Ship Type: Russian Ship
Length: 235 ft
Beam: 50 ft
Draft: 15 ft
Speed: 12 knots/hr
Year Built: 1985
Built In: Finland
Twin Share Cabin
Facilities: Bar, Lounge, Library
Overview: The Polar Pioneer was built in Finland in 1985 as an ice-strengthened research ship. For many years, she plied the treacherous waters of the USSR's northern coast. In 2000, she was refurbished in St Petersburg to provide comfortable accommodation for 54 passengers. This class of vessel has a fine reputation for polar expedition cruising, due to its strength, maneuverability and small number of cabins. All cabins have outside portholes, as well as ample storage space.
Cabin Description: Triple rooms have two lower berths and one upper berth, a desk,
washbasin, storage area, and a window. Showers and toilets are nearby and are shared with other Main
The twin share cabins provide two lower bunks, a desk, washbasin, storage area and window. Showers and toilets are shared with other Main Deck cabins.
Twin private cabins have two lower bunks, storage space, a desk, windows, a private bathroom with washbasin, shower and toilet, and a window.
Mini-Suites have a separate small bedroom with a three-quarter bed, an additional berth in the main room, a desk, window, video player and TV, and a private bathroom with toilet, washbasin and shower.
The Captain's Suite features a large lounge area, a separate small bedroom with a double bed, a couch bed in the main room, video player and TV, refrigerator, large forward and side facing windows, and a private bathroom with shower, toilet and washbasin.
Across the Antarctic Circle
This itinerary will give you a brief idea of what you may encounter on this voyage. Our emphasis is on wildlife encounters, personal contact with the environs, visiting sites of historical interest and to a lesser extent scientific stations. However we stress that this is an expedition style cruise. Our actual program will vary to take best advantage of local conditions, spontaneous opportunities and wildlife. No two voyages are the same; there is always an element of the unexpected.
In February 1998, we traveled across the Antarctic Circle for the first time, discovering a whole new world of little explored bays and coves - a treasure trove of exciting new places. We will venture into this area again in February 2002, this time on board our new expedition vessel, Polar Pioneer to make more wonderful discoveries. There are still areas we wish to explore further on this journey which is one day longer than our other Peninsula voyages so we have the opportunity to travel further south and cross the Antarctic circle.
Day 1: Embark Ushuaia
Expeditioners will gather in Ushuaia, a bustling community that lays claim to being the most southerly city in the world. Our competent Russian crew and expedition staff will welcome us aboard Polar Pioneer in the afternoon. Sailing down the Beagle Channel in beautiful evening light, we will settle into shipboard life and enjoy our first meal on board.
Days 2 - 3: Drake Passage
Cape Horn, the most southerly point of the American continent has stimulated the imagination of mankind, since Sir Francis Drake inadvertently rounded it back in 1580. Some of us will approach this historic crossing with more than a little trepidation but despite its reputation, there are times when the Drake resembles a lake, when lazy southern ocean swells rolling under the keel of our good ship Polar Pioneer. On the other hand sometimes we have encountered rough crossings with large waves. The size of the waves and the force of the gale will take on gigantic proportions when related around the fire back home.
Polar Pioneer is not a luxury ship, she is homely and strong, built to be a working vessel and refitted to comfortable passenger standard. The mood on board is definitely casual. At sea we are totally self sufficient. The days flow by whilst we travel snugly in our cocoon. A favourite pastime on board is to stand at the stern watching the many seabirds, including majestic albatrosses and giant petrels following our wake. They will rise and fall skillfully, using the air currents created by the ship to gain momentum. Feeling transformed, we approach Antarctica, receptive and open.
During our crossing of the Drake Passage, we will commence our lecture program about the wildlife, geology, history and geography of the Antarctic Peninsula. We will be given environmental guidelines for approaching the wildlife and talk about the implications of the Antarctic Treaty. Antarctica is a photographers' paradise, for the professional or the amateur. There will be discussions about how to protect your equipment from salt water and tips about taking good pictures.
Excitement reaches fever pitch as we wait for the sight of our first iceberg. As we near the tip of the Peninsula, everyone will be on the bridge watching for our first iceberg. The ocean takes on a whole new perspective once we are surrounded by the surreal presence of floating ice sculptures. The memory of the sight of your first iceberg is likely to remain with you forever.
Days 4 - 9: Antarctic Peninsula & South of the Circle
Depending on the weather, we will first approach Antarctica near the South Shetland Islands entering Bransfield Strait either at the eastern end of King George Island or the western extremity of Livingston Island. We may pass by historic Smith Island, which is the outer limit of the South Shetlands.
A host of choices is now open to us, and depending on the ice and weather conditions the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula is ours to explore. This is the advantage of having such experienced leaders, who have made countless journeys to this area. They will use their expertise to design our voyage, from day to day. In this way we can make best use of the prevailing weather and ice conditions. As we are so far south, we will experience approximately 20 hours daylight. There is plenty of time for sleep when you get home!
