Journey Log: Antarctic Cruise Adventure, 10–22 December 2023

Journey Log: Antarctic Cruise Adventure, 10–22 December 2023
December 2023

December 11, 2023 | Buenos Aires, Argentina

We arrived in Buenos Aires, the “Paris of the South,” on an interesting day. It was National Tango Day in Argentina — and the country announced its new president. After settling into our luxurious hotel, we set out to explore the La Boca neighborhood, where immigrants lived in tenement housing during the turn of the last century. Today, it’s a cultural hub with a bustling market and vibrant El Caminito, a street museum and traditional alley where impromptu tango performances take place.

After learning about the art of tango from — and seeing a performance by — acclaimed dancers, we enjoyed an evening cocktail party, complete with empanadas, more tango, modern dancing and drumming. The excitement was palpable as we prepared to embark on tomorrow’s extraordinary voyage to the White Continent.

December 12, 2023 | Ushuaia

We got an early start, boarding buses to the airport for our charter flight to Ushuaia. From above, we took in views of sprawling farmland and the snow-capped peaks of Patagonia.

Arriving in the capital of Tierra del Fuego — the “End of the World” — we sat down to a sumptuous lunch at grand, bay-view Arakur Ushuaia Resort & Spa. By early evening, we were aboard luxurious ‘Le Lyrial.’ After meeting our experienced, passionate Expedition Team, we set sail through the calm Beagle Channel toward the Drake Passage en route to Antarctica.

December 13, 2023 | At Sea Across the Drake Passage

As the largest ocean current in the world, the mighty Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) flows in a clockwise direction. With no landmass impeding its progress, it does much to insulate the weather systems of Antarctica. As it’s funneled between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula (our destination), nature’s forces combine to create the Drake Passage — the wildest ocean crossing on earth. Luxurious ‘Le Lyrial’ proved herself comfortable in the open ocean, despite tumultuous seas overnight.

We woke to calm conditions, securing the right fit for our parkas, boots and waterproof trousers. Kicking off the day’s enrichment, ornithologist Dr. Patri Silva discussed seabirds of the Southern Ocean. Photo coach Andy Coleman then shared ways to improve our wildlife photography. The stunning images from both presentations made us want to capture Antarctic beauty ourselves.

Next, marine biologist Luciana Motta shared her intimate knowledge and beautiful images of local cetaceans, while revealing details about these denizens of the deep. Following, climate expert Dr. James McClintock discussed the dramatic impact of climate change, based on 30 years of data from the United States’ Palmer Station.

As the day unwound, Captain Michel Quioc hosted a welcome cocktail party and gala dinner, introducing us to the senior officers aboard our vessel. It was a wonderful ending end to this day at sea on the Drake Passage.

December 14, 2023 | At Sea Across the Drake Passage

Calm conditions prevailed as we continued our journey across the Drake Passage, enjoying sumptuous meals prepared by French chefs throughout. On this very day in 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his four brave companions arrived at 90 degrees south. In doing so, they were the first to reach the South Pole.

Our Captain kindly opened the bridge today, offering a behind-the-scenes peek at our beautiful ship. The array of buttons, knobs, dials and screens alone was bewildering. Down below, two massive diesel engines were assisted by electric turbines.

Ready to further expand our knowledge, we listened to our resident geologist discuss how the Tierra del Fuego and the Antarctic Peninsula were formed. Our ornithologist next shared the importance of biosecurity during a mid-afternoon talk on penguins. Next, storyteller Rob Caskie gave a presentation on the life of Roald Amundsen. Not only was he the first to reach both poles, Amundsen also was the first to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage by boat — and the first to winter in the Antarctic during the Belgian Antarctic Expedition.

December 15, 2023 | Active Sound, Antarctica

We awoke early to a blanket of thick, low fog. The new moon ushered in a high spring tide. Despite plenty of brash ice along the shore, our Expedition Team ably landed at Brown Bluff, making this the first continental landing for most travellers.

We stared in wonder at the Adélie and gentoo penguins nesting beneath the mighty bluff. They marched about as only penguins can, unruffled by our presence.

In the afternoon, we enjoyed a second Zodiac excursion through Active Sound, discovered by Captain Thomas Robertson during the Dundee whaling expedition. Abundant ice and a penguin colony ensured there was plenty to see and photograph.

Truly, nothing could have prepared us for our first day in this magnificent place — the highest, driest, coldest, windiest continent on earth. Thus far, she has been gentle and benign.

December 16, 2023 | South Shetland Islands

The day broke with beautiful weather as ‘Le Lyrial’ anchored close to President Head in the South Shetland Islands. On the beach, we saw generations of molting elephant seals. Affording us great joy were young, curious pups with huge, brown eyes. A lone Weddell seal hauled out on the ice, vocalizing against the stunning backdrop of rock formations and cliffs.

Returning to our vessel, we continued to horseshoe-shaped Deception Island — the exposed portion of an active shield volcano. A unique landscape of barren volcanic slopes, steaming beaches and ash-layered glaciers, it features a large, flooded caldera that opens to the sea through a narrow channel at Neptune’s Bellows, forming a sheltered harbor.

