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In the Wake of Shackleton 2018


12th November to 1st December 2018
MS Island Sky

 

Monday, 12th November 2018 – Embarkation in Puerto Madryn, Argentina

After long journeys, and for many a pre-tour in Argentina and/or a day tour in the area around Puerto Madryn, it was a great pleasure to finally board our wonderful little expedition ship at the dock in Puerto Madryn. The day was warm and sunny, with a gentle breeze, as we were greeted by the crew and had refreshments, before being shown to our cabins. The obligatory lifeboat and safety drill followed, then Island Sky departed the quayside and made her way into the broad gulf, en route to the Falkland Islands, some 541 nautical miles distant. Northern giant petrels and assorted other seabirds were a taste of things to come. Expedition Leader Pam invited us into the lounge for a briefing on the vessel and an introduction to the staff on board, before a delicious dinner and, for many, an early night in calm conditions.


Tuesday, 13th November 2018 - At Sea

The day dawned foggy, and so it was to stay that way, with varying amounts of visibility all day. After a leisurely breakfast, there was an opportunity to get kitted out in warm wellingtons and a Noble Caledonia shell jacket. Then followed a voyage outline, then a mandatory IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) briefing, outlining the aims of the organisation to which Noble Caledonia belongs, and details of the dos and don’ts of tourism to South Georgia and the Antarctic, such as wildlife watching guidelines and so on. We also learnt about the importance of biosecurity, before getting all of our outdoor kit together for a thorough clean to eliminate any chance of transporting seeds, microbes or anything else to places they do not belong. The formalities over, we joined the very eloquent Rear Admiral John Lippiett, our Guest Speaker on board, for the first of his presentations, on the 1982 Falklands War. Many spent a large part of the day on deck, especially Deck 4 forward as it was sheltered from a following wind, admiring the grace and beauty of the seabirds around us, including black-brows, the first of the albatross species we are to encounter, along with giant petrels, prions, Wilson’s storm-petrels and white-chinned and Cape petrels. An Arctic tern, on passage from the high Arctic was a pleasant surprise. 1900 saw us gather in the lounge to meet the Captain and his senior officers, before a wonderful Captain’s welcome dinner.

 

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Wednesday, 14th November 2018 – Steeple Jason Island, Falkland Islands

Excellent sea conditions, and fog coming and going, were the order of the morning once again. After breakfast Tony gave us a presentation on the birds of the Falklands and South Georgia, whetting the appetite for things to come. Later John and wife Jenny spoke on “War and Peas”, personal experiences of the Falklands War both in the field and back home, a presentation initially put together to support the Royal Naval Museum’s exhibition on the same theme. The benign weather and following sea had given us an excellent passage time, so Pam outlined our plans for an additional, bonus, possible landing at Steeple Jason in the Falklands’ far north-west. As the approached the island, the fog fortuitously broke up and we had a wonderfully clear and warm afternoon. The island offered plenty of protection, so after a short mandatory Zodiac briefing, it was into the little boats and to shore.  The highlight was the world’s largest black-browed albatross colony (some six miles long, spread along the coast), but there were plenty of other attractions, such as our first Gentoo penguin colonies, among the dramatic landscapes. After such an exciting debut, there was plenty to talk about at the evening’s recap and briefing, as the ship sailed the short distance to tomorrow’s first of two island destinations before and during dinner. We anchored off Carcass Island in lovely evening light and calm seas.

Thursday, 15th November 2018 – Carcass and West Point Islands, Falkland Islands

Most of us took the opportunity after breakfast to go ashore at a beach some two miles from the tiny settlement on Carcass Island. Many of those people walked across an isthmus to an area with large numbers of Upland and scattered ruddy-headed geese grazing on grassy swards, along with many other species, including more Gentoo colonies. A particular attraction was Magellanic penguin burrows, one of which had its occupant staring at us with first one side of the face then the other, as if it could not quite believe what it was seeing. There were also various ducks on a pond, and several views of Magellanic snipe in denser grassland. Plenty of small birds and large were seen on the walk along to the settlement. The far end of the bay was graced by the unbelievable bright yellow of patches of gorse, introduced and a potential pest, but oh so beautiful. At the homestead, a modest but charming and comfortable place, was an amazing selection of home baking, along with tea and coffee. The sheltered garden, surrounded by introduced trees and shrubs, was a tranquil place completely sheltered from the wind in the warm sunshine, and full of the sound of small birds.

