Day 45 & 46 – Friday & Saturday, February 18 & 19– Scenic cruising Chilean Fjords

Well, these two days were supposed to be scenic cruising of the Chilean Fjords, but unfortunately Friday was pretty much a wipe out. It was overcast and raining the entire day. I did take a few photos from the veranda; the one below was pretty much typical of what we say all day. Don’t get me wrong, it was still beautiful and I very much enjoyed watching the islands, inlets and hill pass by. It just wasn’t a photogenic day.

We pretty much spent the day getting caught up from two days of excursions. We straighten the cabin and put purchases away. It was a great “reading day”. It was quite pleasant to just sit on the sofa, read and watch the rainy scenery pass by our window.

Just after dinner it began to clear and I got a great sunset photograph from our veranda.

We are sailing north and since we have a port side cabin, we face due west.

At this point we have again left the narrow channels of the fjords and reentered the Pacific. The Prinsendam is just too large to safely sail at night through the fjords. We will be remaining in the Pacific until mid-afternoon Saturday. We will reenter the fjords at the Darwin Channel, and begin making our way to Puerto Montt, Chile. We are expected to dock around 10:00 AM Sunday. We have a full day tour scheduled. This is another tour we arranged with the Cruise Critic Forum group. So far these tours have been great. It is a fun group of people and the value of these tours are much better than the ship’s tours. The group is also a smaller, more intimate size.

This morning we were awake early, just before sunrise. The skies had cleared again and I managed to get this photograph of the moon setting on the Pacific.

I haven’t talked about food much lately, but I thought I would tell about breakfast this morning. I got dressed and went to the Lido about 6:45 AM. Kay was reading. I planned to have a light breakfast, cereal, fruit and coffee. When I got there I found the chefs had prepared a buffet style Pilipino breakfast. I could not pass up the opportunity to try these dishes.

I tried some of everything and it was all delicious. (I know some of the girls at Northside would not agree with meJ) I am afraid I cannot tell you the names of the dishes, but I will give you a description. I had garlic fried rice, a stewed dish of tomatoes and sardines (yes, sardines), a thinly sliced beef cooked with onions and garlic, pan seared mackerel again seasoned with onions and garlic. This was served with ordinary scrambled eggs. The bread was a delicious white wheat roll and also a small pastry made from rice flour, it was sweet and delicious. So much for my light breakfast, I will have to make up for it at lunch.

 

The weather is was today, unfortunately there was not much to see except the Pacific. That was until the captain came on the “all call” intercom of the ship at about 1:30 and announced we had a problem. Folks, it’s not good when the captain goes on all call and says there is a problem. Well, it turned out it wasn’t a real serious problem, and in the end everyone was joking about it. In fact, the entertainment this evening was a comedian and he actually based about half of his act around the incident.

It turned out that for the last several hours we had been passing through a very large concentration of krill or small shrimp. In fact the concentration was so large they were clogging the cooling intake filters of the ship. Despite continuous efforts by the crew to keep the filters clean, it had reached the point where it was necessary to stop the ship and clean then entire system. The captain said this could take hours, and it did.

The upside of this was that whales feed on the krill and so we were basically being carried along by the ocean current for several hours with all these whales having a buffet. I am sure many people who take whale watching escursions would have loved to been with us. Here are a few photos I took from our veranda.

 

Good photo of a blow

In this one you can see the whale and the blow

And finally one of just a whale. They were huge. I am sorry, but I haven’t even asked what species of whale these are.

We actually watched whales from our dinner table this evening, at which time the captain announced the system had been cleaned of shrimp and we would be glad to know we had enough shrimp to last us the remainder of the cruise with shrimp at every meal J.

The down side of the delay caused by the shrimp, we were not able to make our turn into Darwin Channel as planned. Instead we continued up the Pacific coast to another Channel, Ninualac Channel, I believe. After dinner we spent a couple of hours on deck to observe the beauty of the passing scenery and the sunset.

 

 

 

 

The “Group”, protected behind a windscreen on the observation deck.

 

 

 

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Day 44 – Thursday, February 17 – Punta Arenas, Chile

 

Punta Arenas (English: “Sandy Point”) is the most prominent settlement on the Strait of Magellan.

Punta Arenas is the capital of the Magallanes y la Antártica Chilena Region, Chile. The city itself was officially renamed Magallanes in 1927, but in 1938 it was changed back to Punta Arenas. It is regarded as the world’s southernmost city. (As noted earlier, this title is in contention with Ushuaia, Argentina depending on what population you define city)

Two early Spanish settlements attempted along this coast (on the Straits of Magellan), including the first (1584), called Nombre de Jesús, failed in large part due to the harsh weather and difficulty in obtaining food and water, and the enormous distances from other Spanish ports. A second colony, Rey don Felipe, was attempted at another location some 80 kilometers south of Punta Arenas. This became known later as Puerto Hambre, sometimes translated as Port Starvation or Famine Port. These Spanish settlements had been established with the intent to prevent piracy by English pirates, by controlling the Straits of Magellan. Ironically it was an English pirate captain, Thomas Cavendish, who rescued the last surviving member of Puerto Hambre in 1587.

As said above, in the year 1843 the Chilean government sent an expedition with the appointed task of establishing a permanent settlement on the shores of the Strait of Magellan. For this it built and commissioned a small sail ship called Goleta Ancud, which under the command of the British sailor John Williams transported a crew of 21 people (captain, eighteen crew, two women), plus cargo, to accomplish the mandate of the Chilean government. The founding act of the settlement took place on 21 September 1843.

