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Antarctica on Lindblad's National Geographic Endeavour
Day 1: Preparing for Antarctica
Day 2: Starting in Santiago
Day 3: On to Ushuaia ... and Onboard
Day 4: Drake's Passage and Onward to Antarctica
Day 5: Landfall in Antarctica
Day 6: Penguins & Palmer Station
Day 7: The Krill Debate & Really Cool Photography
Day 8: The Circle, Tropical Kayaking & Lots of Seals
Day 9: Antarctica Recedes, Civilization Approaches
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National Geographic Endeavour ship review
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Day 4: Friday, Drake's Passage and Onward to Antarctica
Drake's Passage and Onward to AntarcticaOn our first night onboard, we went to sleep knowing the forecast for Drake's Passage -- winds up to 35 miles an hour. The crew even recommended that we take a shower before heading to bed and not wait until morning when we might be bouncing our way across this notoriously rough stretch separating South America and Antarctica, where we'd view tall, jagged, white-capped peaks. Forecasts in this area aren't always reliable, however.

I admit I somewhat enjoy the thrill of heavy seas -- I like watching the bow plunge into the waves and send plumes of spray over the decks. I know not everyone shares those sentiments though, and I noticed an awful lot of relieved faces the next morning as a shining sun and gentle breezes greeted us. There was a slight swell, and the crew put up sturdy ropes around the ship for everyone to hold onto, but the stabilizers kept the motion to a level that allowed most people to actually get out of their cabin rather than spending the day seasick in bed.

We spent our first day at sea onboard National Geographic Endeavour not with rock climbing or lounging by the pool as you might expect on a mainstream ship, but rather with an introduction to the 13 naturalists and expedition staff looking after the 110 passengers. Eight of them were guides or naturalists who would be leading us on walks ashore or giving presentations throughout the trip. Another was an undersea specialist who went scuba diving every day and showed us the film of what he found. While many passengers seemed to be envious of the jobs the naturalists have, I noticed that no one mentioned wanting the undersea specialist's job.

In charge were our Expedition Leader, Tim, and his assistant, Lisa. They were the equivalent of the Cruise Directors onboard, but rather than plan what time fluffier entertainment began, they were focused on our excursions. Each day they met with the Captain to help plan out the itinerary. They also went ashore before we were allowed to in order to scout out the landings. When one passenger asked when we would see whales, Tim and Lisa admitted they were unable to plan in advance what time we could expect to see breaching whales, unfortunately.

Having so many naturalists keeps the group sizes small, which is particularly beneficial when onshore. It's nice, too, that they all had different areas of specialty. The onboard geologist playfully touted his field by saying, "Geology is great. Who has heard of an extinct rock?" and "I'll be the one hoping the penguin moves away so I can get a look at the rock he is standing on."

After the presentation, many of us headed to the stern and spent time with the naturalists who were pointing out the numerous birds that were swooping, diving and gliding all around us. With the sun shining and temperatures still comfortably above freezing, we were able to enjoy the sun without being completely bundled up. We were captivated by the effortless movements of the Royal Albatross, which has the widest wingspan of any living bird at 11 feet, and we watched as he glided for minutes at a time without once flapping his wings. Flip, the National Geographic photographer was out on deck, happily snapping away -- while also generously offering advice. One tip: bring your laptop so you can download your photos each day. Disappointingly, my shots that day weren't as good as I'd hoped. I was just beginning to realize that with photography, patience is indeed a virtue. Okay, so Flip's shots managed to capture both the blue sea and the bird in perfect focus, but heck, I have time to learn!

On our first day, the ocean looked just like a relatively normal ocean. But that afternoon's lecture on sea currents and regional winds dispelled the notion. We were just about to cross a major biological boundary and were informed that the composition of the sea life would change dramatically. While I had never heard of the Antarctic Convergence before, I did find out that where colder Antarctica water meets warmer southern Atlantic water, an upwelling occurs that creates an area rich in marine life. It also prevents the colder waters from flowing too far away from Antarctica, which is one reason why the continent stays so cold.

During this time, the officers keep an eagle eye on the encroaching biological boundary and record the sea temperature every hour. They look for a sharp drop of three or four degrees Celsius over the course of a few hours. And indeed, the drop occurred around 5 p.m. -- though by that time, we were absorbing a late afternoon lecture on the birds of Antarctica (I can now tell the difference between a Cape Petrel and a Block Browed Albatross). Between that and my newfound awareness of the Antarctic Convergence I was beginning to feel like a minor expert on the continent already -- and I hadn't even seen it yet!



I wasn't the only one who was channeling excitement. All anyone wanted to talk about was the place we traveled so far to reach. Having cruised on more mainstream ships more frequently, I could easily tell that the atmosphere onboard was completely different. On a typical cruise, thousands of passengers have thousands of reasons for cruising, ranging from the food to shopping to the ports to simply relaxing. Onboard N.G. Endeavour, we were a cohesive group of travelers that were all here for the same reason: We were all eager to experience nature in its most raw state and see parts of the planet completely unaffected by humans.

And while the wildlife and dramatic, ice filled scenery was a strong pull for many passengers, others viewed the first two sea days as we cruised the passage as a frustrating distraction keeping us from Antarctica -- no matter how much we learned and how pleasant the ship was.


One topic that came up frequently was the tragic news of the sinking of G.A.P. Adventures' Explorer in late November. Only a few weeks later, Hurtigruten's Fram lost power and drifted into an iceberg. While the only real damage was the crushing of a lifeboat, the cruise was terminated early and raised further alarm bells about traveling to Antarctica. I found that as we got closer and closer to the continent, though, my fellow passengers became less and less concerned about the Explorer's sinking and the topic quickly died off.

No doubt, safety is an important issue in the Antarctic, and the sinking of the Explorer was a good reminder that no expedition to Antarctica should ever be undertaken lightly. None of the crew onboard N.G. Endeavour knew why Explorer sank; quite correctly, they pleasantly refused to speculate or gossip about what may have gone wrong. What these crew members would share, however, was the reaction of passengers and crew onboard N.G. Endeavour that very night.

The distress call from Explorer came into N.G. Endeavour's Bridge sometime around midnight, and shortly thereafter, the ship increased to maximum speed and set a course toward the Explorer. The rest of the crew were woken up several hours later to get briefed by the officers on what was unfolding and to help prepare the ship should they need to embark passengers. Blankets and extra food were prepared, and when the first early riser passengers were seen strolling the deck, a broadcast was made through all the cabins informing them, in a very matter of fact, calm tone, that the ship was proceeding on a rescue operation.

As it happened, the National Geographic Endeavour arrived at essentially the same time as Hurtigruten's Nordnorge. Being much larger, Nordnorge was far better equipped to handle another 150 people, and so it became the lead vessel in the rescue with the N.G. Endeavour assisting.

Explorer was tied to N.G. Endeavour, at least in its heritage. The ship that eventually sank in the Antarctic was originally built for Lindblad Travel in 1969 (it was sold in 1982). Several long time Lindblad crew onboard N.G. Endeavour had actually worked onboard Explorer with current president Sven Lindblad, and they found it quite emotional when they saw their old ship listing near the ice and, essentially, dying.

Most of the crew simply described it as a very sad, somber time, rather than exciting or dramatic. And once all passengers and crew were accounted for, Nordnorge and National Geographic Endeavour departed the scene before Explorer finally sank.

There is little doubt that the passengers and crewmembers onboard Explorer were quite lucky; the seas were calm, and ships were relatively nearby. If it had been 12 hours later, when a storm came through, the conditions would have made abandoning ship and recovery a far more difficult, and potentially serious, situation.

What effects the sinking of Explorer will have on the Antarctic cruise industry remains to be seen. Our trip, which occurred a few weeks later, was sold out, and we didn't hear of any cancellations. More immediately, I wondered whether our expedition program would change as a result. Would our expedition leaders and officers be more cautious?

Lindblad prides itself on taking N.G. Endeavour to as remote a location as possible. Would we spend the week being closer to the other cruise ships in the region? Would there be a hesitation about sailing through thick pack ice like is pictured in the brochure?


Our original itinerary had planned for us to be at sea for the first two days, padding this transitional part of the voyage in the event of unpredictably rough weather. But the seas and wind were mild and, coming from the stern, actually gave us a bit of an extra push, letting us average closer to 15 knots since our departure. The Captain, himself on his 74th expedition to Antarctica, came down from the Bridge to announce that we should expect to arrive in Antarctica a half day earlier and that we'd make our first landing the next afternoon. Wild cheering followed.

To build up our excitement even more, he also announced a competition to see who could spot the first iceberg that was more than ten times larger than the ship. Cruise ships generally do their best to avoid ice but onboard National Geographic Endeavour, we sought it out -- this pretty much sums up the adventurous aspect of our experience.
Day 3: On to Ushuaia ... and Onboard red arrow Day 5: Landfall in Antarctica

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