Antarctic Eclipse

Feb 14, 2003
Author: P&S

While December’s (2002) solar eclipse may have been the last opportunity for some years to witness such an event from southern Africa, a unique opportunity to witness a full total eclipse of the sun over Antarctica presents itself later this year.

The rare opportunity occurs in November 2003 and there will be a voyage of discovery starting from the port of Port Elizabeth to be exact, with enough time still available to make arrangements!

The voyage of discovery on board a Russian icebreaker will be accompanied by an experienced team of experts and astronomers including Professor John Parkinson and Dr Fred Espenak – both highly qualified specialists in the field of eclipses.

The ship is the Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov, which is fully equipped to provide the comfortable conditions that modern ‘explorers’ require while remaining safe for navigating Antarctic waters.

Passengers will gather in Port Elizabeth on 4 November before embarking the following morning for the Southern Ocean – for a cruise with a difference. By 10 November the isolated Crozet Islands will have been reached (hands up those who know where they are). These are situated east of South Africa’s Marian Island in the direction of Kerguelen, the large French-owned island that occupies mid spot in the great Southern Ocean between South Africa and Australia.

After visiting Crozet, which has been occupied sporadically since 1772 by whalers and sealers and lately by a French weather station, the ship turns southeast towards Kerguelen, having provided the opportunity of watching thousands of nesting King penguins as well as other aquatic life on Crozet.

Reaching Kerguelen on 13 November you will have two days to explore this fascinating land – the largest landmass in the southern Indian Ocean. Administered by France, Kerguelen is home to no fewer than 30 species of nesting birds and has abundant sealife including southern elephant seals and Kerguelen fur seals. A visit to the French research station, home to over a hundred researchers, will introduce some new friends but other landings will be dependant on prevailing weather patterns.

Then it’s off to Heard Island – an Australian possession even further south - before the ice-edge of Antarctica is reached on 19 November – over two weeks out from Port Elizabeth. Here the icebreaker comes into its own as she begins smashing a way through pack ice while the ship’s helicopter earns its keep by taking passengers for thrilling overhead views of an icebreaker at work.

Two days later the expedition will reach Zhongshan Base, the Chinese research station on the coast of Antarctica itself.

After that the voyage continues along the coast of the ice continent until reaching Queen Mary Coast in the Davis Sea, west of the Shackleton Ice Shelf, where on 24 November a total eclipse of the sun will be observed.

This will occur after midnight local time, in the early hours of the morning, and if you think this strange, remember that you are so now so far south that night and day have little meaning - the sun remains above the horizon for almost 24 hours in the day.

But the journey is not yet over and the ship will continue along the Antarctic coast before turning north to reach journey’s end in Hobart, Tasmania on 3 December – having provided a month of exciting experiences undreamed of until now.

Contact Unique Destinations (27) 021 462 7032 for further details – please tell them where you heard about their cruise.

The picture shows the 24 000 hp Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov, which will be home to about 100 passengers and a crew of 60 this coming November, when a cruise among Antarctic waters will include the rare opportunity of seeing a solar eclipse, in the middle of the night! Picture courtesy Unique Destinations.

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