We departed Ushuaia on Monday evening for the Drakes Passage crossing to Antarctica. The Akademik Ioffe sailed east through the Beagle Channel amidst a blaze of evening sun streaming through the clouds, highlighting the last of civilization that we would see for 10 days.
Navigating the channel took us through to about midnight from when we were in open sea. Apparently it was calm; at least that is how the experienced expedition leaders describe a two to three metre swell. Still, the Akademik Ioffe took this in its stride and provided a relatively stable crossing. It has a sophisticated stabilization system which shifts the fresh water supply rapidly between tanks to counter the roll induced by the movement of the sea. The end result is a gentle but nevertheless noticeable rocking which has been fine for me but left some of the expedition members feeling somewhat less than ideal. However the turnout for meals has been pretty high so I guess most are OK.
During our passage through the Beagle Channel we all sat through the first instalment of our expedition leader’s story. Robert Swan is the founder of 2041 and can be best described as a courageous modern day explorer. He has trekked to both the North and South Poles on foot and uses his experiences to help people understand the principles and practices of leadership. It turns out that his first expedition to the South Pole in the mid 80’s was in part sponsored by Shell – we supplied the fuel for the ship and oil for the burners used on the walk. But extracting this had been a challenge in itself – Shell had initially declined but was eventually persuaded of the merit of such a gesture by evidence that the company had done the same for Captain Scott, the famous Antarctic explorer, when he first attempted the journey some 70 years earlier. Robert hadn’t taken “no” for an answer and instead had hunted through Scott’s papers in the British Library until he turned up proof of the connection in the form of a picture showing Scott sitting in his Antarctic hut on a drum of “Shell Spirit”.
Apart from good conversations with many of the expedition members and some excellent meals, the highlight of Tuesday was taking endless photographs of the various sea birds following the ship. It was pretty much that or nothing as there is little formal programme during the crossing itself. Most spectacular are the huge albatross, which seem to effortlessly glide around the ship for hours on end with hardly a flap of their wings.
My “climate change team” met for the first time in the afternoon. This is a group of very knowledgeable people from within the expedition who have been drafted by the 2041 team to help me lead a series of discussions on climate change over the coming ten days. As I mentioned before, this is an issue that is high on almost every participant’s agenda and it simply isn’t going to be possible for me to sit in on every team discussion – so now I have a group of ambassadors to help do that – and very passionate ones at that.
We passed over the Antarctic Convergence at about midnight on Tuesday. This is the point at which the warmer waters – i.e. 10⁰C – of the Southern Ocean give way to the much colder waters of the Antarctic – it also means we are in the Antarctic region – finally.