Drake Passage

January 23 / 24

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Let's say that I experienced better sleep before; the sea was considered calm only due to the location - the Drake Passage is infamous for a bumpy ride, so the slow rolling waves were rather comforting. I woke up at 5 so I looked out of the window and saw that the sunrise was imminent. I geared up and went to the top deck, where I found only one other person. According to my GPS the sunrise was to be at 5:19, so we were holding on for our lives and waiting for the spectacle. Soon after sunrise I returned to bed, where we were woken up at 7am by the PA system as promised, being told the rough plan for the day. Soon after we realized with some puzzlement that the staff is running a sort of radio show, where you need to guess people's names based on hints; you then can call in to the "studio" and win some cute and useless thing. The first caller was disqualified because he was a staff member; we didn't wait for the 2nd caller but rather went to the deck to see how things were. Still the same - water everywhere, moderately shaking.

Click on the first image to start a slide show for this day (16 pictures)
Images shown below are a small selection.
In slide show, click on image to return to index.

The breakfast had something for everybody, from toast with jam to the good healthy eggs with bacon. After breakfast we could attend lectures talking about many aspects of Antarctica and the local wildlife. During the first talk the class was disrupted after I called out the presence of a small sailboat; you don't get to see those around here all that often. In the second class we learned that an albatross may not land on land for a year or even more, that they simply glide over water and land there to feed. They even sleep gliding, who would have thought. After class there was lunch, this time pasta in tomato sauce and easily separable cheese which was an important feature. We also placed orders for the dinner meal, where we could pick between four choices - I went with the only fish I knew what it actually was.

After lunch we headed back on the deck, where I attempted albatross photography with the 300/2.8 + 1.4x, which was quite an attention getter. Even with the camera supported on a monopod I found it extremely difficult to follow the birds given how the boat was rocking back and forth. Nevertheless, some of the pictures turned out ok, despite the less than ideal conditions and the still too short lens for this purpose: albatrosses are still rather small animals, especially at 100m distance.

At dinner the personnel pointed to us once again how lucky we are that the sea is so calm, noting that the dining room was unusually full for the first day of the voyage. Indeed, while some people were prominently missing, most tables were still full. And because the sea was so calm it was only one table - ours - which ended up sliding first all the way to the right, only to continue to follow the roll of the boat sliding all the way left, taking kettles of water and other goodies to the floor. It was rather amusing, actually, especially since unlike others Essan and I weren't watered in this incident. We should have one more day of this weather, so they tell us.

Dinner ended after 9 and since our anti-sick patches were making us tired we headed to bed around 11, having crossed the 60th degree south, or the official border to Antarctic waters. Only one more day - bets for the coordinates of the first iceberg sighting are still being accepted until tomorrow noon.

There was no waking up for the sunrise today - we were both sleeping very soundly, despite napping pretty much every opportunity we had. I guess the anti-sickness patch is contributing to this tiredness as well. Being the dork that I am, as soon as I was woken up by Bill, the tour leader, over the intercom I grabbed the video camera and started recording, hoping to catch the crew's "morning show" - after 10 minutes of holding the camera pointed at the speaker not only was I tired, but also out of tape - and of course the announcements came just as I was changing the tape.

So much for the adventures of the day - there was dense fog outside, not much to look at. So we attended other presentations, had lunch, and napped some more. After the mandatory safety and preservation talk we got to pick our life jackets and rubber boots for the upcoming excursions, and just when we sat down to write these lines (and in my case to process the select few raw images) the announcement of an incoming iceberg was made. At once everyone scrambled and inquired where again 1:30 o'clock was. But with the berg 14 miles away there was still plenty of time to enjoy the hot tea and process a few more pictures.

Meanwhile, being the only notable event of the day, pretty much all passengers found themselves on deck looking at the iceberg, happily snapping away at this grey boring piece of ice in the distance, hardly recognizable from the background thanks to still rather dense fog. Even when the next icebergs showed up an hour later, in steadily increasing numbers, it was a very special thing for most of us. I of course pointed the 300/2.8 at it and got a collection of maybe 15 almost identical pictures of the same piece of ice, not very clear pictures at that, but hey, icebergs!

A quick mention should be given to personal hygiene on board. Since we are on a "rugged" vacation nobody seems to be overdoing it, especially not people like us living in steerage, who don't have private baths. However, private bath or not, once you venture into the shower you will be dramatically reminded that you are on a ship on high seas. You have to hold on with at least one hand (handles are provided), or simply keep bouncing between the walls (not recommended as it's painful). For the boys among us there are other problems, mainly having to do with precision aiming, not unlike visiting the lavatory on an airplane flying through severe turbulence. Nuf said.

For tomorrow the schedule calls for crossing of the Antarctic Circle in the early morning, and for the first excursions in the afternoon. So the deck is pretty much clear of people as most are trying to get an extra ration of sleep.

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