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Antarctica: 2003 Expedition
Great God, this is a wild and wonderful place!

Antarctica Expedition 2003 - Polar Pioneer

Search Words: Ice Polar Scuba Diving In Arctic Antarctic Antarctica Expeditions Cruises Travel Guide Southern Ocean Drake

Eco-Photo Explorers has completed probably the most exciting and demanding expedition we have ever undertaken. We have taken our first plunge into the icy waters of Antarctica. We have documented not only the marine life, but the animals that inhabit this forbidden and mysterious region. Our adventure was hosted by Aurora Expeditions, an efficient and professional operator for this type of demanding trip. The comfortable and sturdy Polar Pioneer was our base of operations for this excursion.

Antarctica is the most isolated continent on the planet and is home to gigantic icebergs, mountain ranges, and penguins. Time was spent cruising popular passages including the Drake Passage, the Lemaire Channel, Deception Island, and South Shetland Island. Zodiacs allowed us to get close to massive glaciers, icebergs and the diverse marine life. While the wind and cold provide a challenge to anyone traveling to Antarctica, the breathtaking views, the chance to see penguins and whales, and the opportunity to visit this beautiful and serene, yet savage and violent continent make this voyage an opportunity of a lifetime.

On February 16, 2003, Eco-Photo Explorers departed the port city of Ushuaia, sometimes referred to as the City at the End of the World. From there, we journeyed south to the frozen continent of Antarctica.

Introduction - For 12 days, we explored the wilderness of the Antarctic Peninsula, photographing the wildlife and spectacular ice formations both above and below these polar waters. This expedition represents our most ambitious and exciting adventure to date and will be chronicled on these web pages through the year as we prepare and extensively upon our return.

We are often asked what compels us to want to see Antarctica. The answer is simple, Antarctica is nature in its purest state; her power and beauty are at once humbling, confronting and exhilarating. Indeed Antarctica touches the soul like no other place on earth. The pace can be as fast as an ice wall cracking and tumbling into the sea or as slow as an advancing glacier.

In the morning we hope to find ourselves at a penguin rookery in dazzling sunshine, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of breeding birds. Hours later we may be cruising in a Zodiac, mesmerized by the electric blue depths of a magnificently sculpted iceberg. In the evening we may find ourselves sitting atop a snow-clad slope in an apricot twilight, enveloped by potent silence. We expect this voyage will have the thrill of discovery and the potential to unlock yet another closely held secret of the world's most remote and least known continent. Join us as we take a voyage of discovery that may well change the way you see the world. Antarctic summers are blessed with 18 - 24 hours of daylight enabling expeditioners to maximize their time ashore. Aurora Expeditions will work with the opportunities as they arise, rather than to the hands of the clock. If whales are spotted after dinner, they may postpone bedtime and instead board an inflatable boat for a closer look at these ocean going gentle giants.

Some people ask...What's the time down there? A tricky question - since this is a place where all time zones converge, everyone in Antarctica officially goes by New Zealand time (see below):

Click for Palmer Station, Antarctica Forecast

For the most part days are routine, filled with lectures, deck-top views of the spectacular Antarctic scenery, and forays ashore to view wildlife or points of scientific or historical interest. Meals are hearty and are prepared by European or Australian chefs who are wizards at their craft. Zodiacs are used not only as landing craft but also to take passengers closer to icebergs and wildlife. Expert polar naturalists always company  expeditioners on shore as well as sharing their knowledge through lectures, videos and seminars on board the ship. Cruising life aboard the Polar Pioneer is a relaxed one, punctuated by exciting views and excursions. These are expedition-style journeys which benefit from flexibility among staff and passengers alike. In Antarctica you can sometimes end up one hundred miles from where you were expected, due to a last minute change of plan. Aurora Expeditions takes pride in their years of experience in Antarctica so they can guarantee that all expeditioners will gain the best possible value and experience from every day.

So join us as we explore The Ice Kingdom of Antarctica.

Click here to view GPS position of the Polar Pioneer... Where is the Polar Pioneer?
Click here to view the satellite tracking system that shows you where the Polar Pioneer is at the present moment. You can zoom in or out to get a better perspective of her location.


Expedition Log

Aurora Expedition Staff - We want to thank the Aurora expedition staff and the rest of the Russian crew of the Polar Pioneer for the wonderful memories we shared. We will cherish and share these experiences with others for years to come. Because of their high degree of professionalism, their passion for adventure and their hard work and dedication, our voyage to Antarctica was seamless and a great success.

Our expedition to explore the ice-covered landscape of Antarctica and dive beneath her icy seas was truly inspiring and an amazing accomplishment for us. We are thankful for the opportunity to be able to complete a life long goal, which we had only dreamt of and read about for so long.

Day 1 - Welcome Aboard the Polar Pioneer
Day 2 - Crossing the Drake Passage
Day 3 - Drake Passage & South Shetlands, King George Island
Day 4 - Gerlache Strait, Bransfield Strait, Trinity Island
Day 5 - Heading South, Lemaire Channel
Day 6 - Argentine Islands, Peterman Island, Port Lockroy
Day 7 - Southern Gerlache, Cuverville Island & Neko Harbor
Day 8 - Gerlache Strait, Hydruga Rocks
Day 9 - South Shetlands, King George Island
Day 10 - Drake Passage
Day 11 - Drake Passage / Cape Horn / Beagle Channel
Day 12 - Ushuaia - Disembark
Day 13 - Buenos Aires/New York - Flight Home

Aurora Expedition - Actual 2003 Passenger Trip Log
Aurora & Russian crew of the Polar Pioneer
Russian Phrases (English to Russian)


Day 1: Sunday, 16 February 2003
Welcome Aboard the Polar Pioneer

Russian for the day:


2/16/03 - 4:00 pm (1600 hours)

Antarctica - Travel Map (click for a larger view)After spending nearly two days in the Argentine Port city of Ushuaia, at the tip of South America’s Tierra del Fuego, we finally boarded our expedition vessel, The Polar Pioneer, at 4pm. The temperature is 69 degrees Fahrenheit with 34% humidity. For the next 11 days, we will make our new home on Deck 3, cabin 304. Our next door neighbors were Matt and John who were part of the Climbing/Hiking Group. Being assigned a cabin on Deck 3 is a good thing if you're a diver, since the zodiacs are on the same level. This means you will not have to hump your gear up and down the stairs when diving. A briefing was held at 5pm on the ship’s bridge. We learned a little of what activities we could expect, a little about the Russian crew and about shipboard procedures. This expedition would be accommodating SCUBA Diving, Ice Climbing, hiking, photography and Ocean Kayaking. We will be setting sail down the Beagle Channel at about 6pm and have a life boat drill at 7pm.

