Antarctica Journal – Day Four

January 1, 2011

Noon location en route from Aitcho
Position 62° 27.4′ S, 059° 37.8′ W
Air temperature 7º C/45° F
Wind Speed/direction Force 3, southeasterly

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An overcast day.  Low ceiling.  Flat light.  A faint mist with a strong wind that brings an otherwise pleasant 35F down into the single digits.

Antarctica Cormorant aka Shag

Little sleep last night – my cabin is just down the stairwell from the Observation Deck and while that might sound like a good thing, and it is most of the time, last night was New Year’s Eve.  With over 10 different countries represented by the staff, crew and passengers, it made for a raucous time.  I’m not a fan per se of the holiday – to me it’s just a calendar date – but those folks knew how to party.  Loudly.

The noise coupled with the constant sunlight made for a difficult time sleeping.  In fact, I seem to be having difficulty sleeping every night.   Though we can’t see the sun – a constant grey haze makes up most of each day – the lack of night is translated by my body to mean stay awake, do things, keep busy.  Plus, I always feel like I’ll miss something if I’m not up on deck.

We anchored this morning off Aitcho Barrientos Island, one of the Aitcho Island group nestled between Robert and Greenwich Islands.    As we headed into the bay, a pair of Shags (Antarctic Cormants) flew past the starboard side – their colors quite similar to a penguin’s traditional black and white, though they have longer necks and the big difference being that unlike the penguin, these birds can fly.  Not much in the way of snow and ice, only bleak rocky shores populated by Gentoos, Chinstraps and giant petrels.  A few elephant seals wallowed in the distance.


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I elected to stay on board this morning, still worn out from the ship’s party.  (The photos above were taken by the expedition staff. ) Instead, I spent time in the Polar Star’s extensive library and read up on the various diets of the early explorers – in large part to find out what Penguin and Seal would taste like.  Don’t cringe – well, at least not too much!  For my character to survive his trek across the Ross Ice Shelf, he’ll need to eat.  I want to deepen the POV experience for the reader by describing the texture and flavor (which in turn will only horrify the reader further, but yes – Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton, and many other explorers subsisted on penguin and seal for long stretches.  It’s not unheard of).

Pierre Malan — who I’d mentioned yesterday — steered me toward several books which might include accounts of what Antarctic animals taste like, but no luck.  Scott was morally opposed to eating penguin or seal, insisting on tinned meats (which I suspect is part of the reason why he and his team eventually died down there.  Seal provides a great deal of Vitamin C, a critical element in staving off scurvy).  Shackleton makes plenty of references to hunting and eating both penguins and seals, but never any clue as to taste.

Pierre is on board with his wife, Wendy, and they’re both enormously kind folks.  Both from South Africa, Pierre’s background includes not only research and travel, but also hosting a series of documentaries on Antarctica.  Wendy background includes time as a professional ballerina and then as the ballet company’s producer.  They both serve as zodiac drivers for the Polar Star, along with photographic services and in Wendy’s case, she wrote up the ship logs which includes the longitude/latitude info I put at the top of each day’s journal.  Pierre’s pretty much reminiscent of an older Sean Connery while Wendy’s probably the most positive minded person I’ve ever met.  Clearly, they’re living an amazing life.

Lunch today: Carrot & Ginger soup (yum) and the cheese board.  They offered a pasta dish and eggplant parmijana, but both had gluten.  Dessert: Fruits with champagne sabayon.  Yeah – I didn’t starve.


The island itself is an active volcano, its caldera serving as a bay into which the Polar Star set anchor.

The Hektor Whaling Station (Norwegian) operated here between 1912 and 1931 and the British Antarctic Survey ran a station between 1943 and 1969.  Pretty much everything has been destroyed, leaving monochromatic rust and brown skeletal remains of various buildings as well as whaling tanks once used for extracting oil from the whale’s blubber.

Chinstrap Penguins abound, though at this point they’re pretty much ubiquitous.  Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed watching the little fellas nestle into the beach or waddle about to greet us as we hiked up to Neptune’s Window where further evidence of the volcano’s destructive nature was evident in the concave cliff sides.  Baked brown and black ash walls were streaked with red – ferrous oxide.  The colors seemed all the more saturated and yet monochromatic, thanks to the overcast weather.  Still, I’m eager to get down to the Antarctic Pennisula proper – to the glacial cliffs and roaming icebergs.  To the raw view of a white world that demands respect.  Tomorrow cannot come soon enough.

Dinner: Sea Bass Fillet with Truffled Leek Sauce with Wild Rice Pilaf and Steamed Vegetables.  Dessert: Kiwi Pavlova.

And yes, the photos below were taken by me – mostly with a little point-and-shoot that a Lady Marine on board was kind enough to loan me.  My own high-end camera’s battery is almost dead and I wanted to keep what little juice was left for some icebreaking shots when we hit the mainland…

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Penguin Preview
Gentoo penguins at Port Lockrey

Day One – December 29, 2010
Ushuia, The Beagle Channel

Day Two – December 30, 2010
The Drake Passage & Its Avian Escorts

Day Three – December 31, 2010
Arctowksi Station – Icebergs, Penguins, Seals

Day Four – January 1, 2011
Aitcho & Deception Island – Chinstrap Penguins and Volcanoes

Day Five – January 2, 2011
The Antarctic Peninsula: The Errera Channel, Alimante Brown Station, Port Lockroy
(Blue Bergs & Glaciers. Penguin Squabbles. Crabeater, Weddell & Leopard Seals.)

Day Six – January 3, 2011
Part I: LeMaire Channel, Vernadsky Research Base, Wordie House
(Breaking Ice, Ozone Research and Vodka!)

Part II: Adelie Penguins, Yalour & Pleneau Islands, Sunset over LeMaire Channel

Day Seven – January 4, 2011
Part I: Humpback Whales Ahoy!

Part II: We Almost Became Leopard Seal Bait

Day Eight – January 5, 2011

Part I: The Drake Passage Home


More to come…