Although the site was perfectly suited for a military garrison with the mission of coastal defence, since it is located on top of a small rocky peninsula, it was ill prepared to become a proper civilian settlement. With this in mind the Military Governor, José de los Santos Mardones, decided in 1848 to move the settlement to its current location, on the sides of the Las Minas river, renaming it Punta Arenas.

In the mid-19th century, Chile used Punta Arenas as a penal colony and a disciplinary posting for military personnel with “problematic” behavior, as well as a place for immigrant colonization. In December 1851, a prisoners’ mutiny led by Lieutenant Cambiaso, resulted in the murder of Governor Muñoz Gamero and the priest, and the destruction of the church and the hospital. The mutiny was put down by Commander Stewart of HMS Virago assisted by two Chilean ships: Indefatigable and Meteoro. In 1877 a mutiny, known as “El motín de los artilleros” (Mutiny of the Artillerymen) led to the destruction of a large part of the town and the murder of many civilians not directly associated with the prison. In time the city was restored and with the growth of the sheep industry and the discovery of gold, as well as increasing trade via sailing ships, began to prosper. Between about 1890 and 1940, the Magallanes region became one of the world’s most important sheep-raising regions, with one company (Sociedad Explotadora de Tierra del Fuego) controlling over 10,000 square kilometres in southern Chile and Argentina. The headquarters of this company and the residences of the owners were in Punta Arenas. Visitors today can get a glimpse of the economic stature of the city, or at least of its leading citizens, by touring the Sarah Braun museum (sometimes called Braun-Menéndez mansion) in the centre of Punta Arenas. Other popular attractions include the two nearby rookeries for Magellanic penguins, and the rebuilt site of the failed Fuerte Bulnes settlement.

The Punta Arenas harbour, although exposed to storms, was considered one of the most important in Chile before the construction of the Panama Canal, because it was used as a coaling station by the steamships transiting between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Today it is mostly used by tourism cruises and scientific expeditions. The city is often a jumping-off point for Antarctic expeditions, although Ushuaia (Argentina) and Christchurch (New Zealand) are also common starting points.

We docked early in Punta Arenas. Our tour was one scheduled with the Cruise Critic group from the internet forum. We had about 30 people with a very nice bus and three guides. We were picked up at the dock and immediately started toward Otway Sound to see the colony of Magellan Penguins. This colony has over 60,000 pairs, but many have already begun their migration to the coast of Brazil and the Atlantic Islands. Most of the remaining birds are younger and haven’t yet begun to swim. Nevertheless, we did see a LOT of penguins.

 

 

 

The trip to Otway was mostly over a gravel road and the distance was about 30 miles. Along the way we saw much countryside. This area consists almost entirely of ranches, mostly sheep, which are a minimum of several thousand acres each. There are no small ranches because the land is so arid, it requires about one acre to support one animal. One of the things which most impressed me was the fencing. There were what had to be hundreds of miles of fence like the one picture below. There was a post about every two feet, and kilometer markers may be seen in many areas marking every one-tenth kilometer.

Can you imagine how many post this takes!

We didn’t see as many sheep as you would expect. Our guide explained that the ranchers have summer fields and winter fields and the fields we were traveling through were mostly summer fields and the ranchers had not yet moved their herds yet. They normally did this in March and April. We did see some sheep though and most had very poor haircuts! Sheep are mostly raised for meat export and wool is a by-product. The price of wool had decreased considerably over the past few years and is no longer the commodity it was once was

 

This is a real Chilean cowboy. This photo was taken from the bus window as we passed him and his dogs (he had three with him). Our guide explained that the ranchers had different dogs to herd cattle than to herd sheep. The cattle dogs were taught to bite to do the herding and the sheep dogs did not.

After returning from Otway Sound we had a city tour. Punta Arenas is a pleasant town with pretty harsh living conditions. I was impressed with how clean and maintained the city was. There was much evidence of the pride these people had for where they lived. We saw MUCH less graffiti here than in other cities farther north. My theory is that this climate is not inductive to being non-productive and there are better places to live if you want to be a hoodlum!

Statue of Magellan

Cathedral

A vendor’s stall in the city park.

I purchased an alpaca sweater here, it was beautiful and heavy. It can actually serve as a coat. It cost 14,000 pesos, $29.00.

Another stop we made which was very enjoyable was the Cemeterio Municipal. This is the main cemetery for the city where the common and elite are buried. It was beautifully maintained and has some incredible statuary and gardens. Here are a few photos.

 

 

This is the “apartments” mausoleum for the more common people.

 

We are sailing the Chilean Fjords for the next two days. If the weather clears and I get some decent photographs I will do another post. Until then, everyone take care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 43 – Wednesday, February 16 – Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

We arrived in Ushuaia at 7:00 AM. Our luck with the weather continues to hold. It was obvious even before dawn that it was going to be a beautiful day.

Dawn in Ushuaia, the small city is still lit up

This is a file photo of the town

This is my photo, most of the snow is gone except in the higher elevations since we are at the start of summer.

Below is a lot of history and background information about Ushuaia, the city which claims to be the “southernmost city in the world” although there are two other contenders. Puerto Williams on the Chilean island of Navarino is actually further south but only has 2,400 inhabitants. Punta Arenas, in Chile, (our next port), is much larger but farther north. There are also several continuously inhabited settlements further south of Ushuaia however these settlements have fewer than 100 residents and cannot be considered “cities”.

Please feel free to bypass this background if you would like.

