Rescue amid the glaciers
When a friend and I decided to vacation in an out-of-the-way place where few people travel, we chose Antarctica.
On 13 Nov. 2007, we flew from Montreal via Santiago to Punta Arenas, on the southern tip of Chile, where we boarded the MS Nordnorge with 200 other passengers.
From Punta Arenas, we sailed along the Chilean coast through the impressive fjords of Patagonia to the Garibaldi glacier. As the ship sailed close to the glacier, it calved, shedding chunks of ice into the sea.
After an overnight stop at Puerto Williams, we sailed toward Cape Horn. The rough seas prevented us from landing, so we headed south 700 nautical miles across the Drake Passage, a 36-hour trip in gale force winds. Nearing the South Shetland Islands, we glimpsed large icebergs as well as snow- and glacier-covered land.
After entering the Bransfield Strait between the Antarctic mainland and the islands, we landed on Half Moon Island, where we met our first colony of penguins. Unafraid of humans, the birds walked right up to us.
To land, we boarded inflatable boats, eight passengers to a boat. By international agreement, only 100 people at a time may be ashore at any given location. We were told not to smoke or interact with the animals.
As we continued south along the ice-covered coastline, a message came over the intercom that we were changing course to assist a ship in trouble. We arrived on the scene to find a smaller ship, the National Geographic Endeavour, standing by. Lifeboats and inflatables were filled with passengers and crew from the MS Explorer, which had struck ice and was taking on water.
Our ship had room to spare, so we lowered our lifeboats and transferred the Explorer’s 154 passengers and crew aboard. The operation took more than two hours. We collected clothing for the rescued people, who had only the clothes on their backs.
We departed after a Brazilian navy vessel arrived on the scene. The MS Explorer sank hours later. The next day, we put the rescued people ashore where they could be flown out.
Our vessel’s crew did a professional job during the rescue, and as luck would have it, the usually stormy seas had been calm.
We landed four more times in Antarctica and got our passports stamped before returning to South America. We disembarked at Ushuaia, Argentina, and flew to Buenos Aires, where we visited the Iguazu waterfalls on the Brazil-Argentina border before flying home to Montreal.