Archive: Month: December 2015

Miscellaneous bits ‘n pieces


I must mention the food on the trip.

There was a lot of it, and it was uniformly excellent.

Every single morning I had a cooked breakfast, followed by pancakes, bacon & maple syrup. It was delicious and decadent, and I miss it terribly.


Lunch was also buffet, but changed around a lot (often my favourite meal of the day really). Unfortunately I didn’t take any decent pictures.


And then dinner, the wine was included and unlimited (both wonderful and dangerous). The best thing though was getting to spend time with the other passengers on board, reminded me of commons back in TCD days, good times.

Bridge. Two of the passengers on board were looking for a 3rd and 4th to play bridge. I stepped up, and another passenger did too – perfect. We just played a few times, but I did enjoy it (and realised just how rusty I’d become). I do miss that game. One of the hands my opponents bid (and made) 7NT.. I was most impressed.

Finally, I setup the raspberry pi on our porthole..


It took pictures every day, every 20 seconds… which I then edited down into one video.. it’s a little bumpy in places, but still… good times!

Deception Island & Yankee Harbour


Whalers’ Bay is the first bay inside Port Foster as you pass through Neptune’s Bellows at Deception Island. The buildings include the remains of the Norwegian Hektor whaling station and a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) base, which was evacuated after an eruption in 1967. A 15-minute walk from the landing site up the slope of the caldera will take you to Neptune’s Bellows, from which you can get a view of Port Foster, and on a clear day, you can sometimes see the Antarctic peninsula across the Bransfield Strait.

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Big old volcano deception island. Good times wandering around it, the ground is still warm if you did down a bit. There have been times when the ship has had to stay inside the caldera because it’s impossible to sail out again.. In fact, it was one of the few times that the bridge was closed and passengers weren’t allowed up (captain having to concentrate on some tricky nav)

Whalers used it, the BAS used it, all deserted now though I believe.

Then in the afternoon it was our last landing & cruise at Yankee Harbour

Yankee Harbour lies between Glacier Bluff and Spit Point on the southwest side of Greenwich Island. The harbour is enclosed by a curved stone and gravel bar, and was known to American and British sealers as early as 1820. A tripot from early sealing activities can be still be seen on the spit. Approximately 4,000 pairs of breeding Gentoo penguins nest on the site’s raised beach terraces, and southern elephant seals and Weddell seals occasionally haul out here.

I spent most of the time on shore just sitting down, listening to the scraping and popping of the ice (popping while trapped air bubbles are released), meditating on what we’d seen and done. I just feel & felt so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to see this very unique place, tinged with a little bit of a guilty conscience in the carbon we’d used to get down here, the organisms that we did our very very best not to bring to land, but I imagine every so often stuff gets through that shouldn’t… and just hoping that what with climate change etc. that the special place that is Antarctica will be around in another 5000 years. That said, change is the only constant, and there are lots of things that will have a bearing on that. But mostly, I just felt incredibly lucky to have had such an amazing adventure.


D’Hainaut Island & Cierva Cove (and SUPping)


D’Hainaut Island is a small, largely flat & rocky island (less than 1km2) that lies within Mikkelsen Harbour on the southern coast of Trinity Island. The area was first charted by Nordenskjød’s Swedish Expedition, and later used by whalers as a mooring point for factory ships each season from 1910-1917. The remains of wooden casks, water boats and whale carcasses dating to this period can be seen at the landing beach, and there is a semi derelict Argentine refuge hut that was established in 1954. The site is home to breeding Gentoo penguins & numerous snowy sheathbills, and weddell & Antarctic fur seals occasionally haul-out in the vicinity.

First off, D’Hainaut Island, (Mikkelsen Harbour, Trinity Island, Antarctic peninsula). Went for a landing & cruise in the morning. On a few of these days we were getting up at 05:30 ish in order to have a landing, then breakfast, then a cruise after. Honestly, it’s a hard, hard life holidaying. I expect much sympathy in the comments ;). However, this morning we didn’t start until 8:30, so could lie in until 7 ish. Happy days.

Anyway, small little island with an Argentinian refuge base on it. I think still occasionally used by scientists?! Then a cruise around the harbour.