We left the beach, returned to the ship and repositioned over lunch the short distance to West Point Island. After dropping the anchor it was back on land to a small stone and concrete jetty where we were warmly welcomed by the handful of locals and their dogs. It was a two mile walk across undulating ground (or a Land Rover ride) to the island’s wildlife highlight, another smaller albatross colony, but this time with many Rockhopper penguins mixed in with them, at an unbelievably dramatic location called the Devil’s Nose with pounding seas crashing into the cliff base. We had plenty of quality time with the birds before returning for another amazing session of home baking! Once back on board it was time to head along the Falklands’ northern coastline, en route to the ‘capital’.

 

Friday, 16th November 2018 – Stanley, Falkland Islands

During early morning tea and coffee time and over breakfast, Island Sky steamed through a beautiful landscape and into Stanley Harbour, coming alongside a little over a mile from the centre of town. After breakfast, there was an opportunity to join one of two tours – a walking tour of the town with local guides or a trip out of town to explore the battlefields from 1982. A shuttle took us into the town centre for the walking tour, where local guides pointed out places of interest along the way – including the cathedral with its Blue Whale bone arch, the Governor’s residence, and many aspects of WWII and the 1982 conflict, while the battlefields tour went into the countryside (the ‘camp’) to visit sites associated with the war with Argentina. The afternoon was free – the historic dockyard museum was a must-see, plus there were plenty of places for quality retail opportunities, or simply the local pubs and cafes. The wind whistled, but it was mostly sunny. Late afternoon Island Sky cast off and we headed out toward the open Atlantic. An impressive departure was made more so by being escorted out by HMS Clyde. Big seas were of little concern, being on the starboard stern quarter, making for a comfortable ride on the start of our passage to South Georgia.

 

Saturday, 17th November 2018 – At Sea

The entire day was cool and windy but brilliantly sunny. Large (up to 5 metre swells) continued from behind, making deck four forward a comfortable place to be. We spent much of the day on deck enjoying the thrilling flight of oceanic seabirds – black-browed, wandering and Royal albatrosses, prions, storm-petrels, and the elaborately patterned and oh so aerobatic Cape petrels. Jim filled out the lives of these amazing creatures focussing on albatrosses is his presentation, followed by Mike describing his experiences as a young Royal Marine, including in the Falklands War, in his presentation entitled “Boy at War”.In between seawatching in the afternoon was a mandatory South Georgia environmental and biosecurity briefing, then John Lippiett presented the amazing tales of discovery and early exploration of the Antarctic.

 

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Sunday, 18th November 2018 – At Sea

After a leisurely breakfast, John gave an enthralling presentation on Shackleton’s epic expedition on the Endurance and its aftermath, and later a few of us accompanied Chef Jörg into the cramped spaces of Island Sky’s galley. Jim then opened the doors onto the life of those oceanic monarchs, the albatrosses. A quiet afternoon in excellent sea conditions and bright sunshine followed, punctuated by Sue’s presentation on life beyond the auto focus of your camera. A complete surprise was an early iceberg in the late afternoon – early in that they are normally to be expected at the eastern end of South Georgia, or further south. he behemoth was a tabular berg, flat-topped, and showing signs of age, with pieces floating in its lee. It was taller than the ship is long (and with 7/8ths of its bulk underwater…..), and was sizeable enough to create its own cloud on the downwind side. Shortly thereafter we sailed past Shag Rocks, with lots of sealife in the vicinity due to upwelling, and skeins of blue-eyed shags (aka Imperial Cormorants) heading for home in the late afternoon sunlight.

 

Monday, 19th November 2018 – Salisbury Plain, Prion Island, South Georgia

The morning dawned with a thick fog, hiding South Georgia’s glories as we sailed toward our first destination. Miraculously, as we entered the Bay of Isles, we emerged from the fog into bright sunshine and fabulous views of mountains, glaciers and a broad grassy plain which proved, on approach, to be covered in wildlife. Conditions in terms of wind and swell looked very good. The expedition team went ahead and determined that the swell onto the beach was entirely manageable, so we boarded our Zodiacs and landed on a gravel beach. King penguins were all about, but so were exuberant and extremely aggressive Antarctic fur seal males, newly arrived from sea and eager to establish dominance and a breeding territory for the soon-to-be-expected females. They were coaxed aside, and a clear path was established over a meltwater stream and onto the plain beyond.