The British ship HMS Beagle under the command of Captain Robert FitzRoy first reached the channel on January 29, 1833 during its maiden voyage surveying Tierra del Fuego. The city was originally named by early British missionaries using the native Yámana name for the area. Much of the early history of the city and its hinterland is described in Lucas Bridges’s book Uttermost Part of the Earth (1948). The name Ushuaia first appears in letters and reports of the South American Mission Societ] in England. The British missionary Waite Hockin Stirling became the first European to live in Ushuaia when he stayed with the Yámana people between the 18th of January and mid-September 1869. In 1870 more British missionaries arrived to establish a small settlement. The following year the first marriage was performed. During 1872, 36 baptisms and 7 marriages and the first European birth (Thomas Despard Bridges) in Tierra del Fuego were registered. The first house constructed in Ushuaia was a pre-assembled 3 room home prepared in the Falkland Islands in 1870 for Reverend Thomas Bridges. One room was for the Bridges family, a second was for a Yámana married couple, while the third served as the chapel.

During 1873 Juan and Clara Lawrence, the first Argentine citizens to visit Ushuaia, arrived to teach school. That same year the Argentine President Julio Argentino Roca promoted the establishment of a penal colony for re-offenders, modeled after one in Tasmania, Australia, in an effort to secure permanent residents from Argentina and to help establish Argentine sovereignty over all of Tierra del Fuego. But only after the Boundary treaty of 1881 between Chile and Argentina did formal efforts get underway to establish the township and its prison.

During the 1880s, many gold prospectors came to Ushuaia following rumors of large gold fields, which proved to be false. On the 12th of October 1884, as part of the South Atlantic Expedition, Commodore Augusto Lasserre established the sub-division of Ushuaia, with the missionaries and naval officers signing the Act of Ceremony. Don Feliz M Paz was named Governor of Tierra del Fuego and in 1885 named Ushuaia as its capital. In 1885 the territory police was organized under Antonio A Romero with headquarters also in Ushuaia. But it was not until 1904 that the Federal Government of Argentina recognized Ushuaia as the capital of Tierra del Fuego.

Ushuaia suffered several epidemics, including typhus, pertussis, and measles, that decimated the native population. But because the Yámana were not included in census data the exact numbers lost are not known. The first census was held in 1893 with 113 men and 36 women living in Ushuaia. The prison was formally announced in an Executive order by Roca in 1896. By 1911 the Yámana had all practically disappeared, so the mission was closed. The population grew to 1,558 by the 1914 census.

In 1896 the prison received its first inmates, mainly re-offenders and dangerous prisoners transferred from Buenos Aires but also some political prisoners. A separate military prison opened in 1903 at the nearby Puerto Golondrina. The two prisons merged in 1910, and that combined complex still stands today. It operated until 1947, when President Juan Perón closed it by executive order in response to the many reports of abuse and unsafe practices. Most of the guards stayed in Ushuaia, while the prisoners were relocated to other jails farther north. After the prison closed, it became a part of the Base Naval Ushuaia (Spanish), functioning as a storage and office facility until the early 1990s. Later it was converted into the current Museo Maritimo de Ushuaia.[20]

During the first half of the 20th century, the city centered around a prison built by the Argentine government to increase the Argentine population here and to ensure Argentine sovereignty over Tierra del Fuego. The prison was intended for repeat offenders and serious criminals, following the example of the British in Tasmania and the French in Devil’s Island. Escape from Tierra del Fuego was similarly difficult, although two prisoners managed to escape into the surrounding area for a few weeks. The prison population thus became forced colonists and spent much of their time building the town with timber from the forest around the prison. They also built a railway to the settlement, now a tourist attraction known as the End of the World Train (Tren del Fin del Mundo), the southernmost railway in the world.

When we arrived and docked, one of the first things I saw was this beautiful yacht. The Octopus.

I soon found out this ship belongs to Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft.

Here is some info I found about the Octopus.

Octopus is a 414 foot (126 m) megayacht owned by Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft. Delivered in 2003, it was believed to be the biggest such yacht at the time of its construction. It is currently the world’s 11th largest super yacht, the third largest superyacht not owned by a head of state.

Octopus sports two helicopters on the top deck (one in front and one on the back), and a 63-foot (19 m) tender docked in the transom (one of seven aboard). The yacht also has a pool, located aft on one of her upper decks, and two submarines (one of them operated by remote control for studying the bottom of the ocean). Side hatches at the water line form a dock for jet skis.

On January 31st 2011 one of the helicopters of the yacht had to perform an emergency landing on the water just after it took off from the yacht whilst sailing in Ushuaia, Argentina. According to an Argentine Coast Guard officer, no casualties were reported and the aircraft had not leaked oil on the sea.

Our guide today had already told us about the loss of the helicopter, but we have been unable to find out if Allen is here with the ship, or what it purpose her is. Apparently it has been in out of Ushuaia a few times recently.

Well, it would be nice to be able to sail on a private yacht like the Octopus, but I guess I better get back to reporting what I can afford to do J.

Kay and I arranged a trip through HAL which was advertised as the “4X4 Road Safari The Lumberjack Trail”. It included a “snack” and you must be physically fit. Maximum passinger weight 280lbs.

Interesting description. We boarded six persons per 4×4 vehicle, with a total of 4 vehicles. We left the dock area about 8:15 AM. We immediately left town and started up Highway No. 1, the main highway from Ushuaia. Well actually, it is the only highway from Ushuaia. Our guide explained it was the land lifeline of the city. In order to travel anywhere else in Argentina, the locals must take this highway and cross into Chile travel a number of miles and then take a 30 minute ferry ride to reach Argentina again. They are completely cut off from mainland Argentina.

After about a 20 minute ride we stopped and took some scenic photos while our guide showed us on a map where we were and where we were going.

 

 

Here is our guide, a native Ushuaian, who spoke very good English. He said English is taught in high school and they are beginning to teach it in middle school.

What a beautiful view. In the summer months (now) they get a lot of visitors who come for the trekking cross country and cruise ships. During their winter month this is a very popular area for cross country skiing.

