The Sailor's Grip - learn it, use it
On Antarctic expedition cruises, you'll spend a lot of time getting into and out of zodiac craft. You'll also be climbing up steep steps, narrow trails and the like. In short, you're going to have people stretching out their hands to help you, and you'll be doing the same for others. That's where the sailor's grip comes in. They teach it on day one of the Ushuaia cruise.
Basically, instead of gripping hands tightly, you grip the other person's forearm with your hand and he/she does the same. It's a much more solid bond, the kind that might just keep you out of the sub-freezing waters of Antarctica.
Penguin Poo - stay out of the line of fire. :)
OK, penguins are birds. We are all familiar with the nuances of bird poo. They just kind of "let go" and if it's your wonderful fortune to be under them, well..... a trip to the dry cleaners for your new linen suit, right?
The good news is that penguins are rarely ABOVE you, they generally stand on the ground, down around your feet. The bad news is that like other birds, they just let fire when they have to go. And judging from the array of fecal vectors evident on the ground around the penguin areas, it was obvious to us that they also let go with "some force" so to speak.
Well, we finally got that rarest of shots, a penguin pooping. This little baby gentoo just had to go, and the fact that they had visitors just didn't matter. The adult gentoo to his side doesn't seem overly concerned. But looking at the photo, you can imagine what a mess it might be if you were unfortunate enough to be behind this little guy and within say a meter when he decided it was time to go.
Brings a new meaning to the battle phrase "fire in the hole", doesn't it?
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Maniacs driving your ZODIACs
This 'warning' is really just in jest. The drivers who captained our zodiac landing craft were experts, true professionals. They knew what they were doing.
Early in our trip, we were remarking about how fast Phil (one of the guides and also a zodiac driver) liked to go. Since he was an Austrian, we christened him NIKI LAUDA in honor of the Austrian formula one race driver. However later in the trip, we road with another fellow (Ariel "Flaco" Crujeiras) who made Phil seem like a school bus driver. One of our group remarked that "this guy should be Niki Lauda, he makes Phil seem like Niki Lauda's grandmother" with an outboard engine in his hand. Sooooooooo, we transferred the Niki Lauda tag to the real hot rod of the bunch.
That being said, most of them - except Veselka (the lone female driver and also coincidentally Mrs Phil - see the great guides tip) who was much more mild-mannered - were really keen to show you how FAST a zodiac could go. They do seem to enjoy the bucking as you skip over the waves and little chunks of ice. These things can fly.
Two bits of advice. Enjoy the ride and for God's sake, DO hold on tight.
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HOLD ON, while onboard
OK, it goes without saying, but I say it anyway.... ships are in constant motion. Sometimes they are in contant heavy motion, crossing the Drake Passage for example. HOLD ON. Always keep one hand free for holding on. We were told early on to "reserve one hand for the ship" to hold on to rails and such. And to be quite honest, sometimes TWO hands didn't seem like enough to hold on when climbing or descending some of the steep staircases. That being said, to my knowledge, nobody was injured during the cruise. ::I:: had an annoying habit of forgetting to duck my head when descending the steeper staircases and I always would whack my forehead. I'm only 5'10", so I can only imagine the trouble my Dutch friend Marc-Peter (6'7") had.
Another item we had to consider.... all doors had latches so that they could be latched in the open position. The problem is that sometimes if someone were to put their hand in the door frame and the ship were to move, an unlatched door can slam hard onto the hand and fingers. Given that the door frames are all steel and quite heavy, you can see the danger.
Taking a show in heavy seas was also a challenge. God help you if you dropped the shampoo or your shower brush and had to lean over to pick it up.
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Anyone who has seen the movie Titanic - or perhaps actually read the history of the disaster learning of it sans Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio - knows all too well the hazards posed to ships in an iceberg-laden area. Icebergs range from small to massive, and you can never really - with your naked eye - know how big or how an iceberg is shaped, because 2/3 of it is usually under the surface of the water. So, that means that maybe 50 feet away from a moderate iceberg, the actual 'depth' of the water might be about 5 feet, due to iceberg beneath the surface. VERY dangerous for larger ships. And, icebergs are "active". They are not "attached" to the earth, but are rather floating with the current. SOMETIMES, they'll melt enough or change in shape such that the balance is wrong, leading them to suddenly flip over - maybe putting some of the underwater portions of the 'berg above the water. Needless to say, being right next to an iceberg that chooses to do this flip manuever is perhaps the end of the line for a ship.
