Seaventure among the icebergs in South Georgia

Last week, we disembarked Seaventure in Sal, Cape Verde, off Africa’s west coast. We had spent 34 days aboard – a trip that started in Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentina on March 15 (it seems like a year ago!) and took us all the way up through the South Atlantic to Cape Verde.

In our previous post we gave an overview of the upcoming voyage and our expectations. But the reality of a month-long journey through waters that cruise ships seldom sail, and to islands that visitors seldom see, blew our expectations out of the water (so to speak!). Yes, it’s a cliché, but there’s no other way to describe it: This was truly the trip of a lifetime.

In the coming weeks, we’ll drill down more on the fantastic islands we visited: the Falklands, South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, and Santa Helena, But here’s a roundup of everything we loved about this South Atlantic voyage, and why we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

A Unique Experience

Captain Marin explaining the GPS chart plotter on our tour of the bridge.

Seaventure sails up to the Netherlands for dry dock and maintenance every year at the end of the Antarctic cruising season. But this is the first time she’s ever made the voyage with passengers aboard – and the first time with two Antarctic ports added (the Falklands and South Georgia) before heading north. In fact, it’s safe to say that no other cruise ship has ever taken this exact route, which covered more than 5,400 nautical miles.

On the final night of the cruise, Captain Marin spoke candidly to the group. He said he and his crew had been a little daunted by the challenges of taking passengers on this never-before-attempted itinerary, and that when we sailed out the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia he felt we were entering the unknown. (OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic – but we got his meaning!)

Shore-based tourists visiting a sea bird colony, viewed from the Beagle Channel after we left Ushuaia
One of our last views of the majestic coastline of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, just as we were leaving the Beagle Channel

The captain also said he’d been quite concerned about the weather forecast for the passage to South Georgia (now he tells us!) and had not been at all sure we’d be able to go ashore there. From our perspective, it was a pretty rocky crossing, but all in all the crew made it look easy and we were never too uncomfortable. Unlike other folks on the ship, we even avoided getting seasick (the muscle memory of our old sea legs kicked in right away!).

In places where we couldn’t go ashore, the captain and his crew did a fabulous job of maneuvering Seaventure to give us the best-possible views. This was at one of the old whaling stations on South Georgia.

Likewise, Marty, the expedition team leader, confessed that he’d been nervous about planning activities for such a long voyage, with so many unknowns about weather, landings, safety, etc. This team, as experienced as they were, was used to taking groups down to the Antarctic peninsula for a week or two – and several of them were visiting some of our ports of call for the first time. With the vagaries of the weather and sea conditions, not everything worked out exactly as planned (and as former bluewater sailors, we get that!). But we can’t say enough about the professionalism, knowledge, and gung-ho spirit of Marty and his team – who kept us challenged, entertained, and bedazzled for the entire 34-day experience.

Some members of our FANTASTIC expedition crew, which included naturalists, historians, and an award-winning photography coach. The expedition leader, Marty Garwood, is the cheery fellow to the left of the flagpole

Spotting Wildlife

From the outset, we knew we’d see plenty of wildlife both ashore and at sea. But the abundance of sea birds, whales and other mammals, and dolphins exceeded our wildest dreams. Every afternoon as part of the “Citizen Science” program, the onboard ornithologist – a wonderfully passionate scientist named Dan Brown – ran a seabird spotting session off the stern of the ship. Dan’s enthusiasm was infectious, and soon we gained a new appreciation for these birds and their unique adaptations to their watery world. My personal favorite: the wandering albatross!

A gentoo penguin just after a swim
A rare blonde fur seal pup
Our best pic of a wandering albatross. Fun facts: Their wingspan can reach up to 3.5 meters , they can fly up to 40 km an hour, and they live at least 50 years! They’re able to “sleep” while flying by shutting down half their brains at a time.
King penguins. You’ll be seeing a lot more of these guys in an upcoming post!
On another sea day, we sailed past a huge pod of melon-headed whales.
A juvenile elephant seal checking out the strange hoomans in South Georgia
One day we sailed past a pod of rare Commerson’s dolphins. Their black and white coloration means they’re sometimes confused with orcas. (Photo by Ben Osborne/Polar Latitudes)
A black-browed albatross, far out at sea
A cute chin-strap penguin

One unforgettable afternoon, we sailed into Husvik, an old whaling station on the north coast of South Georgia Island and were greeted with a horde of cute fur seal pups cavorting in the water. They put on a show for us!

The Icebergs

The seas around South Georgia and further to the north are known for icebergs, but no one (including the seasoned naturalists and ship’s crew) was quite prepared for what we encountered there.  The abundance and size of the icebergs was unprecedented; in fact, the expedition team said it was more than they typically see in an entire Antarctic season. Apparently, the bergs are fragments of a huge ice floe that broke off Antarctica in 2019 and slowly drifted to the northeast – breaking into bergs along the way. When they collide with land, some of them become lodged and continue to decay, creating fanciful shapes. As one of the onboard naturalists put it, South Georgia is where icebergs go to die.