Dinner will be served at 8pm.

2/16/03 – 6:05 pm (1805 hours)

The Polar Pioneer leaves port in Ushuaia bound for Antarctica. Shortly after we depart and begin our journey down the Beagle Channel, the sky grows cloudy and the wind increases dramatically. The temperature falls quickly to 57.6 degrees.

2/16/03 – 10:00 pm (2200 hours)

Ship's Position & Weather Conditions
Latitude: 54 57' S
Longitude: 67 04' W
Speed: 12 knots / 14 mph
Course: 104
Barometer: 1005 mb / 29.68 inches - steady
Wind: 6 knots / 7 mph from the E
Wind Chill: +6C / 42F
Air Temp: +9C / 48F
Sea Temp: +4C / 39F

2/16/03 – 10:20 pm (2220 hours)

The sky is dark. The sun sets around 10 pm here at this time of year and it will get light early in the morning. We are steaming down the Beagle Channel in the dark. Overnight, we are to round Cape Horn and venture out into "The Drake". There are lots of nervous jokes about the Drake Passage and we are supposed to be in it for 2 days. We had a dive briefing earlier in the evening with the dive team. We reviewed equipment needs, procedures, logistics and some environmental information. We expect to dive early Wednesday, 19 February 2003. It is a strange feeling to be underway. Right now the waters are calm, but there might be a monster waiting on the other side of Cape Horn. We are nervous, excited and tired.


Day 2: Monday, 17 February 2003
Crossing the Drake Passage

Russian for the day:
DOBRAYE UTRA (Good morning)

2/17/03 – 09:20 am

We woke up this morning to a rolling sea in the Drake Passage. It is not uncomfortable, however, and it is relatively calm. While we are not seasick, some passengers are.

2/17/03 – 11:20 am

Latitude: 56 59' S
Longitude: 64 08' W

Outside, the swells are rolling at about 6 feet with some higher, but the crossing is going well. The sky is leaden gray and there is a definite chill in the air. The temperature has dropped to 50.7 degrees. The ship is being followed by several species of seabirds: Wandering Albatross and Black Browed Albatross.

2/17/03 – 3:46 pm (1546 hours)

The crossing of the Drake Passage continues to go well. There are 10-foot rollers (swells) but the ship handles them well. Outside it is cold. There are only a few people going outside and for the moment, the seabirds seem to have gone elsewhere. The sky is gray and cloudy. Low-lying fog obscures the horizon. It is a lonely place. The Drake is treating us well. We have heard how terrible it might be and thus far we have gotten off easy. These open ocean regions are not suited well for Man. They belong to the birds and the Ocean. We are merely passing through, hoping not to be noticed, hoping to speed our journey. The world is a world away and our isolation feels pretty intense. We expect to cross the Antarctic Convergence sometime tonight and arrive late tomorrow. For today, we quietly rest, getting to know others on board, listening to lectures from the shipboard naturalists and mentally prepare for the adventure ahead. What will we witness in the coming days?

2/17/03 – 9:00 pm (2100 hours)

Ship's Position & Weather Conditions
Latitude: 58 39' S
Longitude: 61 54' W
Speed: 12.6 knots / 14 mph
Course: 143
Barometer: 997mb / 29.44 inches - steady
Wind: 18 knots / 21 mph from the NE
Wind Chill: -3C / 26F
Air Temp: +8C / 46F
Sea Temp: +3C / 37F

Birds and Mammals Sighted
Wandering Albatross and Blacked-browed Albatross


Day 3: Tuesday, 18 February 2003
Drake Passage & South Shetlands, King George Island

Russian for the day:
KAG DYELA (How are things?)

2/18/03 – 10:20 am

Latitude: 60 56' S
Longitude: 58 23' W

The air temperature is now 42.7 degrees. We have crossed the Antarctic Convergence. Today we are still in the Drake Passage. We awoke to fairly thick fog and a slightly more disturbed sea. The crossing continues to go well. This morning we spotted a Black Bellied Storm Petral and several Wilson’s Storm Petrals. These birds are amazing to watch- racing across the ocean surface, dodging waves, flying swiftly back and forth and occasionally dipping into the water, presumably to eat. What is amazing is the speed at which they fly and the relative long distance from land! The fog is obscuring the horizon. The air is damp and we grow excited as we think we are about 7 hours away.

2/18/03 – 2:00 pm (1400 hours)

Latitude: 61 41' S
Longitude: 58 43' W

The first iceberg is sighted in the distance off the starboard side. This is an incredibly exciting moment. After nearly two days of ocean travel, the approach marked by icebergs is nearly upon us. We are excited and anxious to get to King George Island (our first planned stop). The Drake has remained calm. Today we were given lectures on diving birds and pinipeds. We also reviewed Zodiac procedures and were given wildlife observation guidelines. Alongside the boat, diving in incredible formations, are Cape Petrals and an occasional Wilson’s Storm Petral. Some people claim to have seen whale spouts, but we have not. We anticipate 3 more hours of travel, but the adrenaline is beginning to pump.

