Thursday, March 29, 2007

Logbook: Brazil

Brazil1Those of you who have been along on The Voyage for a while may recall my “Brazil Visa Gambit” back in December wherein I spent three days -- not to mention the $100 fee! -- in Costa Rica getting my Brazil Visa in anticipation of landing there yesterday. Well, I can now report the net result of that effort as follows: I woke up early yesterday morning and did my usual routine. With coffee in hand I went to the bridge, looked off the port beam and was a bit shocked to see miles and miles of coastal beaches backed up by miles and miles of high-rise condo/apartment buildings. After being at sea for ten days, the sight of land alone would have been novel enough. This was just astonishing. Recife, Brazil looks like the coast of Florida somewhere around Miami or Ft. Lauderdale! Anyway, I recovered enough to have breakfast and be ready to hit the streets as soon as we cleared customs -- yes, my visa passed muster -- at about 9 o’clock. Although our expedition included a morning tour of Recife, I was so desperate to get online and try to finish/fix my website update that I told Gary I was going to bail on the tour -- which involved visiting a lot of old churches -- and find an internet connection. I think he was a little nervous about me being on my own, but he just said, “Make sure you’re back at the ship by 12:45... We sail at 1:00 and don’t want to leave without you.” I promised I would, got their tour guide to tell a cab driver the location of a nearby internet cafe and we went our separate ways.

My cab driver spoke no English -- nor, apparently, any of my dialect of Spanish -- so we used single words and hand signals to communicate. A five minute drive took us to the location he’d been told about, but we couldn’t find the cafe. We laughed when he asked a bunch of guys standing on a corner about internet connection and got nothing but shrugs. With the clock ticking -- the “time available for internet” clock that is -- I tried a Plan B and said, “Holiday Inn?” in the assumption that my old stand-by would have internet. He perked up, nodded his head, said something like “Yes” and off we roared... to just about the other end of the city of Recife! After a wild ride we pulled up at the Holiday Inn where I paid him $10 US for the fare and went inside. “Yes, we have internet. No, you can’t use it unless you have a room with us.” Okay, Plan C. “Yes, there is an internet cafe down the street.” Great! Walked down the street. Nope, that cafe wasn’t open yet. Walked around the corner... Yes! An open internet place! Went in, mimed “wi-fi?” and got a connection. By then it was about 10 o’clock and I really had to hustle. One by one I posted the videos that I couldn’t upload in Ushuaia, then had barely enough time to reply to a few priority emails and make just a couple of quick Skypes. At exactly noon I paid for my time -- $5 US -- and ran outside to hail a cab. I found one around the corner at a convenience store, and after several rounds of pretty comical communication got a $10 US white knuckle ride back to the port.

At 12:30 I ran up to the security gate with my passport copy in hand, flashed it to a guard who shrugged like he couldn’t care less then continued on my way the length of the dock and bounded up the gangway at exactly 12:40. Whew! Rita saw me and said -- as always in here lovely Hungarian accent -- “You are the first one back!” I stood on deck for a few minutes then pointed at my watch when Gary and the gang returned at 12:50 which gave us all one more good laugh. A few minutes later, a van arrived with about 15 new passengers -- almost all American -- and embarkation commenced. I had gotten so happily accustomed to the peace and quiet of an almost empty ship that the subsequent ado prompted me to go hide out in the ship’s library. Shortly after one o’clock we set sail, had a welcome briefing and a lifeboat drill, then dinner, etc. Betty and I sat together throughout and alternately bemoaned the loss of our “private yacht!”

We sailed overnight and all this morning to Fernando de Noronha -- a lush, green island that I had never heard of -- a few hundred miles off the Brazilian coast. Our itinerary was to include a full-day tour of the island, but sea currents -- and perhaps a little bit of error in calculating distance when the expedition was planned -- prevented our beloved but not very swift Polar Star from reaching the island until about noon. We took Zodiacs ashore, boarded a typical island tour boat and set off for an hour long cruise down the coast to a beach where we were to swim with dolphins. Of course, the time for dolphins is early in the morning so we only saw a few of them along the way -- and none at the beach -- but we got to swim for about 20 minutes before we made the hour long cruise back to the town dock. There, we boarded some funky little buggy vehicles and drove to a place for sandwiches, a lecture on local wildlife conservation projects and, of course, some shopping!

