Antarctica Journal – Day Six, Part I

January 3, 2011

Noon location at anchor at Vernadsky Station
Position 65° 14.04′ S, 064° 15.08′ W
Air temperature 7º C/45° F
Sea state calm and flat
Wind Speed/direction Force 2, westerly

LeMaire Channel

After days of overcast skies, this morning kicked off with crystal blue as we headed through the LeMaire Channel which separates Booth Island from the Antarctic Peninsula.  The quality of light is strikingly different from what’s typically seen in the northern hemisphere – a softer and whiter shimmer above snowbanks and deep blue waters which, cliche as it may sound, literally sparkled under the ray sunshine.

Startling, huh?  Ice engulfed black cliffs,  snow-covered continent’s glaciers, and brackish ice in the water which the M/V Polar Star cut through like a knife through butter.  Honestly, I could see this stuff every day of my life and never tire of it (more on that later).

I still had a bit of battery life left in my Kodak Zi8 so I decided if there was a time to use it, this was it.  Plus, I’ve had this little fantasy of pulling a “Frank Hurley” since I used the camera for both the stills above and the video you’ll see below in a moment.  For those unfamiliar, Hurley was the photographer/cinematographer on board the Endurance (Ernest Shackleton’s fated voyage).  While Hurley is probably best known for his winter shot of the Endurance trapped in the ice under 24-hour darkness, I’ve always found his filming of the ship’s bow breaking through the ice to be the most fascinating (unfortunately, I couldn’t find it on YouTube to share, sorry).  Since it was high summer in the Antarctic when we moved through the LeMaire, I couldn’t get literal ice-breaking, but I’d call this the 2nd best thing:

Vernadsky Research Base
Busy morning — and from the looks of the Expedition’s Daily Call Sheet, the day’s gonna be hectic. (yes, just like in the film industry, the expedition ship has a call sheet — a listing of the route, the places we’ll go, where we’ll land, etc.)  Our first zodiac landing was at Vernadsky – a Ukranian research base located on the Argentine Islands across from the Antarctic continent.

The Vernadsky folks were the ones to first determine there’s a bit of a hole in the Earth’s ozone layer.  They gave us a nice tour of the facilities and though we weren’t able to see the ozone measuring equipment, we did get to see the work stations for measuring sea level and seismic activity.  I admit to a bit frustration at the language barrier between our guests and ourselves as I would have loved to have asked more questions about seismic activity since the Drift focuses on the topic.  (Thankfully, others were able to help me later on in the trip).

10 guys –scientists and support staff — live at the base a year at a time (6 months of bright summer, 6 months of dark winter!).  To keep busy during their “off” times, they operate a vodka still and bar.  (see photos).  The vodka is made from oranges, yeast, sugar and a few other bits and ends.  We visited at 10 in the morning so I just couldn’t bring myself to try it.

Wordie House

Established by the UK Antarctic Survey, the Wordie House (built in 1947) was named after Sir James Wordie, a member of Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition who visited during its construction.  Part of our reason for visiting the site was to drop off two carpenters – a married couple – who work under the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust traveling around the continent to perform restoration and maintenance work on the various historical sites.  I had an opportunity to speak with them a bit (She’s from Idaho, he’s from Britain).  They’ve lived down there for several years now and love it, having spent time down in the Ross Sea area (Scott Hut, Discovery Hut, etc. and home to McMurdo Station).  From the wide grins on both their faces, I could tell that neither of them had any interest in leaving the frozen continent soon.

Based off what I’ve seen and experienced down here, I “get” why.  The peace and quiet aren’t only a salve on a weary 21st century citizen, there’s something much more vital about the life.  It’s not that you no longer care about politics, or the world’s current affairs, or how your family is fairing.  No.  But being down there gives you a true sense of what is really eternal versus the momentary blips our day to day efforts make on the planet’s living history.

Zodiac Cruise

After visiting Wordie House, our zodiac driver  took some time to show us around the area.  I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing glaciers and bergs is fine by me.  We also happened across a few seals as well — Weddell, Crabeaters, and Leopards.  At this point I’m convinced that 90% of their daily lives is wrapped up in lounging…..

Lunch: Cream of Cauliflower and Apple Soup, Chicken Pot Pie

It’s a busy day with 3 significant landings so I’ve broken this up into two separate entries.  Part II — Adelie Penguins at Yalour Islands and an evening landing at Pleneau Islands.  I’ll post that tomorrow so stay tuned!



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…