by Paul D. Maley, NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society

The actual track of our ship’s path for the November 28 – December 8, 2021 eclipse cruise. Courtesy Ponant.

Overall path in the Weddell Sea. Courtesy X. Jubier.

Most of our 193 member eclipse expedition team. Captain Mickael Debien is seen on the left side of the pool sitting. Notice the prevalence of red parkas provided to all passengers by Ponant.  Thibault Garnier photo.

The long anticipated 2021 Antarctic cruise featuring a total solar eclipse occurred as planned during this time of COVID-19.  Unfortunately it did not end with a successful observation of the complete eclipse of the Sun as we had hoped.  In a rare failure compared to our past adventures the skies did not cooperate and we were unable to actually observe the Sun during any part of the solar eclipse process even though we experienced many periods with hours of clear sky during the 10 day cruise.  However there were some positive aspects:

1.We were able to sail to near the center of the path of the eclipse and experience 1 minute 35 seconds of totality.

2.This was  by far the darkest eclipse that we have experienced.  The clouds made the overall impression of totality seem like actual night instead of the typical twilight level of sky background.

3. Those who are ‘country counters’ can add Argentine Antarctica and British Antarctic Territory (BAT) as new countries to their list. Even though we could not land we were in sight of Coronation Island which is part of BAT.

4. We were able to succeed in making one landing on Antarctica (Penguin Island) where we were able to see seals, petrels and chinstrap penguins.

5. The cruise was completed without anyone testing COVID-positive.

Our cruise program was scheduled from November 28 to December 8, 2021 with a pre-night in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Some 193 passengers were in the final cut of the program and all were able to enter Argentina. This was the first of many hurdles especially for detailed information on many logistical things that in pre-pandemic times would have been available months earlier.  In the time of COVID we were fortunate in two ways. As everyone boarded the ship in Ushuaia after going through a mandatory PCR test prior to entering Argentina, and then a second mandatory PCR test prior to boarding the ship, we saw another ship berthed opposite ours. It was a Quark cruise line vessel where it was reported to us that multiple crew members had tested positive for COVID causing that cruise to be canceled literally as passengers were waiting to board.  This ship was to take a 20 day cruise (starting price $29,000 per person in November 2021) to see the eclipse.

Aerolineas Argentinas charter flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. Masks were the order of the day throughout the entire cruise program.  Photo by Chris Friedline.

No matter the times or sometimes the class of service, airplane food seems never to change for the better. Rob Arnott photo.

Another challenge was the last minute switch of our charter aircraft from an Airbus that was to carry all of our nearly 200 members to a Boeing 737 which only took 170 passengers.  As a result it took two separate flights in both directions to ferry all of our group between the Buenos Aires and the cruise port of Ushuaia further complicating our planning.  Even though the group was split all passengers made the cruise and completed their Argentina tour experience.

Also, when our ship docked on December 8 it was preparing to embark the next day with a new group of passengers. However, one passenger on that cruise tested positive. In accordance with Ponant procedures, they delayed that cruise departure one day and then set sail but did not have a need to cancel that cruise.  Again, we were lucky that this did not happen to our cruise.

Abercrombie & Kent welcome signs for our group (4 on the left) compared to one of our competitors on the right with a single innocuous sign.

Upon arrival into Buenos Aires A&K had numerous staff with our bright yellow/black signs at every airline meeting point. This was amazingly helpful such that all of our group were able to easily get on and off the 5 buses transporting them to the Park Hyatt Hotel on arrival and then on the day we returned home this enabled us to navigate the airport for flight check-in and departure in spite of rain on December 8.

[Photos below that do not identify the photographer are by the author unless otherwise indicated.]

The ill-fated COVID-cancelled Quark ship ULTRAMARINE berthed across from our ship, Ponant’s Le Boreal.

Le Boreal awaiting departure. Rob Arnott photo.

The moment our group arrived on November 26 I began to receive email inquiries asking if some of the Quark passengers could join our cruise. At this point in the timeline we had a few berths open but Ponant had closed any new entries and we had to advise that we could not accept any new passengers.  Also it was a 4-day Thanksgiving weekend and processing payments would have proved impossible prior to cruise departure.  So all the negative forces combined to prevent any Quark eclipse observers from joining us.  This was truly regrettable as most passengers from this ship were already in Buenos Aires when the cancellation was declared and had no other option to see the eclipse. We did learn afterwards that some Quark passengers were able to board a separate Ponant ship to the eclipse.