Brazil2From there it was a short drive to a viewpoint overlooking a turtle-spawning beach, then another short drive to another such beach. What happened next was troubling to me. We were met by a naturalist who explained that a turtle nest had “erupted” the night before, with most of the baby turtles making their way to the sea. Now, they were going to dig up the nest and “release” whatever baby turtles might still be there. So, while we looked on, they dug up the nest, found about 100 baby turtles, measured them, put them in a box and then released them en masse for our amusement. I will admit that it was fun to see the little guys make their mad dash to the sea, but I’ve got a funny feeling about it. I wonder if it is such a good idea to dig up and release -- let alone measure for scientific purposes -- the turtles that don’t, can’t or won’t dig their own way out. Doesn’t that amount to interfering with the natural selection process? It is the same kind of concern I had back in the Galapagos: Is this “helping” the species? Or, is this “preservation science” for the sake of tourist dollars. I don’t know, but I’m troubled.

Anyway, by the time the turtle show was over the sun was setting so we all returned to the ship for dinner and a prompt departure from the island. My time in Brazil has amounted to a hectic morning on-line in Recife and a troubling afternoon in Noronha. Upon reflection, I’m not sure the time, effort and expense of my “Brazil Visa Gambit” was worth it. I might have been better off staying on board, hiding from the customs man and taking a swim off the back of the ship. That’s what the crew did, and all evidence indicates they had a lot of fun. As in most other ways of life, sometimes “less can be more” on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Report: Run Yertle Run

During our stop in Fernando de Noronha we visited a turtle conservation area. Here is my Report. (Thanks yet again to Stephen Jacob for another fabulous piece of music -- I wish I knew what the name of it is!)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Logbook: Course 032

Course0322For the past ten days -- true to the captain's word -- we have been steaming northerly on course 032. At an average speed of 10 knots, the latitudes have slowly gotten smaller and the temperature has progressively gotten warmer. The weather has been mostly clear to partly cloudy, with light winds and fair seas. My daily routine has been as follows: Wake up, get coffee and head up to the bridge. Offer silent nods and coffee cup toasts to salute the officers of the watch, then look at the plot and check the navigational array. Enjoy the quiet, professional milieu of the bridge for a while to look out over an endless sea under an endless sky. Have breakfast then return to my cabin for some iLife, reading, chores, etc. Have lunch then walk around, gets some sun and visit the bridge. Attend an afternoon lecture, pour myself a dram and enjoy it out on deck watching the sea slip by. Have dinner, watch a film with the crew then read and go to bed. Yup, that's pretty much been my routine.

I have, of course, done other things along the way: Taken a lengthy tour of the ship's engine room and mechanical systems with the Chief Engineer, hung out with crazy Aussie Chef Paul and his galley crew, tracked down the hard working room stewardesses most afternoons to give them chocolates, asked the captain and deck crew a million questions, "helped" the ABs with their painting and maintenance chores, etc. All the kinds of stuff you'd expect me to do. There has also been a lot of fun along the way, like a barbecue and Karaoke night with the crew, making funny “bing-bong” (ship-wide PA) announcements to each other and watching Paul go for a swim when the ship made a brief stop for engine change-over then race to catch up with the rope ladder as the captain steamed off without notice. Lots of fun.

I’ve also relished new friendships with my expedition mates: Gary, a wise and gifted teacher who has taught me a lot; Joyce, a warm and charming woman with a very lively wit; John, a “bird guy” who sets the bar for what it means to be an expert; and Betty, whose enthusiasm, spirit and sense of humor make her the kind of person whom you would happily travel to the ends of the earth with (or for!) I have also been privileged to sail with Captain Adam, whose skill and experience are surpassed only by his warmth, compassion and goodwill. Such has been my life -- and my community -- on course 032, and I have loved it. There's something about long, uninterrupted sea voyages that suits me.

