It's a long way from the southern tip of South America to Antarctica, and it requires crossing Drake's Passage. It's here that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet, and the area has earned a reputation for having the roughest water in the world. The journey across Drake's Passage takes the better part of two days to complete, but we're lucky in our crossing -- mainly because the seas are surprisingly calm and none of us get seasick. Equally important, because we are traveling in great comfort.
My dear friend, LestertheInvestor, has recently published a nicely detailed account of our home at sea for this adventure, the relatively new Expedition ship, Viking Octantis. We're traveling in style!
(Drake's passage is surprisingly calm during our crossing)
We depart Ushuaia at around suppertime on Saturday and by Sunday evening we have crossed the 60th parallel to enter Antarctic waters. When we are up and about for breakfast on Monday, we're greeted with our first views of Antarctica. Our waitress excitedly tells us, "We're here! Look at the ice!"
(Our first view of Antarctic land)
Peaking through the clouds was land, beautiful hilly land covered with ice and snow. These are the South Shetland Islands, which are about 65 nautical miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula. The South Shetlands are 80-90% covered by glaciers, so what we see is typical of this part of Antartica.
Historically the South Shetland islands have been claimed by the British, and also the Argentineans and Chileans. The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 makes all of Antarctica neutral territory that cannot be claimed by those who have signed the treaty.
Sixteen research stations are located on the islands, most on King George Island (likely because a Chilean airfield on the Island that makes accessing it much easier). But more on that later.
For now, most everyone on board goes out to the ship's railings and takes in the views. Even some of the ship's staff joins us out there, smiling and enjoying the views, snapping photos with their cellphones.
We are accompanied by a variety of seabirds, and -- our first pods of whales! We'll see a lot more of both in the coming days.
We continue traveling south and get ready for our first excursion adventure that afternoon.