Travels: Back to Antarctica

November 13, 2019 • 9:15 am

Well, we’ve headed out of Punta Arenas, loaded with supplies, fuel, and new passengers, and are once again steaming toward the Beagle Channel. This will be my third and penultimate voyage through this corridor between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (the other two ways to get through are the Straits of Magellan to the north, and the Drake Passage, the open-ocean path around Cape Horn, to the south).  Here are two photos I took of the Channel the day before yesterday. It was sunny then, but today it’s drizzly and gloomy.

Here’s where we are now according to the ship’s map, heading through the fjords toward the Channel:

And, from the ship’s live antennacam, the grey fjords of Patagonia, a contributor to Pringle Stokes’s suicide (see below):

Here’s a map of the Beagle Channel. You can see we’re heading southeast to enter from the west. The channel is about 240 km (150 miles) long, so it’ll take us about ten hours to get through.

The Channel’s connection with Darwin and the Beagle, taken from Wikipedia:

The channel was named after the ship HMS Beagle during its first hydrographic survey of the coasts of the southern part of South America which lasted from 1826 to 1830. During that expedition, under the overall command of Commander Phillip Parker King, Beagle’s captain Pringle Stokes committed suicide and was replaced by captain Robert FitzRoy. The ship continued the survey in the second voyage of Beagle under the command of captain FitzRoy, who took Charles Darwin along as a self-funding supernumerary, giving him opportunities as an amateur naturalist. Darwin had his first sight of glaciers when they reached the channel on 29 January 1833, and wrote in his field notebook “It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these glaciers, and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow.”

Here’s one of the “Five Nations” glaciers (named after different countries) that I photographed on my first trip through. I like to think that this is one of those “beryl-like blue” glaciers seen by Darwin:

Note that both captains of the Beagle, Stokes and FitzRoy, committed suicide. Both were depressives whose suicides were exacerbated by circumstances: in Stokes’s case the terrible weather and waves, in FitzRoy’s his financial troubles. Stokes shot himself in the head, but botched the job and took 12 days to die of infection, remaining conscious to the last. FitzRoy (who rejected Darwin’s published theory of evolution) cut his throat with a razor on the way to breakfast in 1865.

I talk about these incidents in the first part of one of my shipboard talks, whose title is shown below. I’m lecturing wearing the Official Expedition Team shirt for the ship, and am proud to be a member. This was a hard lecture to write, as I had to weave together the stories of the Beagle and its two captains; the Fuegian people whom FitzRoy (and later other Brits) tried to turn into Christians, only to result in the death of the entire tribe from genocide and disease; and how the Beagle voyage, particularly Darwin’s encounters with the Fuegians, influenced his view of human evolution.

I think the lecture went well, though I spoke too fast for the translator (the lectures are translated into German in real time by our able translator Sebastian, and fed to German passengers in the audience through headphones). The photo below was taken by the ship’s photographer (she also photographed me in an Amundsen-replica parks) and streamed to our cabin t.v.s as part of a retrospective of our trip. I took a photo of the television screen.

I’m sure some of you have wondered what life is like aboard the luxury vessel. Well, the food, for one thing, is excellent, and there are three big meals per day. As I never eat breakfast at home, and only a light lunch, this is overkill, but how can I resist things like snow crab and suckling pig? There are buffets for breakfast and lunch with everything you can imagine, and then a sit-down dinner served in three or four courses. I’ll have some weight to lose when I return to Chicago!

Here’s the head chef, who’s a funny guy, proffering me a slice of roast chicken. He and the staff have a particularly deft hand with roast meats:

Swordfish for lunch, or at least that’s how it was labeled. Note the carved fruit and vegetables, which are a speciality of the staff:

Below: a carved melon and penguins. I believe this form of fruit carving is East Asian, and the waitstaff and kitchen staff are largely Filipino. Everyone is very pleasant aboard, including the hardworking servers, and it’s a delight to interact with them.

