Antarctica, Lemaire Channel

Top of Lemaire, East, originally uploaded by maltjerry.

I found an unpublished blog post from the Antarctica trip in my Drafts folder. Beats writing about Staines.

The actual blog entry, describing the journey down the beautiful Lemaire Channel towards the Vernadsky research base is from 18 March 2008. You can find it here.

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World’s Most Southerly Whisky Tasting?

It had always been my intenton to have a whisky tasting on our March 2008 expedition to Antarctica, and use the event for maximum sponsorship leverage for our charity, Transplants in Mind.

The World Record for the southernmost whisky tasting would be a sure-fire winner. Ardbeg – my chosen distillery – would be falling over themsevles for the outrageous publicity we’d create; sponsorship cash would roll in, and when we got back, there would be a tour of whisky tasting and motivational speaking for Cim and me.  What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday March 18 2008, Research Vessel “Professor Multanovsky”, Argentine Islands, Antarctica

Plans to have the ‘Whisky on Ice – Antarctica’ tasting while we were actually camping on  Antarctica were scuppered yesterday: strictly no food or drink on Antarctica itself. Anyway, there was an alcohol ban on all campers; not a good idea to make yourself vulnerable to hypothermia when you are so isolated. I put word out that the tasting would be tonight, after dinner, on board the ship, on the top deck.

Worlds Southernmost Whisky Tasting: 65 deg 14 S

World's Southernmost Whisky Tasting: 65 deg 14' S

I had with me three whiskies: three miniature bottles carried in my luggage from Engand. Three single malts to taste, all from the same distillery, Ardbeg – as we whisky nerds call it: a vertical tasting:
Ardbeg Uigeadail (oogy dahl)
Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 17 year-old (arry nam bayst)
Ardbeg ‘Almost There” 9 year-old

Big, hairy peat monsters, all (the malts, not the drinkers), cask strength, 50% alcohol and more. This was a baptism of smoke for my new whisky tasters, but I think just right for the bottom of the world.

Returning from the afternoon excursion to Vernadsky research base and the delights of Antarctic-distilled vodka and a bar draped with ladies underwear,  we ate dinner early again. This allowed tonights campers – who were foregoing world record glory for a night merely in tents on Antarctica – to speed off in the Zodiacs and make camp while it was still light.

Up top, it was cloudy, but clear enough for the sun to set the clouds alight as it headed down over the Antarctic peninsula. The temperature was rapidly heading down too. Wind chill was a factor.

We borrowed glasses from the bar, and a supply of Andean minearl water. The miniatures gave us just enough whisky to share around (Cim, Taff, Tim, Marcus, Kieron, Luke, and me, later joined by Louise, Victoria who stuck to champagne, and AJ).

Photos were taken with me wearing potential sponsor’s t-shirt. Cim had the videocam rolling, and with whiskies poured, a quick introduction from me – and on with the first whisky…

I think I pitched the tasting about right, it being the first whisky tasting for almost all. How to nose first without water, what to look for in the flavours and aromas, why it goes cloudy. People seemed to like it.

The smoky power of the whiskies worked its magic and won over even the Jack and Coke contingent. AJ had the last drop of the Airigh Nam Beist and exclaimed, “That’ll put hairs on yer chest.” At this ambient temperature, even I was wishing for a few more on my already well-forested breast. “Jim Beam’s got nuthin’ on this”, says AJ. That’s a Result in my book.

But even the mighty Ardbeg is no match for the Antarctic night, so we retired to the bar, and some Glenlivet and Chivas 12.  There was just one more sponsorship task to perform: check if the video of Cim’s ice dance we recorded while at Vernadsky had worked. It had.

It was a big relief. For Cim it was the culmination of her trip, something to prove there is life after transplant: the thunder in her heart.

What we didn;t think was to run the tape forward past the whisky tasting footage (byte-age). Next day, we carried on filming from the end of the ice dance, not realising the shots we were taking were recording over the World’s Most Southerly Whisky Tasting.

…..