Our ship was captained by a fine fellow, an Argentine named Alejandro Font. But, I also noticed another officer on board, Sergio Osiroff. Officer Osifoff's job was listed as "ice pilot". Basically, he was an expert and reading and navigating sonar involving ice and shifting icebergs. So, having safely returned from dangerous waters, let me say a special muchos gracias to Officer Osiroff and his skill.
Look at the main photo below - and hopefully the others, too. In the lead shot, that is our ship, dwarfed by an iceberg to her side. I took this shot from one of the zodiac crafts, during a landing excursion.
Eaaaaaasy, Stomach. Here comes the Drake!
The Drake Passage, which separates Argentina and Chile from Antarctica, is one of the most active watery convergences on earth. Strong back and forth currents are created by the meeting of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, coupled with the strong winds and weather swings in the polar region. The result is that the current in the passage will be either strong, stronger, really strong on unGodly strong. Crossing the Drake Passage is something that is both anticipated and feared for those sailing to Antarctica - especially those who are on smaller "expedition ships".
OK, we crossed the Drake, both going and coming. We did not get sick, didn't lose any lunches. There were times that we felt somewhat nauseous, and we were a little more careful about what and how much we ate during the crossings. (careful what you swallow, it may be coming back up) And in complete and honest candor, we were lucky - the crew tells us that we got two very smooth crossings. That being said, the motion was strong and constant, especially freaky at night. IF we'd had wall bunks, as they did in some of the lower deck cabins, it might have been a challenge to physically stay in the bed. No wonder a lot of the C and D deck folks chose to just lay down on the couches and floors in the bar/observation room on the nights of the crossing. (two days to cross each way) We were fortunate to have nice double beds in our cabin. As an example of how much motion we were having, I remember waking up in the middle of our first night and being unable to get back to sleep for a couple of hours. The whole time, I was literally humming (in my mind anyway) that sailor tune "blow the man down", and I based the rhythm entirely on the motion back and forth. I'd feel like I'd move maybe 2 feet to the left and 1 foot forward, and then the alternate move would come.....2 feet back to the right and 1 foot back toward the stern of the ship.
You knew what was coming when the night before entering the Drake, the crew goes around and scotch-tapes "vomit bags" every few feet all over the ship. Their goal is that if anyone suddenly gets ill and can't make a bathroom, they'll have a bag nearby. The accompanying photo shows one of the bags taped up outside our cabin hall. And while the crossings we had were "smooth" according to the crew, consider this.... you only see one bag in the photo. The photo was taken in the morning, and the night before, there had been dozens out there. Figure it out.
Making plans for motion sickness remedies ahead of the cruise is strongly recommended. We used scopolamine patches. (Trans-Derm) Other good choices are phenergan tables or dramamine. It's important to take something before you get ill, because after you do get seasick, it's a lot tougher to get better. The good news is that it's only two days and once you get to protected waters off Antarctica, things calm down nicely.
Oh and one more thing.... when you finally finish your cruise, you DO continue to feel the affects of the motion, particularly the two Drake crossings. You'll find yourself being a little dizzy as you're walking. It affected me off and on for about two weeks after we got home.
Protecting the Antarctic environment
Antarctica is a pristine, fragile and unique environment - like nowhere else on earth. Unlike almost every other place, it is pretty much untouched and unspoiled by mankind and "progress". In deference to its unique and delicate nature and by unanimous treaty agreement, all ships traveling to Antarctica and facilitating human "landings" take necessary steps to safeguard the continent from any harmful introduced plants, seeds, soils, etc. One step in all of this is that you must disinfect and scrub your landing boots both before and after landing on its shore.
In the photo below, we are walking through the cleaning station before descending the gangway to board the zodiacs.