Iconic multiple peak mountain seen as you approach Ushuaia city.

Passport stamp provided after the National Park Tour for those on the charter flight. Richard Nugent photo.

How to operate the elevators in the time of COVID

A contest to see who has the ugliest life vest. Byron Braswell photo.

A temperature check kiosk in front of the reception area.

Ponant laid out a program whose goal was to intercept the center line of the eclipse path east of the South Orkney Island group on December 4. The cruise track was laid out with specific visits to certain Antarctica places based on this goal. Unfortunately the sea state and swells per the Captain caused only one landing to be attempted with success. Each time a new landing site was encountered, both the wind and swells made it unsafe to attempt to ferry passengers to/from each landing point.

 Captain Mickael Debien providing a briefing to all passengers advising of high seas and wind based on an approaching storm from the southwest.

In the only presentation that he made during the cruise the Captain showed a graphic of the weather conditions predicted for the morning of December 4 and how the best solution to seeing the eclipse was to head northward instead of to the east; if we had headed east, we would have had to sail back into increasing wind and worse sea conditions. He added that going back to the South Orkneys would not have been able to give us any additional chance of safe landings because of the large storm circulation.   This was extremely unfortunate for everyone onboard.  By the time we had finished the eclipse intercept the location of Le Boreal was so far north from the Antarctic Peninsula and far south of the Falkland Islands that there was no way to make any further stops without far exceeding the duration of the cruise and fuel allocation. Ponant was in charge of the cruise and we had no control over the final program.

The sea state was high at times. Peter Farrow made this video showing how high some waves were able to get. Note, all videos were uploaded to google drive where they may stay until late 2022.

A view of the waves from the Deck 2 restaurant that is representative of the almost daily sea state after our landing at Penguin Island 


Enjoying the hot tub during a quiet period as icebergs pass by.  Stretches of clear sky occurred throughout the trip

A stack of lenticular clouds approaching Brown Bluff.  Chris Alexander photo.

A cormorant with no name is a cormorant just the same. LeRoy Maxfield photo.

Weddell Sea sunset. Marlene Kirton photo.

A rainbow seen with the end very close to the ship. Yleana Martinez photo.

The Texas flag raised on eclipse day is a tradition stemming from an ROFE eclipse expedition to Colombia in 1977. Chris Alexander photo.

We had six landings planned but high seas and winds aborted five of them. The only one we were able to successfully achieve was that of Penguin Island. First sighted in 1820 by a British explorer it is located not far from the larger King George Island where most ships visit the so-called Antarctic/Palmer Peninsula.

Approaching Penguin Island with extinct volcano in foreground. Called Deacon Peak it last erupted in 1905.  Chris Friedline photo.

Inside Deacon Peak. Photo by Ponant photography team.


Once getting off the Zodiacs there were animals to see.  Here is the seal inspector. Debbie Moran photo.

A rather fat seal lying on the beach proving that there is no real dieting on Penguin Island. Chris Friedline photo.

Penguins are excited to welcome the “red parka people”. Debbie Moran photo.

Trekking along the island shores is quite difficult in places but chinstrap penguins seemed to have no trouble. Chris Friedline photo.

A group of penguins that seem to prefer standing on ice together than on bare rock.

Zodiacs ferrying passengers to Penguin Island. The large formation in the background is actually on King George Island. LeRoy Maxfield photo.

Three seals huddle together on shore since they don’t have heaters on the island.

Chinstrap penguin checking to see who is following him (or is it her). Debbie Moran photo.

Two out of three seals agree that tourists are loud, noisy and can be annoying. Debbie Moran photo.

No matter where you turn you cannot win an argument with a seal. Photo by Ponant photography team.

A chinstrap penguin looking to get his picture taken

A return Zodiac from Penguin Island. Marlene Kirton photo.

A very challenging landing area on Penguin Island. Walking along this rocky shoreline required all passengers to take great care and navigating the rocks was slow and painstaking.  Debbie Moran photo.


A gentoo penguin flying out of the water. LeRoy Maxfield photo.

A petrel walking in the snow. Photo by Ponant photography team.

