We’ll Always Have Antarctica

What’s it like sailing to Antarctica?

It’s like walking into a cathedral.

The hundreds of passengers gathered on the upper decks of our cruise ship around 4 p.m. that day were hushed as we caught the first sight of the Antarctic peninsula, that long finger of the continent that stretches some 800 miles north into the southern Atlantic Ocean toward the tip of South America.

We were part of it, joining our fellow passengers on deck, experiencing the awe, the silence except for the howling wind, breathing it in.

We took pictures, of course, but for a while no one said a word.

This was a trip of a lifetime for all of us.

Ted and I had been dreaming of a sail to Antarctica from the southern coast of South America for nearly 30 years, ever since I’d read an article in the BBC’s Music magazine about an international music festival in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world … and a mere 680 miles from the Antarctic peninsula.

On Friday, January 20, 2023, we did it. Six days after sailing from Buenos Aires, we were experiencing the icy, windblown grandeur that is Antarctica.

Here’s a photo play-by-play:

On our third day out from Buenos Aires, we stopped in Ushuaia. There was no room at the pier in this busy port town, so we dropped anchor and tendered in on the morning of Wednesday, January 18, 2023.

Ushuaia is a tourist town … gift shops, chocolate shops, outfitter shops. I declined photographing the Hard Rock Cafe, but we did pick up a cap and T-shirts at a lively local gift shop.

We spent the day on a cool catamaran trip through the Beagle Channel that divides the islands of Tierra del Fuego, which were discovered by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520. It was beautiful.

Plenty of penguins and sea lions hang out here. If only everyone got along so well back home!

Our ship rounded Cape Horn the next morning and entered the treacherous waters of Drake’s Passage, where three oceans converge with no land in sight. We knew about its dangers. We knew it would take 30 hours to cross.

We got the full experience! It was calm at first, but later it was “Drake’s Shake” rather than “Drake’s Lake.”

Our captain said the waves were 15 feet high. A wave above 6 meters (19+ feet) is dangerous for any ship, he told us.

There was some seasickness on board, but we and the buddies we had made on our ship were OK. I’m lucky that I actually like the rocking motion of a ship on rough waters. I thought it might bother me here, but it didn’t. No Dramamine required. Ted was OK, too. We felt we’d achieved something, though we hadn’t done much but enjoy the ride.

This is one of our first close-up views of Antarctica as we entered the calmer waters of Schollaert Channel at 4 p.m. on Friday, January 20.

Suddenly, we were at the icy heart of our adventure. The air was bitingly, blazingly cold as we sailed by hundreds of icebergs on this summer day near the 65th Parallel South. The wind roared.

Temps were in the 20s and winds ranged from 10 to 45 knots. That’s “strong gale” class on the naval Beaufort wind scale, powerful enough to tear a slate shingle off a roof. But the icebergs were so amazing.

The overwhelming scenery defied rational perspective. This Arc de Triomphe-style iceberg looked tiny, but our onboard naturalist estimated it stood 800 feet tall against the towering 4,000-foot peak behind it.

Blue ice is old ice that has come from the deep, where intense pressures increase its density so that only blue light reflects from its surface. An experienced ice navigator helped get us through this challenging sail.

Hot chocolate with liquor shots kept the cold at bay. After a while, the ship’s atmosphere changed from hushed awe to something like New Year’s Eve. We were in Antarctica! Let’s party!

Like us, many of the ship’s 2,000 passengers had had this trip on the Bucket List for years. One couple from Nashville was celebrating for another reason: The wife had achieved her goal of visiting all seven continents by age 30.

I love this shot of Ted gazing in wonder as the ship entered Paradise Bay around 7 p.m. that Friday evening.

Known for its jaw-dropping scenery, Paradise Bay is the main Antarctic destination for many, and one of the few coves along the peninsula that cruise ships are allowed to enter.

Snow and sleet were moving in, so our visibility was limited in Paradise Bay. After nearly four hours on various decks of the ship, we’d already had our fill of fantastic views, so we contentedly headed inside.

We did stop to see our Argentine cruise director don his jersey and play a little soccer in the snow on the ship’s netted-over sports court. It’s his tradition every time he works an Antarctic cruise. He was a delight, as were all the crew on the Celebrity ship.

We changed out of our wet clothes and went to dinner, where we saw another ship passing in the blue mist. It was wonderfully eerie.

A handy clothesline in our cabin’s shower held our wet gear …

… which we donned again the next day for our sail north to Elephant Island. It came into view around 4 p.m. on Saturday, January 21. This was the sight I’d been waiting for … and here we were.

We’d read the book Endurance, and knew this island played a major role in the story. Ernest Shackleton’s men camped here in 1916 as they made their way to England from Antarctica, where ice had crushed their ship.

This glacier on Elephant Island is named Endurance after Shackleton’s ship. I got all choked up as we approached it. We both loved the book, one of the world’s great adventure stories.

Every man on Shackleton’s expedition survived against unbelievable odds. We had only a taste of what they endured for two years, in the days long before Gore-Tex and instant handwarmers. I don’t know how they did it.

So, reading Endurance made us appreciate our trip even more, and vice versa. Our trip made us appreciate the book even more, too. It’s a must-read if you ever decide to go to Antarctica. And I hope you do. The trip is worth every layer of clothing. Every icy breath. Every lunge among the crests in Drake’s Passage.

Back home, we’re planning the next adventure.

“I can’t believe we went to Antarctica,” I said to Ted one day at lunch after we were back in Atlanta. Grateful to be safely home, still processing the wonders we’d seen.

And laughing about stories like my chasing a piece of Kleenex that blew out of my hand and stomping it before it flew overboard into the pristine waters of Antarctica. The performance drew applause from a British passenger on deck.

“I can’t believe I’ll be 70 in a few weeks,” Ted said now, stirring his bowl of pho. “I don’t feel old, do you?”

“No,” I said. “Though I’ve noticed in some recent photos that at 70, I’m developing a bit of a stoop.”

“You are.”

Ted is never one to mince words.

“I’ll work on that, but some things overtake us when we’re not looking.”

“You look great,” he said. “Besides, we have other things to focus on. Norway! In August!”

It’s our next international trip for 2023. So while we’re savoring the memories of Antarctica, we’re planning to make more memories this summer in Scandinavia. Or as Ted says, we’re going to see the top and the bottom of the world in 2023. And I hope we’ll get to reconnect with the Holms, a lovely Danish couple we met on the cruise.

We are determined to do as much as we can, while we can.

Sounds good to me. All it takes is a little endurance.

NOTE: Robert is my first name, the name on my passport and on the ship’s log for this trip.

7 thoughts on “We’ll Always Have Antarctica

  1. What a wonderful trip, Mike & Ted! An thank you for recording all (okay, maybe, hopefully, not all!) your experiences! Love the photos and the commentary.

    Celebrity is our choice for the Galapagos (try #2 in August). Can’t wait!

    Love, B.



    1. Thanks for reading, Barbara! Fingers crossed for a successful second try to the Galapagos. Sounds wonderful. We really enjoyed Celebrity. Their naturalist who gave lectures onboard was amazing. Love, M.


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