After about another 10 minute ride, we veered off the highway onto a dirt track.

 

Here are some views from the back seat of the 4×4

We had a pretty wild and sometimes exciting ride, but it was worth it for the views.

Our guide explained that beavers were a serious problem in the area. At sometime in the past they were imported from Canada. They have no natural enemies here and do a tremendous amount of damage.

After getting back to Highway No. 1 we travel for a short distance to a lodge which hosts hikers during the summer and skiers during the winter. In this photo of me, you can see the woods in the distance where we are going. Our destination is into the woods below the mountain slope. We again take the 4×4’s to the edge of the woods and then have short 10-15 minute hike into the woods.

We arrive at an area which is actually used as a camp for wood cutters farther up into the mountains. There is a nice little cabin where a stove fire has been prepared. We are served an Argentinean steak prepared in a large cast iron pot along with a stew of potatoes, onions and peppers. It was accompanied by bread, cheese and wine. It was quite a meal in the middle of the woods and was very good.

That’s Kay on the left at the table talking with a couple from Quebec.

We then hiked back out, loaded up and made our way back into town and the ship. We had an early sailing, this being a short stop in Ushuaia. We would have loved to spend more time in this charming little city at the bottom of the world, but additional adventures beckon us.

We had a short rest, and then it was announced that the Prinsendam reached the first glaciers in the Beagle Channel. That was at about 4:00 PM. It is now about 9:00PM and the incredible views have been nonstop. We stayed on top, at the observations deck for about an hour and a half, until we were almost frozen, then had dinner. Kay went to tonight’s show while I write the blog and enjoy the beautiful, ever-changing view through the veranda windows.

I have the names for the different glaciers, but for now I am just going to post some more photos. We have a stargazing session with one of the ship’s officers at 9:30 tonight if clouds permit.

Enjoy the photos. We are in Punta Arenas, Chile tomorrow and have a trip planned to Otway Sound to see more penguins…..

 

Waterfall from a glacier melt

View up the Beagle Channel

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 42 – Tuesday, February 15 – Scenic cruising Cape Horn

Just after dinner this evening we rounded Cape Horn. Cape Horn is infamous as one of the most dangerous shipping passages in the world. The fierce sailing conditions in the Southern Ocean, the geography of the passage itself, and the extreme southern latitude of the Horn combine to make this passage the most formidable in the world. Cape Horn lies at an extreme 56 degrees south. The prevailing winds here can blow from west to east almost uninterrupted by land. The latitudes here have been nicknamed the “roaring forties”, the “furious fifties”, and the “screaming sixties” and although ships traveling east tend to stay not far below 40 degrees south latitude, rounding Cape Horn requires ships to press south to 56 degrees south latitude, into the zone of the fiercest winds. These winds account for large waves which can attain enormous size. When these waves encounter shallow water south of the Horn, it makes them shorter, steeper and more dangerous. Part of Cape Horn’s notoriety is due to the “rough waves”, which can reach heights up to 100 feet.

Fortunately for us today, the winds were fairly calm and the waves mild by Cape standards. For the previous several hours we have been under gray skies and light rain. About an hour before reaching the Cape, the skies open to some blue with sunshine streaming through the clouds. The rain stopped and we had beautiful viewing conditions.

Many of us came topside to enjoy the scenery. The temperature was a mild 46 degrees and after the captain turned the ship east to round the Cape, the wind was behind us and since we were traveling at about the same speed as the wind, it was almost nonexistent. It made for very pleasant viewing.

During the last several days HAL has given us several nice gifts. We received a matched set of mittens, scarf and wool cap. We also have received two very nice maps; one of Antarctica and last night one of the southern Chile Fjords and surrounding areas. These were large 24×36 inch folding maps on quality paper. Tonight we received two sets of designer postcard depicting cruise ships. We have been finding gifts left on the bed almost nightly for the past week. It is reaching the point that we are not sure how we will get them all home!

In addition to the gifts, our cabin stewards always leave a different and unique towel animal for us to enjoy. I don’t believe we have had a repetition in the entire 42 days of our cruise.

By the way, I did get a haircut today. It was done by Samantha, a pleasant young lady from South Africa. Samantha has been on the Prinsendam for 2 years, without taking a vacation. She said it’s like being on holiday all the time! She is leaving in March with us when this cruise ends for a visit home. She then intends to continue working with HAL, either back on the Prinsendam or the Amsterdam. Oh, the cost of a haircut was $25.00 (plus tip), not too bad when you have a captive clientele.

 

Valentine Day towel swans

Monkey our animal for tonight

Cape Horn, the southernmost point of South America

Kay and I with the Horn in the background

 

Kay and Janet bundled up, but the conditions were not as bad as expected

Our Captain on the wing Bridge

The 3rd Officer taking a snap shot of the Captain with the Horn in the background… even the crew is not immune to the beauty of this area

 

Beautiful clouds…

The ship has turned northeast, heading for the Beagle Channel which we will enter around midnight tonight.

 

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Day 42 – Tuesday, February 15 – Drake Passage

We had a good night, comparatively. I really slept in this morning; not up until 8:15. Waves have consistently been in the 15-18 foot range for the past 24 hours but the weather has been great. We have clear skies and only moderate winds. For the Drake Passage this is considered very good. It is a challenge to navigate around the ship, take a shower or even eat a meal. Someone commented at lunch today that we were having “fast food”, you had to chase it down as it slid across the table! We are expected to be reaching Cape Horn around 7:00 PM this evening; unfortunately we do not have the luxury of time to circle the Cape. That would involve having to get a Chilean pilot onboard if we come within three miles of the Cape. We will be able to see the Cape but at a distance. We must continue on to the Beagle Strait where we will take on an Argentine Pilot to navigate us to Usuaia, where we are due early in the morning.

