Stacy in Antarctica

An adventure to the frozen continent

Nov 9th – Beagle Channel

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At 7:30am I was woken to the soothing tones of Boris, our Expedition Leader, over the PA speaker.

“Good morning Akademik Ioffe,
It is now seven thirty am, on Tuesday, the 9th of November.
The weather is fine in Ushuaia, it is six degrees outside, wind speed at around ten knots.
Today we plan to sail the Beagle Channel. We will also have a number of presentations from our expedition members that we will keep you informed of throughout the day.
Breakfast will be at eight am in the dining room. We hope to see you there.
Good morning.”

Due to our southern location on the earth, the sun had already been up for a few hours and the clouds were slowly lifting off the mountain tops. I jumped out of bed, full of excitement for the new day and the lingering answer to our itinerary problems. I began working my way into the neat piles of thermal clothing I had unpacked into my cabin closet, a sense of order that would not last.

Not yet troubled by sea sickness (but having taken our tablets/patches anyway the night before), everyone turned up to breakfast, where we helped ourselves to a buffet of eggs, bacon, porridge, assorted cereals, yoghurt, toast and fresh fruit. There was a noticeable level of anxiety in the air as we all waited for news about the permit. Finally, Boris stepped up to the microphone and announced that there was still no news to report but today would be the day that a decision would be made as to our itinerary. He then explained to us that they had already received permission to go ahead with their “Plan B”, which would be a trip to South Georgia Island, along with credit to take a trip to Antarctica at another time.

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As far as bad news went this new plan was pretty good. No one on the trip was at all adverse to visiting South Georgia Island, home to the King and Macaroni penguins in mind-blowingly large numbers (over 100 thousand and 2.5 million breeding pairs respectively) along with large colonies of seals and sea birds, including the wandering albatross, which for those who haven’t been to a museum in a while, has the largest wing span of any living bird. We were also assured that we could still participate in the activities we had signed up for (kayaking, skiing) while we were there. Not a bad deal for a backup plan really, but our hearts were set on Antarctica and we were still pondering how we’d break the news to our family and friends if we didn’t actually go.

After our situation update we were introduced to the team on board who would be looking after us both on and off the boat and teaching us interesting facts about everything from marine mammals and birds to photography and Antarctic explorers.

Our boatside staff:

  • Boris; our fearless expedition leader
  • Eva, Carolina, Maggie and Sarah; would be keeping us comfortable and entertained both inside and outside of the boat
  • Andy and Rose; would be keeping the bar well stocked with hot and cold drinks
  • Dr Hugo; the doctor on duty, who had already threatened us with large rusty needles if we failed to take our sea sickness medication

Our guides:

  • Paul and Sean; ski touring guides
  • Chad, Mark and Nate; kayaking guides

Our team of experts:

  • Dave; historian, meteorologist and seasoned Antarctic expeditioner
  • Michael; marine mammal expert
  • Liz; whale and boating expert
  • Simon; bird expert
  • Daisy; photography expert
  • David; artist in residence

There was one person who wasn’t introduced to us during the presentation, Aaron, who was located in an undisclosed location on the boat and was tied to all potential communication devices in his effort to ensure our trip to Antarctica went ahead.

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After breakfast the kayakers were called to the mud room to meet our guides. There were 15 of us in total, and after a brief introduction by each of our guides we all gave a run down of our kayaking experience, including the all important question “have you done a wet exit?” I was quite surprised to find that not many of us had completed an official sea kayaking course or performed a wet exit, however, everyone in the group had been in a kayak or canoe before and we all seemed to be fairly new to the activity. It was quite good to find that everyone in the group was on the same level. Once we’d all introduced ourselves, Chad and Nathan went through some information about the activity and the gear that we were going to be wearing while we were out on the water. We were then set free under the instruction that we come back after lunch to fit our dry suits.

Due to the length of our meeting we had missed the start of Simon’s talk on sea birds. I snuck into the presentation room and watched the end of the talk with interest as Simon discussed the sea birds that populate the areas we would be traveling through. Albatrosses, petrels, prions, gulls, terns, skuas and shags. It was a lot to take in. After the presentation we had lunch and began our trip down the Beagle Channel. There was still no news of the permits being approved and we were slowly losing hope. However, the weather was fine so I went out onto the deck and listened to Simon, while he pointed out some of the gulls and petrels that were already following us down the channel.

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The time arrived for dry suit fitting so I made my way back to the mud room, where all the kayakers had gathered in the clothes we were planning to wear under our dry suits. Dry suits were handed out and we were asked to check the neck and arm gaskets for their fit. For those who are not familiar with dry suits, they are worn like a wet suit, however, they come with tight-fitting latex or neoprene gaskets, which fit snugly around the arms, neck and feet (in our suits the feet were enclosed) to water entering into the suit. If they aren’t tight fitting, well I think you can work out what happens. Getting wet when the water is 0°C is neither pleasant, nor wise. Our dry suits were constructed out of a relatively thin nylon membrane, kind of like a really good rain jacket, and like rain jackets they are not good insulators. Therefore, we had to bulk up our thermal garments underneath to compensate.

It took me a few tries before I found a suit that fit my neck properly, however, after a few minutes I realised that my hands were going numb because the gaskets were too tight on my wrists. Since there wasn’t much else to choose from they decided to stretch the gaskets overnight so they would fit. Another quirk of my suit, compared to others, was that mine did not come with enclosed feet, so I would have to wear my thick socks and rubber gumboots over the top so my feet would stay warm and dry. We also received a PFD (or Personal Flotation Device, otherwise known as a life jacket in the non-kayaking world) and a neoprene skirt, which would keep the water out of our kayak. Once we were fully geared up we removed everything and hung it up on our own personal coat hangers, ready for our first trip out onto the water, whenever that may be.

Just as we were finishing there was an announcement over the PA system. Boris wanted to advise us that the permits had been signed and we were going to Antarctica! He encouraged everyone to make their way out to the bow, where there was hot coffee, Baileys and choc chip cookies for everyone.

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Everyone cheered and raced out to the bow deck (front end of the ship), the mood suddenly lifted to great heights. We were already half way down the Beagle Channel and our next stop would be Antarctica.

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That evening we were again advised by our on-board physician, Dr Hugo, to take our sea sickness medication because we could be in for a rough few days. Boris also explained how the lost 24 hrs wouldn’t be much of a disruption to the schedule as our new plan was to power across the Drake Passage as fast as the weather conditions would allow us, arriving at the South Shetland Islands in a little under 48 hrs.

Today’s Set: Antarctica – Day 2

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