Antarctica, our adventure south…
By: Backwoods Adventures Guide – Joe Koehly
It is hard to believe that less than a week ago I was standing on the deck of a 270 foot long sea faring vessel watching 60, 70, maybe 100 Peale’s dolphins porpoising all around as we made 12 knots through the Beagle channel. Then again, I would have told you that many things seen on our journey to Antarctica were hard to believe had I not been there myself.
Our Backwoods Adventures Antarctica Expedition was in so many ways a success. It was a great celebration in honor of the Backwoods 40th Anniversary, it was an excellent week of steaming around the Western peninsula, and most importantly for the 7 souls who braved the infamous Drake Passage it was a dream achieved.
It was not easy going at first, after a couple flight delays and close calls at the airport; we were greeted by news of rough seas ahead. As most of the group consisted of residents of the heartland there was some trepidation, the great Midwest doesn’t naturally lend itself to earning one’s sea legs. So precautions were taken and into the storm we steamed. Nautical storms are roughly based on a scale of 0 to 12, this storm was a solid 9, gusting winds to 40 plus knots along with 20 to 30 foot swells made for some interesting meals and restless nights. However, on the morning of February 20th we passed by Smith Island to our West and we could not have been more pleased with our first glimpse of island guardians leading us to Terra Australis. Beautiful snow and ice covered mountains rising straight up out of the depths were becoming visible all around us. In the first 20 to 30 minutes of seeing land in the developing light of the morning we had spotted Fur Seals, Gentoo Penguins, and Minke Whales. Pretty soon it felt like we couldn’t travel 500 yards without seeing another group of penguins, or seals, or whales, and so it went for 5 straight days.
Clearly we had paid our dues on the high seas; once we reached Antarctica the weather couldn’t have been better; 5 straight days of calm, mostly sunny days, and no more storms. Seeing as our group would be sea kayaking each day and spending a night on the continent this was very welcome news. Our days in the kayaks were extremely rewarding; I highly recommend this option to anyone thinking of a trip to Antarctica. Being at eye level with all the wildlife made a huge difference on how we were able to view each different species. We had a couple excellent encounters with Gentoo and Adelie penguins and a day full of Leopard seals that none of us will soon forget. Being within 5 to 10 feet of one of the top predators in Antarctica was a joy in itself, but for us on this particular day we saw 10!!
In addition to the Gentoos, Adelies, Fur and Leopard seals, and Minke Whales we were able to also identify Humpback Whales, Killer Whales, Weddell seals, Crabeater seals, Elephant Seals, Chinstrap penguins, and a number of amazing sea birds, including Albatrosses and the amazing Wilson’s Storm Petrel which looks as if it can walk or stand on water. Overall we made 9 different outings from our main vessel including kayaking, zodiac cruises and landings and a ships cruise through Neptune’s Bellows at Deception Island. Between each outing and in the evenings we were treated to great meals on the ship and the services of an excellent ship staff and expedition crew. Our cabins were clean and comfortable, the ship was always tidy and the observation lounge made a great place to relax while steaming and at the end of a long day. Throughout the trip the expedition staff gave excellent lectures on the geology of Antarctica, the Southern Ocean, mammals, birds, and the history of the region among other topics. For those wanting a little more knowledge on the area and the surrounding wildlife this was a great option.
It was very tough to watch as the Ocean got bigger and the land smaller as we steamed north to Tierra del Fuego. In a very short period of time we were taken with Antarctica, truly one of the world’s most unique and beautiful gifts to its inhabitants. Lucky for us the trip back was uneventful and the seas remained very calm throughout. It was a nice reward for our group, which included some of our more season traveler’s at Backwoods Adventures. I would like to acknowledge and thank Terry & Susan Boehrer, Jim Richardson, David & Tammy Maschino, and our great photographer Tyler Gross for taking this journey. I had been asked quite a bit leading up to the trip if we would run it again next year or in the future and I was not sure. It is a long journey, not a cheap undertaking, and requires a fair amount of logistical planning. At this point there is no doubt that the answer will be YES, we will be offering this trip again. For those that love adventure, and want to see one of the world’s most beautiful and unique ecosystems this trip is it!
Once you’ve visited Antarctica you are asked to become an Antarctic ambassador, to pass onto others what you’ve seen and experienced there, and how we can all protect this fragile continent and its inhabitants. We hope to create a few more Antarctic ambassadors through Backwoods Adventures again in the future. You could be next….
For more information on the Backwoods Adventures Antarctic Expedition please visit the page on our website http://www.backwoodsadventures.com. Future voyages and dates to be determined soon!
– Joe Koehly