Visiting the bridge

Quark has an open bridge policy on its polar trips. Passengers can go into the bridge at any time, pretty much, and watch the ship’s crew navigate the waters of the Antarctic.

Where it all happens. You can see the captain here, in the dark blue sweater. Passengers were asked to stay behind this wall that the day’s agenda is hanging from. We could go behind it and to the sides.

Beaufort wind scale, used to measure how rough the wind & seas are.

All around the room were shelves that held the flags of various countries that could be flown as desired.

Mind the gap!

The log book was changed out on my birthday.

Alex broadcast his PA announcements from here. A note to Alex from Abby for the morning wake-up call; a stuffed animal to watch where we’re going.

The three of us on the bridge. (In the bridge?)

More about how landings worked

Before I continue with the rest of our time on the ship, I want to say a little more about how the landings worked. I already wrote about specifically how we went back and forth from ship to land via zodiacs. Here’s a little more on the logistics.

The zodiacs were stored on the top deck of the ship. They used a crane to lower them into the water.

Looking out from the gangway to a zodiac that’s getting ready to head to shore to scout out the landing spot.

A couple members of the Quark team (including Alex) always went first to the site to check out conditions, to bring emergency supplies, and to prepare for passengers at the site.

Emergency supplies carried to each landing site included food rations and water and probably a lot of other things I don’t know about. Luckily on our trip we never needed any of these, but it is not unheard of for people to get stuck at a landing site when bad weather comes up quickly making it unsafe to drive the zodiac back to the ship. (This is part of the reason they told us to carry extra warm clothing with us onto land. Because with Antarctica, you just never know.)

More of the safety equipment the Quark team brought to land.

First, the kayaks were taken off the ship and brought by zodiac to a spot in the water where the kayakers would meet them.

The kayakers were always the first passengers off the ship. They went before any of the regular zodiac groups were called.

They got into their kayaks in the water from the zodiac.

For the rest of us, we rode the zodiacs to land, and then we were generally allowed to roam around freely once we were there.

Of course we had to follow the rules about how closely we could approach wildlife, and often there would be areas that were unsafe for us to walk on (hidden crevasses, for one!), which the team marked off with flags. Other than that, we could do what we wanted. There are no predators to humans in the Antarctic, so safety mainly means staying warm and dry, not falling overboard, and being aware of the weather.

So that’s a little more about how the landings worked.

Ship life

Life on the ship! I’ve showed you a lot of penguins and icebergs and seals and amazing things outside the ship, but what were things like inside the ship?

Here was our room, cabin 200. Allen slept in the bed on the right; I got the bottom bunk, and Jeff took the top. He never fell out of bed (I was worried about this crossing the Drake!) but it seemed like at least once a night we’d hear a *thud* as he banged a knee or arm on the ceiling. (Actually, crossing the Drake I was more worried he’d get sick and it would end up on me. Luckily, that didn’t happen either.)


Our porthole

Bathroom. It was small but got the job done. Body wash and shampoo were attached to the wall. There was also a clothes line strung across the shower that you can make out if you look closely. Every couple of days I’d wash out my long underwear & socks in the sink and hang them to dry. The towel rack behind the toilet was also heated…a nice touch. There were some shelves next to the sink with railings to hold things in.

The view from the beds toward the door. The TV didn’t play regular TV channels, but instead there was a channel for the daily program, a channel that broadcast whatever was happening in the main lounge (lectures, recap, people getting cookies & tea…haha), and a couple of channels where they played movies about Antarctica.

The first day on the ship someone told us to talk to reception if we had hotel issues, like if we weren’t happy with the chocolates on our pillows. I thought they were joking, but no! Each morning housekeeping made up our beds, and each night during dinner they did turn-down service that included chocolates on our pillows.

I did get hit in the head once with Jeff’s chocolate when he’d forgotten it was there and accidentally flung it off the bed down to me.

The white board was just outside the main lounge in the reception desk area. The guides often wrote notes to us there…reminders about things, or tips on things to look for. This is also where there was a running list of wildlife that was spotted each day.



Our flight map showing where we are

A room we spent a lot of time in…the main lounge. This was during one of the recaps.

Jeff reading as he waits for a lecture to start. When we weren’t in there for lectures or recaps, this is where I would go with my laptop to download and backup my photos and to scan through what I had gotten so far.


