So finally, the much-awaited departure day was upon us! We woke up in Ushuaia to blue skies and sunshine (which – typically - changed to cloud and rain intermittently throughout the day), full of excitement and anticipation at the thought of boarding the Ortelius for our forthcoming adventure. For many of us today signified the culmination of a lifelong dream.
We spent the morning exploring this lovely Patagonian city, soaking up the local flavours and enjoying the sights. Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 55,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism, but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Ushuaia, which stands for “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue, clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting.
It was a breezy afternoon with a light drizzle of rain as we made our way along the pier to the ship at around 4 pm, ready to board our new floating home for the next 11 days. We were greeted by members of our expedition staff who directed us to the reception, where we were checked in by Hotel Manager DJ and his assistant Sava, and then the friendly hotel team showed us to our cabins. There we found our luggage and in no time at all we had unpacked and started to explore our new surroundings.
At 5 pm we convened in the lecture room on Deck 3 to meet Expedition Leader Cheryl, who welcomed us on board the ship. Third Officer, Warren, then acquainted us with the safety features of the vessel and with the essential dos and don’ts on board. He was followed by Hotel Manager DJ, from whom we learned about ship routine during our voyage; he imparted useful information about mealtimes, Internet/Webmail access and treating the toilets nicely.
Soon afterwards it was time for the mandatory safety drill and we gathered in the Lounge/Bar, donned our big orange lifejackets and went through a roll-call to make sure everybody was there. We were then escorted outside to take a look at the lifeboats, but were left confident that we would have no reason to do this again in the next 11 days!
At 6.45 pm we met in the Lounge/Bar on Deck 6 in order to get to know the expedition staff. Expedition Leader, Cheryl, introduced Captain Mika – the person who would get us there and back again safely. He spoke a few words and explained that we were welcome on the Bridge during daylight hours, which is a great viewing platform for bird-watching and also the place to find out from officers on watch what life is like at sea. We raised a glass of bubbly (or orange juice) to the success of our voyage and then Cheryl told us a little about our future plans before handing over to her team of guides for brief self-introductions.
Shortly afterwards we were invited to the Dining Room to enjoy the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Head Chef Khabir and his team. There was a real buzz in the Dining Room, as we got to know each other and talked about our hopes and aspirations for this voyage.
Our first evening was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements and settling into our cabins before retiring for the night.
In the early hours of the morning we reached the entrance of the Beagle Channel and headed out into the open waters of the Drake Passage - our Antarctic adventure was now fully underway!!!!