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We awoke to a beautiful sunrise on the morning we were to sail. Our ship, the Akademik Ioffe docked early that morning discharging it's cargo of elated passengers and began preparations for our tour. Our scheduled departure was not until 6:00PM however, so we had the entire day in front of us. We were going hiking today in the mountains outside Ushuaia, and were picked up early by our guide Miguel and his driver. It was a crisp morning- clear with little wind, and after adding three more to our van (also fellow passengers) we headed for the hills. The mountains in southern Tierra del Fuego are awesome with jagged peaks, high glacial fed lakes, and beautiful river valleys flowing silty green water.

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We followed a well worn trail about 4 miles up to Emerald Lake, had lunch provided by Miguel, and admired the beautiful scenery on all sides. After a somewhat hairy ride back down to Ushuaia, we found an open restaurant near the pier and settled in, anxiously waiting for our boarding time.

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The Akademik Ioffe in port

Our home for the next 12 days will be the Akademik Ioffe, a 384' long reinforced hull Russian registered former submarine hunter originally built in 1989 and later converted for passenger travel. She carries a maximum of 110 passengers and 53 crew, and in the photo above, is dwarfed by the Norwegian Dream, a 1700 passenger cruiser nearly 9 times her tonnage.

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The five "sailors" wait to board the Ioffe

The buses finally arrived and we were whisked to the pier, through security, and on to the gangway. Excitement was high as we all sized each other up as we boarded. Dad and I shared a double cabin and Tom, Aaron, and Alex were together in a triple. We were greeted by an hors de oeuvre reception in the dining hall and met our expedition team: Woody, the expedition leader (Aussie); Noz, hotel manager and dispenser of good cheer (also Australian); Flipper (John), guide, from Ontario; Jacques, bird specialist and naturalist; Graham, staff photographer, adventurer, and ice expert; Roger, ship physician; Annie, guide and Woody's partner (NZ); Solan, kayak guide (Juneau, AK); Maggie, guide and all around nice person (Solan's partner); Scott, historian and guide; Moe, kayak guide; Colin, ship's videographer, and everyone's favorite bartender, Paulee (Alaska). They outlined our goals, told us we would have a "surprise" lifeboat drill in about an hour, we all went to the top deck, and the ship pushed away about 6:30PM.

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The Ioffe sails from Ushuaia

The "surprise" lifeboat drill was right on schedule, and considering the sinking of the MS Explorer last November, no one took the exercise lightly. All passengers had to report to one of two 65 man lifeboats with cold weather gear on and life preservers in hand, and after the Captain's approval we were back in the dining hall for the first of many wonderful dinners.

Dad, Lifeboat Drill
Dad, ready to abandon ship!

After dinner most folks started unpacking, but I stayed on deck until last light watching the land slowly disappear (southernmost tree, southernmost rock, etc.).

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Our last look at land

We sat with the ship's doctor at dinner, and he privately told us that the word from the bridge was that the seas could get rough over the notorious Drake Passage, warning us to put on our motion sickness patches and 'Drakeproof' our cabins. I wouldn't really understand that until the middle of the night, and as we watched a peaceful sunset over the Beagle Channel it was hard to imagine what was to come.

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