Wednesday, January 04, 2017
Sacramento, California, United States


In addition to the wildlife and extreme environments, one of the reasons I wanted to go on this trip is that the Antarctic ice is melting rapidly. I would like to see it while it is still somewhat intact. This is the same reason Cindy and I chose to kayak 500 miles down the Noatak River in the Brooks Range above the Arctic Circle in the "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)" in 1982 when the Refuge was threatened by possible oil drilling since 1977. We wanted to experience that wilderness before it was exploited and spoiled. Actually, now the new Trump administration nominees (including Exxon's CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State and Myron Ebell for head of EPA – both climate deniers) are again threatening to drill in ANWR and off the coast of Alaska. If you are interested in seeing those environs in their more pristine state, you might want to book soon…


Back to present day science: Several recent articles published in scientific journals, and recently summarized in the popular journal Scientific American, identify that both land and sea ice in Antarctica is decreasing at an alarming rate – an ice sheet in West Antarctica is breaking up from the inside out [Nov 29, 2016 article] and a large patch of sea ice the size of India has now vanished entirely, bringing the total amount of Antarctic sea ice to an all time record low in early December (their summer) of 4.33 million sq miles, beating a previous record low from 1982. And, Arctic (i.e., North Pole) ice is also currently exhibiting a record low at this time of year (their winter), beating the previous record low for Arctic sea ice in 2006.

ENDURANCE: Another reason I was enthralled by this Antarctic Expedition is that it nearly parallels the expedition path that Sir Ernest Shackleton took over 100 years ago in his ship "Endurance" during his 1914-1916 tragic attempt to cross Antarctica over the South Pole. If you haven't heard of or read this amazing story of leadership and survival, now might be a good time to engage (get the book ENDURANCE). Otherwise, I will try to sprinkle bits of his story throughout this blog as we move along our journey…


I am fortunate that one of my former Ph.D. graduate students, and since then my colleague in crime, Roger Helm, will be sharing this trip with me. Roger was the Chief of the Environmental Contaminants Division with the US Fish & Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C. and spent many years working on the Gulf of Mexico BP Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill that occurred in 2010. We conducted research together on the Alaskan Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in 1989 and so are somewhat familiar with the polar conditions we may face a bit further south... We will share a cabin and both contribute to this Blog.






The Ocean Diamond has been recently refurbished. She is a superb oceangoing vessel equipped with stabilizers and an ice-hardened hull, allowing her to easily navigate the most rugged natural environments. Each stateroom features configurable beds, flat-screen television, and en suite bathroom. The Ocean Diamond carries 144 crew members, can support 175 passengers, and has a fleet of Zodiacs available for accessing remote shorelines and islands. Built in France in 1974, she tips the scales at 8,280 tons.

And, for comparison: here's Shackleton's ship, the ENDURANCE in 1914 --

ENDURANCE:  She was built in Norway in 1912. She was 144 ft long, 25 ft beam, and 348 tons gross. Her keel members were four pieces of solid oak, one above the other, adding up to a thickness of 85 inches (2,200 mm), while its sides were between 30 inches (760 mm) and 18 inches (460 mm) thick, with twice as many frames as normal and the frames being of double thickness. She was built of planks of oak and Norwegian fir up to 30 inches (760 mm) thick, sheathed in greenheart, a notably strong and heavy wood. The bow, which would meet the ice head-on, had been given special attention. Each timber had been made from a single oak tree chosen for its shape so that its natural shape followed the curve of the ship's design. When put together, these pieces had a thickness of 52 inches (1,300 mm).




And, here is Shackleton's FINAL ROUTE: (slightly altered from his original plan...)

(but, based on Shackleton's luck, one never knows what one may face on a day-to-day basis)!

JAN 4/5/6:
Depart USA / Buenos Aires, Argentina / Ushuaia
 Sacramento -> Houston -> Buenos Aires, arriving in Ushuaia the next day. 

JAN 7: Ushuaia / Embark Ocean Diamond 
--> Quick cruise on a smaller vessel through the Beagle Channel and disembark in Tierra del Fuego National Park for nature hikes surrounded by dramatic scenery. Board the Ocean Diamond this afternoon and set sail for the Falkland Islands.