Stuff about Antarctica

They put together a daily newspaper for various countries each day so people could keep up with what was happening in the world. Our passengers were pretty evenly divided among USA, UK, Australia, and Canada, with a few other nationalities thrown in, so there were editions for each of those places.

There was also a map of the Antarctic peninsula where each day they labeled where we’d stopped.

The ship library. There were tons of books on the Arctic and Antarctic. This is also where there were two computers we could use to check email, and where they had a laptop for uploading photos to share with everyone.

There was also a very small but very packed gift shop. It was open various times when we were on the ship (not during landings). They sold souvenirs (stickers, shirts, keychains, anything penguin you can think of) and gear (dry bags, long underwear, waterproof gloves, fleeces, GoPro cameras, etc.).

So that was ship life. What else do you want to know about the ship itself?

Meals in Antarctica

Let’s talk about what we ate in Antarctica.

First off, the food was excellent. We ate so well on this trip. And it felt like they were always feeding us when we were on board, which was awesome.

Mealtimes were noted on the daily program. (It was broadcast on its own channel on the TVs in our rooms as well as posted in various spots throughout the ship.)

First was a continental breakfast served in the main lounge, for the hour before the main breakfast started. I could not tell you anything about this one as I was never out of bed to partake of this one.

Then came the main breakfast served in the dining room. This lasted an hour and usually began sometime between 7 and 8am. The seating (for all meals) was open–just sit wherever you wanted. There were a few tables for two, lots of tables for four or six, and a few larger ones.
(I did not notice that my face was in the bacon until I was processing these back at home.)

Breakfast was served buffet style, with a variety of meats, cheeses, breads, eggs, potatoes, fruits, etc. Coffee was free but sodas (including club soda) cost $3 each.
Lunch was also served buffet style, sometime around 12 or 1pm. Each morning they posted the lunch menu describing what was offered in the buffet for that day. There was always at least one vegetarian option (except for one day when there were anchovies in the pasta sauce, which seemed like an oversight).
Some of the things served at lunch included: vegan white chili, couscous salad, tangy tomato salad, chicken cacciatore, Norwegian fish & chips, Monte Cristo sandwich, pan-fried swai, artichoke and prosciutto salad, blackened catfish fillet, chickpea ratatouille, beef & broccoli stir fry, coconut curry chicken, hearty vegetable soup, and pomodoro pasta.

The soups and drinks were served to you by the servers; everything else you just helped yourself to at the buffet. It was no small feat on some days for the servers to carry cups of soup and trays of drinks, with as much movement as there was sometimes. (And sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, things slid off to the ground anyway.)
Glasses were laid on their sides in hopes of preventing breakage.
The dessert table at lunch. The best thing about the dessert table is that it always included cheese.

Dinner was usually served around 7 or 7:30, after our daily re-cap.
Dinner was not a buffet; it was seated. Servers took our orders off the nightly menu. Again, there was always at least one vegetarian option, sometimes two. Wine & cocktails were also available (for a fee).
Some of the things we were offered at dinner (and the only way I can remember these is that Quark gave us a file with a bunch of info from the trip, including the menus, after it was over): cream of potato leeks, snapper fillet, roasted pork tenderloin, smoked salmon fettuccini, eggplant milanese, beetroot salad, duck breast salad, carrot ginger soup, tofu tempura, broiled haddock fillet, Ukranian red borscht (vegetarian!!!), vegetable moussaka, Greek salad, vegetable torte, seafood bisque, and mahi mahi fillet.
And then there were two dessert choices, plus ice cream (made on the ship).

Basically, the food was fantastic. And this wasn’t even all of it. They also served snacks each afternoon just before the re-cap. Re-cap was held in the main lounge, and they’d set up a table just outside the lounge with various appetizers–bruschetta, shrimp cocktail, little sandwiches (cucumber and tomato for the veggie option), and so on. There was a bar in the lounge so you could order drinks as well.

And at all times, there were cookies, coffee, tea, and water available in the lounge.

My only complaint about the vegetarian options was the day they had a BBQ. It was meat, meat, and more meat. I thought they’d at least have a veggie burger or something, but no. There were enough sides to make a decent meal but I really wanted a veggie burger.

