Weddell Sea Explorer
Punta Arenas, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina | Cruise Puerto Williams to Ushuaia
Includes a flight from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams and a town tour of Puerto Williams before the voyage.
We sail across Bransfield Strait to an Antarctic Sound dawn, where tabular icebergs ride currents from the Weddell Sea. The Peninsula’s wild side, welcomes us with a strange, ice-free landscape hiding renowned fossil beds and vast penguin colonies. We hope to explore Prince Gustav Channel, fossil-rich Seymour Island. In contrast to the Weddell Sea’s wild isolation, the Peninsula’s west coast offers glaciated peaks rising from a maze of islands and waterways alive with seals, penguins and whales.
• Spend time exploring the southern-most town in the world
• Visit the UNESCO declared Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve
• Enjoy a guided walk to Brass Waterfall for view of the Beagle Channel
• Visit Puerto Williams' Macalvi Yacht Club and enjoy time to explore the town and museum
• Absorb the birds’ eye view over the breathtaking landscape of Cordillera Darwin with its magnificent glaciers, narrow austral channels and hidden colored lagoons
• Explore the most accessible & wildlife-rich region of Antarctica
• Daily shore visits and Zodiac cruises offer close encounters with penguins, whales, seals and sea birds
• Visit historic research huts and working scientific stations
• Witness amazing geological sites and ancient fossils
• Be surrounded by massive icebergs and cruise past glaciers
• Enjoy the pristine beauty and vast landscapes
• Witness the endless sunlight of the midnight sun
• Learn about Antarctica’s unique geology, history and wildlife from our expert team
• Sleep like an Antarctica explorer and camp on the ice! (weather permitting)
• Kayakers will glide through narrow sheltered waterways and fjords, paddle amongst ice floes and drift quietly alongside wildlife
|Day 1||Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams, Chile|
|Days 2 & 3||Drake Passage|
|Days 4 to 6||Weddell Sea|
|Days 7 to 9||Western flanks of the Antarctic Peninsula|
|Days 10 & 11||Drake Passage|
|Day 12||Beagle Channel, Ushuaia, Argentina|
Expeditioners will gather in Punta Arenas, Chile. Punta Arenas is the southern-most city on Earth, overlooking the Straits of Magellan. Situated astride one of the world's historic trade routes, its prosperity has risen and fallen with that trade. Punta Arenas enjoyed its first great boom during the California Gold Rush, when it served as a haven for great clipper ships. Although the port's importance diminished after the opening of the Panama Canal, the city reached even greater prosperity early in this century as the center of Chile's international wool trade.
Today, Punta Arenas reflects a great mix of cultures, from English sheep ranchers to Portuguese sailors, and it remains an utterly fascinating testament to Chile's rich history. Punta Arenas is also the starting point for excursions to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
The best spot to gain an introduction to Punta Arenas is the Cerro La Cruz promontory, which provides breathtaking views of the city's orderly streets, colorful tin roofs, and the strait beyond. Among the city's most interesting attractions are the Museo Salesiano de Mayonino Borgatello, started by an order of Italian missionaries, and the Centro Cultural Braun-Menendèz, housed in the mansion of one of the city's most prosperous families. The museum provides visitors with an extraordinary and eclectic introduction to virtually every aspect of the region. Its collection, accumulated by the missionaries during their extensive travels in the area, is composed of artifacts of all sorts-from ceramics to rare animal species The Centro Cultural is equally engaging, offering an intimate glimpse of the life of a prosperous Punta Arenas trading family. Furnished with fine European antiques, Italian marble floors, and grand ceiling frescos, this grand mansion gives a good indication of the economic stature of Punta Arenas before the Panama Canal was completed.
Our midday charter flight from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams will take approximately thirty-five minutes. The flight will provide a birds’ eye view of the breath taking landscape of Cordillera Darwin with its magnificent glaciers, narrow austral channels and hidden colored lagoons. On arrival in Puerto Williams, you will be taken on a tour of the town and its natural surroundings.
In the early afternoon you will be greeted by the expedition team and Russian crew as you embark Polar Pioneer for the trip of a lifetime.
Cape Horn, the most southerly point of the American continent, has stimulated the imagination of mankind since Sir Francis Drake inadvertently rounded it back in 1580.
Some of us will approach this historic crossing with more than a little trepidation. But despite its reputation, there are many times when the Drake Passage resembles a lake, with lazy Southern Ocean swells rolling under the keel. On the other hand, we sometimes encounter rough crossings with large waves. The size of the waves and the force of the gale will take on gigantic proportions when related around the fire back home.
