February 2009 – Antarctic odyssey

FEBRUARY 2009 REPORT

Do you know where the port of Ushuaia is? Well, it is the most southerly town in the world and is situated in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. This where our speaker in February, Mr Parffitt, started his voyage to Antarctica. The holiday cost in the region of £7000 and covered a distance of 3250 miles, taking in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. This was not a journey to be undertaken lightly. The season before one of the cruise ships had sunk and the passengers and crew were afloat in open boats for four hours before they were rescued. Although not large the vessel they sailed in was quite luxurious with all food, drink and tips included in the price. The two most important people on board were the captain, an Italian, and their guide, Susanna. These were the ones who decided if the conditions were right for them to go ashore. In fact it turned out that they were to be very lucky with the weather. They achieved all the planned landings, whereas the previous trip managed only half.

The first place they called at was the Falklands and they soon were hearing oddly familiar names such as Mount Tumbledown and Goose Green, names that became well known in Britain during the Falklands war. Here they were introduced to their first penguins, which were rockhoppers, and also black browed albatrosses, both in the middle of their breeding season which is at its height in January (midsummer). The Falklands insist that long-line fishermen use weights in their territorial waters, thus reducing the mortality rate of the albatrosses from 80% to 2%.

Next they sailed for South Georgia where they drank a toast to Shackelton at the site of his grave and also to Edmund Hilary (there were New Zealanders in the party) who had just died. Then on to Antarctica itself, seeing icebergs on the way, with plenty more sightings of wildlife. The temperature never fell below 2 or 3 degrees C although the wind chill made it feel colder. In fact the conditions were so relatively balmy that they were able to hold a barbeque out in the open air on the pool deck while a crew member carved a penguin out of ice and the ship’s quartet played ‘We are Sailing’. Two people even went in the heated pool!

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