Now a year on. Isn’t it funny how a little button labelled ‘rewind’ can throw your carefully wrought plans into the Southern Ocean? I only realised what we’d done, when we were back in England.  The only way I could cope with the disappointment was to forget about publicising the event. I would have to come up with another idea.

And so was born: “The World’s Most Latitudinally-Separated  Annual Whisky Tastings”. Ideally, there would have been a follow-up expedition to the Arctic, with perhaps the World’s northernmost whisky tasting. The Arctic thing didn’t happen and I found myself in Lund in the south of Sweden.

Vernadsky Base’s latitude is 65 degrees South, Lund’s is 55 degrees North. That’s 120 degrees of separation. Beat that!

Antarctica: A Year On

It’s a year since Antarctica. Tonight, in 2008 we camped on the ice. A year ago the day after, I gave a whisky tasting on an icebreaker, in sight of Vernadsky Base, off the Antarctic peninsula, just shy of the Antarctic circle. It might have been the southernmost whisky tasting ever.

On my mind are the opportunities that came by during the year: some open goals blasted over the bar, some 30-yard free kicks bent around the wall into the top corner. The duality of it seeming simultaneously recent and on another planet a long time ago. The reality is sponsors money collected and chickening out on the possibilities of the sponsorship by Fullers brewery and Ardbeg distillery.

We did make a story, and we did work for what is now The Transplant Trust that got us inside Number 10 and the realisation of Cim’s website to promote women’s personal development. The culmination of the world record whisky tasting was to be the most latitudinally-separated tasting in a year somewhere in the far north (by which I mean a trip to the Arctic). Well, it will have to be Lund.

The media seemed to like us. Maybe there’s a clue here. The BBC called again. Not just Radio Southern Counties, but THE Beeb with talk about a documentary they are making – I don’t suppose it will all be about us, but they will be sending a car to pick us up. That’ll be two documentaries in three months, following Cim’s forthcoming appearance in a film about Tomatis.

Buoyed by this boost of self belief, we wrote to our old friends Woking News and Mail detailing our achievements and plans for future sponsorship and local events. They must be on holiday. Anyway, we’ll see what the Mayor of Brighton has to say when we talk at the lunch event he’s giving.

So, Lund and the Bishops Arms will be the venue for this made-up record attempt. I have promised to post my notes from the first whisky tasting, so I’d better dig them out.

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.

March 18, 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 microseconds 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.

Kayaking with Whales in Neko Bay

We’re on a tight schedule, as camping on the ice is planned for tonight. Two nights of camping are possible, and I think we’ll only do one, but as yet, we don’t know which. So, it’s a quick lunch and back out into Neko Bay for kayaking.

Photos Neko Bay Kayaking

Neko Bay is the most Antarctic we’ve seen so far. We are surrounded on three side by the most powerful glaciers and towering mountains. The glaciers are practically bursting into the sea with deep slots splaying their blue ice contents. Frequent ice falls be heard if not seen, and this makes the Captain nervous, says Lynn. As we clamber down the gang plank and into the zodiacs we see a bay full of wind-driven growlers and icebergs of varying size and stability, which are driven by the currents, all capable of doing damage even to our ice-strengthened ship, if we are not careful.

The bay is flat calm for the kayaks; we must be sheletered from the wind by the mountains. The cloud patterns shift frequently, so the wind must be there. I’d say it was tranquil because that’s the sense I get as we paddle. I’m confident enough now on the water to get the camera out, but really, I just want to glide across the mirror surface and bash through some slush.

Then we are graced by the company of a Minke whale. It doesn’t show itself much, being content to play under the surface and just keep an eye on us. I’m torn between wanting to get a good photo of it to prove I was there, and just being there with the whale. It breaches the surface in front of us briefly before diving right under our kayak. The instant I saw it and the bow wave coming towards us I thought we had trouble, but she knew what she was doing, and just headed off. We waited and hoped for it’s return. Our first close encounter was short and no reason to call National Geographic with our photos, just the impact of her presence. You can see Mathiska is quite taken by what we are in the midst of, almost to the point of forgetting her duties as kayak leader.