Off one side of the ship we could see periodic expulsions of air by whales; this is likely where the term ‘blowhard’ came from. Photo by Ponant photography team.

Elephant Island as depicted in this black and white image from Eliot Herman.  A forbidding weather battered landscape where famed explorer Ernest Shackelton and members of his crew took “refuge” after their ship the Endurance was crushed by ice in 1915. They called it “Hell of an island”. Location at 61°08′S 55°07′W.

Every once in a while it was possible to see local wildlife taking a free ride on a nearby chunk of ice. This included birds, penguins and seals.

Penguins on ice. Paul Maley photo.

More penguins on a small ice flow looking to be the subject of a photo opportunity.

Here is a very brief penguin video shot by Ron Rohde that shows what happens when penguins think they are about to be rammed by a cruise ship. It is every penguin for him/herself!

Penguins hiking up a much higher icy hill. The one flapping on the right is saying “wait, this is not the shortest way to the beach“. Richard Nugent photo.

A whale up close and personal

“Noah’s ark” of penguins floats by in front of an iceberg as the sailing birds appear to be looking for either a new cruise director or a rescue. Photo by Ponant photography team.

One of numerous sea birds flying by the ship. However as someone noted, there were no bugs on the windshield. Debbie Moran photo. 

A massive colony seen along the way at Brown Bluff composed of about 50,000 gentoo penguins. [I count 49,988 with some absent due to unknown reasons.]

Dark and foreboding Coronation Island (in the South Orkneys) as seen in another black and white image by Eliot Herman.

Weddell Sea sunrise. Marlene Kirton photo.

Entertainment during the cruise. Richard Nugent photo.

Kayak operation training. Don’t try this at home! Richard Nugent photo.


Dr. Mike Shara presenting one of a number of scientific lectures

Dr. Pat Reiff’s talk to introductory eclipse observers. Photo by Ponant photography team.

Dr. Miloslav Druckmuller presenting his intriguing methodology of processing solar eclipse images that have resulted in pioneering work over the past decade.

Dr. Hale Bradt outlined a book on his father’s experiences during World War II.

Chris Alexander described the December 2020 total solar eclipse that we all missed. Richard Nugent photo.

Paul Maley giving his initial talk at the Park Hyatt Hotel, Buenos Aires. Marlene Kirton photo.


A 6 person team from the University of Hawaii planned experiments during the eclipse in conjunction with a second ship in the region with similar hardware.

Some members of the Solar Wind Sherpa Team setting up their gear.

Additional hardware along the railing


In the spirit of passenger competition I had a group of 7 cakes prepared, each one spelling out one letter of E-C-L-I-P-S-E.  The idea of this event was to offer a prize for the most ardent toss of a cake into the air causing it to turn over and fall back to its plate without breaking.  Seven contestants participated. They were: Jasmine Lawrence, Brian Daviadoff, Glenn Nishimoto, Chad Stewart, Sumit Patel, Gill Beddows, and Brett Lavalla.

The identical seven cakes used in the cake flip competition. Plates and serving ware were laid out by the crew as if they were going to be eaten but that was not the intent.

Brett Lavalla

Sumit Patel

Glenn Nishimoto 

Jasmine Lawrence

Cruise Director Patrick Vellagauci officiates at the final Cake flip off featuring left to right Brett Lavalla, Glenn Nishimoto and Gill Beddows.  Gill won the competition!


One feature of this cruise was the sighting of numerous huge icebergs that migrated northward into our path. Some were reputed to be hundreds of km in length although the ones we saw were not quite that large.  These were some of the most incredible sights that you could envision on the open ocean.

Huge icebergs and a lenticular cloud in late afternoon

Sometimes you could look out your cabin window and see an immense iceberg floating by with incredible sculptural detail. 

At other times you could see a group of mammoth icebergs floating in unison far from the ship.

A formidable iceberg off the coast of Brown Bluff. Eliot Herman photo.

A mini iceberg that appeared to some to be the head of a sea monster.

Still another iceberg that resembled Stonehenge. Chris Friedline photo.

An iceberg so big I could not get it in the entire frame of my wide angle lens!

Ice cubes were also seen. This batch floated by the ship without an apparent source.

Then there were ice plates that appeared also from nowhere.

