Live from Antarctica, Part 4

| Wednesday, 05 Mar. 2003

NOTE:   Society Expeditions is no longer in service, however this four-part report on Antarctic cruising contains much valuable information for those wishing to sail in the region with other cruise lines.

Click here for Part 1 Click here for Part 2 Click here for Part 3

Until now, I have been extolling the delights of the penguins, birds and fantastic ice that we sail past, but I have hardly mentioned Society Expeditions' crew members who make it all happen -- from the officers, expedition leaders and lecturers to the cabin and dining staff.

Without the World Discoverer's able-bodied seamen and zodiac drivers, you'd never get ashore. They and the expedition staff scout the landing locations, assess the conditions and get us safely there and back again. When we have a two-part excursion, divided between land and a zodiac tour on the water, that driver is the one who will decide when you can stand up to take a picture. But he will also get you into the right position, then maneuver the boat so others have a chance for a good view.

Yesterday our zodiac driver got us just the right angles so everyone could get shots of some glowing blue ice and the Weddell seals we encountered. When I saw penguins swimming in front of us, he followed them.

Going ashore is certainly an important aspect of this expedition. But you must remember you are entering the animals' environment. Just as we demand our personal space, so do they. Some of the ruder species will just chase you or spit on you -- something to remember. Getting too close to a nest or an animal can disrupt and scare them. But if you stand still and let them explore you, the courageous ones will. It is an incredible experience.

Going ashore means donning layers of outerwear that leave you resembling the Michelin Man! Then you waddle down to a changing room to put on your waterproof boots. Each cabin has a cubbyhole where you put your shoes until you return. Then it is important to wash down your boots and pants so that no organisms are transported to another landing site.

The lectures are equally important to appreciating the Antarctic. I certainly wish I could have taken a geology course with Myrl Beck, a professor from Western Washington University. He and the ship's other experts made everything very accessible and informative. They mingle and dine with the passengers, escort groups ashore, answer questions, point out important landmarks and animals, and make sure you go only where you should.

There is always someone to help you climb rocky slopes and to get you back down again. Wherever you find a lecturer, you can ask a question or just chat. I have never met such a passionate, gregarious group of people. And the German lecturers all speak excellent English, so although I may not understand all the technical details of their presentations, I can still benefit from their knowledge ashore or when I meet them on the ship. My fellow passengers always ask thoughtful, insightful questions during the daily recap. This is the time in the evening when the staff and the expedition leader, Clemens, go over what we did during the day, answer questions, and outline the next day's activities.

Days on board the World Discoverer are never dull or boring. There are lectures, films, documentaries and bird-watching from the deck. In between there is breakfast, bouillon, lunch, tea, and dinner. Although there is no entertainment, you won't miss it. You will also not find a ship's photographer! The gym is small -- just a treadmill, stationary bike, weight machine and sauna. The other day, some passengers started an impromptu exercise class in the passageway!

This ship has an open bridge policy, so you can go there any time. Today was a perfect example. Early this afternoon the captain came on the p.a. system and announced "Whales! Come on up to the bridge, get out on deck!" Five fin whales, the second largest species of baleen whale, were playing on our bow! Blowing, surfacing, cutting across the bow, traveling alongside the ship, it was just fantastic. They stayed with us for over half an hour. The bridge was crowded with people and so was the open deck in front. Everyone was just in awe of these enormous creatures. What a perfect way to conclude our surprisingly calm journey through the Drake Passage.

Tomorrow we will sail past Cape Horn and on into Ushuaia and make our way home. Who knows what the morning will bring, but we will all be waiting, breathlessly, for one last adventure before we disembark.

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