One of the things that we find really wonderful about our current trip on the National Geographic Explorer is that no part of our itinerary is thoroughly planned in detail. The closest thing to planning of our daily activities is fervent hope on the part of our expedition leader, Bud Lenhausen, that what he would like to do is in fact possible.
Reality is part of the reason for uncertain scheduling – here in the Antarctic weather and climate conditions can change rapidly, as can ice conditions. For example, the original plan a week ago was for us to be down in the northern part of the Weddell Sea somewhere, but word had come from other ships in the area that the ice pack had gotten too heavy there to break through, even in the type of icebreaker we’re traveling in at present. So, a couple of nights ago Bud decided to have us head for the South Orkney Islands early and give us an extra day on South Georgia island (which was fine with most everyone on board).
In fact, even the first landfall on the Antarctic Peninsula was a bit of serendipity. Bud and Captain Oliver Kruse had decided to try and get us below the Antarctic Circle, but weren’t sure ice and weather would permit it. Fortunately, conditions were amenable, but fog prevented our first landfall, so we had to move to a new location. The result, however, was that we reached the furthest south latitude that the National Geographic Explorer had ever been, as well as the furthest south some of the naturalists had ever visited. Certainly it was the furthest south we had ever been, but that can be said for every day of the last week and a half as well.
And then there’s the wildlife that “gets in the way” of our “plans”. This morning, at 6:50am, Bud’s voice emanated from the ceiling about our bed (where the public announcement system speaker is located), apologizing for waking us all up, but wanting to let us know that the ship had come upon a blue whale adult and calf as well as a fin whale, and suggesting we might want to see them. The Captain then kept the Explorer circling to keep us near the whales for nearly an hour so we could admire (and take pictures of) one of the world’s rarest whale species.
And an hour later we came upon another mixed pod of blue and fin whales (half a dozen in total based on the blow counts I made), and the ship stayed with them for a while too. These two “distractions” will put us into the South Orkney Islands a bit later than originally planned (with planning done only a day or two ago), but so what?
On a regular cruise ship, port schedules are firm and inflexible – they are the rule. Here on the National Geographic Explorer, the only rule is to let nature adjust our course and schedule. That rule seems to be working pretty well for us so far, and it makes each new day an adventure full of unexpected surprises.