We are always keen to explore new territory, so if the opportunity arises, we will! That's why we call our cruises, "Expeditions of Exploration and Adventure" - who knows where we are going?
Once we arrive in the calmer waters of the Bransfield, Gerlache and Penola Straits and Crystal Sound, we will be making landings two and sometimes three times a day. To get ashore we will use Zodiacs (inflatable rubber boats). We will have been briefed on the merits of these sturdy craft and their use, during our Drake Passage crossing. Sometimes we will cruise along spectacular ice cliffs, or follow whales that are feeding near the surface. In these cases we will appreciate the distinct advantage of being on a small vessel, which gives everyone the opportunity to experience these very special close encounters with the wildlife.
Hearty meals are served in our cosy dining room by our European or Australian chefs and accompanied by good conversation, they will become a focal point of our shipboard life.
Crossing the invisible line of the Antarctic Circle provides a special highlight. In Crystal Sound the mountains soar from the sea, while small islands provide havens for penguins and seals. At this time of the summer the waters are rich with krill and so we are likely to see many whales, particularly humpbacks and minkes. If ice conditions allow, we will try to travel south through the narrow twisting channel called The Gullet and into the magnificent Marguerite Bay.
There are many exciting places that we would like to visit. A sample of these follows:
Hannah Point, Livingston Island
A unique landing place on the Peninsula. A tiny toe of land that is literally alive with wildlife. Here we will find two species of penguins breeding, Chinstraps and Gentoo. Sometimes there are a few vagrant Macaroni penguins nesting as well. It is not uncommon to find wallows of elephant seal that are 60 beasts strong. On the ridgeline Giant Petrels are nesting. The vegetation consists of mosses, lichens and the only grass species that grows in Antarctica. All this set in a stunning position, underneath long black scree slopes, at the foot of the mountains and glaciers of Livingston Island.
Half Moon Island
A wildlife rich island, tucked into a neat bay at the eastern end of Livingston Island. On a clear day the glaciers and mountains of Livingston Island dominate the scene. There is a large Chinstrap penguin rookery tucked in between basaltic turrets coloured by yellow and orange lichens. Gulls nest on these turrets and we often see fur seals and elephant seals hauled out on the pebble beaches. At one extremity of the island there is a large colony of nesting Blue-eyed Shags. At the other, a small Argentine scientific station conducts research on the penguin colony and ecology of the surrounding waterways.
Visiting Deception Island is like making a journey to the moon. We enter the volcanic crater, on board the ship, through the narrow opening of Neptune's Bellows. Inside is an unworldly scene, virtually devoid of life. Glaciers flow down from the edge of the crater, littered by black volcanic ash.
We can explore the lifeless remains of a derelict whaling station and a vacant British base or climb to the rim of the crater. Steam rises from the shore indicating that the water is actually warm enough for a swim, for those who dare. Outside the crater, if conditions allow, we will land at the enormous Chinstrap penguin rookery that featured in David Attenborough's Life in the Freezer series.
A protected bay surrounded by magnificent peaks and spectacular glaciers. Rocky cliffs provide perfect nesting sites for Blue-eyed Shags, terns and gulls. The serenity of Paradise Bay envelopes once the sound of the anchor dropping fades from our ears. This is a haven for whales and sometimes we meet humpbacks and minkes as we explore the bay in Zodiacs. Imagine being so close to a whale that when he surfaces to blow, the fishy spray of his exhalation momentarily blurs your vision. I cannot find words to describe this experience; I just feel uplifted and full of joy.
If the ice conditions allow, standing on the bow of Polar Pioneer and quietly moving through the narrow Lemaire Channel will be one of the highlights of our voyage. Cliffs tower 700 metres directly above the ship. The water is so still that perfect reflections are mirrored on the surface. Gigantic icebergs often clog the channel, creating interesting navigation challenges for the captain and crew and may even obstruct our passage.
Other possible destinations around the Antarctic Peninsula are:
Neko Harbour, Andvoord Bay
Scientific Bases of
Arctowski - Polish
Ferraz - Brazilian
Vernadsky - Ukrainian
Port Lockroy - British
View Point, Duse Bay
and many other surprises
Crossing the Antarctic Circle
Our exciting crossing of the Antarctic Circle at latitude 66°33' South is a highlight of this voyage. In order to accomplish the extra distance of this significantly longer voyage without compromising the quality of our Antarctic experience, the ship will motor south every night and during meal times. By the time we've crossed the Circle in Crystal Sound, we notice subtle changes in the Antarctic land-and icescapes, and also in the distribution of wildlife.
As we head north again, we understand more about the effect of southerly latitudes on Antarctic wildlife
Days 10 - 11: Drake Passage & Cape Horn
Time to head back to Tierra del Fuego, with more lectures and videos to complete our Antarctic education. A time for reflection and discussion about what we have seen and felt and what impact this voyage has had on our attitude to life.
If time permits, we will try to cruise close to Cape Horn for a view of the southernmost point of the Americas.
Day 12: Ushuaia
During the early morning we should cruise up the Beagle Channel, before docking in Ushuaia.
Itineraries may be subject to change.