Life on Board
Day 2 of our journey started off very well for me. I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority when I say the Drake Passage turned out to be one of my favorite places in the world – sleeping on a swaying ship was like being a baby in a rocking crib again. I slept better than I had in months, a welcomed change from some of the restless nights I’ve had so far on my trip due to the disoriented feeling of sleeping somewhere different every week.
Every morning we awoke to the sound of Chad, our expedition leader, over the intercom. I’m not aware of the full scope of the man’s talents, but the one I found most invaluable was his way of pleasantly waking people up from a deep sleep. His calm voice first thing in the morning was something my fellow passengers and I would later come to joke about frequently, and one passenger even ended up paying good money for a recording of Chad’s morning announcement on his phone (for the story there, stay tuned…).
Knowing there wasn’t much to see outside, I slept through breakfast the first two days. Those who know me are aware of two main traits: I’m a sleeper and I’m not a breakfast person. It’s not that I don’t like breakfast, it’s just that I’m not usually hungry right away when I wake up. These are two things Antarctica would change about me in the days to come.
In the afternoon of day 2 Kate and I went up to the sixth deck to check out the bridge. For anyone unfamiliar with nautical terms, the bridge is the area of a ship from which it’s commanded. It was a fascinating place to be – we got a bird’s eye view of the sea (albeit without much to look at), but we also got to see some of the crew in action – specifically, the action of Russian guys staring out a window. I struggled with the temptation of turning knobs and pushing buttons, but for the sake of getting to Antarctica in one piece, I fought the urge.Kate was also tempted to push some buttons
On day 3 we signed up for a wine tasting. It was pretty comical, given that no one, not even Joao, our guide from Portugal who was hosting the event, knew much of anything about wine. That was fine by me – I didn’t have to sit around in awkward silence like at wine tastings I’ve done in Oregon while people confused me with talk of subtle oak tones underscored by a melancholy tinge of citrus and lingonberry laced with fresh prosciutto. (If that makes no sense to you, welcome to my world.) Most wine tastings supply you with a taste, as the name suggests, of each wine you try. Suffice to say, this could’ve been called a wine full-glassing. We all must have downed at least five full glasses, which is a great way to break the ice with a bunch of people you’re stuck on a ship with for 12 days.
I won’t go into every meal we ate on the ship, but I can honestly say that I loved each and every one. As I mentioned before, I had never been on a cruise before this, so I had nothing to compare it to, but I didn’t have a bad meal once in twelve days. After a while I began to wonder how they could possibly keep it fresh and delicious when there was nowhere to restock.
After dinner on day 3 we finally had something to look at: our first iceberg spotting! We gathered on the outer decks to watch in breathtaking amazement as we were suddenly surrounded by life and ice. Giant albatrosses dancing through the air just feet above our heads, a humpback whale off the starboard side of the ship, a jagged, pristine iceberg off in the distance, and all that followed up by a picturesque sunset that came late in the evening, but one which nobody minded staying up for.Our first iceberg, accompanied by an albatross Albatross nearly dive-bombing our heads
Presentations and Fireside Chats
Our expedition in particular took us almost directly south past the Antarctic Circle and there was a bit of a mad rush to get there, seeing as how we would need the remaining days for excursions on our way back up the Antarctic Peninsula. As a result, the first two full days on the ship were spent at sea, with nearly nothing to see. This would normally be pretty boring, but the One Ocean staff did a great job of keeping us occupied. Over the next few days we were treated to a photography session with naturalist/guide Mark, a history lesson on Ernest Shackleton by historian/guide Sunni, a run-down on the kinds of penguins we would see by a graduate student named Mo and a presentation on icebergs and glaciers by kayak guide and ice expert Kurtis, just to name a few.
In the evenings after dinner we would gather in the bar for a fireside chat. These entailed everything from marine superstitions to staff members’ personal experiences and what they do when they’re not in the Antarctic. The name was a bit deceiving given that the tiny fireplace in the corner never actually got lit. I guess “unlit log-side chat” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.Staff member Ian, giving an unlit log-side chat.
Our first few evenings before and after dinner were spent in the bar, getting to know the other passengers. I was pretty shocked to find so many Australians on board – of the 96 passengers, I’m guessing at least 20 were from Oz. I had asked one Aussie why they wouldn’t just go to Antarctica from New Zealand, which seemed a lot easier. His response was a reasonable one: That route entails about 6 days at sea and only 2 or so days of excursions. Fair enough, I thought. Plus, Australians do travel right – they take several weeks, sometimes even months at a time for a single trip – so a little jaunt over to South America is no biggie for them. One of the many reasons I love the Aussies.
The Akademik Ioffe was also graced with a couple of Hungarians named Gergely. I felt bad for the poor guys, as they had to explain to everyone they met how to pronounce their name: “Like the Russian name Sergei, but with a ‘G'”, explained who I would come to refer to as Nikon Gergely (he carried a Nikon, whereas the other Gergely had a Canon). We spent the next week and a half getting to know the Gergelys and learning a thing or two about Hungary.
And then there were the Floridians. These were two couples in their 50s whom we had met in our meeting place before boarding. Kate’s the type that will just start chatting with anyone and everyone in her path, whereas I’m a bit more reserved until I know you. So of course she had already gotten the low-down on Jerry (aka Gator) and his wife Lisa before we even boarded the ship. I’d had a brief discussion with Bob and Andrea, which was lucky because by the time I accidentally walked into their cabin thinking it was a common area for passengers, we had all become fast friends and they didn’t seem to mind a bit. They invited Kate and me to sit and chat with the four of them over a glass of wine before dinner.Towards the end of the trip: from left, Nikon Gergely, me, Canon Gergely, Kate, Bob and Gator
As for the staff, I’ll discuss them in my future posts. For now, I’ll say that I couldn’t have picked a better bunch of people myself. I was constantly amazed by their friendliness, expertise in numerous fields and subjects, skill getting us safely around what can be a very treacherous environment, and passion for what they do. What a joy it was to be surrounded by people who are thrilled every day by the opportunities their job affords them.
These were just a few of the many people I enjoyed getting to know over the duration of the expedition. I could go on all day about all the amazing, adventurous, lovable, passionate people I met on the Akademik Ioffe, but no reader would have time to get through a blog that long.
Facts about Day 2:
– Latitude: 56°30,7’S, longitude: 66°29,0’W
– Sunrise: 5:14 a.m., sunset: 9:59 p.m.
– Air/water temperature: +2°C/36°F, +6.7°C/44°F
– Wildlife spotted: albatrosses (wandering, southern royal, northern royal and grey-headed); petrels (southern giant, blue and white-chinned); sooty shearwaters; Wilson’s storm petrels
Facts about Day 3:
– Latitude: 61°21,3’S, longitude: 67°00,0’W
– Sunrise: 4:43 a.m., sunset: 10:35 p.m.
– Air/water temperature: +1°C/33°F, +2.5°C/37°F
– Wildlife spotted: albatrosses (wandering, black-browed, grey-headed and light-mantled sooty); petrels (southern giant, southern fulmar, cape, blue and white-chinned); Antarctic prions; storm petrels (Wilson’s and black-bellied); south polar skuas, whales (humpback and unidentified)