Join Ushuaia and in the afternoon board the Polar Pioneer and prepare for an early evening departure.
Cape Horn, the most southerly point of the American continent, has stimulated the imagination of mankind since Sir Francis Drake inadvertently rounded it back in 1580. Some of us will approach this historic crossing with more than a little trepidation. But despite its reputation, there are many times when the Drake Passage resembles a lake, with lazy Southern Ocean swells rolling under the keel. On the other hand, we sometimes encounter rough crossings with large waves. The size of the waves and the force of the gale will take on gigantic proportions when related around the fire back home. The mood on board is definitely casual. A favourite pastime is to stand at the stern deck watching the many seabirds, including majestic albatrosses and giant petrels, following in our wake, skillfully using the air currents created by the ship to gain momentum. During our Drake crossing, we will commence our lecture program about the wildlife, geology, history and geography of the Antarctic Peninsula. Our history lectures will largely be focused on Shackleton. Antarctica is a photographers' paradise, for the professional and amateur alike. There will be discussions about how to protect your equipment from salt water, and tips about taking good pictures. Nearing the tip of the Peninsula towards the end of day three, excitement reaches fever pitch with everyone on the bridge watching for our first iceberg. The ocean takes on a whole new perspective once we are below the Antarctic Convergence and are surrounded by the surreal presence of floating ice sculptures. The memory of your first big iceberg sighting is likely to remain with you forever.
We cruise from the South Shetland Islands and through spectacular Gerlache Strait, passing the western flank of the Antarctic Peninsula - where you'll step foot on the continent. While cruising among the icebergs we may attempt to enter Antarctic Sound and visit some of the magnificent penguin rookeries at the northern end of the Peninsula. Our experienced leaders, who have made countless journeys to this area, will use this expertise to design our voyage from day to day. This allows us to make best use of the prevailing weather and ice conditions and wildlife opportunities. We will use these daylight hours as vigorously as possible. We are always keen to explore new territory, so if the opportunity arises, we will! To get ashore we will use Zodiacs (inflatable rubber boats). Sometimes we will cruise along spectacular ice cliffs, or follow whales that are feeding near the surface. In these situations we will appreciate the distinct advantage of being on a small vessel, which gives everyone the opportunity to experience these very special close encounters with the wildlife.
Today we set course for Elephant Island, a half-submerged mountain cloaked with an ice sheet at the outer limits of the South Shetlands. En route, our recaps and lectures will resume and there will be time to gather strength for the busy days ahead. After their ship the 'Endurance' was crushed in pack ice in the Weddell Sea, Ernest Shackleton and his men climbed into three open boats and finally, on 14 April 1916, made landfall on this tiny t of rock and ice in the vastness of the Southern Ocean. We may sail past Cape Valentine to see the beach where the men first put ashore. Weather permitting; we hope to follow the coastline six miles west to Point Wild. We will attempt to make a landing where the men eventually set up camp under two of their upturned open boats and some old tents, while Sir Ernest, Worsley and four other crew members sailed to South Georgia for help. Conditions are often unsuitable for landing due to the large swells surging around hidden rocks, but it is always worth a try! Just to set eyes on this hallowed site sends shivers down the spine. Leaving Elephant Island, we will head across the Scotia Sea in a southwesterly direction towards the South Orkney Islands, a stunning group of islands, remote and alone jutting out of the sea.
South Georgia is one of the most beautiful places in the world. South Georgia is a tiny speck in the South Atlantic Ocean, located in one of the most desolate parts of our planet. A 3,000-metre mountain range traces the spine of this long, narrow island. Between the mountains, shattered glaciers carve their way through tussock grass to the deeply indented coastline. We have ample time to explore the network of harbours along South Georgia's spectacular northern coast, visiting wildlife havens that include the world's largest king penguin rookeries and majestic albatross nests. Kayakers revel in paddling the coastline's nooks and crannies, accompanied by playful seals. In Stromness and Grytviken harbours, 3000-metre peaks form dramatic backdrops to the remains of whaling stations. Kelp-strewn beaches are cluttered with basking elephant seals, feisty fur seals and a plethora of penguins.
We cross the Scotia Sea. Entertained by our expert naturalist and historian we have time to reflect on our journey so far.
This morning we will disembark in Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands where we will disembark and take a short tour of the town before transferring to the airport for our flight to Punta Arenas.