Here we passed the odd fur seal, but increasing numbers of king penguins, until we reached the colony edge, were the absolute stars of the show. Some 60,000 breeding pairs call the colony home, and there were many pre-breeders standing about moulting, plus large numbers of fluffy brown chicks. The sight and sounds were indescribable. Added to this extraordinary spectacle of nature were skuas, giant petrels, incongruous sightings of delicate South Georgia pintails, and South Georgia pipits, the only land bird on the island and evidence of the success of the recent rat eradication project for the whole of South Georgia. After spending plenty of quality time with the birds, it was time to make our way slowly back to the landing beach and onto the Zodiacs.  Over lunch the ship made a short repositioning trip across the bay to Prion Island. This is one of the few places in South Georgia where wandering albatrosses nest, and we had the great good fortune to arrive exactly the day before the island is closed for the very sensitive time when the next cohort of breeders arrives to establish or renew pair bonds and select nest sites for their egg.

We landed onto a stony beach littered with more fur seals and quite a few Southern Elephant Seals. The furries proved very aggressive at this site, and so the team were on hand to keep us all safe as we made our way the short distance across the beach and on to a boardwalk where they proved to be no problem. Lots more pipits and pintails were in evidence as we walked to the top of the island and a couple of viewing platforms. From here there were views of a large, mostly feathered but still slightly downy albatross chick, soon to depart on an epic 5-6 years at sea after some 250 days on the nest, including during an entire Antarctic winter. The other platform was close to more albatross fledglings, the occasional adult on land and soaring over the island, and plenty of giant petrels, on land, new nest sites and giving extraordinary reptilian-like display flights overhead. The whole was backed by glorious views back toward the mainland, with its glaciers and mountains gleaming in the afternoon sun, a perfect end to a perfect first day in South Georgia. We sailed during dinner into the calm of Stromness, dropping anchor for a quiet night in the bay with the eerie, evocative sounds of fur seals on shore in the gathering darkness.

 

Tuesday, 20th November 2018 – Stromness Bay and Grytviken, South Georgia

After breakfast, the energetic souls among us – most of the group – headed ashore for a walk up the valley to the famous waterfall that marked the beginning of the end of Shackleton and his two companions’ final stretch of their amazing voyage from Elephant Island. It was raining a little but after making our way through the fur seals and onto a braided river plain, it soon let up, and by late morning we were back in sunshine. Other folks came ashore a little later, and walked to the back of the atmospheric ruins of the Stromness whaling station – in its day a noisy, smoky, steamy and doubtless very smelly place for the slaughter and processing of untold numbers of whales. The bay must have been filled with blood and flocks of scavenging birds – nowadays a mute testament to over-exploitation and the collapse of a resource.

We reboarded the ship and passed by a second whaling station, Leith, located in the very next bay. This largest of all of South Georgia’s whaling stations would have harvested the initially abundant resource from its immediate vicinity. We then sailed for several hours to Grytviken, another whaling station, this one Norwegian, and nowadays home to the Government Officer, scientists, contractors and seasonal workers operating its excellent facilities. There was also a small UK military presence until quite recently. We landed on one side of the bay, next to a little cemetery containing mostly graves of Norwegian whalers and sailors and a single Argentinian soldier. At the back of the cemetery, under the largest monument, lies Ernest Shackleton, and at his side his right hand man Frank Wild. John said a few words and led a toast to the great man, before we dispersed to explore on our own or to take in a short tour of the settlement with one of the ‘locals’.Grytviken has a small but beautifully kept museum, a post office, and the obligatory gift shop. We were also free to walk among the remains of the whaling operations, including massive tanks for fuel and whale oil, and to visit the little church. Zodiac shuttles operated to the ship, which had repositioned just outside the bay to avoid any issues with strengthening winds. Dinner was in the calm anchorage, though high winds for a time caused a scramble to secure furniture on the open decks.

