Shackleton, Dulwich College and Antarctica

I grew up with the extraordinary exploits of Shackleton being brought to my attention every day, whilst I was at Dulwich College. Shackleton, being one of the most famous Old Alleynians, was always talked about in reverential terms by the masters who taught me from the age of nine.

During my time at Dulwich, Shackleton's boat the James Caird was in its display shelter at the school. There was also a marvellous painting, in the Lower Hall, of the James Caird crossing a very stormy Southern Ocean on its way to South Georgia. Both brought home to us all what an important part of the school Shackleton was.

The James Caird on display in the North Cloisters of Dulwich College.

I had always wanted to go to Antarctica so, when I saw the Silversea cruise 'In the Footsteps of Shackleton', which, in addition to visiting Antarctica, retraced the journey Shackleton had made from Elephant Island to South Georgia, I simply had to do it.

This therefore is the blog of our wonderful journey in November 2008 to Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Elephant Island, the Antarctic Peninsular and the Drake Passage across the Southern Ocean.

November 12th/13th - London to Buenos Aires

We arrived in Buenos Aires after a long overnight flight via Sao Paulo and were met by our guide, Raquel, and her driver. We didn't feel too bad as the time difference for us was only 2 hours. We checked into the Alvear Palace, which looked as good as we remembered it from 2001. Our room was on the 8th floor with good views of the city and across the River Plate to Uruguay.

After a quick shower and some lunch, Raquel took us on a sightseeing tour. We saw the Plaza de Mayo....

...the Casa Rosada...

...San Telmo, the Department of Agriculture and the University of Buenos Aires....

...La Boca...


....Tango dancing in one of the cafes of La Boca...

Madero (The Waterfront) with wrecked fishing boat....

.....the amazing Floralis Generica by the Argentinian sculptor, Eduardo Catalano that has petals that open and close in the morning and evening of each day....

....the cemetery at Recoleta with the Family Duarte vault and Evita Peron's grave.....

and other places we had visited during our last stay. The jacaranda trees were blooming and the whole city looked lovely in the sunshine.

We had dinner at La Biela, sitting outside remembering the drink we had with Colin and the beer mugs we both bought when we were there in 2001. Then, feeling pretty tired after all the travelling and sightseeing, especially in the heat, we crossed the street back to the hotel.

November 14th - Buenos Aires to Ushuaia

We were up at 4.30am for the 7.10 charter flight to Ushuaia. We met some of the other Silversea passengers - a lot of Americans, some British, some Australians and a couple from Mexico.

Looking down on Buenos Aires as we headed south for Ushuaia.

At Ushuaia airport our bags were taken straight to the ship, while we were all taken on a bus tour round the town. Our guide was Eugenia, a charming 25-year old local girl.

The snow-capped mountains surrounding Ushuaia were quite a contrast to Buenos Aires.

We went into the Tierra del Fuego National Park and had our passports stamped in the End of the World Post Office, located at the dock in the park.


We boarded the coaches and drove back through the park, stopping at the End of the World railway station for a coffee. Outside was a small green painted engine.

We then drove a short distance to a restaurant where we had a reasonable meal and had an opportunity to meet more of the group.

As we drove back to Ushuaia, the weather changed from cold and sunny to wet and then snowy in a matter of minutes.  Our first view of the Prince Albert II on the quay in Ushuaia.

We were finally taken to board Prince Albert II at 3pm. It is a wonderful ship! We had a glass of champagne and received our keys/security cards for entering and exiting the ship, and were then shown to our cabin, Suite 309. It was much larger than we had expected and very luxurious. We met our stewardess, Jane, who was very pleasant. We finally left the port at 6.30pm after waiting for 2 latecomers. We went up on the aft deck for cocktails and met some of the other passengers.

There were 2 jacuzzis on the deck, filled with hot water. We went to the theatre for a safety briefing and also the introduction to some of the crew. There was an impressive array of lecturers, who were experts in geology, history, ornithology and many other subjects. Our Expedition Leader was Robin West, a very personable young man from South Africa. Afterwards, we had dinner with Marty, John, Dee and Jim, all from Atlanta, Georgia. It was a beautiful restaurant with marvellous views and great food. We went to bed exhausted!

