Cruise on MV Mare Australis + Cruise on MV Via Australis, Nov 2010

Stefan Grossman

We rounded Cape Horn this morning in treacherous seas ....... I never thought I would ever be saying anything like this. But let me go back to the beginning of this part of our trip. We are on an ‘Expedition Cruise’ to Patagonia. The word cruise conjured up quite a different picture in my mind to where we find ourselves right now. Five days, four nights aboard the Australis, several stops and opportunities to get off and explore ........ Well literally explore in that sense. Kitted out in as many layers of clothes as we have with us, and lacking waterproof trousers (unfortunately), bad planning on our part. We sailed out of Punta Arenus about 8 pm accompanied by a wonderful sunset.. Cocktails and a nice diner, new friends at our table. Everyone very excited to be here and swapping stories for where they’ve been and where they are going on this vacation. There are a total of 14 nationalities on board, mostly spanish speaking. Throughout the day there are lectures ranging from the explores who first discovered and named the various islands of Patagonia to the geological aspects of the land to the formation of glaciers. We have been off the boat three times until now. The first time the weather wasn’t too bad, i think the temperature was around 4 degrees celeus and sunny. After the safety briefing and sorting out lifejackets - we were loaded into a zodiac boat and headed off to Ainsworth Island. Once off the boat we could set down life jackets and waited to be sorted into groups by language. While standing there I noticed an enormous rock on the beach which seemed to be moving, I thought impossible, a rock that big moving ..... on closer examination I realized that it was an elephant seal and that there was another one at the side of him, and then also a baby. Our guide, Arno proceeded to explain how life began and how the smallest or organisms form on bare rock etc. We walked around the island stopping to look at flowers and fauna and the magnificent scenery all around us. After two hours we returned to the point of reboarding the zodiac to be taken back to the ship. There waiting for us by the water was one of the crew with hot chocolate and/or a glass of whiskey. The hot chocolate was just what I needed. Back on board and feeling ravenous there was an amazing lunch buffet waiting for us. About 5 different delicious deserts so of course we couldn’t resist and over ate. Meanwhile, while we ate lunch - anchors away and off we sailed to another point of interest, Tucker Island. Back onto the zodiacs after lunch and in much rougher seas, no sun so quite cold, also some rain. This basically was to bird watch, we didn’t get off the boat. We saw Magellan Penguins, almost close enough to touch. Birds of prey and more penguins. We were quite wet by the time we got back to the ship and freezing cold. Hot showers and then more food. I think at this point we realized that food was a problem - not the lack of it but the abundance of it and the quality, very very good. Hard to stop eating. After dinner we all gathered in the lounge and were briefed and warned about what to expect the next day. We were told to expect very rough seas at about four in the morning and to place everything on the floor in our cabin. The rough sea was caused by sailing through the Magellan Straits and turning down the Beagle Channel ...... talks of following Darwin\'s passage, very exciting. Sure enough we were awoken at about 3.30 to doors banging and actually sliding from the top of the bed to the bottom. Much talk at breakfast Day two, yesterday was amazing. I won’t go through our entire itinerary or how the weather changed every 15 minutes, ranging from sun to very overcast, back to sun, snow, hail. Layers of clothes on and off all day. On a cruise like this it’s not so much the final destination that’s important but the journey itself, that’s what we’re here for, to see Patagonia. So we spent many many hours just looking, watching, observing from all the different viewing locations on the ship. Looking in front at where we’re going and then running to the rear of the ship (the stern) to where we’ve been - waiting for the right light to take that perfect photo. Yesterday we began the ‘glacier’ part of the trip. Passing several glaciers during the course of the morning and after another abundant lunch we arrived at Pia Glacier. Brilliant sunshine but quite cool we were told to get on our gear and meet in the main lounge and to bring the life jacket. Suddenly the weather changed, the sun disappeared the sky darkened and it began to snow. The captain announced that the wind was too strong to attempt to go on shore - disappointment all around. The crew decided to wait 1/2 an hour to see if the weather would reverse itself ..... and it did, the sun came back, the wind dropped and we were in business again. What an adventure, standing at the side of an enormous glacier listening it grunt and groan, then a creak followed by a sound like thunder as an enormous hunk fell off causing a mini tsunami that rocked the ship. Everyone shrieking with surprise and awe, feeling so privileged to be there to witness such events. We stayed at Pia Glacier about two hours, during which we saw the said weather conditions several times over. There waiting for us as we were to board the zodiac again was the crewman with the hot chocolate and whiskey. After everyone was back onboard and anchors were brought up we were on course for ‘Glacier Alley’ The glaciers we were going to see all were named after different countries, first one was Germany so suddenly the nice quite background music change to rowdy polka type music and the crew came around with beer and frankfurters ......... after that was the French Glacier, the music changed to Edth Piaf, we were given cheese and crackers and champagne ...... the Italian one we were handed piazza and white wine ........ on so on. That was before dinner, there were another couple of glaciers but it’s all a blur after that. After dinner a talk and presentation on Cape Horn and what we were to expect. A 70- 30 chance that we would be able get into the zodiacs and onto land. We were told to expect rough seas and to take Dramamine, which sounded a good idea to me. We awoke the morning to the ship rolling from side to side and somehow we knew that we wouldn’t be stepping foot on Cape Horn. But still hopeful we listened to the announcement telling us to go up to the bridge with our gear on and bring the lifejackets. It was hard to think that they would really take us out in seas like this. But after 10 minutes they confirmed that it wouldn’t be possible as it was too dangerous to attempt a landing. We got some photographs and were pretty close, but that was it. Now we’re sat in the lounge heading towards another destination where we are scheduled to get off the ship to look around. To be continued.....