Blog from Antarctica: March 18

We are almost into may as I write up my journals from our Antarctica trip in March.  We have a few days left to report on, and still some great experiences. Posts from Antarctica begin on 12 March; you can view the Archives for March or page through using the Next button at the bottom of the page.

The Lemaire Channel

It’s not quite the real bacon butty i crave, but after the fast required by camping on the ice last night, it tastes very good indeed. We tell our stories of ice cave building in the restaurant as we sail out of Neko Bay and head even further south. I have an idea that we’re going to Paradise Harbour, but I’ve lost track. All I know is we’re heading to Vernadsky Base in the Argentine Islands and not Port Lockroy.

At first, this seems a disappointment: we’re prepared with postcards for our sponsors to be sent from the British Base at Port Lockroy – which sounds like the last outpost of the Empire, but is probably more to do with the British Antarctic Survey. But apparently, they’re not in, or the post office has been closed (nothing to do with Labour policy this time). The pity is, we wanted to send postcards from Port Lockroy – actually from Antarctica with a British Royal Mail stamp.

Vernadsky Base did used to be a British Base, but was sold to the Ukraine. We’re told they don’t have a post office but they do have home-made vodka. The rumour is, you get a shot for free if you provide an item of ladies underwear. Lynn is not promising anything, though; it’s not even certain that they’ll have us ashore. Still it’s a bit of a sail to get there, and through the famed Lemaire Channel and the promise of more Antarctic scenic treats.

Before it gets serious, there’s time for a presentation by Nik on looking at what we wanted to be when we were little, how it changed as we grew up, and what, if anything prevents us from doing what we really want. It’s an odd place and time to think about such things, but in this setting of achieving a goal of reaching Antarctica and talking to a man who is soon to achieve his dream of being an astronaut (cosmanaut), it is entirely appropriate. What were my answers? That, must wait for another blog posting.

It’s perfect weather for the journey through the Lemaire Channel, cold with a few clouds rolling over the mountains down to the straits that funnel us towards an imporbably narrow gap. Cim and I get prime position in the centre of the top deck straight after the end of Nik’s talk without really getting the right clothing to ward off the wind. We planned to stay for a while, take in the view and then go and get the thermals on. But it’s just too beautiful, and what with the whales, seals, penguins and flighted birds, it’s impossible to leave even for a minute.

Photos from Lemaire

 

The inevitable glaciers on either shore show signs of recent and continuing calving. The channel has plenty of ice of all size and age from fields of slush and growlers, to old, broken bergs and one huge, grounded iceberg smack in the middle of the narrowest part of the channel. It looks like it might block our passage.

We plough on through the ice floes and come within feet of a block that is providing a lunch table for a leopard seal. Lunch was probably a penguin and it’s red and brown remains spoil the white of the ice. A skua waits expectantly for leftovers. As we pass by the seal lazily flops into the sea micorsends before the fantastic photo I was about to take, but it doesn’t seem to bother the skua.

There are plenty of humpback whales and even though there are no spectacular displays it is just wonderful to be around. We sail right towards a flock of Gentoo penguins who just dive under the ship unpeturbed. Arctic tern wheel and screech and the glacier cliffs reveal a few Antarctic fulmar with their unmistakable stff-shouldered wings.

Eventually, the cold reaches brass monkey stage, and no amount of wildlife or spectacular ice, and not even the company of PB can keep us from a dash to the cabin for warmer clothes. Word is up from the bridge that the iceberg won’t prevent our passage and there’s just about time to warm up and get back on deck to witness the narrowest point and our emergence into the archipelago beyond. We are on for Vernadsky.

Congratulations Matt!

Our very good friend and sponsor Tony Dickinson had some great transplant news of his own last week. His 16 year-old son Matt went back to school, 6 months after having a successful bone marrow transplant. We send some huge cheers your way, Matt!

Curb Travel to Antarctica?

The BBC ran an article yesterday about curbing tourist travel to Antarctica in ships not designed for the harsh conditions.

“Campaigners say the sinking of the M/S Explorer last year was a wake-up call.” We travelled in The Professor Mutanovsky” an ex-research vessel from the Arctic and Antarctic Institute in St. Petersburg, and was designed as an ice-strenghtened ship. According to Oceanwide Expeditions who were responsible for our expedition. And I have no reason to doubt them. She is a mere 71.6 meters long – a mere tug compared to some of the cruise liners we saw docked in Ushuaia, and most of those were real luxury jobs.

Of more concern is the impending collapse of the Wilkens ice sheet, but that ain’t nuthin to do with dodgy ships running aground. Ask Al Gore.

Penguin Web Footage (!)

One of the most endearing sites in the Antarctic is the penguins. The most common penguins on the Antarctic peninsula are Gentoos, although I saw a few Adelie penguins and others saw Chinstraps. However, none of us saw anything like this amazing footage released today by the BBC of a previously-unknown colony of Adelies.

(You need BBC’s iPlayer enabled)

BBC penguin footage