I had a few more photos I meant to post yesterday which I missed. I have included those here. If I am able to get some good photos of the Cape this evening I will post those as well.

Palmer station staff loading their zodiac.

Note their gear. They have to travel several miles to the station through 6 to 8 foot waves, 30 mph winds and light snow.

A wide angle shot of the two boats on their way to Plamer Station in the distance.

 

Just a couple of scenic views from the past few days

Sunrise a couple of days ago

 

The controls on the port side wing bridge.

As I write this it is 1:45 AM local time. This morning I attended a lecture on Antarctic Ice by our onboard geologist. I know that probably doesn’t sound too interesting to you at home, but having just left all that ice behind, I found it quite enjoyable. I am going to a presentation by the 3rd Officer about the bridge and ship operation at 2:30 PM, then a lecture about Punta Arenas by our travel guide Frank Buckingham at 3:30 PM. I will have to leave Frank’s lecture early because I have a hair cut appointment at 4:00 PM. Tuesdie I wish you were here, I hate to have my hair cut by a new stylist!

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Day 41 – Monday, February 14 – Palmer Station

I have a little catching up to do. We have been very busy the past two days. As told in my last post the weather was absolutely fantastic at Elephant Island. One of our onboard Antarctic experts said a day like that happens maybe 1 in 100. We were lucky. Yesterday unfortunately was more typical of Antarctic weather. We had some light freezing rain in the morning, changing to light snow off and on during the day. Late in the evening we actually had some accumulation which many of the Philippino stewards were thrilled with. Many of them have never seen snow.

The weather did prevent us from tranversing the Neumayer Channel. We made it to the mouth but winds were about 50-60 mph and the captain was concerned about such high winds in the narrow channel for a ship of our size. We would not have had room to turn around safely without the possibility of being blown against an iceberg or the channel wall. We did get some good photos but sadly missed the Channel. Earlier in the morning we did see Couverville Island and then later Paradise Bay.

Early evening about 8:00 PM the wind began to pick up and the captain reported that we were having winds in excess of 65 Knots, over 75 mph. The sea became quite rough which made walking difficult. We watched a movie and enjoyed the ride at the same time! During the night the storm continued but Kay and I slept well. We were awakened a couple of times, by things falling. In the morning we had several things on the floor and found one wine glass had fallen out of the cabinet and was broken. We will be crossing the Drake Strait tonight, and will probably have some more rough seas.

 

Dining Room Stewards enjoying the snow

 

Kay with snow on the Lido in the background

 

Picture of waves thru our balcony window, taken at about 10:30 PM and there was still this much light! We are pretty far south…. Unofficially, I understand the waves were in excess of 20 feet.

 

Palmer station, this is a file photo. We never got even close to the shore, it was much too shallow.

The station is named for Nathaniel B. Palmer, usually recognized as the first American to see Antarctica. The maximum population that Palmer Station can accommodate is 46 people. The normal austral summer contingent varies but is generally around 40 people. Palmer is staffed year-round, however, and the population drops to between 15 and 20 people for the winter maintenance after the conclusion of the summer research season. There are science labs located in the Bio-Lab building (pictured), as well as a pier and a helicopter pad.

The facility is the second Palmer Station; “Old Palmer” was about a mile to the northwest adjacent to the site of the British Antarctic Survey “Base N”, built in the mid fifties. The site is on what is now known as Amsler Island. Old Palmer was built about 1965, and served as a base for those building “new” Palmer, which opened in 1968. Old Palmer was designated as an emergency refuge for the new station in case of disaster, though this perceived need disappeared over time. It was dismantled and removed from the Antarctic as part of the National Science Foundation’s environmental cleanup efforts in the early 1990s.

The majority of the science research conducted at Palmer Station centers around marine biology. The station also houses year-round monitoring equipment for global seismic, atmospheric and UV monitoring networks. Palmer also hosts a radio receiver that studies lightning over the Western Hemisphere.

Palmer Station is located near penguin colonies — Adélie, Gentoo and Chin-strap penguins are in abundance during summers, but small numbers can be found in the area at all times of the year.

The area is also home to several types of seals: Fur seals, Elephant seals, Crabeater seals and Leopard seals. The area is often visited by Minke, Orca and Humpback whales.

Other research is conducted from the R/V Laurence M. Gould. Science cruises cover physical oceanography, marine geology and marine biology. The ship also carries field parties to sites around the Antarctic Peninsula to study glaciology, geology and paleontology.

We arrived off Anvers Island early this morning. About 7:00 AM a contingency of two zodiacs carrying about 20 individuals met the ship from Palmer Station. The group included the Station Director, the doctor and several workers, and researchers. We will be leaving one person at Palmer, Jackie, who we picked up in Buenos Aries and we will be taking back three people who are leaving the Station.

The Palmer representatives gave a great presentation about the station and the work they do. They then hosted a question and answer session. This group remained on the ship while we attempted to cruise Lemaire Channel. We again were foiled, this time by the ice in the channel. We were able to get some great scenery and then went back to the Neumayer Channel which we could not pass into yesterday. Today we were able to see the Neumayer.

The Palmer group, many who were research students really enjoyed the few hours on the Prinsendam. They seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in the Lido Restaurant! The group was eager and willing to answer questions about their work and the Station. I guess after spending months with the same 40 odd people, it’s nice to get the opportunity to talk with someone different.

Palmer provides this service a part of their public relations, and Holland America in turn sent the zodiacs back loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables, something everyone at permanent installations in Antarctica cherish.

