Wildfoot Travel’s Polar expedition expert Debbie Grainger continues her account of her recent trip to Antarctica aboard the luxury expedition cruise ship The Greg Mortimer.
In my last article, I gave a detailed account of my recent trip to the Antarctic Peninsula along with my amazing kayaking adventures. This time, I continue my write-up of the Greg Mortimer and explain why a small ship is preferable to a larger ship.
Landing Restrictions In Antarctica
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) – is an industry group that has resolved to set the highest possible tourism operating standards in its effort to protect Antarctica. Their carefully implemented rules mean that only 100 people can set foot on land, at any one time. Plus, only one ship is permitted at a landing site at a time. Which means you still feel on your own in this unique and pristine environment.
The Greg Mortimer, and her sister ship the Sylvia Earle (due to launch in October 2021) only carry an average of 126 passengers to Antarctica. At Wildfoot Travel, when me make a booking, we have to check that non-kayaking spaces are available because Aurora will not take more than 100 “landing” passengers on any voyage. This enables them to maximise passenger time on land. This way, everyone lands together and group rotation is not necessary, as it is on larger vessels. This is one of the key reasons to make sure that you book as early as possible.
On a typical day, the enthusiastic, experienced expedition team aim to get you all off the ship at least twice per day. The team leader makes an announcement, letting passengers know what time the zodiacs will start their trips over to the landing point. You are called to the mud room in two groups – starboard side and portside. This is alternated for each landing, giving everyone the chance of being off the ship first.
To access the mud room, you go to
the back of Deck 4, down the steps to Deck 3. Each cabin has their own locker
where you keep your outer gear, boots and life jacket. Once you are ready to
get off the ship, you “swipe out” with your room key – this is so the crew have
a log of every passenger’s whereabouts, and to keep tabs on the number of
passengers landing. The zodiac platforms open out from both sides of the mud
room, although only 1 is normally used. Whilst the kayakers have their own
platform at the back of the ship, which keeps them out of the way of the
zodiacs. This meant that exiting the ship, was always quick and efficient,
which then resulted in more time ashore.
The zodiacs flit to and fro,
transporting passengers 10 at a time to land. Once you have landed, it’s up to
you how long you stay out there. My daughter always tried to be on one of the
first zodiacs out, and the last one back, to maximise the amount of time given
with the wildlife and the landscape.
The Small Ship Experience
Another reason to choose a small
ship is that you encounter more solitude and greater flexibility if tides,
currents, ice or weather dictate a schedule change. Due to thick sea ice, we
encountered a couple of itinerary changes, however this had absolutely no
impact on our time ashore. Had we been on a larger ship, we may not have been
able to have had a landing on those days.
Luxurious But An Expedition Ship In Every Way
There is no getting away from the fact that the Greg Mortimer and the Sylvia Earle, are luxury ships. The cabins are large and spacious with great storage facilities; beautiful soft furnishings and photos decorate the entire ship. Every meal was well-presented and delicious, and the service from the waiting on staff was impeccable; There is a small, but well-equipped gym onboard as well as a lovely sauna.
It does however, still have the
feeling of a true expedition ship. The expedition team mingled with the
passengers around dining tables every mealtime; the lectures were informative
and engaging; we were encouraged to be out on deck looking for wildlife
opportunities, whilst some of the expedition team explained in greater detail,
what we were witnessing. Aurora have an “open bridge” policy which means that
you can pop into the bridge and have a chat with the crew, and learn all about
the navigational equipment onboard.
On all of the trips, there is a dedicated
photographer on board. We found the photo workshop to be so educational and
informative on our trip – learning lots of little tips of how best to position
our cameras; lighting techniques; choosing the right moment to click, so that
you get that unique photo.
Such an important factor these
days: Due to the combination of streamlined Ulstein X-BOW and the Rolls Royce
dynamic stabilisers, the crossing of the Drake Passage is more comfortable and
stable. The reason for this is that the shape of the X-Bow cuts through the
swell so that passengers feel less vibration and disturbances. The shape also
makes for a quicker crossing, meaning that you arrive in the South Shetlands by
lunchtime on day 2, as opposed to day 3 on other ships. Another great factor to
consider, is that it also helps reduce fuel consumption by up to 60%, and in a
world that is constantly thinking of how to protect our planet, the Greg Mortimer
boasts of the lowest polluting marine engines in the world. Her
state-of-the-art engines deliver an 80% reduction in emissions; the onboard
desalination plant converts seawater to freshwater that’s safe to drink. This
means they can carry less freshwater on sea crossings, further reducing fuel
consumption. And then there is the virtual anchoring that I briefly mentioned
last time. This is a combination of GPS, steering technology, propellers and
thrusters, which allow the ship to hold position. This protects the sea floor
and minimises the damage caused by conventional anchors.
single-use plastic items have been replaced with sustainable alternatives,
whilst Aurora’s aim is to eliminate single-use plastic altogether.
onboard seafood is sourced in accordance with the Marine Stewardship Council
Cleaning products: Biodegradable, phosphate free and non-bioaccumulative products are used as much
Recycling: Bins are
provided onboard to separate waste and recyclable items to help reduce landfill
Beach Clean-ups: A proud member of the Sea Green – a new waste recycling initiative at the Port of Ushuaia. Plus beach clean-up initiatives such as Clean up Svalbard.
