On 2 March 2016 we joined Antarctica XXI and boarded the M/V Ocean Nova heading towards the Antarctica. These 10 days we have no access to internet so I chose to record what happened on our voyage in diary format. As I written my diary in thorough details, I’ve decided to make it into two parts.
DAY 1: On board M/V Ocean Nova
This is the day that we are boarding Ocean Nova. We have used up 1/4 of our one year budget on this 10 days trip so I was quite naturally nervous about starting our journey. I couldn’t stop worrying if our clothes/gear will stand the cold of Antarctica since we couldn’t carry too much in our 8Kg carry on luggage. We shall know after 2 days in the notorious Drake Passage (Further Reading: Packing List for Long Term Travel in a 8Kg Carry-on)
At 3PM we arrived at the Ushuaia’s port. Before we enter, our bags needed to be checked first. Probably to check if we are bringing any weapon to a 10 day boat expedition. Soon we saw our boat, the Ocean Nova and my first impression was “OMG it’s so small” the total length of the boat is only around 72 meters long. The ride shall be a rocky one. But we soon learnt that smaller boats are better for an Antarctica Expedition as it is better at navigating the Antarctic’s icy and iceberg full sea.
Before we even board the ship, we are met with a team of smiley and fully enthusiastic team from Ocean Nova. Those smile reminds me of the workers at Disneyland, the world’s happiest place. After confirming your name, your luggage will be sent to your room. We were greeted like stars and seated to fill out a form to confirm that we will be passing by Chile. Immediately after, a person guided us to our room and show us how to use our room card. This service is definitely on par with any five star hotel.
Before we board we were warned that this boat’s facility isn’t luxurious but my thoughts now were that if this isn’t luxurious, what kind of service does a luxury cruise give? The people boarded early are allowed to explore the ship for a while and at 5pm the ship finally is leaving the port of Usuaia. York and I are setting off on our 7th continent in the world at the age 27. We were so excited and after we all raised our glasses to cheer “Bon Voyage” with the captain, the reality that we are travelling to Antarctica seems to be slowly sinking in. Most of the passengers we saw seemed to be retired couples and the younger passengers were the minority.
If you have been following my blog, you will know that that York and I have been only spending less than $15USD a day on two meals in the very expensive place of Patagonia region. Food in Patagonia was much more expensive than Buenos Aires (Further Reading: Buenos Aires: 5 Days in Paris of South America). So after seeing entrée, main and dessert served with unlimited sides and wine, we were slightly over whelmed with happiness. There is also a ship doctor that offered each passenger a bag of anti-nausea pills to counter sea sickness. It was a great first day and soon we will sail into the Drake’s Passage.
Although we only have been on board for less than four hours, York and I have met so many people over the world aboard the Ocean Nova and we were truly inspired by everyone we met.
After 10pm, we were really tired after our day of socializing but was full of excitement and went to sleep on the ship rocking lightly like a cradle.
Note: Drake’s passage is the world’s widest passage, 800km long. It is notorious for its rough sea and many people fear this stretch of water when they travel to Antarctica. Hence now, some travel agencies allow you to fly over this stretch of water before you start your cruise for a hefty price.
Day 2: M/V Ocean Nova in the Drake Passage.
This morning, I was woken up by the boat severely tilted on one side and rocking severely. It was our unofficial welcome to the Drake’s Passage. By the time I woke up I felt that my head was blood filled.
We were woken up at 7:30 which I felt was still quite early but was a lot better than all the kitchen and waiting staff which has been awake since 5:00. When we were at the restaurant on level three, we were overwhelmed by the breakfast selection. For hostel breakfast for the last two weeks, we only had choices of white bread and sweet bread. Here on the Ocean Nova we had the options of hard boiled eggs, scramble eggs, cereals, sausages, porridge, croissants, healthy selection of breads and fruits. All the possible breakfast variety was at our choosing.
I tried a bit of everything and eaten them with no consideration that I was on the rockiest ship in my life. Also since I was feeling well in the morning I refused to take my sea sickness pill. At 9:30 we had a talk on birds in Antarctica. Since it will take two days to arrive in Antarctica, we had many talks scheduled. I was starting to feel quite sick before the talk so York gave me a sea-sick tablet. However within 10 minutes, I ran back to my room and vomited out all my breakfast with my anti-nausea tablet.
I was forced by York to take another tablet. I slept till 11:00am and felt better so I went to the talk on Glaciers and Icebergs. But then it was York’s turn to be sick. At lunch we have a very good selection of buffet but at that time, the boat was rocking very severely. Some plates were even falling off table and shattering.
