Day 22, 23 and 24 – Whilemina Bay, the Drake and the Beagle Channel

We woke this morning to Monika’s announcement that there were humpbacks breaching around the ship. I shrugged on my Gortex jacket and pants over my pjs, grabbed my camera and beanie and I was out the hatch.  No gloves, very few extra layers, but I wasn’t missing this.

Luckily my camera habits meant that I had a memory card ready to go in camera and the batteries were fully charged.

The visibility was sub optimal (snow / rain / low light) but it was a wonder to see.

Cold hands and a lack of action from the whales eventually drove me indoors to dress properly and have breakfast.  Everyone was a bit of a buzz.

After breakfast Monika informed us that there was ‘a bit’ of weather between us and where we were heading next, that being South America.  And the bit of weather being a cyclone. Rather than barge our way through it the captain was going to hang back in sheltered waters until a predicted (relatively) clear path would allow us to slip through, bypassing the worst of it.  Seeing all the scary colours on the weather map we were all in agreement, and reaching for our sea sickness meds in preparation.

Before things got too rough we had another Photoshop session with Alex in the dining room.

Winds of 50 knots meant no excursions while we were waiting so we had to just sit back, crack out our laptops to start sorting through photos, and enjoy the scenery from the comfort of the ship.

There were a few lectures from the staff to keep people entertained, although some passengers used the comforting voices to lull them off to sleep.

Before we went to dinner everyone was instructed to head below and make sure everything was ship shape and securely stowed as the night ahead was likely to be rough.

And it was. The following day we were allowed a late start, and many people decided to milk that and stay in their cabins until the afternoon. Even some of the staff seemed a little queasy.

Even so, I never felt unsafe and the rocking and the rolling was fine as long as you weren’t trying to perform any complicated tasks, like showering.  Of moving around. Kingsley devised a way to wedge himself into his bunk with life preservers to reduce the amount of movement in the night.

We managed to get out on the rolling deck and enjoy the magnificent sea birds, including a huge flock of sooty shearwaters,

and beautiful black-browed albatross (who are much more elegant on the wing than they are taking off or landing),

The next day went much the same way, but with less wind and slightly calmer waves.  It takes time after the big winds for the swell to die down.

As we entered the Beagle Channel the dolphins arrived to give us a show.  They are mighty fast, and quite daring, getting right up close to the nose of the ship and using its power to launch themselves sideways.  Their colouring is quite different to the indo-pacific bottle nosed dolphins that make up the swan river population. I think they were dusky dolphins, but I’m happy to be corrected.

Because they were so close it was another ‘wrong lens’ moment, so most pictures are only part dolphins. Being a bit of a dolphin tragic it was just so very exciting to see it.  I don’t know if any of the WA Dolphin Watch team have been out this way but I’m sure Delphine would have been thrilled to see this behaviour.  I know I was.

 Kingsley also caught them on video so you can see just how fast and agile they are.

Once we all came inside the crew presented us all with certificates to commemorate our journey. The first person called was Kelly, who went round and hugged every member of the crew present, setting the precedent for everyone else, with only a few notable exceptions. It was really lovely. Angela acted as staff photographer for the event – thanks Ang! They also played us a lovely video with picture form our trip and some information about the fantastic staff we’d had helping us out.

The dining room guys got a huge round of applause, which was well deserved.

And dinner was a special treat as well.  As the Pilot had just came aboard to guide us through the Beagle Channel, the good news for the Captain was that he got to come down  with his key staff and join us for the farewell dinner. It was by far the nicest meal we had aboard ship.  Maybe the captain eats like that every night….  The wait staff wore fancy waistcoats as well and looks very flash.

And then we all trooped off to our cabins, packing our bags in readiness for out disembarkation in Ushuaia the next day.

My mark of a good holiday is this, if money were no object, would you go back there again? For Antarctica the answer is a don’t-stop-to-think-about-it-for-a-second YES!!!! If you get the chance, go.  If you can’t afford it, start saving, or look at ways of getting employed there or on a boat going there.  This trip was an experience I will never forget and will be talking about in all the traditional cliches for decades to come.