This is my Antarctica journal.
With the permission of Ellen Freeney, I am also including her journal
to allow different perspectives:
February 2004 Kayak Expedition to the Antarctic
journey begins immediately with a problem at the Cleveland airport
— a delay of a few hours. Although the weather is perfect here, Dallas,
the airport of origin for the incoming plane, has a snow storm. When
we arrive there some hours later, we can see what can throw these Texans
out of balance: only a light dusting of the landscape.
The connecting flight in Dallas is held for us, so we make it to our next flight
to Miami. We are told the flight there would wait for us too. When going to
the gate in Miami we are told the flight just left. Many people are very upset
because they want to catch a cruise ship in Buenos Aires. I have a little bit
more time, because my connecting flight will leave one day later. Finally the
airline offers $800 coupons to people who are willing to give up their seats.
Four of us make it to this flight. GREAT!! It is a 9 hour flight, less than
is my first time to be on the Southern hemisphere. Somehow it is
very exciting. I want to see the Southern Cross, the most pronounced
constellation in the Southern night sky. I also want to check out
whether the sun resides in the North at noon in the Southern hemisphere.
It turns out this is actually true, although I had to wait another
day to find out.
arrive in Buenos Aires on a warm and sunny summer day. Sunshine, heat,
flowers, green trees, something we haven’t seen for a while in Ohio!
We had a long and harsh winter this year. The Taxi driver has some
problems with English but is fluent in German. We have an interesting
conversation about the city and the lifestyle in Argentina.
My hotel is nice and has an acceptable price. I booked it and all my flights
for this trip online. It worked out pretty well. I have half a day to stroll
around the city. It is a nice place, but the architecture is not very interesting.
The river seems to be much polluted; it looks brown and muddy with lots of
cargo-ship traffic, which is confirmed later in a conversation with the next
taxi driver. He is a highly educated citizen, who makes some money on the side
driving tourists around to be able to afford his car.
have a lot of cheap leather clothing here in Argentina, some very stylish
stuff, but I don’t want to spend money, because I haven’t slept for many
hours. I don’t want to make bad decisions and waste any money, which I tend
to make when on jet lag.
go to bed very early, around 6 pm and try to catch up withy my sleep. I haven’t
seen the Southern Cross yet. But I will have two more weeks to do so.
I arrive in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, located in the South
American area known as “Patagonia.” The plane flew all the way towards the
South. During the flight, the sun was on our plane’s tail, which proves that
at noon the sun sits in the North in the Southern Hemisphere! The weather
is mixed: rain and sunshine; the temperature is around 60° F, or 16° C. It
is the peak of the summer in Ushuaia. Since it is raining, I still haven’t
seen the Southern Cross.
am picked up at the airport by the leader of our group, Bob. He puts
me in a taxi to the hotel. It was still in the morning. I had plenty
of time to roam around the city for the rest of the day. In the evening
our expedition group gathers to get to know each other in person. We
had our first contact through a conference call two weeks earlier.
ship, the Polar Pioneer, arrived this morning. We will assemble
our folding boats and board the ship around
2 pm. Our Feathercraft Expedition doubles are 21-feet long and can hold rather
large loads: two people, plus a tent, sleeping bags, and food for about seven
days! If everything works according to schedule, we will leave the port around
took a little longer than anticipated. The ship left around
8 pm. We are sailing through the Beagle channel, named after
Darwin’s ship. It is a beautiful sight, mountains surround
us. We are allowed to go to the captain’s bridge except when
a pilot is on board, which is necessary through this channel.
He will leave the ship around 1 am at the end of the Beagle
share the cabin with a woman from Australia. She is a very active
and pleasant person, and walks around the ship quite a lot.
all got settled into our ship cabins. We are on the ship with people
from all over the world: Britain, Spain, Australia, New Zealand,
South Africa, the U.S., and Germany. The ship is a Russian research
vessel changed to accommodate about 52 passengers. Everything is
simple and small but good and efficient.
are crossing the Drake Passage. The weather is not too bad —
not too much wind. Still, the waves are quiet impressive. This
is the point where the Atlantic and the Pacific meet. I am wearing
a patch that prevents seasickness. Some people are in bad shape,
they try to avoid medication and use wristbands and other devices.
At the end most people use some kind of medication. Our crossing
to Antarctica will take 2 1/2 days.
scientists and naturalists on Board give us lectures and show
films about the wildlife we will encounter: penguins, whales,
seals, fish, krill, and more. People will do different things
on this voyage. Some are going to the Antarctic Peninsula for
mountain climbing. One of the most famous Sherpas came as guide
with a group from Australia. He is the son of the famous Sherpa
Tensing Norgay, who went with Edmund Hillary on Mount Everest.
