2014 was a kick-a** year! I visited 12 new countries, I finally crossed off an African Safari and scuba diving, and I completed every item on my 2014 list. Somehow, I think 2015 is going to be better. Is it possible? Who knows? I’m certainly going to try and to start the year off right, I’m sailing to Antarctica with Bark Europa. I will visit the last two continents that I haven’t set foot on, Antarctica and South America, and embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
As part of the sailing crew on a massive tall ship, I have to admit I’m rather nervous. I’ve never participated in something so unfamiliar before. A Bucket List Publications reader, and fellow adventure traveler, Joanna Marracelli, has recently completed the journey. I interviewed her to gain insight into what’s in store for me on Bark Europa and in Antarctica. You can read about it below and see her boyfriend’s, Laurent Lhomond’s, unbelievable photography from a firsthand perspective (All photos in this post belong to Laurent). If they don’t get you excited about Antarctica, nothing will.
A bit about Joanna Marracelli:
2 years ago, Joanna and her boyfriend, Laurent Lhomond, sold everything they had to embark on one of the greatest adventures of their lives. They set out to travel the countries in South America, exploring the continent through food and photography. During that time, they decided to cross off one of their bucket-list items: Antarctica.
Opting to sail to this magical place with the Bark Europa, was a decision for which we will be eternally thankful. We are currently writing a book about the food and culture of the countries we visited in South America. You can read about our adventures on our blog at Infused Exposures. I recently started a separate blog devoted to just foods and recipes here at Eating South America and my boyfriend runs his photography page at Laurent Lhomond Photography.
I asked Joanna a few questions that have been on my mind about my upcoming adventure. Is Antarctica on your list? Reading Joanna’s answers made it even more real for me. Part of the adventure is dreaming about the possibilities and I’ve been dreaming my entire life.
1. What made you choose Bark Europa?
My boyfriend and I dreamed of going to Antarctica. It had been on our bucket list for years. When we started planning our two year trip to South America, we were of course going to include Antarctica. We began to discuss which boat to take. While doing a web search for sailing to Antarctica, my boyfriend came across the Bark Europa. He felt like we had to ‘earn Antarctica’ and he wanted something really memorable because we would also be celebrating our four year anniversary, as well as the new year. At first I thought he was completely crazy. But I have to admit, I was drawn in to the adventure side of it and the uniqueness it would offer. Even though I had never sailed before or crossed an ocean, I felt like if I didn’t travel to the white continent this way, I might regret it forever.
2. Was the sailing experience more or less extreme than you expected?
Since I was a sailing novice and a bit terrified of the ocean, I was expecting much worse so I’d have to say it was definitely less extreme. I was pretty nervous and scared of heights too. I was afraid that I would have to climb the rig. I was relieved when I learned that things like unfurling the sails were optional. My boyfriend climbed all the way to the top though and loved it. I was happy to just see the photos! The crew on the Bark Europa are all extremely professional and highly experienced sailors. I felt comfortable under their guidance.
We had to do watches and steer the boat during our ocean crossing and sometimes it was difficult because of sea sickness or tiredness (the clocks are done in a rotating 24 hour fashion) but in the end it was all worth it to be a part of sailing a majestic boat like the Bark Europa. On our crossing back to South America, we hit a period where the water was very rough and I was pretty petrified. I told one of the crew that I didn’t want to go back out to do the watch and I admitted I was scared. The crew is amazing and they work with you every step of the way. I didn’t go back out and they made me feel really comfortable about the sea conditions.
I also feared the cabins would be cramped and uncomfortable with cold showers and maybe smelly, old too. How far from the truth this image was! The cabins are situated well, with clean smelling, warm duvets. Fresh towels and warm showers were pure luxury. It is not luxury cruising but it definitely wasn’t the rough image I had pictured in my head!
3. Now that you’ve completed the adventure, what are five pieces of advice you’d like to offer me, and others like me, about to embark on the journey?
-Don’t worry about getting sea sick. It will probably happen at least once. Don’t even bother with medications or any other alternatives. Just ride it through and don’t worry because it will pass. The waters, once you get to Antarctica, are protected and calm. One girl on our boat was so seasick she didn’t get out of bed for three days. I thought she would never be able to enjoy the trip and felt so sorry for her. After it passed, she was totally fine and out enjoying every day like the rest of us.
-Bring a sense of wonder, adventure and humor. You will use all three.
-Do not forget cameras, a back up camera, back up batteries, wires-anything you need for capturing photos. It truly is a once in a lifetime experience and one you will want to capture. Also memory cards and hard drive. You will take more photos than you can imagine. A Go-Pro is a good idea too because you can use it underwater.
-But don’t forget to put down the camera once in a while to be truly in the moment. There were two spectacular moments that I can recall so vividly and didn’t need to capture. We witnessed a huge iceberg flipping over and yes, while capturing it on video would have been grand, I decided to just keep my camera down and watch. Another time was when one of the many whales came over to the side of the boat. My hand was on my camera but I just stood frozen, watching these enormous yet gentle creatures in the sea. I will never need a photo to remind me of how moving and emotional both of those moments were. Seriously, put the camera down from time to time. On a few landings, I didn’t even bring it with me. Do at least one landing camera free.
-You don’t need the most expensive gear/clothes to enjoy the trip. Most people came on board looking like National Geographic had outfitted them. Just layer your clothes, be sensible and make sure they are warm. Surely take a camera but it doesn’t have to be the most expensive. The oldest guy on our boat brought just an old point and shoot, a little winter cap and a pullover sweater he wore every day. I doubt he spent a lot of money on gear and he had the biggest smile of anyone.