 

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Wednesday, 21st November 2018 – Gold Harbour, South Georgia

Island Sky had sailed in the very early morning. Breakfast saw us sailing along a truly magnificent stretch of incredibly rugged coastline, in sunshine but with very strong winds. Adding to the spectacle were white-capped waves contrasted with startling greens, even turquoises of the sea. The nature of expedition cruising is that a large degree of flexibility is required. Plan A was to call into St Andrews Bay. On arrival it was obvious that the swell at the ship and dumping surf on the beach meant that no landing was possible. We got to see the massive King Penguin colony from offshore however, and marvelled at the hundreds of thousands of birds over many acres of flat ground and low hills.Then it was Plan B – we sailed to Cooper Bay, with its attendant island. Here once again wind (though not swell) meant that we were confined to the ship. Macaroni and chinstrap penguins were passing by in flocks in the water, along with plenty of attendant flying seabirds including clouds of prions. Plan C was to retrace our steps and tuck into Gold Harbour.

What an excellent choice this was! Gold Harbour had more then enough shelter to allow us to disembark. Half of us stepped ashore onto a beach packed with Southern elephant seals. There was little space for many people – the wildlife comes first – so the other half of the group Zodiac cruised, before we swapped over. Cruisers were treated to wonderful sights of the king penguin colony and large numbers of birds in the water. A big flock of the delightful Cape Petrels fed on plankton at close range, and giant petrels had found something suitably gory to need to wash their bloodied heads. Ashore we were transfixed by huge numbers of fat and utterly delightful elephant seal weaners, along with a few mothers still nursing their calves, and massive males intent on sleeping, or, dramatically, mating with the much smaller females, causing chaos among the other animals and not a little consternation among some of the passengers. This amazing site is dramatically offset by the imposing backdrop of mountains including some nearby hanging glaciers and one that tumbles to the valley bottom.

As we weighed anchor, it was as if South Georgia was farewelling us. The mountains began to be obscured by cloud and the day turned rather grey. However one more surprise was in store. Just beyond Cooper Bay, we nosed into Drygalski Fjord. The most dramatic peaks in South Georgia towered above us, the vegetation was scarce, and we sailed well into the fjord to admire the glaciers at its head. Just after we made our turn in the calm, sheltered water we spotted a couple of humpback whales. They blew and fluked, totally unconcerned at our presence, at one point surfacing only a handful of metres from the ship’s port side, then easily visible as they slowly sank back into the clear waters. What a farewell to South Georgia, truly the Kohinoor among the crown jewels of Earth’s most amazing wildlife and scenic spectacles.

 

Thursday, 22nd November 2018 - At Sea

No sooner had we left the lee of South Georgia the previous evening than we felt the effects of strong wind and a fairly boisterous sea. Dawn brought more sunshine but the ship was definitely moving. The hardy breakfasted on Deck 5, the rest choosing the shelter and warmth of the restaurant on Deck 2. Tony opened the day with his presentation on the world as perceived through the biology of penguins. Later on, John talked about the extraordinary vessel that is the Mary Rose. We continued our passage across the Scotia Sea, spotting several individuals and small groups of Fin Whales, along with many attendant seabirds as usual. During the afternoon there was an opportunity to view part one of the recent film Shackleton. An unexpected bonus was a sighting of three more tabular icebergs, one an astonishing seven kilometres end to end. Tabular bergs originate from Antarctica’s ice shelves (and occur nowhere else on earth). They have been forming for millions of years, but are breaking off much more vigorously since we began to change the climate. Perhaps this was a sign of that. In any event they are a dramatic and truly colossal sight.

 

Friday, 23rd November 2018 - At Sea

Another day of boisterous seas but otherwise good conditions as we tracked further south-west through the Scotia Sea. After breakfast Jim talked about whales of the Southern Ocean, followed a little later by Sue with a presentation on what to do with all of the amazing photos we have been taking in terms of processing them.The afternoon entailed a showing of part two of the film Shackleton, then John spoke about the exploits of the Royal Navy in the South Atlantic, starting with Drake and ending up with the present day. Fin whale sightings from time to time added to the continuous seabird spectacle. Conditions were perfect for a constant cloud of Cape Petrels and many other species put in an occasional or regular appearance. Our customary recap and briefing took place in the lounge, before another excellent dinner with an Indonesian theme and a comfortable night.