Aboard each Zodiac, our marine biologist lent insight into resident seals and sea lions. We entered small Whalers Bay between Fildes Point and Penfold Point on the east side of Port Foster. Viewing the long-abandoned whaling station and the British Antarctic Survey station, we observed the effects of 1969's volcanic eruption.

Under calm, beautiful conditions, we walked up to three miles through the magical landscape.

December 17, 2023 | Useful Island and Neko Harbour

Clouds hung low over the snowy terrain as we stopped at Useful Island in the Gerlache Strait. Setting out by Zodiac amid massive icebergs, we journeyed around the island with its rocky outcrops. As we observed gentoo and chinstrap penguins, we also saw a leopard seal catching and eating a penguin nearby.

Back aboard ‘Le Lyrial,’ we proceeded through Andvord Bay toward Neko Harbour, marveling at Antarctica’s immensity. The sun broke through the clouds, creating visual magic on the ice fields.

Arriving at stunning Neko Harbour — one of the most beautiful sites on our itinerary — we saw three types of brush-tail penguins on the beach. Once on land, we walked up the snowy slopes for breathtaking vistas over the blue water, where glaciers regularly calve.

We snapped a few photos before returning to our vessel, spotting Weddell seals swimming at the shore en route. Capping off an incredible day, we later partook in a gravlax demonstration on board.

December 18, 2023 | Torgersen Island

Clouds hung low and snow fell gently as ‘Le Lyrial’ anchored off rocky Torgersen Island at the entrance to Arthur Harbour.

Venturing out in our Zodiacs, we observed many small islands, icebergs and elephant seals. Amid these towering icebergs — sublime sculptures created by nature — we marveled at the lines left by escaping air bubbles.

Back aboard our ship, we learned about ongoing research at the United States Palmer Station, namely the work of Dr. Bill Fraser, who has studied Adélie penguins locally since 1974. Given they're dependent on sea ice, the number of breeding pairs has declined 90% over the last 40 years. It's no wonder, since the climate has essentially changed from polar to sub-Antarctic.

Over lunch, we enjoyed the world's southernmost barbecue. We then set out to see Palmer Station firsthand. Built on stable rocks with a deep channel enabling resupply by large ships, this modern, well-maintained base accommodates 44 members of the scientific community.

This evening, we passed through the glacier-fringed Neumayer Channel between Anvers and Wiencke Islands. Shaped like an S and often blocked by pack ice, it was named for German explorer and scientist Georg von Neumayer, who sailed it during an Antarctic expedition in the late 1800s.

December 19, 2023 | Portal Point

We began the day with a Zodiac tour around Enterprise Island, a small rock next to Nansen Island. Continuing to Foyn Harbor - an anchorage between Nansen Island and Enterprise Island - we viewed the rusting wreck of the 'Governoren.' Once a cattle carrier, the ship eventually became one of the largest whaling factory ships of her time. Designed to handle the entire whaling process, the 'Governoren' once produced more than 22,000 gallons of oil. However, the ship met its demise when oil caught fire in 1915. Although the 85-person crew escaped, the ship burned to ruin.

As we navigated around stunning icebergs, we came upon an A&K bar boat, complete with Champagne. This fantastic voyage was warmly toasted.

In the afternoon, we made land at Portal Point. With a brisk wind blowing, we walked in the soft snow. Reaching higher ground, we marveled at the surrounding Antarctic landscape and saw the remaining foundation of the Cape Reclus refuge. Built in 1956, the British hut was used for two winters before it was abandoned. In 1996, the hut was removed and is now on display in the Falkland Islands Museum and National Trust.

This evening, our ornithologist performed an entertaining albatross spoof. Then, after a lovely dinner, classical pianist Kostiantyn Volkoboi - winner of the first Rachmaninoff international piano competition in 1983 - offered a magnificent performance in the theater, a perfect complement to our action-packed days.

December 20, 2023 | Across the Drake Passage

Although the seas were rough last night, calmer conditions prevailed this morning. We continued onward through the deep Drake Passage, mindful that our incredible experiences would soon end.

Spending the day at sea, we enjoyed a full enrichment program, including talks on geology, photography, drug discoveries in Antarctica and Scott's expedition to the South Pole.

This evening, our Captain hosted a farewell dinner, which allowed us to meet the whole 'Le Lyrial' crew. The dancing that followed was a perfect cap to this unforgettable journey.

December 21, 2023 | Across the Beagle Channel

Last night was bumpy, but the ocean calmed considerably during the day. After enjoying a talk about diving beneath Antarctic ice, we returned our waterproof trousers and boots, mindful of our arrival in Ushuaia tomorrow.

We then enjoyed an enlightening talk about Antarctica, learning it doubles in size every winter due to sea ice. From logistical challenges to the realities of daily life in this extraordinary place, we gained an immersive view into this incredible - and cold - continent. In 1983, the coldest temperature ever recorded was -89.2 Celsius at Russia's Vostok Research Station, located near the southern pole of inaccessibility and the south geomagnetic pole.

Next, our storyteller lent insight into the life of Ernest Shackleton, emphasizing the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (Endurance Expedition), for which he is remembered. Then, we sat down to a slide show that captured our journey, excited to receive a copy post-voyage. Cherishing our experiences, we packed our bags, reflecting on this trip of a lifetime.

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