Tuesday 30 December 2014

December 30 - King George Island, Bransfield and Gerlache Strait

We arrived off Frei base about 4:30 AM and Iggy, Robin and Chris took care of the medivac, with the plan arriving as scheduled at 6:30 AM. We were soon on our way back south.  It was extremely lucky that the weather was so good, there were no visibility problems for the plane and everything went very smoothly.  
Chilean base Frei on King George Island.
Scheduled lectures went ahead and the recap from last night was given at 11. Passengers were told the plan for today was to head straight down the Bransfield Strait, through the Gerlache with the expectation of being off Paradise Bay early tomorrow morning for zodiac operations starting at 5 AM!  (for us that means a wake-up time of 4:30, but the zodiac drivers will be up around 3 AM).

Rory Martin (one of the zodiac drivers) in the zodiac storage area.
In the meantime... we headed south to spectacular views, including views of the 2000 m peaks of the peninsula.  We passed a few hump back whales, then more, then more....   then we went dead slow near a group of about 6 - 8 humpbacks that were bubble netting.   We watched them for about 30 minutes, then headed on-ward.  
Two of the numerous hump backs around the ship.
 Those of us on deck headed back to our rooms only to be called back to the deck half and hour later as a large iceberg with penguins was spotted and the captain brought us very close.  We watched the penguins shoot out of the water, as they clawed their way to the upper surface of the iceberg.

Chin Strap Penguins on an iceberg that had rolled - not mountains of the peninsula in the sunshine.

We then headed back to our cabins.  Maria now has enough paintings completed and formatted for sale that they were put on display in the shop and she will have a little "opening" tomorrow afternoon. We headed up to take a picture or two. 

Maria with her paintings.

We then headed out on deck and we were surrounded by whales.  I counted at least 14 at the surface around the rear of the ship.  It was very surreal. The ship is going fairly slowly, there is virtually no wind, the peaks rise precipitously out of the sea blanketed in massive amounts of ice - and there are all these whales, breaching, blowing, and swimming through the landscape. Amazing!!

Although not very visible in the photo, the foreground has more than a dozen whales surfacing.

December 29 - Half Moon Island

Early this morning we entered the South Shetland Islands via Nelson strait and headed for Half Moon Island on the east side of Livingston Island. We got up to an amazing site of the island in sunshine and the peaks of Livingston Island visible behind.  The chinstraps now had very small chicks, hatched in the last few days. There was one lone macaroni penguin among them.  There were also a lot of very sleep Weddell seals along the beach.  Unfortunately there was a medical emergency among the last group of passengers to shore. The serious was not known immediately, but soon we were told that we would be setting sail for King George Island and a medivac sometime later in the day. It was a beautiful evening, warm and very calm, so everyone took in stride the change of plans as we all whale watched on the decks.

Livingston Island in the background - the temperature got up to 10 C during the day!

View of the gabbroic rocks that make up much of Half Moon Island.

Chin strap rookery sliced by basalt dykes.

Marie painting near the rookery.

Chin strap heading home.

Quest anchored in Half Moon bay.
There were hump back whales and lots of penguins around the ship as we headed to King George.  Due to the change of plans we were all asked to be out on deck and in the observation lounge to talk to passengers, explain the situation and watch for wildlife. The Captain came on later in the evening explaining that the medivac had been arranged to take place from the Chilean base called Frei which has an airstrip. The plane comes from Punta Arenas and takes just over two hours. The plane was due to leave at 4 AM, arriving around 6:30 AM.

Ice berg on our way to King George Island.

Since we were all dressed to be out on deck, Maria and I chose to eat in the grill - but it was COLD!! 

Sunday 28 December 2014

December 28 - Monster ice berg

As we have been steadily heading south, we passed the polar convergence around lunch time with the commensurate decrease in temperature and parallel increase in fog! It is really very dramatic!  We are going to make the Drake in under 36 hours, so tomorrow morning we will have our first landing at Half Moon Island. The day was filled with activity getting everything organized - bio-hazard checks, boot exchanges, briefings, etc.  Just after we completed our evening briefing, the captain announced that a large iceberg had been spotted about 20 minutes distance away.

It turned out to be a monster tabular iceberg about 3 X 2 km in size! Truly amazing!  We circumnavigated the berg while being followed by a large flock of the beautiful black and white storm petrels.

sighting of the ice berg emptied the Grand Salon!

People got their first taste of what it is like to be really cold! With wind chill it was a lot below zero!

The ice berg had interesting arches.

Truly massive in scale - it was like a bit of Antarctica coming out to meet us!

Those of us prepared had dinner al fresco - note Matt's gloves!

