Minnesota.

With just over 100 passengers on board this cruise is almost like a family reunion. What would a family reunion be without a few games? Plans are made to meet in the bar after dinner where I promise to teach a few of my new family members the game of “Spades”.



Spades Masters How fortunate for them there is not just one but two “Spades Masters” on board.

Did you say Double Nil?




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Antarctica, Day 2 On The Ioffe


Somewhere in the night we officially enter the Drake Passage but with little fanfare. The seas are so relatively calm that they keep me asleep right through breakfast.

With three full meals served everyday, missing one or two of them should help me slim down for summer.


SAM 027 However, that diet plan evaporates faster than a boiling pot of tea as I soon find myself in the lunch queue.





Like dinner last night there is a small salad bar, soup and a menu offering a fish, meat and vegetarian dish. Orders are taken and our entrees are served by a serious group of hard working mostly Russian dining room staff.



SAM 034 After lunch the dining room is converted into one of two presentation rooms where lectures on various subjects related to Antarctica are given.




The lectures are split between port and starboard side passengers in order to avoid overcrowding the room. This afternoon, we are learning about sea birds and I find the albatross fascinating.

To enhance our bird learning experience we are given the challenge to walk out on the deck and see how many of them we can spot.




CAN 117 Albatross In Flight




CAN 076 Although on vacation, we are in some ways a part of a scientific research team.

Our wildlife sightings are noted and posted on a daily public record.



There are a few surprises even to the some of the expedition staff who are research scientists as some birds that are rarely seen in this area are spotted.

Out on the stern, I capture photos of several birds that are following in the wake of the ship although it is very difficult getting them to pose for the shots.




CAN 090The ship's propellers while moving us forward stirs the ocean’s depths and brings a nice buffet to the surface for our flying friends.




It seems as if Neptune has granted us favor as the weather this afternoon crossing the Drake Passage is surprisingly calm and beautiful although storm clouds can be seen far to the west of our position.

Enjoying my weather good fortune, I spend a fair amount of time on the deck taking it all in.




SAM 054Near the starboard side stern, kayakers are busy making preparations for their outings in a few days.

This offering that will set you back about $800.



I guess, no Starbucks for you next month.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Antarctica, First Evening On The Ioffe



Bow Of Ioffe With a full stomach, I take a walk to explore a bit more of the Ioffe.







Ioffe Starboard From bow to stern, I am rewarded with beautiful views of Beagle Canal and a stunning sunset sky.








Beagle Canal Sunset Beagle Canal Sunset From The Ioffe




It is almost 10pm and the sun is working it's artistic magic. Gone are the oranges seen at the higher latitudes now replaced with soft blues, along with soothing pinks and purples.



Stunning Sky With snow cap mountains fading in the distance, it is a scenery you want to last forever.





On board the Ioffe is an Argentine Pilot Captain who is navigating us along the historically disputed boundaries of the Beagle Canal. On one side lies Chile and the other, Argentina.

The important sea passages here was once so disputed that it took the intervention and threat of excommunication by Pope John Paul to get both sides to reach an agreement.



Ioffe Loung A chill is in the air as the sun's heat leaves for the day, so I step inside the lounge to warm up a bit.

Here a piano is available just in case Billy Joel or Sir Elton John comes on board.





Pilot Tug Boat Back outside a tug boat approaches and our temporary navigator leaves us.

The Ioffe is now on it’s own.





Nonetheless, I feel confident with the remaining crew as the we head out to open seas.




Iofffe Bar



With Carlos from Colombia serving as Alcohol And Snack Ambassador, a small but notable crowd from countries like Germany, Taiwan, Bolivia and The US have gathered for brief international talks and drinks.

Proper introductions are made and possible agendas discussed before the meeting is adjoined.



Nav Update Chart A  quick check of our navigation progress chart tells me the sun will be back at 04:53am.

This is less than seven hours away as I head to my upper bunk bed.





Antarctica, First Afternoon On The Ioffe


After a few moments of saying goodbye to Ushuaia from the upper deck of the Akademik Ioffe we are corralled inside to the dining room for our first of two mandatory safety briefings.



Immerson Suit Although a serious matter, we all get laughs from an immersion suit demo by one of the staff members.





We are soon dismissed from our briefing and I head back to my cabin. Seven short blasts followed by a long one and I am putting on warm clothes and a life jacket. Joining other passengers,  I take two sets of stairs to my muster station.