4. What type of camera gear did you use?
Between my boyfriend and I, we used a point and shoot Canon Power Shot S100. I had a Canon Rebel T2i with lens 17-55mm/2.8. And my boyfriends shoots with a Pentax K5 with one zoom lens 16-250 & 16-50 and fixed lens macro 100 mm/2.8, fish eye 10-17mm and a few prime lenses. He also had a tripod which he didn’t really use at all. The first day or two everyone has their tripods out but after that, no one used them really. If you are considering bringing one, don’t bother. We also had our laptops and two hard drives to back it all up but we carry these with us on all of our travels in South America.
5. What advice can you offer for packing clothes?
-A pair of binoculars are a great idea. We spent about $100 on the Nikon Trailblazer 10×25 Waterproof. They worked great and we used them daily.
-Infrared remote control for your camera or flu-card so that you can take photos from far away. You can put your camera on the ground or a rock and the penguins will come close to it. Using the remote control allows you to be far away so not to disturb them but also get an awesome shot.
-Sunscreen is of utmost importance. The sun is extremely intense here and you will need it even on cloudy days. I brought a sun hat but didn’t use it because I preferred by winter hat. Lip balm with sunscreen is a good idea too, as the wind will make your lips prone to dry, cracked lips.
-I brought along Zyrtek and when everyone got a head cold on the last days, I passed around the last of what I had for everyone. Works great for a cold and will give you energy for still being able to enjoy your day.
-Bring probably less clothing than you think you need but plenty of underwear! Unless you are a clean freak and need to change your outer-garments every day. I only had one pullover sweater that I wore every day. You don’t sweat too much and for me, as long as I have clean underwear and socks, I am feeling good.
-Heavy-duty wool hiking socks or other warm socks are important for this trip too. Warm socks is key. That said, I only brought 3 pairs and just washed in the sink if they got gross. The Bark Europa will do your laundry at least once on the trip, so pack less than you think you need. I also layered my socks, with a small, think pair first and the wool over those but that’s because my feet always get cold. You might want to do the same if you are like me.
-Forget fancy clothes and shoes! The Bark Europa is a rugged boat and the people are equally as nature-loving. Leave the high heels and fancy dress at home!
-Plastic bags come in handy for dirty clothes. We carry a small, light laundry bag with us wherever we go.
-A pair of comfortable, durable shoes is good for when you are on the boat and doing watches. For landings, it is required that you wear rubber boots. We had hiking boots but that was just because we were traveling all over South America. Sneakers are fine too.
-Dressing in layers is key! I will tell you that on the coldest day, everyone was cold outside no matter what they had on. One guy had the most expensive GoreTex jacket and he looked colder than me with my cheap Columbia ski jacket. You need something more for the wind than something waterproof. Wind is a bigger enemy than rain here. The watches and being at the helm (i.e. being outside) during the crossing is limited to only 30 minutes for this reason. When you come inside after the half hour is finished, the cabin is warm and cozy and they always have tea and cookies set up to help you.
-Thermals are a great idea. I use Merino Wool because it’s soft and warm. I only brought one pair with me. We are traveling for 2 years with one backpack, so I packed pretty light for my Antarctic trip. Just layered what I had in my bag and put a big ski jacket on for the outside. A pullover sweater or fleece is a great idea too. You are only going to be super cold during the ocean crossing. Other than that, the layers work great. One day was so warm, people were on the boat without shoes!
-Everything I brought, I used but that’s because we were traveling for so long. I didn’t pack much specifically for Antarctica except my ski jacket and thermals (but I also used both in Patagonia).
-Don’t bother bringing rubber boots. They are heavy and difficult to pack. Just rent them in Ushuaia, Argentina when you arrive. It’s very cheap and they are good quality.
-Top 5 things I used: hat, gloves, scarf, thermals (I like Merino wool), pullover sweater (or fleece if you prefer).
-The Bark Europa provided us with clean towels, sheets and blankets, so no need to bring those
6. Where does Antarctica rank on your travels?
I think I would have to say #1 and I have traveled quite a bit. It changes depending upon my mood but this is definitely going to be in your top five. You will never have an adventure quite like this. Antarctica belongs to most of the world (every country seems to ‘own’ a slice) yet no one. Whales, penguins, seals and birds rule this part of the world. You are visiting their home. You will never forget the sounds and sights you witness in this indescribable place. There is magic on this continent and I don’t even have words to convey what I saw. It is on par with going to the moon. The truly last frontier on earth for man.
7. Would you recommend traveling with Bark Europa to others?
Wholeheartedly! It is such a unique way to travel to this part of the world. Where else can you get a chance to sail a boat as majestic as the Europa, heading towards one of the most beautiful places on earth?
The crew, both permanent and temporary, are all professional, experienced and fun! They really work with everyone to show them how to sail the ship. They can teach you as much as you want to know and don’t mind answering any and all questions. The naturalists we had on board were phenomenal and both were knowledgeable and passionate about the area and wildlife. Our captain was first rate and even though I was originally nervous to be on a sailboat in open waters, I felt in good hands! Last but certainly not least was the cooking staff. What meals you will have! We feasted on home-cooked meals every day of our trip. From homemade bread and yogurt in the morning to delicious and varied soups in the afternoon to little Dutch touches like stroopwafels and real Dutch cheese (after all, this is a Dutch boat!), you will be surprised at how tasty everything is.
8. It’s a very expense trip. Do you think it’s worth it?
Absolutely. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat! But first would have to save the money! You can’t put a price on an experience like this, truly once in a lifetime.
I will visit this unspoiled, natural environment from January 11th-February 1st, 2015. It will be my first 2015 bucket list item and most likely one of the greatest adventures of my life. Thankfully, I have three amazing sponsors to help me with the costs and gear associated with this type of travel. Without Bark Europa, Whitecaps Marine, and Pilotur, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity wouldn’t be possible.