Friday, January 19, 2018

Antarctica and Patagonia: An Adventure on the Seabourn Quest - Part III (Drake Passage and Greenwich Island-Yankee Harbour)

Seabourn Quest, Seabourn Ventures
and Gentoo Penguins
After the Seabourn Quest departed the Falkland Islands it was a day at sea.  Oh, but we had things to do!

The first, and most feared thing:  Cross the Drake Passage!  With fear and trepidation our crossing actually started the evening before, but now we were deep into it.  With the wind and the sea it was...How can I explain it?...actually totally anticlimactic.  No Drake Shake; just Drake Lake.

Antarctica appearing out of the fog

But back to the interesting stuff!

The guests are divided into five color groups.  You find your group out when an armband, that also acts as a keycard carrier, is delivered to your stateroom at turndown.  Your armband determines when you engage in the landings.  Myself:  I have a white armband.  That means I got to be the first group on the first day.  It also means I will probably be one of the last groups tomorrow.  But you must also keep in mind that being "first" doesn't necessarily mean being "best".  So today, while I loved being out there without waiting impatiently, and also photographing in the mist and gray, the later groups are being blessed with blue skies and bright sun.

[I will also jump ahead.  If you have kayaking scheduled a group and an approximate time.  If your kayaking time interferes with your group's landing time, you have the ability to use a "wildcard" and land with whatever group you desire that doesn't conflict.]

Young Elephant Seal
(Should be at sea, so hopefully it is OK.)
About mid-morning we had a mandatory IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) Briefing.  It was actually quite interesting, with Iggy's humor definitely assisting.  Basically it sets out the rules which everyone is required to follow in order to ensure the areas visited remain as pristine as possible.  Trust me, after the first landing you will begin to understand just how much penguin poop there is and how it coats everything that is near it...and how to clean it off.

This was followed by a mandatory Zodiac Briefing where you learn how to properly dress, use the life vests and board the zodiacs (which are semi-rigid inflatable boats...commonly referred to as RIBs).

And this was followed by a mandatory Bio Security Check.  You simply bring with you any outerwear (jackets, pants, gloves, hats, backpacks, etc.) that you have used previously (i.e. not the Seabourn Antarctic jackets you just received or those new waterproof pants you purchased...unless you used them on the trip).  You are called by color group (get used to it) to the Club, your items are inspected and, if necessary vacuumed, and then given back to you.

After a leisurely afternoon and the clocks being set forward a second time (so you are two hours ahead of actually time so that you do not realize you are getting up and going to bed so early!) there was the first of the Recap and Briefing Session.  At these sessions the events of the day (animal sightings, etc.) are discussed and then what is expected to happen the next day is laid out.  Through my experience with other expeditions and safaris, these are well and truly most valuable.

Gentoo Penguin
I have to admit it:  After the recap I decided that I just couldn't and didn't want dinner.  I laid down in my suite and, ever so nicely, my stewardess did the turndown with my assuredly snoring away!  I did venture out around 9 PM to have a glass of wine and a look-see out of the Observation Lounge, as it remains light very late (and especially with the artificial time change).  But as the guests were as quiet as the sea, I called it an early evening.

I awoke early, at 6 AM, to a glass-like ocean and thick fog.  Were we going to be on time?  What would we see?  In order to answer those questions I had to wander up to the Observation Lounge for Early Riser's Coffee where there were about half a dozen others.  Thick fog.  So disappointing.

But then, literally in an instant:  Antarctica!  It was a spectacular entrance.  (Thank you Captain Bjarne Larsen!)  "Breathtaking" just doesn't properly describe it. And, being that there were so few of us seeing it, it just seemed so very personal.

Antarctica appearing through the fog
on the Seabourn Quest

And then, feeling the fog must have delayed us, Captain Larsen made an announcement:  We arrived a half hour early!  Time for breakfast!

Yankee Harbour, Greenwich Island, Antarctica
It was now time to gear up.  Seabourn requires that you be "Zipped and Clipped" meaning you have everything on:  Jackets, waterproof pants, hats, life vest, etc. all on and zipped up before heading into the Club and onto the deck (now behind protective all-weather curtains) to the lockers where your boots are stored.  Once your boots are on you head to the portside doors leading to the stairwell and Deck 3, where you are staged, dip your boots into disinfectant and board the zodiacs.  On the return, after cleaning your boats on shore and then disinfecting them after your zodiac ride, you are directed to the elevators (which are smartly modified to only allow you to go to Deck 5 where you are directed aft to store your boots before being set free about the ship.

Gentoo Penguin

Gentoo Penguin colonies are not exactly the cleanest places!
We had a short zodiac ride to the beach at Yankee Harbour on Greenwich Island.  We were met by quite a few of the Seabourn Expedition team, who were ready, willing and very able to answer any questions and also make you feel comfortable.  They had arrived before us and clearly marked out the permitted areas with flags and ropes so keeping the proper distance was easy.

We are also met by hundreds of squawking Gentoo penguins (many with small chicks), Skuas and Petrals flying about trying to capture chicks, three elephant seals and a wayward Chinstrap penguin.