For that matter, there's something about long, uninterrupted, unstructured time that suits me. Now, almost eight months into The Voyage I can see a pattern: Alternating "high activity" periods of exploring, moving, etc., and "low activity" periods of catching up with myself. I can't say I know what the right balance is yet, but I know there is one and that it is good for me. So, with the "low activity" period of course 032 behind me, I will arrive in Recife tomorrow morning where I will have part of the day to try to make a full, clean update to this website, check in with my peeps and catch up on my digital life. Then, I will go right back to sea for a "high activity" month crossing the Atlantic and making an amphibious assault on the European Continent. I'm ready. I hope you are, too!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lost In Translation: Ushuaia, Argentina

ArrufatChocolate Box Label

Ushuaia, Argentina

March 2007

Okay, so I'm wondering what marketing genius came up with this name!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Logbook: Deja Vu-ish

Dejavuish1The past three days have been "deja vu-ish" -- very similar to other recent experiences, but with enough of a twist to make them different and memorable in their own right. With this in mind, I describe them as follows: I woke up Friday morning in time to witness our approach to Ushuaia and observe the docking procedure. This was "deja vu-ish" to my arrival on Discovery in that the process was similar and the town looked the same, but the pier was completely empty and Polar Star docked alone with very little ado. After breakfast the passengers disembarked, gathered on the pier for farewells and dispersed which, too, was similar except that with comparatively so few passengers the scene was more like the simple breaking up of a meeting than the ending of an expedition cruise. My walk into town was the same, except I had only my Mac pack -- the rest of my gear was still on board Polar Star -- and I knew where I was going. With only the day to work my plan, I went straight to the Canal Beagle Hotel, had coffee and a little chit chat with my friends there from my recent two week stay then got busy on line.

As usual, the internet connection was slow -- very familiar -- but for some reason it kept crashing and interrupting my website update. Even though I had been careful not to backlog too much stuff into my update, I still could not maintain a connection long enough to make a clean upload. After almost four hours -- and I don't remember how many attempts -- I decided to try elsewhere but was unable to get good connections at any of my other three familiar places. I was getting pretty bummed out because in addition to not getting my update posted, my many failed attempts had created a hash of the website. Finally, after reducing the data load by removing all the large video files from the update, I was able to get a clean update of the Logbook and the new Photos page. By then I was running out of time, so I decided the video Reports would just have to wait until the next update then hustled around town to pick up some supplies and say "hi-bye" to a few of my Ushuaia friends.

As I headed back to the pier, it was "deja vu-ish" again except that I passed through a deserted customs building and walked down a deserted dock toward the Polar Star where -- as you can see in the photo -- not a creature was stirring except a garbage truck. When I got to the ship, I waved to one of the crewmen and walked up the gangway. I checked in at "Reception" and met Rita (the "hotel manager" who had just arrived to replace Natasha) then went to my room. Again, it was all "deja vu-ish" to my last boarding but different in that there was no security, no boarding hype and no formality. This casual air actually matched my expectation pretty well in that I anticipated being the sole "ride along passenger" for the repositioning sprint north, but I was destined for a few surprises.

First, on the door to my room I found a daily program that listed an "Introductory Briefing" to be held in a few minutes. Puzzled as to what that might be about, I went to the observation lounge and met the following cast of characters: Gary the "expedition leader" and his wife Joyce, John an ornithologist/staff member, and Betty who is another passenger from England, who just loves cruising Polar Star and will be on board until the ship reaches the UK. So, rather than just being another body on board for the ride, I'm actually one of two "official expedition passengers" in the company of two staff and a spouse. That makes five of us plus a skeleton crew of twenty or so on an "expedition." Go figure.

