Tag Archives: Cruise

Nearly There…final preparations!

Thursday 22 February 2024 – We headed for bed having crossed the Circumpolar Current which delineates the Antarctic Ocean and provides the cut-off mechanism which effectively isolates it from other oceans it touches. This normally means a change in the weather – usually colder and often foggier. For us, not so much.

We really have been sensationally lucky with the weather enabling a calm crossing of the Drake Passage.  (Mind you, we have to head north again on the return journey, so the weather gods probably haven’t finished toying with us yet.)

We’re nearly there…

The food selection for breakfast was a little less to my liking than yesterday’s – frankfurter and hard-boiled rather than bacon and scrambled – but I did make one discovery that brought Oceanwide Adventures even closer to my heart.

We were promised a busy day, full of lectures and final preparations for actually leaving the boat at some stage, maybe even tomorrow. And so it proved.

The lecture programme started with a very engaging presentation from Sasha, a Russian Antarctic Scientist, who provided us with the first actual joke in all the lectures we’ve had so far.

He pointed out many arcane facts about Antarctica, which is, of course, a continent – but you knew that, didn’t you?:

  • At over 13 million square kilometres, it’s not the smallest continent. You can fit Australia or North America within Antarctica’s land mass
  • Its ice sheet contains 70% of the world’s fresh water, is up to 4km thick and is so heavy that it distorts the earth’s crust
  • If you were to remove the ice, before the crust sprang back into shape (at a sort of geological pace), this is what the continent would actually look like:

Yes, the Antarctic Peninsula (top left above) would be an island!

Sacha’s joke was based on comparing Antarctica and Russia. Antarctica is nearly 14 million square kilometres in area; Russia is just over 15 million square kilometres.  Antarctica is cold, 99% covered in ice. Russia is cold, 65% covered in permafrost.  Antarctica has Emperor Penguins. “And Russia”, he said, deadpan, “used to have an Emperor”.

The other lecture, from Ursula, a Swiss scientist, covered Pinnipeds.  She talked about five varieties in the Antarctic region, many of them concentrated around South Georgia.  There are true ones, there are eared ones, there are toothed ones. There are some which walk, some which can only waddle. They are seals – fur, leopard, Weddell, elephant and crabeater.

Humans are much more interested these days in conserving the various seal species than they used to be; fur seals, for example, were once hunted to near extinction because of the effectiveness of their pelts as warm clothing. The population has since recovered nicely and is thriving. This is not so much from human conservation, as from human predation on another species, principally the blue whale. Because of the effectiveness of human whaling, the  number of whales around to eat the krill that is such a key element in the food chain of the local fauna plummeted, thus leaving more krill for the fur seals, enabling the population to recover quickly. Unintended consequences litter the world of human hunting and conservation.

The preparations bit of the day was quite intense, mainly because there was quite a lot of it to be done and it had to be done to for any passenger who wanted to leave the boat on an expedition, i.e. all 170 of us.

Firstly, we all had to collect waterproof boots, which had been referred to as muck boots and which were a non-negotiable piece of clothing for any Zodiac-based landing.  Having collected ours, we discovered why they’re called muck boots.

The next, and particularly chaotic, process was the Biosecurity Session, to get all of our outerwear inspected, cleaned and disinfected, to ensure we don’t carry unwanted life forms to, from or between Antarctic locations.  So we carried our coats, waterproof trousers, backpacks, poles, gloves, hats, scarves, lifejackets, and boots down the four flights of stairs to a scene of barely controlled pandemonium.

The expedition staff were really earning their keep, dashing from one person to the next and helping them check their gear over – little bits of grit stuck in boot treads, fragments of seed caught in Velcro, splashes of mud anywhere, all had to be cleaned up and anything that would contact the ground, meaning boots and poles, disinfected.  It might have been somewhat chaotic, but it was done with charm and energy and we were soon checked over, signed off and free to lug our stuff back up the four flights of stairs to our cabin.

Evidence that we’re getting closer to the Antarctic landmass came in the form of sighting of the first iceberg.

The wonderful visibility that enabled us to see the iceberg at such a distance didn’t last. We suddenly found ourselves fogged in.  It looked very dense fog from our cabin window, but I thought I saw a fogbow forming so popped up to the top deck.

I wondered at the time whether the fog had come about because we were now near the South Shetland Islands (we had been told earlier that we might be able to see them as we went by). It turns out that our proximity to the islands was through a change of course which, in turn, had been necessitated by the need for a medical evacuation of a passenger.  Pippa gathered everyone together to brief us: the Plan B we’d been on was to become a Plan C whilst we took the boat close to where there was an airstrip via which the evacuation could take place – King George Island.

