Whales and an Antarctic Circle Crossing

Diary from an Antarctic adventure in late summer

Whales and an Antarctic Circle Crossing

14 December, 2016

A recap of an Antarctic cruise in late summer - by Wild Earth GM Aaron Russ

What better way to understand a ship and destination than to spend time aboard, not just as a passenger but as the Expedition Leader. I have been fortunate to lead expeditions around the world for the last decade aboard many of the best known ships in the industry. I have just returned to the office after a month in Antarctica aboard Ponant’s Le Boréal where I led three consecutive expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula. In this case neither the ship or the destination are new to me, I have been visiting Antarctica for more than twenty years and have sailed aboard Le Boréal previously in the Antarctic and Arctic…but there is always something new and different to experience and there’s nothing like being a part of the product to get a better understanding!

I was aboard for the month of February and the ship was filled to capacity primarily with American and Australian passengers. Including the Captain Erwann Le Rouzic and his French officers, there was 140 crew aboard which I had the privilege of working closely with each day in my role managing and overseeing the expedition program (all that happens off the ship while in Antarctica). There were 12 in the expedition team whose responsibility it is to educate and inform guests on the amazing destination that is Antarctica through guiding during the landings, zodiac excursions and on board lectures. This was my department and we had an international team including staff from France, Scotland, Wales, the US and Canada plus of course a Kiwi (the nearest thing to an Aussie on the ship’s crew).

Every voyage and every day is new and different and we experienced our fair share of strong winds and adverse weather but also superlative days when there isn’t a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky and everything radiates with the sun’s warmth and energy. Below I mention a few highlights from our month of expeditions.

Whales

Late in the summer is the best time to see Humpback Whales in Antarctica and they did not disappoint! On one particularly memorable morning we launched the zodiacs in Wilhelmina Bay and enjoyed several hours with at least 30 whales in close proximity, but it was two in particular that caught my attention, resting on the surface they repeatedly drifted right up to our zodiac coming within just centimetres of us then rolling on their side to look you right in the eye. Their body awareness and control to manoeuvre a 30 tonne body with mm accuracy and their outright curiosity and desire to interact with us was astounding. There were numerous other encounters including breaching humpback Whales, an Orca pack hunting and curious Minke Whales gliding between icebergs.
Antarctic Circle
Normally it is a rare privilege to cross the Antarctic Circle and something which normally guests must book on a specific longer voyage to ensure they have a chance to experience. But with favourable ice and weather conditions plus the speed of Le Boréal we were able to take 2 of our 3 expeditions south of the Antarctic Circle and amongst the ice of Crystal Sound. Here, passengers were treated to a real Antarctic experience, thick pack ice, scenery even more grand than the more well known locations like Paradise Bay and for a lucky few even an Emperor Penguin sighting. Then there was Champagne on ice…travelling aboard a French ship there could be nothing more appropriate and of course it was done in appropriate style!
The ship – This was not my first time aboard Le Boréal but this ship continues to impress, of course on board every detail is taken care of, the service is impeccable, the food beautiful and the accommodation more than adequate. But it is the technical capability of the ship to operate in remote and hostile conditions that I am most impressed by, having spent many years on smaller expedition vessels I know only too well the motion of the Southern Ocean, but not on Le Boréal – passing Cape Horn with 70kt winds and 8 meter swells on the beam the ship is hardly moving, glasses stay firmly in the table and the ship glides through the swells in a surreal way unaffected by the commotion outside. The Captain comments over breakfast that he is disappointed he can’t correct all the list caused by the blasting winds, very minor when compared to the near lack of rolling! Ice navigation, venturing south of the Antarctic Circle saw Le Boréal navigating through pack ice and showing her strength and capability in this most hostile of environments.

At Wild Earth Travel we are not just another travel company selling just another product that we don’t know and understand. We actually know what we are talking about because we have been there and been involved. There is a wide range of options and choices and we are here to ensure that your clients get the best experience on the best ship for them. Talk to us today and rest assured that you are speaking to the experts.

Take a look at Aaron's image gallery from his voyages here

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