Antarctica: Nearly Naked in the South Shetland Islands

We’d made our way to the southernmost point of South America, where we were scheduled to board an ice-breaker research vessel traveling on a 10-day excursion to the South Shetland Islands, the Antarctic Sound, and Vernadsky Station with G Adventures.

Nicknamed “the end of the world,” the port city of Ushuaia, Argentina, is a destination in and of itself. Located on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, it boasts a fantastic national park, a vibrant arts scene, and regular sightings of penguins, seals, and orcas.

We met our fellow shipmates at the Port of Ushuaia and boarded the boat. The routine safety drills were followed by a champagne toast, and we were underway.

But before we could get to the Antarctic glaciers, we had to brave the daunting Drake Passage. The ship’s crew told us it was referred to as the “Drake Shake” or the “Drake Lake,” since you can get anything from massive 65-foot (20 m) swells to calm, easy waters. And even with high-tech oceanographic and atmospheric forecasts, it’s still often a roll of the dice as to which it will be.

Along the way, we spotted our first tabular icebergs rising from the icy waters of the Southern Ocean.

Our ship rollicked and rolled its way toward Deception Island for its first landing of the voyage. And after a rough couple of days at sea, the sight of land was a very welcome one indeed.

We landed at Whaler’s Bay and rode inflatable Zodiac boats ashore to explore the ruins of old buildings, oil tanks, and even an airplane hangar. Hiking past fur seals and gentoo penguins, we climbed our way up to Neptune’s Window, where in 1820 American sealer Nathaniel Palmer first sighted the continent of Antarctica in the distance.

After the island was thoroughly explored, there was nothing left to do but take off all of our clothes.

A tradition for Antarctic expeditions is the “polar plunge,” where you strip down to swimwear and run into the freezing water, fully submerging your head before rushing back to shore. For this achievement, you get a certificate proclaiming the following:

“This certifies that on a sudden crazy impulse, probably caused by an acute bout of polar madness, Michael & Angela Ballard entered the Southern Ocean on 16 March 2019 at Whaler’s Bay 62° 95′ S 60° 64′ W when the observed water temperature registered 0° C/32° F.”

No wonder the penguins think we’re weird.

Up Next: Stepping on our seventh continent at the Antarctic Sound and a visit to Vernadsky Station