Check out these Expedition Cruises Aboard The Greg Mortimer with No Solo supplement
An incredible wildlife adventure taking in five continents over four months.
We have launched a brand new wildlife adventure for 2020, inspired by the legendary natural historian Sir David Attenborough.
you’re a fan of the iconic documentary makers’ work you’ll definitely want to
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in Antarctica in February and ending in the Arctic in June, passing through
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Read the full itinerary below.
Antarctica – February 2020 (14
intrepid wildlife itinerary begins in Antarctica with an epic 14-night polar
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Costa Rica – March 2020 (11 nights)
tour continues to Costa Rica with our incredible 11-night scuba diving
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over 300 different species of fish. Other fascinating creatures to witness here
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Ecuador – March 2020 (9 Nights)
next leg of the tour is our 9-night Galapagos
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Argentina – March/April 2020 (11
up is Argentina, for our brand new Patagonia, Pumas and
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a visit to Los Glaciares National Park
and a hike along the Southern Glacier.
Brazil – April 2020 (11 Nights)
Zimbabwe – April 2020 (6 Nights)
our time in South America, we head to Brazil for our Amazon, Pantanal and Savannah
This trip offers a unique opportunity to see the maned wolf in the wild, as
well as the jaguars and anteaters which have featured in Attenborough’s
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second African safari stop is in Botswana where you can see the beauty of the
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India – May/June 2020 (12 Nights)
Asia, take in our Wildlife Special focusing on leopards, tigers
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Arctic – June 2020 (10 Nights)
magnificent wildlife itinerary ends in the Arctic with our Introduction to
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This incredible 4-month itinerary taking in five different continents costs from £40,411pp. This doesn’t include transfers between countries. All internal transport within each leg of the trip, accommodation, and excursions are included as stated in each individual tour itinerary.
Wildfoot Travel Advisor Debbie Grainger boarded an expedition cruise to Antarctica recently. Here, she gives us a first hand account of her trip.
I have just returned from the most amazing trip to the Antarctic peninsula. Friends and family asked me why I was so excited to be traveling to this far away frozen planet – My answer? I loved the Arctic and all it has to offer, but people tell me daily that Antarctica is the most impressive, emotion-invoking continent you can only vaguely imagine. If you’ve been there, then you know exactly what I mean – If you haven’t, then what are you waiting for? Antarctica is everything it promises to be – and so much more. There wasn’t one day that I didn’t gasp in awe at the beauty, the wilderness, the wildlife.
Following a night in Buenos Aires and another in Ushuaia, our adventure really began as we stepped onboard the Greg Mortimer. My daughter who was traveling with me, suggested at 6am on the morning of embarkation, that we go for a run from our hotel down to the port, to get our first glimpse of this much-talked about ship. So, we threw our running gear on, and ran the 5km to the port and there she was all shiny and white and sparkling in the early morning sunshine. Standing in her glory against the backwash of blue skies and snowy, white mountain peaks in the background.
When we boarded later that day, we were greeted individually
by a member of staff and shown to our cabin – ours was a porthole cabin on Deck
3, and can take 3 passengers in either a large double bed and a single sofa
bed, or 2 x single beds plus the sofa bed. The cabin was tastefully decorated
and had great storage options; from a triple wardrobe to bedside cabinets,
storage under the beds plus two more cupboards and 4 more drawers. There is
also a desk area with a mirror, a large “smart” TV where you can access the
daily programme, view what the Bridge can see or simply watch TV.
What I would like to focus on are the “green” credentials
for the Greg Mortimer. Most people these days are aware of climate control and
carbon emissions. Aurora who permanently charter the Greg Mortimer take every
opportunity to explain the fragile ecosystems you will encounter. Passengers
are fully briefed on environmental guidelines and the scientific reasons behind
them, right at the start of your voyage. Their experienced guides
demonstrate how to observe wildlife in ways that cause minimum impact. The
environmental education continues on shore, as the more that these remote area
specialists share their knowledge about the natural environments we encounter,
the more rewarding your experience.
Mortimer gives off 80% less emissions into the air and sea with her Tier 3
engine using lower energy consumption. She has high fuel efficiency, reduced
light pollution for minimal wildlife disruption and lower on-board
plastic use. Furthermore, the ship has state-of-the-art virtual anchoring
technology, meaning the ship can hold its position using its own propellers and
thrusters while launching Zodiacs and kayaks without disturbing the sea floor. Virtual
anchoring technology means no more anchor and chains dropping to the sea floor.
filtration is done on board, cleaning products are biodegradable and
phosphate-free and seafood is sustainably sourced and meets Marine Stewardship
Council Fisheries standards. Elsewhere, the line’s sustainability record is
good. In Svalbard, for example, participation in annual clean-ups has helped
remove 20 tons of waste from beaches.
first day of crossing the Drake Passage, the kayakers were asked to stay behind
after the IAATO guidelines talk that was given during the afternoon session.
