ICE PICS & HOW TO GET ANTARCTIC DISCOUNTS
For more details about the ship, highlights of the trip,
and a great slideshow about the Bernons’ Antarctic
experiences, PLUS info on half-price discounts, visit
this feature online. www.BoatUS.com/Magazine
ties that you hope, if you’re ever presented with one, you won’t start
making excuses to turn down. We looked at each other, went inside,
and slapped down a credit card.
The next morning, with every piece of Smart Wool we owned,
plus new waterproof pants we’d found in town, we boarded a Quark
Expeditions ice ship with 90 other travelers, and set off across the
unruly Drake Passage toward the bottom of the world. For a day-and-a-half, we got to know our fellow passengers — everyone giddy
and hailing from the four corners of the globe. On the journey, we
listened to wildlife lectures from the Quark guides, and scanned the
vast Southern Ocean for orcas and humpbacks, hoping this treacherous body of water south of Cape Horn, with its monstrous history,
would stay calm. Luckily, it did.
On day two, an announcement rang over the loudspeaker, “ICEBERG!
Iceberg at one o’clock!” The first bergs were emerging from the mist
ahead — some reaching high into the sky like cathedrals of ice, others stretching out in amorphous shapes, striated with 1,000-year-old
sediment, looking like great vanilla layer cakes. Despite the cracking
cold, everyone piled out on deck, awestruck, as our sturdy vessel
ghosted along — our minds adjusting to the stunning scope of the
scenery coming into view as we passed from the familiar realm of
humans into a mystical realm of nature.
When we’d anchored at the Antarctic Peninsula, and it was time
to go ashore, everyone’s adrenaline was pumping. On went the layers of clothing — warm, wooly long underwear, thick socks, woolen
sweaters and pants, waterproof over-pants, Quark-provided thick-tread
Wellingtons and insulated foul-weather jackets in neon yellow, a smart
touch to find us if we went astray. Next went on the hats and gaiters
and gloves, the camera bags and tripod straps, the sunglasses, the life
jackets. Dressing for Antarctica’s below-freezing summer temperatures,
was a theatrical production.
When we dinghied ashore and actually set foot on the continent,
two things were instantly striking — first, the enormity. The soaring
white mountains and blue ice faces, the bergs, the extreme beauty of
it all. Tears rolled down my cheeks as it hit me — I was really here
and seeing it with my own two eyes, this place I’d only ever dreamed
about. The next thing that struck me was the astonishing activity level
of the animals and birds. What drama! By February, all the species
had given birth and were hurrying to fatten their offspring to grow
and strengthen in the short window of the southern-latitude summer.
Soon, as temperatures start to plummet, they’d have to leave.
Baby gentoo penguins, chubby from mama’s constant feedings,
strained to shed their fluffy feathers, so they could learn to swim.
Black-robed chinstrap penguin parents, with fish in their gullets, ran
around the rock ledges at top speed, letting themselves be “chased”
by their hungry babies. Closer and closer the parents enticed them
to the edge, until the little ones fell in and flopped around in shock.
The parents then torpedoed in after them and kept them close
from predators, until all were back on the safety of the ledge, the
exhausted parents’ lesson finally sinking in to junior about where his
dinner really comes from.
Baby seals stalked the beach crying for their mothers, who were
out at sea hunting. Skuas soared above, high over the ice fields, then
down to the nesting grounds, on the lookout for unattended eggs or
weak infants — nature up close and gritty. Everybody was on a mis-
sion, their instincts screaming at them that the window was closing,
that winter was on the doorstep, that it was time for the fledglings to
learn, to fatten up, to toughen up. It was do-or-die time for young-
sters who’d soon have to take to the water or air for the first time,
head out to sea for the winter, and survive on their own. Higher-than-
normal snowfalls during the last few years have been wreaking havoc,
shortening the breeding seasons. This has tightened the time frame
for bringing up baby, which means that many late deliveries will have
Sleepy seals sun themselves on Antarctic
floes. Top, Douglas and Bernadette as the
Quark Expedition ship rounds Cape Horn.
Light illuminates the cathedrals of ice
towering over the black dot of a Zodiac.
Everyday, kayaks go out to explore, up
close and personal.