As evening approached, a dense fog appeared and soon surrounded the ship. The wind began to blow stronger. Through the night, the wind whistled and then howled. The ship sailed with a persistent severe lean to the starboard side.
Editor’s note: Dr. Scott Moats of Pekin, Ill., recently completed an 18-day expedition to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, South Orkney Islands, Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands. This is the fifth and last installment of his adventures.
• Jan. 7
The day started with a deep blue sky, intermittent fluffy white clouds and bright sunshine. We sailed into Moon Bay and spent the morning hiking along Half Moon Island. Several small colonies of Chinstrap penguins were on the island as well as the occasional fur seal. Several outlooks provided grand Antarctic views. It was a beautiful morning to just be outside and appreciate being on the seventh continent.
Sveral hours were spent watching for whales as the ship sailed for Aitcho Island. Basically, it was watching for signs of whales. Many sprays were seen and followed, but the actual whales were really never seen.
This changed, however, when we left Aitcho Island. There were approximately 15 humpback whales swimming near the ship as it sailed away from Aitcho Island. They were in groups of twos and threes. The ship circled for about one hour following the whales. They surfaced many times and were often quite close to the ship. Several times I could even hear them breathing when they surfaced, and there were several beautiful views of their tails, or flukes. The sky was gray, as was the water and the whales, so I didn’t take photos. However, the display was beautiful and it was very nice to just relax and watch the show.
Aitcho Island is the home of several colonies of Adele and Chinstrap penguins. I walked across the island and enjoyed the view. I took a few more penguin photos –– as if I haven’t captured enough already! One special shot was of an adult who stood up to reveal a very tiny chick peering out from underneath her stomach.
Now we have left the last outcropping of solid ground behind us in order to begin our two-day, 600-mile passage of the infamous Drake Passage. The seas are noticeably rougher and the ship pitches and rolls. Everyone walks about the ship as if they were a little bit drunk.
I went to the dining room for dinner and noticed that a considerable number of chairs were empty. Fortunately, the sun is intermittently shining through the clouds and the weather forecast for the next two days is excellent. We are expected to have a mild crossing of the Drake Passage. Currently, the captain is predicting an early return to Ushuaia and is planning an added bonus of sailing around Cape Horn on the way.
• Jan. 8
The voyage had one last surprise. During the day, the sun was shining and there was a cool gentle breeze. Everyone relaxed and enjoyed ‘Drake Lake.’ However, as evening approached, a dense fog appeared and soon surrounded the ship. The wind began to blow stronger. Through the night, the wind whistled and then howled. The ship sailed with a persistent severe lean to the starboard side. The waves increased and the ship continuously pitched and rolled. Once or twice, every minute, the ship crashed down upon a wave, sending a shudder through the entire vessel. Other sounds occurred randomly as objects fell around the ship. Sleep was impossible.
• Jan. 9
By 6 a.m. I had decided that the seas weren’t going to calm, and I stumbled to the bathroom. I tried to shower but succeeded only in flooding the small bathroom. In the lounge, the table was overturned and all the chairs that weren’t fastened down were in disarray. The carpet near the entrance was soaking wet. So much water was splashing upon the fourth deck that it couldn’t all drain away. The starboard tilt of the ship was causing the excess water to flow into the ship on the port side.
A short time later, I went downstairs to the second floor to have a bite of breakfast. This morning, paper products had replaced the glasses and plates. The floor was also wet in the dining room. A large water-tight door at the back on the dining room was designed for bringing supplies onboard while at port. The seal on the hatch wasn’t working very well because each time a wave hit the ship there was a gush of water pouring under the door.
At 8 a.m. we approached within five miles of Cape Horn. I watched the approach from the bridge. As Cape Horn approached, the weather cleared and the seas quickly calmed. I was able to go outside and take a couple photos, as well. Looking in the opposite direction, a rainbow appeared over the seas we had just crossed. Now the sailing is smooth and we are continuing towards the Beagle Channel and our return to port at Ushuaia.
Tomorrow morning I disembark the Sea Spirit and begin my journey home.