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EXPLORING ANTARCTICA

Following is a narrative of my trip to Antarctica.

Tuesday: Puerto Williams, Chile

    We spent a refreshing night in Santiago after our long flights from home. We had come from all over the globe--the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Argentina, Austria, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, and France.

    On the southbound Ladeco flight, we flew over an endless procession of peak after Andean peak. This spectacular mountain range, running between Chile and Argentina, boasts impressive glaciers, which wind a tortuous path through mountainous valleys. Glacial lakes reflected the bright rays of the sun, as our pilot turned the aircraft at right angles to the mountains, to give us an even more spectacular view.

    Those who took the first flight to Puerto Williams, enjoyed a meal at the casino. The group remaining behind in Punta Arenas took buses to a restaurant, while guides described the sights along the way. At the Arierra Restaurant, we were served a delicious buffet meal, that started off with a Chilean drink called a Pisco sour. After the meal, a group of Chilean singers and dancers entertained us in their national costumes, and we were able to buy some local crafts. At 2:00 P.M., we departed from the southernmost city in the world, to fly to Puerto Williams.

    Ultimately, we all arrived at the dock to see the gleaming blue and white World Discoverer tethered to the quay, mongst several military vessels. As we anxiously boarded her, we were excited by the prospect that this beautiful ship was to be our home for the next ten days.

    After being shown to our cabins and unpacking, we surveyed the layout of the ship. At 7:OO P.M., we were sumnoned to dinner by a melodious ding-ding-ding-dong, a sound which was to become a familiar and welcome Pavlovic summons to mealtimes and other activities.

    As we finished our first delicious meal on board, we gathered in the Discoverer Lounge to be formally welcomed by our Cruise Director, Nadia. She greeted us with a friendly and spirited introduction, in her wonderful South African accent and introduced us to her staff. We next met Mike Messick, our Expedition Leader. At the ripe old age of thirty, Mike has probably traveled to more destinations in the world than anyone many times his senior. I have since seen him on television.

    Mike told us about some of the areas we would be likely to visit over the next two weeks, during our Antarctic expedition. He introduced us to the ship's doctor who gave us a few words of advice on sea-sicknness prevention. Tnen he introduced the naturalist/lecture team that would guide us through our our travels. He told us that he and the captain confer every evening, deciding where we'll go the next day, depending on the weather . There is no hard and fast itinerary.

    Mike had an early morning landing planned, so he conducted an informative briefing on how to board the versatile Zodiacs--the rubber inflatables that would be taking us ashore. Sonja acted out the role of the "accidental tourist," complete with clothing and life jacket askew.

    Survival in the Antarctic depend many factors, two of which are having sufficient warm clothing and keeping dry. Clipper, our tour company, had supplied each of us with a cozy red parka, some of which were a little too big or a little too little. Also, some of us had brought boots that were a bit too short. To rectify the situation, earlier in the evening we had the Great Parka and Boot Exchange. Sufficiently suited and booted up, we were now ready for the geat cold and wet outdoors.

    (For every Zodiac landing, my roommate and I put on tights, long johns, wool pants, and waterproof pants. I wore insulated booties under two pair of wool socks in my boots. On top I wore insulated shirt, turtleneck shirt, wool sweater and over all, the red parka they gave us.)

    The first officer announced over the loudspeaker that the World Discoverer was ready to pull away from the dock. After all the long hours of traveling to get this far, it was exciting to realize that our expedition to Antarctica was really about to begin.

    At 10:15 P.M. the World Discoverer set sail for the coldest, highest, driest, and windiest place on earth: ANTARCTICA!

    Wednesday: Cape Horn

    After arising to Nadia's early wake-up call, "Good morning everyone," we were more than mildly interested in seeing the Horn for ourselves.

    After donning all the clothing necessary for the landing, we went to the proper deck, got our life-jackets (which are quite small) which we put on, and then with help placed the backpacks containing our cameras, etc., on our backs. Then we waited until it was our turn to get aboard the Zodiacs. Those who helped us get on and off the Zodiacs were very efficient and insisted we hold their arms in a particular way. It worked very well.


    The World Discoverer anchored off the small bay at the foot of the cliff, on which stands the Chilean station, Cabo de Hornos. We boarded the Zodiacs for our first landing, on a beach made up of smooth stones, many covered with slippery algae. It was raining as the first few Zodiacs set off, but as the morning progressed, the weather cleared until the sunlight was perfect for those "Cape Horn photographs."

    Once on shore, we scampered (?) over the rocks and began climbing a steep wooden staircase to the top of the 120-foot cliff, while a turkey vulture hovered overhead. Breathless and exhilarated, we gazed down at the World Discoverer in the bay below.