He did a reenactment with Hillarie’s son. He also worked with
Messner climbing Mt. Everest.
2 pm we can see our first Antarctic icebergs. Later in the afternoon,
we land on one of the South Shetland Islands with some Zodiacs. Our
landing site is at 62.28 latitude and 59.22 longitude.
see abundant wildlife, including Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap penguins,
fur seals, and a colony of elephant seals. We can smell the Penguin
colony way before we see it. Two Humpback whales are swimming about
30 ft away from our Zodiac. It is very exciting to see these majestic
animals so close up! We land, stepping for the first time onto Antarctic
soil! The air temperature is about 35°F/2°C and the water temperature
is about 32°F/0° C. A very cold wind blows over the land, making us
feel even colder. It is cloudy, windy and foggy. But I am happy to
finally be here! We spend about two hours on the island, wander around,
take photos, and watch the animals.
had a few days of the Drake Passage, with miles of wide-angled views of waves
punctuated by a Wandering Albatross or two. Mild weather, compared to other
trips, the waves still kept many of us sluggish with nausea. Alvin wished for
tossing storms, Ellen wished for an easy passage and it was. We were welcomed
by a committee of icebergs, snow fall and fog. But we were more than ready
for some action and our first Zodiac landing on Robert Island in the South
Shetlands was the perfect antidote. The storminess of drizzle and wind added
zest and excitement to our ride ashore. Wind biting my face, I reduced my balaclava
opening to a slit. Our boatman fought a balky engine but got us to shore with
as little spray as possible. Despite snow changing to rain, we excitedly hiked
around Robert Island snapping pictures, dabbing at lenses to dry them off and
enjoying the wild life. The young elephant seals (a mere 8 or 9 feet long)
had the beachfront property; fur seals spaced themselves along the rocky shore on invisibly marked territories.
penguins turned their backs to the wind in the low-rent district while a
hike over the scree rock slopes found the class Gentoo penguins in the wind-sheltered
section of the island. We climbed a little hill, threatened with being tossed
off the edge by the wind, to see a glacier many stories high marching into
the sea on the other side of the island. Ducking out of the wind on the lee
slope, we hiked around Gentoo penguin colonies, glimpsing our ship in the
fog in the distance. Colorful humans scattered the slopes among penguin rookeries.
Juvenile Gentoos were molting their down but almost full-suited in their
adult outfits. There were a few Skuas, one with its chick, along the perimeters
of the rookeries. I was so excited by all the wildlife; I stopped worrying
about the weather and temperatures. I was elated to be traveling to the Antarctic.
late in the morning, we finally arrive at the Antarctic Peninsula. We
start taking out gear to the back of the ship. Our Feathercrafts and
one plastic Prijon single are loaded onto Zodiacs and transported to
our campsite. Eventually, our group is hauled to the landing site. It
is a penguin colony. In the course of the next few days, we will learn
that the best camp sites are in the area of penguin colonies. These penguins
need bare snow-free ground to bread. The bare rocks seem to absorb more
heat energy, therefore allow the eggs to be incubated, and also the young
penguins can rest on them. From the distance the colonies have a reddish
appearance and smell very intensely. The color is caused by their excrements
which contain the pigments from krill, the penguins’ main food staple.
take our gear uphill and stack it to set up camp later. Everyone
is eager to paddle. We had too much rest on the ship! We are
intruding the space of three fur seals. They make some intimidating
noises to chase us away. After I can take a nice picture of one
“watching” our gear, they retreat. It is our first real close
encounter with the wildlife. None of us had an idea how noisy
such a penguin colony actually is. I recorded a short video clip
of the penguins calling each other in the colony. The adults
and the young of a family are recognizing each other by their
I begin setting up my tent, a Skua comes over to me and starts an “argument”
about my tent pole. He really wants it. I had liked him to have fun
with it, but my tent would not have withstood the Antarctic winds for
the rest of the trip. I had to win this argument! Sorry, buddy.
My earplugs helped dampen the noise level of the colony. We watched in amazement
how the chicks were chasing the adults when they came back from the water.