Chinstrap Penguin
Giant Petral
Even though I love animals and photography, I spent most of my time just soaking in both the enormous views...simply far to large and majestic to capture on a photograph...and the fact that after decades of dreaming about coming to Antarctica I was here.

Elephant Seal
Travel can be emotional, personal, fulfilling and inspiring.  This moment was all of that and more.

Gentoo Penguin and her chicks
Most had two chicks, but one is larger than the other. 
The smaller one will probably not survive.
I will not degrade my personal experience by saying I have now been to all seven continents, for that means nothing to me.  But to be fair there are a number of guests onboard the Seabourn Quest that it is a milestone of sorts that fulfills their goals.  I am happy for them and do not begrudge them their view of Antarctica being a place to tick off.  However, I am not a "tick it off the list" kinda guy, but you knew that!

Gentoo Penguin protecting her chicks from a Skua.
Once you have had your fill there are zodiacs that can shuttle you back as you wish, with the last shuttle (at least today) about 1.25 hours after you arrive.  If you miss that shuttle you have to wait for the next group to start arriving, which is about 30 minutes later.  Personally, the time flew so quickly for me that not waiting for the last opportunity to depart wasn't an option, but a requirement.

After returning to the ship, many of you know where I went:  "My" hot tub.  It was the perfect place to unwind and "soak" in the magnificent views.

I'm working hard for you: 
Making sure the forward hot tub
on the Seabourn Quest is properly operating and
confirming its unobstructed views of Antartica
After lunch there was a very interesting lecture on ice and glaciers.  It was of note that attendence was down about 75% for this lecture.  I am not sure if it was the topic (which everyone should understand if you want to understand the basics of Antarctic geology and biology, the effects of global climate change, etc.), being off the ship exploring or taking naps after an exciting morning.

I then arranged a special event for my clients sailing with me: a "Welcome to Antarctica!" Cocktail Party in my Penthouse suite.

Executive Chef Gerard and Chef Mahesh
created quite the cocktail party for Goldring Travel's clients
Chef Gerard (new to Seabourn) and Chef Mahesh (who seems to be on every Seabourn cruise I am on) put on a show providing us with:

  • Crispy Shrimp Cigars with sweet and sour dipping sauce
  • Fish Poppers with garlic mayonnaise
  • Stuffed Tomatoes with Vegetable Ratatouille
  • Nicoise Crostini
  • Warm Potato Cakes with Caviar
  • Baby Scallops in Peruvian Jus
  • Avocado Shrimp Maki
  • Lobster Vol au Vent
Seabourn Quest's Penthouse Suites are great for entertaining
After our celebration, it was time for our evening Conversation with the Expedition Team reviewing our first day and getting ready for the next day of our Antarctic Adventure.  And once again, I was simply too full to even think about having dinner. 

It was another memorable day...and one that allowed Antarctica to truly touch me.

Interested? please call, email or message me!

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Antarctica and Patagonia: An Adventure on the Seabourn Quest - Part II (Falkland Island Penguins)

My Antarctic and Patagonia Adventure on the Seabourn Quest continued with two days at sea before arriving at the Falkland Islands.  During this period there was a combination of preparation, lectures and leisure time...and concern over whether we would be able to tender in the Falklands.

King Penguins - Volunteer Point, Falkland Islands
Shortly after our departure from Montevideo, Uruguay there was a Meet the Expedition Team event where each of the very diverse and talented team members introduce themselves.  The diversity of expertise is impressive ranging from birds to whales to glaciers to history and more. There are some that I have traveled with before and some that are new to me.  But to appreciate the experience that you will be guided by, when I mentioned that I read "Lost Antarctica" by James McClintock one of the expedition team members said, "Oh, I've known Jim for years, spending time with him mostly at Palmer Station." 

The following day you see many of the team out and about.  The aft deck outside the Seabourn Square and the Observation Lounge are encouraged for wildlife sightings.  I saw a pod of fin whales and then sea lions (who were lounging on their backs with the fins out of the water to cool down) as well as albatross and petrels in less than an hour.  The staff has been warm, friendly and informative.

King Penguins
There also was a Parka Exchange where you can change the Seabourn parka provided to you if it is too large or small.  It is a one time event so that Seabourn is not saddled with a bunch of used parkas!  This is followed by a Boot Exchange and Storage, where your boots are kept in lockers with your suite number on it to assure they are biologically clean (avoiding contaminating Antarctica from seeds, etc. from elsewhere).  I would note that more people brought there own boots than I  had anticipated.  There are also Kayak Q&A's which get you familiar with dry suits, getting in and out of kayaks, etc.  On the education front, there was a Conversation about Seabirds of the South Atlantic.

The next sea day, with anticipation as to whether we will make it to the Falkland Islands, Seabourn's preparing us for our Antarctic Experience continued with a Binocular Clinic, Kayak Q&A's, Antarctic Operations Q&A's coupled with lectures on photography and then Conversations on the bird life of the Falklands and the Penguins of South America and the South Atlantic.  (There are also historical lectures.)

