An Overview of Our Antarctic Expedition

Due to inadequate wifi service, we weren’t able to share our expedition in real time, so here’s a quick re-cap of each day. We loved this unique trip, and hope you enjoy this summary.

FOURNIER BAY: Sailing into Fournier Bay, we had our first look at Antarctica, and what a breathtaking experience it was! During the night, we heard some noise coming from our window, so we investigated and found that if we opened the window ever so slightly, the noise was reduced. In our sleepiness, we forgot to lower the room darkening shades, so our “wake up call” was a VERY EARLY sunrise. The silver lining was that we awoke to the sight of some magnificent islands and glaciers!

Waking Up to Incredible Beauty

As the day went on, the bright sun gave everything a bluish cast, and we couldn’t resist spending a good amount of time outside on the various decks. The temperature hovered around 30°, so we were quite comfortable.

Need a selfie stick!
Doug catching rays on the promenade deck.

I don’t have words to describe the beauty of this bay. We feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity of spending an idyllic day in the midst of such unspoiled, magical vistas; crystal blue waters; icy glaciers; and snow-covered islands. 

NEKO HARBOR: Neko Harbor is an inlet on the Antarctic Peninsula on Alvord Bay, situated on the west coast of Graham Land. There is a very active volcano in this area, and the remains of an old Argentine refuge built in 1949, as well as a very large Gentoo penguin rookery. It was discovered by Belgian explorer Adrien de Gerlache in the early 20th century, and named for a Norwegian whaling boat, the Neko, which operated in the area for about 15 years. This was our first Continental Landing, checking a 6th continent off our bucket list. After a wet landing on a pebbled beach, we trekked up a steep hill to see the penguins. They’re SO CUTE, but we were warned not to get too close!

Gentoo Penguins
Gentoo on the Beach

DANCO ISLAND: Danco is a 1 mile long island that lies in the southern part of the Errera Channel, off the west coast of Graham Island. Gentoo penguins nest right up to the summit of the island’s peak, which is also popular with a variety of Antarctic birds. After landing on a gravelly beach, we made the hike over ice and snow up approximately 410 feet for some breathtaking views of the surroundings.

Zodiac Landing on the Beach
Energetic Gentoo Penguins
Beautiful Icebergs with a Glimpse of the Octantis in the Distance
Gentoos Everywhere!

HIDDEN BAY: Hidden Bay sits between Cape Renard and Aguda Point on the northeast coast of the Kiev Peninsula. It was named Hidden Bay because from the entrance, the bay is hidden by the Screen Islands. Quietly riding around in the zodiacs for about two hours, we had some incredible views of the bay and the Octantis, and our knowledgeable guide pointed out some very interesting wildlife and beautiful scenery.

Viking Octantis from the Bay
Crabeater Seal
Beautiful Scenery

PARADISE BAY: Being an early riser definitely has its rewards in terms of magnificent sunrises all to myself! First light near Paradise Bay cast a peach-colored shadow over the mountains that provided a very special moment. A little while later, we enjoyed our second Continental Landing where we visited Base Brown, a small Argentine station on Antarctica’s mainland. We also saw even more penguins during our hike up the snow-covered slope.

First Light Paradise Bay
Paradise Bay Sunrise
Taking the Zodiac to the Bay
Gentoo Penguins
Base Brown

ENTERPRISE ISLAND: Enterprise Island was a popular site for whalers from 1915-1930, and several artifacts remain scattered along its coastline. During our two-hour zodiac exploration of this area, the waves picked up and it started snowing. We saw the remains of a shipwreck, to which several large sailboats were tied, one of which had sailed from Sydney, Australia! We also saw seals and cormorants, which at first glance look like penguins.

Shipwreck
Our Intrepid Expedition Guide
Seals on Enterprise Island
Cormorant Colony

On our way to Half Moon Island, we sailed through a very large area of tabular icebergs, which are icebergs that have broken off from an ice shelf. Newly formed tabular icebergs have nearly vertical sides and flat tops. In the Antarctic, they can be tens of kilometers wide, and as much as 1,000 ft thick, but only about 10% is exposed above the sea surface.

We were also greeted by some Adelie Penguins that were trying to get out of our way.