Sometimes up to three of them ran after one adult. They in return tried to
get away and chase the chicks that were not their own.
boats created a little confusion in the colony. The penguins were
standing in a kind of “traffic jam” behind our boats wandering
what was blocking their usual entrance to the water. After a while,
one decided that there must be a different possibility, found it,
and the “crowed” followed the “brave” guy. Penguins seem to be
very social animals. We could observe this in all colonies. Some
individuals even chose us as their companions.
our gear, our kayaks and we were transported to Cuverville Island on the Zodiacs
for our first day of kayaking and camping. One of the fur seals came over to
inspect and guard our gear that we left onshore before setting out on a day
paddle. I was amazed that none of the animals seemed interested enough to try
to tear open our bags or get at our water supply.
kayaked over to Ronge Island for more fur seals, Gentoo penguins and
lunch. Heike sat quietly watching 3 penguins that paid no attention to
her at all. Back in the boats after lunch, Steve and Regina led us over
to the beautiful iceberg arch, enticing but no one wanted to chance it
and float under it. We reveled in the beautiful pale cobalt blue of many
icebergs. Skirting Orne Island, we spotted a Chinstrap penguin, kelp
gulls, snowy sheathbills, a Weddell seal and Minke whale. We began to
learn that by the time you heard an avalanche, there was nothing to see.
The distances across channels were deceivingly farther than we realized
and with sound traveling slower than light, the avalanche was all over
by the time we heard it. Our ship and several others slipped by us in
the Errera Channel, leaving us to enjoy the wilderness alone. We probably
did 3 miles of kayaking today.
up camp on Cuverville (Cuvierville ???) was a lesson in how slippery
penguin poop could be. As Heike set up her tent, a Skua decided
that shiny thing dangling off the end of her tent pole might be
edible and a tug-of-war ensued. The bungee chord won, and the Skua
retreated. Our first dinner served by Expedition Leader, Bob Powell,
was satisfying and filling. We soon learned he always provided
more food than we could all eat and lots of fresh vegetables made
for healthy fare. For the next few days journey, Bob would be chef,
leader, organizer and expert. His subtle, encouraging leadership
would be unobtrusive but definite. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,” “cooool’
and “y’all wanna’” his vocabulary for team building.
perch for the night was atop a hill, with little area to put the
kayaks. Thinking they’d be safe, we laboriously hauled them up
out of the water. But by the end of supper, we realized the tide
was still coming in and we had to move them to even higher ground.
Tied to a rock for good measure, against the possibility of high
winds, we now had them just far enough up our hill to be out of
the reach of high tide. We now knew what to expect of the tide
changes for the duration of our trip.
camp was a lesson in penguin behavior up close and personal. We
learned so much about Gentoo penguins! Lifting a red-billed head,
an adult would give a long loud bray followed by a “haw, hee,
haw, hee, haw”. We only heard this noisy territory call at the
rookeries, never where adult penguins gathered without chicks.
An arriving parent might be chased by a baby as big as the adult.
Finally mom or dad would open wide allowing the chick to reach
deep for a meal of fish. Or there might be a flurry of activity
when a parent or bigger chick chased away chicks from another
family. In turn, that chick’s mother would squawk a defense. Downy
chicks lay on their bellies, getting covered with poop; parents
would coolly arrive from the sea, clean and white. Our rookery
kept us entertained and loudly lulled us to sleep.
we noticed some chicks were much smaller than others, a sign they
would not make it to adulthood in time for the cold weather. That
evening, I was awake for a while and heard an unusual noise, a slight
but definite baby snore that accompanied Alvin’s version. In my
sleepiness, I thought, ‘how cute, a penguin chick is copying Alvin,
as if he were its parent.’ The next morning, I found a dead chick
close to our tent. The poor thing must have been suffering from
a respiratory problem. This is a harsh climate, after all.
was faithful to her science classes back home by probing for air
and water temperatures each day. She sent the information along
with a log of the day’s activities via satellite phone. This posed
lots of problems, having to re-enter information all over again
if the transmission did not go through. She found it hard to keep
the equipment safe but managed to keep the laptop computer, satellite
phone and probe in good working order, though in the end, her camera
developed moisture that ended her photo-taking early.
leave our seal colony and paddle along Ronge Island. Hanging glaciers
and tidal glaciers completely surround us. Once in a while, we
hear the thundering of avalanches and calving glaciers. The huge
icebergs around us are rolling; we stay at a respectful distance
to them! A Weddell seal checks us out as we paddle by. He gets
close to each boat and has a good look at us, wanting to know who
is invading his territory! Shortly after this encounter, we hear
whales loudly breathing. We paddle in the direction of their fountains
and come upon two humpback whales-an incredible sight! We are so
close; we can literally count the barnacles on their backs and
see their light bellies, when they dive under our boats to check
us out from below. We also smell their breath, which smells almost
like cooked cauliflower!
whales check us out by swimming all around and underneath us.