Then in the afternoon the day we’d been waiting for at Cierva cove. So, Quark offer a few different excursion opportunities. On our boat, you could have Kayaking ($1,000), Climbing ($650ish), Skiing($650) or Paddleboarding ($150). Kayaking, which we wanted to do because Val was the guide, unfortunately had all the spots taken. Climbing (mountaineering) and Skiing were a little more than we wanted to pay, and the thing is, you don’t actually know how many times you’re going to get out. If the weather turns, you might just get one trip for your $650. In the event, they had at least 2 if not 3 excursions each. Paddleboarding was $150 per time you went out.. but you had to have flat calm conditions, and today was that day for us!

Never having done paddlboarding before, it seemed Antarctica was as good a place as any to try it ;) As you’ll see in the pictures, we were maybe 5m from a sleeping leopard seal. We’re not their prey, however, it was still a tiny bit scary!. Interesting how much hitting even a small piece of ice unsettled the board. Still, no one fell in, and even if we did, you had decent dry suits so it would have been fine. It was lovely seeing the penguins swimming underneath your board, and it was so beautifully quiet, and of course, lovely to be away from the main group too. That was definitely one of the attractions again for paddleboarding, only 2 other passengers signed up, so it was a very small number of us.


Definitely a highlight of the trip for me, our guide Gray was excellent.. super great guy, very chilled, exactly the right amount of instruction, and, while we could have got out other days, he certainly held off announcing the trip until what really was the most perfect day for it.

Antarctica – Brown Bluff & Kinnes Cove & Polar Plunge


Today we got to stand on Antarctica proper. Not that it was actually a “ticklist” for me, but, this does complete being on all continents, and before Maaike, not that it’s a competition mind, but, if it was, I’d have won ;) (she was first on Antarctica though, convincing the boat driver (Marla) that she had to touch land first)

Aaaaaaaaanyway ;)


Penguins. It’s a rough life, and rocks are seriously important things. They steal rocks from eachother, and, if caught, well, the one who is being stolen from is not happy! Females (who have already hatched their chick) will have sex with males in return for stones… sneaky things. And the smell.. it’s.. a full rich aroma that’s for sure.

We also went for a cruise around (that was always the pattern, half the passengers would land while the other half cruised, then swap). You can see the chinstrap penguins are perfectly happy on the small iceberg with the leopard seal, they can move faster on the iceberg. That said, I’d have thought once in the water they’d be toast, but maybe not.


In the afternoon we went for a cruise around Kinnes Cove


Lots of Adele penguins in the water, videos will have to wait for Europe when there’ll be more time for uploading and editing! Did you know there are only two types of penguin? The white ones coming towards you, and the black ones walking away from you ;)


We also did the polar plunge. They give you a harness and tied you in too! not taking any chances with heart attacks ;) Water was a balmy 1 degree or so. I cheated and had a sauna first (yes, there was a sauna on board), so it actually wasn’t that bad at all to be honest! We did get a certificate for our troubles too!

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Then we cruised on towards Trinity Island, passing many many massive tabular icebergs on route. It was utterly awe inspiring.. you have to be there…. Tabular icebergs come from the ice-shelves. Big things. We were sailing past them for at least an hour (and of course, we’d been seeing icebergs for most of the journey since the Falklands)


Elephant Island

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What a nuts place this was – Point Wild on Elephant Island. Here it was that 28 men from the Endurance Expedition landed, and 22 stayed for 4 months while Shackleton et al went off by boat to South Georgia for rescue.


The passengers didn’t get to land unfortunately, above you can see a few of the expedition staff on land, at Point Wild. It doesn’t look like much, and it really isn’t. A very small inhospitable spit of land. The Endurance crew (Wild?! and a couple of others) had rowed 7km along shore to find this spot, it was the best they could do, and it was here that they made camp. What a brutal place to be for 4 months.

There’s a monument to the Chilean captain (Luis Pardo Villalón) who was the captain who rescued them off the Island.


It’s funny, we had the calmest seas getting there, and even then we were unable to land (ice on the landing and a bit of a swell). Most trips they can’t even see remotely as much as we did, let alone have the opportunity to do a zodiac cruise around the place.


And then there was this guy, a sleeping juvenile humpback whale. Every 6 mins or so it would come to the surface, have a breath, and sink back down again.

Sleeping Humpback

Then in the afternoon we went exploring around more of Elephant Island.


The whale above might be a Southern Right, I’m not quite sure, maybe a sei whale. Definitely a whale anyway ;)