Al, the kayak team leader ran through the list of outerwear that they provide,
and the base layers that they suggest you wear each day. I was surprised as to
how many layers they suggested and was a bit worried that I hadn’t taken enough
clothes with me. However, I needn’t have worried – the suggestion is that you
wear 2 x base layer tops and 3 x base layer bottoms, plus 2 pairs of socks, a
warm hat, a neck warmer, sunglasses and sunblock. I only wore 2 bottoms and I
was warm enough, but I wore merino wool next to my skin on both upper and lower
body, and I really think this helped me to keep warm, as I didn’t suffer with
following day we had another announcement, asking us to be in the mud room for
10am. We were kitted out with our drysuits and all the other equipment that we
were going to need over the next few days – red and black suits for the men,
and green and black for the ladies. I had expected to wear ski gloves whilst kayaking in Antarctica, so had taken 2 pairs with me, plus
some liner gloves, so that I had at least 1 dry pair. However, the poggies that
were supplied were fantastic. Even on the coldest days, these kept my hands
lovely and warm. I did take a pair of gloves in my dry bag though, as when you
went ashore, your hands got cold very quickly.
and kayak room were to become my 2nd home for the next 6 or 7 days.
They are located at the very back of the ship on Deck 3, although you access
them via Deck 4 and down some steps. The mudroom has plenty of lockers where
you hang your outside clothes and mud boots – you are allocated your locker by
cabin number. Anyone that is going to go out on the zodiacs, will also use the
same mud room, so to avoid the congestion of 120 passengers all getting changed
at the same time, you are called down in groups. The activities people were
called first, followed by either portside or starboard side for the zodiacs.
going out by zodiacs, swipe their cabin card with one of the members of crew,
and leave the ship from one of the side openings. The opening isn’t quite level
with the sea, so you have a couple of steps to descend onto a narrow, solid
platform and then slide into the zodiac and off you go. Don’t forget to wash
and disinfect your boots when you get back onboard and swipe your card to say
that you are back on the ship.
kayakers, we exit through the very back of the ship. There is a room beyond the
mudroom where all of the kayaks are neatly, and safely tied up and stored away
until they are needed. This is where you hang your drysuit, kayak skirt and PFD
(personal flotation device). Your paddles and poggies (light, neoprene mitts
which attach to your paddles via Velcro) are also stored here.
Tuesday 12th November was to be our first kayaking outing. That morning, we had been up on
deck, watching Captain Oleg navigate his ship through the MacFarlane Strait,
arriving into the South Shetland Islands just before lunch – very few of the
crew had sailed through this narrow strait before, so everyone was up on deck
watching the ship being expertly guided.
Once we had
eaten lunch, we made our way to the mudroom to force ourselves into our
drysuits. We all waited rather nervously, not really knowing what we were
supposed to do next, and therefore, it took some time to get us all into
kayaks. We watched as each kayak was lowered into the sea from the back of the
ship, and individually, we made our way out of the mudroom into the kayak room.
We already knew who we were kayaking with, and which kayaks we had been
assigned to, so when it was our turn, we grabbed our paddles and poggies, and
made our way down the steps and into the zodiac. Whilst we waited, the kayak
was lowered over the zodiac and into the water. We then sat astride the seat,
before lowering ourselves into the kayak. Now, I have never done this in open
water before, so I was a bit apprehensive about falling into the freezing cold
sea, but the guides hold the kayak steady for you, and it is really easy to
slide yourself into the kayak. Getting the skirt on took a little bit of
getting used to, as you are floating in the sea, but we soon got the hang of
it, and it just became second nature after a couple of goes.
Island was our destination, and I was so excited to see my first chinstrap
penguins swimming and porpoising around us in the waters. There were many skuas
and shags flying above our heads, but we needed to concentrate on our paddling
as the sea was fairly choppy. After about 90 minutes of paddling, we made a
landing on Half Moon Island. Pulling our kayaks out of the water, we went for a
little stroll in the deep snow, whilst sipping our much appreciated hot
chocolate and eating our cookies.
We had only
been on land for about 10 minutes, when Al got a message from the Bridge,
advising that bad weather was coming in quickly, so we immediately headed back
to our kayaks, put our gear back on, and started paddling back towards the
the wind became super strong within just a few minutes of leaving the shore,
and the waves got higher which made paddling extremely difficult. To make
matters worse, my paddling partner became exhausted and stopped paddling. After
a few minutes of struggling to paddle a double kayak alone, one of the support
kayaks pulled alongside us, and asked if we were ok. My partner requested that
we return to ship in his kayak, so much to my disappointment, we clambered into
the zodiac from our kayak, pulled the kayak onboard, and set off towards the
ship. Just 300 meters from the ship, the zodiac broke down! Ben called for
assistance from the Bridge, but nobody was immediately available. We were now
in a snow blizzard, and the other kayakers, although finding the paddling
extremely tough, were at least making progress. And then the wind turned
against us, pushing the zodiac and the kayakers further from the ship. As we
drifted away from the ship, another zodiac came to our rescue, and towed us
back to the ship. As quickly as the wind got up, it dropped again, and the
kayakers eventually made it back to the ship absolutely exhausted.
evening, Al told us that this had been the toughest “first day” outing that he
had experienced in 20 years of kayak guiding!