They propel their bodies up in the air to have a closer look
at us above the water; this is called “spy-hopping”! We pass
three Antarctic Cormorants sitting on a smaller ice flow as we
paddle to our next campsite. We also pass an abandoned British
penguin research station from the 1950's, now taken over by penguins.
I sit in my tent writing this journal entry. It is raining and
as I write, I can hear little wet penguin feet touching the ground
while walking by my tent.
wind picks up, becomes a storm at least for my understanding,
and shakes my tent quiet violently. Since I am alone in my tent
I am afraid the wind could blow me away. I see myself bobbing
on the water…. The others are all two people in their tents,
that’s why they don’t worry. I could get up and put heavier stone
on the pegs, but I don’t want to leave the warm sleeping bag!!
When I tell Bon about my fear during the night, he is just laughing:
“You call that a storm? This was just some wind!” I am not eager
to experience a “real” Antarctic storm on this expedition!
paddled today along the southeast coast of Ronge Island exploring
a gravel bar moraine and glacier encircled lagoon for lunch.
These areas, too dangerous and not high enough off the water
for camping, were often our lunch harbors. Very little ground
for camping is available between the ice flows. I began to
think of Antarctica as wall-to-wall glaciers. Kelp gulls, Skuas,
Wilson’s storm petrels, Weddell seals and Minke whales graced
our day. And we spotted our first Imperial Shags, also known
as Antarctic Cormorants. But the highlight was without contest.
Two humpback whales, spotted as we were returning north to
our destination on Danco Island, chose to dance with us. At
first we were the curious ones, trying to get a good glimpse
of them as they exhaled and rolled smoothly back into the water.
They spy-hopped to see what strange creatures we were in our
kayaks. From then on we played tag with some great fluke scenes and whales gently gliding under our boats At times, we could smell their
fishy breath after a blow. With the day growing late, we reluctantly
left our humpback friends and finished about 6 miles of paddling.
was a low shale “beach” near the unmanned British Penguin Study Building on
Danco Island. The rain had stopped and started for the past two days, settled
in to a steady drizzle tonight. Returning Gentoo penguins balanced and hopped
up from the ocean around ”bergibits” and rocks to rest for the night. It was
a lot of fun to learn their habits. Holding their wings out behind them for
balance they would waddle along, with occasional mishaps. Often their tails
would help support them on a precarious position. Only a few fur seals on
this low, flat beach. We explored the hut. Very trim and well built. A bit
dirty from birds that had managed to get in a window to perch inside, but
lots of stores of goods against emergency need and tokens left behind of researchers
who worked here. Several snowy sheathbills were tending chicks they had housed
underneath the building. I particularly enjoyed walking the shale beach and looking out on the ice strewn harbor in the cloudy mist and rain.
we paddle almost 12 miles, which is a long paddle! During the
trip, we stop to get drinking water from a glacier, while two
Minke whales pass us in the distance. Suddenly, our boat feels
very heavy, and I realize that I am sitting in ice-cold water!
The boat is leaking, easily possible when the rubber bottom
is dragged over sharp rocks, or as in our case, paddled through
a lot of "ice-cubes." We are forced to land, unpack the boat, turn it over, and repair it. The special
sealing material we use takes about two or three hours to cure,
and we spend the time watching penguins and some fur seals.
For the first time, today we have a bit of sunshine. Our camp
is on snow, but in the most beautiful place. On our one side,
we hear penguins. On our other side, we hear several glaciers
calving into a huge bay. All night we can hear the thundering
sound of the calving glaciers. One time I thought my tent would
be swept away by one of the mini tsunamis they cause. But the
chunks of ice are not as big as they sound.