But with the wind fairly strong and steady, and rain in the forecast, the Seabourn Quest's officers gave us some hope during a private bridge tour that the seas looked like they were going to quiet...oh, but what about the winds?

Seabourn Quest - Port Stanley, Falklands Islands
Short, and by now obvious, answer:  We made it!  I was up at 5:00 a.m. (earlier than anticipated...or wanted) to bright skies and calm seas.  An absolutely picture perfect day in the Falklands.

King Penguin
Fortunately it was also the day for the Ensemble Travel Group Ensemble Experience shore event at Volunteer Point:  A 4x4 adventure to see King, Magellanic and Gentoo penguins.  (So you can appreciate the value of booking with an Ensemble Travel Agent - such as myself!!!! - this complimentary experience could also be purchased through Seabourn for $399 a person.)

We were on the 7:00 a.m. tender and met by a small fleet of 4x4's for a 2.5 hour truly off-road experience through peat bogs and incredibly rocky landscapes to Volunteer Point.  I was struck by the beauty of this relatively stark, treeless, landscape...and the fact that there is literally no road, or even singularly traveled track, to this incredible place.

The Falkland Islands have an extremely unusual landscape
with flowing rivers of large loose granite seemingly formed
during Ice Age freeze-thaw cycles
Upon arrival at Volunteer Point (about an inch shorter:  result of the disc compression over the ride!) I was struck by the green grass and orderly arrangement of most of the penguins. Magellanic to the right, Gentoo in the middle and King Penguins straight ahead.  "Follow the signs to the beach and stay behind the stone markers and rope lines."  It actually all works incredibly well, with minders reminding (sometimes forcefully to the obstinate people) that the penguins decided to nest here and that it is not a petting zoo arranged for their amusement.

While most charged off to the large colonies, I was first attracted to a grassy ditch where I saw some Magellanic penguins.

Magellanic penguins make burrows
Magellanic Penguin
The pink areas are exposed skin...used to cool off
Magellanic penguins rotate their heads looking at you.
Why? Curious or threatened.  Depends who you ask!
Magellanic penguins heading back to their burrows after a swim
I highly recommend taking your time, sitting or (like me) lying on the ground while you observe.  Why?  Well there are two reasons:  A.  Your photographs will have a more natural perspective rather than just looking down on these curious birds; and, B.  By making yourself smaller you are less intimidating and the birds seem to relax more.  Note as to Point B:  There is penguin poop everywhere, so you will have to endure that...but I believe it well worth it.  (You can bring a ground sheet, if you must.)

Cute Gentoo penguin chick.
But my photograph would have been better if I was at eye level.
It was then off to the Gentoo penguin colony.  These guys are black with a white patch on the sides of their heads.

Gentoo Penguin

Gentoo penguin feeding time... Pleeeaasssee!

Gentoo penguin chick 

Notice the Gentoo penguin's beak and tongue: 
Little serrated edges and backward facing ridges on the tongue.
Perfect for grabbing food on the "fly"!
I noticed some Gentoo were heading over to the beach as well and captured a photo I really like.  (One has a tendency to anthropomorphize them - give them human characteristics.)  This photograph reminds me of children at the Jersey Shore playing on the beach near the surf.

Gentoo penguins on the beach

The Falklands and South Georgia Island (which is only visited on the Seabourn's Holiday Antarctic Cruise) are the only locations during the Antarctic Adventure that you have the opportunity to see King Penguins.  These large, brilliant, birds look similar to (but are smaller than) the Emperor penguins; however those birds nest far inland and you will not have any chance of seeing them.

King Penguins
Their colors and regal nature is breathtaking.

King and Gentoo Penguines

King Penguins mating
King Penguin brooding
(The egg is in a brood pouch
and held on the feet)
King Penguin chick
Know as an "Oakum Boy"
Oakum Boy: 
I'm sure his mother thinks he is good looking
There was also a single Rockhopper Penguin tucked in the Gentoo colony.  Apparently he just decided to molt and once that starts the penguin will sit for about two weeks changing out its feathers.  (It was humorous when a guest came up to me with great authority insisting the Rockhopper was a fledgling waiting to be fed.  Folks, penguins do not feed other species of penguins.  In fact, they don't feed chicks of their species if they are not their chicks.)

Rockhopper Penguin
Rockhopper Penguin
There were other birds present as well.  I saw (couldn't get a good photo of) Flightless Steamer Ducks and a number of small birds, as well as:

Upland Geese
Falklands Two Banded Plover

Magellanic Oystercatcher
Dolphin Gull
After too short a time (for me) it was back into the 4x4 for our trip back to Port Stanley.  It again captured my eye how beautiful the Falklands Islands are...and how lucky we were with the weather as the rain started to come down.

Having truly utilized all of our time in the Falkland Islands it was right back to the ship and shortly thereafter our sail away...heading to the Drake's Passage and wishing us calm seas.

Dinner was quite enjoyable sitting at an invited table with two of the Expedition Team:  Claudio and Meredith.  It was a fun night getting to know them and some other guests a bit better.  We closed the Restaurant.

The End!
Interested? please call, email or message me!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232