All the little white bags

"The old man knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into the clean early morning smell of the ocean." - Ernest Hemingway

Our first night on the ship was actually spent in port. The captain was trying to avoid a big storm that was coming through the Drake Passage. So we set out early yesterday morning around 8:00 am. I was on the highest foredeck, so I had a great view of the whole proceedings. Pictures below (or forthcoming).

The expedition crew organized several lectures for our time at sea. Yesterday's lectures:

Seabirds of the Southern Ocean with ornithologist Patricia Silvia. I didn't know much about seabirds prior to this trip, but I have a deep appreciation for them now. These birds live at sea for the greater part of their lives, and are frequently on the wing for days and sometimes weeks on end. They can even sleep on the wing. Prof. Silvia told us that the greatest population and diversity of seabirds are found in the Southern Ocean.

Moving Continents: How Antarctica Got Where It Is, with geologist Colin Summerhayes. This was more interesting than you might think. Summerhayes talked about plate tectonics; how scientists discovered, and can measure, the flipping of the magnetic poles over geologic time; and the geological features of the Antarctic peninsula (including an active volcano!).

South with Scott, with Rob Caskie. Great story about Scott's doomed expedition.

Photography in Antarctica: What to Expect and How to Prepare, with Richard Harker. Hopefully these tips and tricks will result in good photos.

As the day wore on, we started to experience storm-force winds (Beaufort scale 10) and heavy seas. Top windspeeds were as high as 55 knots. Seas were as high as 12 meters (36 - 40 feet). I went out on the foredeck for a few minutes - it was exhilarating, very cold, and hard to stay upright. Similarly, when we went to the pool deck to bird watch with expedition naturalists, you could only stand out in the open air for a few minutes. Very hard to stay upright while trying to use binoculars! Gradually, as conditions got worse, the restaurant and bar on the top deck were closed, the pool was drained, all deck furniture tied down, elevators halted, small tables in the lounges put away, and the hatches on exterior doors closed to prevent outdoor access.

I have to say that I found all this kind of exciting. Easy for me to say - I don't get seasick. But approximately 50% of the passengers did. We saw fewer and fewer people at lunch and dinner, and more room service trays going up to the cabins. A crew member told us that, if it weren't for scopolamine patches, the number would be as high as 75%.

It also would have been much worse on any other ship. Le Boreal has excellent stablizers, apparently the best among all ships going to the Antarctic. But still, the railings in the passageways and in stairwells were all lined with little white bags, and the chambermaid was sure to give us extras.

But it was great weather for birds! Seabirds like these conditions as they don't have to work very hard to fly. In fact, often during the day you could see birds going backwards with the winds, just gliding along. Seabirds tend to amass at the stern of the ship, as the propellers kick up squid and other yummy bird delicacies up from deeper water.

Today's bird sightings:
Wandering albatross
Cape petrel
White-chinned petrel

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