    The Island of Cape Horn (and its famous Cape) is at the southernmost tip of the South American continent. A Chilean naval detachment is stationed at the Horn, manned by three sailors posted from their normal base of Puerto Williams. A trail of redcoats could be seen winding their way up the hill to the station. The Chilean sailors welcomed us as we signed the guest book.

    We also visited the small chapel called Stella Maris, "Star of the Sea," dedicated to those sailors who had been lost over the centuries trying to round the horn. A monunent was erected in 1989 to commemorate those passages. The monument is dedicated to all the captains and crews from all over the world, who have made the long journey around Cape Horn, and to those who have lost their lives in the pursuit.

    Some of us walked the long boardwalk to a higher ridge line, where stood a newer, large metal monument. If you concentrated, you could distinguish that the Rorschach abstract cut-out was in the shape of a flying albatros, wings outstrerched toward the jagged cliff edge and wave-swept sea.

    We turned our red tags over to black to indicate that we were back on board the ship. It was only 9:45 A.M., but it seemed like late afternoon, because of our early-mornng acivities. We were congratulated as being the first group to have ALL turned our tags to the red position on our very first landing. (I'll bet they say this to every group.)

    Now it was time for everyone to participate in the Lifeboat Drill, given by our Safety-Officer. This included instruction on how to don our life vests and enter the ship's lifeboats.

    There was just enough time before lunch for our first lecture on the voyage, given by Pete Oxford. He began his lecture, An Introduction to Whales, with a recording of the haunting songs of the humpback whales.

    Pete encouraged everyone to be out on deck during the course of our expedition to join the unofficial "Whale Watch." ln order to spot whales, such as the humpback, minke, and killer whale or orca, the more eyes there were the more lkely we would be to see these nagnificent creatures of the deep.

    After lunch, we once again met up in the Lecture Hall. This time we were to be enlightened and entertained by Tony Soper, an avid naturalist, who co-founded the BBC's Natural History Unit and became its first film producer. Tony talked about Subantarctic Island Wildlife. On the Antarctic Continent, conditions are so severe that they cannot sustain animal life. Animals can live there only by virtue of the food resources of the surrounding ocean.

    In the evening, we attended the Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party. Everyone dressed up in their "finery" and assembled in the Discoverer Lounge, where our Captain introduced the heads of staff, the hotel department, and the ship's officers. He informed us of the "Open Bridge" policy, and welcomed us all to visit with him at any time. The Captain led us in a toast to calm seas and a wonderful Antarctic voyage.

    As this was an expedition, we were not expected to 'dress-up.' We wore our shore clothes to the dining room if we expected to take off shortly for a landing. We wore sports clothing the rest ofthe time. It was chilly in the lecture hall, so we would bundle up and even wear the parkas up there at times. Those of us who had been in Santiago for a day or so, had brought dressier clothes for the city, and wore those to the captain's cocktail parties.

    Thursday: At Sea, Enroute to Antarctica

    The Drake Passage is a notorious stretch of water that lies between Cape Horn on the north and the South Shetland Islands to the south. It connects the South Scotia Sea with the Pacific Ocean. Seas in the Drake can reach 60-80 feet, with winds of up to 70 knots.

    We were fortunate not to have to endure such wild sea conditions, but it was rough enough to force quite a few of us to cross the Drake in a horizontal position in our cabins. I was one of the fortunate ones who remained upright.

    The rough seas, however, were excellent for birdwatching. The wake behind us was like a magnet to various petrels, and albatrosses, wheeling and banking on the wind in regal procession.

    There was just time for a quick mug of bouillon (which was available with hot chocolate, coffee, etc. in the aft every morning), before the next informative lecture. Tony Soper treated us to one of his favorite sujects, Oceans of Birds.

    Somewhere between 8:00 A.M. and 12:00 Noon today, the temperature had dropped, indicating that we had crossed the Antarctic Convergence. This is a physical and biological phenomenon where two bodies of water meet. The water to the south is very cold, and the temperature plummeted from 4 degrees C to 1 degree'C. South of the Convergence, we could expect a different fauna, such as the fur seal and snow petrel.

    After lunch and a short siesta, Christine, our historian from Germany, was next up on the lecture agenda. She works as a freelance special broadcast journalist, presenting scientific programs. She also writes and does translations into Russian. She presented her talk in German, so we did not attend as we do not understand German. Later in the afternoon, Pete spoke on Introduction to Pinnipeds. He told us about "pinnipeds," the "flipper-feet," or seals. We listened to him over the intercom in our cabin.

    Attending lectures was not mandatory. But we were interested in learning all we could about this area, so we attended most of them.