2/18/03 – 3:35 pm (1535 hours)

Lots of icebergs off the starboard side! Also, now spotting Antarctic Fur Seals in the water and Cape Petrals as well. We have spotted a Sooty Albatross.

2/18/03 – 6:23 pm (1823 hours)

Our first landing in Antarctica. It is at a place called Penguin Island, right next to King George Island in the South Shetlands. The Polar Pioneer anchored offshore and we traveled to the island via zodiac. The shore of the island is very rocky and getting in and out of the zodiacs was a little messy. On this island, though, is a veritable National Geographic of wildlife activity. Large colonies of Chinstrap penguins alongside Elephant Seals, Fur Seals and South Polar Skuas. It is fascinating watching the natural world play out its daily drama in front of you: Penguins marching back and forth, squabbling Fur seals bellowing every so often, enormous Elephant Seals sleeping on the beach and Skuas dive bombing the penguins in search of weaklings. We spotted a poor, unfortunate Chinstrap, his chest red with blood from a seal attack.

Littering the shore of this island are the bones of Penguins, Seals and Whales from times past. The island smells of wildlife: Penguin guano is everywhere. While onshore, we heard distant icebergs calving with loud booms. This is an amazing first step onto Antarctic soil. As we had approached the island, after leaving the Drake Passage behind us, we were treated to sightings of Fur Seals in the water and Humpback Whales. One individual was seen breaching repeatedly in the distance while another poked his head up to take a look at the boat. Nature in Antarctica has sent its own welcome wagon and we couldn’t be happier!

2/18/03 – 11:00 pm (2300 hours)

Ship's Position & Weather Conditions
Latitude: 62 09' S
Longitude: 58 28' W
Speed: at anchor
Course: 0
Barometer: 1005 mb / 29.68 inches - steady
Wind: 4 knots / 5 mph from the N
Wind Chill: +5C / 40F
Air Temp: +6C / 43F
Sea Temp: +0C / 32F

Birds and Mammals Sighted
Chinstrap Penguin, Unidentified Penguin (swimming), Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Giant Petrel Sp. (Northern and/or Southern), Cape Petrel, Wilson's Storm-petrel, Black-Bellied Storm-Petrel, Skua (brown and/or South Polar), Kelp Gull, Antarctic Fur Seal, Southern Elephant Seal, Humpback Whale


Day 4: Wednesday, 19 February 2003
Gerlache Strait, Bransfield Strait, Trinity Island

Russian for the day:
SPASIBA (Thank you)

2/19/03 - 07:33 am  (scuba diving)

We are underway again, moving south to Portal Point on the peninsula. Last night, we stopped at King George Island to pick up a container and during the night a light snowfall occurred. Today is our first planned dive of the trip.

2/19/03 – 08:40 am

Latitude: 63 07' S
Longitude: 60 06' W

The air temperature is 40.5 degrees Fahrenheit. We are cruising through the Bransfield Strait in a very dense fog. The humidity is 73%. Occasional Cape Petrals are flying around the boat. The seas are a bit choppy. Indications are we are behind schedule due to the loading of the container from King George Island last night.

2/19/03 – 4:00 pm (1600 hours)

We have completed our first Antarctic dive...

This was a "checkout" dive in a protected cove off Trinity Island. We pulled up alongside the Argentine Research Station and made our dive there. What an amazing setting: huge cliffs of ice and snow literally covering the island, and in front of us a Gentoo Penguin rookery. The sun was out, although an ominous layer of fog shrouded the horizon.

Once suited up, we entered the water. After a brief moment with a balky regulator, we were underway. Underwater, we had over-estimated our weight requirements and were too heavy for this dive. Proper adjustments will be made for future dives. As we dove along a gently sloping kelp-covered bottom, we spotted small starfish, nudibranchs, sea urchins and limpets. We also found an interesting photo subject: a Crocodile Dragon Fish. This fish was orange in color and about 1.5 feet in length. The dive was a good introduction to the Antarctic environment and the maximum depth reached was 54 feet.

2/19/03 – 10:55 pm (2255 hours)

Latitude: 64 33' South
Longitude: 62 00' W

We have now completed two dives in Antarctica. Today we motored south to a place called Enterprise Island, where we explored the wreck of an early 1900s-era Whaling Factory Ship called "The Governor". We dove the wreck at 8:30pm, dusk in Antarctica, under low-lying, sullen gray clouds. A light snowfall started as we made this dive. The cove where this wreck sits in is just breathtaking. Surrounded by walls of ice and snow up to 300 feet high, the area is truly ethereal. With icebergs floating by in the distance, this is how we imagined Antarctica to be at dusk. As we approached the wreck, all we could see was her rusting malformed skeleton, half submerged underwater and half marooned on shore. Her stern sits on a slope in about 60 feet (18.3m) of water and most of her mid-ship has collapsed and was not safe to penetrate. Because of the sharp rusting metal which seemed to be everywhere, divers had to exercise extreme care to not puncture their dry suit or dry gloves. This was a fascinating dive into the history of whaling in Antarctica, and the bleached bones of some of the whales unfortunately captured by this vessel were still strewn about the bottom alongside the wreck.

The wreck was not all that interesting, but we were able to get some good close-up photo opportunities: large sea anemones, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and an Antarctic Spiny Plunder Fish. Alongside the wreck are the bones of whales, a reminder of the carnage from years ago in this area. Today, we spotted Antarctic Terns to add to the wildlife observation list.

2/19/03 – 11:00 pm (2300 hours)

Ship's Position & Weather Conditions
Latitude: 64 31' S
Longitude: 61 58' W
Speed: 8.4 knots / 9 mph
Course: 337
Barometer: 997mb / 29.44 inches - falling
Wind: 16 knots / 18 mph from the N
Wind Chill: -10C / 14F
Air Temp: +2C / 36F
Sea Temp: +0C / 32F

2/19/03 – 11:40 pm (2340 hours)

Cruising down the Gerlache Straight at 9 knots in a blinding snowstorm. It is quite eerie and beautiful to watch the snow in the dark from the ship’s bridge. Scary to think there are large icebergs out there in the gloom. The sea is kicking up…it is a stormy night.