The service staff is aboard for eight straight months, working, I think, seven days a week, and then they go home for four months. Compared to the Philippines, the wages here are good, so they’re willing to leave home for much of the year to earn money to send to their families. (Room and board for the staff is likely free.)

Another penguin carved out of squash, standing between a dish of crab claws and shellfish (these are only two of the many treats available at lunch, though of course the rotation changes daily):

The main dining room is the Aune, where we eat three meals a day, though there’s a fancier restaurant on the ninth deck for passengers who have suites (you can eat there for €25 with a reservation, but so far I’ve abstained). There’s also an informal restaurant where you can get stuff like burgers, milkshakes, steamed buns, and empanadas. Here’s the Aune’s dinner menu from the penultimate night we were aboard:

The dishes: crab cake:

Duck confit with red cabbage, mushroom puree, and potatoes:

Halibut with beets, peas, and what the menu calls “potato cubs”, which appears to be a misspelling of potato cubes:

And dessert: fruit crumble. Alcohol, of course, costs extra, but I’m not much inclined to drink on these voyages, especially given the price of booze. But I have had a glass of wine or four.

On the last day of the trip they held a “penguin workship” where passengers were given clay and acrylic paints, and invited to mold a penguin. I stopped by afterwards to see the display, but the makers had removed all but one of their creations. This is clearly a chinstrap penguin, and isn’t bad for a first try.

Loading the ship yesterday in Punta Arenas:

I’ve switched cabins and now have a smaller one, but it’s still very nice. All cabins have a sea view, a comfy bed with warm down comforters, a television (it gets CNN and other stations), a desk, a nice bathroom with very hot water, and a rubber-floored closet to dry your boots (and washing). Here are two views of my new cabin: the entry and the room itself:

Onward and upward as we head toward Antarctica for a longer visit and then to the Falklands. More pictures to come!

30 thoughts on “Travels: Back to Antarctica

    1. I won’t tell them if you don’t. Yes, I am a bit of a hypocrite. But it was already dead and eating it on a ship won’t lead to an increase in the quantity of ducks killed. Or so I tell myself. . .

        1. People can be funny about that. When I was younger I had a friend with a home in the country. They had a cow and this cow was like a family member. It even had a name, Annabelle. My friend’s kids loved that cow, always talking about it. I swear half the family photos were the kids with Annabelle.

          Then one day my friend up and butchered Annabelle. I was shocked, but my friend asked why do you think we were raising a cow? They wrapped all the meat in white butcher’s paper, and put them in their freezer, each labeled with the cow’s name—Annabelle sirloin steak, Annabelle prime rib roast, Annabelle burgers, etc.

          I never got over that.

          1. Forty years ago, a guy (‘immigrated’ up to Canada because of Vietnam war) whose farm also had a nordic ski holiday facility we visited, had got a couple of piglets for themselves, as eventual food, not pets. In order to stave off too much sentimentality making slaughter difficult when the time came, he named them Bacon and Porkchop.

            1. I learned as a child growing up on a dairy farm that one named only the heifer calves knowing that the little bulls would either be sold of eaten. One can’t eat ‘someone’ with a name!

        1. My mum said during WW2 Whale meat was on the ration ,it led to people asking the butcher .
          “A Pound of Whale Meat Please ,and can you leave the head on for the cat”

  1. Another exciting post!

    PCC(E), will you ask the crew about their thoughts on the phrase “sea change”? I think it’d be interesting to know, and maybe a good conversation starter.

  2. Still jealous.

    I’ve only been on one cruise. That was in the mid-90s, and even then most of the staff were Filipino. Our cabin steward claimed he had been a cop for Marcos.

    1. All the kitchen and dining staff on our Hurtigruten up to Spitsbergen last year were from the Philippines. They also put on a very entertaining show the last night (the only non-education event).

      It did make it difficult figuring out an appropriate tip, not knowing to whom the decent Norwegian wage laws applied.

  3. Those poor captains of olden days. Based on some of the drearier skies, I think staying cheerful might be a challenge in that part of the world. Especially when you’re burdened with the responsibility of a small wooden ship.
    The food is definitely uplifting for a modern traveler.