The last day of the cruise we awoke in Ushuaia harbor to see a beautiful sunrise view.

Future tours were advertised at the Ring of Fire hospitality desk staffed by Sandy Polley and Marlene Kirton

Dinner with the Captain the night of the eclipse. From left to right SusanVaudagna, Paul Young Jr., Rob Arnott, Paul Young Sr., Captain Debien, Annie Vaudagna whose birthday occurred on eclipse day December 4, and James Vaudagna.

On December 8 at the end of the cruise you can see the Quark ship isolated in the middle of the bay off Ushuaia in the above image.


At lunch on eclipse day the chef whipped up a grand eclipse cake similar to ones we have had in the past. This time the surface design was truly ornate and it was a shame to have to eat it. However, he made two of them so that all passengers would have the opportunity to bite into one.  It was quite excellent as was all the food aboard Le Boreal.

Dinner menu we created for eclipse day featuring astronomical adjectives.

The ship had two restaurants: deck 2 (formal sit down meals) and deck 6 (more informal and take away). The latter had to be shut down for most of the cruise due to the high sea state causing plates and glasses to come crashing down presenting a hazard to staff and guests.

Two examples of the buffet on deck 6 (left) and the singular creations from the deck 2 restaurant (right).  Chris Alexander commented that the chef was the only one to ‘capture the chromosphere” in the item to the right.


Umbraphiles (i.e. eclipse enthusiasts) Kahti Hendry and Sally Kilburg habitually create songs on eclipse cruises. This time they came up with a number of songs, this being the lyrics to one of them:

Windy (to the tune of “Windy” by The Association)

What do you feel across the Drake passage?

What’s blowing through the cold Weddell Sea?

Why can’t we head out on our excursions?

Everyone knows—its windy!

It’s windy—we can’t stand up!

It’s windy–can’t shut the door!

It’s windy–we’re stuck on board

In Antarctica, Antarctica, Antarctica.


Don Gardner is shown being antigen tested prior to everyone being cleared for disembarkation. A two hour test protocol period scheduled that day resulted in all passengers testing negative.


The graphic below again lays out the track that the ship had to follow that fully depended upon the 1) the Ponant-designed trajectory of the cruise based on cruise duration and eclipse intercept, and 2) the Captain’s real time decision as to how best to stay within the path of totality and to get away from the clouds. The cloud prediction was based on the model provided to the ship about 18 hours before totality.  The model updates occurred roughly every three to six hours.  A prolonged and unanticipated internet outage Dec. 3/4 made it impossible for us to get any later updates on cloud forecasts or receive satellite images until after the eclipse had passed. So we had to use outdated information to make this plan work as well as rely on real time observations of the clouds around the ship.  This unexpected turn of events caused the decision to move northward instead of our initial plan to watch the eclipse to the east of the South Orkneys (those islands are shown below on the right side just below where the track moves upward on the right side of the graph).  Had we been able to do this, the ship could have turned west again to revisit the Palmer Peninsula.  However, due to the distance traveled and the reported high wind and wave conditions expected where we had just been, the Captain indicated that there were no possible additional landing opportunities to visit Antarctica beyond those already attempted.  Traveling west was against the wind and current which slowed down the ship even more.  This resulted in 4 days of open seas and no ability to land until Ushuaia on December 8.

Actual track of our ship in blue with our position on December 6 (2 days after the eclipse) inside the red circle. The eclipse observation was conducted at the northmost point of the blue vertical line on the right side of the graphic.  Courtesy of Gary Rubin.

Other ship locations are shown that were also part of expeditions attempting to see the eclipse and Antarctica. The Palmer Peninsula is shown at bottom where most cruises go; the South Orkneys are the small islands in right center just above the blue track line. The northward jog is clearly visible before the ship had to take a westward direction (immediately after the eclipse) back toward Ushuaia with no possible stops in order to achieve the December 8 docking in Argentina. The one ship that reportedly saw the eclipse (National Geographic Endurance) was located just east of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

In order to allow the most passengers to have the best view of the eclipse we came up with a plan to allow one side of the ship to have an optimum view from the cabin balconies. Approximately 65 cabins would be oriented in this way.

Passengers on the Sun side of the ship waiting for totality.