Luckily, that was the only day that we experienced rough
seas and wind. The following kayak excursions were perfect – flat seas,
sometimes blue sky and sunshine, sometimes fresh snow.
Over the next few days, we kayaked around Hydrurga Rock, Portal
Point – our 1st continental landing, Culverville Island, Plenau,
Paradise Harbour – our 2nd continental landing. We had penguins
swimming around our kayaks on every excursion that we went out on. At Portal
Point, we had a wonderful afternoon paddling as snow fell all around us. I was
soaking up the scenery and enjoying the peace and quiet that surrounded us,
when all of a sudden, a leopard seal popped it’s head out of the water, eyed us
all watching in awe, and then just slipped back under the water as quickly as
he had appeared.
During our fantastic days of kayaking, we were privileged to
witness crabeater seals and Weddel seals bathing on ice floes, Gentoo penguins
dancing their courtship dances whilst floating on the ice floats, and I never
got tired of watching the penguins porpoising through the water with such ease.
We learned how to navigate our kayaks through the ice and around the most stunning
glaciers and ice sculptures, listened to the ice crackling and popping all
around as we slid our kayaks over. In the far distances, we could hear calvings
taking place, although we didn’t witness any, and saw the snowshoers and skiers
hiking their way up the mountains. This extra activity that I opted to do on my
Antarctica trip, was worth every single penny, and I urge anyone with the
slightest inkling of kayaking, to give it a go – you really won’t be
People are already asking me how I feel after my trip to Antarctica. Well,
Antarctica stole my heart; it shook me to the core with its beauty; it’s
serenity; it’s wildlife. It turned my life upside down and made me wish that I
was 30 years younger so that I could plan my career all over again, and work on
one of these expedition ships.
As we sailed back towards Ushuaia over the Drake Passage, I was already planning how I can get to visit this magical continent again. I really hope I will be back one day.
Wildfoot Travel’s Polar travel expert Zoe Savage-Morton climbed aboard The RCGS Resolute recently on a wildlife expedition cruise bound for Antarctica . Here she gives us a first hand account of the trip, along with some great photographs and a list of 20 amazing things you can do in Antarctica.
A journey with One Ocean Expeditions and the RCGS Resolute, March 2019
Over ten days, the Antarctic and its neighbour the Drake Passage was going to be home. It was going to show itself in all its glory, as well as when it’s at its most frightening, darkest and brightest moments, but the Antarctic was also going to be the most breath-taking and extraordinary experience. Only 30,000 people a year have the opportunity to visit the Antarctic, here is what I discovered on my privileged, educational trip of a lifetime to the Antarctica.
100 Orca’s surrounded our ship, breaching, feeding, chasing and surfing the wake. The Whale Scientists onboard were euphoric and bursting with laughter, astounded expressions, with cameras aimed and firing to capture those lifetime moments. It was an incredible experience, and it was only day two. We crossed the Antarctic Convergence, sighted the South Shetland Islands, but not yet reached the Antarctic Peninsula; this was going to be amazing.
Orca watching off the bow.
Cruise or Expedition?
Lars-Eric Lindblad began taking travellers into regions only visited by scientists and explorers in 1966 – the rest, as they say, is history. The differences between an expedition and a cruise, although simple, are huge. As cruise ships get larger, expedition ships get smaller – the primary purpose of an expedition is to have an up close and personal experience with the scenery, the land, the wildlife and the sea.
An expedition ship along with all the comforts of a cruise ship (comfortable cabins, restaurants, bars, a spa and a gym), will carry a fleet of rigid inflatable boats or zodiacs to get you ashore quickly and closer to the action. They have a supply of kayaks for those wanting to get on the water, rubber boots for safeguarding this precious environment and often supplying outerwear for guests’ comfort.
In addition to the regular crew on an expedition ship, it’s staffed with a group of experienced professional photographers, mountaineers, historians, glaciologists, ornithologists, molecular biologists, whale scientists, marine and wildlife specialists, all of whom are eager to impart their knowledge on you. This is done through presentations, lectures and classes presented in well-designed lecture theatres, filling your days through to mid-evening. After all that, you will happily fall into your bed at 10pm to revive for the next day.
On a cruise, it’s a very different experience. You can lie by the pool, order cocktails and lunch, wander around the decks, perhaps even jog, dress for dinner, watch a show at night, a flutter at the casino, a few rounds on the dance floor and then bed at 1am – no zodiacs in sight.
What do you know about the Antarctic?
Other than what Sir David Attenborough has taught me over the years on the television, I knew very little about the Antarctic. It has always been mysterious and to an extent, unbelievable. Once you have been, you will return with a more profound sensitivity to the issues of polar conservation, supporting my belief that there is no greater teacher than personal experience in anything we do in life. Environmentally responsible tourism encourages such learning.
