This morning is our first wake-up call of the voyage and Andrew woke us up with news of wind and weather at 7 am sharp. It’s a beautiful day and the wind is blowing at 10 knots. I’m getting dressed in record times and heading for breakfast.
For some of us, the smell of food was a perfect start to the day but for others, it was all a bit too much for the seasick body and escaping back to the cabin was the best option. I can’t wait to be outside and look out into the Drake Passage so I jog up two sets of stairs all the way up to Deck 4 and face the circular handles of the watertight door. The night before, one of the expedition crew members had told us the story of a young crew member who lost her five fingers because of this heavy door. In bad weather, these doors are kept close as they represent a serious danger to people who all-too-often, hold on tight to the inner sections of these hatch-like entrances. After a brief moment of introspection, I open the door with great care and step outside into the cold blue environment. The ocean is flat, the water is dark blue and a few birds that were flying around the ship are now gathering behind us. I keep on repeating myself: Yes, this is real. I am sailing to Antarctica!
The most common species is the Giant Petrel, both southern and northern but there is also a Black-browed Albatross, a few Storm Petrels, a Soft Plumaged Petrel and even some Royal Albatross. Bruce, the crew member who specializes in wildlife photography, tells me how birds habitually follow ships at sea looking for food brought up to the surface by the wake but also to enjoy the uplift created by our passing. Traditionally they follow fishing vessels for discarded food but that is not on offer from Plancius, of course! An hour later, Bruce is giving a fabulous talk about seabird identification, fascinating on so many levels.
Lunch is served at 12.30 and we enjoyed yet another delicious meal from our lovely chefs. With continued sunshine, however many of us enjoyed some more time out on deck trying to photograph the giant petrels that were flying about around the ship. Then around 17.00, it was time for another preparatory step before we land in Antarctica – rubber boot fitting! We made our way to the mudroom on Deck 3 where our expedition staff assisted us in finding the very perfect size of the shoes we will use frequently over the next 11 days. We took the time to learn how to keep Antarctica free of any hazardous alien body that we could bring with us on our daily excursions. To preserve this unique environment from human contamination, we are told we cannot bring with us any type of food and most importantly that we will need to wash our boots every single time we will step on land in dedicate basins and soap that will be made available where we will board the zodiacs. By the time afternoon tea has been consumed in the lounge it is time to go back downstairs to the restaurant for an introduction to all things Antarctica from Liz. She provides us with an incredible overview of the coldest, driest, windiest continent on earth with amazing facts. We learn about many of the characteristics of glaciers and what role they played in the history of Antarctica that goes all the way back to the supercontinent Gondwana, about 200 million years ago. Liz gives us a good overview of the charismatic birds we will meet on our voyage ahead. The room is filled with happy feet.
I take advantage of some free time before dinner, to head back outside and contemplate the lightning effects of the sunset over the peaceful water surface. This is yet again, another great occasion to exchange with some other fellow passengers. I learn quite a few useful photography tips from Austrian and Italian photographers, who seem to skip lunches to be outside here. At 6.30 pm we are invited back to the lounge for the daily briefing where Andrew explains our plans for tomorrow, a day at sea with several mandatory safety briefings about our upcoming Zodiac operations.
After an exquisite 2 course dinner, I head back to the social area where I now chat with Amy, a 22-year old girl from London who came all the way here from England to visit Antarctica on her own. Intrigued by her story, I learn that she actually came to Antarctica to scuba-dive. Wait, what? There are people here who came to scuba-dive in these waters?