Dejavuish2_2Anyway, we cast off lines and headed down the Beagle Channel while I enjoyed the view from the deck -- a very familiar sight and experience made different by the fact that I was entirely alone on the deck. Shortly, the ship's alarm bell rang to indicate our "lifeboat drill" so I put on my life jacket and went to my muster station on the starboard side. The drill was the same as usual except that I was the only non-crew person at the muster station -- the others all had cabins on the port side of the ship and went to the port muster station instead. After a few minutes of checking lists, etc., we dispersed and I went back to my cabin. A short while later, Rita -- in her lovely Hungarian accent -- announced dinner was served and I went to the dining room. In this otherwise familiar milieu, full tables and long lines at the buffet were replaced by a single table set for seven -- the five of us plus Rita and Captain Adam -- with Chef Paul asking us individually if we preferred steak or salmon, and how we would like it cooked. Kinda spooky. During our first dinner together we got to know each other a bit more and Gary reviewed our schedule for the next day which basically included three meals, two lectures (geology and ornithology of the Falkland Islands) and a movie. The relevance of the Falklands lectures was a mystery to me, and upon inquiry I was informed that we would be "stopping by the Falklands since they are on our way north." That was news to me, but -- since I go where the ship goes -- I was headed back to the Falklands. Okay!

Yesterday was a day at sea that I used to sort my gear, do some chores, edit a Report, attend the lectures, eat three meals in my more-or-less private dining room and wander around a mostly empty ship. At about dawn this morning I proceeded with my ritual of going up to get a cup of coffee and take a look around. You may imagine the double take I did in my pre-coffee stupor when I looked out and saw the same settlement on Carcass Island that I had seen from the same spot on the same ship only four days earlier. I laughed out loud at the irony: I've never been to the Falkland Islands in my life, but I've now been to the same remote out-island twice in the same week! I've probably belabored the "deja vu-ish" thing, but going ashore, having coffee with the folks at the settlement and visiting with their dog -- whose name I found out is "Brock" and who just loves the boss lady's tea cakes! -- was eerily like my experience a few days earlier but different because the previous crowd of almost 100 visitors was reduced to the five of us plus a handful of the crew. I have to admit that the theme song from "The Twilight Zone" popped into my brain more than once.

After our visit, we came back to the ship and had lunch while the captain moved us to Steeple Jason Island where we were to visit a very large Black-Browed Albatross colony. Once again, the landing process was entirely familiar except that there were only four of us in one Zodiac -- Betty stayed on board due to her limited mobility -- and thus only four humans on the island. The landing was fabulous and I was fascinated to sit on a bluff among and above thousands of nesting young albatross as their parents soared over and around me. We got back on board just in time for dinner during which the captain announced we would be sailing for a couple of hours to clear the islands then set course to 032 and sail on that heading for "days and days" until we reach Recife. Alas, my three "deja vu-ish" days have come to an end and what happens next will be entirely different. I think.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Logbook: Antarctica II - Part 4

Antarcticaiipart41_2Sunday and Monday were transit days on moderate seas from South Georgia to the Falkland Islands. We were escorted almost constantly by albatross soaring behind, around and sometimes right next to the ship. Their ability to fly with very little effort, using the wind, the draft of the ship and -- I’m pretty sure -- even the “ground effect” of the waves is truly astonishing. It is almost hypnotizing to watch them and I spent a lot of my time happily doing so. On Tuesday morning we arrived at the Falkland Islands and dropped anchor in colorful, sleepy little Port Stanley. I had hopes of doing an interim website update, so I went ashore with my Mac and inquired about internet connection. The prognosis wasn’t very positive, but I was referred to “The Malvina Inn” with assurance that at least they offered wireless in their lounge. A walk of about a kilometer along the waterfront brought me to the tidy, very British establishment and five Pounds Sterling got me online. To say the connection was slow would be complimentary -- the speed averaged only about 4 Kbps! With over 70 MB to upload, I did the math and figured with confidence that my update would require more time than I would have on shore.

So, I abandoned my plan and did some other, slower web stuff. In the process, I struck up a conversation with a distinguished British gentleman who is visiting the islands as a historian for an upcoming documentary on “The Conflict.” This being the 25th anniversary of the battle for the Falklands -- or whatever one may choose to call it -- is quite a big deal. Anyway, for the first time in a long, long while I had met someone who asked me good, probing questions about The Voyage and really “got it” both quickly and fully. We ended up having a fabulous, open and philosophical conversation for almost two hours from which I came away very energized and thankful. I look forward to crossing paths with Tony somewhere, sometime in the future. As my allotted time on shore drew to a close, I packed up my Mac and took a stroll back through the town -- about which I don’t really have much to say except that it is “British” and “remote” -- then caught a Zodiac shuttle back to the ship.