Polar Pioneer is not a luxury ship, she is homely and strong, built to be a research vessel and refitted to comfortable passenger standard in 2001. The mood on board is definitely casual. At sea we are totally self-sufficient. The days flow by as we travel snugly in our cocoon. A favorite pastime on board is to stand at the stern watching the many seabirds, including majestic albatrosses and giant petrels following in our wake. They rise and fall skillfully, using air currents created by the ship to gain momentum.
Nearing the tip of the Peninsula towards the end of day three, excitement reaches fever pitch with everyone on the bridge watching for our first iceberg. The ocean takes on a whole new perspective once we are below the Antarctic Convergence and are surrounded by the surreal presence of floating ice sculptures. The memory of your first big iceberg sighting is likely to remain with you forever.
Depending on the weather, we will first approach Antarctica to the north of King George Island or in narrow channels between the South Shetland Islands. From there we will head through Antarctic Sound to the eastern side of the Peninsula.
A host of choices is now open to us and depending on the ice and weather conditions. Our experienced leaders, who have made countless journeys to this area, will use this expertise to design our voyage from day to day. This allows us to make best use of the prevailing weather and ice conditions and wildlife opportunities. Because we are so far south, we will experience approximately 18-20 hours of daylight and the days will be as busy as you wish. There is plenty of time for sleep when you get home!
We are always keen to explore new territory, so if the opportunity arises, we will! That's why we call our cruises, "Expeditions of Exploration and Adventure" - who knows where we will go?
We arrive in the calmer waters of Antarctic Sound, and we aim to make landings two to three times a day. To get ashore we will use Zodiacs (inflatable rubber boats). You will have been briefed on the workings of these sturdy craft and their use, during our Drake Passage crossing. Sometimes we will cruise along spectacular ice cliffs, or make contact with whales. In these situations we will appreciate the distinct advantage of being on a small vessel, which gives everyone the opportunity to experience these very special close encounters with wildlife.
Western chefs serve hearty meals in our cosy dining rooms. Accompanied by good conversation, they will become a focal point of our shipboard life.
A sample of the many exciting places that we would like to visit follows:
Situated on the eastern side of Tabarin Peninsula, the spectacular 2,300 ft (745 m) promontory of Brown Bluff towers over some 20,000 nesting pairs of Adelie penguins and hundreds of gentoo penguins. Nesting skuas, snow petrels and pintados inhabit the upper slopes and kelp gulls screech overhead. Brown Bluff's volcanic origins have created some fantastically shaped boulders that lie scattered across the ash beach and make colorful nesting sites for some of the penguins.
This tiny volcanic island forms the nesting grounds of some 120,000 pairs of Adelie penguins, and the surrounding seas literally teem with penguins!
There is also a blue-eyed shag colony situated at one end of Paulet's long beach front. Leopard seals are often seen cruising offshore, hoping to pick up a penguin snack.
Weddell seals sometimes haul out here for a quiet nap on the beach. Apart from its plentiful wildlife, Paulet is also rich in the history of Antarctic exploration, for it was here that the 22 men of Larsen's ship Antarctic arrived on February 28th 1903 after their ship had sunk. The men wintered on Paulet, living on penguins and seals, until eventually Larsen and five of the men rowed across Erebus and Terror Gulf to be reunited with members of Otto Nordenskjold's geological exploration party.
James Clark Ross Island
Separated from Trinity Peninsula by Prince Gustav Channel, the beaches and rocks of this mighty island are a mix of volcanic and sedimentary; creating a geologists’ paradise. The beaches are populated with kelp gulls while Antarctic terns and skuas nest on the island's higher slopes. Many of the island's rocks are decorated with bright red and orange lichens, presenting fantastic photographic opportunities. Ice floes in the surrounding waters provide temporary floating homes for Weddell and leopard seals. We may walk up to Hidden Lake, following a stream rich in fossilized remains of deciduous trees, ferns and even clamshells. If ice conditions and time permit, we may also circumnavigate this fantastic island; a feat not often accomplished.
This very rarely visited island was named for its two striking peaks or 'horns'. It is the nesting site for some 10,000 pairs of Adelie penguins. If weather conditions permit, we may walk up a scree slope to the top of the island's western peak. At several hundred ft in height, the summit provides superb views into Erebus and Terror Gulf. On the upper slopes we may even see nesting snow petrels and Wilson's storm petrels. For those who are less active, the comings and goings of penguins on the beach and the accompanying skua population provide endless fascination.