December 27 Glacier Alley and Ushaia

Leaving Punto Arenas we headed farther south through the fiords. In the early AM we reached the first of the glaciers - Spain and Garibaldi, but I didn't start broadcasting to the ship until we reached Glacier Romancha at 7 AM. These glacier flow from a series of glaciers and ice caps that stretch fo 150 km along this part of the coast - most don't make it to tidewater and in fact the main ice is not easily visible from the water. We saw a large whale, but couldn't ID it and lots of shearwaters were on the water as well as giant petrels and black-browed albatross.
Glacier Alamana (German) flowing out the Cordillera Darwin.
We ended up in Ushuaia beside the Celebrity Infinity - it was like being beside an apartment building.  Ushuaia was unusually clear, but very windy. Maria and I walked through the town, then headed back to the ship - me to work on presentations and she to paint.

Around 9 PM we were off for out the Beagle Channel and the Drake! Captain Fitzroy named the waterway the "Beagle Channel" after the ship's row boats were nearly lost when on January 29, 1833, a glacier caved creating a large wave. Darwin's quick action to pull the boats up the beach saved them. The small boats were used to check the depth and navigability of the waterways, before the Beagle sailed through them.

The National Geographic Ship Orion, docked shortly after we did.

Rare view of the mountains that surround Ushuaia.

Our "neighbour" the infinity!

Lupines in bloom around Ushuaia.

A walk around the lagoon, gave great views of the town and mountains - it cleared up later in the afternoon.

We are not sure what this building is as it was closed and didn't seem to have any signs, but it is very photogenic.

Friday 26 December 2014

December 26 - Boxing Day

Well yesterday was a very lovely day. Maria and I decided to "take in the shows". The first was by the Magician.  It was fun, but not the highlight of the evening! We then had dinner with two Australian couples, all but one was actually British - so with me, that made four Brits, one Aussie and one American!  We "Brits" had fun educating Maria on Christmas customs!  Following dinner we went to hear Suzanne Godfrey, the flutist I had managed to stay awake for once before.  She is really a lovely player and it was a nice way to end the day.

Today was much more low key. We are at Punta Arenas, and since mom and I had a good chance to explore just a week or so ago, I stayed on board to get caught up on a few things, while Maria went out exploring.

We hosted a nice table for dinner, with one lady in particular very interested in Maria's art.  Tomorrow we are going through "Glacier Alley" at 7 AM, so I will be up on the bridge narrating. Later in the morning, we land in Ushuaia and will have about six hours in the port.

Thursday 25 December 2014

December 25 - Christmas Afternoon

We had an early morning start - the Captain thought it would be nice for the guests to have a white Christmas by seeing Brujo Glacier.  The glacier come from the Southern Patagonian icefield.  The expanse of ice is second only to the Canadian/Alaska Kluane/Wrangle field. The Patagonia icefield covers 16,800 km.  It and Kluane are the largest icefields outside of the polar regions.

Brujo Glacier

The Glacier from 1.5 nautical miles.  I provided commentary from the bridge.  Despite being 7:30 Christmas morning quite a few guests came out (of course having a loudspeaker booming throughout the ship might have woken a few people up.....)

I then was off to give a lecture and introduced by Santa and his elves! How fitting is that!
Note new Santa helper!

After lunch Maria and I took time to open our gifts. Thank you Santa!


Merry Christmas to everyone! We hope you have a wonderful day enjoying the wonders of the Season. 

Wednesday 24 December 2014

December 24 - Christmas Eve morning

Yesterday I had noticed the staff working late around the entrance to the dining room. They had several hand carts and other items - this morning we were greeted with wonderful Christmas displays to the main entrance and the Colonade restaurant on Deck 8, including a selection of delectable treats!

The display at the Colonnade.

Delectable goodies!

Chocolate Santas and a train

More goodies!

Thank goodness Maria and I worked out this morning!!

December 24 - Christmas Eve Steam Engines

It seems that there are a lot of preserved steam engines in this area. From steam trains to donkeys, they have been preserved in several parks.  Here are some examples from Castro.

Castro - shore side park to the north of the dock area,

Castro - shore side park to the north of the dock area.

Examples around the market to the south of the dock.

We woke up this morning to out own Seabourn version of the steam train!

December 24 - Christmas Eve - Living in a small space

Since leaving Castro yesterday we have been heading southward. The swell has been fairly large (~3 meters), but more sedate than on the northward journey.

Maria and I have spent the last few days sorting out our living quarters and organizing things. Glenn sent some high powered magnets down with Maria, and we have been making good use of them.  We have also figured out how to make the space work for us!

Maria's "cabin" (note drying paintings!) 

Maria has been sketching around the ship and on shore - here she is set up in our cabin to paint!

The reason you see Maria all bundled up is that we keep our room cool (shall we say cold??) We are preparing ourselves for Antarctica!