Do you know about the Antarctic Convergence and how it was thought to protect the Antarctic, the Bio-Diversity of the region, Krill Fisheries and their effect on the day-to-day life within the Antarctic, the long human history within the area? Or about the interesting stories of heroes and cowards, great feats and disappointments? Why didn’t Scott like Shackleton and vice versa? How do humpback whales feed? Where will you find Emperor Penguins? How the polar ice is reducing and what this means to the phytoplankton? You will gain more of an understanding and appreciation after visiting the Antarctic, as you gain a more profound sensitivity and strong desire to make more of an effort to remove the world of plastics and protect the land, its inhabitants and the world that we live in.
A purpose built expedition vessel, the RCGS Resolute is a modern, well appointed, ice-strengthened vessel, offering an authentic Antarctic expedition experience with a touch of comfort, with an extremely qualified and experienced expedition crew. Carrying up to 146 passengers, the staff to guest ratio is 1:4, so there is always someone available to answer your questions on a landing, in a zodiac or onboard.
One Ocean has an open door policy on their ships, meaning when you leave your cabin, you don’t lock it. However, it can be locked once you’re in your cabin for peace of mind. Safes are also available in each cabin. Some fellow passengers during my Antarctica experience didn’t lock their cabin doors or use the safes, which demonstrates the secure feeling the ship has.
There are observation areas both inside and out. Weather permitting, the larger outside areas are used for BBQ lunches and dinners. Small and large spaces mean guests can escape from it all or join in if they wish. There are two separate bar and lounges, and two separate eating areas to offer variety – the bistro is light and airy, a welcome bright option with access to a large deck area at the back.
The number of guests means smaller zodiac groups for landing, information seminars, lectures and classes. A very personal touch is offered when you arrive. An expedition crew member presents your cabin and its features; they then become your point of call for any assistance throughout your journey. Once in my cabin, my expedition gear and aluminium water bottle to be used for the duration of the trip were waiting for me (no plastic cups on board).
Onboard facilities and amenities ensure that there’s enough to keep everyone busy – or not, depending on your preference, and there isn’t a place on board where you can’t get a good view of outside.
A nice touch as you disembark, each guest is given a USB with a copy of the daily trip notes that are on your TV screen each day, along with the onboard photographer’s photos and anything else that One Ocean feel you would enjoy – a prized possession.
My comfortable and spacious cabin
Expedition gear – pre ordered, ready and waiting
Crossing the’ dreaded’ Drake
The Drake is known for being the wildest, roughest, most trying and dangerous stretch of water in the world. It’s not the friendliest crossing for those who suffer from motion sickness, which was my biggest concern at the time. Fortunately, travelling south, the Drake was kind. An experienced expedition member, making his 59th crossing advised me, it was the kindest he’d ever experienced, which was a relief and interesting based on his personal experiences. Our return crossing was significantly different. Our experienced captain, expedition crew and the modern stabilisers on the ship made all the difference.
After a smooth arrival and check-in to the ship, ship life as we crossed over the Drake Passage was a preparation and learning experience. We met our fellow travellers, the Whale Scientists onboard and our established and well-experienced Expedition Crew. The quality and bios of this team as a whole were outstanding.
We were in the presence of WWF, California Ocean Alliance, two media teams including the ABC, professional photographers, Mountaineers, Historians, Glaciologists, Ornithologists, Molecular Biologists, Whale Scientists, Marine and Wildlife specialists, in addition to a well-experienced crew and a team of One Ocean Adventure Concierges. We were in the presence of conservation, preservation and sustainable tourism specialists for the next ten days – Ambassadors to the last great wilderness.
Lectures and information sessions take up the two days going south, along with spotting Wandering Albatross, Giant Petrels and tiny Wilson Storm Petrels. It’s recommended to have a good pair of binoculars and to have your camera set in ‘sport’ mode to catch these birds in flight at great speed. We are advised on what to expect when we arrive at the Peninsula, the laws of the land and sea, IAATO regulations, bio-security and how what we do, and how we do it affects our experience.
The two days travelling back across the Drake were full of euphoria, experiences relived, revelling in our achievements with new lifetime friends made.
A peaceful Drake – 3 metre swell
Citizen science is often described as public participation. The scientific research is conducted by amateurs (onboard guests) – nonprofessional scientists helping the real scientists’ outcomes, promoting advancements in scientific research and more importantly, increasing the public’s understanding of the research they are doing, why they do it and the science behind it.
On this occasion, after our encounter with the Orca pod, the Citizen Scientist programme encourages guests to share their experiences. The Whale Scientists onboard wanted us to share our photos, especially those with whales showing clear markings, along with the coordinates of where each photo is taken, the scientists would then use the information in their work.
It’s a good feeling to be a part of something so great and essential, turning my trip to the Antarctic more memorable and special.
A whale tag.
Landings & Zodiac Cruises
Bundled up in your layers and carrying your dry bag full of lenses, water bottle and extra gloves – just in case, is a shaky affair. How to get in and out of the zodiac is very important. The sailor’s grip is going to be your best friend – this is where your fitness level comes in. You need to have some balance, strength and confidence to stand and deal with the swell comfortably.