    It had been a day filled with informative lectures. The scene was being set, and we were eagerly anticipating our first landing in Antarctica. Armed with our new knowledge about this fascinating environment, and the infectious enthusiasn of the lecture team, we were raring to go.

    During dinner, the sighting of the first iceberg was made. Mike assured us that, that "pink ship" on the horizon was indeed an iceberg, and that the World Discoverer would not need to go off course to get a better view, because we were guaranteed of closer and better sightings. Little did we know just how good!

    Our evening's video was "Marathon Birds (Or Just Albatrosses)"-- a film about the lives of these ocean wanderers.

    Friday: Hannah Point/Deception Island
    Antarctica

    Today was the day we had been waiting for. After negotiating the open seas and considerable swells, the World Discoverer anchored off Hannah Point, in Walker Bay on the south coast of Livingston Island, our first landing in Antarctica. The seas had calmed down and we were eager to explore.

    Before we could realize our dreams, we needed to know and understand the Antarctic Visitor Guidelines. Mike's lecture had been postponed due to the rough seas. To help minimize impact on the continent's fragile eco-system, several tour operators have organized a recommended code of behavior for all visitors to the Antarctic to abide by, as they set foot on the most pristine part of our planet. So Mike explained it with the help of slides.

    Taylor said a few words on the "Tourist Trash" survey that he is conducting all season on board the ship. With our help as collectors, he is attempting to document the amount of litter being left by tourists on shore in the Antarctic. It is a "first ever" study, that will contribute information not previously available.

    After landing and removing our life vests, as we made our way in small groups past the elephant seals, belches and groans came from all directions. These slug-like forms, with bulging brown eyes, remained oblivious to our comings and goings to the penguins. We stood our distance as much for safety as for the assault on our nasal passages. There is nothing that smells as bad as an elephant seal.

    It was the penguins which filled us with delight. These were the first penguins some had ever seen. I had previously seen the fairy penguin in Australia. These were chinstraps and gentoos.

    The wind started picking up as the time came for us to leave the island. There were a few unwanted splashes on the return to the ship. This was a taste of what the water temperature would be like later this afternoon.

    While we enjoyed a delicious Italian buffet, the captain sailed the ship to Deception Island. As we approached, Mike announced that we would attempt an unscheduled landing on Bailey Head, because the conditions were too good to pass by. The area is known for its immense chinstrap colony.

    The scouting Zodiac drivers returned to the ship. (Before every landing, they scout the area to make sure we can land the Zodiacs safely.) The visit was on, but it was going to be a wild landing because of the surge upon the black lava beach. We suited up in our shore clothes and boarded the Zodiacs. As soon as the drivers landed us on the beach, a highly-skilled shore party quickly directed us out of the Zodiacs, turned the inflatables around, and sent the drivers on their way to pick up more passengers. Terrific precision team-work.

    As we exited the Zodiacs, we had to be on guard, for there were fur seals everywhere. We kept our distance from them as we had been forewarned about their nasty disposition. At the top of the beach, we were immediately confronted with the staggering thousands upon thousands of penguins. Some of us climbed up a high ridge where we had a breathtaking view of snowfields, grey ash slopes, and the distant World Discoverer. The clamor of chinstraps and their disagreeable smell were everywhere. Skuas were hovering over the nests, looking for the opportune moment to snatch a weak chick.

    After an exciting Zodiac ride back to the ship, the captain sailed for the entrance to the caldera of Deception Island. This is a natural port formed by the collapsed volcanic cone. It was suggested we come out on deck to view the bellows as we passed through. On the port side, barely visible, was a shipwreck.



    We anchored off Pendulum Cove. The shore is heated by energy from the plug of still molten magma more than one mile below. Water from the sea and melting snow flows through the porous ash and is heated to around 120 degrees F. and emanates in the form of hot springs.

    The swimming conditions were not perfect - cloudy skies and wind, but the high tide ensured plenty of hot water to mix in with the cold. I have always regretted not going in. I brought what was necessary, but knowing my penchant for colds, decided being ill the rest of the trip would have been a disaster

    . After a warming shower, we met in the Lounge for our usual recap of the day as well as a toddy for those interested. At these recaps, each naturalist would touch on whatever we had seen that day in his area of expertise. Recap always ended with Mike, our expedition leader, giving us our tentative landing itinerary for the next day.

    There wasn't any need to keep a diary because that was being done for us. Renee kept a day-by-day account of everything and we would receive the final copy in a couple months. (I am drawing from that log and adding my personal observations to it in this narrative.)

    That evening, the video, Antarctica: The Last Frontier was shown in the lecture hall. Every evening there was a movie shown or a talk in the lecture hall. The lounges were always available, plus a small library which had tables for cards. The observation lounge usually had the same group of people: those of us who were on the lookout for whales.

    Completed in Part 2

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