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Exploring Antarctica

Leaving the known world

M/V Ushuaia

Winter time in the northern hemisphere is the right time to visit Antarctica, as it will be summer there. From San Francisco you will most likely fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is a wonderful city and worth spending some time in either before or after your visit to Antarctica. Ushuaia is your next stop and is the better part of 4 hours away by jet aircraft. This little tourist outpost is at the southernmost tip of South America. In summer the temperature in Buenos Aires, on average, is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature in Ushuaia, on average, is 40 degrees Fahrenheit. But the temperature in the Antarctic Peninsula will be 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or less, in summer. You will experience an almost exponential drop the further south you go.

Snowing on the Beagle Channel

I arrived at Ushuaia during a snow storm in November 2007. Snow and sleet were blowing sideways across the runway at over 30 mph. Luckily I had a sky bridge to leave the airplane via and was insulated from the freezing weather outside. After picking up my luggage I boarded a small bus and was shuttled through Ushuaia to the docks. My ship the M/V Ushuaia was waiting for me there. I had to make a short walk from the bus to the ship. This exposed me to the full force of the weather and it was bitterly cold. After a few photos I boarded the ship, registered, and was shown to my cabin. The room was small, but adequate for my needs and my brother's who I was sharing it with. We also had to share the bath room with another cabin, but we soon spoke with our neighbors and worked out a plan.

Antarctica, the forgotten continent (Part One)

After a short reception and orientation lecture a life boat drill was conducted. Then we ate dinner and the ship set sail via the Beagle Channel to the open ocean and the Drake Passage. The Beagle Channel was named for the ship that Charles Darwin made his world changing trip on. The HMS Beagle passed through the channel on its way to the Pacific Ocean on 29th of January 1833.

Predictions of 30 mph winds in the passage only delayed the departure, they did not stop it. The sail through the Beagle Channel was smooth. However, the high winds predicted for the Drake Passage had everyone talking about their motion sickness medications and strategies. I had my under-ear patch on to guard against this dreaded ailment. However, there are no medicines or practices that can stave off the illness induced by sailing the Drake Passage; you must endure it.

Antarctica, the forgotten continent (Part Two)

It takes approximately 2.5 days to cross the infamous Drake Passage from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula. It is infamous because this stretch of water has a reputation of getting very, very rough. The other phenomenon that makes traveling here tough is that the sun does not set until after 12:00am in November. The other influence that made this trip particularly harsh was that the Antarctic summer of 2007 was, what locals referred to as, a Shackleton Summer. This is a reference to the extraordinarily cold summer weather Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, the great Antarctic explorer, encountered on his ill fated expedition of 1914--17. Disaster struck this expedition when its ship, HMS Endurance, was trapped in pack ice and slowly crushed stranding the expedition in Antarctica.

The story will continue in my next article.

Exploring Antarctica, the Drake Passage.

More information:

Betchart Expeditions

Buenos Aires


M/V Ushuaia

Beagle Channel

Drake Passage

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton


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