The Antarctica Diaries – Day 2 – The Drake Lake – Cruise Traveller

The Antarctica Diaries – Day 2 – The Drake Lake

Deb Corbett (left) and Annie Corbett (right) in Antarctica.

by Deb Corbett – Commercial Director Asia Pacific – Ponant Cruises

Deb Corbett is one of our favourite industry professionals. She recently returned from an expedition cruise to Antarctica with her sister Annie. Deb recounts us on her personal cruise experience in February 2020 to Antarctica aboard Ponant’s L’Austral. We will be posting each day’s journal over the next few weeks.

Monday 10 February 2020 – THE DRAKE LAKE

It’s eight degrees with the sun shining across a very flat passage. The dancers were assisting guests in the gym on the equipment and the IT Manager was ready to help with phones/computers again at reception. We can’t believe how warm it is. Yes, it’s eight degrees but with winds of only 26 km/h, we find ourselves in a t-shirt with a light cardigan on to keep us warm. It’s a gorgeous day on the Drake so a chance to spot “Albatross” as they follow the ship. The Albatross is one of the most iconic birds of Antarctica. The wandering Albatross is the largest of seabirds, with a wingspan reaching 3.5m and a body mass of 8-12kg.  We learn from the Expedition Team that Albatross have one of the lowest reproductive rates of any bird. All species of Albatross lay a single egg, several species breed only every second year, and most take ten years to reach sexual maturity.

They have very long-life spans, with some individuals living to over 60 years of age. Albatrosses cover huge distances when foraging for food, even during breeding, with the foraging ranges of most species covering thousands of square kilometres of ocean. Whilst at sea, birds can travel 1000km in a single day, with one grey-headed Albatross recorded as circumnavigating Antarctica in just 45 days.

It’s 9.30am and we’re sitting in the theatre for the presentation of our itinerary by the Captain and our Expedition Team. The Captain addresses guests and gives some background on his life. I was thrilled to learn that we were sailing with the first Captain of Le Ponant which is PONANT’s three masted yacht – the mascot and flagship today. The Captain introduces on stage our Expedition Leader, Klemens Puetz, a German Biologist who has been leading expeditions in Antarctica for over 25 years. Klemens lived in the Falkland Islands for 4 years which is when he co-founded the Antarctic Research Trust. His research focuses on the migration and foraging ecology of penguins and other marine top predators in the Southern Ocean. Klemens spends the next 15 minutes introducing his team. OMG! The experience onboard is simply incredible.  We are cruising with such knowledge and expertise.

Assistant Expedition Leader is Alexandre Thevenin, an Ornithologist, who has been sharing his life between two passions: birds and falconery. He was soon to be called ”The Falconer” onboard with the guests.  We later learned that Alex’s owls appeared in the first episode of Harry Potter where he trained his owls for 14 months. Alex believes that birds in the polar regions are a good way to raise awareness about the protection of our planet. The rest of the team was then introduced and the knowledge is INSANE! We meet German born Annina Scholl who is a specialist researcher and biologist on “Antarctic Krill”, so she was soon to be nicknamed “Queen of Krill” by guests or the “Krill Lady”. Annina’s research focuses on how the annual light conditions in Antarctica influence the metabolism of the Antarctic Krill.  Born and raised in Brussels, Alison Thieffry was next on stage. With a Bachelor in Political Sciences, Alison’s passion focuses on the geopolitics of the polar regions. Rodrigo Rocha is next and with a Mexican father and French mother, Rodrigo was raised with a strong respect for nature so it’s no wonder he announces to guests his passion for ecotourism and environmental education.

Jean-Peirre Sylvestre is the next expedition guide to be introduced. Jean-Pierre is a photo- journalist and natural history science reporter who has dedicated his career to be a marine mammal expert and for the past 30 years has travelled the world following dolphins, seals and whales.  French born Camille Lin is next who tells guests his steps as a naturalist began in the south of France, in the valleys of the Cevennes’ National Park. After studying ecology, he says to guests “Guide on a territory that owns me was what I thinking when I was living more than a year on the Kerguelen Archipelago. The natural reserve of Austral and Antarctic French Territories opened me to the wide doors of penguin colonies and aceana prairies where Albatrosses courtship occurs.  Kerguelen landscapes are windows opened through the ocean and I could follow a sea mammal’s life. These are the many stories I would like to share with you.  Observing nature makes it possible to awaken senses”.  We just sat silently with goose-pimples on our arms as we watched in awe of who is guiding us.

However, it doesn’t stop there as next on stage is a vivacious Canadian lady, Suzie Hanlan. With a Masters of Science in Animal Behaviour, Suzie has spent the past 20 years as a field biologist in Alaska, the Arctic and North Atlantic areas, primarily studying marine mammals. In recent years, Suzie has been building an “off the grid” cabin in the largest national park in the USA, Wrangell-St Elias, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Two final guides are introduced, French born Manon Amiguet who has studied biology and biodiversity management and Antione Viot, our “Iceman”. Antione spent 4 years studying geology, maths, physics and biology and had the opportunity of living in Svalbard for a year where he took classes in glaciology and climatology in order to widen his knowledge and get closer to nature.  Since then Antione has spent time studying local geology in the polar regions. He is our iceberg and glacier expert and we all fell in love with his passion and knowledge of the Icebergs!

We all applaud our expedition team to which the Captain then has great delight in showcasing our itinerary. Naturally due to weather and ice conditions this is subject to change but currently our route is set for Enterprise; Wilhelmina Bay; Dorian Bay; Paradise; Port Charcot; Petermann; Neko and Danco. WOW! The presentations were in French and then English and I was so impressed with the ease of the translation and the fun it was hearing it in both.

The English speaking group then moved to the lounge on deck 3 for a mandatory zodiac and IAATO briefing about the code and conduct in Antarctica.  We met fellow guests and once this finished our tummies were telling us that it must be lunchtime.

We headed to the pool deck where the Chef had prepared a fabulous seafood BBQ. Chef Nicolas had purchased fresh hake from Ushuaia which is the local fish from the deep channels of the Drake Passage.

With plate in hand we wandered up the stairs where the crew had set up more tables for guests to enjoy. What a view…THE DRAKE LAKE! (even the pool is heated ready for guests to take a polar plunge in the Drake).

After lunch we try on our boots, which will be ours for the remainder of the cruise and then we get introduced to the scientists from the whale research team onboard. What a surprise! After having spent days on preparing a Sustainability presentation for myself and the sales team to use, I find myself in the company of scientists who are sponsored by the PONANT Foundation. Seeing the company’s investment in real life is an absolute treat. The scientists are doing two back to back Antarctic cruises.  There are 5 of them (see below) onboard studying whale behaviour.

We then move back to the theatre for a presentation by Henri De Gerlache, descendant of the Belgica. Before we know it, 7pm hits and we are dressed ready for the Captain’s Gala Evening. After having a photo with the Captain we hit the Veuve table which I must say looks so impressive.

With champagne in hand we start mingling with the guests until the Captain showcases his team.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode: The Drake Lake & Surprise Visit to Fort Point…