morning we had every intention of packing kayaks in better form than we had
our first day and setting off early, but the low tide of morning, still dropping
as we packed, had us grounded among icebergs before we could get going. Bob
ended up dragging Mark and Heike’s kayak over several bergs to get beyond them
to launch. Later we realized this had come with a price. Heike complained of
her boat feeling sluggish and hard to paddle, as if very heavy, later that
morning. We pulled ashore in the first moraine gravel & lagoon area to find 3 slits in the bottom of the boat. Bob got out the patch
kit. Alvin & Steve helped dry the surface and mix the glues for the patches. Steve came up
with the innovative idea of heating the mixture with a hand warmer to try to
get it to dry in a reasonable time, despite the temperature. We had an early
lunch and Bob took a nap stretched out on the rocks by the boat while we waited
for the chemistry to work. But we had entertainment. A few Gentoo penguins
were swimming in the shallow water by us. We could clearly see them under the
water. They would smoothly porpoise up ingroups of 2 or 3 to breathe. Underwater
they were little bombs of quick-moving, turn-on-a-dime energy! They sped back
and forth along the beach faster than we could follow them with our eyes. They
were so amazing we spontaneously applauded!
our paddle of some 9 - 10 miles to Neko Harbor we saw our first cape
petrels with their checkerboard patterned wings, and lots of the “usual”
birds and Minke whales. And our two humpbacks (we’re sure it was the
same pair) escorted us to our new campsite. As we approached the harbor
entrance, we were held up by a parade of large ice bergs, moving smoothly
out of the harbor on the last of the outgoing tide. With odd shapes and
plenty of recently calved large ice, it was like watching a Disneyland
parade. We waited in a small crescent harbor that I took to be land,
but the next day, found it was another larger grounded iceberg. This
was our first snow camp.
Mark, who’d had a hard day with an old shoulder injury bothering him
was amazed that we were going to camp in snow, but not only are Steve
and Regina old hands at snow camping but Alvin and I teach snow camping
and were able to give everyone advise and a little help. It’s really
more comfortable than sleeping on rocks, drier than sleeping in rain
and cleaner than sand. We paid little attention to the tiny unmanned
Argentine hut just above the beach. We were too busy setting up snow
camp and enjoying our first long bout of sunshine. A colony of Gentoos
was visited by one lone chinstrap penguin later in the evening. He kept
to himself, allowing us to get good pictures of him. He seemed to prefer
the snow. Bob pointed out this was a heat wave, for the chinstrap. I
think it was at this harbor that we saw a huge brown jelly fish, floating
in the water as if the temperature here was as comfortable for the jellyfish as temperate climates. The evening was punctuated by the thunder
of many glacial calving and avalanches. One, occurring late into the
night, set up two good-sized waves that washed the beach below our snow.
will be a big paddle day as we will have to cover more than
15 miles. The weather is beautiful. There is some cloud cover,
but the temperature is 2 degrees Celsius (35F), and we can
see the sun highlighting the mountain tops. We ate breakfast
early, around 6.30 AM. Penguins always watch us at every campsite!
We can usually smell a possible landing site from about one
mile away; because the air is very clear and unpolluted, every
smell is very pronounced. Strong wind and a lot of floating
ice block our way to the other side of the Fjord. Penguins
accompany us part of the way. They check us out, jumping just
like dolphins all around us. Penguins seem to be very inquisitive
animals, which enjoy swimming beside us. We see more Minke
whales and some Humpbacks. After several hours of strenuous
paddling we arrive at Paradise Bay, a place ofbeauty and serenity,
quiet a real paradise!
every morning, we grudgingly but dutifully donned our dry suits. These instruments
of torture are tight and like putting on a straight jacket. You’d hear groans
and yelps whenever we were putting them on or taking them off. It was often
a two-person job, one pulling and stretching while the other wiggled and wrenched.
I think it was this morning that Steve attempted to help Mark put his dry suit
on when, after much effort, they discovered they had Mark’s leg through the
was to be our longest paddling day at about 14 miles and Bob got us off
to an early start. To be sure we could all keep up, he asked several
of us to switch boats, so I got to enjoy paddling with Heike while Mark
and Alvin made up another team. We managed to get out before the lowering
tide brought us more iceberg problems. With a quartering headwind of
perhaps 10 - 12 knots, we enjoyed Bob’s plan to “berg-hop” from the wind
shadow of one berg to the next to get across Andvord Bay. About halfway
across, we were shut out from the lee shore by ice pushed there by the
winds and tide. From here, we had to push into the wind with a steady
pace. But it was not without rewards. A large “flock” of Gentoos followed us in the water, alternating purposing with
‘periscoping’ to get a look at us. Once under the protection of the other
side of the bay, Bob spotted a leopard seal. The seal seemed content
to bob up and down in the blue of an iceberg, as if balancing on his
back flippers on the berg’s underwater foot. I think this was the day
we saw so many exotic iceberg shapes. Remember the one that looked like
a scene backdrop for a movie? Lots of different shapes, mountains, textures
are surrounding us. There were textured sides to bergs that had us guessing
how they were sculptured. Paddling past the navigation aids at Duthiers
Point, we found the only possible landing spot and slipped through a
narrow channel over barely covered rocks to stop for lunch. Alvin was
so hot from the labor of paddling into the wind; he stripped down to
his bathing suit to cool off. As a good-sized sailboat motored past, Bob realized it
was an old friend, radioed him and we were entertained wondering if the
Frenchman was going to run aground approaching our shallow area so closely.