JAN 8: At Sea While on the Ocean Diamond attend lectures on the natural and historical highlights ahead during a day at sea. 

JAN 9-10: Saunders Island, Falkland Islands / Stanley
Go ashore on Saunders Island to find colonies of gentoo, rockhopper,
and Magellanic penguins. The next day, visit Stanley, the British-flavored
capital of the Falklands.

JAN 11-12: Cruising the South Scotia Sea
Lecturers recap our experiences and prepare us for our visit to South Georgia. On deck, join naturalists in search of the seabirds and marine mammals that flourish in these nutrient-rich waters.
 JAN 13-15: South GeorgiaFlexibility in this area is a must. Many of our leaders have been to South Georgia numerous times and, if the weather is in our favor, they may offer a landing before breakfast or even after dinner. Call at some of the many islands, bays, and coves where we will see outstanding birdlife and elephant and fur seals close at hand. The following is a list of places we plan to visit on South Georgia; some of them are pending final government approval.

 Elsehul Bay
 – This beautiful bay is home to thousands of fur seals as well as macaroni penguins, the most numerous of all penguin species. Listen for the high-pitched trumpeting of king penguins amid the magnificent sounds of marine mammals that echo in the bay.

 Salisbury Plain
 – Two glaciers flank Salisbury Plain on South Georgia's north coast. Here, more than 200,000 king penguins congregate and breed, and you are greeted by one of the more remarkable sights—and sounds—on Earth.
Stromness Bay
 – Site of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his party's arrival after their harrowing crossing of the island’s glaciers on foot, Stromness offers views of cliffs and a glacier from which the adventurer and his companions descended.

 – Go ashore to discover the ruins of this once-active whaling station. The cemetery holds a special fascination, as it is here that Shackleton is buried. Seabirds, penguins, and marine mammals can also be found here.

 Gold Harbour
 – At the foot of the Bertrab Glacier, Gold Harbour is often referred to as the "jewel in the island’s crown." In addition to a large king penguin colony, you are likely to see elephant and fur seals, gentoo penguins, giant petrels, and with luck, light-mantled albatross.

JAN 16-17: At SeaNaturalists recap our memorable visit to South Georgia and introduce us to the history, geology, and wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula and its surrounding islands.

JAN 18: Elephant Island
Today arrive at Elephant Island, made famous by the Shackleton expedition. Awesome glaciers, speckled with pink algae, create a dramatic backdrop. Weather permitting, enjoy a Zodiac cruise around the island and the opportunity to view a thriving chinstrap penguin colony.

JAN 19-22: Antarctic PeninsulaAs we cruise the waters of the Antarctic Peninsula and its adjacent islands, landings are dependent upon weather and ice conditions. There is the possibility that we may visit a research station and witness the scientific activities conducted by the multinational community of scientists working there. The expeditionary nature of this voyage precludes guaranteeing specific stops; in the past we have visited the locations below. This list serves as a guideline only of the places we may 

Brown Bluff
 – Located on the Antarctic continent, Brown Bluff rises 2,450 feet above an ash beach littered with bizarrely shaped boulders. Some 20,000 pairs of Adelie, and hundreds of gentoo penguins, make their home here. Skuas and pintado petrels nest near the top of the cliff and kelp gulls fill the air with perpetual sound and motion.

 Deception Island
 – As we approach Deception through Neptune’s Bellows, a channel just wide enough for the ship to navigate, southern fulmars and pintado petrels soar overhead. Weigh anchor inside a volcano whose collapsed cone was filled by rushing seawater.

 Lemaire Channel and Pleneau Island
 – Cruising the beautiful Lemaire Channel, keep watch for the humpback and minke whales frequently spotted here. This narrow channel is one of the most visually impressive areas of the Antarctic Peninsula. Steep mountain peaks jut out of the sea on both sides, and the waters are often choked with icebergs and frequented by crabeater seals. A stunning labyrinth of grounded icebergs lies in the shallow waters west of Pleneau Island, presenting a superb Zodiac cruising experience. Crabeater and leopard seals haul out on the ice, and elephant seals and gentoo penguins occupy the island itself.

JAN 23-24: Drake Passage
During our Drake crossing, watch for wandering and black-browed albatross, sooty shearwaters, and white-chinned petrels. Whales are also frequently seen in these waters.