 

A couple of the Palmer people on deck.

Entrance to Lemaire Channel

 

Carl, Kay, Janet and David

The Penguin Plunge! At the southernmost point of our cruise everyone was invited to join Thom with a dip in the pool while in Antarctica. A number of people did participate….

On the other hand, our own penguin, Carl, did hop into the Jacuzzi on the Aft deck for a photo opportunity. We said Carl took one for the team….

Hello Soleil!

As you can see, this proves what we all know, Janet is smarter than Carl.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. I have got to get dressed for our Valentine Formal Night Dinner.

On to Cape Horn for tomorrow morning… It might be a rough night.

 

 

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Day 39(a) Antarctic Experience Continued

 

To my surprise internet connection has been very good south of the 60 degree latitude line. I made an effort to get some photographs posted at the expense of commentary. Actually little commentary was needed for the pictures as they pretty well speak for themselves. I will try to tell a little about our Antarctic experience to this point though.

We have had many very capable speakers over the past several days. Usually there are two 1 hour lectures each morning and another in the afternoon. Today since we have reached some of our destinations, we did not have a formal presentation. Instead, there was commentary by the appropriate “expert” when we were at a notable location. The commentary is broadcast over the outside PA system when we are not too close to wildlife. It is also broadcast over the TV system for in cabin reception, along with the fore and aft camera feeds.

Of course any and all lectures are voluntary, but it would be a shame not to take advantage of the excellent minds available to educate yourself about this remarkable part of our earth. So, although this is vacation trip it is also an educational experience. Not only have I learned a great deal from the lecturers onboard, but I am accumulating an extensive reading list for when I return home! In addition we have met and made friends with other travelers from all over the world, another avenue to continue the learning process.

Since we are officially Expeditionaries, we were required to be briefed on the basic rules as laid down in the Antarctic Treaty. We had a presentation by the Safety and Environmental officer and also by the guest speakers. Each daily issue of the Explorer, our daily program and activity guide, also has an abbreviated list of the rules.

 

Some of these are:

Respect and honor the serenity of the environment.
Cans, paper napkins and straws will NOT be available on outside decks (in fact they have been completely removed during this part of the cruise)
Do not smoke on outside decks or balconies
Do not feed the birds or seal life that inhabits this region
Do not throw anything overboard and remove all items that can be blown overboard by the wind
Do not play music or make loud noise on open decks

These are some of the rules we are to follow. In one of the presentations about the actual Treaty, and its many amendments, it was noted that dogs, cats and chickens are no longer permitted in the Antarctic region. This is because of the fear that a domestic virus might be introduced which could mutate into a lethal disease for the indigenous species.

Also, a new aspect of the Treaty which becomes effective this July will change the way cruise ships such as the Prinsendam can travel below the 60th parallel. As I understand the new rule, any ship with a capacity of more than 500 persons is prohibited from using bunker oil, the less expensive heavy fuel most ships are powered by. Many ships such as the Prinsendam are capable of using the lighter but much more expensive diesel fuel. This will certainly affect the arability of inexpensive trips to the Antarctic in the future. The problem with the heavier fuel is that in case of an accident or spill, the environmental damage is much more severe than with the lighter fuels.

While Antarctica has no permanent residents, anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 people reside at various times of the year as participants in research projects representing many different countries. Although some of these research stations are staffed year-round, the personnel are not considered residents of Antarctica. In 1978 Emilio Marcos Palma became the first person born on the Antarctic mainland. His parents were part of a group of families sent by the Argentinean government to see if family life was suitable, or even possible, in the harsh conditions. Currently, there are several bases where families live and station schools attend to the educational needs of the children. The photos I posted earlier of red buildings in Hope Bar is the location of the first birth.

Penguins on the shelf of a huge berg

Just before dinner we passed this huge iceberg with a large group of pengins on a shelf. They were many miles from land. During dinner this evening we watched sea lions alongside the ship. After we had returned from dinner and while waiting to reach our next destination, Deception Island, we had an announcement that humpback whales had been spotted on the port side of the ship. Fortunately for us this is our side. Kay and I quickly went to the balcony and did manage to watch two for a few minutes before they disappeared. I got a few photos. They are not great, but I did see them!

 

Humpback Whale

Blowing

We did reach Deception Island about 9:15 PM. There was still daylight, but fog had come in. Our speaker did a narration of the island but there was not much to see, but I did get some photos and can say I saw the island. Deception Island is volcano crater and still considered active. In the past it was an important whaling center. Our ship is much too large to enter the circle through Neptune’s Bellows.

Deception Island is an island in South Shetland off the Antarctic Peninsula, which has one of the safest harbors in Antarctica. A recently active volcano in 1967 and 1969 caused serious damage to the local scientific stations. The only current research bases are run by Argentina and Spain.

 

Neptune’s Window, Deception Island

Neptune’s Bellows, entry to Deception Island

I guess I better end. It is almost 11:00 PM and we have another early morning ahead. I hope you have enjoyed the photographs.

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Day 39 – Saturday, February 10 – Antarctica Hope Bay

Elephant Island at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula got its fame form Earnest Shackleton’s misfortune. Shackleton’s ship was frozen fast in ice in January 1915 where it remained until November of that year. After living on an ice flow for five more months, Shackleton ordered his men into the lifeboats on April 9th, 1916. Five harrowing days later they landed on Elephant Island. He then set off to South Georgia with a handful of men in their best lifeboat, the James Caird, leaving 22 men behind. After enduring two weeks of rough seas and a treacherous hike over South Georgia Island to a Norwegian whaling station followed by three foiled rescue attempts, All hands were rescued on August 30th, 1916. Several photos of Elephant Island were posted on the previous blog.

