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Trip log: Antarctica & the Total Solar Eclipse Cruise

28 November – 12 December 2021

28-29 November 2021 | Buenos Aires

Graffiti in Buenos Aires, Argentina

The guests were delighted to arrive in Buenos Aires. For many of them, the excitement of a maiden voyage to Antarctica was heightened further by breaking free from the travel restrictions of the past 20 months.

A rainy afternoon had marked the guests’ arrivals the previous day, confining most to The Park Hyatt and its stunning gardens. Later at the welcome dinner, nine members of the A&K expedition team were introduced, including an astronaut and an astronomer who would offer added insights into the upcoming eclipse. The remainder of the expedition team would await our arrival in Ushuaia.

The following morning, guests enjoyed a morning at leisure to explore the avenues and flowering Jacaranda trees of Buenos Aires.

Later in the afternoon, the guests split up into two groups, one group taking in the city highlights along with a tango demonstration, the other exploring the significance of Buenos Aires’ world-renowned graffiti scene. Highlights of the day’s explorations included a historic home concealing a subterranean warren of tunnels, cisterns and canals.

In the evening, another welcome dinner was hosted. Afterward, the guests retired to rest for the next day’s early charter flight to Ushuaia where Le Lyrial awaited its next journey to the White Continent.

30 November 2021 | Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, Le Lyrial

Seabird, Antarctica

The morning began an exciting day for all embarking on this unique voyage. We woke early to catch our three-hour flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. We touched down in our port of disembarkation, a coastal enclave set against the stunning backdrop of Tierra del Fuego’s snow-capped peaks and forested valleys.

Lunch was enjoyed at the Arakur Hotel, our contemporary luxury resort set high on a promontory overlooking Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel and the mountains of Chile beyond. Afterward, many guests enjoyed a guided hike into the beech forests behind the hotel. Then, we boarded our coaches for the port where we boarded our luxury expedition cruiser, Le Lyrial, a modern, fast, stabilised vessel ideally suited for this type of journey.

After some routine safety drills, we gathered to meet the cruise director and the other members of the expedition team. Later, the guests enjoyed an elegant welcome dinner served aboard as Le Lyrial took on the last bit of fuel for the journey. At 21.30 we casted off and sailed gently out into the Beagle Channel, beginning what will surely mark the adventure of a lifetime.

1 December 2021| Drake Passage, Le Lyrial

Ship swimming pool

Today, our crossing of the Drake Passage via the South Orkneys was marked by relatively warm weather and gently rolling three-metre swells, just as the captain had predicted. Many of the guests spent the morning on deck watching as pelagic birds circled the ship. Later, the ritual of the parka exchange ensured everyone found the right fit for the expedition ahead.

Later, the expedition team offered a series of lectures delving into the region’s distinctive marine life, helpful photography tips and an overview of the Antarctic continent itself. Our ornithologist, Patri shared insights into the birds and penguins of the region. Photography coach Michelle Valberg followed with a presentation on the proper use of light. Soft-spoken marine biologist, Rich Pagen gave an engaging presentation on the whales of Antarctica, including the rarely seen Beaked Whales.

Afterward, the guests joined Patri and Michelle on the deck to put their newfound knowledge to the test as the team assisted with bird identification and photography. Geologist Wayne Ranney, wrapped up the day’s lectures with on overview of Antarctica’s geological history, shedding new light on the highest, driest, coldest, windiest continent on Earth. It was a special treat to be onboard Le Lyrial for Antarctica Day, an occasion that marked the 60th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty’s signing and the preservation of this far-flung corner of the globe for generations to come.

This evening, the ship’s senior officers were introduced to the guests as a prelude to the captain's welcome dinner. 

2 December 2021 | Drake Passage, Le Lyrial

Dawn broke with beautiful weather and a gently rolling ocean, continuing a wonderfully calm Drake Passage thus far.

Susan Kilrain shared her first lecture, an inspiring account of the obstacles she overcame to become a test pilot for Lockheed and later, a NASA astronaut. Our cruise director, Susanna then explained the zodiac procedures in detail. Expedition leader, Marco went through the IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) protocols. He then revealed that due to our good headway, we’d likely make our first shore excursion to the South Orkneys in the morning, an announcement that thrilled us all. Albatross and prions circled as Le Lyrial rode high on the building whitecaps and swells of the late afternoon.