Antarcticaiipart42We repositioned to West Falkland Island overnight and landed on Carcass Island first thing Wednesday morning. The weather was very good and it was a treat to have a long, leisurely walk along the shore, across grasslands and among a variety of sea birds, Magellanic penguins and farm animals. That’s right, there were a few cows and horses which belonged to the couple whose farm we visited for “tea and cakes.” I didn’t care too much for the scene -- though the British passengers were in their element and seemed to be having a grand time -- so I went out back and sat with the couple’s dog for almost an hour. On top of my excellent conversation the day before, some great “doggie time” really gave me a boost! In the afternoon we made a landing at West Point Island to look at more birds, but I was feeling “full” and decided to stay on board and just chill out. With that, our Falkland Islands visit was over and we set out to sea. Today is a day at sea as we transit back to Ushuaia where we will arrive in the morning. As the cruise wraps up, there is the usual ado of closing out on board accounts, packing up, etc.

Thankfully, I am exempt from it all because I am staying on board past Ushuaia for the repositioning north to Recife, Brazil. In the morning, I will hit the dock in Ushuaia the moment I am cleared -- I can’t even imagine how many Argentine stamps I will have in my passport before this is over! -- and plant myself in one of my now familiar internet cafes. If all goes well, my update will include three Reports, four Logbook entries and a complete new Photos page. I have some more media from “Antarctica II” to edit into Reports, but I haven’t had time to do so and I’m concerned about trying to upload too much stuff at one time on Ushuaia’s “uncertain” internet. In the afternoon I will re-board MV Polar Star -- quite possibly as the only “passenger” -- and during my ten, uninterrupted and more or less solitary days at sea en route to Recife -- which I am really looking forward to -- I will process the rest of “Antarctica II” and anything else that happens along the way. Then -- hopefully -- I will be able to bring everything up to date during my day in port there on March 28th. That is my plan -- insofar as I have one -- for “catching up with myself” after a truly fabulous cruise and bringing this website up to date in preparation for crossing the Atlantic to the Canary Islands on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Report: Albatross

With very few exceptions, Albatross are endemic to the Southern Ocean where steady, uninterrupted wind patterns around the Antarctic continent give them the means to use their unmatched soaring abilities -- and their two meter wingspans! -- to search far and wide for food. Aloft and at sea for as long as three weeks at a time -- and covering some 7,000 miles of ocean in the process -- these birds have the agility to skim the turbulent water surface, dodge windswept waves and fly in the face of powerful gales with grace and ease. To watch them earn their living is an awesome and magical experience. Although filming these fast, agile birds -- as they maneuver in three dimensions -- from the deck of a rolling and pitching ship was at the extreme limit of my camera’s capability -- and well beyond my own! -- I was able to capture enough usable video to edit this Report. Although it is a bit “technically challenged”, I think it will give you a sense of the beauty that is the Albatross. (Many thanks, yet again, to my good friend Stephen Jacob for another fabulous piece of music!)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Logbook: Antarctica II - Part 3

Antarcticaiipart31Our Wednesday morning approach to South Georgia Island was made in pretty nasty weather -- cold, wind, snow, etc. -- but that wasn’t what prevented our first landing at Cooper Bay. Instead, large sea swells created extreme changes in elevation between the ship’s gangway and the Zodiacs and it was deemed unsafe for us to board the small craft. Our consolation was a cruise through Drygalski Fjord, but the virtual white-out conditions prevented us from seeing anything except the snow accumulating on deck. Then, our planned afternoon landing at Gold Harbour was cancelled due to heavy beach surf which prevented even the expedition team’s “scouting party” from being able to land. All in all, our first day at South Georgia was pretty much a bust. Not wanting us to miss the day’s planned events entirely, the crew made the decision to anchor overnight at Gold Harbour and have us make a dawn landing on Thursday. What a landing it was!

