Local family goes on record-breaking Antarctica expedition

Carmel Valley residents Alex and Daria Myers and their 8-year-old son Nikolai recently went on an adventure to Antarctica’s Ross Sea, part of a cruise that broke the world record for the southernmost navigation of any vessel in the world, coming within two meters of the Ross Ice Shelf.

The trio made the once-in-a-lifetime trip on a 644-foot, luxury private residential ship called The World.

This was avid-travelers Daria and Alex’s second voyage to Antarctica but their first time traveling outside the country with their son.

The World came within two meters of the Ross Ice Shelf.
The World came within two meters of the Ross Ice Shelf. (Alex Myers)

“It was an honor to be a part of an expedition team who live and breathe Antarctica,” Alex said.

“I broke the record,” proclaimed Nikolai proudly, who can be considered the youngest southernmost passenger in the world.

The Myers’ expedition began on Jan. 14 in Hobart, the Southernmost Australian city, and returned to New Zealand on Feb. 7. With 120 passengers on board and about 600 crew, it took five days at sea to reach the Ross Sea, the expert crew threading the needle of storms.

“The Ross Sea is perhaps The World’s most ambitious expedition to date,” said expedition leader Rob McCallum on a commemorative trip video made by the crew. “Extremely remote, completely at the whim of ice and weather, but what a magical playground to explore.”

Alex said the common theme on the ship was the incredible weather they had, which allowed them to break the record but also to have the fortune to see sights such as the Belleny Islands. McCallum told the passengers that they don’t always take that route by the islands due to weather and that he had never actually seen them as it is almost always foggy and snowy. The passengers were fortunate to get a clear view of the islands.

Nikolai and the penguins in Antarctica.
Nikolai and the penguins in Antarctica. (Alex Myers)

“We got eight days of sunny, still weather. For Antarctica it was the perfect weather,” Alex said of the 24 hours of sunlight, temperatures in the 30s throughout — the coldest it got was 15 degrees with the wind chill.

Daria said when people think of snow and ice they think of just plain white but Antarctica takes on every shade of light and color imaginable. They were able to see incredible wildlife, including seals, seabirds and tons of Emperor penguins and Adelie penguins.

“There aren’t too many things that eat penguins, leopard seals primarily, but they are extremely awkward on land. The penguins have zero land-based threats so they’re not conditioned to be afraid (of humans),” Alex said.

While the Antarctic Treaty that governs visitors mandates that humans not approach penguins, it doesn’t keep the animals from approaching humans. At one point, Nikolai found himself surrounded by the friendly, curious animals.

Having been to Antarctica before, the Myers didn’t want to have any expectations because the itinerary is so fluid and the weather and wildlife can be unpredictable. Their one hope, which they thought would be unlikely, was to be able to do a nice, long hike. However, due to the great weather conditions, the family was able to go on a “significant” two-mile hike, running in the snow in insulated boots and conquering small rocky peaks.

Other excursions included going out to explore on zodiac boats (Nikolai even took a turn piloting one), on kayaks and exploring the ice shelf and larger ice floes when safe. They also had the opportunity to visit Zucchelli Station, the permanent Italian research station on the continent.

“That was my favorite spot,” said Nikolai, who was treated like a part of the crew and received commemorative badges. “They were such nice people.”

An amazing view of Antarctica wildlife and scenery.
An amazing view of Antarctica wildlife and scenery. (Alex Myers)

The Italian researchers were invited on board to The World in exchange for the opportunity to visit the station. The Myers’ got a kick of how excited one scientist was to have fresh-squeezed orange juice and fresh fruit, requesting that they snap a photo of her posing with a strawberry.

The Myers wished they could send her off with some fruit to bring back to the station but the rules are very strict — each passenger’s clothing and shoes has to be thoroughly cleaned when exiting and boarding the ship to ensure no invasive species are introduced to the continent and that nothing from Antarctica is inadvertently brought back home.

There were concerns about Nikolai missing six weeks of school but Daria believes the experience was invaluable to the new Del Mar Heights student and just what he needed.

“It helped him overcome shyness, he’s better now with talking to people and being more polite,” said Daria, who plans to take him to her native Russia in the summer.

As Alex has experience as a tutor, he worked math lessons into the trip and the couple kept Nicolai on a strict journaling schedule. His journal, filled with drawings and long passages about his days at sea and on ice, looks like it went through quite the adventure itself — pages torn in spots and at one point it got lost and nearly demolished with the ship’s trash.

Daria is fortunate that she can pull out scrapbooks full of photos of herself as a child exploring places such as the White Sea off the coast of Russia. “I remember it vividly and I want (Nikolai) to experience that, to develop a love of nature and travel and exploring the world,” she said.

“For us, travel is equal parts getting to see something and the self-reflection component,” Alex said. “Travel is about getting a different perspective. It’s about growing.”

They could think of no better lesson for their son.