I almost forgot to mention the awesome announcement that the woman at the reception desk would make when the dining room opened for meals. She had the perkiest voice, and she would announce, “The dining room is now open. Enjoy your lunch!” It doesn’t come across in writing, I’m realizing, but since I’m writing this for me as much as for you guys, I’m leaving it b/c it will remind me of her cute little upbeat announcement.

It’s zodiac time

So! How do the zodiacs work, anyway? How does Quark move 100 people off the ship and onto land and back again?

To start with, we were assigned into one of six different zodiac groups, each named after one of Antarctica’s early explorers. We signed up for these one of the days we were crossing the Drake. Allen, Jeff, and I were in the Amundsen group. For each landing, we were called by group to board, so that only a few people were in the boarding area at a time. It took a while to put on all your clothes and get all geared up, and it would get hot in all that stuff waiting inside, so a lot of people would put on all their gear and then go stand out on the decks while they waited to be called. It usually took only about 15 minutes to load everyone.

(Landing times were noted on our daily program, and Alex would notify us over the PA system when they were about to start calling groups, so we knew about when to be ready to go.)

On landings where there was a long hike, the “long hikers” were called first, before the regular groups, so they could get going. Then as soon as they were all ashore they could start hiking immediately without having to wait for the last zodiac to arrive.
I was waiting outside on deck for them to call the Amundsen group when I took this photo.
Before we left the ship, we had to sign out. Quark needed a way to make sure they knew who was off the ship, so they could make sure everyone was back ON the ship before we left. For each landing or zodiac cruise, they hung up a list of passengers by cabin number near the gangway, and we had to sign or X by our name as we headed out.
Here’s what the loading area looked like. You can see along that far wall is a trough, which contains a cleaning solution (called Vikram? I can’t remember the name of it and can’t find it googling…) that we had to dip our boots in before we left the ship, to ensure we weren’t tracking anything onto land.
Zodiac checklist + daily program (where, if you look really closely, you can see the listed disembarkation order of zodiac groups for each landing).

We were always to bring extra warm clothes with us in our backpacks, in case the weather changed quickly, or in case we got stuck on land for longer than expected. (Same reason they told you to bring essential meds with you each time.) Hands had to be free during loading & unloading (because you gripped arms with the people helping you on), so everything had to be in a backpack.


Cleaning boots before loading

Zodiac ride. On the way to/from shore, they went pretty fast.

(Also, do you see that cool watch that the guide is wearing on his jacket? Jeff got me one of those as a birthday gift on the ship after I admired them on the guides. I love it!)
Unloading from a zodiac at a landing site. We often had to step out of the zodiac into a few inches of water. That was fairly easy, though it was sometimes slippery walking on the wet rocks into rocky beaches. On one landing, we were stepping out onto some large rocks from some deeper water, and the waves were pretty rough so that the zodiac bobbed up and down by a foot or more, making it tough to get the right footing. The Quark guides held onto our arms and Alex told us when to go as the boat bobbed up to meet the rock. Most landings weren’t that tough, though, and it was just a matter of swinging your legs over and stepping down into the water.

As we unloaded onto land, Alex would tell us what time the last zodiac was returning. You could go back any time you wanted. There were always zodiacs waiting ready to go. I was almost always on the last or the second-to-last—I could’ve stayed on land for even longer. I was never really ready to go back to the ship.
Alex (in the orange jacket) waiting with a zodiac for people to return.

Another safety measure Quark took was having everyone remove their life jackets as soon as they got to land. They had big bags where you piled them near where we’d unloaded. Then before you left, you put on a life jacket again. Hence, they knew whether there was anyone still on land by whether there were life jackets left.
I took this photo once when the zodiac I was on broke down. We sat in the water for several minutes while Jimmy tried to get the motor started again, but finally he had to radio for a tow. Another zodiac towed us back to the ship.


Unloading back onto the gangway to the ship

Once you’re back onboard, time to dip and scrub your boots again. Also any other places where you picked up anything. Penguin poop was everywhere, so it was very easy to end up with it on your pants. We used long-handled brushes to scrub those spots. Things I never thought I’d say: “Will you scrub the penguin poop off my butt?”


That’s my foot.

And then you signed back in. And if you didn’t, you’d get called out over the PA system to come back down and sign in. Once they were sure everyone was back on the ship, we could lift the anchor and set sail again.

Did I miss anything? Is there anything else you want to know about how the zodiacs worked?