Our very own travel agent Jennifer Patterson had the opportunity to go to Antarctica, not once, but twice! Read about her experience on her second trip there…
Akademik Sergey Vavilov
I was very lucky to have a second opportunity to go to Antarctica, so I asked my travelling buddy, Lorraine, if she wanted to come along. She knew my first trip was amazing so there was no hesitation; in fact she brought Marjory, her 82 year old mom along! Marjory had long dreamt about going to Antarctica but never thought she’d have the opportunity to go. Our trip started in November, which is spring time for Antarctica. The vessel that would be our home for 11 days was the Akademik Sergey Vavilov, which is a Russian ice-strengthened research vessel. It is basic, comfortable, super clean and heavy in water, which made me feel at ease knowing we would be crossing the potentially stormy body of water called the Drake Passage, sometimes called the “Drake Shake”. The Vavilov only holds 104 guest, 43 crew and 11 expedition staff.
Crossing the Drake
The first two days are spent crossing the Drake to the Antarctica Peninsula. We spent these days out on deck watching the seabirds soar around the ship and also attended several lectures a day to prepare us for what was ahead such as; exploratory history, marine biology, geology, glaciology and birds (including penguins). There was also time to visit the library, eat 3-4 times per day in the dining room and hang out with fellow passengers from all over the world and have very diverse backgrounds. As a Canadian, I always find it fun to see people for the 1st time in their life experience the snow and cold! Their reaction can be quiet funny. We forget what we take for granted.
A Day in the Life of Antarctica
Once we reached Antarctica, a typical day would be getting up at 7am for breakfast, and then a briefing from the expedition leader on the plan for the day. The briefing is always followed by a reminder that plans often change due to weather, ice conditions and opportunistic encounters. We usually did two excursions a day, either Zodiac cruising around icebergs enjoying the dramatic landscape and looking for whales, seals and birds! Or we might do a landing to visit a penguin colony (there are four species), or visit a research station. Some guests had decided to do some adventure options of cross-skiing, mountaineering, or kayaking. After returning to the ship for a hot lunch, we’d go back out and do it all over again.
Meals are like a family affair, where everybody eats at once. They are usually noisy affairs as the excitement of the day is discussed with enthusiasm around the tables. After the evening meal, we gather in the bar area for tales of Antarctica from the expedition staff. The expedition staff also come from many different countries and exude a passion for the Polar Regions. They are a real group of characters and always have some fascinating stories to tell.
The Fellow Passengers
The passengers are generally very well travelled and I was surprised at the number of them who have visited every continent. We had an older Kiwi gentleman, travelling with his daughter, who used to work on a tall ship sailing from the UK to the South Pacific. He wanted to sail around the notorious Cape Horn once more so our captain did his best to get the ship within a few miles of this infamous landmark. Our captain was really good and really worked with the expedition leader to deliver the best trip possible. One day, the expedition leader requested the captain to change the direction of ship so we could view a pod of whales that were breaching and everybody enjoyed a magical experience as a result!
Seasonal Changes and Wildlife
My very first visit to Antarctica was in March, which would be considered fall. There is a big difference in the seasons from a wildlife and snow/ice perspective. In November (their spring) there’s lots of ice and snow so the landscape is very dramatic – black mountains stark against the white crisp snow and glaciers.
There’s lots of penguins going to and from the seas have made little highways in the snow. They are just starting to mate and build their nests. There are some whales around, but they don’t seem to interested in being interactive. By December the eggs have been laid and the chicks are starting to hatch by the end of the month.
January the penguin chicks are starting to get bigger and some are leaving the nest to form crèches as protection against predators while both parents go to sea to collect food for their young. In late February and early March, most of the penguin chicks have fledged and many of the parents have left to begin their annual molt.
Many of the colonies that were covered in several metres of snow in November are now muddy and covered in guano with little snow to be seen. However, the penguin chicks are hilarious and very active. There are also a lot more whales and more interaction with them in February and March.
There are very good opportunities to see humpbacks, orcas, minkies and even blue, sei, southern right, sperm and fins whales in the Drake Passage. I admit the whales were my favourite! Imagine being in a Zodiac and 45-tonne whales, 15-metres long are underneath and right beside your boat! Watching them spyhop and breach was amazing!
Travelling to this destination is not a cheap experience; it’s a life time experience. I get so excited about reliving the memories of the landscapes, animals, the people; it makes me feel better about the world!
August 20, 2018