Antarctica - January-February 2006         The Lemaire Channel
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Leaving Buenos Aires meant our warm weather time was up, so we headed to the airport for our flight to Ushuaia, where we would board our ship, the Marco Polo. We traveled by Argentina Airlines for this four hour flight of 1800 miles, and we traveled first class. It just seemed to be the luck of the draw and was very posh. The food was great, and the champagne wasn’t too bad either. Anyway, we arrived to nippy temperatures and overcast skies. But never fear, we were prepared. (Continued at bottom of page)

Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, and the people in the area live tax-free. This was one of the incentives offered by the Argentine government to those willing to settle this area. The town is tiny, and most supplies must be shipped in. Everyone we met seemed to enjoy living there, and one of our guides said the weather was quite balmy for that time of the year. It was the Argentine summer, and temperatures were in the 50's.

We boarded the Marco Polo, stowed our gear, and it was time for dinner and the evening show. Our dinner companions were two VERY southern LOL’s from North Carolina who, like some of our friends, apparently cruise constantly with short breaks to visit their landlocked home. They were really kind of cute. Onboard we received our bright RED parkas which were mandatory gear for all departures. I think they made us easy to find in case we fell out of the zodiacs. Our special life vests were also a bright red.

We sailed into the Beagle Channel and cruised Drake’s Passage during the night. Now, think back to your fourth grade history and geography classes, and you’ll remember these. The Beagle Channel is named after the HMS Beagle on which a young Charles Darwin sailed in 1831-32. His scientific notes and fossil collections culminated in his 1839 publication of The Voyage of the Beagle, a four volume work which gave him prominence in the scientific world. From the channel we sailed into Drake’s Passage, the body of water between the southern tip of South America at Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. The passage is part of the Southern Ocean and is named after Sir Francis Drake, who never actually sailed through it. He chose the calmer route of the Strait of Magellan. Since we traversed it at night, Ray was saved from most of the bumpy crossing.