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Published: February 17th 2010
Cape Horn and Antarctica
Sailing around Cape Horn could be troublesome, but for us it was “a piece of cake,” so to speak. In fact, the Captain sailed around the whole island which is something he is not often able to do. This enabled everyone on both port and starboard sides to experience “rounding the Horn.” The weather continued to cooperate in the Drake Passage as we sailed south to Antarctica. This passage is known to produce fierce winds, making the trip very difficult; however, this time the waves really were not too roly-poly, and we were able to sleep quite soundly.
When we awoke, we looked out to see the most breathtaking scenery we have ever seen anywhere. Pictures do not do justice to the natural beauty of this pristine area. Before I write more, I will copy here Bruce’s e-mail he wrote to family. He has some details of interest.
Hi Guys and Gals - we had an absolutely glorious day of scenic cruising yesterday in the vicinity of the U.S. Palmer Research Station on Amberes Island, part of the Antarctic Peninsula which extends northward toward the South end of Argentina (Terra del Fuego) where Magellan saw fires set by the natives as he rounded the southern tip. I believe we sailed as far south as 66 degrees S. Lat. near the Antarctic Circle and today are preceding out of the Gerlache Straits toward Deception Island in the Shetlands where we will be tonight.
A really big treat was to have a visiting delegation of scientists and support staff from the Palmer Station come out to the ship in Zodiac Boats to the PRINSENDAM (which they called the Big City) to give us a briefing on their activities. The US Antarctic Program ( www.usap.gov ) and Raytheon Industries collaborate to support grant-funded research activities at Palmer, McMurdo and S. Pole Stations. McMurdo is the largest station with 1200 personnel and is supplied from Christ Church, New Zealand. Palmer has 45 personnel, on-base research labs, full internet service and rotating crews of scientists (eg. biologists to study birdlife, populations, etc.) Support staff keeps in touch with other International Stations, for example losing to the Ukraines in Internet Chess.
A lot of young people and grad students here seem to enjoy their experience. It is not all work -- they go boating in the Zodiacs and practice ice-climbing in the glacier crevasses. They are all committed to doing research which will protect this pristine environment for future generations. They are specifically monitoring the impact of climate change factors and the receding ice on the local penguin population and other wildlife. All stations are converting to windmills as much as possible to generate electricity, but Solar is touch and go with periodic overcasts.
Today, fur and crab-eater seals were spotted from the ship and schools of penguins come out to inspect us from time to time. At lunch, two hump-back whales breached right near our window, providing an awesome show for us. Other ships are in the area and visit the stations of their respective countries and we got a close look at a Russian ship and research station along the way.
One footnote for John is that my new Duluth Trading Jacket is keeping me nice and warm and I couldn't help wondering whether Duluth shouldn't be designing and testing cold weather gear down here. We miss you all and hope to have lots of pictures to show you on our return (in addition to those on Cindy's Blog. Cindy's Amaryllis is still growing -- about 10 inches tall. Bruce.
I’ll add a few comments about the Palmer Station people coming aboard. Two Zodiacs approached the Prinsendam discharging about eight people and retreating with “gifts” of supplies from us. We saw the boats leave waving thanks to us as we waved back. They would return later in the day to pick up the speakers for their return to Palmer Station.
The men and women spoke to two audiences with dinner times being the determinate. We were in the first group to get an overview of the station and its purpose. Then we were able to ask questions which turned out to be the best part. When asked the qualifications to be there, they mentioned after being qualified technically for the job, they are given extensive physical and dental exams and if they wanted to go to the South Pole Station, they were also given psychological exams, but anyone who wants to go there has to be crazy for it is an 18 month commitment. Their term is usually a summer term which is seven months from Sept. through March. So, they were young people in top physical condition. In addition to the staff, many students come to study for a shorter time. The chef also has to meet certain standards, and doesn’t just “sling hash.” In fact, she is the great-great niece of Admiral Byrd in addition to being a great cook. They get supplies a couple of times from the U.S. and also some from Chile.
All of the countries with stations in Antarctic work together on environmental issues, and the Prinsendam has to adhere to strict rules as well. They do not release waste into the waters until we are far into the ocean on the way to the Falklands. Nothing thrown overboard, of course, and even the noise level must be low or it disturbs the wildlife.
The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 by representatives of the 12 nations that had been involved in the International Geophysical Year’s (IGY). The treaty prohibits military operations, nuclear explosions, and the disposal of radioactive wastes in Antarctica and provides cooperation in scientific investigation and exchange of scientific data. Eighteen nations now operate more than 30 year-round research stations with more operating in the summer.
Now to the scenery and wildlife. Pictures just can not do justice to what we are experiencing. Our first day started out cloudy, but soon gave way to the sun. It was almost like the sun and clouds were playing hide and seek with the mountains. First, clouds would wrap around a mountain top, and then the sun would break out of the clouds and bring the mountain to life. This went on all morning, making us take pictures one after another after another. We saw penguins playing in the water, bobbing up and down in groups, always in groups because they are very social creatures. An occasional non-pristine rock appears with guano (a Spanish word for poop) all over it. This is where the penguins come to get food for their chicks. Tracks up the mountain are the paths out of harms way and back to the nests. This is the time of year that the chicks are just growing to the size needed to survive in the winter. The penguins we see swimming are not producing, and therefore free to play.
Today is cloudy as we sail to the Shetland Islands and Elephant Island. We met the Ice Captain, Captain Toomey, (we saw an iceberg he had spotted two years ago near Andvers Island where we were the first day, and it has floated north several miles) who said he had been on the bridge for 38 straight hours the night before last, and finally got six hours sleep last night. He was watching for iceberg “growlers” which are the small ones bobbing out there able to put a rather large hole in a hull. He said it is not the large ones that are a problem because you can see them easily, but it’s the growlers that are dangerous. We thanked him profusely for keeping a good eye out, and were glad he got some sleep.
Right now the Captain is on the P.A. saying he is in touch with another ship trapped inside a passage while we are looking for a way out. Anyway, we are heping each other to find a way to continue our trip. It is too cloudy to sit and look out the window, so I thought this would be a good time to write. I hope the pictures turn out.
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