Later, ornithologist Patri delved deeper into the region’s penguins. Then, astronomer Dr Massimo Tarenghi gave a presentation on photographing eclipses in anticipation of our viewing set for 04:08 on 4 December.

At recaps, Rob spoke about the journeys of early explorers, wrapping up another fantastic day at sea.

3 December 2021 | South Orkney Islands, Le Lyrial

Choppy waters beyond the bow

Unable to contain their excitement, many guests were up early to get their first sighting of Antarctica via the South Orkney Islands. This morning at 05.00 one of the guests won a bottle of champagne by spotting the first iceberg larger than the ship. The wind whipped between 25 and 45 knots, chopping up the sea against a backdrop of low cloud cover — typical Antarctic conditions.

After an early breakfast, the expedition team scouted Shingle Cove at 06.30 followed by the guests at 07.00. We were greeted ashore on Coronation Island by plenty of Adelie penguins and young elephant seals, with southern skuas circling overhead and Sunshine Glacier looming across the bay. The male elephant seals jousted, but the Adelie penguins stole the show as they took in mouthfuls of snow traversing between the ocean and their colony. Winds, waves and a rapidly dropping tide ushered us back to the ship around 11.00.

Back aboard, we enjoyed lunch as the sister ship of Le Lyrial, Le Austral passed closely by. Gusts of 55 knots blew spray coming from the tops of the whitecaps, a view best enjoyed from the safety of the ship. Storyteller Rob shared the exploits of Roald Amundsen, perhaps the greatest polar explorer in history. We retired in anticipation of viewing the eclipse ashore tomorrow morning.

4 December 2021 | Le Lyrial

Today we woke at 03.00 in preparation for the total solar eclipse expected at 04.08. After coffee and pastries, all guests and staff gathered on the rear decks. The ship’s crew gathered on deck four, clearly in great spirits. For the privileged few (around 3,000) viewing this eclipse, only visible over the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, it was an incredible experience. Cloud cover obscured the sun itself, but at exactly 04:08 the sky darkened very quickly.

For a full minute it was black as night, before rapidly becoming light again. It was a significant moment to be standing on deck and part of this extraordinary cosmic event.

Back aboard, Susan presented a wonderful series of images showing Earth as viewed from above. The images documented staggering changes in lake levels, river systems, deserts and forests that had occurred over the past 16 years.

By lunchtime, some rough weather the crew had been anticipating made its presence known with seven-metre seas and winds gusting to 50 knots.

At mid-afternoon, photographic coach Michelle showed us how to get the most from our cameras by turning off automatic mode. Then, Rob shared the story of Shackleton’s infamous misadventure onboard Endurance, one of the greatest survival stories of the modern age.

5 December 2021 | Le Lyrial

Penguin, Antarctica

The previous day’s rough weather continued as dawn broke on the next leg of our journey to the White Continent. Thankfully, the stabiliser on Le Lyrial took the edge off until the seas subsided considerably over the course of the morning.

Marine biologist, Rich Pagen presented a wonderful lecture on elephant, leopard and Weddell seals. Then, geologist Wayne Ranney gave an overview of Antarctic icebergs, bergy bits, growlers and brash ice, terms the staff and crew use regularly. Wayne went on to share some of the scientific information that has been discovered in Antarctica's fossil record and ice cores. Astronomer Massimo Tarenghi gave an interesting presentation on large telescopes, their history and their future. Photography coach Michelle Valberg then gave a beautifully illustrated presentation on creating emotional impact with wildlife photography.

Before evening recaps, executive Chef Philipp Morvan carved thin slices of Pata Negra (Iberian Ham) for us to sample as singer Ievgeniia Ponomarenko serenaded us in the main lounge. After dinner, the movie Endurance was screened, affording further insights into Shackleton's iconic trans-Antarctic expedition.

