Lonely Planet Writer

Polar tourists escape Antarctic ice trap

When I grow up I want to be an Emperor

As excuses for being late go heavy pack ice in the Weddell Sea sure beats a Spanish air traffic controllers strike.

This week brought news that the Kapitan Khlebnikov , one of the hardy icebreakers which carries passengers to and from Antarctica had, in the grand manner of polar exploration, got stuck. Inclement weather – on a continent which specialises in making life hard for visitors – caused sea ice to compact and locked in the 12,288 ton ship.

Once concerns for the safety of those on board had been allayed, it quickly became apparent that far from pining for a swift return to Ushuaia in Argentina and flights home, the 101 passengers on board were hugely enjoying their adventure.

Antarctic cruises tend to attract two types of travellers: those looking to follow in Shackleton, Amundsen and Scott’s footsteps, and those looking for penguins. On this trip cruisers found both. It’s a misconception that everyone on an Antarctic cruise sees Emperor Penguins, but this journey did on a visit to Snow Hill Island.

The ship’s roster included a BBC film crew as well as scientists, the Observer notes, who put the unexpected amounts of spare time to good use by holding seminars and lectures for all aboard.


Over the past few days the weather has improved, and the Khlebnikov is on its way again to the relief of all aboard.

Paul Goldstein, who is leading the tour for UK-based company Exodus, appeared in a message cable from the ship to have read a few too many Antarctic adventure books, noting:

There is movement, slow agonizing movement but movement all the same. The re-enforced bow worries the ice sheet relentlessly, sending jagged fissures hemorrhaging to infinity. It may only be a couple of nautical miles but it is progress and as my fingers fuse with the keyboard, the ship's heartbeat throbs and our neighbourly berg of the last few days slips quietly into another postal district.

Milk may turn quicker than this lusty leviathan but frankly who cares. There is a triumphant feeling pervading all decks. Triumph is a dish best taken cold, on ice, but the most triumphant a la carte meal is one taken after an hors d'oeuvre of adversity.

The ship should be back in Argentina within a few days, and all will have a story to tell.

Anyone have any tales of derring-do to share?

Exodus is running a special slideshow on 2 December in Kensington, London with stories and pictures from this expedition.