 

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Saturday, 24th November 2018 – Elephant Island

Sea conditions improved! The swells initially were still high, but the wind had veered meaning that the ship was no longer making occasional thuds into oncoming waves. The grey light of early morning was soon replaced by bright sunshine. Fin whales put in more appearances. The seabird concentration gradually shifts – we had our first Antarctic petrel sightings this morning. Which was appropriate as we are now below 60°S – the definition of being in Antarctic waters. John opened the morning with a presentation on clipper ships, the “racehorses of the Southern Oceans”. After a slightly earlier than usual lunch, we approached Elephant Island. The goal was initially Point Wild, named after Shackleton’s second-in-command, where he and his men overwintered in appalling conditions. The swells and high winds didn’t permit getting off the ship, but the captain skilfully put the vessel into a position where we could clearly see the tiny spot where the men spent their time on the island, waiting daily for rescue which eventually came. They would not have appreciated as much as we did the dramatic glaciers at the back of the bay, nor the Chinstrap Penguin colonies which now call the place home. We resumed our passage to the other side of the island, hoping for a lee to be able to Zodiac cruise, but the winds became even more fierce. An alternative was that the team had had word of an enormous iceberg which had been tracked into the area. And what a monster! After a couple of hours sailing we tracked for the narrow side then along the longer side of this mere fragment of a much larger berg which had sheared off the Ross Iceshelf region, on the other side of the continent, an astonishing 18+ years before, in March 2000. Breaking into ‘smaller’ pieces, this one measured some 8 by 20 miles in length! We then turned southwards, and made for Antarctic Sound.

 

Sunday, 25th November 2018 – Antarctic Sound

Early risers enjoyed calm seas, a dramatic mix of sunshine and high cloud and the most astonishing, magical land- and seascape. Large icebergs tilted at crazy angles were in the sea, along with irregular patches of brash ice in some places, backed by impressive mountains with areas of snow, and enormous glaciers, some spanning many miles at their snouts. As we breakfasted, Island Sky came to a halt off Brown Bluff. The expedition team took to the water in Zodiacs and explored the possibility of landing at the site. However a stiff northerly breeze and large pieces of ice plus masses of brash ice meant that a landing was not possible. We boarded the zodiacs and cruised instead. A short choppy run took us to the edge of the jumbled ice piled along the shoreline. Chief wildlife numbers were due to a large Adelie penguin colony on shore, and many of the birds were seen clearly on nests on the rocky, snow-free slopes, and many more chose small icebergs to haul out, allowing for very close approaches in the boats to these fearless creatures. Penguins also trekked across the snow in disciplined groups, toboganning downhill for preference, before picking up courage at the water’s edge to enter the water in throngs – an avoidance tactic against possible marauding leopard seals. There were smaller numbers of gentoo penguins, plus cormorants, Antarctic terns, giant petrels and other species. And everywhere the ice, from tiny pieces of brash to tilted tabular bergs, plus miles of glacier front and an amazing landscape. It was hard to know where to look next. We got back on board, and the ship retraced more or less the same course along Antarctic Sound, before heading south for the Bransfield Strait. Icebergs, whales and a small group of various seabirds graced the afternoon. Jim spoke of Bransfield, ‘the forgotten explorer’, before dinner and a breezy but calm night as we made our way down the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

 

