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Storylines Escape to Antarctica

Posted by Michael Lundquist on Feb 2, 2024 8:37:06 PM


Special guest post written by Storylines future resident Michael Lundquist.                      


On the one hand, it was a cruise, with hotel-like accommodations, a restaurant, a bar and daily excursions. On the other hand, it very much wasn’t a cruise…it was an expedition. Storylines organized the trip for future residents through Oceanwide Expeditions aboard the Hondius, an expedition ship recently built at the same shipyard where MV Narrative is scheduled to be built. Although new, I found that an expedition ship is quite basic compared to a luxury cruise ship. Traveling with us, along with the ship’s crew and hotel staff, was the expedition crew – the people responsible for taking us ashore, educating us via daily lectures and keeping us safe while in an unforgiving environment. All of them are experts in topics relevant to the expedition. 


The expedition crew, led by a great guy named Adam, was fully integrated with the guests. We ate meals with them, hung out with them and got to know them as individuals. My friend and travel partner Michelle, being more social than I, also played games, joked around and made some lasting friendships with them and other crew members. At one point, for example, she conspired to get a new name tag made for the hotel manager with the job title “cat herder.”

We also got to know many of our fellow explorers, including some who will be on Storylines MV Narrative with me. This integration, along with the exploratory nature of going somewhere with an ever-changing landscape and weather dictating the course of travel, really made it feel more like an expedition into the unknown rather than a cruise.


Day 1

The most southern city in the world and gateway to Antartica, Ushuaia of Argentina-1

We boarded the MV Hondius (our home for the next 13 days) in the afternoon and did the standard safety drills, where we were introduced to cold water survival suits, which was new to me. Leaving Ushuaia (a town in Argentina on the southernmost tip of South America known as “the end of the world”), we traveled down the Beagle Channel towards the open southern ocean and the (dreaded) Drake Passage. We enjoyed our first dinner and the very late sunset (one of the last short nights of darkness) before taking anti-nausea drugs (the only time for me) and heading off to bed…hoping for the best.


Day 2

Mike in front of a lake outside Ushaia-1

We entered the open ocean around 12:45 am and started the several-hundred-mile crossing across the Drake Passage from South America to Antarctica. The waters became quite rough and we got our first demonstration of why humans didn’t visit Antarctica until the 19th century. We both made it through the night, however, as the rough seas continued it was hard not to be ill. Michelle got hit very hard and was effectively bedridden. I did okay but the “breakfast return bags” that were everywhere almost got used.


Just about everyone looked green, but we all also had preparations to make. We had to learn the rules of Antarctica, such as sterilization procedures to prevent the spread of things like bird flu, how to get in and out of Zodiacs in rough waters, and how to use some of the gear we’d need to get around. We also attended the first of our educational lectures on whales. The majority of the day, however, was spent napping and just getting by.


Day 3

Penguins in Antarctica launching off a rock into the sea-1We continued heading south with a little bit of calmer weather, although there were still a lot of sick people. We did briefings on Arctic kayaking and camping. Later in the day, we crossed into the Arctic Conversion Zone, which meant we could enjoy one of the world's best places to see wildlife – sea birds for the most part, including an albatross. This stage of the trip also gave more than a bit of perspective on human existence as it was the furthest away from civilization most of us had ever been.


Day 4

Iceberg ahead!

The sun never completely set (and wouldn’t again until we headed north). While we had sleep masks and blackout curtains, it still had an effect. Looking back at my Fitbit sleep data, I slept remarkably little that night and poorly the next week. We didn’t know we had (and therefore didn’t use) the full blackout feature of our room, but we also needed to see outside due to being ill. However, the seasickness was now passing… 

It was a very exciting morning. We woke to see our first icebergs! We had our first landing on the South Shetland islands. We landed right among a lot of elephant seals and gentoo penguins, which would become very familiar in the days to come. None of these animals had any fear of us and the elephant seals do whatever they want (we even had to change paths a couple of times to practice responsible interactions with any wildlife we encountered). I was in awe of it all.


Day 5


Today we stepped onto Antarctica proper – an entire continent humans didn’t set foot upon until 1821. It was magical in many ways. Michelle went mountaineering and I took some good photos of her way up high on the ice. I snowshoed through ice flows and deep snow and heard the gunshot sound of a glacier calving (breaking). I spent the rest of the day sightseeing by Zodiac. The highlight of the day was sitting still with the motor off right next to a resting humpback whale. It was 30 minutes of quiet, floating in the ice, with a light snowfall and no sound but the breathing of the whale - an amazing and magical experience. 


We had meals with the expedition crew throughout the day and quite a few more whale sightings from the ship. I saw a couple of minke whales while relaxing in the lounge and humpback whales while eating dinner. I lost count of how many and there were many more to be seen in the coming days.


Day 6

Kayaking through mini icebergs

Today was something I’d been looking forward to since this all started: kayaking. It was amazing beyond words to drift among very steep black mountains, tall glacial walls, and the occasional iceberg, with sea ice everywhere. At some points, there was more ice than water and we had to break our way through. Penguins were everywhere, mostly on land in this area. We got our first real smell of a colony too. GEEZ they stink!

