The Drake Passage frequently has, quite literally, the worst weather in the world. In part because the ocean currents must pass through the bottleneck formed between the tip of South America and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, and in part to the Antarctic Convergence (a variable band surrounding the pole where warm, more saline currents coming south from the tropics meet the cold, denser, less saline currents moving north from Antarctica), sailors expect the worse when traveling through these waters. We had a bit of a stiff breeze, but clear skies and relatively calm waters. We would see the other face of the Passage on the return trip, when we sailed through a typhoon.
Like the other passengers, we spent our time exploring the ship and meeting the crew, staff, and our fellow travelers. The Clipper Adventurer normally holds 122 passengers, but for our trip there were only 62, and yet the full complement of ship's crew and naturalist staff was on hand to cater to our every needs. We were spoiled rotten. Our cabin was number 211, which was one level below the Promenade Deck, which was where most of us spent our time on-board attending lectures in the forward lounge, hanging
The serious birders among us hung out for much of this time on stern deck, watching the various birds that trailed after our ship. Various species of albatross made appearances, as well as pintado petrels, southern giant petrels, fulmars, prions and storm petrels.
In addition to meals, exploring the ship, meals, birdwatching and meals the naturalist staff also gave lectures in the forward lounge. On any given day we might have four lectures on wildlife, geology or history of Antarctica, and we attended as many as possible. Each of the naturalists on board were excellent and gave captivating talks on the subject at hand, but my personal favorite was the geologist, Dr. David Dallmeyer, author of numerous textbooks on geology (I was no doubt biased, having earned a degree in geology during my university days).
Members from the expedition staff came, quite literally, from around the world. They made up a talented team who worked together well, getting us off and on the boat, piloting the zodiacs through some pretty nasty surf, and answering our endless questions, and providing fascinating and useful facts for questions we should have asked, but didn't.
Each day the hotel staff would clean our cabin while we were at breakfast, and leave an itinerary for the day's activities on our night stand. The entire hotel staff, from Al Glazunov, the director who made sure everything was four star quality, Rob Whitely, our executive chef who produced the most amazing meals in a small galley, to the cleaning crew and wait staff all performed as well as their counterparts on land, but within the close confines of a frequently tossing and turning ship.
As far as our fellow passengers went, with the exception of Justine, who was about a decade younger than Elayne and I, and Roberta, who was our age, the others were at least a decade older than us. This surprised us, but it became apparent from the rather tame hikes and activities planned for our excursions on land that mostly retirees participated in this trip. None the less, all of the passengers were game for just about anything the staff and crew could think up to keep us busy and entertained.
While our life on board the Adventurer was more luxurious, and our excursions on land less strenuous or involved than we had anticipated, we thought that the crew and staff did an outstanding job, and we were delighted with the results.
The grey choppy water stretched away in all directions with little more than the swells to break the monotony, but eventually we crossed the Antarctic Convergence and arrived in the land of icebergs.
While we were barely at sea for two days we were never the less excited and encouraged by the sight of Elephant Island in the late afternoon sun. This is the island where Shackleton and his men took refuge after their ship, the Endurance was crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea. The crew lived on the ice flow for months before finally taking to their small life boats ice the flow began to break up. Most of the crew would remain on Elephant Island for over a year while Shackleton and four others made their way length wise through the insanely stormy Drake Passage in a tiny life boat to South Georgia Island.
We did not land on Elephant Island, but the captain brought the Adventurer close in to the beach where the men had survived on their own for so long. It was hard to imagine anyone surviving there for so long even when we were visiting it, in the summer, much less through a winter season. While it wasn't part of Antarctica proper, it was part of that continent's history, and its towering ice capped mountains and ragged snow laden coast line whetted our appetites for more.
We sailed around to Point Wild on the other side of the Island, where Shackleton's party first landed, and then continued south as the sun crept ever farther toward the north west. That night we celebrated Thanksgiving in the dining room (virtually all of the passengers were American), and then enjoyed that evenings presentation while sipping drinks. Outside the sun reluctantly dipped just barely below the horizon, but never far enough down to allow the day to briefly enter a fleeting moment of twilight before ascending once again a few hours later to brighten the early morning hours.