I look around as we float and see our zodiac driver Rupert – a marine biologist on the staff of Oceanwide. He is patrolling in the mist behind us. There is nothing beyond him but the bay, the mountains and the wilderness. It’s odd to see such mountains and not really know what or where they are. If you go to the Alps you know that one is Mont Blanc, or behind there is Val d’Isere. Here all you know is behind this range is some unkown ice-shelf or some vast plain leading southwards and to the pole.

At dinner, and before we set out to camp, Rupert tells of his encounter: the Minke had a calf with her. She must have seen the zodiac and wondered what it was. She poked her head out of the water right in front of him, eyeball to eyeball. The Japanese whalers still hunt Minkes, justifying their killing by calling the Minkes “rodents of the seas” – their population, relative to other species, is high. But it’s clear to me what the real vermin is.

Monday 17 March: One goal reached

A night at anchor in Neko Bay gave several of the Russian crew – men and women – a chance to party at the bar, with Russian pop music, dancing, and fabled Russian drinking ability. But what is this? they’re drinking red wine? where is the vodka? A myth is crushed. They turned it into long night (for some), but it didn’t prevent an early start: breakfast at 7 in preparation for a full day of activities fuelled by bacon. That is if you were one of the ones deemed “normal” – that is not vegetarian, according to the Russian kitchien crew.

Kayaking and Penguins

Stage 2 of ice climbing for us in the morning means learning how to lead climb: setting your own titanium ice screws in the wall and attaching ropes. My hand is now too sore for climbing, so I assign myself as official photographer and videographer. Peter suggests some action shots of Cim to use as publicity for Transplants in Mind. Pity we hadn’t brought the banner with us from the ship… Parissa radios back to Lynn and out she comes on the zodiac, banner retrieved and the opportunity is saved. It wasn’t be the last time someone would forget something on the boat, was it Jane?

We set up the gear and get our new instructions; now it’s your life on the end of a four inch titanium screw that you set in the ice. You trusted Pete, you trusted your belay partner, now do you trust yourself? Pete demonstrates the technique – it looks easy to get in, but by the same token, I can sense we all think, easy in, how easy out? Pete says it will hold a 2-tonne car, so that extra bacon butty probably won’t hurt.

The nearby penguin colony decides it’s time to go fishing and they troop up the beach below us and head off into the bay. It’s a beautifully calm day and the water is mirror clear and calm as Bhuddist monk on tranquilisers. It’s captivating to watch them flying through the shallow water and off out for an early lunch. I forget about my court photographer duties and just watch the Gentoo show, hoping some of the video does it justice.

Cim partners with Jo, as I’m not climbing and she sets off up the glacier face, scraping away the snow and burying the screws textbook fashion as she scrambles higher. As she comes down Pete’s Argentine helper, Diego, scrambles across on the ice face and sets up some spectacular-looking shots with Cim and the Transplants in Mind Banner with the glacier as a back-drop Not only is he an accomplished photographer, he’s disgustingly good-looking, fit as a butcher’s dog, plays a mean guitar, and dances tango. He can climb like a monkey. He even manages to set me up in a shot so it looks like I’m up on the glacier with Cim too. (Oops, what a give-away.)

Cim makes it to the ground and Jo reminds us that this is what we set out to achieve: Cim has been through the depths of dialysis, come out the other side of a kidney transplant and now proved she can lead ice-climb in Antarctica. We are triumphant.

Jo’s joy for us quickly turns to massive disappointment as she realises we’ve spent so much time getting our publicity shots, there’s no time for her to climb. It’s the second day in a row she’s sacrificed her climb for the good of the group, and the look on her face tells us this time, she’s gone too far. She tells us she was conscious of the time but didn’t speak up. Pete turns the hero again and offers to give up his lunchtime to allow Jo to climb with him while we take the zodiac back to the Professor.

The compensation for Jo, is that the photos of her make it look like she’s out there climbing in Antarctica on her own. Whatever feelings she has she turns into pure spiderman climbing energy and she manages to get as high up the ice face as anyone, and comes back shaking with the exhileration of it all. The disappointment at first, holding herself back and then at last, getting what she came to Antarctica for. Sometimes the hardest thing is asking for what you want.