Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Logbook: Antarctica II - Part 1

Antarcticaiipart11On Monday -- my last day in Ushuaia -- I packed up, checked out, stashed my gear, did a few chores and generally got ready to get moving again. I wanted to spend some time online, but the internet all over Ushuaia was very unstable so I didn’t get to check in with my “peeps” -- such is life as a digital aboriginal. At four o’clock I retrieved my gear and walked to the pier where I cleared security and went to board MV Polar Star. With only about 60 passengers to board, the check in process was fast and easy, followed by a few minutes of finding my cabin -- a very nice “double” with a pair of large windows and plenty of room (especially since I have it to myself!) -- and settling in. Because I will be in the same cabin on the Polar Star until I reach the Canary Islands six weeks from now, I did a proper “move in” and stowed my gear in drawers, closets, etc. Having so little stuff, however, the whole process took less than ten minutes. Promptly at six o’clock we cast off lines and left Ushuaia for an evening cruise down the Beagle Channel that was delightfully calm, clear and scenic. It had a real feeling of “going to sea” and as we all familiarized ourselves with the ship, made our introductions, performed the mandatory lifeboat drill and had dinner, there was a true sense of heading out on an expedition.

In the evening as we approached the Cape, the seas began to roll a little and we became aware of Polar Star’s primary -- possibly only -- drawback: As a converted ice breaker, it is built for capability not comfort. Although its rounded hull design is perfect for working in the ice, it makes the ship prone to rolling in swells and without any “stabilizers” such as are common on larger cruise ships, there is nothing to mitigate the effects. As a result, upon entering the Drake Passage in moderate swells, our first night at sea was “lively” and made for poor sleeping. The swells and rolls continued Tuesday morning but eased off during the day which was spent attending informative lectures on the wildlife and geology of Antarctica, getting fresh air on deck, reading and napping. By the evening, the swells had reduced further and I slept very well that night. Yesterday was also a day at sea, during which we had our mandatory Antarctic briefing, got ourselves fitted out with boots and attended some more informative lectures. The weather was so nice and the seas were so calm that it was truly a fine, fine day -- and overnight -- at sea.

Antarcticaiipart12At 5:15 this morning we received our wake up call in time to be on deck as the ship passed through “Neptune’s Bellows” -- the only gap in the otherwise perfectly formed volcanic caldera that is Deception Island. Once through the Bellows, we were in a vast lagoon inside the island, large enough that it took almost an hour to steam to the opposite shore. Thus, at about 6:30 we suited up for the first time, got into the Zodiacs and landed at Telefon Bay where we climbed up one of the Island’s many, smaller volcanic craters -- about 600 feet high -- and were rewarded by spectacular views. The weather was simply stunning and the scenery was breathtaking. After returning to the ship, we had breakfast while steaming back toward the Bellows then anchored in Whaler’s Bay. Our landing there included a beach walk among seals and penguins then some exploration of the ruins of a British Antarctic Survey base (that was destroyed by mud flows during an eruption in 1969) and ended with a swim! That’s right, a swim in the Antarctic waters!

Due to the geothermal nature of the island, hot water is available just below the surface of the black sand beach. The crew dug an impromptu hot tub and a number of passengers had a soak. Yours truly -- along with a few other brave souls -- did a “full dunking” in the really, really cold Antarctic water before dipping in the hot tub then making a swift return to the boat for a hot shower and hot lunch. It was one of those lifetime experiences that I am so glad I did and will never forget! In the afternoon we steamed to Half Moon Island where I had landed a month earlier on the Discovery cruise. Thankfully, the Chinstrap Penguin colony was far, far less aromatic and we were allowed to walk down the beach to visit the Camara Argentine Station. I was one of the first to arrive at the Station, and received some fine hospitality including hot coffee and a guided tour. In due course, some of the young women from the ship arrived and you can imagine that I quickly lost the attention of the young, all-male naval personnel. Go figure! So, I caught a Zodiac back to the ship, poured my dram and have been reflecting quite happily on a fantastic day in Antarctica. The spectacular weather and three varied, interesting landings combined to make this one of the best days yet on The Voyage of Macgellan!

No comments: