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Antarctica Expedition
Aboard Professor Multanovskiy
November 2009

by Joe Reynolds

I had wanted to go to Antarctica before and almost got it scheduled when one of the ships sank when it hit an iceberg and my wife talked me out of it. A few years went by and time helps cure things and she said I could go so I got it scheduled.

This was a wonderful experience. I left Monroe, Louisiana on Nov. 22, 2009 and arrived in Punta Arenas on Nov. 23 some 29 hours later. I returned from Punta Arenas on Dec. 3 arriving in Monroe on Dec. 4 some 30 hours later. I list it as an Expedition rather than a cruise since it was hard and I could not make it all the way to the top of some of the climbs to penguin rookeries because I just gave out. There were plenty of penguins all around that I did not have to go to the top.

The ship was the Professor Multanovskiy built in 1982 for Russian oceanographic and polar studies. It was converted to a tourism ship and it is not a luxury cruiser but is comfortable. It is 249 ft long, 42 ft wide and draft of 15 ft. It has two side by side engines with over 3076 total hp and a single screw, a bow thruster and can run on one or two engines. Its cruising speed is 10 knots. It has passive stabilizers only. It is not classified as an Ice Breaker, but has an Ice re-enforced hull.

The night before departure in Punta Arenas we were fitted for boots and given instructions on how to get in and out of the Zodiacs. We were supposed to have breakfast at 8 am, but got a wake up call at 6:30 am and told to hustle since we had a weather window to take off from Punta Arenas to land at King George Island before weather moved in.

The ships passenger capacity was 49 and had 32 crew, but we only had 25 passengers on this trip so the BAE 146 plane from Punta Arenas to King George Island had plenty of room and the ship was not crowded. We used only one of the two dining rooms for meals. Of the 25 passengers there were only three of us from the US and we wished each other Happy Thanksgiving. Other countries represented were Holland, England, Australia, Israel, Spain, Russia, Germany, Chile and Argentina.

We did two landings daily, weather permitting and we had beautiful weather except for the gale across the Bransfield Strait and fog at Deception Island which would have been beautiful if the weather had been nice. We had one day when at Neko Island the chop was too bad to launch Zodiacs so we just moved to another bay. Saw thousands of penguins, skuas, giant petrols, many minke whales, and orca whales. One orca got just under the bow and I have a picture of it under the water swimming. Saw several Weddell seals and a Leopard Seal. The little Snow Petrols were very curious and would actually come up and bite on your gloves. Penguins kept their distance and we kept distance. If we saw any seals on land with us we definitely kept our distance, since seals can be aggressive.

We visited King George Island, Ardley Island, Mikkelson Harbour, Herrera Channel to Port Lockroy, Lemaire Channel to Peterman Island (the southern most extension of our trip), Paradise Bay, Danko Island, Brown Landing (Antarctica Peninsula proper), Deception Bay back to King George Island.

On the way back we got into a full gale across the Bransfield Strait that gave a rough ride. The crew used the term “the ship will move tonight.” The roll threw one man out of a chair when the ship rolled to 30 deg crossing the Bransfield Strait. My bunk was cross ways or I would have probably been thrown out. I just slid from head to foot as she rolled. Scopace tablets worked to prevent seasickness.

We got back to Maxwell Bay at the Fildes Peninsula of King George Island on time (Dec. 1, 2009) but we could not get out because the runway was covered with 15cm of ice. We spent an extra night on the ship and got out the next day. Antarctica XXI was superb in changing all flight connections. By the way, the satellite phone worked very well from the ship, but cost was about $5/min. To fill the morning while we waited on the plane the Antarctica XXI people arranged a visit to the King Sejong Korean scientific station and they seemed very happy to have us visit. I have video from the ship of their snow plow cleaning a place for us to walk from the dock to a building.

On two occasions we did a Zodiac cruise only where the three Zodiacs went out and by radio communication one would report wild life sightings and we would creep up on them. The scenery was magnificent. I have never seen so many beautiful icebergs. One day at breakfast while we were anchored we heard and felt a thump. Either we had drifted into an iceberg while at anchor or the iceberg drifted into us. No big deal, we just use the single screw and bow thruster to work away from it.

As I said it was a hard trip taking 29 hours to get to Punta Arenas, Chile, the departure point, and 30 hours to get back from Punta Arenas. The flight across the Drake Passage of 600 miles was better than crossing it by ship.

I found that having automatic dimming prescription glasses was not an asset. They got so dark I couldn’t see where I was going and I would suggest one use regular prescription glasses with snow goggles over them for light protection. The brighter it got, the darker my glasses got until I was almost blind.

I was never really cold because I followed directions and dressed properly. I had a waterproof bag for my cameras and it saved me once when we hit a wave in the Zodiac and everyone got sprayed, but it happened only once. Skin protection for the face is a must because it can take only a few hours and your face is burned.

I found my best dress was two pairs of socks, silk longs, blue jeans, and rain suit pants which gave excellent wind protection and maintained dryness on the wet pontoons that we sat on in the Zodiacs. The last layer of waterproof goes outside the boots. Insulated hunting type pants (waterproof) also worked well over the silks or thermals. A down jacket with hood and baseball cap took care of the top with under garments and warm shirt. The baseball cap kept the hood from falling over my eyes and helped keep sprinkles off of the glasses. Glove liners were best and I used outside gloves attached to the coat with the little clippie things. One had to take off the outer gloves to manipulate the cameras with the glove liners and the clip things kept you from loosing the outer glove. On a recommendation from another article I used inserts in the boots and I think it helped a great deal. The baseball cap should have a safety tie to catch it if the wind blows it off. There is a lot of wind in Antarctica.

The ship was maintained at 70 deg F and we could open the porthole if we got too hot. The outside temperature was only about 0 C but when the wind blew it would drop to chill factor of -15C. Water temperature was around 0.5 Deg. C. so we tried very hard not to fall in and no one did. I was the oldest passenger on this trip and probably the slowest when we went ashore, but was just too happy to let the youngsters pass me up. I had a wonderful time.

Story & Photographs © Joe Reynolds

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