Birds, Mammals and Marine Life Sighted
Gentoo Penguin, Unidentified Penguin (swimming), Tern (probably mostly Antarctic), Large Sea Anemones, Small Starfish, Nudibranchs, Limpets, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers, Antarctic Spiny Plunder Fish, Crocodile Dragon Fish


Day 5: Thursday, 20 February 2003
Heading South, Lemaire Channel

Russian for the day:
PAZHALSTA (Please, you're welcome)

2/20/03 – 08:56 am (scuba diving)

Today, we are seeing a taste of the fury of the Antarctic. We woke to the sound of the expedition leader on the ship’s intercom informing us that we were just entering the Lemaire Channel which is a narrow passageway that is 11 km (7 miles) long and is less than 1.5 km (1 mile) wide and lies between Booth Island and the Peninsula mainland. This is one of the most picturesque passages in the Antarctic Peninsula which was named after a Belgian explorer of the Congo. However, as we looked outside, we knew things were not calm and peaceful. Sheets of horizontal snow and sleet were pelting the ship and the wind was howling at 40 knots. The surface of the water was steel gray, with wind-blown spindrift and whitecaps punctuating the solemn surface.

As the ship steamed slowly south through the channel, magnificent peaks of rock, ice and snow surrounded us. Unfortunately, we were only able to glimpse the beauty that was mostly obscured by the weather. Icebergs, some larger than others, drifted by rapidly. The bergs are pure white but just beneath the surface you can see the deep blue of the frozen ice. Stepping outside was treacherous and maybe stupid, but something inside was pulling at you to go out and take a look. Not holding on to the rail was inviting trouble. Ice and snow covered the deck which made it slick and unforgiving. The wind was intense as it carved its way over and round the ships superstructure. You were glad that you were wearing Gore-tex outerwear as the elements ripped at your jacket and water-proof pants. It is a sensory experience and was nearly impossible to capture on film.  

Click to view larger weather fax imageA look at the “weather fax" chart for today reveals an unusually strong low pressure system alongside the peninsula with tightly packed isobars in concentric circles extending all the way up to Tierra Del Fuego. There must be tremendous seas in the Drake Passage. The crew and expedition leaders remark that this is an unusually strong storm for this time of year. It is both beautiful and frightening at the same time.

Somehow, the Cape Petrals continued to fly!

2/20/03 – 10:00 pm

Ship's Position & Weather Conditions
Latitude: 65 06' S
Longitude: 64 03' W
Speed: at anchor
Course: 0
Barometer: 981 mb / 28.97 inches - falling
Wind: 8 knots / 9 mph from the NE
Wind Chill: -3C / 27F
Air Temp: +4C / 39F
Sea Temp: +0C / 32F

2/20/03 – 10:32 pm (2232 hours)

Today was an unbelievably magnificent day. We passed through the Lemaire Channel in the teeth of an Antarctic gale and sought shelter at Pleneau Island at the north end of the Penola Straight. After arriving, we set out in the zodiacs to explore some icebergs in the distance. The place we arrived at, we call it Iceberg Park, was just magical. Iceberg after iceberg, each with indescribable beauty. Whites, blues, purples, aqua blue, all were prominent colors of the bergs. Some were small, some were enormous. As we motored past, the tinkling and cracking of ice in the water was evident and it was the only sound we could hear in the quiet of the Antarctic.

Some of the icebergs had such an intense phosphorescent blue light emitting from cracks and fissures that you could swear there was an internal light source. This was the most amazing collection of icebergs we could have ever imagined. One berg was like a huge arch and once inside, it felt very much like an enormous ice cathedral. At one point, some of us got out of the zodiacs and onto an actual iceberg. This was treacherous since the surface was a smooth as glass and the danger of falling into 32-degree water was high. Still, it was exhilarating to be standing on a floating iceberg in Antarctica.

As we toured this serenely beautiful place, we came across a Leopard Seal lounging on an iceberg. These seals are fearsome predators and are distinctive because of their large head. The head actually resembles that of a snake rather than a seal. This seal decided to take an interest in us and played around our zodiac for about 45 minutes. After touring the icebergs, it was time to return to the ship. On the way, we stopped at a Gentoo Penguin rookery. Here, walking among these incredible birds, a wonderful sense of calm came over us. These birds are all so cute, so undisturbed, so unbothered by our presence. We saw chicks in the process of molting, tufts of fuzzy hair still attached to their bodies. We saw adults squabbling and mothers feeding chicks. Despite the pungent smell of bird droppings, this was an especially rewarding moment. To add to the beauty of the morning, we spotted a Humpback Whale on the way back to the boat. This was a morning to remember and cherish always.

In the afternoon, still anchored at Pleneau Island, we dove on an iceberg. As we approached the iceberg, however, 4-5 leopard Seals again took interest in us. For 30 minutes, they swam alongside the zodiac, occasionally spy-hopping to get a look at us. One actually nibbled on the rubber of the craft and another nearly kissed one of the divers! Soon enough, however, it was time to dive. The iceberg was grounded in 57 feet of water. Underwater, icebergs have a beauty all their own. The ice is extremely smooth with ridges and ripples and beautifully curved patterns. Occasional rocks and stones can be seen embedded in the ice. At the bottom, there was a large swim-through, which enabled us to swim under the iceberg itself. In so doing, though, the added pressure of the ice began to hurt our ears and equalizing became a problem. The only interesting marine life we saw was a fly-by by a Weddell Seal which we were able to take a quick grab shoot.