At eclipse time the bow of the ship was pointed into the wind and the starboard side cabins had a view of the Sun. Passengers on the port side could either go on deck or make an arrangement to join a starboard side cabin.

Our initial eclipse intercept forecasted these times:

Posted on the TV monitor for the first planned sea location. THE LONGITUDE ABOVE IS IN ERROR: IT SHOULD REFLECT 41.3297 W.

However, we had to update these events in real time as the ship tried to get away from cloud.  In retrospect, the actual times were found to be the following based on our final ship position (within a few seconds):


C2: 4:03:40am START TOTALITY

C3: 4:05:016am END TOTALITY


Fog seen at 4am November 29. The same scene repeated daily until eclipse day December 4, 2021 when no fog appeared.

Prior to December 4 I assessed the weather around totality time daily (4.08am local time). Beginning with the first morning after we set sail fog was observed each day except on eclipse day. In fact, the ceilings revealed low and middle cloud just as the weather model predicted.  The sky never really got dark each ‘night’ as the Sun was not that far below the horizon that time of year.  I never saw stars until arriving back into Ushuaia.

The weather model that we did NOT get (due to the internet outage) until after the eclipse showing that clear skies (blue color) would move far to the east and well outside the distant boundaries of the eclipse path. The path of totality is defined as over the region of the 3 irregular curved lines.  To the right or left there would only be a partial eclipse.  The time of this prediction is for 2 hours after totality but the trend data would have showed a west to east motion of the clouds indicating that it would be futile to chase clear sky.  Had we received this and other confirming model data before the decision to move north it would have been possible to remain in place near the South Orkneys and taken our chances with revisiting the Antarctic peninsula.

As totality approached everyone was watching the changing skyline. Below you can see the view from the bridge as a large horizontal gap appeared on the horizon. We headed for it. It appeared to be several degrees in altitude in width. [In retrospect, the one ship that successfully saw the eclipse from north of our final position observed it through a gap such as this at an actual elevation of 1.9 degrees above the horizon.]

View from the bridge around 3:42am (about 22 minutes before totality). 

The above image as taken from the bridge shows the more relaxed sea state which was indicated by the Captain’s information prior to us sailing north.


Ron Rohde came up with a plan to use a 3-axis stabilized gimbaled device on the ship. He walked along the entire deck of state rooms to show how stable this mounting was with his Iphone 12 ProMax attached to it. That video was very informative. Then on a separate day he shot video by pointing the device at the Sun  You can view this video and see the Sun as it would look prior to an eclipse with the sea in the initial portion, then zoomed in and hand held on the Sun.  This model is not being manufactured but a later model is on the web site:   https://www.dji.com/osmo-mobile-2      This device sells for about $160. on Amazon.

Ron (who roomed with Don Gardner on the cruise) commented:

I had planned to use the gimbal for the corona during totality expecting it would be stable on a pitching, rolling, yawing deck.  To that end, I taped some of Don Gardiner’s solar filter material to my iPhone lens and made a several practice videos of the sun on one of the side decks on level 4 or 5 while the ship was rolling, etc., a few days before the eclipse.  The test showed that it would work as expected.

During the eclipse Don and I were on the 4th deck. I had an iPhone 12 Pro Max mounted on the gimbal as planned. The partially eclipsed sun peaked out through a hole in the broken cloud layer about four minutes before totality.  I swung the gimbal/camera up, pointed at the sun, and started the video hoping the cloud opening would increase in time for totality enough to show the corona.  Don Ducked out of the way.  Since the sun was a slim crescent by that point in the eclipse it wasn’t bright enough to blow out the image even though there was no filter on the lens.  Shortly after that the fog layer move in to obscure the sun and cloud layer.  We’ll never know if the hole did open.

The gimbal has a 1/4-20 thread for accepting a tripod mount, but hand holding it is probably easier and provides more flexibility in preparing for a shot like this. 

In a separate video taken during the partial eclipse. He states:

It should be clear from my edited description in the other response I just sent to this email that WE DID SEE THE ECLIPSE!  Admittedly it was only a brief portion of the eclipse.  And it was through a broken cloud layer.  And what we saw was not very clear.  But my video shows at it was at least 30 seconds of the eclipse, and it might have been as much as a two or three minutes.  But we did see the eclipse.

