Late in the afternoon on March 15, the news from the rest of the world collided with our bubble of safety and happiness onboard National Geographic Explorer. We were notified that the window of opportunity for getting our guests, staff and crew home in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic was closing, and it was deemed prudent to abort our voyage and return early to Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Captain Oliver and the Bridge Team turned the ship around and we started the two-and-a-half day sea voyage across the Scotia Sea.
We made excellent use of those days – enjoying fantastic and varied presentations that included subjects ranging from an epic kayak expedition in Antarctica (from National Geographic photographer, Pete McBride), to cold water diving (by undersea specialist, Brett Garner), and an in-depth look at the role of the Southern Ocean in the world’s climate and more (by naturalist and photo instructor, David Cothran). Global Perspectives speaker, Andrew Evans, gave us another thought-provoking and fascinating talk entitled “Three Stowaways: Unexpected Visitors to Antarctica.”
Talks and videos were interspersed with fun surprises like Laundry Room Tea Time and evening entertainment featuring “The Spice Boys” and our very own naturalist and vocalist extraordinaire, Ella Potts.
Of course, our voyages don’t cease to focus on wildlife just because we are ending a bit earlier than planned! Those who were on the bow and the outer decks in the mornings were treated to excellent shows of bow-riding Peale’s and hourglass dolphins, as well as a host of soaring seabirds.
We even had time to feature talks by some of our esteemed guests. Ant Tuson gave an excellent talk about his time as a pilot working for the British Antarctic Survey. Raffle-winner, Teresa Bowers, joined us from South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) and shared information about the organization’s work based out of the Falkland Islands.
While all of this was going on, behind the scenes, our assistant expedition leader, Stella Bohnert, worked non-stop assisting the office in rebooking all onward flights, even those that were booked independently. The office prepared a special charter flight from Stanley to Sao Paulo, one of the few South American locations still accepting transit passengers from ships. Though we had to wait a day offshore, we were luckier than many ships in being welcomed back into the Falkland Islands.
Four buses and a very dedicated team of ground logistics personnel arranged for all of the guests and staff to get to the military airport at Mount Pleasant – even providing entertaining commentary along the way. Though it was a slow process through the airport, we were soon comfortably aboard our LATAM charter flight and within 6 hours, we had collected our luggage in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and were all either on the way to an airport hotel also arranged by Lindblad, or straight onto a connecting flight.
Most of us caught our connecting flights the following day, and at this time all guests and staff are safely at their final destinations, thanks to the hard work of the teams onboard led by Russ Evans and Captain Oliver as well as the wonderful office team back in Seattle and New York. We are all eagerly awaiting the time when we can safely reboard our lovely expedition vessels and welcome you back as our guests, as we explore the world. Until then, stay well.