6 December 2021 | Rosamel Island, Brown Bluff, Le Lyrial

Adelie penguins

We woke at 04.00 to enjoy the 48-kilometre span of the Antarctic Sound. Known to many as ‘Iceberg Alley’. This is where Swedish explorer Nordenskjold’s ship, Antarctic was crushed by Weddell Sea ice in 1903, just as Shackleton's vessel would be 12 years later.

Later in the morning, the guests embarked on a zodiac tour near Rosamel Island, the sunlight playing on the surrounding snowfields. We spotted ice floes moving together, penguins and seals hauled out upon the ice, and a myriad of birds flying overhead, including the dainty Wilson's storm petrel.

As we enjoyed lunch back onboard, Le Lyrial manoeuvred for our shore landing at the foot of Brown Bluff. Due to the recent eclipse and alignment of planets, an astronomically low tide impeded the typical approaches to the landing site. Six team members donned dry suits and waded in chest-deep to negotiate the tricky landing, turning the zodiacs for an easier stern disembarkation. Large pieces of ice on the beach framed breeding colonies of gentoo and Adelie penguins — a sight enjoyed by all.

After a lively recaps and briefing at 19.00 guests enjoyed dinner and an early night anticipating tomorrow’s visit to Half-Moon and Deception islands.

7 December 2021 | Half Moon Island, Whalers' Bay, Le Lyrial

Half Moon Island

The weather today was typically Antarctic, with a strong wind blowing the driving snow. We landed at Half Moon Island surrounded by the majesty of Livingston Island beyond. Our exploration of the island revealed chinstrap penguins, kelp gulls, Arctic terns and Weddell seals, all set against a backdrop of Antarctic grandeur. Suddenly, the wind and snow abated. Then, the sun’s rays revealed the stunning sight of Livingston Island’s enormous snowfields plunging into the ocean, accompanied by the unmistakable sound of glacial calving. Upon returning to the ship, Rob Caskie spoke about the harrowing challenges faced by the Scott expedition.

After lunch, Le Lyrial navigated through the narrow entrance of Whalers' Bay, an ancient, water-filled caldera set in the heart of Deception Island. Guests lined the decks to watch as the captain deftly threaded the needle of Neptune's Bellows and into the sheltered series of harbours formerly used by sealers and whalers. Here, decaying whale oil tanks bear silent testimony to the magnitude of the whaling era’s slaughter.

While Deception Island is infamous for its cloudy, grey and overcast weather, this afternoon brought clear skies and relative sunshine. A leopard seal welcomed us from the beach, while humpback whales were spotted via Neptune's window. Guests lined the decks again to watch the captain’s skilful navigation out of the caldera and south toward the Gerlache Strait.

Later in the evening at Recaps, Wayne Ranney delved into the geology of Brown Bluff and Deception Island. Then, Rich Pagen ran through some of the previous days’ sightings and experiences. After dinner, we retired after another exquisite day in the Antarctic.

8 December 2021 | Cuverville Island, Neko Harbour, Le Lyrial

Fur seal, Antarctica

Sunrise today was at 02.38 and sunset will be at 23.38 leaving only three hours of partial darkness. Many guests have traded sleep for the thrill of witnessing as many spectacular Antarctic sunrises and sunsets as possible.

With snow falling steadily, we landed at Cuverville Island in the northern end of the Errera Channel. The bay and channel are famous for their abundant icebergs, and today was no exception. The expedition team cut steps in the deep snowdrifts that lined the shore to facilitate our landing. Once ashore, we hiked to a lofty vantage point overlooking the ice-filled bay and a gentoo penguin breeding colony. After our exploration, we returned to the ship aboard our zodiacs amid the spectacular beauty of the bay.

After a screening of the BBC documentary, Life in the Freezer: The Big Freeze, the southernmost barbecue in the world was hosted on the pool deck and deck six restaurant. After sending a zodiac ahead to scout the ice conditions, our captain decided to take us through the narrows of scenic Errera Channel. Snow and low cloud cover hampered visibility somewhat but did not diminish the unexpected thrill of navigating a 490-metre opening in the narrows of the channel.