In a relative way, we were lucky – particularly the passenger who had to be evacuated – because the calm weather and our consequent good progress meant that we could likely combine the diverted route and evacuation procedure with an expedition to somewhere on the South Shetlands before heading south of the Antarctic Circle. The Plan B itinerary had had these components in the reverse order.

This was the plan, then, as we went into Dinner. During dinner, our slightly eccentric dining pattern drew the attention of Aleks, the restaurant manager, and Marvin, the senior steward, who are beginning to get used to the two odd English people who never have a main course at dinner.  The food on the boat is great, but, as with all cruises, there’s too much of it; also, we don’t like taking on a big dinner – at home we typically have just two meals a day.  So we have been having just a soup and starter.  Of course, the ship’s restaurant is geared up to whizzing out 170 full meals as efficiently as possible, and they do it very well – hordes of waiters scurrying back and forth dispensing plates of food with good cheer. The odd couple who don’t want one of the courses is thus a bit non-standard; but they’re beginning to cotton on, bless them.

Before dinner, Pippa had emphasised that the auguries for Plan C were good, but that, of course, we were still dependent upon the weather gods, and the times of the critical flight into and out of King George Island.

Which changed at least once, in what is clearly becoming very much business as usual for expedition-style trips such as this one.  Pippa’s original Plan C – let’s call it plan C1 – had involved everyone going out on a Zodiac cruise (i.e. no landings) tomorrow morning.  As we were dining, Plan C2 was announced, meaning that there would after all be a split expedition – one set of people going out for a landing, the other on a Zodiac cruise, with the two groups swapping over during the expedition timeslot. That’s the plan as we head to bed.

Let’s see if Plan C2 prevails, or whether a C3, or even C4, is needed.

All at sea

Friday 12 August 2022 – Our first day at sea has largely been an opportunity to draw breath after four days of scampering about, but we have managed to pack in a bit of Playing Tourist as well. The Tourist Thing is to view the Hubbard Glacier, one of the few glaciers in the world that are actually advancing – most are receding in the face of climate change. As I said in my earlier post, the outlook for a decent outlook wasn’t bright and the ship’s foghorn was sounding regularly.

However, there wasn’t a great deal we could do about the weather, so we turned our attention to Catching Up With Stuff in the hope that it would clear before we got to the glacier. The blog, for example, needed attention; yesterday was as yet undocumented and That Would Never Do.  Another task was a bit of laundry, because these things are important, you know. So the morning passed in contented admin, until the captain announced that we were nearing the glacier, at least as far as his navigational instruments could tell – I’m sure he couldn’t actually see the thing.  Francis (our butler) had recommended that we go to the observation deck café, so we hied ourselves thither in haste, with me clutching the recently-purchased extra-long telephoto lens as well as the camera to plug it into.

After a while, the fog began to lift.

and you could begin to make out the glacier from the clouds.


The clouds lifted further

and the glacier became clearer.

Eventually, glory be!, the sun came out and we had a clear view of the glacier.

The cruise has a couple of onboard experts on various things, including, fortunately, glaciers, and so we had a lecture over the PA system.  I expect it was highly informative, but frankly I was too busy taking photos to ay much attention. Also, since it was clear that the boat was inching closer to the glacier, we thought it might be a good idea to get some lunch. So we headed to La Terrazza, where a buffet lunch was on offer and seating on the deck seemed a good idea.

After a swift lunch, I headed back to the top deck, where it was clear that we’d got a lot closer to the glacier

(to give you some idea of the size of the glacier, we were some seven miles distant!)
and the deck was a popular place to be, now that the sun was out

not that everyone was dedicated to marvelling at the wonders of nature, mind.

The surrounding scenery also had a lot to recommend it.

After a while, the ship started very slowly to turn, and we realised that the view from our cabin was going to be pretty nice.  So we went down and I started processing photos whilst Jane took one last look at the glacier from our veranda.

Before long, the ship was under way to distance itself from Disenchantment Bay, and the weather closed in once again, underlining how lucky we’d been to have such a clear view of the glacier.

Mind you, it cleared again later, as we got further away from Disenchantment Bay.

Despite the excitement around seeing the Hubbard Glacier, today has been a fairly quiet affair, getting used to the idea of cruising; an opportunity to gather strength and gird our loins for the morrow. Maybe.

We arrive in Juneau, actually the capital of Alaska, at 0930ish tomorrow. In theory we’re going to walk up a mountain and then go whale watching.  However, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if the weather had some influence over what we actually do. The forecast is for a reasonably cool day with some showers, but who knows?  If you’d like to see how we got on, then please check in on the next entry here.

All a-bored!

Friday 12 August 2022 – We’re now aboard Silver Muse and underway. This is the view from our cabin’s balcony right now (it has been like that ever since we left Seward); appropriately we are in Disenchantment Bay.  (It improves – keep reading.)

