Inside Antarctica: Ship Life on an Antarctica Cruise – Then and Now

Nate Small March 5, 2014 0

As I sit and write this, our Antarctica cruise ship is slowly rolling past Cape Horn.  Sailors around the world revere this cape. Thankfully today, the ocean spares me. The wind speed is a mere 20 knots (roughly 23 miles per hour) and the waves are just a gentle roll from a storm that had passed a few days before. Had I been here during that storm it would have been a different story.

Ship deck, Antarctica expedition, approaching icebergs

A view from the ship deck during the voyage to Antarctica. © Colin McNulty

An Antarctica Expedition nowadays is a very different beast than when the old time sailors came down here in the late 1800s. In Derek Lundy’s book The Way of a Ship: A Square-rigger Voyage in the Last Days of Sail, he describes what happens when the wind blew hard: “The ship does a heavy roll, the seamen [hauling sail in on the main mast] must pause and hang on, with their bellies, eyelids, anything remotely flexible, as the yardarm dips seaward at a forty-five degree angle. They could slide off and down with ease, their fall a graceful, effortless parabola into the sea.”

We are fortunate that sailing to Antarctica now takes a mere 2 days and is accompanied by presentations and opportunities to learn all about the wonders around you. One can sit in the lounge and enjoy a nice cup of hot chocolate of tea and watch the ocean and birds roll past.

Instead of hard tack and weevils, like the seamen would have eaten in Lundy’s book, my meal tonight is rack of lamb with mashed sweet potatoes and more fresh salad and greens than I can ever dream of eating.

I took a timelapse video of one of our al fresco dinners on the ship during my last voyage.  Have you ever seen a more gorgeous setting for a BBQ?

Once down in Antarctica, our explorations are by Zodiac and the ship. Our zodiacs are equipped with a good reliable 60hp…probably a bit stronger than the 8 dogs that used to haul sledges over massive distances (though arguably, the dogs would make a much nicer friend than the zodiac). If the wind starts blowing a bit too strong or the temperature gets a bit too cold, instead of hunkering down behind an iceberg for the night and cooking up a fresh seal, we get take a short boat ride back to the ship, take a nice warm shower, maybe go to the sauna or the gym, and get fed again…maybe this time a nice chicken curry stir-fry.

Antarctica cruise zodiac excursion, whale watching

Humpback whale sighting on a zodiac excursion. © Colin McNulty

When it comes time for the crazy folks on board to go spend a night camping on the snow in Antarctica, we don’t have to beat our reindeer sleeping bags into submission as the old explorers did. After a wonderful meal on the ship we leave the warm ship behind and cozy up in big warm sleeping bags with fleece liners and a nice waterproof bivy to go over the whole deal.

Antarctica camping, tent, on shore

Tents set up for a night of camping onshore. © Ted Martens

When we wake up in the morning, instead of freezing the bag open so you can climb into it the next night, we merely shove it all into a bag and head back to the ship for…another meal. Maybe some nice bacon and eggs this time, or perhaps some fluffy pancakes. Fresh Yogurt? Yes please.

By the way, when do we eat next?

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