Engine Control Room, Land Ho!, Scenic Ushuaia, Xue Long at Dock, Pushy People on Tour, Hope for the Drake Passage
Steve’s interview went very well with the iLounge manager yesterday and right after he returned to the room we headed back to Michael’s Club for the engine control room tour. There were 18 VIP guests on the tour and we took the elevator down to Deck 1, had a security screening and followed the security officer to the control room. This was a typical control room space, with lots of camera feeds and electronic dashboards showing status for various systems on board the ship. The nice young Greek officer in charge gave us an overview of the power plant and propulsion system. Infinity is powered by two gas turbines; each turbine is 33,000 HP and almost identical in design to a 747 engine and they are built and serviced by GE in Houston. The gas turbines burn high-grade quality kerosene fuel oil that is purified and is quite expensive, but this type of fuel is required for any cruising in Antarctica (and other pristine places), as it has a low-sulfur content. The gas turbines are about 37% efficient and are housed in soundproof enclosures that also ensure good fire protection. In addition, there is also one Diesel engine (16 cylinder, 30,000 HP) that uses lower-grade and cheaper fuel and has a higher efficiency and they also have a high-pressure steam turbine (~27,000 HP). The ship has two spare Diesel engines on board. The fuel costs for our cruise are in excess of $1.1 million. Since they probably clear this in bar tabs alone, they’re probably doing ok.
The propulsion system consists of two Azipod engines. The Azipods are a unique design and are capable of forward and reverse motion that is highly maneuverable. There are two self-adjusting stabilizers that extend out nearly 21 feet from the ship on each side and also two bow thrusters used for dock maneuvering. Infinity uses two incinerators on-board to burn all the trash and a reverse osmosis water desalinization plant, plus fresh-water tanks. The sea water can only be brought on board for desalinization when the ship is going 6 knots or faster and is at least 12 miles from shore. The top speed of the ship is around 24 knots (rarely achieved); typical cruising speed is around 15-20 knots. This was a very interesting tour and gave us good insight into the inner workings of this ship.
Last night we ate at Blu, the “healthy” dining room option exclusively for Aqua class cabins. We got a table right by the window and could see rugged land off in the distance on the port side (this was apparently Staten Island, Argentina, not to be confused with Staten Island, New York) . The food was ok, not spectacular. I had the carpaccio and a rigatoni pasta with roast chicken. Steve had the lump crab cocktail and duck. We haven’t eaten in the Trellis dining room yet but will have to try it soon. Infinity later steered into the Beagle channel heading west towards Ushuaia as we prepared for bed.
We arose early this morning as our excursion departed at 9:15 am. Originally, we were supposed to tender here, but apparently we got upgraded to dock space. We opened our blinds to beautiful scenery and interesting ships along the dock. It snowed here a couple of days ago, which is a bit unusual this time of year, but occasionally it happens in summer, which is always on the cool side. The dramatic peaks in all directions had fresh snow and the temperature was quite crisp. Docked right across from us was the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon), which garnered fame a few weeks ago when it tried to rescue the idle rich Eco-tourists who got stuck in all of that icy Global Warming in Antarctica. Other expedition ships lined the docks, including another Russian icebreaker (not the one that got stuck), the Ocean Diamond (Quark Expeditions) and a couple of others getting prepped to head south. The Quark ship had a huge stack of zodiacs on the back and other racks of sea kayaks.
Our tour today was a combination catamaran cruise on the Beagle Channel and bus drive through Tierra del Fuego National Park. The tours met in the large theater (site of the Super Bowl debacle the other night). It was a general scrum, with almost every seat taken and people wandering around looking confused, in spite of the staff’s good announcements. They called our tour and we headed to Deck 1 to the gangplank. Just as we got in the exit line, some minor functionary from the Argentine government got annoyed with something and shut down egress from the ship for a while. We finally got off and followed a guide with signs down the dock to the catamaran. I walked as fast as possible, but most our fellow passengers on the tour surged ahead of me almost racing to the catamaran, so Steve went fast with them to get us a decent seat on the lower enclosed deck. Most people wanted to be up on the second deck or even the third open deck, but I did want a window seat somewhere. I get tired of people pushing around me or around other people that walk slower or with canes, just so they get a better seat in the bus or boat or get in the elevator ahead of you. We have people from an astonishing number of countries on board, so you get varying degrees of rudeness and pushy behavior, along with the usual language barriers.
Ok, so now that we had our seats on the catamaran (and very few people sat on the lower level), we could see that it should be easy to go outside on the deck to take pictures. We cruised across the Ushuaia harbor to the Beagle Channel, where we started seeing lots of birds in the water. There are several varieties of cormorant that reside in these waters and, although they can fly, they resemble penguins when walking around on land. The islands in the channel are wildlife refuges and we got near three or four of them, including one with an old light house. There were no penguins, but plenty of cormorants, skuas, flightless geese, petrels, and fulmars. Two of the small islands had fat and sleepy seals draped over the rocks. Steve overheard several people loudly complaining about the smell from a large colony of cormorants that we approached; I wonder what they will think if they walked among thousands of penguins?
Our catamaran cruise continued through the channel to the west and we docked at an access area for the national park. We were swapping our load for the other groups who did the bus tour first. Yup, you guessed it – the race to the buses started now. Steve and I got the last two seats together on our assigned bus and of course they were almost all the way in the back. We can’t wait for the shoving and pushing on deck as everyone jostles for the best position to take pictures as we cruise Antarctica. I’m glad we have a balcony to retreat to.
We had three stops on the bus tour. Our first was at a freshwater lake that is shared with Chile. Then we stopped at the park headquarters for a short visit. Finally, we stopped at an overlook of the Beagle Channel. The bus brought us back to Ushuaia, where most passengers got off in the downtown area. We were both tired and hungry, so we went back to the ship and had a burger on deck (the temperature was cool, but not bad).
We departed at 9:00 pm and are now cruising through the Beagle Channel. The dock at Ushuaia is amazing, with constant ship movement. Just as we were heading out, the National Geographic Explorer came in. This looked like a really elegant expedition ship.
Our ship will stop briefly in Puerto Williams, Chile, in a short while to drop off the Argentine pilot and pick up the Chilean pilot (a very political process, apparently). At 6:00 tomorrow, we should make first sighting of Cape Horn and they intend to circumnavigate the island, weather permitting. Then we begin our Drake Passage crossing! The weather looks pretty good, with 6-9 foot seas and a 35 MPH wind out of the east (pretty mild, compared to how it could be). I hope to post this tonight or tomorrow; we likely won’t have Internet in Antarctica, so stay tuned!