Monday, 26th November 2018 – Neko Harbour & Cuverville Island

Day broke with the sun rising at around 3 am. By out-of-bed-time, the word “Wow!” was heard many times, understating the reality of what was outside by many orders of magnitude. Island Sky was making her way by picking through ice massive and small. All about towering peaks were mostly smothered in snow and glacial ice, the glaciers extending to sea level and, at times, running for miles continuously. A few seabirds flew about, and groups of penguins dotted the surface here and there. After breakfast the expedition team determined that landing conditions at Neko Harbour were perfect. This was our first attempt at landing on the continent of Antarctica itself. Half of us boarded the Zodiacs then picked our way through brash ice around icebergs the 1 ½ miles to the landing, where rough ice-cut steps gave access from the boulder beach onto flatter snow. A ‘penguin highway’ led to the first of several sub-colonies of gentoo penguins. We had quality time with the birds, in a glorious scene backed by an impressive and active glacier.The other half cruised for around 45 minutes, enjoying the ice and its never-ending diversity, with penguins and other birds and, for some, a close encounter with an Antarctic minke whale, before we swapped over and carried on with the other half.Over lunch – which turned out to be a delicious barbecue served on the Lido Deck in incomparable surroundings - the ship picked her way back out of the bay, then made a turn to starboard, and through the narrow and incredibly scenic Errera Channel, getting even closer to amazing landscapes and passing Danco and Ronge Is, en route to Cuverville Is. The afternoon activities were similar to the morning – a much larger gentoo colony, this time in light falling snow, on land, and more amazing ice, mostly in an ‘iceberg graveyard’ (grounded bergs) from the Zodiacs. A predatory leopard seal was a highlight. Once back on board, we had our usual briefing, before a fun time with auction items in aid of the Noble Caledonia Charitable Trust, in support of the South Georgia Heritage Trust, which raised a significant sum. The ship sailed the short distance to be off Wienke Is, where the anchor was dropped for a quiet night.

Tuesday, 27th November 2018 – Port Lockroy & Paradise Bay

Over breakfast the ship moved the short distance from her initial anchorage to very close by the historic British ‘Base A’ of Port Lockroy, on its own tiny island, Goudier. Half of us disembarked and went ashore, to enjoy the base buildings set up as a museum to life there until its closure in 1962, and due to its recognition as an historic site in 1994. There was also an excellent small shop and post office staffed by the team at the base this season, while outside were the inevitable penguins, plus skuas, sheathbills and other wildlife. The rest of us went out in the boats and explored – more penguins at the nest, plus a nice collection of nesting Imperial cormorants (aka blue-eyed shags), many flying in with beakfuls of seaweed nesting material. At the back of the bay was sea ice left over from winter, called fast ice due to its attachment to the land. Some of us even got on out walked about on it for a short distance, a surreal experience. A Weddell seal added interest as it snoozed with total disregard for the nearby Zodiacs. During the morning we were joined for a time by Hebridean Sky, an extremely rare encounter with two ships in the fleet at the same place and time. We then hauled anchor and made our way through the lengthy and utterly exquisite Neumayer Channel, with almost wall-to-wall glaciers along its length, before the short passage across the Gerlache Strait and into the aptly-named Paradise Bay.

Here there was a second opportunity for a continental landing, at the Argentinians’ “Estacion cientifica Almirante Brown”, uninhabited at the time of our visit. The goal for most was a hike up a steep snowy incline for fabulous views. The others went by boat, most to the breathtaking Skontorp Cove, past a rocky overhang with nesting shags, vivid splashes of colour from two species of lichen, icicles, breeding Antarctic terns and a few Cape petrels plus amazing banded rock formations. At the back of the bay was a truly stupendous glacier – great ‘tower blocks’ of ice, fractured and bent in seemingly impossible shapes, ready to collapse at any moment. The whole glacier had as a backdrop mountains, many and varied glaciers and ice in the water. A few Zodiacs managed a close encounter with a humpback whale on the way back. Once back on board, we set sail for Deception Is, on the northern side of the Bransfield Strait. Recap and briefing followed, then dinner, but the scenery remained utterly entrancing, added to by low light as the sun slowly declined and set at around 11 pm, making it a late night for those who simply couldn’t bear to tear themselves away.