By the time I have selected my food, I realized that York has mysteriously vanished. An American lady from the same table said that she saw him getting carried back to our room because his face was pale and was feeling very sick. She then told me that her own husband is vomiting in their cabin and couldn’t even come out. “Men~” was the next thing we said in sync. At that point I should have been a good fiancé and go back and check on York. Instead stayed with this American lady and had a great chat and ate all my food before I went back to check on him. Need to take care of myself before I can take care of others!
When I went back to the room, York was just staring at the ceiling. I smiled and teased him with all the photos of the food I just had. He had already taken his second anti-nausea pill for the day but was still quite nauseous. I was quite sleepy at that point so I thought I would just sleep next to him. The ship was rockier than the morning and occasionally things from the table begin to fall. No wonder there is a rope to secure the chair so it wouldn’t fall. Although we were told by the staff that this was only 3/10 of the full might of the Drake, it was still quite rocky.
Experiencing Drake Passage on Ocean Nova (Video)
There was an Antarctica documentary at 3pm but since we were so sleepy, we didn’t bother waking up to watch that. We slept till 5pm just in time to listen to the lecture on Penguin health in Antarctica. It was a very interesting talk but we could clearly see the amount of people has decreased. They are most probably sea sick and asleep. By dinner time at 7 we could see that the amount of people has decreased by about 1/4.
Until today, I didn’t realized that ginger is such a great anti-nausea. There were ginger sweets provided for every meal and the chefs also prepared carrots and ginger soup at dinner time today. The young charming head chef is always there at dinner serving the soups. After York and I drank this soup, we felt a lot better and were keen to eat. For ever dinner, our entrees are at the table already before we sit. We always have the option to select a meat dish (Explorer) or a seafood dish (Ocean). The food was so plentiful and I have a feeling that I was going to get really fat after 10 days of this eating. York was still quite sick even after his third lot of medication for sea sickness so we went straight back to our room after dinner. I used that valuable evening to write more into this diary blog.
Day 3: Life on Ocean Nova for the second day.
It was boat was still very rocky this morning. I decided before slept the previous night to change sides to sleep. Since the window side should be the most impacted by the rolling of the ship so I slept with my head pointing towards the center of the ship. It was a better sleep but I still felt like I was on the ride “Pirate Ship” for the whole night.
Today was another whole day on the Drake Passage and every direction you see is hundreds of Km of sea. We are truly secluded. The weather was a lot different to yesterday as it was a bit cloudy. The moment when the Captain of Ocean NoVA told us that we are now within the Antarctic sea, the whole cruise cheered. We could see that most people are adapting to the lifestyle on the rocky boat and everyone appears a lot better especially around meal times.
On this second day we ate really well and we wanted to try every food on our buffet lunch. It takes a lot of self-discipline to not over eat and feel sick. What’s also amazing is that we have room service twice a day. When we go for breakfast, our room angel will come and make our beds and after dinner he will come by and clean the whole room and leave a piece of chocolate that says Good Night! It was so thoughtful!
Water bottle rolling on the floor while passing Drake Passage (Video)
This afternoon we watched a documentary on Arctic and Antarctic wild life called “Frozen Planet”. We all sat there enjoying with our teas, coffees and biscuit. Although the ship was still very rocky, neither York nor I were feeling sick at all. Probably the pills we were popping were doing a great job or we are fully adapted to the rocking motion. Tomorrow morning we will reach the Antarctica Peninsula. Can’t wait!
Day 4: Deception Island & Yankee Harbor! (After 60 hrs on the Ocean Nova.)
I had the best sleep out of the three nights we had on the ship. Early this morning, the Ocean NOVA entered the South Shetland Islands which is the first group of Islands on the Antarctic Peninsula. This means the boat is now sheltered from the Drake Passage and has stopped rocking. We were woken up at 6:30am and will be starting our first landing. Everyone on this ship has not set foot on land for over 60hrs and was keen to get see some ice and wildlife. We could see icebergs all around the area and when I looked at them, I thought, “if the percentage exposed on the surface is only 10%, what is underneath must be massive!”.
It was our first landing in the Antarctic and I have chosen carefully what to wear. I thought I wouldn’t wear my full gear as if it was colder later on, I will not have any more cloths to add on! On this day I wore a heat-tech long sleeve, down jacket and water proof jacket. On the bottom I wore a base layer, convertible pants and water proof pants. I also wore my scarf, woolly hat and gloves. Now is March, the end of summer and the weather can be quite cold and change quickly.
