The Antarctica expedition was a remarkable vacation filled with amazing adventures and people to share them with.
It all began in the small Argentinian town of Ushuaia which serves as the port of call for most vessels heading to and from Antarctica. Ushuaia is a quaint little village with cafes, restaurants, shops, and even a casino. Whilst there we took advantage of some of the local trips and took a ride on the train to the end of the world, and hiked through the breathtaking Tierra del Fuego national park.
After a couple days in Ushuaia we finally embarked aboard the Ortelius, a small (compared to many of the other boats at harbor) ice breaker. The boat took approximately 150 passengers and crew. Only outfitted with thrusters, and no stabilizers we had a rambunctious ride across The Drake Passage for the next 2 1/2 days heading to the Antarctic Peninsular. These were full of briefings about different things with the crew/expedition team and reading, watching TV, Sleeping, and talking with the other passengers in the bar area. Those of us Diving also spent a lot of time prepping our gear and our minds. I dont mind saying that even as an experienced Instructor I was nervous.
Once we arrived in Antarctica it was awe inspiring. The towering white icebergs the size of city blocks and the contrast of the black rock and icy waters gave way to our first morning on land.
On the morning of the Third day we sited land and Icebergs everywhere. We arrived on the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsular called the Danco Coast. Our first stop was Cuverville Island where we were to do our check out dive. After many briefings and 20 years of waiting I was about to tick Antarctic diving off my bucket list. We left the main ship on RIBS with Catherine, Michael and Henrik in charge, to a shallow sloping beach where we entered the water for the first time. The initial feeling was shock as the water hits your face but after 30 seconds our faces were numb and the pain had gone. The first dive was all about weighting and comfort in the environment and we did well seeing lots of cool macro life including giant Isopods and starfish.
After the dive we were extremely relieved and head to the beach to be greeted by thousands of Gentoo penguins. Some of the non-divers had taken a zodiac tour and saw a leopard seal as well.
That afternoon we did another dive off of Danco island with more isopods, starfish, a crab eater seal and one of the lightning quick gentoo penguins.
After a night sheltering in the bays we headed to Neko Harbour and Brown base for the 2nd day. Brown base had some of the best diving we did with a beautiful wall full of different colored kelp and lots of macro life. The highlight for me was a marine snail laying eggs, and the Jellys that were just floating by. Both locations were full of Gentoo penguins too and at Brown Base we were able to take an incredible zodiac tour through the ice fields to see the large group of Crab Eater Seals. The Kayaking group were also able to get up close to these huge seals and see whales close to the kayaks.
That evening we camped on the ice in Paradise Harbour. This was pretty serial with sunlight the whole night long. We started by digging a ft deep hole for us to lie in then laying out our sleeping bags. The rule was everything we took to land we took away so the small porta potty was only for emegencies. I slept well, but others struggled however we can all say that we spent a night on the ice in Antarctica which is pretty cool.
The next day started by traveling through the Lemaire Channel which is only 600m wide and full of icebergs with huge mountainous cliffs on either side. It was a beautiful site and at the end was Pleneau Island where we planned to dive in the ice field. The Island acts as a dam for the Icebergs at the end of the Lemaire channel so there are thousands there off all shapes and sizes. We tried to dive one of them but the water was moving so fast and the icebergs so packed together we were forced to abort on safety grounds. So spent the rest of the morning on the island watching the Adele Penguins and their chicks trying to avoid the Giant Skewer birds that were poaching the chicks.
That afternoon we headed to our furthest south point of Petermann Island, at Petermann we did dive on a small iceberg (size of a large house above the water, but 90% of it was below the surface). This was one of the hardest and scariest dives I have ever done with the iceberg moving up and down all the time you had a sucking then pushing affect. Also when you get close to the icebergs the water becomes fresh which causes buoyancy issues. This was the shortest dive we did as none of us were very comfortable but it was a challenge and I am glad to say I have done it.
Petermann island was full of Adele Penguins too with colonies of seals (Fur, Crabeaters and Weddell) around. The size of the Glaciers all around us the whole time in Antarctica was something words cant really explain. I have seen huge glaciers all over the World but none compared to these.
After Petermann we headed north with the plan to visit Port Lockroy, the Worlds southernmost Post office and a British base. Unfortunately when we arrived we were unable to get to the land as we had rough seas and 45kt winds. It was a shame to miss this but the correct decision from the crew. From Port lockroy we headed through the Neumayer channel which was full of whales and icebergs. The Whales were feeding on Krill and breaching all around the boat. We spent the day travelling north to Deception Island. This is a Caldera (Volcano that sank rather than exploding) and offered some good sheltered water. This was to be our last dive and we were not disappointed. it was for me the best of the lot, the stark contrast between the Black Volcanic sand and the Bright orange anemones and white whale bones was incredible. We were also more comfortable in all the gear by this stage.
Our last stop before heading into the Drake Passage again was Half Moon Island in the South Shetland Islands. This island was full of Chinstrap penguins and 1 Macaroni Penguin called Kevin who has obviously got lost at some point. As an old whaling station the beach was strewn with bones, and old boats that had become obstacles for the penguins to avoid as they headed down to the water.
After another 2 days in the Drake Passage we made it back to the shelter of the Beagle passage and Ushuaia for a night before heading home from the most amazing and exhilarating trip of a lifetime.