Antarctica

Antarctica Day 2: Across the Drake Passage

Sunday December 9, 2012

We have two more full days before we arrive in Antarctica. About 700 nautical miles separate Cape Horn (Chile) from the Antarctic peninsula, so we relaxed and prepared for our arrival.

For our first breakfast on the Sergei Vavilov, we had a continental-buffet meal with eggs, sausage, bacon, hash browns, pancakes and such. During the rest of the day, we enjoyed several educational sessions and briefings with our tour operators, One Ocean Expeditions.

Our first session of the day was with our resident bird expert, Noah. In addition to being a bird expert, Noah is considered an authority on penguins. He spent six months in Antarctica studying penguins and published a book about them. Of course, the highlight for us would be observing penguins in the wild. These would include gento, chinstrap, adele and magellanic. He said we might be lucky to see rockhopper and macaroni penguins, however he anticipated we probably wouldn’t see emperor penguins since they are found further away from the peninsula.

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Already during the voyage, we have seen several wandering albatrosses, the largest birds in the southern oceans. They primarily nest on the edges of most remote islands where they raise their chicks. They mate for life and average one chick every two years. These albatrosses spend the first six months of their lives at sea. Noah is a big fan of these birds and he said they didn’t deserve their fearsome reputation for being harbingers of bad luck. He said they can live up to 100 years. Most interestingly, they can fly up to four million miles during their lifetime – the distance from the earth to the moon eight times. Talk about one high-mileage bird! We also learned about the light mantled albatross and southern royal albatross.

During our trip we have seen several southern giant petrels following the Sergei Vavilov. Apparently they can be aggressive if you get too close. That’s when they will unleash their fury, or rather defend themselves by spewing a foul stomach oil. They basically transform themselves into skunks with wings!

We have seen a number of giant petrels. They include numerous big brown, southern and northern petrels. We saw a Cape petrel, or pintado petrel, earlier during the day that Noah pointed out to me on the stern. Noah told us about other petrels we hope to see including blue petrels, Antarctic petrels, storm petrels (with bright yellow on the webbing of their feet), diving petrels (magellanic) and snow petrels – the snow white ‘angels’ of the Antarctic. Other birds we may see include the great shearwater, sooty shearwater (near Cape Horn), southern fulmar, prions, gulls, terns, skuas, shags and sheathbills.

After sandwiches for lunch, later in the afternoon, Jeff and I had our first kayak orientation in the ship’s library. We weren’t kayaking today, but rather preparing for it. Jeff and I had been sea kayaking in Alaska and Florida, but never in such an isolated place like Antarctica.

One reason we chose the Sergei Vavilov is because we wanted to go kayaking and camp one night in Antarctica. You can only do both of these activities from a expedition-type ship. Our two guides, Jimmy and Ian, are younger than us but two of the most experienced kayakers in Antarctica. Jimmy is from Hobart, Tasmania, and his sister, Meg, is also working as a masseuse/guide on board. Ian, from Vancouver, BC, has been an expert kayaking guide for years paddling some of the world’s most challenging waters. He is also a graduate student at the University of Alberta studying glaciology. They briefed our small group of about 18 kayakers about our upcoming adventures.

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Also during the afternoon, we received our complimentary gear that we pre-selected before the expedition. Jeff and I both went to a service room to pick up our Wellington boots for landings. We received our polar parkas and waterproof bib pants.

During the evening, we attended a photography session conducted by our resident photographer, Dave Schultz. Dave has developed a reputation for being one of America’s best landscape photographers. He has been published in some of the most important newspapers and magazines and even has his own gallery in Park City, Utah. He gave us professional advice on shooting landscapes and wildlife in Antarctica. He also gave a really nice overview to people who didn’t have much experience shooting with SLR cameras. It was a superb session and good refresher from my journalism photography classes back in college.

Our dinner, like last night, offered several different choices for the main course. We had a salad, chicken, vegetables and dessert. The cooks work for One Ocean Expeditions while the servers are Russian and members of the crew. We went to bed with full stomachs excited for our second full day on Monday.

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