Here more emergency procedures are reviewed and we get a glimpse of the life boats we hope we will not have to use anytime in the next 11 days.



Cabin 314 Port Hole View From Inside Cabin 314



With the required emergency drills over it's back to Cabin 314 where I watch the Ushuaia coast line go by as I unpack the rest of my belongings.



Cabin 314 Bunk Beds My cabin turns out to be an efficiently segregated room with lots of storage and closet space.

There are a set of bunk beds along with a fold out couch.





Quark Parkas Our Quark provided, bright yellow parkas hang on one wall along with special zodiac life preservers.





Beneath the fold out couch are our  “hope we don't need 'em” bright orange immersion suits.



Dial 666



An interesting piece of equipment is also found in our cabins. Are you puzzled? Then you must be a lot younger than I am, it is a rotary dialed phone!

We are told that although the emergency number is “666” we will be connected directly to the bridge if it is dialed and not to that other place that starts with an “H” and end in “LL”.

Surprisingly there are no locks on our room doors in order to provide quick access in the event of an emergency. Although, I tend to be trusting in these situations, leave your crown jewels at home if you are a “Nervous Nelly”.  A safe is available for use with the onboard hotel manager.

It's not much longer before dinner is being served. Since my cabin is near the rear entrance of the dinner room, I wait a few minutes and avoid the queue at the main entrance.



Fried Halibut A self served small mix salad along with fried halibut, potatoes and broccoli, and I have had my first of many dinners onboard the Ioffe.

Not bad.




Monday, January 10, 2011

Antarctica, Boarding Akademik Ioffe



Peter And I Boarding The weather is simply gorgeous as Peter and I  board the Ioffe in Ushuaia, Argentina.







Ioffe Champagne Here we are greeted by the ship’s staff with cold glasses of champagne and friendly smiles.






Inside, I hope the nice weather and welcoming smiles are a sign of what lies ahead, I have a good feeling that it is.

The Ioffe boarding is on the third floor and fortunate for me I am only steps away from my cabin which is across the hall from the dining room.



View Of Ushuaia After quickly storing our carry on baggage, most of us make our way to the upper deck to take in last minute views of Ushuaia.





Mountains with small patches of snow stand out against clear skies with high fluffy clouds. Besides the views there is just a mild breeze which produces relatively calm seas. This will at least give us smooth sailing on the first part of our journey.



Akademik Ioffe Lifesaver Akademik Ioffe Lifesaver


About quarter past six an announcement is made, we have received our clearance from the Argentine officials and The Ioffe smoothly maneuvers away from Puerto Ushuaia.



Ioffe Bow View Leaving Ushuaia Along with 106 other passengers, I am on my way to Antarctica.





Bon Voyage!





Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Argentina, Sailing From Ushuaia


With our passports and for some return flight documents collected by Quark personnel, we begin boarding buses.

I am another step closer to fulfilling a dream. I am without a doubt on my way to The Blue Continent just like de Gerlache did over 100 years ago. This brings an excitement that even now as I write about it gives me goose bumps.

I am like a kid going on my first school field trip, not quite sure what is out there but I know I am going to have a lot of fun.

Don't cry for me Ushuaia, I am on my way to Antarctica!





Argentina, A Brush With Antarctica History



CAN 002 The Akademik Ioffe sits in the background as we  arrive at our meeting spot just to the west of the port entrance.






SAM 009 It’s around 3:20pm and we still have about a half an hour before the buses will leave for the ship.






This gives me a few minutes to bond with a part of Antarctica history which in some regards we will be reliving in a few hours.




SAM 007 Adrien de Gerlache




In December 1897, Gerlache, a Belgian Polar Explorer sailed from Ushuaia and was the first expedition to winter over in Antarctica.



SAM 006 More Antarctica history is available at nearby Museo Territorial but there is just not enough time.

I have another mission to accomplish.



Not sure about how we will pass our free time at sea, I make an inquiry about card games available on the ship and get an uncertain answer.

Still with about 20 minutes to spare I leave the waiting area in search of playing cards which become a challenge to find. At several stores there are decks with 40 or 50 cards but not 52.

Unfortunately, I do not have time to learn new games with them. I have already lined up some potential victims (students) to teach “Spades”. On Avenida San Martin I get lucky and find a set of regular playing cards.

Next time I will remember to bring my own and save about three bucks!