Classic Antarctica Trip Log (6 - 18 Jan, 2018) – Monday, Jan 8

Monday, January 8: Crossing the Drake Passage
January 2018

During the early hours ‘Le Lyrial’ left the sheltered waters of the Beagle Channel and sailed into the open ocean of the infamous Drake Passage. And, marvellously, from the comfort of our beds, it was difficult to tell! The ship was barely rolling. A look through stateroom curtains showed that there was indeed very little swell. So it was safe to get up for breakfast! 

This was a day to settle into shipboard life and enter into the spirit of the expedition into Antarctic waters. So, after breakfast, we started with the 'grand parka exchange' where we could swap our complimentary Abercrombie & Kent red parkas for more suitable sizes. The objective was not to look fashionable but comfortable. These parkas ensure that we will be suitably clad with a warm, weatherproof layer – and be highly visible – when we go ashore in Antarctica.

This is also the day for the start of the series of enrichment lectures in which we learn from experts something about the places we will be visiting. By hearing details of the particular interests of the lecturers we will learn more than simply consulting Wikipedia! We began with special guest Jim McClintock’s “From Plankton to Penguins: The Impacts of Climate Change on the Antarctic Peninsula.” Jim offered a closer look at the impact of climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula. With warming sea and air temperatures, glaciers are receding at unprecedented rates, and floating ice shelves — hundreds of feet thick and attached to land — are following suit.

Marine life is also responding to this dramatic change. The Adélie penguin, whose life is intimately tied to the annual sea-ice, is disappearing from Palmer Station, the U.S. research station where Jim conducts some of his research. Warmer, more humid conditions have caused storms that bury nesting penguins in snow, and when the snow melts, their eggs drown. But the hole in the ozone over Antarctica offers promise. Over 190 countries collectively enforce regulations to prevent the release of refrigerants that destroy the ozone that protects us from ultra¬violet radiation. Scientists now estimate the ozone hole is likely to close by mid-century. Jim’s talk set the tone for an important subject that would continue to be explored throughout our cruise.

Sandwiched between the lectures, the staff were stationed on the pool deck at the stern looking for wildlife to share with us. Not only wandering and black-browed albatrosses, giant petrels (looking like small albatrosses), smaller white-chinned petrels and relatively tiny Wilson’s storm petrels, but two fin whales cruised past – easy to track by their tall ‘spouts’!

Next lecture up was Photo Coach Richard Harker's talk on "Photography in Antarctica: What to expect and how to prepare". Nearly everyone aboard has a digital camera or an iPhone and will take many photographs to make a permanent record of the expedition and to share their experiences with friends and family back home. Richard's coaching will be invaluable for getting the most from our cameras.

After lunch it was the turn of Adam Walleyn (our official on board ornithologist – there are plenty of unofficial ones!) who gave a presentation on ‘Not all who wander are lost: The Albatross’, This outsize bird has been seen gliding around the ship since yesterday evening and it will accompany us across the Drake Passage. Adam’s talk discussed the incredible life history of this, amongst the longest living of all birds, and gave a more in-depth look at the five or so species we are hoping to see during the voyage. The most incredible part of the albatross story is the way that they cover thousands of miles in search of food to take back to their nestlings.

During the afternoon ‘Le Lyrial’ crossed the Antarctic Convergence, now more correctly known as the Polar Front. This is the circumpolar boundary, where cold Antarctic water meets warmer water to the north. It is quite a sharp boundary where in the space of a few hours, the water temperature dropped several degrees. It certainly felt much colder when we stepped out on deck! The mixing of the waters provides an environment for an abundance of plankton, so it is a good place to spot seabirds and sea mammals.

Matt Messina finished the day with ‘Whales of the Southern Ocean and Antarctica’. These are the giant creatures that we are already encountering as we cross the Drake Passage and sail to Antarctica. We were excited to learn that whale sightings will be likely for the entirety of our voyage, and that the productive waters around this continent draw in the largest creatures on the planet to our area. We should get some really close-up views and spectacular photographs. We even learned how to spot and identify these ocean giants from our own staterooms, with no need even to go out on deck!

Then it was time to get smartened up for the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party, an occasion for an official Welcome Aboard and the presentation of the senior officers, as well as an opportunity to get to know more of our fellow guests. This process continued in the Captain’s Welcome Dinner, a gala occasion in Le Célèste restaurant. And so to bed.   


Click here to read 'Tuesday, January 9: Crossing the Drake Passage'