Calls to disembark onto zodiacs are rotated by deck, allowing each deck a chance to be first out. The first guests are out at 9am and then every 15 to 30 minutes depending on weather and the number of guests.
Once in the zodiac, sitting comfortably on the side, dry bag securely between your feet, you’ll feel invincible as you skim over the top of the Antarctic Sea feeling and hearing ‘bergy bits’ hit the solid base of the zodiac. It’s quite a noise that vibrates through the boat. Landing on the Antarctic Peninsula (an exciting moment I must add), is again an experience until you get your zodiac legs good and proper. When you land, the surface can vary from ice to seawater to slippery rocky outcrops, but rest assured, there’s always a helping hand from an expedition crew member.
Where you land is governed by IAATO, booked months in advance. Landings range from Research Stations, penguin or seal colonies, to ice landings. There are lots of landing rules, all to do with common sense and protecting the environment. As we crossed the Drake Passage, we had a compulsory talk on environmental policies and concerns relating to the Antarctic. If you didn’t attend, you couldn’t land. Your name was marked off on an attendance sheet. The Antarctic Treaty stipulates that only 100 people are allowed to land at any one time and to be on a small ship with only 100 guests onboard at the time, we had no concerns about not getting to land when the opportunity arose.
A zodiac cruise – why would you want to? My first thoughts as we head out in the zodiac is that it’s immense. A substantial wide open space of still and silent iceberg filled water – a tranquil setting. This is soon dispelled by the first breach of a humpback whale, from then on, more whales became visible, we could see and hear the whales’ fins slapping across the waters, breaching and spy hopping, penguins porpoising beside us, solitary fur seals, remarkable cliffs of ice, pancake ice and icebergs. I made sure that I captured every moment possible; it’s too easy to get caught up in the camera, and I was told to put the camera down and enjoy every second of this once in a lifetime trip to the Antarctica. It was wise advice. I put down my camera and relaxed, taking in the surroundings. The bay began to freeze, moody colours arose and heavy clouds.
Our Zodiac driver turned the zodiac engine off. The quiet was beyond silence, we floated silently and listened to nothing. A peacefulness and stillness that’s quite something; it’s serene and beautiful and a fantastic opportunity to reflect. There was a loud bang now and then, similar to the sound of a gunshot – it was the ice cracking and moving, adding to the mysteriousness of the Antarctic.
Kayaking is probably one of the most intimate ways to experience the Antarctic. One Ocean runs a full package aimed at those with a little more agility and fitness and wanting to spend time on the water. It’s an ongoing activity, and by day three, the group are jumping in and out of their kayaks with ease after days one and two, getting used to the requirements and procedures. Therefore, the option to get out for a day isn’t available, as they prefer not to slow the group down with new people joining. What people might not realise is that if you’re kayaking, you’re potentially missing time on the ice. Plus, – 4-8 days kayaking is a costly commitment!
I opted out for kayaking, but those who joined shared their experiences, gliding through the quiet waters, paddling around astounding icebergs, penguins porpoising past, whales breaching close by and a leopard seal spy hopping checking them out, was an inspiring experience.
Antarctic Weather Systems
If you’ve researched a trip to the Antarctic, you will no doubt be aware of the most unpredictable biggest diva of them all – the Antarctic Weather. You will have read that all itineraries are weather dependent, the Expedition Leader and Captain of the ship will decide on a final agenda each day. Daily activities are weather dependent.
We experienced the weather at its best and its least desirable, but it was unforgettable to witness first-hand. During the trip, we encountered a blizzard on our first Peninsula landing, a calm visiting Vernadsky research station, severe weather system crossing back over the Drake, a real batten down the hatches, porthole covered experience. But we lived to tell the incredible tale, and it’s all part of the Antarctic Experience.
A blizzard covered zodiac
A moment of calm in the blizzard
What to Wear
Layers are the key to comfort and warmth. On top, wear an anti-wicking thermal underlayer, fleece and windbreaker, on the bottom, wear an anti-wicking thermal underlayer, trousers (I wore Craghoppers, fleece lined over my thermals). Weatherproof outerwear on top and bottom provided warmth, but bear in mind, if you get wet, you will get cold.
While onboard, wear comfortable trousers or jeans, you won’t be wearing your thermals or outer trousers, as it’s too warm and unnecessary when you head outside for a few minutes to spot a whale or the first sighted iceberg. I headed back to my cabin and changed into jeans before lunch, dinner or a seminar if we were coming straight back in – the beauty of a small ship, nothing’s too far to ‘pop’ back to.
Footwear, as long it’s fully enclosed and non-slip, it just needs to be comfortable. No heavy walking boots are required, and you won’t be wearing your footwear (unless you take your rubber boots and they will have to pass bio-security).
If you’re planning your trip of a lifetime and a cruise to the Antarctic is on your bucket list, get in touch with one of Wildfoot Travel’s polar experts today who will help you plan your experience.
In the meantime, here is my list of 20 things to do in the Antarctic.