Adelie Penguins

HALF MOON ISLAND: Situated on the western shore of Livingston Island, Half Moon Island is part of the South Shetland Islands. Its name comes from the characteristic crescent shape. Here we met up with some fur seals as well as our first colony of Chinstrap Penguins, appropriately named for the black line at the bottom of their chins.

Chinstrap Penguin
Fur Seal
More Chinstrap Penguins
And One More Chinstrap

After crossing the no-less-shaking Drake Passage once again, we ended our journey where we began, in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southern-most city in the world! We spent a leisurely day there, visiting various points of interest and enjoying some warm Argentine hospitality.

Welcome to Ushuaia!
Southern-most Post Office
Southern Terminus of the Pan-American Trail

This brief re-cap doesn’t do justice to this adventure of a lifetime, but we wanted to share the highlights with you. Missing are details about our beautiful ship, the Viking Octantis, as well as a description of the many research partnerships Viking has made as part of their commitment to science. We learned so much from our wonderful guides from all over the world, and we were humbled by their knowledge and commitment to leaving this world a bit better than we found it.

Passing Through The Drake from Lake to Shake…Did We Make A Mistake?

The Drake Passage is the body of water between South America’s Cape Horn, Chile, and the South Shetland Islands. This convergence constricts the Antarctica Circumpolar Current, and can result in the “Drake Shake” or the “Drake Lake.” We had fingers crossed for the latter. Passing through the Drake has been described as “unpredictable, chaotic, thrilling, exhilarating, notorious, and violent,” and as the evening unfolded, we began to wonder if it was a mistake. Early in the morning, my insomnia proved to be a blessing, as I awoke before a very early sunrise and was rewarded with a spectacular array of magnificent colors.

Sunrise Approaching the Drake Passage

As we entered the Drake, our captain announced that we were starting out in “friendly” weather, and we wondered why all the fuss. After all, we live in the snow belt of Northeast Ohio, so we thought we were tough. The Drake connects the southwest part of the Atlantic Ocean with the southern part of the Pacific Ocean, and extends into the Southern Ocean. These three oceans converge where there is little land to block the currents and wind, and the result is frequently the weather described above. We felt some wind and a bit of choppy seas, but Lars, the ornithologist onboard assured us that we would be thankful for the wind, because when there’s no wind, there’s no albatross. As the wind picked up around dinnertime, we were rewarded with the sighting of several Wandering Albatross, those that, with the Royal Albatross, have the largest wingspan.

Adult Wandering Albatross
Youth Wandering Albatross

As we enjoyed our dinner, the wind and waves picked up, and by the time we got back to our cabin, we were rockin’ and rollin’.

Drake Passage

Throughout the night, we heard noise from something repeatedly banging against the ship, to creaks and groans as the Octantis navigated the stormy seas. Thankfully this ship was built for this kind of weather, but the stabilizers were definitely put to the test.

By morning, the winds began to dissipate, and we caught our first glimpses of some beautiful islands. We spotted a whale, and if you use your imagination and look closely, you can just about see his spray.

First Whale Sighting
First Island Sighting

The islands on either side of the ship are breathtaking, and led us to the conclusion that no, crossing the Drake was NOT a mistake. It’s the shortest route to our ultimate destination, Antarctica! The spectacular islands are well worth the tumultuous night.

Selfie with Beautiful Islands in Background

Back to Travel

When last we met in March, 2020 we were happy to be home from our abbreviated world cruise, safe and healthy. Much has happened since, so here’s a brief update.

We endured a global pandemic; adopted Mocha Latte, a mini-bernedoodle who has captured our hearts and made us better humans; welcomed a third grandchild Otto whom Doug took a two month motorcycle trip to help babysit; celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary; lost a best friend Al to Covid; celebrated a marker birthday for a dear friend Karen in Napa; learned how to zoom for book club, celebrations, meetings, and general catch-ups; Denise enjoyed a Viking Greek Odyssey Cruise with her sister Phyllis; and generally learned that some things in life simply can’t be controlled. To quote our world cruise captain, “it is what it is,” and our cruise director “it’s gonna’ be great!”

Doug leaving for solo moto trip to California
Mocha Latte
Grandkids Lewi, Lona, and Otto

And that brings us to today, as we embark on our long-awaited Antarctic Expedition Cruise for the inaugural season of the incredible Viking Octantis.