Wednesday, 28th November 2018 – Deception and Half Moon Island

The crossing of the Bransfield was a quiet affair. By morning we were close to the foreboding outline of Deception Island. This is an active volcano, the interior of which is a large sheltered body of water called Port Foster. It is accessed by a very narrow single passage called Neptune’s Bellows. It was through this passage that Island Sky made her way a few minutes before 7 am. Inside we turned to starboard and dropped anchor a short distance off Whalers Bay. Scattered about on shore were remnants of the once-thriving whaling industry, which involved a whole community of men working in torrid conditions, including in the early 20th century a magistrate and post office. Oil tanks stood as mute testament to the slaughter of whales, as well as other items of interest – the remains of processing facilities, an aircraft hangar, a few lonely unnamed graves and piles of barrels, used to transport water by waterboats also found along the shoreline. The place was finally abandoned by the scientists that followed, in 1967, due to a large volcanic eruption.Most of us trekked along the beach with Weddell and a Leopard Seal along the way, and up to a spectacular lookout called Neptune’s Window, gazing out over cliffs to the sea beyond. 17 of us took the crazy opportunity for a polar plunge in the icy waters of the beach We rejoined the ship, made our way back out of the Bellows and steamed along the coast of Livingstone Is, before turning and putting into a sheltered bay in the lee of Half Moon Is. It was back on shore for a final time, making our way along a snowy path over to the back of the island to enjoy quality time with the resident nesting chinstrap penguins, incredibly smart birds. Most of us also managed to catch a glimpse of ‘Kevin’, a solitary Macaroni penguin with golden plumes atop his head. The bird has been in the same place each summer for at least the past ten breeding seasons. With heavy hearts for many, we ended the final landing in this most amazing place, and soon set sail for the infamous Drake Passage. The skies closed in, as if bidding us farewell, and gradually the ship began a gentle rise and fall in the Drake’s swells. The mood was massively lifted by the evening’s crew show. We knew these people were talented, but this put them into a totally new light!

 

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Thursday, 29th November 2018 – At Sea in the Drake Passage

The seas were modest for this part of the world. Nevertheless it was obvious that we were at sea, as the movement of the ship was slightly amplified by the swells coming from the port bow. Most of us, as hardened mariners by now, were out and about all day. The day started at a leisurely pace, with a late breakfast. We then segued into a presentation by Tony on the seabirds of the Southern Ocean, rounding off previous sessions on albatrosses, penguins and the earlier birds we encountered in South Georgia and the Falklands. Late morning saw a screening of the quirky, vintage but highly entertaining film “Around Cape Horn”. Executive Chef Jörg and Maitre d’ Gordon enlightened us as to the complexities of running a hotel department at sea, in particular how to supply a seemingly endless stream of delicious food, including fresh fruit and salads, right up to the end of an 18 day voyage. Late afternoon was a final recap and briefing, followed by an entertaining amusing photograph competition. Then we all gathered in our comparative finery, for Captain’s Farewell cocktails, before a wonderful farewell dinner downstairs in the restaurant.

Friday, 30th November 2018 – Drake Passage to Ushuaia

The weather forecast, remarkably accurate this voyage, proved correct once again. The sting in the tail of the crossing of the Drake was high winds and accompanying seas that made the ship pitch dramatically as we approached Cape Horn, southernmost of all of the world’s landmasses except for the Antarctic continent. Nacho radioed the lonely outpost of the Cape Horn lighthouse asking for permission to approach closer than the regulation three-mile limit, which was cheerfully granted. We were advised the remain indoors, until at the closest point, the ship turned to starboard, and, with a following wind and sea, calm prevailed. We had excellent views of this infamous landmark – actually the southernmost island of the archipelago that is the region of Chile and Argentina known as Tierra del Fuego. We continued on our course heading for the entrance to the Beagle Channel, some 90 miles distant, enjoying breakfast in the newly placid conditions. The wind continued to blow as we passed more islands, and the seabirds revelled in the conditions. Mike talked about his role in combatting modern-day piracy, and Julia gave a presentation on her time as a team member at Port Lockroy the previous summer. 2.00 pm saw us pick up our pilot at the entrance to the Beagle, and the now calm sea and diminishing winds gave us a smooth ride up the channel, with last winter’s snows barely showing above forested mountainsides. John ended his presentation series with a lecture on his life in the Royal Navy. Late afternoon we gathered in the lounge for Sue’s much-anticipated showing of the voyage slideshow, a reminder if we needed it of the amazing things we have seen and done on this incredible journey. At 6.00 pm Island Sky gently made fast alongside in the charming town of Ushuaia, before our final dinner on board.

Saturday, 1st December 2018 – Ushuaia

After breakfast the bags were on the dock, and after farewelling our wonderful crew and the expedition team, it was down the gangway to board coaches for our various activities in Ushuaia. The town bills itself as being ‘at the end of the word’, but we know better. We have been beyond the end of the world, and it has been a life-changing experience!

 

 

 End of Voyage

For further inspiration, view slideshow of images taken during the voyage

 

 

 

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