20 Things to do in the Antarctic
Camping under the stars
Visit a Science research centre
Take a Polar plunge
Ski on snowy mountains
Cross the Drake
Learn about the human and whaling history
Visit a live volcano
Scuba Dive or snorkel
Become a part of the ’Citizen Science’ project
Run a marathon
Trek to the South Pole
Hang out with Penguins and Sea Lions
Send a post card from Port Lockroy or Vernadsky
Drink Antarctic fermented vodka @ Verdandsky
Study and learn with polar experts, Biologists, Scientists, Glaciologists……
The all-new Hondius launched earlier in 2019. She is designed to be able to respond quickly to polar weather and wildlife conditions with a truly incredible blend of stealth and speed. Setting new standards in structural and technological design, The Hondius is one of the first civilian vessels in the world to receive a Polar Class 6 notation, recognising it as one of the most advanced polar cruise ships on the planet. The Hondius exceeds the latest green requirements imposed by the International Maritime Organization, using steam heat and flexible power management systems to keep fuel consumption and CO2 emission at an absolute minimum.
Setting off on an expedition cruise to the Polar regions is the adventure of a lifetime. Once you have booked, you will need to start thinking about what to take with you on your voyage. Before you start throwing things in your suitcase, take a moment to listen to Wildfoot Travel’s Dave Cheetham as he explains what gear you really need to take with you and why.
If you’d like a copy of our Polar Cruise Packing List, just drop us an email at [email protected] and we’ll send a copy straight to you.
Each month Wildfoot Travel’s Dave Cheetham reviews a piece of travel gear. From clothing to cameras and tripods to text books, the product-in-focus may vary, but the forthright honesty remains constant. Here Dave reviews a recent purchase, Lorpen’s flagship Expedition T3+ Trekking Socks.
Before I write this review, I feel I should explain. Aside from having spent my fair share of time in the outdoors visiting cold places, I am also ‘a sock person’. Yes, you read that correctly. We (sock people) are a particular breed of person. The kind of person who looks forward to pulling on a new pair of socks with the same unwavering enthusiasm a dog shows as its master appears at the front door, after returning from a long trip. I love the way good socks feel. I love the way they look, fit, and yes – even the way they smell.
With that clearly stated, and off my chest, I will jump right in.
I recently invested in a couple of pairs of Lorpen T3+ Expedition Trekking socks – at the chilling cost of around £50 per pair. Having coughed up that kind of cash, I was expecting big things.
Thankfully, they are everything I hoped for and more.
The fit is excellent and the socks retain their shape and elasticity between washes with unfaltering reliability.
These socks are warm. No, correction, these socks are ‘hot’. For anyone who suffers with cold feet, they are a true godsend. Their furnace-like warmth is balanced wonderfully with a lack of bulkiness and an amazing light-weight feel that can only come from the latest in fleece technology. Which, for the fact-gathering, technically-minded amongst you, comprises of a layer of PrimaLoft® insulation sandwiched between two layers of Polartec® Power Stretch® fabric.)
The cut is high so these socks can buy pulled way up over boots or wellies. And once they are pulled up, they stay snugly in place without rolling down or wrinkling up beneath.
When working hard physically, the cut and the fabric excel in every department. They provide great cushioning and a connection to outer footwear that seems much more free from friction and abrasion than any other ‘warm’ socks I have come across.
What’s more thanks again to the fleece technology, these socks ‘wick’ moisture away from the skin towards the outer layers so effectively, that sweaty or damp feet never seemed to be an issue.
At base camp, with boots removed, the thick fleece soles felt more like slippers than any pairs of slippers I have ‘slipped on’ in my life.
Moving on to the often-unmentioned practicalities of adventure travel. On my last trip I regularly washed these polartec toe-tinglers in the sink, wrang them out , ‘whirled them around’ in the bathroom a few times then hung them up, before waking to find them dry and ready to lend their loyal service to my old plates of meat one more time.
For future cold weather trips, I will always reach for these reliable servants with a smile. Because I know I can rely on them to keep me warm, dry and comfortable – and that’s pretty much all you can ask of a pair of socks.
For some people, keeping your feet warm and comfortable can be the difference between an amazing trip and a disastrous one. If you are one of those people, I recommend you invest in a pair of these ‘tootsie toasters’. You may, like me, be so impressed that you immediately order a second pair, to be sure you never have to spend a day in the cold without them wrapped snugly around your feet.
A final note on the cost – you can find these socks available between £80 and £35, depending on size and stockist, so shop around a little.
As for me and Lorpen’s £50 price tag? Would I pay that price again?
Yes – in the blink of an eye!. My sock drawer used to be bursting with socks that were far cheaper, but nowhere near as comfortable or effective as these beauties.
Even though an expedition cruise to Antarctica is the ultimate bucket list trip, with such a wide range of variables in play, organising a trip to Antarctica can seem like a complicated challenge.
Before you plan your trip, take a few minutes to listen to Wildfoot Travel’s Dave Cheetham as he explains what you need to consider in order to choose the right Expedition Cruise Vessel to ensure you get the most out of your time in Antarctica.
Brenda Hotham set off on a cruise round the Falklands recently aboard the MV Ortelius. Here, Brenda reviews the trip in her own words.