After leaving Elephant Island we sailed into Hope Bay about six hours later. We spent about 3 hours in the bay and had a good look at several large chinstrap penguin colonies. One of the colonies actually was living with the Argentine Base at Hope Bay. We had good views of the base as well as the surrounding ice, mountains and wildlife. The area is stunningly beautiful.

Enjoy the photos…

 

You know it’s good if Kay will brave the cold for two hours!

Argentinean Antarctic Base

Janet, Kay and Carl

Chinstrap Penguins

More Penguins, High Tech

Our captain on the Bridge Wing

Penguins Marching

Norm, our Chief Security Officer

I am sorry there was not much commentary, but I wanted to get the pictures posted if possible. I am sure we will have another big day tomorrow. We are visiting the American, Palmer Station and will be taking on several scientists who will be giving lectures.

 

 

 

 

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Day 38 & 39 – Friday & Saturday, February 11 & 12 – At Sea & Elephant Island

This is the first day at sea since leaving the Falklands. The morning temperature was a balmy 62 degrees with the sun beaming onto our veranda. I spent some time reading in shirt sleeves but I could tell it was gradually getting cooler. By noon we were in a deep fog and could barely see the ocean and the temperature had dropped to about 58 degrees. It is now 5:00 PM local time and the temperature is 43 degrees. We were told the fog was due to our crossing the convergence of the North Atlantic and South Atlantic currents with their diverse water temperatures. We are still in the fog but it is not as heavy as it previously was.

An interesting fact; when we cross the 60 degree latitude line, which we will be doing soon, we will no longer be considered passengers of a cruise line. By the rules and definitions of the Antarctic Treaty we will be considered Expeditioners. It sounds kind of strange but it is a fun concept. I guess we can legitimately say we have been on “an Antarctic Expedition”. According to the International Treaty, anyone desiring to travel below 60 degrees latitude must file with the appropriate agency, listing their proposed travel plans, and file an environmental impact statement.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

We were up at 4:30AM this morning. The plan was to be at Elephant Island at 5:00 AM approximately daybreak. We were hoping the fog would have lifted enough for us to at least be able to see the island. Unfortunately more times than not, the island is cloaked in fog and low clouds with little or no visibility. When we awoke (5 minutes before the alarm), it was foggy but not so dense there was no visibility. We got dressed in our warmest clothes, the temperature was only about 38 but the wind was about 35 mph. To our astonishment and the bridge, the fog cleared and the sun rose. It was announced from the bridge that only one person on the bridge had ever seen Elephants Island this clear. This was our official Expedition Leader, John Ssplettstoesser who has been to the Antarctica an untold number of times and he had only seen it this good once. After Elephant Island we sailed for Hope Bay with an arrival time of 1:00 PM. The Argentina base of Esperanza is located here. Beyond belief, our luck was holding and we again had a beautiful cruise around the bay. By radio we were invited to land by the Argentineans, but since we did not have official permission (as filed by the Treaty requirements) as well as time we were forced to respectifully decline their generous offer. They were as excited to see us as we were them. A plane circled overhead for about 30 minutes and communicated with the bridge. Apparently they were taking photos of us as we were of them! Yes, fate was certainly favoring us today. I could literally write, if not a book at least a chapter about what we have seen and learned today but instead I will share some photos. If anyone has specific questions I will try to answer them if a following blog.

 

Daybreak on Elephant Island

The captain point to where Shackleton’s crew landed in 1916 and survived several months

Penguins on an iceberg

 

Endurance Glacier

Kay and Janet bundled for the cold.

All of these photos are from Elephant Island. I will try to make another post soon with photos from Hope Bay if internet connections allow.

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Day 37 – Thursday, February 10 – Stanley, Falkland Islands

 

Stanley (population approximately 2000) is the main town on the islands and the hub of East Falkland’s road network. Attractions include the Falkland Islands Museum, Government House, built in 1845 and home to the Governor of the Falkland Islands, a golf course, and are known for its whalebone arch, a totem pole, several war memorials and the shipwrecks in its harbor. The Falkland Islands Company owns several shops and a hotel. Stanley has four pubs, eleven hotels & guesthouses, three restaurants, a fish and chips shop and the main tourist office. There are three churches including the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral the southernmost cathedral in the world. The cathedral makes tiny Stanley a city. A grim reminder of the minefields to the south is the bomb disposal unit.

The town hall serves as a post office, philatelic bureau, law court and dance hall. The police station also contains the islands’ only prison, with a capacity of thirteen in the cells.

The community centre includes a swimming pool (the only public one in the islands), a sports centre, library, and school. A grass football pitch is located by the community centre and hosts regular games.

Stanley Golf Course has an 18 hole course and a club house. It is also located to the west of Stanley.

Stanley is also home to the Falkland Islands Radio Station (FIRS), the Stanley office of the British Antarctic Survey, and the office of the weekly Penguin News newspaper.

Work on the settlement began in 1843 and it became the capital in July 1845. It was named after Lord Stanley, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies at the time.

In 1849, thirty married Chelsea Pensioners were settled there to help with the defense of the islands and to develop the new settlement.

The settlement soon grew as a deep-water port, specializing at first in ship repairs; indeed, before the construction of the Panama Canal, Port Stanley was a major repair stop for boats travelling through the Straits of Magellan. The rough waters and intense storms found at the tip of the continent forced many ships to Stanley Harbor, and the ship repair industry helped to drive the island economy. Later it became a base for whaling and sealing in the South Atlantic and Antarctic.

