Peregrine Voyager to Antarctica

My wife and I took an extensive cruise in February-March ’05 that included Easter Island, northern Chile, Argentina (Buenos Aires) and finally Antarctica. Much has been written about Antarctica, and we reiterate what almost everyone reports: it’s magical!

In meeting other people who have cruised to Antarctica or around South America, we have found there is a huge difference in the experience depending on the type of ship chosen. Over 100 ships enter Antarctic waters each year, carrying fewer than 15,000 passengers total.

The range of choices starts with large cruise-tour ships, which provide all the amenities expected of them but cannot get in close, generally leaving passengers to observe the wonders from afar. If they do attempt passenger landings, they are quite incomplete and hectic with the number of passengers to be transported ashore by a limited number of Zodiacs (landing craft).

Icebreakers sound good and certainly have their place, depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Their rounded, ice-hardened hulls are adapted to riding up on the ice and breaking through. Unfortunately, that rounded hull design tends to enhance the roll in the infamous seas of the Drake Passage and the Southern Ocean (the collective term now commonly used for the seas around Antarctica).

Private motor yachts and sailing yachts do make it to the Antarctic Peninsula from Ushuaia, Argentina, but sometimes they ride out the storms and high winds for weeks at a time in some protected cove. There also is more danger from ice closing in on them and from collisions with icebergs.

Fishing boats also troll the Southern Ocean for Antarctic cod and ice fish, but they are not known to carry passengers.

To find out about ships that ply the Southern Ocean, check the website for International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators ( All ships carrying passengers are listed.

For our cruise, we chose a small (327-foot), ice-hardened Russian research ship, the Peregrine Voyager (aka Akademik Sergey Vavilov). It was built in Scandinavia and has been retrofitted several times. This ship was actively performing hydroacoustical sounding while we explored the waters on our route.

The Peregrine was absolutely silent — no engine sound nor anchor rumbling or any other noise. It was also incredibly stable, with side-stabilizing tubes filled with water and under air pressure to provide ballast. Computers would read the wave activity and activate the stabilizers to move the water to counterbalance the wave motion. I felt no seasickness on this ship.

The ship was highly maneuverable due to its front and side thruster engines: it could turn 360 degrees in its own length. This is particularly important when cruising small, ice-clogged inlets. This is how you see whales and icebergs and wildlife close up. We made four landings on the Antarctic Peninsula and probed the Falklands, South Georgia, the Shetlands and the Orkneys, where few larger ships could navigate.

The ship had Russian scientists and crew, but the “hotel” operation was conducted by Peregrine Adventures. This group is conservation-oriented, funding various scientific endeavors. Their main effort is “to save the albatross.” During our trip we dropped off a scientist on a remote island and picked up two others from another island where they had been doing research.

During the 19-day voyage we had 48 different lectures offered by 14 naturalists. Most had been to Antarctica many times, including a veteran of 50 voyages who was a holder of the prestigious Polar Star. Many of the naturalists were multidisciplined, holding PhDs in various subjects.

No gray water was discharged from this ship. It has a major desalinator providing fresh water, and a special expensive blend of diesel fuel is used to avoid pollution.

The kitchen was equipped with different refrigerators set at various temperatures and humidities to keep vegetables fresh and crisp along with a vast variety of other foods. We had buffet breakfasts and lunches but a 4-choice menu for dinner. Top-of-the-line bar selections and a variety of excellent Australian wines made life pleasant on board.

Our stateroom was large and well appointed, equal to any provided by the major cruise lines.

I mention these facts to clarify that a research ship does not have to be spartan (at least not the Peregrine).

We paid $7,800 each for a cabin with a shared bath. All shipboard events were included (i.e., lectures, equipment, etc.), but the price did not include airfare, tips or the bar tab. We booked directly with Peregrine Adventures, Pty., Ltd. (258 Londale St., Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; visit www.peregrine

Kettle Falls, WA