We have spent the day south of the Antarctic Circle in Marguerite Bay, far enough south that at this time of year the sun never goes below the horizon, and there is no night. It was a great day to contemplate the breadth and range of conditions that shape our experience here. Our original intention was to visit Stonington Island, site of historic US and UK bases which were used periodically from the 1930s through the 1970s, but as we approached, the calm winds out in Marguerite Bay rapidly changed to ferocious katabatic winds, driven by air flow off the mainland ice sheet and tumbling down through the mountain valleys and over the surrounding glaciers. So off we went to explore alternative sites with more favorable conditions. We found ourselves amongst minute lichens, multi-hued rocks, brooding penguins, ridges of glacial debris, and a vast white plain of sea ice, surrounded by mountains and glaciers.
National Geographic Explorer
Almost home. Land is in sight as we complete our crossing of the Drake Passage and draw within view of Cape Horn. As sunrise begins to illuminate the clouds, we see the blinking light of the Cabo de Hornos lighthouse. Expedition leader Lucho tells us about the poignant albatross sculpture dedicated to lost mariners and reads us the associated poem in Spanish and English. We are sailing in sheltered waters now, and the sea has reached the balmy temperature of more than 7° C. The seabirds we have learned to recognize in the open ocean–albatrosses, petrels, and prions–are now joined by others, such as imperial shags from Patagonia. Fur seals are once again frolicking near the ship. With formalities complete, there is time for a last series of presentations from our expedition staff, including: a lively account of the world-defining voyage of Ferdinand Magellan by naturalist Madalena Patacho, intriguing ‘Behind the Scenes’ insights into the life of an undersea specialist from Brett Garner, and more about the famous Endurance expedition under the leadership of Sir Ernest Shackleton. After making time for some excellent afternoon Swedish pancakes, we sailed the remaining stretch along the Beagle Channel and came at last to port in Ushuaia. We gathered in the lounge for farewell cocktails with our captain. We celebrated the wonders we experienced over the last ten days, the good friends we traveled with and with whom we shared our discovery of the Antarctic, and the glorious land of Antarctica–the seascapes, history, and wildlife. Where will we travel next? Photo caption: An avian harbinger of the coming day. Photo by Steve Backus