Heading to Antarctica: Chapter 1
I've made it to the beautiful Silver Cloud, my home for the next five and a half weeks. The first voyage is a big one traveling from Buenos Aires, Argentina to the Falkland Islands, on to Antarctica, and finishing in Ushuaia, Argentina. We will cross the Drake Passage twice, sail the waters of Cape Horn, visit the bottom of the world, and hopefully see lots of penguins, but let's start from the beginning.
Day 1: First line of action is getting all the paperwork cleared and then moved into the cabin. My roommate for this voyage is Patrick, the Assistant Expedition Leader, who lives in Finland but is originally from Germany. Turns out he is also one of the best fooseball players onboard. We are pretty involved in the guest checkin procedure, but end up sailing off the pier around 6:30pm.
|Proud Gentoo mother|
Day 2: We spend this day at sea, cruising from Buenus Aires to Puerto Madryn, Argentina. A typical sea day for us involves deck time, where we are assigned to be outside with binoculars and cameras, pointing out any birds or whales that we might pass. It’s a nice time to mingle with guests who are always interested in learning what the animals are that we are seeing. I spent a lot of this day with our resident ornithologist, Dmitri, since almost all of these birds were new to me as well. We saw albatross, petrels, storm petrels and shearwaters, with a couple of Peale’s dolphins as well. We also have trainings, desk duty, lectures, and recaps scheduled for these days at sea. It was my night to dine with guests as well… so a big first day.
|Black Browed Albatross colony|
Day 3: We are alongside the pier at Puerto Madryn all day, sending out shore excursions ranging from snorkeling with sea lions to all day bus trips visiting penguin, elephant seal, and sea lion colonies. The weather was too windy for the whale watching trips, but luckily the snorkeling with sea lions still happened since that was the one I was assigned to. The ride out was pretty wild even though we were right next to shore, and conditions in the water were also pretty rough, but it was still a success as we had some close encounters and I was able to grab some underwater GoPro footage of the sea lions. I looked for nudibranchs to no avail, but it would have been impossible to dive down with the drysuits we were wearing.
|Commerson's dolphins surfing|
Day 4: Another day at sea heading east towards the Falkland Islands, or Isla Malvinas as the Argentinians call it. There was a little more deck time looking for birds, but a majority of the day was spent combing through everyone’s gear for a mandatory biosecurity check. The Velcro fasteners on pants, gloves, and jackets turned out to be the most likely place to find hitchhiking seeds and little grasses. We don’t want to transport any of that to the Falklands or to Antarctica so we do a very thorough search.
Day 5: The great weather and light winds continued so we switched up our published landing spot for a real gem called Saunders Island. The weather conditions have to be favorable to land here so we decided to take advantage. Three kinds of penguins breed on Saunders; gentoo, southern rockhopper, and the elusive King penguin. The island, like most of the outer Falkland Islands is privately owned by a family who have a big sheep ranch. The family paid us a visit from there home, which was about 10 miles away, and even had a few souvenirs for sale out of the back of their land rover. We took the guests on a hike across the island and up this carpetlike grassy green hill to a beautiful overlook amongst the rockhopper penguins and black browed albatross who were nesting on the same hill. The water below looked almost tropical rolling into the sandy beach, and commerson’s dolphins were surfing in the waves as they foraged over the sandy bottom.
The afternoon was spent on another private island called West Point Island. The owners of the island go way back with Silversea, and they are famous for inviting us into their little farmhouse for tea and cookies. The other big draw is the hike across the island to an albatross and rockhopper penguin colony. It was an amazing place where you walk through this Dr Suessian tussock grass about 6ft tall and all of a sudden come face to face with a nesting albatross. You really had to make sure you didn’t step on them. At the end of the day I ended up giving two locals a lift from West Point Island to a neighboring island where their car had broken down. When I pulled up to the shore to drop them off there were penguins everywhere. It made me realize that we were just seeing a small fragment of the islands and they must be covered in penguin and albatross colonies everywhere.
Day 6: Today we spent all day in Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. Here, even my British coworkers said that they’ve never been to a place that felt more like England. There is an interesting history here of a sizeable conflict in the early 1980’s in which Argentina, trying to deflect attention away from domestic political problems stoked the flame of nationalism by invading the Falkland Islands and replacing the British flag with their own. They quickly overwhelmed the small force of British marines in Stanley, and then figured that Britain was too far away to really care much about fighting to get the islands back. Theresa May however did not want this black spot on her record so she sent about 6,000 troops and a fleet of war ships to take the islands back. The following battles were intense, and even though the Falklands War was over within the year with Britain regaining control of the islands, the effects are still felt as parts of the islands are closed due to unexploded ordinances and mine fields left behind. I led a hike across the island to a beautiful beach called Gypsy Cove, but on the way we passed a shoreline being combed by orange vested workers using metal detectors trying to find buried mines. I don’t think there is enough money to convince me to sign up for that job.
|Eye to eye with a black-browed albatross|
Day 7: The days have been busy so everyone is ready for another sea day. Especially since we know the next stop is Antarctica. I can’t wait to finally explore the white continent after all these years.
|Beautiful Gypsy Cove in the Falkland Islands|