JAN 25-26: Ushuaia, Argentina / Disembark / Buenos Aires / USA
Disembark in Ushuaia and transfer to the airport for our flight to Buenos Aires, connecting with our independent overnight flight. Roger and I are planning to spend 2 days in Buenos Aires on our return. Arrive back in the US on January 28.
Other Entries


Roger Helm

Hi Family and Friends, Tom has done a great job summarizing his motivations and providing the background info that describes our upcoming trip. Like Tom, I also recognize how quickly even the most remote places on our planet are changing. Winter time temperatures in the Arctic now regularly rise well above freezing and already it is a vastly different place than it was 27 years ago when Tom and I studied the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I just had to go see for myself what is happening to the 'anti'-arctic and experience this crazy cold, penguin stronghold before it is neither.

Si SImenstad

Sounds like a great itinerary, Tom and Roger!....with more than the average dosage of penguins! I will be interested to hear if you make it into Port Foster (Deception Island); we couldn't get in when I was there five years ago. If you have the opportunity, you might check out the extensive chinstrap penguin colony on Baily Beach, just around the corner from Baily Head. Have a good start on the trip!


Thanks Si.... be looking' out for those chinstraps!

Roger Helm

Thanks Si. I'm just hoping we don't need helmets with chinstraps for crossing Drakes Passage

Si Simenstad

Presumably, the OD will have ratchet tie-down straps or heavy-duty bungee cords on the bunks for that part!?!

Peter Weiler

Hi Tom and Roger! We are logged in and anticipating following your blog from the hammock under out Tiki Hut in our South Florida back yard! Hope you can come here to thaw out!

Pete Weiler

Dennis Paulson

Tom, that sounds like some wonderful trip coming up. I spent the month of December 1987 lecturing on two back-to-back Society Expeditions cruises to Antarctica and the Falklands, and it was one of the highlights of my life as a naturalist. The pristineness of the environment, the spectacular scenery, and the tameness of the wildlife all contributed to this. Rock on!


From the home staging area: at least here in Sacramento region, there is one very excited traveler as the time gets closer. Our bedroom is luggage central and our bed is covered, over and over again, with the gear - checking and double checking with frequent trips to REI to try out other things. Bet these two buddies are going to have an incredible adventure!

David Wisowaty

Great overview. Thank you! Looking forward. BTW, something is awry with the hyperlink to the OCEAN DIAMOND. Just goes into an endless spin.

David Wisowaty

Tracked the route on Google Maps. A lot of water and a gigantic continent!

Cousin Allyson and Aunt Fran

Great !!! Bon Voyage and Gods Speed ~ Mom and I will look forward to your posts ~

Laurie Neese

Roger i am very excited to hear of this amazing trip-- i am certain it will live up to your expectations! your accommodations sound great...i recently reviewed my father's 1932-1934 cod-fishing experiences, sailing from SF to the bering sea....4-masted schooner, no power, no running water, no refrigeration, 40 men on a ship for 5 months with no landfall at all during that time.....you guys have it made! of course, i hope it will be a little colder where you are headed. i am looking forward to reading all about your adventures....

Adi and Pete

Bon Voyage, So excited for you and eager to follow your adventures

Roberta Kieronski

Sounds like a great trip! Enjoy everything on this exciting adventure.

Roger Helm

Yes compared to just a few decades ago we have it easy in travel these days what a blessing to be able to go to multiple fascinating places in one lifetime vs only having the time and physicality to do just a few trips

Roger Helm

25 Hrs of travel now in Ushuaia, Argentina busy town very safe feeling, expensive, pretty- nestled between snow covered mts and large Bay Nat'l Geographic ship in harbor

Bruce Wyman

Godspeed, Roger and Tom. Love the Shackleton stuff; amazing and heart-wrenching story of survival. We all look forward to following you both remotely. Safe travels! Bruce Wyman

David Wisowaty

Wow! Right on Tierra del Fuego. I see you are on the Beagle Channel. Is that where the clipper ships made their passage on the way to the West Coast?

Roger Helm

I assume so as it would have been much safer and quicker than braving the seas and winds of Drakes Passage seems quite wide even if one had to tack some