The Spirit of Shacketon – Aboard the M/S Explorer

The Spirit of Shacketon – Aboard the M/S Explorer

by Michael Morrissey

On 11 November 2007 Sola and I departed from Ushuaia, Argentina aboard the M/S Explorer on a cruise meant to follow in the wake of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endeavor. Little did we know how closely we would follow Sir Ernest.

The first time I went to Antarctica was in 2004. I had a few free days before I was returning to Bangkok after being in Bariloche, Argentina to celebrate Simon Bonython’s sixtieth birthday. Prior to leaving Bangkok, Gary Heager, a well-traveled friend, had suggested I visit Ushuaia to earn the bragging rights for having visited the southernmost city in the world.

While in Ushuaia I took a guided tour to see a beaver lodge. Beavers, in Ushuaia? Yes, but introduced from Canada by enterprising Argentines after World War II for their pelts. Predator-less beavers left unchecked have become an environmental disaster.

At the end of the beaver hike, Alicia Petit, a local tour agent offered me a cruise on an icebreaker sailing to Antarctica but I had to be able to leave in two days. I explained to her I had left all my belongings in Buenos Aires and I had reservations to return to Bangkok with visits in Santiago, San Francisco and Tokyo as part of the return. I said if she could change all my reservations and secure my things in BA I’d go. She called me fifteen minutes later and it was all done. I had cell phone then. Alicia became the link to sailing on the M/S Explorer.

I’ve stayed in contact with Alicia and each year she contacts me with Antarctic cruise offers. Simon, Jon Olson and I were first offered an Antarctic trip while touring Bhutan in 2002. We all agreed it was something we wanted to do. Unfortunately for them, by the time Alicia told me about this trip that year they had both left Buenos Aires.

Every year since then, Jon, Simon and I have discussed contacting Alicia to plan an Antarctic cruise. It wasn’t surprising In October, when Alicia contacted me to offer space on the first cruise of the 2007 season, that we all decided to go. It wasn’t too long after this that Jon remembered he had a prior commitment and could not go. Simon’s business required him to stay in Bangkok. Simon, a fellow avid photographer, really wanted to go on this adventure and said he would make every effort to be there.

Alicia reached me while I was photographing the Colorado fall color. Later that month I met up with Sola Morrissey, my daughter, in San Francisco for dinner. I mentioned to her I could not find anyone to go with me and asked if she would be interested. She had recently started working for Architecture for Humanity and wasn’t sure it was good timing, but thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She would check with her employer.

Sola and I discussed including visits to impoverished areas around South America that would tie into her work. The two of us have traveled together before in Europe, Morocco, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Japan; she is a wonderful travel companion. Kaze, my son , was in the process of getting advanced pilot training, so he couldn’t go.

Simon was able to get away just days before the M/S Explorer (not a Microsoft product) departed from Ushuaia. Jon had (that’s past tense) been kicking himself for not going, that is until he heard the news on the radio.

Thanksgiving 2007 was the night I put the Antarctica maxim to the test. The maxim goes “Below 40 degrees south latitude, there is no law. Below 50 degrees south latitude, there is no God.”

We were at 62 degrees 24 minutes South and 57 degrees 16 minutes west, when Sola woke me and Swedish Captain Bengt Witman told us to dress warm before proceeding to our emergency assemble point.

© Copyright Michael Morrissey, All Rights Reserved.

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Article by Michael Morrissey is considered one of the new generation of adventure and travel photographers. Based in Bangkok, Thailand with a passion for travel, Michael got hooked on photography while driving a bus from Istanbul to Katmandu in the 70’s; an obsession briefly interrupted with a twenty year career in business. You can view his photography at: www.mjmorrissey.com

You can read more of Michael’s harrowing tale HERE.