One afternoon when we were far out at sea on the passage to Tristan de Cunha, Marty made an announcement that we were approaching a spectacular sight: a wall of ice as far as anyone’s eye could see. Captain Marin slowed the boat and changed course so that we could drift through the field of decaying bergs and take pictures. it was an uncanny and sobering moment, another reminder of how much climate change is transforming our seas and our world.

Stargazing

Ian’s laser pointer aimed at the Milky Way (Photo by Ben Osborne/Polar Latitudes)

Our South Atlantic voyage took us as far away from human civilization as it’s possible to get, which meant zero light pollution at night. We spent one magical evening lying on our backs on the heliport deck, the highest point on the ship, with the marvelously poetic Ian Bullock using a laser pointer to show us different constellations. Earlier that day, Ian, one of the ship’s scholarly historians/naturalists, had given us a lecture on the constellations of the southern hemisphere. At those latitudes, the Southern Cross is quite high in the sky. And the Milky Way was brighter and more vivid than any other time we’d seen it.

Photo Bragging Rights

Onboard Seaventure, we had the opportunity to learn from Ben Osborne, an award-winning photographer and naturalist who has worked with National Geographic and the BBC with Sir David Attenborough. Over the course of the trip, he shared lots of great tips and also ran two separate photo contests. John and I were thrilled that 10 of our photos made it to the finals round (out of hundreds). Although we didn’t win any categories, our photography confidence got a big boost! Here are our winning photos (plus the one of Seaventure among the icebergs at the top of this post).

Life Aboard

Seaventure became much more than a ship – it was our home for over a month. The ship was small enough that we got to know every nook and cranny (at least the ones open to passengers) and found plenty of little places to get away and just watch the sea whoosh by. Crew, team, and passengers became like family.

Some of our friends asked us if life at sea for 34 days ever became tedious or boring. The truth is that our daily schedule was so structured that we never lacked for something to do. The expedition team’s naturalists and historians gave at least one lecture every day on the wildlife we were seeing or the history of the next island we’d be exploring. It was like a mini university course on the South Atlantic (without the quizzes!). But if we wanted to just sit and read a book, that was fine too.

A typical daily schedule. The agenda was displayed every day on our cabin TV screens.

On some of the longer passages, the only real challenge was finding ways to stay active and exercise. There is a small gym on the 7th deck, but walking or running on a treadmill in big seas is a lot more challenging than you might think! We also took long exercise walks on the outside deck that went almost all the way around the ship (a full circuit is about a quarter of a mile).

A Plug for Polar Latitudes

John came across this South Atlantic voyage quite by accident while researching expeditionary cruises to Antarctica. While we spent time in the Antarctic on this cruise, we never set foot on the continent itself – the normal stomping ground for Polar Latitudes. We’re already thinking about coming back down and doing an Antarctica expedition aboard Seaventure. But what will it be like with a full complement of passengers (there were only 62 of us on a ship that normally carries 120), and for only one or two weeks? A different experience, to be sure.

Nonetheless, we know we’ll be back.  We can’t say enough about the expertise and professionalism of the expedition team, the kind and attentive crew, and outstanding level of service. We can’t imagine anything better on another ship, with another expedition company. As we said, this was the first time Polar Latitudes has attempted a repositioning cruise with passengers aboard, and there’s no indication (yet) that it will happen again next year. We feel so lucky we were able to jump aboard this unique opportunity!

Some of the passengers and expedition team on the bow of Seaventure, on the final night of our voyage (Photo by Ben Osborne/Polar Latitudes)
NEXT: Ushuaia, Argentina – Gateway to Antarctica

38 Comments

  1. Wow!! Absolute amazing. Very lucky to be the first to do this cruise with them. Brian and I have been planning an Antarctic cruise for a while, my research shows that the smaller the cruise ship the better. Looks like you had a blast and loved all the wildlife you were able to see. Great photos.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Gilda! Thanks. You really can’t go wrong with Polar Latitudes. Let us know how your planning goes!

  2. Julie Castleberry Reply

    Great recap, your pictures were amazing. That is a great trip!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Julie! It really was a fantastic experience.

  3. Oh my, Susan and John!!! Fabulous!! What a spectaculous trip and blog! I am so happy for you!! You have done a terrific job, Susan, of giving us all an extraordinary peek into your journey!!
    Thank you for taking the time to do all of this writing and photography!! I look forward to more!! Love you! Janis

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Janis! This blog post just about wrote itself – and it was a joint effort (John contributed a lot of the photography and thoughts) 🙂 Stay tuned, lots more coming from this epic trip!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much! It was a trip to remember, for sure 🙂

  4. What an amazing trip, sign me up! I’ll keep their website handy and keep checking for other trips. Your photos are amazing and I can hear your excitement in your words. Can’t wait for more! Maggie

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Maggie! You really can’t go wrong with Polar Latitudes 🙂

  5. Mike & Karen Cregan Reply

    You two are the envy of us all. Our sailing adventures in Mexico together pale in comparison to your travels since then.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Mike and Karen – how great to hear from you! But honestly, we would never trade those sailing days in Mexico for anything. We still say that was the best time of our lives – and a big reason is the wonderful friends we made, such as you two. Hope you’re doing well!

  6. Am gaga for all the unique wildlife featured here. I think the blonde fur seal pup and Commerson’s dolphins were my favorites

    And that field of decaying icebergs. Was it a nail biter to cruise through those things or were you too busy gaping at their beauty?

    I hear you about the challenges of being able to exercise on board a cruise ship in big seas. Am impressed that you managed to kept fit with walks in the cold weather.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi, Lisa! I also loved the Commerson’s – they’re pretty rare, apparently. We weren’t too worried about the icebergs, since this is a ship that routinely sails in Antarctica and is ice rated. The crew handled them like a champ!

      Glad to see you and Fabio are having such a nice time in Italy. We would love to see you over there someday!
      – Susan

  7. Wow! What an adventure of a lifetime. You saw so much, from uniquely-formed icebergs to all sorts of wildlife (especially penguins, my favorite animal)! A one-month voyage sounds intense; I get seasick fairly easily, so I don’t know if I can handle that long at sea, but regardless, it definitely looks like a worthwhile trip to do. I can’t wait to read more about the destinations you visited while at sea!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Rebecca! You might be surprised at how quickly you’d get your sea legs. Seems like most of the people onboard were doing fine after a few days. I love the penguins too – just can’t get enough of them!
      – Susan

  8. Such an amazing journey! Thanks for sharing it with us, mere mortals. 🙂 Your wildlife photography is stunning and those ice bergs… wow!! I have to agree with the cliché “once in a lifetime experience” for this one!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Liesbet! You never know, you two might be headed to Antarctica someday. Any plans to get to Ushuaia while you’re in Argentina? It’s a great city.

  9. Every time I heard from one of you during your trip, all I could say was “Wow”!! Truly a trip of a lifetime and your blog makes it come alive.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Mimi! I’m glad we were able to stay in touch most of the time. We wanted you to live the experience with us!

  10. What an a amazing adventure! Congrats on your photo wins. I’ve seen icebergs in Newfoundland, Canada and in Iceland. They’re spectacular. Now I saw icebergs in South Georgia through your lens. Thank you for sharing your adventure and stunning photos with us.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Natalie! We would love to see those icebergs in Newfoundland, Canada and Iceland. Maybe someday!

  11. This really sounds like a trip of a lifetime! Not just because of the remote places you went to (which most tourists who venture out to this far corner of the world don’t go), but also because of the rarity of it. Your photos are absolutely beautiful! It’s not surprising that Ben chose 10 of your photos as finalists. I’m glad you took this opportunity so that you can share your stories and images with us.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Bama – you basically summed up everything we loved about this trip. We’re so glad we’re able to share our impressions. Hope you and yours are well!

  12. Wow this is certainly a different kind of experience, very different from your typical cruise. Made special obviously by the quality and knowledge of the team on board. Can’t pretend to be a fan of the idea of cruises but wow this sounds good. Look forward to hearing more.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, HTs! We are 100 percent with you on the “idea of cruises” – we would never sign up for one of those huge ships with thousands of passengers. But when this opportunity came up – a ship that only holds 160 passengers and was less than half booked, that would sail to places that cruise ships never go – it was too good to pass up! And as you said, it was such an educational experience to boot. We’d hesitate to call this a cruise, although technically that’s what it was. We view it more as an expeditionary voyage 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Meg! Lots more coming from this trip. 🙂

  13. Oh wow, just absolutely unbelievable. Your photos are gorgeous, I really adore the one of the blonde fur seal pup 🙂 I can’t wait to read more about your adventures.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Hannah! We were really lucky to see that blondie – there’s only one for every thousand births. Lots more content coming up – stay tuned!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Nancy! It was a pretty unforgettable experience. Now we’re trying to figure out how to top it (oh, the possibilities)!

  14. Oh you guys! I’m gobsmacked; it sounds amazing in so many ways, and the boost to your photography confidence is entirely justified. Your photos are fabulous. Looking forward to future posts!
    Alison

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Alison! Lots more South Atlantic content coming 🙂

  15. I echo others who’ve commented on your stunning photos and what an incredible life-changing experience this must have been for you both being able to explore places so few people can on a small ship that hasn’t offered this repositioning cruise before AND may not again.

    Polar Latitudes should consider offering paying you both for a cruise to the Antarctica rather than the other way around after you extolled their crew as you did?

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ha, it’s definitely something to leverage in the future 🙂 Thanks, Annie!

  16. This is absolutely incredible!! Oh my gosh!! I frequently read blog posts and think to myself “ooh cool, I’d love to go there,” but this is on a whole other level. What an amazing voyage! I can’t wait to read more about each stop!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Diana! That’s pretty much how we felt about that voyage. Hoping to get some more posts out soon, but we’re traveling in Alaska at the moment. Thanks for reading!

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