There are often large numbers of grounded icebergs offshore that we may cruise among in our Zodiacs.
View Point, Duse Bay
View Point is one of the few places where we may be able to set foot on the Antarctic continent proper. A British hut was built here in 1953 and an Argentine refuge hut was established a few years later. In front of the old hut are the remains of crabeater seal carcasses, which provided food for the sledge dogs. Thanks to the cold conditions, the well-preserved hut looks just as it did all those years ago - a fascinating place to get a feeling for the olden days of Antarctic exploration.
Larsen Ice Shelf
Antarctica's most conspicuous geographical feature is ice. Glaciers inch towards the sea from towering mountain peaks and ridges. If conditions permit, we hope to cruise south and along part of the spectacular Larsen Ice Shelf, which runs continuously for some 500 mi (800 km) between Cape Longing and Cape Mackintosh.
In 1995 a massive iceberg measuring 22 x 23 mi (37 x 36 km) calved from the Larsen Ice Shelf and drifted north. We may see some remnants of this spectacular event and perhaps even witness smaller pieces of ice splitting away.
Other places we may visit around the Weddell Sea area and on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula are:
Joinville Island; D'Urville Island; Hope Bay; Seymour Island; Snow Hill Island; Vega Island; Prince Gustav Channel; Beak Island; Crystal Hill; Herbert Sound.
There are many exciting places that we would like to visit. A sample of these follows:
Half Moon Island
A wildlife rich island tucked into a neat bay at the eastern end of Livingston Island. On a clear day the glaciers and mountains of Livingston Island dominate the scene. There is a healthy chinstrap penguin rookery tucked in between basaltic turrets colored by yellow and orange lichens. Gulls nest on these turrets and there are often fur seals and elephant seals hauled out on the pebble beaches. At one extremity of the island there is a large colony of nesting blue-eyed shags. At the other end lies a small Argentine station that is sometimes occupied by scientists conducting research on the penguin colony and surrounding waterways.
If the ice conditions allow, standing on the bow of Polar Pioneer and quietly moving through the narrow Lemaire Channel may be one of the highlights of our voyage. Cliffs tower 2,000 ft (700 m) directly above the ship. The water can be so still that perfect reflections are mirrored on the surface.
Gigantic icebergs can clog the channel, creating navigational challenges for our captain and crew; occasionally they may even obstruct our passage.
This group of low lying unprotected granitic rocks protrudes from the sea, swept by southern ocean swells. At first these rocks appear uninteresting, but on closer investigation, calm channels lead to a hidden interior where Weddell seals are hauled out on protected snow beds and noisy chinstraps raise their families on rocky platforms. Hydrurga is Latin for leopard seal, and on occasions we see some skulking in the shallows. There are many places to simply sit and watch the rise and fall of clear green water and listen to the magic sounds and calls of the wildlife.
Other places we may visit around the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula are:
Neko Harbor; Port Lockroy, a historic British base that is now a museum and post office; Cuverville Island; Danco Island; Trinity Island.
Time to head back to Tierra del Fuego, with lectures and videos to complete our Antarctic education. This is a time for reflection and discussion about what we have seen and felt, and the impact this voyage has had on our attitude to life.
As we approach the tip of South America, our Captain may sail close to legendary Cape Horn, weather conditions permitting.
During the early morning we cruise up the Beagle Channel, before quietly slipping into dock in Ushuaia, where we will be free to disembark around 9:00am. It’s a busy time, saying farewell to our crew and to fellow passengers who have shared the intensity of exploring this magnificent white wilderness. We head off in our different directions, hopefully with a newfound sense of the immense power of nature.
At the conclusion of the voyage, flights should not to be booked from Ushuaia prior to 12 noon on the day of disembarkation.
Please note that all of our itineraries are at the mercy of weather conditions and not all landings are guaranteed. Our itineraries are flexible and will change voyage to voyage, allowing the best chance to make the most of surprising wildlife displays and unexpected opportunities.
* Itinerary may be subject to change
|Per Person USD|
Camp, Mountaineering, Photography, Kayak
Camp, Photography, Kayak
International Airfare Not Included. Rates are per person, based on twin-share. Single costs are 1.7 times the twin rate.
Flights included for Fly/Cruise itineraries.
Adventure options must be pre-booked and paid for prior to start of the trip. Space is subject to availability. Some activities require experience.
Optional Activities: Kayaking prices as listed, Climbing $450, Photography Free, Camping Free.
Mandatory Emergency Evacuation Insurance Required. All trips subject to possible fuel surcharge.