As we were swimming under a ledge in the underbelly of the iceberg, an extremely loud booming explosion was heard. We were really scared at the moment – was the iceberg splitting or breaking up on top of us? Or was it getting ready to roll over? We swam very quickly away into open water. We later learned that a nearby iceberg had broken off a large section into the water. Icebergs must be given ample respect!

This was a very special day, one that represented our hopes and dreams for the Antarctic. This adventure was what we were seeking when we came here and today is a day we’ll remember always.

Birds, Mammals and Marine Life Sighted
Gentoo Penguin, Unidentified Penguin (swimming), Imperial Cormorant (blue-eyed), Kelp Gull, Tern (probably mostly Antarctic), Blue-eyed Shag, Leopard Seal, Weddell Seal, Minke Whale, Humpback Whale, Giant Jellyfish (scyphomedusa Desmonema glaciale)


Day 6: Friday, 21 February 2003
Argentine Islands, Peterman Island, Port Lockroy

Russian for the day:
KAK VAS ZAVOOT? (What is your name)

2/21/03 – 10:48 am (scuba diving)

Latitude: 65 14' S
Longitude: 64 10' W

This is our southern most point in our journey...

We have just returned from a landing at Peterman Island in the Argentine Island group. On this island we visited an Adelie penguin rookery. This island was smelly, goopy and slippery with guano, but the penguins are beautiful and interesting. Almost all are adults (we only spotted 2 chicks). Apparently the chicks have all gone to sea already. Since these penguins are more southerly than others, they mature earlier in the summer to make sure they are at sea prior to the harsh winter. It is a gray, sullen day with low clouds, rain and snow.

2/21/03 – 2:10 pm (1410 hours)

North of the Lemaire Channel, cruising north. More bad weather, this time in the form of snow. Visibility is less than 300 feet off the bow. The ship is covered in a beautiful blanket of snow. Outside, the footing is very treacherous. As we cruise along, icebergs appear out of the gloom like ghostly apparitions behind the veil of falling snow.

2/21/03 – 10:14 pm (2214 hours)

We are anchored in a protected cove surrounded by towering mountains and huge glaciers. This is the location of a manned British research station and is called Port Lockroy.

This afternoon, we dove on a rocky outcropping just in front of the base. It was an interesting dive for invertebrate life – starfish of royal purple color, sea stars with 45 legs, limpets, sea urchins and sea anemones. After we emerged from the dive, we scrambled up onto some rocks to spot a few Gentoo Penguins. Soon, a Blue-eyed Cormorant landed, not 2 feet away. There he stood, for 10 minutes, just eyeing the funny creatures in dry suits. Who was observing whom?

After diving, we launched over to the base, mailed some postcards, explored the museum onsite and mingled with the Gentoo Penguins. Here, we were able to sit quietly among birds fully accustomed to Human Beings…one chick actually nuzzled against Chris and began nibbling at the drawstrings of his parka. The entire place, though, had a fetid stench of penguin guano – only a mother could love that smell!

It is now snowing again. 4 storms in all today! It is lovely when it snows but it is spectacularly beautiful when the sun comes out. We need more sun in the next three days for better photos.

2/21/03 – 11:00 pm (2300 hours)

Ship's Position & Weather Conditions
Latitude: 54 49' S
Longitude: 63 29' W
Speed: at anchor
Course: 0
Barometer: 975 mb / 28.79 inches - steady
Wind: 4 knots / 5 mph from the E
Wind Chill: +1C / 34F
Air Temp: +4C / 39F
Sea Temp: +0C / 32F

Birds, Mammals and Marine Life Sighted
Gentoo Penguin, Adelie Penguin, Unidentified Penguin (swimming), Imperial Cormorant (blue-eyed), Snowy Sheathbill, Skua (Brown and/or South Polar), Minke Whale, Humpback Whale, Large Sea Stars, Sea Anemones, Starfish, Limpets, Sea Urchins, Sponges, Shrimp


Day 7: Saturday, 22 February 2003
Southern Gerlache, Cuverville Island/Neko Harbor

Russian for the day:
NICHEVO (Don't worry)

2/22/03 – 2:28 pm (1428 hours) (scuba diving)

Latitude: 64 48' S
Longitude: 62 51' W

We are cruising north towards Cuverville Island. It is snowing again. This is a sign that winter is approaching. We have had lots of snow in the past 2 days.

This morning, we landed at a place called Neko Harbor. What a spectacular place. The water was absolutely glass calm and filled with chunks of ice (‘bergy bits”) and full sized icebergs. On the shore was a Gentoo Penguin colony and we were surrounded by glaciers that flowed right to the shore. Neko harbor was our first actual landing on the continent of Antarctica itself.

The glaciers moaned and cracked. It sounded much like the crack of lightening when a thunderstorm is directly overhead. Dramatically, at one point, a huge iceberg calved off the glacier and tumbled into the water. It was accompanied by a loud “boom”, which echoed off the distant mountains. The berg crashed into the water and was followed by an avalanche of snow and ice. A huge pressure wave pushed out into the water and in seconds, waves were crashing into the rocky shoreline. A lone penguin who was watching this with us quickly scrambled up the beach to safety…smart little guy!

Neko Harbor was a perfect place to sit down and listen to the silence of Antarctica. Only the occasional cry of a penguin and the cracking of ice disturbed the silence. Before we departed, a Weddell Seal hauled out onto a nearby floating ice raft and promptly took a nap.

2/22/03 – 9:00 pm (2100 hours)

Ship's Position & Weather Conditions
Latitude: 64 37' S
Longitude: 62 36' W
Speed: 8.5 knots / 9 mph
Course: 30
Barometer: 978 mb / 28.88 inches - steady
Wind: 16 knots / 18 mph from the NE
Wind Chill: -8C / 18F
Air Temp: +4C / 39F
Sea Temp: +0C / 32F

2/22/03 – 10:00 pm (2200 hours)

Latitude: 64 33' S
Longitude: 62 32' W

Cruising north at 8.5 knots in the Gerlache Straight.

