A Stroll in The Coldest and Windiest Antarctica
The Zodiac rode in on the crest of a little wave. it had been 10 pm and darkness was slowly encounter us. Hands onshore steadied the inflatable craft then assisted us over the side and into the shallow water. Wading ashore in my rubber boots I felt a superb sense of exhilaration. I wont to be having my first Antarctic landing. It had long been an ambition of mine to determine the great southern land and now I wont to be finally here at Arctowski Research Station, a Polish base on King George Island.
Earlier that evening we had entered Bransfield Strait at the northern end of the South Shetland, off the Antarctic Peninsula. the weather decided our first landing point and Arctowski lay on the sheltered side of the island. it had been too late within the evening to travel to rock bottom, so instead, we strolled along the beach. there are penguins everywhere: Gentoo, Adélie and chinstraps slipping in and out of the water and waddling up the beach to their rocky nests.
Further on from our landing point, crabeater and elephant seals lounged onshore catching au courant some much-needed rest after days stumped. a particular air of delight prevailed, and even those still feeling delicate from the crossing quickly picked up.
My first proper step on this long-awaited journey was along the long quay that juts out from Ushuaia kind of a crooked finger. I saw there are several ships in dock, one of which was a huge red and white icebreaker called the Explorer that carried 600 approximately passengers. Next thereto was an honest bigger liner flying a Norwegian flag. But the thought of being on a ship that size really didn’t appeal.
This was the absolute best, coldest, driest, windiest continent on earth, and I’d travelled half the earth to be here. I wanted to desire I wont to be an explorer and absorb everything the continent had to provide.
On the other hand, shore arrivals from these immense traveller liners are for all intents and purposes incomprehensible. Under the willful guidelines by which all Antarctic visit administrators work, just 100 individuals are frequently put shorewards at some random time. These boats are on exceptionally close calendars, and to dump 1500 roughly travellers aground, even just for 60 minutes, would assume control more than 24 hours of relentless exchanges.
The little boat taking me to Antarctica was known as the Akademik Boris Petrov. Locally available was a lasting Russian team of 35, 11 undertaking staff, and less than 40 travellers. Our lodges were not much, however astoundingly agreeable: large enough for two, with numerous spaces to stow the entirety of your apparatus.
The ship was named after a Russian space scientist which I couldn’t help but wonder what Antarctica might appear as if viewed from space. One astronaut had said ‘Antarctica radiates light kind of an excellent lantern across the lowest of the world’, which boded well for the trip. The cool refreshing air of the Beagle Channel heightened my anticipation further as I stood on deck for the post-dinner lifeboat drill. Somewhere southward lay my destination: the Antarctic Peninsula and thus the South Shetland.
The Drake Passage could also be a notorious stretch of open water between South America and Antarctica. it is a bleak, miserable place affected by fierce winds and turbulent seas; an unforgiving environment that has been a match for several a fine sailor. I wont to make certain that crossing one of the roughest stretches of the ocean within the planet would mean two days of utmost discomfort. I wasn’t wrong.
As I discovered on the first morning, the old sailors’ adage about keeping ‘one hand for yourself and one for the ship’ particularly applied within the toilet, and truly it had been only after a seated shower that I made it to breakfast. Many others didn’t though; it seemed that the Drake was claiming its first victims. People did start to emerge from their cabins once we reached calmer waters on the third morning stumped, though some still looked slightly pale.
Spirits were raised with the joys of the first iceberg sighting. Everyone was soon out on deck finding out signs of land and keeping their eyes open for the tell-tale spout of a whale. Antarctica was so close you’ll smell it.
Soon we were actually there, among the Gentoo and thus the chinstraps, and sailing from one coastal inlet to a special. Our enthusiasm for Antarctica and thus the wildlife was maintained – against the probabilities of mundane shipboard life – by fascinating lectures from the staff, which kept us going between the daily landings. On most days we made two landings, though aged shore wasn’t an easy task.
