Excerpts from March 6–7, 2017
On March 6, we flew from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia where we had 45-minutes to explore the small port town before boarding the ship, Ocean Endeavor, our home away from home for the next 10 days. I’ve never been on a boat for a prolonged period, never a vessel of this size, nor have I ever taken a cruise, so it was both overwhelming and thrilling. Before we boarded, the entire 2041 team, with more than 70 participants, gathered in front of Ocean Endeavor for a photo. The energy was electric and I was trying to soak in the moment when it finally hit me, we were really headed to Antarctica.
For many, this trip is one they’ve waited years to experience. They’ve saved every penny, fundraised money, secured sponsorships, and did whatever it would take to join the 2041 program in Antarctica. We have an eclectic group of passionate young people representing 32 nations and traveling from India, Qatar, Tokyo, China, Switzerland, England, and more to see and experience the last great wilderness on Earth.
We spent the day settling in, standing on the deck while we watched Ushuaia shrink in the distance and listened to important safety protocols from the Quark Expedition leaders. This included a fire drill, which I concluded was a form of hazing. None of us were prepare to enter the southern chill, but we stood there in two lines below the life boats while we waited for the all clear signal. That was the first time I was cold.
That evening, Rob addressed the 2041 group, inspirational as always. He reminded us of why we’re all here, stating that this expedition is not about preserving Antarctica today, but it’s about us as individuals and how we can become stronger, inspiring leaders so that in 24 years from now when the Antarctic Treaty is up for debate, we will be the leaders in power who are capable of making the impact needed to create positive change. Rob asked his team and others to stand as he gave a heartfelt thank you to his 2041 crew who made this expedition possible, the special guests from Huffington Post who are creating a documentary on climate change, and last but not least, me on behalf of SAP.
After many had already gone to bed, a few of us climbed to the second deck where we could look over the bow at the vast, black sea. The waters were extremely calm, which I understood was not the norm. Barney commented and said it was a positive indication that our crossing of the Drake Passage could be calm. He also noticed how close we were to Cape Horn, which was rare. The clouds continued to clear and stars slowly began to appear. “Look up, there’s King’s Cross,” said Barney. The five of us lifted our heads, hinged at our waists, and gazed up intently, enjoying the blissful moment. We stayed outside, freezing in the wind, but unwilling to go to sleep until the tip of South America was out of sight.
Waking up, I fully expected to hear about the rough waters ahead and potentially see or feel massive waves. To my surprise, and the surprise of the expedition leaders who have crossed the Drake Passage more than two dozen times, the waters were calm. And not just an ocean version of calm; it was glassy, like an early morning on Lake Tahoe.
The talk of the ship was about the stunning stillness of the sea. Due to calm waters, we were expected to arrive early the next day to the South Shetland Islands where we’d be able to make our first landing, a full day ahead of schedule. I spoke with the seasoned crew who all agreed that they had never experienced a crossing of Drake as smooth as ours. This was great news, but also sounded eerie, as if the perfect storm was brewing for our return to Ushuaia, but only time will tell.
I spent the day exploring the ship, learning about the Zodiac safety procedures, attending sessions on photography and wildlife, and getting to know people in the 2041 program. Each person I’ve spoken with has an incredible story to share about how or why they joined the expedition, and the organizations they work for or support at home. I intend to speak with many people and share their stories later.
We closed the day by watching the sunset and went to bed like kids on Christmas Eve, because tomorrow we would see our first iceberg!