The afternoon was spent diving at Cuverville Island. It was an interesting dive. A shore dive that slowly dropped off into deeper water. On the way out, we spotted a pair of Humpback Whales that had actually spy-hopped in front of one of the zodiacs. At the dive site, we were able to dive around several small icebergs, one of which lost a piece right in front of us!

Tonight as we motored north, a pod of Humpback Whales entertained us with breaching and other surface displays. What a site as the light of day slowly faded away to see these magnificent animals in their full repertoire of surface behavior. On the bridge of the boat, a curious silence overtook the small group that was gathered there as we watched this unfold in front of us – even the constant Russian banter between the crew members stopped and everyone was either silent or speaking in hushed voices. This is the grandeur of the whales.

Birds, Mammals and Marine Life Sighted
Gentoo Penguin, Unidentified Penguin (swimming), Cape Petrel, Imperial Cormorant (blue-eyed), Skua (Brown and/or South Polar), Kelp Gull, Tern (probably mostly Antarctic), Weddell Seal, Humpback Whale, Sea Anemones, Starfish, Limpets, Sea Urchins, Sponges


Day 8: Sunday, 23 February 2003
Gerlache Strait, Hydruga Rocks

Russian for the day:
VSIO HOROSHOU (Everything's ok)

2/23/03 – 3:30 pm (1530 hours) (scuba diving)

Latitude: 64 09' S
Longitude: 61 36' W

What an amazing morning!

We started the day debating whether we wanted to dive or not since we expected good wildlife on shore. We decided to dive and what a great choice it was! We selected a spot that was new to the dive guide (perhaps never been dove before). It was a cove filled with brash ice so it was like diving in a giant slurpee. We took lots of photographs in the brash ice because it was such a photogenic experience and because it really conveys the sense of cold here in Antarctica.

The dive itself was great. Lots of invertebrate life – purple sea stars, brittle stars, yellow stars and limpets. We also saw Spiny Plunder Fish and a Crocodile Dragon Fish. The site slopes steeply to 50 feet with a dense growth of kelp and then levels off at 50 feet with a sandy bottom. From there, it slopes gradually downward. Just a great dive! On the zodiac ride back, we encountered a leopard seal on an ice-flow and we were able to approach quite closely to take some good photos before he scampered off.

After a quick change, we went out to the rocks to photograph Chinstrap Penguins, Fur Seals and Weddell Seals sleeping in the snow. What a great feeling to see these beautiful creatures so close and have them so unconcerned with our presence. So far this has been a magnificent day. We only have 1 day left, though, and we still need some sunshine!

2/23/03 – 7:37 pm (1937 hours)

We have been informed that a medical emergency has occurred on board. One of the passengers has been suffering from internal bleeding for several days. His condition is worsening and a decision was made to evacuate him. Unfortunately this cannot be done easily due to our remote location. We are now moving south to retrieve the Sea Kayaking group that left the ship 5 days ago. Once they are retrieved, we will make a 12 hour run to the South Shetland Islands, where an air evacuation is possible from King George Island. This is obviously unfortunate, but the safety of everyone is paramount. This highlights the danger and remoteness of this place. Antarctica did not cause the condition of the passenger, but the remoteness and lack of facilities is a major risk.

In the meantime, we listened to a fascinating lecture by Tashi Tenzing on an expedition to summit Mt. Everest. Tashi is the grandson of Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who first summited Everest with Edmund Hillary.

2/23/03 – 10:00 pm (2200 hours)

Ship's Position & Weather Conditions
Latitude: 64 48' S
Longitude: 62 50' W
Speed: 12.5 knots / 14 mph
Course: 35
Barometer: 978 mb / 28.88 inches - steady
Wind: 6 knots / 7 mph from the N
Wind Chill: 1C / 33F
Air Temp: +5C / 41F
Sea Temp: +0C / 32F

Birds, Mammals and Marine Life Sighted
Chinstrap Penguin, Wilson's Storm-petrel, Imperial Cormorant (blue-eyed), Skua (Brown and/or South Polar), Kelp Gull, Tern (probably mostly Antarctic), Antarctic Fur Seal, Weddell Seal, Leopard Seal, Humpback Whale, Sponges, Starfish, Limpets, Sea Urchins, Spiny Plunder Fish, Crocodile Dragon Fish


Day 9: Monday, 24 February 2003
South Shetlands, King George Island

Russian for the day:
ADIN, DVD, TRI (One, Two, Three)

2/24/03 – 11:41 am (scuba diving)

We are approaching King George Island in the South Shetland Islands. The sun is out, the air is crisp and the sea relatively calm. Last night, though, as we made our way up the Bransfield Straight, the boat was rolling quite a bit and it was difficult to sleep. Earlier this morning, there was a report of a pod of Orca near the boat along with some Humpback Whales. We were downstairs listening to a presentation on the recovery of Chinese porcelain off the Nanking Wreck and missed the Orca but did see the Humpbacks. We are tired and apprehensive about going back across the Drake Passage. A feeling of sadness that trip is coming to a close is also starting to creep in. On the other hand, it will be nice to go home. There’s a lot of mixed emotions right now.

2/24/03 – 3:53 pm (1553 hours)

Latitude: 62 12' S
Longitude: 58 56' W

We are anchored at the Chilean Base on King George Island.

We evacuated Ray (the sick passenger) here. It was quite a tense and solemn moment. He was carried out on a backboard, strapped in with an IV attached and placed into a zodiac. The zodiac was then raised by crane off the deck and into the water. He was then sped away to the base. Moments earlier, a small plane had arrived so the entire operation was well coordinated. Aurora Expeditions certainly handled this emergency very well and in a professional manner. After the evacuation, we made a landing here to visit the base. Quite an extensive operation – lots of small buildings, residences, a post office, a souvenir shop and a beautiful little church. A lone Emperor Penguin was on the shore, along with lots of Skuas. Our impression, though, of the base was that it was a bit dreary and messy – and it must be a very long and cold winter that is passed here each year by those who stay over.