    1. In the book Dreadnought ,it says in the 19th century Royal Navy the isolation sent many Naval Officers mad ,a lot of them turned to drink .

  4. Will your lectures be available to the public? I’d love to hear the lecture you talked about in this post. Regarding the fate of the Feguian people, I’ll quote T.S. Eliot. “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.”

    1. No, they don’t tape them. But I quite like the Science of the Scott Expedition talk and the one above, especially. If they like me, Hurtigruten may invite me on more cruises to lecture, so I hope the passengers who did like me will put in a good word for me on the trip’s evaluation form.

      1. Ah, that’s too bad. But maybe one day I’ll be able to attend in person. That would be a thrill.

        Thanks for all your Antarctic posts; it’s been really fun travelling with you vicariously.

  5. As it happens, National Geographic has been airing a documentary on the voyages of the the Beagle to Fuegia with heavy emphasis on the Fuegian captives and their fate on return. Much better than most of their content. I’ve seen this on their cable channel — when it repeats, I’ll try to get the title.

    1. Ooops — this feature was on the Smithsonian Channel, not NG — explains the better production.

      Darwin and the Beagle’s Scandal was the title. [The scandal seems to refer to the schemes to Christianize the Fuegian indinas] If you don’t have a 400-channel cable, look for it on UTube.

      Trigger warning for literalists: some re-enacted scenes like the Beagle’s surgeon cocking a snoot at Darwin, should he try any naturalizing. These are brief and there’s plenty in the show beyond the usual Darwin and Beagle narrative.

      1. I have a book somewhere about the natives Fitzroy tried to christanize , can’t find it
        but while looking , did find a book about Fitzroy titled “Evolution’s Captain ” .

        We can get the Smithsonian channel over here in GB ,is it likely to be shown on it ?

  6. “The service staff is aboard for eight straight months, working, I think, seven days a week, and then they go home for four months. Compared to the Philippines, the wages here are good, so they’re willing to leave home for much of the year to earn money to send to their families. (Room and board for the staff is likely free.)”

    Phillipines Median Income: $12,000 pa
    Average 21 Day Cruise: $7-8,000 pp

    How many of us would be prepared to work 7 days a week away from home for 8 months?

    How many hours a day?

    What’s is the total wage for those 8 months?

    “go home for four months” you mean ‘laid off’?

    We are given few numbers. Also be interesting to see their living quarters (we’ve seen our host’s).

    I have no reason to doubt that this cruise company is not better than most, but it does suggest why globilisation is so popular.

  7. Always more to learn. I have been following every travel post with keen interest. Have been looking up other maps for more detail on the names of locations etc. Can’t thank you enough for taking the time to keep these up while you are away. Would love to see the lectures too.

  8. In 1843, Capt. Robert Fitzroy became governor of New Zealand. One of his first tasks was to deal with a bloody clash between a group of white settlers and a large assemblage of maori over the question of land ownership rights. During the skirmish (at Wairau, near Blenheim in the South Island) a number of whites were killed as well as the wife of one of the maori chiefs. After the skirmish, with several whites killed, the remaining nine surrendered. The chief who had lost his wife wanted revenge (utu) for his loss, so summarily executed the nine prisoners. Later, Fitzroy took the view that the maori utu response was part of their culture and, to the dismay of white settlers, took no action against the chief. This was a remarkable judgement and helped maintain peace between the maori and the land hungry white settlers, at least for a while. The event is known as the ‘Wairau Affray’.

  9. That food looks so good. I too don’t eat breakfast. I have wavered between eating big lunches and small lunches. These days I don’t eat much and just have a decent meal in the evening. I would feel sad not being able to stuff the food in (because it’s not worth the painful consequences).

  10. “Room and board for the staff is likely free.”

    Perhaps some volunteer to sleep on deck in exchange for a little extra in their pay packet? Shouldn’t be an option on an Antarctic cruise.

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