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.

Day 9: Last landing at Telefon Bay

In the afternoon, we landed at Telefon Bay, named for a salvage vessel that moored in the bay in 1909 awaiting repairs. This is the site of the crater of the most recent volcanic eruption in 1969. It was more ash-covered ice. You could kick through the ash and see the ice, but it was amazing how much ash there was.
There were some muddy streams to contend with.
Looking ahead to where we were going.
Looking back to where we’d come from.
Allen talking to Yvonne, the geologist. I have a separate post on the Quark team coming soon.
Looks like a shark’s tooth.
Hugo the video guy again.
Still pretty foggy.

So this was our last landing. Our last time to step foot on Antarctica. Once we went back on the zodiac to the ship, we would be heading back across the Drake for South America, with this amazing experience behind us. I wasn’t ready for it to be over; I don’t think anyone was.

But as we approached the spot on the beach where the zodiacs had landed…TWO CHINSTRAP PENGUINS SWAM UP AND HOPPED ONTO THE BEACH!
And these were two of the most curious penguins we’d encountered yet. The guides asked us to keep to one side, not to circle around (within the allowed 15 feet) on all sides, but to leave one side completely open. The penguins kept moving closer to us, walking in amongst us. They were watching us as much as we were watching them.
The last zodiac was ready for us, but it was so hard to decide to say goodbye to these curious guys. These were probably the two most photographed penguins on our trip. I was thrilled to get to see chinstraps after all.
This was the most perfect ending to our last landing. And as we finally loaded up into the zodiac and started to pull away from the beach, the penguins watched us leave, and then hopped into the water and swam off.

That night after dinner there was a charity auction. I’ll say a little about that in a separate post, and then it’s back across the Drake.

Day 9: Deception Island

Morning of day 9—our last day of landings. SO BITTERSWEET.

We had two landings scheduled at Deception Island—one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Deception Island is the caldera of an active volcano. It erupted in 1967 and 1969. It looks all black, but it’s still ice, it’s just covered in volcanic ash. You can kick through the ash an inch or two and see the ice.

There’s an Argentinian research station here, and that was the site of our morning landing. We had the option to hike up to the top of the ridge of the caldera, where we would be able to look down to the other side to see a colony of 50,000 pairs of chinstrap penguins. ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND CHINSTRAP PENGUINS.

But first, we had to sail into the caldera, through a narrow channel (only 850 feet wide) called Neptune’s Bellows. The ship had an open bridge policy, which meant you could go in and visit it at any time, watching the captain and his team sail the ship. Even when navigating such a tricky channel, the captain kept the bridge open, they just asked that visitors please not talk while the captain got us through here.
It was a very foggy morning–the clouds hung really low in the sky. Most of us were out on deck to watch us sail through Neptune’s Bellows.


What the flight map looks like when you’re anchored in a caldera

Sailing very close to these cliffs.
And then we anchored and headed to shore in the zodiacs. This fur seal was waiting there to greet us.
The kayakers can be seen in the distance. During lunch, the ship would be repositioning to the other side of the caldera for our afternoon landing. The kayakers, instead of taking the ship, kayaked from this landing site to the other one. I think the idea of it was better than the reality of it—it sounded like it turned out to be a very difficult kayaking trip, cold and wet and challenging. But they can say they did it, right guys?

You can also see the steam rising from the ground.
We hiked up. And up. And up. And here Laurie, our guide, grabbed a quick photo.
The Quark penguins again.
The higher we hiked, the worse the visibility became. We were hoping that as the morning went on, the fog would lift, but it seemed to be getting worse, if anything. We hiked until we had almost zero visibility. It was hard to see people more than a few feet away. At that point, we decided it was pointless to go on—the goal was to see the penguin colony, and there was no way we were going to be able to see it in these conditions. No penguins!!! So sad.
We stopped and took a few photos of each other before turning around to go back down.

At this point, I was super disappointed. There had been a chinstrap or two at a couple of our other landings, but I had not seen them. I’d only heard other people talking about them or seen their photos of them. I really wanted to see one for myself. Even though I’d seen tons of other penguins, the chinstrap was the one type I could identify prior to this trip, so I really had been hoping to see one. Our afternoon landing, they’d already told us, was just more caldera, no wildlife. Bittersweet.
The research base. The Argentinians invited us in and had drinks and cookies set out for us. I tried to take a some photos inside but it was so warm compared to outside my lens completely fogged up, so I got nothing. It also got hot in there pretty fast in all my clothes, so I didn’t stay inside much longer than it took me to eat a couple of cookies.
Alex told us about a time a few years ago when they’d been anchored across the caldera, and someone called to them on their radio, asking, “Who is in that blue ship?” They identified themselves, and the Argentinians identified themselves and asked, “Do you have any cigarettes?” And they did, so they went over and visited them at the research station and have been visiting them ever since.
Time to go back to the ship.
Back on the ship, I realized that I hadn’t done my favorite trick of taking a photo of a scene through my phone, so I did that real quick. Since I had no internet on the ship, I didn’t use my phone at all, basically, for two weeks. I had thought I might use it as an alarm clock, but Alex’s wake-up calls over the PA system were all I needed, so my phone mostly just sat next to my bed, unused.

So then we ate lunch while the ship repositioned across the caldera for our afternoon landing. Next up: Telefon Bay.

Day 8: Neko Harbour

It’s still day 8. We’ve done the polar plunge, showered, and had some dinner. And now here we were at Neko Harbour, which was located in the incredibly beautiful Andvord Bay.
We’re anchored and about to head out in the zodiacs for our first (and only) landing on the actual continent of Antarctica. All of our other landings were on islands, so this one is particularly exciting. Dinner was at 6 this evening, and then we started loading the zodiacs around 7:30. Here they were getting the kayaks ready for the kayakers.


White on white



The Quark team at the landing spot


The three of us on the continent

This site was home to about 250 pairs of breeding gentoo penguins.
The evening light was really beautiful.
Penguin highways.
Glacier / molting.
On Neko Harbour we hiked up a ridge for an overlook of the whole bay.
You can tell it’s me by the arms.
Allen filming some video from the top of the ridge.
Chatting with Laurie. I have got to do a post soon about the Quark team themselves, because they were half of what made the trip so awesome.
I had to stop and wait for these penguins to cross paths on the penguin highway before I continued on.
We were losing light by the end. Sunset was at 9:21 this evening and this was taken around 9:50pm as we prepared to head back to the ship.

The next day would be our last two landings before we had to head back across the Drake. And they happened to be inside the caldera of a volcano.

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