2/24/03 – 9:55 pm (2155 hours)

We are just departing Robert Island in the South Shetlands for the journey home. The rumor is of a storm in the Drake and we may be in for a very rough crossing. We hope not.

Our final dive of the expedition was completed at Robert Pt., on Robert Island, this evening. It was not a very good dive. Poor visibility and a strong surge made the dive difficult. Lots of kelp covered the bottom and the constant surging gave us a mild case of vertigo! We saw an Antarctic Cod, though, and a brief fly-by of a Fur Seal. In summary, the diving in Antarctica was not terribly exciting in and of themselves. Still, the remoteness, the cold and the fact that we were diving in previously unexplored areas makes all the dives interesting. The marine life, in some cases, is quite beautiful and alien, but in other cases, there isn’t that much too see. For wildlife viewing, the land explorations were much more interesting.

We are saying goodbye to Antarctica after a very exciting and full trip. It really does seem like another world down here. We have been so isolated – we have no idea what is happening at home or in the rest of the world. It seems strange. And now the ominous Drake is upon us. This will probably be our “Departure Tax” from this special place.

2/24/03 – 10:15 pm (2215 hours)

Ship's Position & Weather Conditions
Latitude: 62 21' S
Longitude: 59 14' W
Speed: 12.5 knots / 14 mph
Course: 17
Barometer: 993 mb / 27.55 inches - steady
Wind: 16 knots / 18 mph from the N
Wind Chill: -3C / 26F
Air Temp: +7C / 45F
Sea Temp: +0C / 32F

Birds, Mammals and Marine Life Sighted
Emperor Penguin, Antarctic Fur Seal, Giant Petrel Sp. (Northern and/or Southern), Skua (Brown and/or South Polar), Humpback Whale, Antarctic Cod


Day 10: Tuesday, 25 February 2003
Drake Passage

Russian for the day:
DA ZAFTRA (See You Tomorrow)

2/25/03 – 11:20 am

We are rolling through a rough sea in the Drake Passage. We have sullen, overcast skies with rain and 30 knot winds. This is forcing 10 foot swells from the East to the West. The boat is rolling from side to side as these waves hit starboard to port. So far we are holding up well. This is a monotonous part of the trip. We just spent some time listening to a lecture on wreck diving in the Aukland Islands to pass some time. It is quite an impressive site from the bridge, looking over the bow as the boat digs into the oncoming waves. Chaotic wind driven swells and occasional spray over the bow. The Drake Passage is not for the weak at heart and some passengers are sick this morning.

2/25/03 – 4:30 pm (1630 hours)

The seas have calmed a bit during the mid-day period and the weather has improved. The sun came out and the wind died down. Still the seas are around 8 feet with larger swells but they are not as chaotic.

Outside there are some interesting seabirds following the ship. Sooty Shearwaters, Wandering Albatross and Black-Browed Albatross are all gliding gracefully in the wind, dipping behind the waves and just barely avoiding the water. It really is quite amazing that these birds live virtually their entire lives at sea in the Southern Ocean. It is more amazing to see how graceful they are. They soar in the wind currents with barely a perceptible movement of their body they almost never flap their wings! We spotted some whales in the distance but they were too far to identify. Some passengers reported seeing a pod of Blue Whales 20’ off the bow and another reported the very distinctive blow of a Sperm Whale.

It is amazing to be traveling across such a wild expanse of ocean and yet never see another ship. It is a beautifully wild and lonely place. Unlike other oceans, we have never spotted garbage or trash in the water during this expedition – no sign of Man whatsoever. It is as if the Southern Ocean, the Drake Passage in particular, forms a protective barrier around the continent. It is too rough for most to travel here and this seems to help to keep the continent safe. It is like a defense shield for a large organism.

2/25/03 – 6:52 pm (1852 hours)

We are slogging through a very much-increased sea. Although the sun is out, we are now in at least 20 foot seas, with 25 or 30 foot occasional swells. Huge swells are rolling by the boat and the boat is rocking and pitching greatly. Looks can be deceiving - it is a nice, sunny day outside with such a high sea. Dinner is impossible tonight.

2/25/03 – 9:00 pm (2100 hours)

Ship's Position & Weather Conditions
Latitude: 58 58' S
Longitude: 64 46' W
Speed: 9.7 knots / 10 mph
Course: 320
Barometer: 975 mb / 28.79 inches - steady
Wind: 30 knots / 35 mph from the NW
Wind Chill: -7C / 19F
Air Temp: +7C / 45F
Sea Temp: +4C / 39F

Birds and Mammals Sighted
Wandering Albatross, Blacked-browed Albatross, Sooty Shearwater


Day 11: Wednesday, 26 February 2003
Drake Passage / Cape Horn / Beagle Channel

Russian for the day:
DA SVIDANYA (Good bye)

2/26/03 - 09:35 am

Last night, we were in a force 8 or 9 sea. It was a tough night to be comfortable, to eat or to sleep. The waves continued to roll the ship incessantly and sleeping really was difficult. We skipped dinner but, of course, then awoke famished!

The seas are still running at 15-20’ and very large swells continue to roll the ship. It is partly cloudy outside with some breaks of occasional brilliant sunshine. We are anticipating “rounding the Horn” somewhere around 5pm today. It will be a relief to see land and to get into the lee of Tierra del Fuego where, presumably, the seas will die down. Spotted a lone Black-Browed Albatross performing aerial maneuvers off the portside earlier.

2/26/03 - 3:33 pm (1533 hours)

Finally, land is sighted. Cape Horn and the tip of South America. It is a welcome site after the past two days at sea. The water is still very rough and uncomfortable, with a dull gray overcast and a roaring wind. The boat is plowing through the seas, sending huge clouds of spray into the air. The plan is to round Cape Horn and then we will finally be in calmer water.

