The temperature varies from -2 to 0 degrees Celsius, which isn’t ridiculously cold until the wind chill is factored in. The wind typically blows anywhere from 10-30 knots, making for fairly frigid circumstances as far as I’m concerned. I use hand warmers in my mittens and toe warmers on my socks. The problem is that I can’t take photos in mittens and when I remove them to do just that, I can no longer feel my fingers, likewise making it difficult to photograph. My toes have been so cold that it’s taken me more than 30 minutes on the exercise bike at a good clip before they begin to thaw out.
Sea ice forms on the surface of the ocean.
It is transitory but can be several meters thick and become pack ice for which a ship with ice-breaker capability is required. On the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, wind patterns can cause the pack ice to become impassable and the captain constantly must monitor the tides, wind and ice so that the ship doesn’t get trapped. After all, there’s no road-service equivalent to call for a tow!
The expedition leader, a most competent and personable man, nightly informs the passengers about plans for the following day with a caveat: “weather-permitting.” And occasionally, weather does not permit.
One day in the Erebus and Terror Gulf, pack ice almost completely surrounds the ship and we don’t move for many hours.
The captain and his crew along with the expedition leader make various calculations until conditions are favorable to break through.
The following morning when the ship finally exits the ice-clogged channel,
we awaken to snowfall and the crew shoveling snow off the deck.
Soon after, the sun comes through the cloud cover warming me nicely, the landscape blindingly bright and spectacular.
The next day under calm and clear sky it is so warm that I take off all of my layers and hike (briefly) in a tank top.
Dinner is served al fresco on the sixth and seventh decks, the sun still high and the vistas commanding. Imagine having a meal outdoors in Antarctica!
I would be remiss if I did’t mention the wild ride we have through the Drake Passage on the way back to Ushuaia. It begins in the middle of the night when the ship starts rolling. I decide I should get up when I am nearly thrown out of bed by the force of a wave. It gets worse from there.
Yoga under these circumstances can only be described as interesting. My core gets quite a workout. The furniture that is not anchored slides back and forth across the floor threatening the students prone on their mats.
At lunch the drawers full of glasses and plates slide out to their extreme open position with a huge bang. The ship rolls away and back and the ocean drenches the dining room windows. I juggle the silverware to keep it from falling in my lap but am nevertheless stabbed by a dull knife on its way to the floor. I now understand why all the chairs are chained down.
I go out on the rear deck to see the sea up close. It is rollicking.
All the outdoor furniture is tied together at the stern.
Did I mention how challenging it is to walk, passengers staggering around grasping whatever is within hands reach?
When I return to my cabin everything is on the carpet: tissue boxes, magazines, bottles of lotion. All the clothing hanging on wall hooks sways, the porthole creaks, the ship shudders. Although risky, I decide to take a shower. I wedge a foot where the wall and floor meet and lean away from the curtain which seems determined to stick to me. I fear the trash can may join me at any moment. At dinner, two knives and two glasses of red wine cartwheel off the table and onto the windowsill. We are told this is a standard crossing!
Here in the Antarctic, you just never know what the weather will bring.