Today we meet in Santiago Airport for early morning departure to Port Stanley (via Punta Arenas), Falkland Islands. In the afternoon we board the ship and prepare for an early evening departure.
Between the Falklands and South Georgia, 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. You may decide to join the whale watchers on the bridge, or just relax and read a favourite book. The mood on board is definitely casual. As we depart the Falkland Islands we will commence our lecture program. During the voyage's various sea passages, we will learn about the wildlife, geology, history and geography of the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. Our various destinations are a photographer's paradise for the professional and amateur alike. There will be discussions about how to protect your equipment from salt water and tips for taking good pictures. If time and weather conditions permit we could pass close to Shag Rocks, a fascinating group of jagged rocky islets protruding from the sea. Blue-eyed cormorants fill the air; their precarious nesting sites are white with guano.
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.
Leaving South Georgia we will head across the Scotia Sea in a south-westerly direction towards the South Orkneys, a stunning group of remote and isolated islands.
The ocean takes on a whole new perspective once we are surrounded by the surreal presence of floating ice sculptures. The memory of the sight of your first iceberg will remain with you forever. Today we hope to make landings on and around the South Orkney Islands. We may visit beautiful Shingle Cove on Coronation Island, where we will have our first view of Adelie penguins. Or we may visit the Argentinean station of Orcardas, where the remains of the 1904 Bruce Expedition hut can still be seen.
Today we set course for the Antarctic Peninsula. Our recaps and lectures will resume and there will be time to gather strength for the busy days ahead. If the weather is kind we will attempt firstly to land on historic Elephant Island, a half-submerged mountain cloaked with an ice sheet at the outer limits of the South Shetlands. 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.
We visit the South Shetland Islands before sailing overnight down Gerlache Strait. Awaken to the thrill of Antarctica, where we plan to visit busy penguin rookeries, historic sites and make a continental landing. A host of choices is now open to us and, depending on the ice and weather conditions, the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula is ours to explore. 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. As we are so far south, we will experience approximately 18-20 hours' daylight. There is plenty of time for sleep when you get home! Once we arrive in the calmer waters of the Bransfield and Gerlache Straits, we will generally make landings or Zodiac excursions two to three times a day. Sometimes we will cruise along spectacular ice cliffs, or follow whales that are feeding near the surface.
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. A favourite pastime is to stand at the stern deck watching the many seabirds, including majestic albatrosses and giant petrels, following in our wake, skilfully using the air currents created by the ship to gain momentum.
During the early morning we will cruise up the Beagle Channel, before quietly slipping into dock in Ushuaia. After breakfast our trip concludes.