No thanks to Covid, everything about this trip has changed, from start date to itinerary to airline reservations to testing requirements to the cancellation of our planned visit to Buenos Aires, but after two challenging days of travel, here we are in Ushuaia, Argentina ready for adventure.

Sailing away from Ushuaia, Argentina

As we head south through the Beagle Channel, Argentina is on our port side and Chile is starboard. We’re told it’s an unseasonably sunny, mild day, and we’re not complaining! Tonight we’ll begin our trip through the Drake Passage, hoping for the lake, but prepared for the shake.

Sun setting over the Beagle Channel

Beautiful Brisbane

Brisbane is Australia’s third largest city and the capital of Queensland. Situated on its namesake river, it is famous for its amazing climate that is near perfect all year round, as well as its proximity to many of Queensland’s major tourist destinations. And while today’s weather was, indeed, “near perfect,” torrential rainstorms over the past two days led to a decision to delay our arrival by about four hours to ensure that the pilot could board the Viking Sun in daylight. This meant an abbreviated visit to Brisbane, and since we had made arrangements to visit the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (more on that later in this post), we were only able to enjoy brief drive through this beautiful city.

This delay, along with witnessing the difficulty of Sydney’s pilot getting back onto the pilot boat the night before, led us to investigate the exact role of the pilot boat and its importance to our safety. We happened to be seated near the window where the Sydney pilot boat was trying to get close enough to the Viking Sun for the pilot to jump safely from our ship back onto his deck in very heavy waves and wind. After several unsuccessful attempts, the pilot boat finally got close enough and the pilot made it back “home.” But we did a little digging, and this is what we learned. Most ports throughout the world require “pilotage,” the practice in which a local pilot comes on board near the entrance of a port to assist the ship’s captain with bringing the ship into port and docking or anchoring at the designated spot. The pilot also helps provide safe passage when the ship departs. Contrary to what we had thought, the pilot doesn’t take command of the ship from the captain. Captain Lars always stays in command of our Sun. Pilots are usually licensed master mariners with years of experience in their local port. As such, they have a wealth of knowledge about local currents, piers, docks, water depths, communication procedures and regulations, and local users of the waterway. Since no two ports in the world are alike and can change over time, this knowledge can be invaluable to the captain. On arrival at the breakwaters or fairway buoy, the ship is met by a pilot boat. The ship’s speed is adjusted to 8 to 15 knots, and course alterations are often necessary to ensure a safe and efficient transfer from the pilot boat to the ship. The pilot boat matches the speed of the ship and comes alongside near the pilot ladder, which is connected to an opening in the hull called a “shell door.” Wearing a harness, the pilot uses a rope ladder suspended from the shell door to board the ship, and is met at the top of the pilot ladder by a deck officer who is in radio communication with the bridge. This officer escorts the pilot to the bridge, where the pilot and captain decide on the appropriate arrival plan. At the time of departure, this process is reversed. We were lucky to capture the exciting departure of our Sydney pilot as well as the more peaceful arrival of our Brisbane pilot. We’re grateful to both for the role they play in keeping us safe.

Shortly after our arrival in Brisbane, we headed to Lone Pine, where we enjoyed the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary. Starting with just two koalas named Jack and Jill, Lone Pine is set in a beautiful, natural environment and is home to more than 130 koalas and a menagerie of other exotic Australian wildlife. We met some of the dedicated animal handlers and learned about some of the fascinating wildlife research that takes place here. We captured some delightful photos of koalas, kangaroos, various reptiles, turtles, flying fox (a type of bat that looks like a fox with HUGE wings), and even the elusive Tasmanian devil.

After that, we only had time for a whirlwind tour around Brisbane, where we caught glimpses of the ways distinctive Queenslander and modern architecture blend into an eclectic mix of old and new, often side-by-side, and sometimes even within the same structure, as shown in the bottom left picture of a new, modern hotel that had to incorporate a protected historic Queensland home into its new design.

Once again, we were left with a sense of “unfinished business,” and a desire for more time in this beautiful city that is rich with history and an unparalleled arts and design scene. Art galleries, museums, and a host of chic boutiques and cafes made us long for an opportunity to linger just a bit longer, but perhaps one day we will return. Until then, we left with fond memories of this city by the river.