He, in turn, wondered who the crazy guy in the bathing suit was.
the kayaks out of our lunch spot to get them over the shoals, we
pushed our way into the wind around Waterboat Point. The Chilean
scientific station buildings there looked large but dilapidated,
manned only by penguins. We had the clapotic waves of the channel
to deal with and gave the huts not more than a glance. I was a might
cranky at this point with tired muscles cursing every lift of the
paddle. Bob gave me a short lesson in the paddling skills he’d gained
as an Olympic kayaking contender. I only wish I’d asked him much
earlier! Turning into Paradise Bay, the wind was less of a factor
and the seas soon smoothed to allow us to enjoy sparkling glaciers
along the whole of this huge bay. Tall walls of ice on the near ‘shore’
seemed columned with blue ice. Slopes of snow-covered glacier held
large blocks of jumbled chunks, twisted from a smooth surface by
the glaciers’ slow, relentless movement.
for the next 2 nights was a rocky island in Leith Cove, named for a Norwegian
whaling man. Surrounded by tide-water glaciers and a mote of sea, this
was a perfect place to finish our trip. Minkes cruised the deeper channels,
Crabeater and Weddell seals rested on icebergs in this magical circle.
Yet I had a spooky feeling as this was the first campsite where I did not
see penguins nesting. I had the odd feeling that meant it was unsafe! (Perhaps
I was becoming a penguin??) A male fur seal bellowed a welcome. We set
up camp on the snow and watched as the wildlife came in for an evening’s
rest while Bob faithfully prepared supper. Mark was so happy to get his
uncomfortable dry suit off he swore he would not put it on again! He did
a celebration jump for joy.
we plan to stay in the same spot and just paddle without moving our tents
from the snow field. Breakfast consists of a very nice trail mix made by
Mrs. Bank’s Sports Nutrition class. Everyone in the group loves it. Cheers
and thanks to the class!! Right after breakfast, I take my daily measurements
of water and air temperature, and salinity of the water, which is a bit
lower in these bays that are surrounded by melting glaciers. We paddle
this time with empty boats, which is much easier and faster and a nice
break to all these heavy paddles we had the last several days. We paddle
around Paradise Bay, which is at least 10 miles in diameter and surrounded
by bare mountain peaks, from which glaciers flow into the bay. The tops
of these glaciers tower between 80 and 300 feet above the water line. It
is an incredible sight!
eat lunch at an unmanned Chilean research station-like all the other
stations, it has been taken over by penguins. Paddling along, minding
our own business, suddenly a 30 feet long Minke whale comes up from
below, blows a big water fountain and slightly touches Ellen’s and
Alvin’s boat next to me. Minutes later he does the same with our
boat; luckily, he estimates our speed and distance a bit better and
does not touch us! We think that whales take us for buddies because
our kayaks look like whale bodies and the paddles could be our flippers!
We also see seals chilling out on ice flows. One is a Leopard seal,
and since they are known to be pretty mean, it is probably better
to stay a respectful distance away from him!
are in our ‘kitchen’ waiting for dinner to be ready, and the
wildlife is starting to settle in for the evening. Our kitchen
is a rocky place, from where we can overlook a large part of
the small bay. First, a group of 12-15 seals swim in looking
for a nice area to rest for the night. Two seals have already
taken the best chunk of ice, so the rest of the bunch tries
to find another good spot. This is not an easy task. Finally
it gets to the point: "How many big fat seals can one fit on an ice-flow?" It turns out-eight can! I don't know how they know when an ice flow will tip
over. It never seems to happen. But some of these friendly
and peaceful guys end up going to another ice flow to share
it with a less friendly Leopard seal. Three other seals can't
make up their minds and stay in our bay. Two juveniles horse
around, come to our beach, hop onto it and check us out. Finally,
they just hang around floating in the bay. A little Chinstrap
penguin is standing around looking a bit lost among all the
Gentoo penguins. He starts to move closer and closer towards
us, and seems to enjoy our company! He grooms himself for a
long time as we move slowly towards him, and he also comes
even closer to us. Steve quietly sits down and the penguin
comes to about eight inches away and tucks himself in for the
night (penguins sleep laying on their bellies, tucking in their
flippers under). It is the cutest sight! We call him ‘Chinnie.’ Next morning, he is still here. He follows Steve
to his tent, but soon decides to take off to catch a penguin
we weren’t moving camp, we could afford a leisurely morning. About dawn, a
dusting of light snow fell. The upper reaches of the dark mountains between
the glaciers showed a snow-level line. But the day turned out to be mostly
sunny. A short hike around our small island revealed the Gentoo penguins on
the south side, making me feel more at home. There were remains of an old wooden
barrel, as if washed up on a high wave. Regina and Steve came to breakfast
from their aerie tent site at the top of the island mimicking penguins, arms
out for balance behind them, shuffling the whole way to our dining rock but
day paddle took us several miles along the coast to the Argentine Base.