Stay off the penguin trail
This tip is for the comfort of the penguins; not our own. They have their regular "highways"--easily spotted because they are a pinkish color. The snow gets soft in some places, and a tourist boot might sink several inches. When the penguin gets to that spot, he will probably trip and fall down.Related to:
- Adventure Travel
Life boat drill
After being glued to the internet all day, reading about the sinking of the MS Explorer, I don't think I really have to tell you to pay attention, to this vitally important info, do I? Just thought I'd add the pic of lifeboat drill, on the Polar Pioneer, after seeing the Explorer's lifeboats. The Polar Pioneer has hard shell 'cocoon type' lifeboats with enough room and provisions for all.Related to:
- Luxury Travel
- Sailing and Boating
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Don't touch the animals
1. Don't Touch the Animals
You really might be tempted to grab one of the penguins and snuggle into their toy-like belly BUT don't. Not safe. Also, even if they look like they want it, let them be.
There is a 5m rule on penguin distance.
I don't think I have to say anything about touching Leopard Seals...whales.... etc.
2. Don't fall off the zodiac
3. Don't fall of the ship
4. Don't jump stairs (or anything) during Drake's Passage
(maybe a good tip would be also not to get up from bed if you feel awkward)
5. Don't miss the last zodiac back to the shipRelated to:
- Adventure Travel
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On the first morning at sea there was an obligatory lifeboat drill for all passengers. We were told where to find life jackets if needed, and how to wear them. We were also given instructions on using the lifeboats and all the other information we’d need in the event of an emergency. Of course we never needed to put any of this information to use, but it was good to know that the company took their responsibilities seriously, and although it wasn’t the most exciting way to spend our first morning on board we could see how important it was.
Just one little question though - we had sailed from Ushuaia the previous evening, and of course no one had ever told us what would have happened if there had been an emergency during that night ;)Related to:
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You Must Be In Good Health!
Although the cruise I took were mostly older people, I would recommend doing this while you are still flexible. Many of these folks were not able to take part in the zodiac landings as it was just to difficult for them to do the climbing to get in and then out of the zodiacs.
You may be travelling to one of the coldest places on earth but as any skier knows that doesn’t mean you’re not at risk from the sun. On a bright day in Antarctica the reflections from the snow and the sea mean that your skin (or the small areas of it you feel like exposing to the elements!) will really suffer if you don’t wear a sun-cream with a high SPF at all times when on deck or ashore. You can buy necessities like this in the shop on board but it’s much cheaper to take a good supply with you – and don’t forget to use it!Related to:
Crossing Drake’s Passage
To reach the Antarctic by ship from South America it is necessary to cross the notorious Drake’s Passage, usually one of the roughest of sea crossings. I don’t tend to suffer from sea-sickness, but I wasn’t looking forward to the crossing, and thought it would probably be the first time in my life I would experience such sickness. We went prepared – pills and wristbands aplenty.
And, on the journey out, the sea was almost like a lake!! Our crew told us tales of the previous voyage, when even many of them had been too sick to emerge from their cabins (but it hadn’t mattered – there were so few passengers to serve). We relaxed and enjoyed the trip, even taking the opportunity to sunbathe on deck (albeit wrapped up warmly in our parkas), but resigned ourselves to facing our turn to suffer on the way back.
And again, it was calm. Only as we neared Cape Horn did the storm clouds gather and the sea begin to roll, but still nothing to cause us any problems. The pills remained unswallowed and the wristbands unworn.
Nevertheless these are treacherous seas and I would recommend anyone going on this journey to prepare for the worst, because the chances of rough seas are great and you may not be as fortunate as we were.Related to:
We met fur seals in Yankee Harbour. And they are rather aggressive, but they didn't take up the hostile attempts. Be careful - they might rush towards people - so really watch out!
Sea-elephants are aggressive only on land, because they guard their territory. But in water they are friendly and inoffensive.
We were advised to keep a distance of at least 20 m from fur seals and sea elephants.
I heard one guide who had experienced an attack of a sea lion with one of the former groups he had accompanied. The passenger who was bitten by a sea lion (?) got a severe infection that he died within 3 days!Related to:
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