Antarctica, Part 2: Rendez-vous at the 'Caldera'

Continuing from Part One, our vessel “Ocean Explorer I” (OEI) had to be readied for the new international passengers from Young Presidents Organization (YPO) in a very short time. The crew worked in overdrive to meet the tight schedule.
Because of all the entertainment planned for the coming week, plus Millennium Eve, extra sound equipment and lighting was brought on board. So much so, an extra generator was required. In our view, making the sound levels at the various shows much too loud! OEI was slightly larger than one of the B.C. superferries; the main lounge held only 350 or so people.
Natasha, with her background in Protocol, was asked by the cruise director if she would look after the dignitaries on board, including the family of Robert Kennedy Jr., and F.W. deKlerck and his wife. (Because we didn’t have any art classes during the YPO week, this was possible.)
We mentioned yesterday crossing the Drake Passage can be unpredictable. It’s a notorious body of water where suddenly cyclone-force winds can blow up. Plus there are huge swells created when the massive body of water circulating around the Southern Ocean has to “squeeze” through the opening between the tip of South America (Cape Horn, Tierra del Fuego) and the Antarctic Peninsula.
The YPO members and their families didn’t have their sea legs like our regular around-the-world passengers. Many had adverse reactions to pitching and rolling, making the two and half day journey a shaky affair. (Quickly weeding the landlubbers from the salties.)
Many wore what I call “mar-malade” prevention patches. I’d been to the Antarctic before, and had experienced a few elemental furies. These new passengers also brought with them seasonal winter-time bugs. Everywhere, people were coughing and wheezing. Yours truly had a mild case of bronchitis, which wasn’t helped by the fact our cabin had no heating, but that’s another story. [Yes, Natasha and I were sailing in the Antarctic, without heat in our cabin, on Coral Deck, 'way below]. Our remedy was to run for a few moments the hot shower before braving the morning.
We had excellent lecturers on board, naturalists who gave talks about the wildlife of Antarctica, also an oceanographer. And let us not forget the Zodiac drivers who played such an important role (more on that in a following post.)
The plan Millennium Eve was to make rendez-vous with two other, smaller ships at the volcano known as Deception Island. We’d enter the “caldera” through the ‘eye of the needle’: a narrow opening through the cliffs called Neptune’s Bellows, a navigational hazard at only 230 metres (754 feet) in width. The last eruption at Deception Island was 1969.
Our Greek captain (who had never been to Antarctica), was apprehensive while guiding the ship through the Bellows. To cheers from all, he succeeded in the first effort. Once inside the caldera, officers had to vigilantly hold our position, since it was not possible to anchor. At that time, we were the largest vessel to enter the caldera. On schedule, we were met by the two other vessels carrying the other YPO passengers. The plan called for everyone to join the mothership (OEI) for festivities and celebration of Millennium Eve. This will be the subject of tomorrow’s blog, because it is an epic in itself.
You had to pinch yourself to realize you were at the ‘end of the world’, where a force-10 wind could rear up at any instant, a volcano may erupt, or nearby icebergs might block the exit through Neptune’s Bellows. More to follow, tomorrow.