Stanley was occupied by Argentine troops for about ten weeks during the Falklands War in 1982. The Argentines renamed the town Puerto Argentino, and although Spanish names for places in the Falklands were historically accepted as alternatives, this one is considered to be extremely offensive by many islanders, demanding as it does that the city is Argentine. It has however gained some support in Spanish-speaking countries, though its acceptance is far from unanimous. Stanley suffered considerable damage during the war, from both the Argentine occupation and the British naval shelling of the town, which killed three civilians. After the British secured the high ground around the town the Argentines surrendered with no fighting in the town itself. The beaches and land around it were heavily mined and some areas remain marked minefields.

Since the Falklands War, Stanley has benefited from the growth of the fishing and tourism industries in the Islands. Stanley itself has developed greatly in that time, with the building of a large amount of residential housing, particularly to the east of the town centre. Stanley is now more than a third bigger than it was in 1982.

We arrived in Stanley Harbor at about 8:45 AM. It will require a fairly long tender to the tender dock in Stanley. The weather looks nice. The temperature is 57 degrees with low clouds which appear to be clearing. We are getting ready for our shore excursion which starts at 10:30. We should have 2 or 3 hours to explore the town after our trip to Sparrow Cove to hopefully see some penguin colonies.

I have returned to writing at about 10:30 PM local time. We had a great day, but it wasn’t as smooth as the captain had hoped. The forecast was for winds of about 25 mpg, but by the time the ship was ready to start tenders there was a steady wind of about 35 knots or close to 40 mph. There apparently was some discussion about not attempting to tender due to the wind and water conditions. More than likely if we had any other captain we would not have seen Stanley today. But captain Halle Gundersen, having been with this ship since the keel was laid has more experience with this ship than probably any other cruise captain with any other ship. A call in the Falklands is always questionable due to weather but we had been informed earlier that Captain Gundersen has never NOT tendered at Stanley. Today he almost didn’t!

Because of the strong winds, we were only able to drop two tenders, and there was some delay in getting ashore for many people. Fortunately for Kay and I, our excursion began from the ship with a private tender which is local and more suited to the waters here. We left about 10:40 and arrived in a small sheltered cove. There were two 4×4’s waiting for our party 11.

We proceeded overland (note I did not say over road) for about 30 minutes. The scenery was beautiful but barren. There are really few roads outside of town except for a couple which crisscross the main island.

We saw sheep grazing in the scrub grasslands below the rocky ridges.

This is the trail we were following

But the drive was worth the effort. We arrived at an area which supported two colonies of Gentoo Penguins as well as a few King Penguins. I am going to just provide a few photographs without much commentary.

A King incubating an egg

Kay with a few feathered friends

Wow guys, look at this neat lichen!

Ok, get in line to load up…

I took hundreds of penguin photos, they are natural models. Their curiosity and lack of fear of man makes them easy subjects to photograph. The wind was pretty stiff but the temperature was in the high 50’s to low 60’s and not uncomfortably cold. On our trip back our driver said she had two daughters, her seven year old just could not understand why anyone would pay money to see penguins! I imagine in her eyes they are just a bunch of birds which stink up the country side!

Remnants of the British conflict with Argentina in 1982 are still very much evident. There are large areas of land which are fenced off with warning signs about mine fields.

Fortunately we didn’t step on any leftover mines, and made it safely back to our boat.

Our tender took our back to the dock in Stanley where Kay and I immediately walked up the main hill in town to the Victory Bar, so named in honor of the Falklands Island War.

Here we had the traditional fish and chips, washed down with beer. I had an English brew”John Smith” and Kay surprised me by having a Heineken herself. It was a true local British Pub, with dart boards and pool table. The food was quite good and reasonably priced. The total tab for the two of us was $24.00.

Perhaps the following photo is not in good taste and I apologize to anyone who might be offended, but I could not include it in my post. About a year ago, Falklands passed a no smoking law which applied to all public locations. Signs are posted everywhere. They pretty much all look like this one except for the wording. This sign was located in the men’s room at the Victory Bar. After my visit, I actually went back with my camera for this photo. Apparently a more conventional one was in the lady’s room.

It was after lunch when we returned to the dock area, we learned from Norm, one of the Prinsendam’s security officers that tender operations had been suspended for safety reasons. Apparently the wind was gusting up to 55 knots or in excess of 60 miles an hour. The steady wind was probably 40 mph and was actually making it difficult to walk. The official word was that the wind was expected to drop later in the afternoon and they hoped to be able to resume tender operations. Well, we hoped so too. In the back of our minds was the thought that in the past passengers have been left because they could not be returned to the ship. On a HAL ship not too long ago, a group had to stay several days before they were “rescued”. We decided to continue our tour; there wasn’t much else we could do!

 

We visited the Anglican Church with the famous whalebone arch beside it.

We did some shopping and picked up several interesting things including a couple of watercolors of penguins. We visited the post office, where we mailed several post cards and a couple of birthday cards with the fairly coveted Falkland Island Stamps. We then eventually started making our way back to the dock area. To our delight, we saw one tender leaving for the ship and we were able to catch the next. It was a pretty bouncy ride and a few passengers did get pretty wet, but we made it safely back to the ship in time for dinner. This is always a good thing!

This photo gives some idea of the seas, and this was after the winds died down enough where we could tender to the ship.

After dinner this shot was taken of the shore with one of the many low hills in the background just before sunset. We all agreed the Island was a beautiful place in a rustic kind of way. The people were very friendly and generous and proud of their Heritage. The best way to stay on their good side though is to not say anything good about Argentina; they have a true dislike for this country even though it is their nearest neighbor. When we asked our driver where the islanders went on holiday, the answer was Great Britain, Chile, or the U.S. Argentina was not ever mentioned.

Well we have another day at sea on our way to Antarctica….

 

 

 

 

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