Travelogue: Crossing the Antarctic Circle

Our third day at sea on the Sea Adventurer was practically placid compared to the first day of travel out in the open ocean – they named the water in the Drake Passage the “Roaring 40s” for a reason. Shane’s dulcet tones woke us with an announcement about the schedule for the day, and there was certainly a round of celebration in our cabin when we heard where we expected to spend the evening! The day had finally come for us to cross the Antarctic Circle.

We trundled onward, pretty much due south, cruising a fair distance away from the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. As a matter of fact, the peninsula’s easterly curve meant we still hadn’t seen land up to that point. A challenge had been issued earlier in the voyage and bets were placed on a signup sheet as to when the first sighting of the great white continent would be.

After a much more populous breakfast, it occurred to me I hadn’t entered the aforementioned “Land Ho” competition, so I dashed up and jotted down my best guess before settling into my seat in the EDN. Dany presented a fascinating talk about the adaptations and unique elements of marine mammal physiology which allow them to dive to great depths and remain submerged for protracted lengths of time. Me being the biological sciences nerd that I am, it was my favourite of all of the lectures! It was so interesting to see the parallels to human physiology and where they deviate from us.

There was a gap in the schedule to allow the kayakers to get all their gear fitted, so I took the opportunity to sit out on the aft deck with a mug of coffee and absorb the last glimpses of uninterrupted, blue horizon on our outward journey. Phil then followed on with a discussion about glaciers – how they’re formed, how they move, and how those are affected by a multitude of factors. Yes, you read that right, glaciers move!

We had a little bit of time before lunch, so I went out on deck again to see if I could spot any hints of land. While I wish I had been the one to claim the title, it actually went to one of my fellow passengers who was out there with me at the time. Fortunately, my competitive streak was placated by being the person nearby to confirm the “Land Ho!” moment. That’s almost as cool, right…? At least my last-minute guess on timing wasn’t too far off. 😉

Apart from Santiago’s talk about the Antarctic benthonic ecosystem (sorry little guys, you’re neat, but you aren’t penguins), I pretty much spent the afternoon rattling around the ship, waiting for the promised excitement. During dinner there was a ripple of excitement and someone announced across the room that they could see spouts of water through the windows on the starboard side of the ship. I literally jumped up, flung my sweatshirt hood over my head, and dashed outside with my camera in hand.

A pod of whales was our first mammalian sighting! I hung off the railing, muscles fasiculating to keep me warm, until the beautiful creatures dove back down into the black depths.

The night extended as we progressed south and, shortly after nine p.m., we all congragated on the foredeck, which up to that point had been closed off due to weather and safety concerns while out on the Drake. It was a huge coalescence of sunny yellow parkas, with the staff’s vivid blue and hearty red jackets peppered through our midst. A few strategicially-located Quark guides had GPS units in hand and those of us who could huddled around them as we approached the coveted latitude.

As the digital readout ticked over, we counted down the coordinate seconds. A huge cry went out, sweeping back from the tip of the bow, as we crossed 66 degrees, 33 minutes, 8 seconds South. What a mind-blowing experience! Those lucky few of us on the Sea Adventurer, and others on ships like her, were privileged enough to venture farther south on the planet than the majority of its population would ever travel.

We celebrated with a champagne toast and not long after the glasses were distributed, a disruption rippled through the crowd. The wall of yellow humans nearby parted and the Quark guys paraded through in hilarious costumes! Shane was ‘caught’ and forced to kiss a fish as punishment for not seeking Neptune’s approval before crossing the circle. All a good bit of seafaring fun!

The gathered masses took turns snapping photos up on the bow with the flag which commemorated our circle crossing and the rest chatted as we took in the stunning, dusk-lit sights. People peeled off as night set in and a few of us young’uns took to the lounge to continue our celebration. I would love to explain the entertaining details, but what happens off-Cookie Cam, stays off-Cookie Cam – otherwise I won’t be allowed at Thanksgiving.

Needless to say, when I poured myself into my bunk in the early hours of the morning, I was one happy, Antarctic Circle-crossing Sarah.

Moon rising below The Circle