Earlier this season, Wildfoot Travel’s Simon Rowland travelled to Antarctica using the flight across the Drake Passage, rather than sailing across the Drake Passage to and from Ushuaia. Here is his first hand account of this unique express trip to enjoy Antarctica’s gleaming white wilderness.
Once on board after a hot chocolate we were carefully taken through important emergency drills, shown our muster stations and walked to the life boats so we all knew their location. We ‘stood down’ and were given a key card to our cabins to get a warm shower and a sleep seeing as we had been up most of the night.
All cabins offer private WC and shower and picture window. Very clean, modern, and very comfortable compared to other expedition vessels I know. There are triple, twin and single cabins all with a fixed table and chair which can be used as a dressing table, reading or downloading your images after a busy day on the ice. It was very easy to find one’s way around the vessel with a simple layout. The large main lounge and bar at the bow of the vessel had excellent viewing areas to the port, starboard and bow, excellent for spotting whale and watching the incredible scenery go by. Other inside viewing areas were the dining room believe it or not with its wide windows and the library at the stern which was always quiet and hardly used, very peaceful.
Outside viewing areas were available in front of the main lounge and on two decks on the port starboard and stern. Although one spends little time in the cabin, the picture window allows wonderful opportunities for spotting wildlife and enjoying scenery if you do find yourself there.
Ms Ocean Nova carries 68 passengers but the space ratio is generous and it’s easy to find space and privacy inside or out, otherwise there’s always your enthusiastic, like minded expedition guides and passengers to mix with – the freedom is yours.
Make up of the passengers
A very mixed age group and many nationalities including passengers from Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Chile, South Africa, USA, China. I personally enjoy a mixed group of this nature as there’s usually so many interesting types of fellow passengers to mix with and share these unique experiences with. The common thread is wildlife and an adventurous craving to be somewhere amazing.
Dining and Service
The service couldn’t have been more friendly and accommodating. The kitchen is headed by a very experienced European chef and his Filipino team. Dining was open seating and the tables were laid out attractively like any high end restaurant.
Food was incredibly good and menus varied day to day offering numerous options including healthy choices and up to four courses for both lunch and dinner if required. Fine selection of international sweets and cheeses to finish. Two different types of Chilean quality red and white wine are available each day not to mention a Rose if required and all beverages complimentary including bar drinks. Breakfast was buffet style with a huge self service options including healthy options, fruit, cereals, pancakes, cooked breakfast and various breads. Most dietary needs are catered for if the chef knows about them in advance of the sailing.
24/7 Complimentary hot refreshment maker in the library and main lounge.
Having experienced other vessels I have never failed to be impressed with the genuine friendliness and enthusiasm of the expert Polar team on board. This expedition was no exception. After spending time with these experts, on landings, in lectures and formally interviewing most of them it was evident they all enthused about their chosen field and loved to share unsurpassed knowledge and experience with passengers day and night. The evening or afternoon lectures are informal and of great interest. They can include briefings for the following day, polar history, marine life, bird life but all professionally delivered satisfying a thirst for leaning about this wonderful Region.
- Brown Bluff
- Weddell Sea
- Deception Island
- Whalers Bay
The route offered a great deal of diversity and interest. I feel the team leader and captain made all the right choices as all of the stopping off points were absolute gems and we felt we were very much off the beaten path.
Whalers Bay on Deception Island as the name suggests was a whalers station taking up to 12 whaling vessels in the protected bay at any one time until the late 60’s. It’s a live volcano, the only one in Antarctica I believe. The station is disused in this day and age but the reason lies with the live volcano and a particular eruption in 1967 which would cause devastation for the whole island never mind the station. At the time there was a mixed whaling community with Chileans, Scandinavian and British men working at the station. Incredibly enough there was a fellow passenger with us, Felipe whose father was a brave young Chilean merchant seaman who took part in the rescue taking three trips back and forth all the way from Punta Arenas. You will see two images below the first one featuring a part of the eruption. The vessel he was on was up until two years ago still in service operating as an expedition vessel called Antarctic Dream also pictured below.
Activities – hiking, kayaking, snow shoeing (available on most departures but limited in availability so book in advance).
If ever you have an opportunity to kayak in the Polar regions, grasp it with both hands! We were a maximum of 10 kayakers in the party with two expert kayaker team guides; one kayaking with us and one driving the Zodiac which was close by and could act in emergencies at any time. It gives you another perspective compared to regular Zodiac landings. Dry suits and all other equipment provided is quality high grade. We typically kayaked twice per day morning and afternoon.
With Zodiac landings passengers are given choices of long, strenuous hikes or slow, low impact strolls. The expedition team were sensitive to individuals needs and I was greatly surprised when asked by one of the expedition team if I had bought my inhaler on the landing which I was impressed with as I only recall a distant mention of my mild asthma on my medical form months before joining the trip. Handled sensitively and with care!
Snow shoeing numbers are also limited so please book in advance. Hikes are as you would expect lead by experienced Polar team leaders and distances vary depending on the time available on the landing. All equipment provided is of a high standard.
Flying The Drake saves sailing time at least two days each way so if you are time sensitive and a nervous sailor and not up for sailing the challenging Drake Passage this is certainly for you. You may still suffer with sea sickness but the medication on offer is really effective and you should never worry about this controllable condition. The experience of flying in to Antarctica via a real working Antarctica air base is also a unique experience which I can only recommend.
Camaraderie on board smaller vessels is an essential ingredient. I really enjoy the ambiance on Ocean Nova. I like the fact there’s space for privacy if required. The friendly genuine service throughout the ship is also attractive to me not to mention the high standard of cuisine and not forgetting the fine Chilean wines with every meal (breakfast too if you must).
Over all the balance of activities available, flying The Drake, comfort and service put the friendliness and enthusiasm of the team I have to give this trip full marks.