Note the progress since the last photo!

December 24 - Chapter Two (December 20 - 23)

Castro!  Well here we are heading south!  Somehow the blog just didn't get done these past few days so here is a multiday Christmas Eve update!

We landed in Valparaiso Saturday morning on the 20th. Mom was packed and ready to go – Carolina picked up Maria in Santiago and we headed for our rendezvous.  Carolina had chosen a lovely old hotel in the Victorian part of Valparaiso to meet.  It turns out it was well known to some of the European crowd so we met both coming and going Seabourn guests!

Mom and I worried about ever being able to escape the terminal as the Celebrity Cruise line ship Infinity (~2500 passengers) was docked in front of us, along with the similar sized-to-us Silver Sea.  So there were about 3500 people trying to get off the ship and out of the port area at one time!  We did finally manage to get a local cab and ended up at the hotel just ahead of Carolina, Daniel and Maria.  We had a lovely lunch in an equally historic restaurant overlooking the port area – then it was off to the ship, leaving mom in the good hands of Carolina and Daniel.
Maria and Mom - Valaparaiso

Daniel and Carolina - many thanks for facilitating the swap!

Fortunately the embarkation was not the complete nightmare I thought it might be as the embarkation areas for the three ships were well separated.  Maria got settled (or should I say shoe-horned!) into our small space and we were off for a tour of the ship then the mandatory lifeboat drill.  We were soon sailing away from Valparaiso southward down the coast.

There was a pretty big swell as we sailed southward, but that didn't detract from the Captain’s formal greeting on the 21st.  The Expedition team was introduced in the afternoon, and Robin made special mention of Maria.

Monday morning brought us to Puerto Montt.  Instead of the dreary overcast weather we had on the way up, we were treated to great views of Calbuco and Osorno.  Maria and I got to go as trip escorts for the full day trip to Esmeralda Lake and Petrohue rapids.  We passed through Puerto Varas, where I spent a fair amount of time having meetings, working with the local office of SERNAGEOMIN and their Southern Volcano Observatory, as well as the project area of Los Cascades, which we passed close to.  

The falls/rapids had very little water compared to my visit there in 2011, but a large new visitor’s center had been built (with several shops!).  On the way back we spent a short time in Puerto Varas shopping.  There was a very impressive array of locally made handicrafts!  I am not sure if it is because it is close to Christmas and this is cruise ship season or what. But there were some very beautiful woolens and wooden objects. Both Maria and found something we couldn't resist buying!
Coihua trees, and evergreen Beech tree that is the dominant forest tree in southern Chile.

Polygonal jointed basalt, cooled against a glacier about 20-30 thousand years ago.
Maria sketching at the rapids.

The inside of the new visitor center - more room for shops!

We had lunch at farm with a view of Osorno, this steam donkey, a rea and vanados (deer).

Some of the handicrafts in the market in Puerto Varas.

It was a nightmare getting back on the ship!  All the passengers from Quest and Infinity were boarding at the same time and there was only one X-Ray machine in use!!  The cue filled the entire arrivals buildings. Of course with Seabourn passengers outnumbered 5 to 1 we had a lot of unhappy passengers, until someone finally convinced the Chilean authorities we could form two lines and “zipper” together. Even still we waited over an hour to get through the process!  Anyway, Maria and I were hosting a table so scrambled to get back and change.  All of our guests showed up so we were glad to have made the effort!

Today we are in Castro!  This is my first visit here.  It is a very characteristic small Chilean Town, however, it, like most of the towns in the south, has wooden houses sided with shingles.  It also has a number of wooden churches; even the cathedral is made of wood.  The Cathedral is a UNESCO world heritage site.  This place is also noted for the houses built on stilts along the water ways.  This is as a result of the 1960 9.5 earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of the coast line.

Shingle sided houses are common in Castro. The houses have different shapes of shingles and are painted bright colours.

This house has several bird houses attached to the front of the house.

These are some of the stilt houses - at high tide the water is just below the walkway.

Everyone five years the Cathedral is repainted. Local school children get to chose the colour. The latest choice was yellow and purple!

This church was built in 1919 after the original church burned.
Everything inside the church is made of wood - it gives a very different "feel" to the interior than a stone church.

I had a bit of time to check out the local market.  Like Puerto Montt, there is a huge fishing industry here in addition to the farmed salmon and shell fish. Kelp and other other seaweed is harvested, dried and sold, along with dried shell fish.  I don't think I have actually had any dishes made with dried shell fish, but I will try to find a restaurant that serves the local dishes next time I am passing through this way.

Fresh crab, clams and fish!
Dried shellfish (hanging), kelp, seaweed, herbs and local vegetables.