For those of you planning to go with in 2023 or 2024 you might consider this or something similar as an interesting option to help defeat the roll, pitch and yaw motion so common in a cruise trip.


A number of birthdays were celebrated on the ship. On this occasion a group of passengers had dinner with the Captain.

An eclipse rendered birthday cake. The waiter in the background is looking at 4 ‘eclipses’ due to the unique character of the deck 2 restaurant light fixtures.  Rob Arnott photo.


As the time passed and we moved toward the above horizon gap the sky in the direction of the eclipse azimuth 120 began to turn into a ‘mackerel sky’ with small openings forming between adjacent cloud blocks as in the image below. This was where I was aiming for us to be: forward and to the right of the Sun as we steamed northward.

The view toward azimuth 120 degrees at approximately 3:51am (13 minutes before totality). This gave the impression that we might have a real chance to see the eclipse with genuine tiny strips of blue between cloud blocks. However, note the new formation of fog just above the sea. To the right, new low clouds moved in to block the Sun.  Photo by Ponant photography team.


I have seen this type of sky many times before. Here is an example of photos I took January 19, 2022 of a similar sky:

             START OUT CLOUDY……………………………………………………………………MACKERAL CLOUDS APPEAR……………………………………………………………CLEARING BEHIND IT

At about this time the temperature effect of the partial eclipse phase seemed to now cause fog to form that was never there before. This added more concern for the sky at totality time. Even though we were sailing away from the fog and toward what appeared to be more open sky, the sky began to close and we were unable to see any gaps for the remainder of the eclipse period.

Screen grab of the actual ship position several minutes after totality ended.

I had to remain on the bridge during most of the eclipse period in order to direct the ship within the remaining time allotted. In addition to watching the sky and taking photos I had to provide instructions to the Cruise Director on key times for him to announce over the public address system. The above image shows where we were 5 minutes after totality ended. This means that we were somewhat east of the center line as shown below at the tip of the arrow.  Even here the Sun would only be 6 degrees above the horizon at central eclipse time.

Actual position during totality. Map courtesy X. Jubier.











The above Iphone 12 images are in the direction of the Sun at 4:01am and 4:03am, respectively. Totality occurred at 4:05am.  The fog is to the very far left and what you see is low thick cloud at the start of totality.


Don Gardner recorded a  movie that compressed the sky background prior to and after totality. Because of this compression totality occurs rapidly and you can see the brightness drop dramatically.

Thomas Marsella also recorded a movie that was posted to YouTube by Leticia Ferrer. You can get a sense of perspective here also and see the envelopment of the ship in the Moon’s shadow. Because I had to be on the bridge looking for holes in the sky and was unable to use the PA system to make announcements I did instruct the Cruise Director Patrick on what to say and when to say it so that the announcements would synchronize with the eclipse process.


Looking at actual satellite images for central eclipse time the following image taken 2 hours after totality best illustrates where we were relative to the actual cloud cover which did not change that much from 4am to 6am local time.

Weather satellite image taken December 4 at 9:10UTC (2 hours after totality) but with a marginal change in cloud cover with the exception of one area.

The north (upper part) of this image is where the one ship that saw totality was located. Clouds were more prevalent at eclipse time than what is shown here. The blue dot is roughly where Le Boreal was located during totality and you can see it is completely cloud covered throughout the entire area. All of this happened quite rapidly as totality approached. To have been in the apparent gap farther north would have taken us an additional 7 hours had we even been able to rely on this as being a real gap.

Weather satellite image 2 hours before totality. Notice the zone with fog and low cloud annotated. Dark black color usually symbolizes clear sky but not completely in this image.  A more realistic presentation is depicted of the area to the far north where the National Geographic Endurance saw the eclipse but there too the sky was mostly cloudy.


The crescent Moon seen the night after the eclipse. Imagine what a totality image would have been like! Chris Alexander photo.


El Ateneo book store. Is this maybe the world’s largest book store? Byron Braswell photo.

Just a small section of the remarkable Iguassu Falls as seen from Argentina. Byron Braswell photo.

Another view of the falls downstream. Byron Braswell photo.



Spegganizi Glacier by boat. Chris Alexander photo.

The super impressive Moreno Glacier.  Chris Alexander photo.

Moreno Glacier from a higher perspective.  Chris Alexander photo.