We’re not missing anything right now, therefore this  is a fantastic opportunity to bring you up to date with how everything went yesterday.

This being a holiday, we were up earlier than would normally be the case at home. OK, the jetlag helped. Thing is, we needed to hand our luggage over to the nice Silversea people, conveniently located at a desk in the hotel lobby, between 8am and 9am, which means 8am ‘coz we always want to give ourselves maximum contingency for cock-ups. As well as handing over the suitcases, we had to prove that we were free of the Dreaded Lurgy and that we had ‘fessed up to the Canadian authorities about our imminent arrival in a week’s time. Jane, as always, had done a mistressful job of marshalling the necessary paperwork, which left the Silversea folks almost as impressed as I was.

It was our lot to travel by rail down to Seward, where the boat would leave. We actually had no particular idea about whether this was better or worse as an option than traveling by coach, but, whatever, we had to be ready to be picked up at 1215.  This gave me the opportunity to finish writing about our day in Anchorage on Wednesday, which had been sufficiently eventful that it took two days to write it up.

The rail trip to Seward starts, somewhat counterintuitively, from the airport. There are no scheduled trains from Anchorage to Seward, so this was a Silversea Special and it departed from the rail depot at the airport (presumably needed because of the massive logistical significance of Anchorage as a hub). A coach took us to the airport, where we joined a queue to prove, once again, that we had the paperwork, then another queue to get a boarding pass for the train and our cabin keys. There was a holding pen whilst we waited to board the train

and then we were called by carriage number.  They called carriage 555 first, and we were carriage 554, so held ourselves in readiness to sprint forward. Then they called….carriage 553. No matter, they hadn’t forgotten us and we were next to take the walk down the platform.

The carriage had big observation windows

and for the journey we had the pleasure of the company of the two ladies bottom right, Rebecca and her mother Margaret. Notice that there’s nowhere to put bags, so my super-heavyweight backpack had to be stashed somewhere else.

The carriage was run by a chap called Christian, who did the best he could to gee everyone up with tales of possible sightings of moose and eagles and bears and that, but his news that the train trip was going to take four and a half “ish” hours came as a bit of a surprise. The weather conditions also quite literally dampened expectations of fabulous and interesting views.

Christian started serving people from the far end of the carriage and it became clear that it would take him some time to work his way up to our end.  Happily, we discovered that we were next to the buffet car, which was rather like any British Rail buffet car except the lady serving behind the counter knew how to mix cocktails.  We satisfied ourselves with a hat trick of G&Ts before we were able to get a salad via Christian’s service, and that nicely lubricated the conversation with Rebecca and Margaret as we ground our way slowly along.

The most interesting challenge, photographically, was seeking a gap among the trees in order to get a photo.  The train might have been moving slowly, but the gaps between the trees seemed to flash right by.  I managed one glacier

and one lake

and that was about it (no moose or eagles or bears), which meant that by the time we got to Seward we were beginning to feel rather bored with the whole process. I don’t know whether the coach option might have been swifter, but we were all glad to get to Seward, where the weather conditions (as forecast)

weren’t all that conducive to any further beautiful photography.  Scurrying from the train to the boat was actually a higher priority

and, naïve soul that I am, I was surprised at the size of the ship.

The boarding process was very smooth and it was soon clear that we were going to be very well looked after during our cruise.  Every cabin has a butler; ours is called Francis and he came and introduced himself and talked us through some of the information we’d need throughout our cruise.  We also found the launderette, which is a nice thing to have the use of. These things are important, you know.

The rest of the day was taken up with the inevitable and important safety briefing and dinner, which we took in a restaurant called Atlantide.

Great food, nice surroundings and efficient and courteous service. After dinner, we thought it would be good to stretch our legs, so we walked around the ship to orientate ourselves.  It’s a big ship in our experience, but quite small in the general cruising context – a maximum of 596 guests if full. Relatively small as it is, it’s still an 11-story building  so there was a lot to take in.

We learned from one steward (Simon, German) that there are 437 guests on this cruise and somewhere around 360 crew, so the service level is near one-to-one; also that even if the numbers had been higher post-pandemic, the ship would not have been full, as they have to reserve some cabins for quarantine purposes. The pandemic’s consequences continue to affect the hospitality industry, even after all this time.

The strains of the day began to tell, and even the prospect of further free booze wasn’t enough to keep us going, so we called it a day at this point and got our heads down in order to prepare for a day at sea containing the prospect of seeing the Hubbard Glacier at reasonably close range from the ship. We therefore hoped for decent weather, not something that we’d seen thus far.  However…..

….the skies have cleared, making today’s activity a bit more promising.  I’ll write about that in the next post, so do come back and find out more, won’t you?