Although conditions were still far from ideal, we were able to get ashore and were met by thousands upon thousands of magnificent King Penguins. Significantly larger and taller than their Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adelie cousins, the Kings are also far, far more beautiful and entertaining. Their silver-black backs, bright white chests and ink black heads make the perfect palate to show off their stunning orange plumage features. Parading around in groups both large and small, they look like friends who are out for a stroll and seem to take great pleasure in strutting their stuff. Best of all from my perspective, however, is their curiosity. Not only are the Kings not at all afraid of humans, they gathered around and followed us as we moved along the beach. Many times I simply sat on the beach and was rewarded with truly close encounters, including one incident during which a curious King nibbled at my camera and gloved hand while I had the video running. Spectacular!

Gold Harbour is also home to many fur seals and their pups. What an experience they are! In what our naturalists described as “practice for being aggressive adults”, the young pups charge at you -- often to within a few feet. Unlike the adults whom we are constantly warned to stay away from, the pups are not really dangerous and will veer away and back off if you as much as say “Boo!” The routine is a little unnerving at first, but once you get used to it, it all become quite a little game. By far the funniest interaction is between these mischievous little pups and the King Penguins who will often scold the pups for charging them. I can’t really describe it, but I’ve got some great video that I will put into a Report which may do it justice. Finally, although the Kings and seal pups were clearly the highlight of the landing, the presence of Elephant Seals was certainly a bonus. These behemoths -- mostly old males -- can weigh up to two tons and measure thirty feet long. To see them lie around in an immense pile, to hear them grunt, snore and sneeze, and to watch them sleep in oblivion to anything around them... Wow! So, after an unforgettable two hours on the beach at Gold Harbour we headed back to the ship for breakfast and steamed up the coast for our planned “morning” landing.

Antarcticaiipart32The scene at St. Andrews Bay was simply overwhelming as we landed on the broad sweeping beach amid hundreds of thousands of King Penguins. Literally, you had to watch where you walked because the Kings were everywhere. Without the presence of seal pups and their chaotic antics, our landing was quite peaceful and an excellent opportunity to further “hang out” with the extraordinary Kings. After another fabulous two hour landing, we went back on board for lunch and another repositioning to the old whaling town of Grytviken. Once there, we went ashore and visited the cemetery where Earnest Shakleton is buried and all toasted “The Boss” with a dram of Irsh Whiskey then walked around the tiny, rusted, ghost town and its small but interesting little museum. That night we invited the entire population of South Georgia -- two government officials, three staff from the preservation society/museum and a handful of scientists from the local BAS base -- on board for a BBQ, some music and just a bit of drinking. I have to admit that after three landings -- the first commencing at dawn -- I was pretty tired and was far from the last to leave the party!

Sometime during the night we repositioned to Stromness -- another old, abandoned whaling town -- and yesterday morning went for a walk up the valley to the famous waterfall that Shakleton descended on his famous crossing of the Island. It was nice to get some good walking in and the exercise made lunch all the more welcome. After a brief repositioning to Hercules Bay, the Zodiacs went back in the water and we had a little cruise around the cliffs of that scenic inlet. This morning we started early with a dawn landing at Salisbury Plain -- the largest expanse of flat land on South Georgia and home to an immense King Penguin colony with up to 250,000 birds! I enjoyed my last time on shore among these fabulous creatures by just sitting still and allowing them to move around me. Astonishing! Our last landing in South Georgia was at Prion Island where we hiked to the top of a hill and were treated to a very rare look at Wandering Albatross sitting on their nests and soaring overhead. The size of these birds -- with a wingspan of up to 12 feet -- is staggering, and it is only when you see them up close that you realize how big they truly are. It seems a wonder that they can fly, and seeing them soar effortlessly in the air is awesome. With yet another experience of a lifetime behind us, we headed out to sea and left South Georgia Island in our wake. It has been an incredible four days on and around what may be the most beautiful and amazing place I have ever been.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Report: The King & I

South Georgia Island is an extraordinary place and a highlight of The Voyage so far. Its geology and geography are awesome, its wildlife is amazing and its history -- both natural and human -- is astonishing. Out of all my memorable experiences there, interacting “up close and personal” with King Penguins was my favorite. Fortunately, these remarkable creatures are sufficiently outgoing, curious and seemingly in love with having their pictures taken that I was able to get some really great video. I hope you enjoy this Report about “The King & I” (A Penguin Classic).

