Thursday afternoon and I’m in the bar on the top deck of the good ship Akademik Sergey Vavilov enjoying a nice cup of tea. On the horizon there’s a menthol blue iceberg as majestic as a cathedral, while close by a family of snoozing crabeater seals drifts past on their own private ice-raft. It’s a great opportunity to continue writing my where2wearit blog which offers travel tips from made-to-measure experts Alice & Co.
My globetrotting travel writing partner, who has been almost everywhere, always says Antarctica is the place that has most knocked his socks off on account of its icy grandeur and untouched beauty. So I’m thrilled to see it for myself and the best way to do this is on a ten day voyage with One Ocean Expeditions.
Setting sail from Stanley in the Falkland Islands, we head south across the notorious Drake Passage to the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. Our goal is to cross the Antarctic Circle then make a neat loop back to King George Island to fly back to Puntas Arenas near the southern tip of Chile.
Our ship is an ice-strengthened scientific research vessel especially adapted to the extreme conditions down here. At the helm veteran captain Leonid Sazonov and his Russian crew keep everything safe and shipshape.
My shipmates are a merry international crew of about 90 souls including keen birders hoping to see albatrosses, petrels and shags, travel fanatics ticking off their extensive bucket lists, plus some crazy extreme kayakers who get their kicks paddling through icy and dangerous waters!
I’m hoping for a sculpture park of icebergs, to see some whales, and after my stay in the Falkland Islands lots more penguins – and I’m not disappointed.
Come along boys!
In this sub-zero climate it’s essential to get togged up in all the below! I particularly recommend investing in some merino wool base layers and a lightweight padded jacket that can double as a cushion on long-haul flights. During my trip the temperature hovers around zero most of the time but the wind chill factor makes it feel much colder. As it’s easy to lose things bouncing around in a zodiac, I found it useful to add cords to my sunglasses, gloves and iPhone.
I’m very grateful for some merino wool layers from Foxologyclothing.com designed and manufactured in the UK by my friend and fellow designer Dawn Foxall.
Fortunately the top layer of heavy duty dungarees, Antarctic-strength jacket, mighty rubber boots and lifejacket are provided by One Ocean Expeditions – plus some useful binoculars – thank goodness, as I’d never get that lot in my suitcase!
A gung-ho band of multi-talented “adventure concierges”, mostly from Canada and Australia lead our shore excursions and take us on iceberg and wildlife sightseeing cruises in zodiacs – when the sea is choppy these become exhilaratingly cold and wet joy rides!
When she’s not driving a zodiac, Heather on the left is our on board yoga teacher, Kaylan teaches us the best way to address a penguin and here’s Allie all bundled up on snow patrol.
During the voyage Heather and expedition leader Chad become engaged so we have a lot of fun designing her an Antarctic-inspired wedding dress featuring appropriate motifs such as snowflakes, krill and kelp.
Also on board is Debra Garside, an award-winning wildlife photographer who is a finalist in the current prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London, UK. She gives us invaluable lectures on how take a good pic in Antarctic conditions. This can be hard when you’re wearing mittens!
The ever-changing clouds, snow and occasional glimpses of sunshine light up the icebergs dramatically for us and make for great photo ops.
As part of our many on-board activities Debra challenges us to a photography competition.
I’m pleased as punch to win the ‘Portrait’ section with this shot of one of the crew cleaning the windows – especially as I snapped it with my iPhone and there are a lot of photographers with seriously large lenses on board!
Crossing the Antarctic Circle is always a good excuse for a glass of fizz with a penguin!
On a more thoughtful note, our historian Dr Katie Murray gives us an insightful talk about Scott, Shackleton and the perils which have faced Antarctic explorers.
It was a bleak and lonely life for the early whalers, sealers and scientists stuck out here for months at a time,
with their lives only spiced up by some pin-up girls and a few bottles of HP sauce.
Everyone on board is very keen to see whales so whenever a pod is spotted an announcement is tannoyed from the bridge and we all rush to port or starboard, fore or aft to see them breeching and spouting – cameras at the ready.
We get more poignant sightings ashore where the bleached ribs of both the whales and the wooden boats sent out to catch them remain as eerie reminders of an industry which had such dire consequences for the whales and often for the whalers too.
On a more lighthearted note some crazy souls can’t resist an Antarctic dip and jump in!
This amuses the fur seal pups
but this elephant seal has seen it all before!
On our last night on board we’re invited to the Captain’s Table for dinner, which is a fine excuse to dress up in my new Alice & Co merino wool Iceberg Dress.
Click here if you’d like the pattern to make one for yourself for Antarctic cruising or to wear anywhere you might need to dress up while travelling – this example is made from merino wool but you can use any jersey fabric that suits the climate in your destination. Here I was feeling creative so decided to cut up and sew together two large scarves from John Smedley whose merino is always top quality.
In downtime moments in my cosy cabin I enjoy reading Terra Incognito by travel writer Sara Wheeler – a comfortingly thick volume packed full with her entertaining Antarctica adventures as well as a lot of interesting history about explorers and scientists.
It’s been an amazing voyage and I agree Antarctica is indeed one of the most special places on earth for its beauty, wildlife and history and I feel very lucky to have experienced it. Now I’m off to pack up my kit bag and head north for some warmth and sunshine in Valparaiso, Chile.
All images © nigeltisdall.com
Please get in touch here if you’d like to order an Alice & Co made to measure outfit or download one of my PDF patterns to make something yourself, whether for travelling or staying at home.
Find out more about Alice & Co made to measure outfits and Alice’s travel bug here.
If you enjoyed this post I’d love to hear from you please click here.