Ice bridge

My own globetrotting had already included
part of the North West Passage during the
Arctic summer, so I had experienced the
strange hold that ice landscapes have over
you. The Antarctic, however, always seemed so much further away. This year, I finally made it – at the height of the Antarctic summer: January.

Forget the luxury cruise ship with its endless supply of food, drink and entertainment and all the waste that that entails. Here aboard MS Explorer we strictly observe the terms of the Antarctic Treaty: no waste dumped anywhere, not over the side and definitely nothing on shore. We even need to make sure we “go” before we land.

Just getting to the ship was an adventure.
We flew via Buenos Aires – with all its passion, heat, tangos, courteous and kindly people, and the inevitable ‘light-fingered’ brigade. Luckily I didn’t get relieved of my cameras, laptop or valuables as befell some of my fellow travellers. But I lost my baggage on the flight to Ushuaia, the little port near Cape Horn. Luckily, it turned up an hour before we were due to sail.

Off into the notorious Drake’s Passage
with all its unpredictable weather and violent seas, Explorer’s shallow draft and small size enable us to savour this to the full! Our albatross and giant petrel escort, however, find the wind entirely to their liking.

Our first sight of our destination, the Antarctic Peninsula: nothing can prepare you for the serene beauty of this land, the stillness, the calm and the clean air. The temperature, too, is a surprise: the Antarctic summer is far more pleasant than an English winter.

Squeezing our way through the ice choked
Lemaire Channel we land on the Pleneau and Peterman Islands eager to introduce ourselves to the penguin colonies, observing the etiquette of a five-metre buffer zone of which the penguins are blissfully unaware. On to the Gerlache Strait to meet the Chinstraps and more Gentoo at Neko Harbour.

We find lots of barnacled humpback whale families tossing around in Wilhelmina Bay, Macaroni penguins at Livingstone Island and, of course, seals everywhere – crab-eaters, Wedell, Antarctic fur, leopard, and elephant seals. The latter are distinguished by their appalling manners; belching and breaking wind as they loll around in groups (just like a lads’ night out!).

Arrival back at Ushuaia signals our re-entry to civilisation. But we return as members of a rare and privileged band – ex- Antarcticans - with our ideals and love of life refreshed, having experienced a beautiful and amazing land; a land yet to be spoiled by man.


                                           Chinstrap family






                                         Blue-eyed shag


                                                                                                          Explorer in Lemaire Channel

This article appeared in Issue 1 of the Magazine of the Friends of the National Maritime Museum, published in Summer 2005. All photos are © copyright of Ian Milner. .

GAP Adventures of Toronto mans and operates MS Explorer, custom-built in Finland in 1969 for research and supply. She was the first passenger ship to negotiate the North West Passage in 1984 and is now again refitted for the Antarctic service. Concern for the environment leads GAP to plant sufficient trees each year to compensate for all the fuel used by the little ship during that year. Cruises can be booked through Noble Caledonia in the UK.

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