Monday, March 05, 2007

Logbook: Antarctica II - Part 2

Antarcticaiipart21The weather on Thursday had been so spectacular that the change on Friday seemed especially extreme. I am quite sure it was not a bad day by Antarctic standards, but it was sufficiently cold, windy, wet, snowy and dark that we got a pretty good sense of how bad it can get down here. I think it also struck home why this is Polar Star’s last trip to Antarctica for the season: We’re moving well into autumn and it only gets a lot worse from now on. So, with pretty much all of my hi-tech storm gear on, I boarded the Zodiac in the morning and landed at Brown Bluff -- noteworthy because it is physically located on the actual Antarctic continent (i.e. as opposed to our landings on nearby islands). With ceremonial foot steps taken in the water and on the beach, I was happy to make it a short landing and joined the majority of my fellow passenger for a pre-curfew return ride to the ship. Hot soup at lunch was tasty indeed! In the afternoon we approached and landed on Paulet Island where we visited the ruins of a hut where Larsen and his 19 crew spent a winter before being rescued. Pretty much it is a pile of rocks that make you glad you live elsewhere. Again, I admit I made short work of the landing and headed back to the ship.

During the evening we navigated through increasingly thick ice fields and by Saturday morning we were anchored off Snow Hill Island and ready for our amphibious assault. The weather was actually colder than the day before, but it didn’t seem as windy or nasty. Plus, being able to go inside the intact, heated and manned historic hut of the Nordenskjold expedition offered a welcome weather break. The hut is small and cozy, and I can easily imagine seven men spending two years there in relative comfort. Important safety tip: Planning an Antarctica stay and bringing your own building is a lot better than being shipwrecked and having to make a survival hut out of local rocks. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Antarcticaiipart22In the afternoon we cruised deeper into the ice with hopes of landing at Devil Island, but despite the awesome power of Polar Star -- and the amazing skills of the crew -- we reached an impassable ice obstacle. Maneuvering around in the ice was entertainment enough, so the day was a indeed a success. Overnight we headed into the Southern Ocean where the seas started to get more lively, and our day at sea on Sunday was sufficiently rough that moving around the ship was often a challenge. So, I happily spent the day hanging out, doing some iLife and viewing the tempest from my warm, dry cabin. Yesterday morning we anchored off Signy Island -- one of the South Orkney Islands -- and made a landing at Signy Base of the British Antarctic Survey. All of the scientists had left for the season, and the remaining men were the facilities team in the process of closing down the base for winter. I had a nice tour of the facilities, a walk among the resident fur seals and a Zodiac tour of the nearby coastline on the way back to the ship. The afternoon was spent steaming amidst the chain of Islands and many, many huge and beautiful icebergs. Once again, it is a stunning sight that cannot be captured in pictures and, frankly, I didn’t even try. I happily sat bundled up on deck and watched the awesome scenery go by. Another experience I will never forget and one I strongly recommend. Today has been a day at sea -- The Scotia Sea -- as we head toward South Georgia Island.

“I have seen the sea when it is stormy and wild;
When it is quiet and serene; when it is dark and moody.
And in all its moods, I see myself.”

-- Martin Buxbaum

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Report: Summer Job

When we landed at the the British Antarctic Survey Base on Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands, we were informed that all of the scientists had left for the season and that only the facilities staff -- who were in the process of closing down the base for the winter -- remained on site. While my fellow passengers went off to look at penguins I asked for a tour of the base's "systems" and was rewarded with an excellent, private tour. Here is my Report on one man's "Summer Job."

Friday, March 02, 2007

Report: Power Ice

Cruising the ice near Snow Hill Island was astonishing. I shot a lot of video but wasn't sure how to present it until I thought of a beautiful piece of music called "Power Ice" that was written and performed by my good friend Annastasia Workman. It seems to me the music and video are just right together for this Report. I hope you agree! (Thanks Annastasia... You rock!)