Cruising South To The Antarctic

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Cruising South To The Antarctic

Two nautical charts are on the ship’s navigation table. Never surveyed waters surround the ship, according to both charts. A reasonable path, the captain opts to maintain a course drawn on depth soundings. This channel is new to him, though he’s sailed the Antarctic many, many times. Go to this site for further information on <a href=’http://www.auroraexpeditions.com.au/antarctica-cruise.aspx’>antarctica cruise adventures</a>.  Oncoming dusk makes it harder to see, then the heavy snow starts. The icebergs encumbering the channel are even harder to track as the giant snowflakes cling to the windows. We luckily have radar, which shows us a safe route to follow. The large ice blocks show up orange on the screen. One enormous glob dominates the channel ahead on the monitor. The ice is only three kilometers from us.  The captain whispers his command at one kilometer.   No one else speaks. The helmsman deftly moves the wheel and the ship alters its course. Peeking through the snow and fog, we see the ghostly tabular iceberg.  It’s a sight that can only be experienced in the southern ocean. Sporting straight sides that rise rapidly into the air, this berg is over one hundred feet tall.  The top is very flat and very wide.  Not for the first time, has the sheer magnitude of Antarctica stopped me in my tracks. We are heading to the Antarctic Circle in our polar class cruise vessel. We’ll pass some of the most desolate and inhospitable areas in this world as we travel. After being discovered in 1820, another 79 years went by before a human spent the winter there. Explorers were quick to search for the South Pole, but soon perished.  Scientist came next. Just recently, tourists who were not filthy rich could begin visiting Antarctica. You could experience Antarctica for about the same cost as visiting a Caribbean island. Go to this site for further information on <a href=’http://www.auroraexpeditions.com.au/antarctica-cruise.aspx’>adventure antarctica cruises</a>.  Antarctica looks a little bit like a manta ray with a curved tail. South America is separated from Antarctica by 500 miles of ocean. This is known as Drake Passage.  It is home to the roughest seas on the planet. It has also been called the ‘Slobbering Jaws of Hell’ and extracts a high price for passage. One caring passenger reminds us to stow our gear carefully and then make sure our cabin portholes are latched well.  After sailing from Ushuaia, in Argentina, we sailed through the Beagle Channel and reached the open ocean. We spent two days on very rough seas with no land in sight. The wind approached gale force for the entire time. As waves broke over the bow, ocean spray shot up beyond my fourth deck window. Swells could be seen in the range of fifteen to forty feet; size varied according to the observer’s level of seasickness.  The Southern Ocean greeted us two days out from South America. The view of a coastal enclave filled my porthole the next morning. Due to the land, the water seemed to have quieted. The tops of the high mountains were sheathed in wispy clouds. The ridges stuck through the smooth glaciers at sharp angles. Rough, tumbled ice filled with cracks and dirt fell into the sea in large slabs. The mountains, which looked they could house Everest, appeared to jump straight up from the sea.  One traveler found the travel to Antarctica to be akin to childbirth’s labor. Antarctica is the world’s windiest, driest, coldest and highest continent. Holding 70 percent of earth’s fresh water, the polar plateau gets the same amount of precipitation as Death Valley does. No animals stay all year long on Antarctica and there is no indigenous human population.  No one even owns the land.  The shore landings and sailing routes must depend on the weather. Though we’ve been counseled by the guides to remain flexible, our original shore landing becomes reality. We’ve been assigned groups and told to meet on deck. I climb into an inflatable boat with the nine other people in my group. We quickly ride across the quarter mile of water. And then, with just one step, I am among the few who can say they’ve stood on the Antarctic Continent.

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