It is late afternoon on what turned out to be a lovely blue-sky day in Ushuaia when the first passengers ar-rive to board the Ortelius. Our new family, from the young to the young at heart, walked down the pier with clear excitement and anticipation. The expedition staff greeted each guest as they climbed the gang-way for the first time and directed them to the reception to check in. The hotel manager, DJ, and his assis-tant Sigi quickly had all passengers assigned and shown to their cabins where they will spend the next 10 days.
Once onboard, an announcement was made to meet in the lecture room for the mandatory safety briefing, followed by an abandon ship drill— practicing how to muster and put on the lifejackets just to be sure eve-ryone knows what to do in the event of an emergency. It was a nice day to have the drill outside, getting to watch as the ship pulled away from the dock with three strong blasts to the ship’s horn. After following our muster captains up on deck to get familiar with the life boat locations, the drill was finished-- offering an excellent chance to enjoy more moments in the fresh air, appreciating the gorgeous backdrop of craggy mountains surrounding Ushuaia. Next up came Captain’s Cocktails, a chance to meet the ship’s master Ernesto Barria and hear his greeting and thoughts on how to get the most out of this trip and to enjoy the forecasted peaceful Drake, and be thankful they missed the crossing the crew just made the previous two days! Our expedition leader Katja continued on, introducing our ship doctor Tanja who gave a few tips on how to stay safe onboard and how to decrease the spread of germs while we’re all living in close quarters for the next 10 days. Then DJ gave a presentation about house rules, how the ship works, and all-important meal times. The Expedition Team also had a go, with Katja outlining how the team will operate and ex-plained that everyone is in good hands so just trust the team to keep everyone safe and do as much as we possibly can under Mother Nature’s rules. Each team member introduced themselves briefly and by then the bar felt quite warm so at the end of the briefing most escaped to the outer decks-- a chance to soak up yet more impressive scenery along the Beagle Channel, with snow-capped mountains and craggy slopes covered in beech trees offering us a farewell on our journey further south.
Too soon for some, and not soon enough for others, DJ’s announcement came calling us into dinner. A wonderful three-course meal was served by DJ, Chef Khabir, and his team, much to the delight of all those new aboard and setting the standard for the rest of the cruise. After dinner, with no more briefings or meetings to be had, many couldn’t resist getting back out on deck to watch the evening sky light up with pink, purple, and gold, even silhouetting a few frolicking Peale’s dolphins across the channel. A magic sun-set was certainly a special omen to start of our adventure. Gazing out over the railings, the first motion of the ship was felt—a faint swell—reminding us that the open ocean was not too far off, you could even glimpse it on the forward horizon. It was difficult to head inside but the need for sleep, or perhaps a last nightcap at the bar, eventually wins out over all. Some folks focused on getting comfortable in their cabins, others gathered in the bar—chatting about all the exciting things to come during the voyage and bonding over a few drinks while Rolando provided wonderful service and witty banter. The doctor also made herself available to discuss with those concerned how to manage sea sickness over the next few days on the infa-mous Drake Passage. The staff informed the passengers that during the night we would be leaving the shel-ter of the Beagle Channel and enter open water so to prepare for the “motion of the ocean”. Properly pre-pared, we drifted off, cosy in bed, dreaming of the adventures in store.