The Drake Passage, 12/1/2022, National Geographic Endurance
National Geographic Endurance
Many tales are told of the Drake Passage, but they often pale in comparison to the dreams of those who cross it with hopes of viewing the ice vistas and penguin colonies that await in Antarctica. To venture south in such waters is to do so with courage and firm resolve.
Testing the design of the X-Bow of National Geographic Endurance, today’s winds howled more voraciously than the forecast presumed, and waves surrounded our vessel on its journey south. It is our luck that she is so well designed as she easily brought us into calmer seas in the afternoon.
The morning started out earlier than normal with the Shackleton hike, a seven-mile-long hike along the South Georgia hillside. Some guests opted to stay behind and relax a little longer before going to shore for medium or short walks. All options were fantastic, and each had its benefits. Everyone saw fur seal pups, king penguins, and even some gentoos hiding in the crowd. At the end of the day, the weather was great, and those little fur seal pups were aggressively curious about everyone and everything that came close. The afternoon was a little different. South Georgia being South Georgia presented some challenges, and it was not possible to go to St. Andrews Bay. The day was incredible anyway.
After long days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula, Elephant Island, and finally the South Orkneys, we finally had a chance to recuperate with a day at sea. It has been an incredible trip already, and we haven’t even made it to South Georgia yet. On this sea day, we slept in and enjoyed the serenity of the waves passing our windows. Today’s weather was characteristic of the mighty Southern Ocean: wind, fog, some snow, and a gentle swell that kept us on our toes. Our transit from the South Orkneys to South Georgia is along a path known as Iceberg Alley. We passed mighty bergs caught in the Weddell Gyre and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current as we pushed towards South Georgia. Our iceberg companions were not the only other travelers; undaunted by the snow, pelagic seabirds such as white-chinned petrels and Antarctic prions glided and flitted over the whitecaps. They took advantage of the winds that let them fly effortlessly with barely a wingbeat. As we watched these stunning sights, we also looked inward to the Circle of Truth, where our natural history staff presented on what we have seen, past experiences, and what is yet to come. In the afternoon, we prepared our gear for South Georgia, a pristine place with few invasive species. To keep it that way, we dedicated ourselves to bio-decontaminating our gear, removing any plant matter, mud, or other debris. We are privileged to visit a place as special as South Georgia. We have a responsibility to protect it so the native flora and fauna can continue to thrive. As night fell, we gathered for a cocktail, a fabulous dinner, and an early night as we looked forward to reaching South Georgia tomorrow.
Written by Grosvenor Teacher Fellows: Caroline Little, Katie Mauro, and Karina New "Good morning, good morning.” As the swells rocked us awake, we made our way towards the South Orkney Islands. If you were an early bird like José, you might have spotted the fin whales gliding in front of the bow. As we transited to Coronation Island, a stunning, jade-colored glacial iceberg drew multiple guests outside to capture its beauty. This type of iceberg is a bit rare, as it comes from the inner core of a glacier. As glacier pressure increases, oxygen is forced out of the ice, leaving the water crystals to absorb all colors of sunlight except for gorgeous shades of blue and green. After Chef Ivan’s delicious lunch, we disembarked on Signy Island, where we were warmly welcomed by a large colony of juvenile fur seals and molting elephant seals. Guide Ben Shulman bravely paved the way through gorgeous rocky terrain dotted with a myriad of lichens and moss. After spending days on the White Continent, the sea of orange and green flora was mesmerizing. We hiked for a few hours, capturing this seldom explored island through our camera lenses. We rounded a glacial lake and caught sight of the Signy Research Station, established by the British. Our historian, Gerard Baker, had the opportunity to meet with a former colleague who is conducting research about bird and seal populations. Tired but exhilarated, we hopped back into Zodiacs. We passed by a bobbing group of sleeping Cape petrels as we returned to National Geographic Explorer for a well-deserved cup of tea.