Antarctica – First days at sea

by Robert Bush: November 1, 2015

October 30 and October 31.


Puerto Madryn is the town  on the coast of southeastern Argentina where we will board the ship..   The town has grown  – from just a few thousand people fifty years ago to about 150,000  today – primarily because of an aluminum plant that now employs about 5000, the fishing industry and tourism.  Tourists come to this area to see the penguin rookery which is north of the town, and because of the cruises that leave from here to go to Antarctica and the islands that lie to the north of that continent, including our destinations – the Falkland Islands and South Georgia Islands.


The town itself is not much to look at. But when you turn away from the town and look to the sea, you see one of the primary breeding grounds of the southern right whales.  You can see them blowing and occasionally breaching right from the beach.  The whales swim to within just a hundred of so feet of the beach and the pier where the cruise boats tie up.


Whalers believed that these whales were the “right” whales to hunt because they are slow moving, easy to harpoon and so rich in oil that they would float when killed.  They were so “right” that they were hunted almost to extinction by the beginning of the 20th century.  They were legally protected in the 1930s and were staging a comeback until the whalers from the Soviet Union killed about 3,000 of them in the 1960’s.  They are now coming back again and there are about 7,500 in the world.

We flew into this town late on October 29.  We were not scheduled to board our ship until until 3 p.m. on October 30  and so we spent the day on the walkway that lines the beach, watching the whales playing just off shore.  We also got the first glimpse of our ship, the Sea Explorer, which was tied up on a pier on the beach.  It is about 250 feet in length and about 45 feet wide, and has 6 decks.   It is not particularly impressive looking from a distance – and that is probably good.  The last thing I wanted to be on was a giant cruise ship, and this is definitely not one of those.   There will be 100 passengers on board.

When  we finally boarded the ship in the afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable and nice it is.  The room we are in is only 250 square feet, but there is no wasted pace and it is surprisingly roomy, and the whole boat is really nice – a lot nicer than I thought it would be.  The hallways are fairly wide and everything is wood lined, with nice brass handrails and fixtures.   (I will post some pictures of the ship in a later post.)

As we were unpacking, and while we were still in port, an announcement was made that there were right whales near the boat and most of the passengers scrambled out of their rooms, grabbing camera equipment, and headed to the 4th deck, which has a walkway all around the boat.  There were a number of right whales that could be periodically seen off the port of the boat.  Some came very close to the boat like the one pictured here.  And some were breaching, including the whale that is pictured here.  The white structures on top of the whale are called callosites, which are raised, horny layers of skin that may be heavily infested with barnacles, parasitic worms and whale lice.  Each right whale has a unique pattern of these callosities.

After watching the whales for a few hours – we were still tied up at the pier – the boat finally began to move and we left the whales behind.  At that point, I put on my sea sickness patch.    We attended a few meetings where we were introduced to the captain and some of the crew (there are approximately 70 crew members) and we were given safety instructions.  We were also told at that point that the good news was that we would continue to have the same great weather that we had today for most of tomorrow.  We were told the perhaps not too good news that a very intense storm was brewing near Cape Horn and was on a trajectory to meet us at the Falklands.  So, we will see what the future holds for us weather wise.

The day ended with a wonderful dinner that was quite a bit more upscale than I had anticipated.

October 31

It is a full day of cruising to get to the Falklands and so today we are at sea.  After we left the protected area outside of Puerto Madryn, you could clearly feel the rocking of the ocean.   I was glad I put my patch on, even though the ocean is actually pretty calm.

DSC_0965-Edit-EditThe trip from Puerto Madryn to the Falkland Islands will take over two full days.  We are not scheduled to arrive until the early morning hours of November 2.  We spent today attending lectures by naturalists specialize in whales, geology, and ornithology.  And we spent hours taking pictures of the wonderful birds that flew in the slipstream of our boat all day – the  northern giant petral, the southern giant petral, the black-browed albatross, and the cape petral.  I am posting a few pictures of those majestic birds.

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