Antarctica Journal – Day Three

December 31, 2010
Noon location southern Drake Passage
Position 61° 26′ S, 060° 11′ W
Sea Air temperature 4º C/39° F
Wind Speed/direction Force 5, west-southwesterly

It’s nearly impossible to sleep while passing through the Drake Passage.   Berths are laid beam-wise, in my case, starboard to port, so the intense rocking of the ship rocks you head to foot, not side to side.   It’s not a case of seasickness as much as feeling like you’re on a rollercoaster ride.  The experience pumps more and more adrenaline into your body, and if you’re an insomniac to begin with, the added movement stirs your blood even more.

We officially passed into Antarctica today and headed for Arctowski Station (Polish) at the onset of the Shetland Island chain.  Two humpback whales welcomed us as we passed into the Antarctic region (I’d taken some great video and then stupidly erased it, but I did manage to rescue one pix).

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A bit later, the Captain diverted the ship to rendezvous with a glorious iceberg surrounded by the most sterling blue water I’ve ever seen – a blue that put the Caribbean waters to shame.

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Along the iceberg, and later on in the ice encasing the Shetland Islands, there were these odd streaks of an even more vibrant blue – reminiscent of the blue gel stripe in toothpaste.  Those streaks are crevasses and will eventually cause splits in the ice, in turn causing calving.  I’m hopeful to see an instance of this phenomenon for myself – the cracking and ripping sounds which herald a berg or glacial cliff spawning a chunk of itself into the waters below.  Although, I wouldn’t want the porposing penguins to get tossed aside by the resulting tsunami.

Arctowski Station is a Polish research station on the shores of Admiralty Bay, King George Island.  Their research is predominately focused on the penguin rookery (containing both the Gentoo and the Chinstrap).  I suspect our main reason for staying here tonight is because the captain and crew will enjoy an evening with fellow countrymen.   Especially an evening which involves New Year’s – something that I couldn’t care less about.  It’s only a day on a calendar, but other passengers, crew and staff were high spirited about the event – rounds of limbo were played way into the night.

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And yes, I’ve loaded a few penguin videos at the end of this post…

With Danny Edmunds at Mikkelson Harbor

Excellent two part lecture today by Danny Edmunds, the on-board historian, covering heroes and explorers of the region.  A former banker/database guru, Danny has since lived an extraordinary life in and around Antarctica.  He wintered at Rothera research station AND has a bit of the filmmaker’s flare.  Check out the Rothera Station 48-hour film festival entry – The Quest for the Golden Roll.  Danny wrote, directed, and even has a bit of a walk-on part.  If nothing else, the short should be an inspiration to budding filmmakers on how you can do so much with so little!  (Plus, hey!  Zombies in Antarctica — beat that with a stick!)

Danny has been a tremendous help in my better understanding what the McMurdo/Ross Ice Shelf area would have been like in the 1950’s (at which time a certain character will gate through to Earth in my novel).  Over the course of the trip, we jointly poured through various tomes to find answers to my sometimes absurd questions.

A repeated theme of Danny’s lecture on this day was how various expeditions prior to Shackleton would also get stuck in the ice (like the Endurance), but the crews would become melancholy in the darkness of winter, their spirits low, their physical conditions worsening with each day.  Shackleton encouraged daily rounds of football, increased rations when possible, and even insisted that when all crew had to forgo everything but two pounds of personal items, that a banjo be kept amongst them so that music could help to raise spirits.  All clear demonstrations that this man genuinely cared for his men – a trait I admire tremendously.

Also of interest was that while Shackleton and the Endurance planned to travel to the pole from the northern route – taking them down from Deception Island – he had sent a second ship and expedition party to go through the Ross Sea and lay “sledging ration” drops  along the Ross Ice Shelf Coastline where it meets the glacial mountains – heading up toward the pole.  The Aurora expedition did drop these rations (though they ended up eating quite a bit of them to survive their own disasters).  Still, logically, if someone had come through the Antarctic gate even thirty or forty years later, those rations should have been edible.  Afterall, the Antarctic is like a deep freeze.

Danny has promised me he would  research what exactly was the ingredients in a sledging ration and we’re hoping to have a sit down dinner during the return through the Drake Passage.  I have a ton of questions and really need to start making a clean list.  In the mean time, Pierre Malan – A marine biologist and the assistant expedition leader – who has done extensive research throughout the peninsula, was able to steer me in the right direction in regards to how these drops would appear.  Typically, the Aurora crew would set up crates and then cover them in stone cairns some three meters tall.  They’d then flag the area with bright covered poles up to a kilometer out.

All the research I’ve done online, as well as the reading I’ve managed in between, has been like a drop of water in a vast bucket held by these scientists and researchers.  Their level of knowledge blows me away minute by minute.  And not just their knowledge, but their insight into how that knowledge really does aim for the betterment of all.  Case in point, Danny’s “spin” on the various early expeditions is always toward not just the extraordinary lengths these men went to, but how their discoveries really did help mankind.  Shackleton’s management skills are just one example.

It’s now the New Year – or to be more precise, it’s 1:27am and a grey overcast sky lies out my window.  I need to sleep, even though the environment calls out, asking me to step outside and feel its overwhelming honesty.  I regret having to subcumb to my humanity and rest my head, but tomorrow is a new day with several landings, and I’d be nuts not to eke as much out of my time here as possible.

Happy 2011!

And now for some Penguin Videos – starting first with some coverage on Larry, Curly & Moe:


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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…