The snow was full of the streaks of color we had come to know meant penguins,
red, yellow and green where guano allowed algae to grow. Most of our group
hiked up the mountain just above the station for superb views of the bay.
They described watching the footprints of whales on the water far below.
Alvin climbed down the moss-covered brown rocks to see a Skua on its nest.
By the dilapidated buildings, we saw snowy sheathbills with their usual
nesting spot under a building, a very nurturing mother Gentoo with her
undersized chick we feared would not last the season. Two molting penguins
did a bowing ritual for each other and for our entertainment. Heike watched
a Gentoo come out of the water, dash across the shallow, shale beach and
begin eating snow from the snow bank. He kept up this behavior for some
lunch, our paddle back was graced with a Minke whale coming up under
and in front of Ellen and Alvin’s boat. All I could say was “Don’t
move your tail!” A might too close for comfort! He came up several
times again, just beside or in front of us. We watched Skuas dive for
Steve and Regina, they seemed attracted to them. But Regina and Steve
had eyes only for the stunning scenery. They’d often pause in paddling
to contemplate this beautiful world. The day had turned bright and
beautiful. Several kayaks dallied in the water while Bob and Heike
went to one of many glacial waterfalls for our water supply. Bob pointed
out a leopard seal on one berg. The seal seemed content to let us watch,
so we approached for pictures. This potentially dangerous kayak and
seal biter looked more like a person in a seal suit, lying on his side
with hip, shoulder and head contours prominent. He obligingly opened
his huge mouth to show off his threatening teeth. After landing our kayaks and going through
the nightly routine of emptying them of gear, hauling them up above
high tide line in teams of 6 for each boat and overturning them for
the night, Alvin was still fascinated by the leopard seal. As the end
of low tide took the seal’s berg out to sea, Alvin followed him around
our island, snapping more pictures and enjoying the scene as another
kind of seal tried to climb up on the berg.
we prepared for dinner, the seals and penguins gathered for the evening.
Three seals on a nice, flat iceberg attracted others until there were
8 or more on board for a night’s rest. We were wondering how they knew
when one more would be too many and tip the berg. Just before our meal
was ready, a lone chinstrap penguin stumbled out of the water and across
the talus of the beach toward the snow. He was headed right for our group,
and we were watching curiously as the penguin tried many attempts to
get up the snow bank that was above his head. Several seals came up out
of the water but turned back from the difficult beach with its large,
sharp slate. But our little chinstrap was not deterred. He finally found
a way up on the snow bank and waddled toward us. Patiently he waited
till we were done eating. Several of us offered fingers for him to chew
(an hors d'œuvre?) but he refused. We tried to avoid him when passing his way, but he seemed to have no fear of us. We dubbed him the
‘penguin who came to dinner’. Eventually, we departed and he settled
in to ‘our’ dinner rock for his roost for the evening. By the next morning
he was still there. When Steve came down for a short visit to the shore,
the penguin decided to follow him, up over the island top, past Steve’s
tent to enter the water from that side of the island!
evening was our last chance to enjoy the evening sky. With rain and clouds
much of the earlier part of the trip, I had gotten lazy and stopped trying
to spot stars. But this evening as I got up for a quick relief walk,
I saw so many stars my exclamation woke not only Alvin, but Bob as well.
The Milky Way was clear and thick. The Southern Cross was at the apex
of the sky. I could recognize Corvus and scrambled for my southern hemisphere
sky chart to identify more. Centaurus yielded and the bright star just
setting that Alvin asked me about may have been a planet or the bright
stars in either Virgo or Bootes.
was to be our day of ‘rescue’ off our Paradise Island in Leith Cove.
