We boarded our ship, Le Soleal and prepared to leave Ushuaia. The first order of business on any cruise, of course, is the safety drill. We all donned our life jackets and gathered in the auditorium for the safety talk and did a walk through of where to go to abandon the ship. As we pulled out of the bay at Ushuaia, we met our sister ship, Le Boreal, almost an identical twin, who probably took the berth that we had just vacated. The scenery was quite dramatic. Even at this end of the mountain chain, the Andes are quite majestic!
That night the ship stopped in Chile to refuel. I expect it would not be pleasant or fun to run out of fuel in Antarctica, and the next morning when we awoke we were sailing in the Drake Passage.
The Drake Passage is reputed to be one of the roughest stretches of water in the world. At this latitude, it doesn’t encounter land at any point, so there is nothing to stop its furious flow. The captain told us that it was relative calm, although the waves were as high as 24 feet. The ship was relatively stable, equipped with the latest in stabilizers. None of the passengers had their sea legs yet. There is a passage it the Psalms describing the sea, which was to the land dwelling Israelites, a place of great instability: “They reel and stagger like drunken men…” Not a bad description of our attempts to ambulate on board.
My sister, Cheryl is a passionate bird watcher. In preparation for this trip she had studied books about the birds the dwell in the places we hoped to visit. Evidently there are birds that live in the Drake Passage that don’t live elsewhere, sea dwelling birds, like albatrosses and petrels. She didn’t like the idea of missing any birds that might fly past the ship.
Someone asked if we might like to visit the bridge, and of course we accepted with great glee. The bridge is a high tech place with an amazing array of equipment. The guys who sail this ship are very focused and intense, not a bad quality when you are sailing in the vicinity of icebergs.
We also discovered that the bridge is where the naturalists hang out and keep watch for interesting wildlife. Cheryl had found her niche! Whenever I wondered where she might be, I figured she would be on the bridge with her binoculars.
On the afternoon of our second day in the Drake Passage, we saw land in the distance. These are my first views of Antarctica, and although it was out there in the haze, it was utterly thrilling to know that this was the first sighting of our destination. We had made it to Antarctica!