Later in the afternoon, we landed amid the icebergs of Neko Harbour, marking our second Antarctic continental landing. A nearby glacier calved three times during our visit, sending large waves throughout the bay. Humpback whales were sighted, while the gentoo penguins entertained us from the shore. Again, it snowed for much of the afternoon, adding to the magic of this Antarctic experience. While some guests hiked to a vantage point, many chose to stay close to the landing site and simply bask in the magic of this special place, a feeling that stayed with us long after we returned to the ship for the evening.

9 December 2021 | Wilhelmina Bay, Paradise Bay, Le Lyrial

Zodiac expedition

Having sailed through the Lemaire Channel and Fujichrome Fjord the previous evening, today we found ourselves in Orne Harbour, near Wilhelmina Bay. We set out on a zodiac tour amid the icebergs and brash ice, enjoying a glass of fine champagne in true A&K style. We spotted nesting blue-eyed shags perched on the high promontories above the water, bracing themselves against freezing Antarctic winds.

Back aboard during lunchtime, we spotted Orcas right alongside the vessel — a true highlight of the journey. The pod moved around us, the two-metre-high dorsal fin of the male clearly visible, cows and calves in tow. Type B Orcas in all their glory, these giant dolphins feature on everybody's wish list, and seeing this group for an extended period at such close range was simply magical. Shortly thereafter, humpback whales revealed themselves as well — the icing on the cake.

Later in the afternoon, we took a zodiac tour of Paradise Bay and landed at Argentine Brown Station, marking our third continental landing. Like the landing at Cuverville, the snow at Base Brown was fresh and deep. As before, the expedition team carved steps in the snow for guests to climb ashore to the penguin colony and ascend the hill beyond. Snow fell consistently all afternoon, adding to the captivating atmosphere of the magical landscape.

Back aboard, members of the A&K Marco Polo Club were invited to a stunning cocktail reception before dinner, hosted by senior officers, the captain and the expedition team.

After dinner, classical pianist Elena Koraneva performed a beautiful recital in the theatre. We handed in our lifejackets, marking the unofficial end of landing operations and the beginning of our return voyage through the Drake and onwards to Ushuaia. A general quiet settled about the ship as we all contemplated this spectacular journey drawing to a close.

10 December 2021 | The Drake Passage, Le Lyrial

Today’s crossing back through the Drake Passage was marked by four-metre swells, putting the ship’s stabilisers to work. Seabirds skimmed just above the water, riding the air currents produced by wind and ocean movement as the icy landscapes and icebergs began to fade in our wake.

Back inside, our photography coach, Michelle gave some tips on processing and editing. Marco and Patri gave a presentation on albatross conservation in the Southern Ocean. A&K Philanthropy’s Keith Sproule discussed A&K’s support of the ACAP (Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels).

Astronomer Massimo outlined a history of great astronomical discoveries. Commander Susan Kilrain followed with her presentation of What's going on in Space, a moving video portraying her career as an astronaut.

After cocktail hour, we sat down to the captain's farewell dinner where all the ship’s staff were presented to the guests, giving us a better picture of those who work so tirelessly behind the scenes. 

They received a riotous applause, and waiter Ronny won employee of the month. Later, cruise director Paul Carter spun the vinyl as DJ, capping off a special day at sea.

11 December 2021 | The Drake Passage, Beagle Channel, Ushuaia, Le Lyrial 

The reception area was busy this morning with passengers returning their boots and waterproof trousers, another sign that our journey was ending. As if on cue, a group of pilot whales and wandering albatross appeared right alongside the ship, affording us one more wild encounter at sea.

After cruise director Paul gave the disembarkation briefing, Wayne Ranney gave a wonderful talk about the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego. Astronaut Susan Kilrain capped off the on-board lecture series with her magnificent presentation, Memories of an Astronaut.

Final recaps were great fun, with draws for the crew fund and save the albatross raffles. Keith from A&K Philanthropy then auctioned the A&K pennant that had been flown from the bow of the ship throughout the expedition, raising more proceeds for both funds while making a memorable final evening of this magnificent voyage.

12 December 2021 | The Beagle Channel, Ushuaia, Le Lyrial

Having docked in Ushuaia, we bid farewell to Le Lyrial and the expedition team, the last guests departing by 08.30. With time to reflect during our respective flights home, we contemplated new memories that will endure for the rest of our lifetimes.