Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands Trip Log (12 - 28 Dec 2017) – Monday, Dec 25

Monday, December 25: Christmas Day Exploring Salpetriere Bay and Port Charcot
January 2018

In 1908 Shackleton wrote "Some bergs had been weathered into fantastic shapes...Beautiful as this scene was, it gave rise to anxiety...for if we were caught in a breeze against this maze, it would go hard on us." Icebergs move by way of current, tide and wind. Large ones pose a major threat to ships, and especially to small craft. Salpetriere Bay conforms well with Shackleton's description. We awoke to mirror calm conditions, surrounded by a maze of the most beautiful icebergs. After a late night last evening, and the glories of the Lemaire Channel, guests came to breakfast later than usual, grateful for the lie-in. Santa Claus must have tracked ‘Le Lyrial’ on ShipSpotter, as he arrived by Zodiac at 9:00 a.m., and what joy he provided us all. Most guests wanted to be photographed with Santa, and the Young Explorers were delighted at his arrival, complete with gifts for them all.

Upon Santa's departure, Zodiac tours were taken in this maze of icebergs. A more majestic scene could not have been choreographed for Christmas Day. Crabeater, Weddell and Leopard Seals were seen on the ice floes. Kitchen staff laid on the southernmost barbeque in the world at lunchtime, and guests sat around on the pool deck, dining in this Antarctic summer wonderland. The food on board has been absolutely magnificent, and lunch lived up to high expectations.

The afternoon was spent at Port Charcot, where Jean-Baptiste Charcot overwintered on board Francais in 1903/4. So named in honor of his famous neurologist father, whose work influenced Freud, and whose passing left Jean-Baptiste a fortune to spend on Polar exploration. With his personal fortune, and a further 450,000 Francs from the French citizens, Francais was built of top quality materials. A three-masted schooner, dry weight 245 tons. Economising on the second-hand 125 horsepower engine proved to be Francais's Achilles Heel. Engine troubles eventually forced the crew to shelter in a narrow cove on Booth Island, a chain across the entrance spared the ship being crushed by icebergs. Tragedy struck when Toby, the pet pig, greedily ate a bucket of fish containing hooks. Charcot tried to operate on the animal, unsuccessfully. Charcot treated his men very well, and is remembered as the "gentleman of Polar explorers."

Guests walked up the hill to the commemorative cairn, and visited the Gentoo Penguin colony, including a few Adelies, creating great excitement. Minke Whales were moving about close to shore, in conditions warm enough for shorts and shirt alone. Guests could not have wished for a more magnificent final landing in Antarctica. Richard Escanilla managed to drop his GoPro into 9 feet of water, but was able with assistance from Cobus Kilian to push it to shallow water, and recover it. The team immediately sang "if you are happy and you know it, clap your hands" to "if you recovered your GoPro, clap your hands!"

Young Explorer, Andy, was inspired enough by Rob Caskie's talk on Shackleton, to write a diary excerpt from Stromness Whaling Station, by Shackleton, which he read beautifully to an enthralled audience. These young minds are sponges for information, especially Andy's. Patri Silva brought the house down with the most humorous presentation about Red-jacket Albatrosses-our guests. Explaining that they migrate south in search of food (on A&K ships), different lengths of proboscis (camera lenses), abandon their young once on board ship and that the young never properly fledge (leave home). This presentation has become legendary for our last evening in Antarctica, and it was hilarious beyond words. After dinner, travelling slowly through the spectacular Neumayer Channel, Larry Hobbs announced Orcas in the Gerlache Strait. Guests flew out onto the outer decks to watch these supreme predators, with their unmistakable dorsal fins swimming fast about the ship. What an utterly appropriate memory to carry as we depart this exquisite place, heading for the Drake Passage en route to Ushuaia.

Click here to read 'Tuesday, December 26: Crossing the Drake Passage'