Off Season on the Water
We love being on the water. We dread that late day in October when our boat gets decommissioned. For us, waiting seven months to smell the sea air is just too long. To solve this problem we plan a winter vacation somewhere south on the water. Two years ago it was bare-boating a 46-foot catamaran in the BVI’s (see Boating World 3/16). This past winter we went way-way south on an adventure on the high seas (literally) and let someone else do the driving. To get our off season sea air fix we spent 18 days on the Silversea expedition ship Explorer in the South Atlantic and Antarctica. Our 18-day voyage left the tip of South American and cruised 3498 nautical miles round trip. Our stops included two days in the Falklands Islands, three days at the very remote South Georgia Island and four days in Antarctica. As we cruised further south we were following whales and dodging icebergs. Our journey had our 340-foot ice-rated ship cruise several days in open oceans between stops with seas averaging 12 to 16 feet and peaking at 27 feet when crossing the Drake Passage (AKA the Drake Shake). We picked the Silversea Explorer because it is known for its five-star service (cabins come with a shared butler), gourmet food, open bar, 24-hour room service, comfortable cabins and a no tipping policy. On board were 130 passengers and a crew of 121. This included 13 expedition leaders with expertise, degrees and advanced degrees in botany, history, marine biology, geology, photography and ornithology. Two leaders had lived in Antarctica on research bases. We shared our voyage with people from Britain, Australia, Austria, USA, Canada and Chinese (in that order). Everyone had a mutual sense of adventure, a love for nature and willingness wake up, layering up and see beautiful things. Days would start by boarding a zodiac in the swell alongside the ship. We would then be ferried to a beach for what is called a wet landing. The zodiacs would also give tours of the small bays while our expedition leader would tell us about our surroundings. While many may think this adventure is for the young, at 59 we were on the lower end of the age bracket. There were many couples, widows and widowers in their mid to late 70’s pushing on and embracing the elements, beauty and remoteness. The Falkland’s The first two stops in the Falkland Islands were New Island and West Island. On both islands, we hiked almost a mile on open fields to view rock hopping penguins and albatrosses either sitting on their nests or in some process of courtship by the sea. On New Island, we watched 100 penguins cliff dive into the waves to search for food for their mate and chick. Overhead albatrosses would swoop over us and the cliffs barely flapping their six-foot wingspan. On our second day, we visited the capital Stanley for a tour. Stanley is a quiet outpost of England that made headlines when the Argentine government invaded it in 1982. It is still a sore topic between both countries. Stanley offers a few shops, a good museum along with a couple of pubs to get an authentic British beer. If you are a fan of the old Range Rover Defenders, you will see all the different models dating back to 40 years. Beautiful South Georgia Island From Stanley we cruised two days south-east into the Antarctica Convergence to South Georgia Island. South Georgia is an unspoiled sub-Antarctica island that is 104 miles long, up to 23 miles wide and 75% snow covered. It has an unusually long rugged coastline due to all its many narrow bays. It is a scenic place with pointy snow covered mountains dropping down to shores teeming with wildlife. This island is well preserved having only 20 residents in Grytviken and receiving only 7000 lucky visitors annually. (Compare that with St. Thomas which can bring over 10,000 cruisers in a day!) T
was given to each guest. Because of my camera equipment, I passed on using it and brought along a waterproof bag attached to shoulder strap that allowed me to keep my cameras dry on the zodiac rides to the beach. Life Aboard Silversea makes life on board easy and casual. There are no formal nights. There was a welcome and farewell cocktail hour and dinner with a quarter of the men wearing jackets. I wore nice pull over shirt and black jeans that worked well. With 18 days on board and a week in Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls before the cruise, clothing space was limited. To ease the packing the ship provides at no charge the use of their two laundry machines. There is also a pricy laundry service. Food was upscale and incredible considering the chef had to provision for 18 days. (She gave a lecture on how it was done). Breakfast was buffet style having anything for the international crowd. There was an omelet station as well as table and room service. For lunch, a premium buffet always had four main courses a carving and pasta station, salads, soup and sandwiches. We never ate the same thing twice and many dishes had an international flavor that reflected the kitchen staff. On the aft deck, they made incredible burgers. The chef being sensitive to food allergies would always pass the next night’s menu to anyone with a problem and ask them to choose in advance what they may like. If the three choices on each course of the four gourmet course dinner were not acceptable they could grill you a veal chop or almost anything you ask for. Service was five star with water and wine glasses always attended to. Dinner always finished with a dessert wine or a port. A “Hot Rocks” outdoor dinner was offered nightly. Here you would dress for winter and be presented with a 10 inch super-heated stone slab where you cook what you ordered. We did this twice and enjoyed the camaraderie of others who found al fresco Antarctica dining fun. Night life was quiet with a piano player in the lounge. Most people retired after dinner exhausted from getting up early. There were two lounges on board with a bar and coffee/cappuccino service starting after breakfast. For anything you needed, your butler was your go-to person. He sometimes appeared out of nowhere and seemed to know what you needed before asking. His records showed my taste for premium rum and on the second day, a liter of seven year aged Cuban rum appeared with ice and lime. He can confirm spa appointments, 24 hour room service as well as unpack or pack your luggage.