November 15th - At sea - Ushuaia to the Falkland Islands

Our bed was very comfortable, but we were woken in the night by the movement of the ship. Tim was up very early and saw a grey-headed albatross and other seabirds from the stern. We were now 3 hours behind GMT. We went up on deck after breakfast and looked at Cape Petrels (black and white splodges) and more albatrosses.


We went to a lecture on birds of the Falklands by the ornithologist, Chris. We went to a party for "first-timers" and met Sheena and John Garbutt, who had been involved in business with Tim some years ago! Tim was suffering from a swollen ankle and had been to see the ship's doctor, a young Turkish woman. We had lunch with her and heard about her travels. We then attended a lecture by the historian, Victoria, on the history of the Falkland Islands. It was interesting but long, and it was easy to fall asleep in the comfortable theatre seats with the swaying of the ship. We then had to go and select our Wellington boots from the ship's supply and were given Zodiac instruction. We seemed to have been busy all day and then we had to get ready for the Captain's cocktail party at 7 o'clock. We met Captain Peter Stahlberg from Finland and he introduced some of his crew to us all. We then had another very good dinner (lobster) with Mary and Stephen Lowry. We then went to bed as we had to be up early in the morning to board Zodiacs to West Point Island in the Falkland Islands.

Our cabin, 309.


November 16th - West Point and Carcass Islands, the Falklands

-We had an early breakfast and disembarked by Zodiac, which was fairly easy to do. Tim's foot was not feeling too bad. We were in the Rockhoppers Group for going ashore. The groups were to alternate, as only a certain number of people were allowed to leave the ship at one time. We saw Commerson's dolphins, which are black and white, playing around the Zodiacs.

Going ashore at West Point Island in the Zodiac.

West Point was a bleak, Scottish-looking place with flowering gorse everywhere. We saw a small Union Jack!

We had a dry landing on to a small pier and then walked in our group uphill and then on flatter ground for 1.2 miles with our leader, Denise.

Looking back down on to the bay with the Prince Albert II at anchor and one of the Zodiacs heading for the shore.

As we walked up the hill from the bay, we came across a a flock of striated kara-kara birds, members of the crow family. One of the bird experts said he had never before seen so many in one place.

I liked this photo!

There was rain in the air, but it was quite mild. We arrived at a colony of nesting black-browed albatross and rockhopper penguins. We climbed down the hill and were so close to them that we were able to take fabulous photos.


We also saw Upland geese with goslings.

We returned via the house of the Napier family who have lived on West Falkland for generations. We all went into the house in small groups and had tea and delicious homemade cakes, scones, jam tarts and biscuits.

We went back to the ship and had to clean our boots thoroughly before lunch. We had salmon in lemon butter sauce with John, Maureen, Ray and Jeanette (from England) and then we were off again, heading for Carcass Island. The sea was quite rough as we tried to get into the Zodiacs to go ashore, where we had a wet landing on to a beautiful white sandy beach.

We had a welcoming party of Gentoo penguins as we set off on our walk with Chris, one of the bird experts.

There are no rats, cats or other predators on the island and so there is an amazing selection of birds - Magellanic penguins, oystercatchers, skuas, kelp gulls, long-tailed meadowlarks (with a bright red breast), ruddy-headed geese and tussock birds.

A skua sitting in the grass, quite unperturbed by our presence.

We walked for about 2 and a half miles with Pauline and Peter and also Maria from San Francisco. We crossed another fabulous beach and then had a long walk uphill looking out over the bay where our ship was moving round to the settlement where we were to have tea and cakes.

As we walked along the path above the beach, we saw this long-tailed meadowlark sitting on a fence post.

We saw turkey vultures as we approached the house.

The occupants were a friendly couple. The man, Rob McGill, was a sheep farmer. We chatted to them for quite a while and had another wonderful tea with enough cakes and biscuits to feed a hundred people.

Our trip back in the Zodiac was in very choppy water and Tim and I, at the front of the boat, were absolutely drenched. Whenever we hit the wake of the other Zodiacs, I felt as if I was going to get thrown overboard. Back on board, we had to disinfect our boots and clean them thoroughly, in order to avoid taking seeds and so on from one island to another. After a de-briefing in the theatre, Tim and I were guests at the Captain's table, together with John, Marty, Stephen, Mary, Susan, Glenn, Jennifer and Matt. Once again, very good food.