Our first landing is called Yankee Harbor. Here we have a few variety of seals and Gentoo penguins! Since it was our first stop we couldn’t stop taking pictures as soon as we are off the boats. Our main boat doesn’t actually dock. The Ocean Nova anchors at a safe distance away from shore and we are taken to the shore on small boats called Zodiac.
Each Zodiac can only fill 10 people but there are always many Zodiacs operational at the same time. On boats less than 100 people (we have 68 passengers on Ocean Nova), all passengers could disembark at once so we could land twice a day. Big cruises can carry up to 200 passengers and on these ships, passengers will only get to do one landing.
The wild life on the beach has no fear of humans at all. Many of them completely ignores our existence, some of them stare at us when we walk pass and some of penguins even come curiously towards us. The more energetic seals can actually be dog-like and chase you if you come close to them. But at those moments we were told to not run and stand our ground, otherwise the seals will find it amusing and may chase you all the way into the sea. We were more than 10 meters away from a seal when it decided to come charging at us. At that moment I started running without a second thought but York stood there calmly. The seal continuing charging at him, stopped only one meter away and growled for one minute before it waddles away. It was such a frightening moment and I wish I did a video to show you all.
Photographing wild animals is very different to scenic shots. Every photograph can be different and you can easily take too many. My method is to delete the bad photos during the photographing sessions so you don’t have too many to go through at the end of the day.
We also have the option to do extra activities with extra costs. When you sign up for the expedition you can pay an extra $900USD to Kayak every landing if the weather permits. There is another option to pay an extra $198USD to go trekking with a trekking specialist. Doing these option will reduce the amount of time you spend on the landing but each landing is around 2.5-3hrs so there is plenty of time to do everything usually. York and I didn’t choose either of these option as we didn’t want to spend anything extra. We soon realized that there were more than enough things to do at each landing anyway so we had a lot of fun without needing to do these extra activities.
Photographing Penguins in the Snow (Video)
At this first landing, we had good weather to begin with but the wind picked up and started snowing. The gloves we brought were not water proof and soon our hands were freezing up. We decided to return to our boat half an hour early with many others and sip on hot tea.
Although there isn’t any small penguin chicks anymore in March, you get to see the bigger versions of them still shredding their baby down.
We still stayed outside for over one hour and a half and I took all the photos that I wanted. Luckily our newly met Taiwanese friend has an extra pair of gloves and this has made so much difference for the later landings. The cold has really deprived my energy reserves and I was so hungry for lunch.
Mini-Antarctica Storm (Video)
In the afternoon we head towards a volcano island called Deception Island. This island area is in the shape of a horse hoof because the hollowed out center is where the volcano collapsed on itself. It is a perfect place for a harbor and in the 1900 it was used as a base for Whale catching. At that point, a stretch of beach is named Whaler’s Bay.
It was a depressing history when we learnt that at that time the whales were caught for their oil. The blabber is the only part whalers want from the whales and the meat and bones is discarded wastefully aside on land. Later this whole island is abandoned as whale oil demand decreased. All is left is a few building and an empty coffin from a washed out cemetery.
During our visits, we saw the remains of these human foot step in Antarctica and was disbelief at the history of this place. We were also told that the volcano we are standing on is still active and is due to erupt as it is predicted to erupt every 50 years. Luckily it wasn’t today!
At this landing, we were given the option to do the “POLAR PLUNGE”. More than 1/3 of the ship charged into the freezing waters of Antarctica wearing nothing but bathers. York was one of these insane people. Once he has taken off his multiple layers of cloths, he charged straight into the sea. York’s sister did this plunge two years ago so out of ego he must do it too.
York’s Polar Plunge! (Video)
I videoed the whole process with one hand and was taking photos with my other hand. It was such a life time experience. I was totally prepared to do the plunge as well but it was seriously so cold that day and I didn’t want to catch a flu on my first day in Antarctica.
After the plunge, York was freezing. He said he couldn’t even feel his hand and feet. We immediately returned to Ocean Nova for a hot shower. I believe everyone was trying to showering at the same time as the water was not staying warm for the first time.
Deception Island in Antarctica: Old Whaling Location (Video)
At dinner we were all very excited about our first landing and look forward to the days to come! As usual the chef cooked up some fantastic food for us hungry folks who has been burning off more energy than usual by being out in the cold.
Tomorrow we get to go to a location where we can send a post card with only $1 USD to anywhere in the world! However everyone at that station has now left and our postcard will take one whole year before we get it.
This is it for the first four day. Later I will finalize Day 5 ~ Day 10 and post them. In the next few days there are more and more new excitements on Ocean Nova, I can’t wait to share all of these with you. For any of you considering Antarctica now, you can also see my other post on “How to book last minute Antarctica cruises”