In the afternoon we Zodiac-ed around an iceberg graveyard – an area where storms or tides had trapped a lot of them. There were a lot of penguins swimming and we took a snowshoe hike up a mountain to a penguin colony. They are curious birds and some of them joined us for the walk! 

Just before heading back to the ship, a number of people, including Michelle, stripped down and went for a “polar plunge”. There was ice in the water for effect and a small iceberg to grab onto for the especially “brave”.


Day 7

research station and penguins

We saw the first sign of civilization since leaving Ushuaia – a small seasonal research station. We had an interesting Zodiac tour with the expedition leader, seeing seals and plenty of penguins. It was very calm and the water was reflective. I got some amazing photos of ice and landscapes. We got in a little bit of trouble with the ship by being gone too long, though.

I’ve gotten rather tired of all the dressing and undressing. It takes a good 10-15 minutes of preparation to go on outings twice a day. Worth it, but so…many…layers… Sterilization procedures aren’t hard, but doing so every time we leave the ship gets weary, too.

The big event of the day was camping! We left the ship in the evening and traveled to a mostly flat point to dig our own graves…I mean holes in the snow and ice. I can’t say I slept much but I was only a little cold, mostly when air managed to get into the sleeping bag or when I leaned on the tent wall accidentally. Thankfully it was a windless time (there was no night). The lighting during the long long dusk was magical. Other than an occasional bird sound, it was totally quiet…800 miles away from the nearest town kind of quiet.


Day 8

Antarctictic Wedel Seal

I woke up and poked my head out of the hole to see Michelle pointing and indicating I should be quiet. Right there on the edge of the camp was a Weddel seal. It had come ashore and wormed its way right between people to settle down 20 feet from Michelle and me. It was unfortunately wounded. Not too bad given their thick skin, but there was still a trail of blood. Through the photos we took it was later determined by a marine biologist that it was likely attacked by an orca. It was interesting to learn that orcas were nearby while we camped.

We did more touring around by Zodiac today and encountered more seals and penguins. Mostly gentoo, but also some chinstraps. There was a lot of surreal ice today as we got to the southernmost point of our journey. My circadian clock is completely out of whack and while everything is amazing and magical beyond the words I have, it’s made for some confusing times. I can’t tell morning from afternoon anymore.

Dinner was a surprise. We were told to dress warmly. The crew had a BBQ party on the back deck for us. It was yet another surreal time to be having a summer-feeling party while icebergs floated next to us. I enjoyed the mulled wine and Michelle had a part in turning it into a dance party that lasted until midnight. Unlike most cruises, there has not been much drinking…until tonight. Quite a few people had one too many...or maybe just enough.


Day 9

Whale breaching  in Antarctica

More than a few people were missing from breakfast and I think there was a little bit of drama as relationships may have formed…even if just briefly. We started traveling north today and visited the UK Antarctica Historic Trust (UKAHT) base camp. They are attempting to preserve some of the old research stations in the area. Two of its members came aboard to give a lecture (and to grab some hot showers given that they live in very primitive conditions). The base had a LOT of penguins so I think they were also happy to get a break from the smell. There is lots of sea ice here and we saw our first fur seals (plus more Weddel seals).

In the afternoon we went on a long snowshoe walk then did more whale watching by Zodiac. It was beautiful weather and we even got a bit warm when walking.


Day 10

Antarctic Seals with bay and mountains in the background

We got news at last night's daily debriefing that a storm was expected as we crossed back across the Drake Passage. The crew has been saying we were going to pay for all the good weather we’ve had since coming south. The possibility of hurricane-force winds means we will be starting tomorrow's outings very early in the morning and then heading northbound.

There was less sea ice today but still plenty of big icebergs. The early morning hike had more views of seals and a hard snowshoe climb. I fell at first after stepping on my shoes.

I had a nearly-alone moment at the top of the hill with a fantastic view. It was very quiet other than penguins and the rumble of an avalanche across the bay…a beautiful way to spend the last of my time on the continent.

We did some pre-packing and securing things around our cabin, expecting the next few days to be rough. We also attended a great lecture about the 1890s Belgium expedition to Antarctica, which helped us discover one of the best places to travel.


Day 11

Bay with bergs

Per the captain’s orders, the ship literally battened down the hatches. We secured everything we could as pretty much anything could be a projectile. The worst of the waves and wind picked up around 4:30 am. It was really very rough– far worse waves and ship tossing and turning than the trip southbound. Sleep was nearly impossible with our beds trying to toss us out. We really needed to be strapped in. Michelle, surprisingly, was okay most of the time until near the end, whereas I was not. I didn’t get seasick and never took the medicine, but my equilibrium was so off I could not function very well. I spent almost all of the time in bed as that felt better. I didn’t eat much for these two days other than a bit of bread. The best part of the day was getting a few hours of darkness.


Day 12

Interesting looking iceberg

Toward the end of the day, things started to get calmer. Not smooth, but not so bad that walking was impossible. I was able to make it to the last toast and dinner.

Late in the day…LAND HO! and it had a new meaning for me after these rough two days. I was quite happy at the prospect of flat land and even had dreams of the ground not moving. We got all packed and ready to disembark in the morning.







Topics: Residents, Travel the World, Wildlife

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