We were packed and ready early, as per our ship’s Captain’s instructions.
Weather or logistic problems delayed them but we filled the time with
picture taking to use up the last film or chip space we could. A diverse
group of people had proved themselves as amicable and compatible. All
of us felt at peace with this beautiful place at the ends of the earth.
the Zodiacs did arrive, their drivers were under orders to “hurry”, but
Bob wisely advised us to be methodical with the kayaks, as carrying them
over the rough rock terrain could be hazardous. We all had culture shock
when we got a good whiff of gasoline as the Zodiacs sped out of our bay
toward the waiting Polar Pioneer. Aboard the mother ship, we were immediately
and well fed, and then took much of the day cleaning ourselves and our
gear, taking the kayaks apart and settling in. Thanks to Bob and Heike
for the job of kayak repacking and cleaning! Alvin wanted to ‘get in a
little exercise’ by going back by Zodiac to the Argentine base and climbing
but had a wonderful experience listening to the subtle sounds in a Zodiac
sans engine. Later, he took a dip in the ocean from the ship to become
a member of the Southern Ocean Plunger’s Society. Alvin and I were at the
bow of the ship, taking a few pictures with other passengers, when several humpback whales went by, making shallow blows.
Watching intently, in hopes to get a good picture, I heard another passenger
say “Do something” to the whales, echoing my frustration that they weren’t
posing for us. Just as they were passing out of sight, the whales rolled
on their sides and waved at us with their flippers! Such was the magic
of this Antarctic. One last Zodiac trip that evening gave us an idea of
what the rest of the ship’s company had been experiencing as we chased
whales across the bay and landed at the “Scientific” Station at Melchior’s
Islands. The trash and rusting equipment that marks these many bases is
not a pretty site. We left the area of the Antarctic Peninsula and started
back across the Drake Passage this evening.
Sun, fellow passenger and photographer extraordinaire, did a marathon
of laptop work to create a slide show of every ones pictures. I was
proud to notice many of our kayak groups’ shots made the show. I was
now enthused enough to want to buy souvenirs - for every child on my
school bus back home! We found out our beautiful iceberg arch of our
first day’s paddle crashed the same day. Many of our fellow passengers
had shots of it before it did. Our passage back was, again, in calm waters. Gentle swells broadside, however,
sent us searching for our individual sea sickness cures. Whenever I
travel to unusual places, I bring a small piece of rock, a feather,
or something else that comes naturally from the place, but I cannot
do it on this trip. The Antarctic Treaty prevents me from doing so.
Here is an overview of the Code of Conduct for Visitors to the Antarctic:
• Do not disturb, harass or interfere with the wildlife. This means do not
touch or feed the animals, and stay at least 15 feet away from them.
• Do not walk on or otherwise damage the fragile plants, such as lichens, mosses
• Leave nothing behind, take only memories or photographs.
• Do not interfere with protected areas or scientific research.
• Enter historic huts only when accompanied by a properly authorized escort.
• Do not smoke during shore excursions.
• Stay with your group or the leader when ashore
• Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only.
• Freedom of scientific research must be guaranteed.
• Information exchange and maximum cooperation must be maintained.
• No territorial claims shall be made by any nations.
• No nuclear tests or waste disposal are permitted.
• The participating nations have to allow designated observers on their stations.
Fog lifted enough for us to see some of the islands at the tip of South America
this evening. Tomorrow, we’ll land at Ushuaia in the early morning.
is our second full day crossing the Drake Passage. It is about
900 miles wide and takes almost 3 days to get from the Northern
tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to Tierra Del Fuego. Our ship
travels at about 13.5 miles per hour. It is a long and somewhat
uncomfortable journey. Most of us use a patch against sea sickness;
others take pills. Our ship is rocking and sliding a lot! Sometime
around 10 PM, we will be close to Cape Horn. A bit later we
will enter the Beagle Channel where we have to get a pilot
on board. Cape Horn is the southern most tip of the American
continent. It was discovered by the Dutch sailor Willem Shouten
in 1616. In those days of the sailing ship, rounding the Horn
was a major event. It usually meant a dramatic shift in sea
and weather conditions as the ship moved from one ocean system
to the other. The meeting point between the Atlantic and the
Pacific breeds violent and unpredictable weather.
took time to see town, enjoy the amenities of the hotel or
hike areas like Cerro Castor nearby. We had a wonderful last
dinner together as a group, our kayak memories still fresh
and lots of them to share.