2/26/03 - 5:10 pm (1710 hours)

We have “rounded the Horn” and are heading for the Beagle Channel. We are finally in calmer water after 2 days of near constant pounding. It is a great relief.

Cape Horn is a rugged looking piece of land that juts out into the ocean like a sentinel. Covered with jagged rocks and green moss, it is beautiful in a wild, natural way. Flying around the rocks and the waters are the ever-present Sooty Shearwaters and Black-Browed Albatross. Cape Horn is such a famous place. Sailors from centuries ago wrote of horrific efforts to pass through these waters as they tried to make their way to the pacific or back home to the Old World. We can see first hand how turbulent and wild this place and these waters are. Below the ship, undoubtedly, are the remains of many an unfortunate vessel that met with an untimely end in these savage seas. It is a time for reflection.

Birds and Mammals Sighted
Wandering Albatross, Blacked-browed Albatross, Gray-headed Albatross


Day 12: Thursday, 27 February 2003
Ushuaia - Disembark

Russian for the day:
SHISTLIVI (Safe Travels)

Total Distance of Voyage = 1951 nm

2/27/03 - 07:05 am

We have arrived in Ushuaia. The journey is over and already Antarctica seems and feels a world away.


Day 13: Friday, 28 February 2003
Buenos Aires/New York - Flight Home

2/28/03 - 10:00 pm (2200 hours)

We are on the American Airlines flight home from Buenos Aires. Its interesting how Antarctica already feels like a world away. Yesterday was a lazy day in Ushuaia. We wandered around looking for souvenirs, had some lunch and went to see the Polar Pioneer off on their next voyage. It was a little bittersweet watching the next group get settled, knowing full well what they had in store. It was also an interesting time on the pier because a research vessel was loading a huge payload of scientific gear (side-scan sonar, ROVs, etc.) for some kind of search/research mission for the Discovery Channel. The crew wouldn’t tell us what they were going to be looking for but they said the show would broadcast in June.

There was a fierce wind blowing and we all felt that the Drake must be rough – the dock workers reported that the seas were 30 feet and forecast to keep building through the next few days. Boy, the Polar Pioneer must be slogging through some rough times at this moment! Soon enough, the boat pulled away from the dock and we waved goodbye and good luck. She began to make her way down the Beagle Channel under a setting sun and, miraculously, a rainbow.

Today, we left Ushuaia at 9:15 am on an Aerolineas Argentinas flight to Buenos Aires. Uneventful.

After taking a bus through the city to the International Airport, we spent time rearranging our checked luggage to avoid excess baggage charges. We also spent time chatting with various passengers from the just completed Antarctic voyage – it seemed as if the group was everywhere in the airport! First we talked with Olaf the kayaker, then we said hello to others in his group. Eventually, the great news was that we ran into Ray, the evacuated patient. He was alive and well! Apparently, he spent some time in a Chilean hospital, received some needed medical care, and was now heading home with his daughter. So great that he survived…he was in some danger of not surviving.

We said goodbye to Dave the photographer from Australia and Nola from California.

Antarctica 2003 - CrewAntarctica has long been an obsession and a fascination for us. We’re not sure why. Perhaps the remoteness of it, the extremeness of it, the wildness of it, the unspoiled environment all contribute. We’re so glad we were there. Was it everything we thought it would be?

Well, yes and no.

The wildlife was spectacular. Getting close to penguins and watching their everyday lives – chicks pestering their mothers for food – was endlessly entertaining. So awkward and ungainly on land and so supremely dedicated and strong at the same time, they are amazing creatures.

We were so thrilled to see Weddell Seals and Leopard Seals up close, as well as Fur Seals. It was especially nice to see the seals sleeping and to be so absolutely unconcerned with our presence.

The sea birds of the Southern Ocean were fabulous – the Petrals and Albatrosses and Shearwaters are just fascinating. How they can fly for so long and with so little effort!

We were delighted to see so many whales in the Southern Ocean. We can only imagine how it must have been before the advent of whaling. The seas must have been teeming with these leviathans.

The icebergs and mountains were breathtakingly beautiful. The day we spent in the zodiacs touring the icebergs in “ice berg park” was just about the most breathtaking thing we’ve ever experienced.

We liked the diving, but things are more beautiful above the water.

The weather in Antarctica showed its full range – we were glad to get some snow storms and fierce weather and we were happy for the tranquil times. We would have preferred more sunlight, though, to really make some of the photographs "pop".

The stormy seas of the Drake Passage were both what we hoped for and what we feared. The Drake is a fearsome place, no other way to say it. It is lonely, nasty, dangerous and sublimely beautiful…all at the same time.

We can only say, though, we would have liked more time. More time and more solitude. More “quality time” with the wildlife and less "transit time". We would like to go deeper and further south. Antarctica has teased us with a peak into its majesty. We have only glimpsed a tiny fraction of the continent and the wonderful mysteries it contains. It is a special place, Antarctica. It protects itself through viscous seas and violent weather, which challenges the human limits of endurance. Yet, when penetrated, Antarctica reveals a beauty of uncompromising standards.

May it always be so.

Climbers and Photographers Voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula - February 2003
The following Trip Log is available online, Courtesy of Aurora Expeditions and is a PDF copy of the actual passenger trip log created from the 16 February – 27 February 2003 voyage aboard the Polar Pioneer.

Print Log  Antarctic Peninsula Log - February 2003 - 1.8 MB ( pdf help )

For more information:


Russian Phrases

Some phrases listed below have audio tracks, click on the "English" phrase to listen to it in Russian. ( English to Russian Phonetic Index Online Talking Dictionary )

Hello Good Morning Good Night Yes No Thank You Ten Nine Eight Seven Three Two One Four Five Six You are Welcome Russian Phases

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