Great food, well appointed adequately sized cabin, hot drinks always available (including delicious hot chocolate!), skilful captain and crew, open bridge policy, a delightful cabin steward, Michael, who arranged the towels into animals-a bear, an elephant, a monkey and a penguin, the places visited and lectures form the main memories of this cruise.
We saw and were able to photograph the endemic Cobb’s Wren, a Southern Caracara and a lone Magellanic Penguin amongst other birds. We were also treated to a feast of cakes cooked by the owner Rob Mcgill’s Chilean team.
in the extreme North-West of the Falklands.I discovered ‘Birdland’ in Bourton-on-the Water in the 1970s and found that Len Hill, the Curator, had purchased Steeple Jason and Grand Jason in 1970 for £5500. On his death the Islands were eventually taken over by the ‘Wildlife Conservation Society of New York City’.
We walked by hundreds of Gentoo Penguins, some of whom were carrying stones for nest building, others were just going to and from the sea. We also experienced seeing and hearing over 113,000 Black-browed Albatrosses. What a sight with most on nests and some paired off enjoying each others company. There were also Rockhopper Penguins amongst the Albatrosses. We were able to get close to a couple of Striated Caracaras.
West Point Island
This was the opportunity to sit and closely observe Black-browed Albatrosses with Rockhopper Penguins amongst them. Some of the Rockhoppers had an egg. I was sitting by a tussock watching an albatross on a nest, it flew off and landed on the other side of the tussock and looked at me through the grass giving me an interesting photo.
A Penguin Paradise because we saw all 5 species of Falklands Penguins- Gentoo, King, Magellanic, Rockhopper and one Macaroni which was probably the most photographed bird of the trip! Some of the Kings looked scruffy because they were moulting.
We had longer in Stanley because we could not land at Volunteer Point. Absolutely fantastic for shopping, visiting the Cathedral and the Museum. The Museum has the history of the 1982 War, Dioramas of the Wildlife and information about Charles Darwin and Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Britain. Outside the museum we were greeted by a friendly Dolphin Gull.
Yet more Black-browed Albatrosses and Rockhopper Penguins but also some beautiful Imperial Shags. Other birds included a Ruddy-headed Goose and some Black-chinned Siskins. There was also a rabbit!
Before the cruise I stayed at El Pedral, Argentina, mainly for Magellanic Penguins and Elephant Seals. The birding life was also great with the most notable being the Long-tailed Meadowlark and the Rufous-collared Sparrow.
After the cruise I stayed at the Holiday Inn in Buenos Aires. Again there were some good birds to see including a Fork-tailed Flycatcher and a Green-barred Woodpecker.
Seabirds, especially albatross, are globally caught in longline fisheries for tuna and swordfish. Birds dive to catch the bait as the lines and baited hooks are deployed, becoming hooked, dragged underwater and drowned. This source of mortality is contributing to an increased risk of extinction to 15 of the 22 albatross species and kills an estimated 100,000 albatross annually.
The Hookpod provides the solution to this problem in a one-stop mitigation device which negates the need for other measures, in particular tori lines and lead weights. Extensive trials over 7 years have proven the efficacy and durability of the pod.
We are currently working with the New Zealand industry and government to provide Hookpods for 1-2 vessels operating in the surface longline fleet fishing for Bluefin tuna. This fishery is a particularly high-risk one for albatrosses and traditional mitigation is not completely effective. Seeding this fishery with Hookpods will help the NZ government demonstrate the efficacy of the Hookpod and push for the opening of international regulations to allow their use.
What’s the answer?
The Hookpod is a truly remarkable invention which virtually eliminates the seabird bycatch in pelagic longline fisheries. It has been shown to reduce bycatch by over 95% in trials, without affecting catch rates of fish or affecting fishing operations.
By encapsulating the barb of the hook within a durable, reusable polycarbonate case, the Hookpod renders it harmless to seabirds, safely taking hook and bait to a depth of 10-12m, where a patented pressure release system springs the pod open, using the pressure of water, and releasing the hook to begin fishing. We are developing this opening mechanism to open at 20m and are hopeful that this may have impact on reducing turtle bycatch as well.
The Hookpod is fitted to the fishing lines and stays in place on the branchline above the hook, being used each set once the hook is baited and then retrieved as part of the fishing gear with the line, closed and stored in the setting bins, causing no additional work for the crew. The device has been shown to be very durable under standard fishing conditions, with trials showing that pods can remain in daily use for over 2 years.
Every day, hundreds of albatross die in longline fisheries. But there is a unique and exciting new solution to halt this. It’s called a Hookpod. Hookpods cover baited hooks as they enter the water and stop birds getting caught as they dive for baits. They are effective, easy to use, safe and economic for fishermen. If every pelagic longline fishing fleet used Hookpods, I believe we can stop the accidental death of these magnificent ocean wanderers.
How can you help?
By sponsoring a hook you can provide a Hookpod direct to the longline fishing industry to protect against seabird bycatch. Just £5 will buy a Hookpod and we will work with our partners in New Zealand and around the world to equip a fishing vessel – saving the albatross, one hook at a time.