Secured at the highest of the long and shaky aluminium gangway, the Zodiacs would bob around like corks during a pond if there was any quite sea swell. Fortunately for all concerned, a strapping Russian sailor called Sasha was stationed at the highest of the gangway and had a firm grip on everything. With the Zodiac skipper strategically positioned on-board, getting into the boats was slightly less precarious than it looked.
The size of our group meant these operations were completed quite quickly, and also lessened the impact we had on the environment. Our guides saw thereto that we observed the principles – designed to protect the wildlife – that governed our on-shore activities.
Landings were always a pleasing mixture of very noisy penguin colonies, raucous blue-eyed cormorant rookeries and haulouts populated by grumbling seals. Guided walks were an option on most landings, but I found nothing more enjoyable than simply sitting and watching penguins going about their daily business completely unperturbed by my presence.
Whale sightings were a common and superb joy. We even had minke we nicknamed Milton play with the Zodiacs at some point. He swam around and under the boats rolling on his side to urge a much better inspect us all. Sadly, the massive herds of whales found in Antarctica 100 and more years ago have all gone. The sealers, and thus the whalers responsible for this extermination, caused a specific amount of environmental damage, but even the more modern commercial operations left vast amounts of junk behind.
Now that Antarctica was beginning to become something of a tourist destination, i wont to be keen to hunt out what impact my rubber boots, et al. before me, had on the flora and fauna during this virtually undisturbed environment.
Rod Downie is that the environmental manager at Port Lockroy for British Antarctic Survey’s Environmental Section. His main job is to review the results visitors wear breeding penguin populations, but Rod also acts as postman, cook and does slightly of educational guiding on the side. He shares his little island paradise with station head and museum curator Dave Birkitt, also like a couple of thousand penguins.
But the visitors necessary for the study meant it couldn’t are too lonely – as Rod said, “We have seen 53 ships so far this season, which equates to about 35 to 55 visitors each day approximately .” He explained how the penguins were monitored: “I’ve two separate colonies of birds for the study. the planet around the buildings is allowed human intrusion, if for no other reason than the actual fact that the two folks live here.”
Turning around, he acknowledged the other colony, further afield and completely free from interference. “Figures so far show that both the populations are on the increase which there is no perceivable difference in either group’s breeding success or that there is any variation in stress levels related to human visitation between either of the two colonies,” he explained. “It seems the only thing affecting either population is that the natural fluctuations within the food resources of the penguins.”
I asked Rod how he got on with the penguins, “They’re slight of a haul if you’re sweeping the bottom and you happen to travel away from the door open. The young chicks are so curious that they’re available inside the house then they take forever to shuffle outside again.”
I could see his point. one of the great things about visiting penguin colonies within the Antarctic is that, although you’ll know that you’re not allowed to within ten metres of the wildlife, the penguins don’t. They seemed completely unconcerned by us humans, and if you sit down quietly and wait patiently, they only waddle right up to you to determine what you’re all about. It’s one of the foremost amazing experiences I even have ever had – though there was better yet to return.
Ships, even small ones, aren’t the place to urge away from it all. There’s always someone to talk to – the bridge, as an example, which was freely hospitable the passengers most of the time, always seemed to have someone watching out for whales. Meals are communal and rooms are shared. Even out on the deck, you’ve to balance the need for solitude with the bracing effects of the Antarctic weather.
I managed to understand complete solitude at some point once we went sea-kayaking in and around the mini bergs and sea ice of Orne Harbour. Paddling in break ice has something magical about it. I felt as if I wont to be during an enormous blue-green cocktail, bobbing around amongst the ice cubes. the only sound was the tiny chunks of ice scraping and bouncing along the underside of the kayak.
At one point I ended paddling and quietly sat alone within the centre of the vast expanse of water, taking within the scenery. The temperature was barely above freezing which I used to be surrounded by glaciers and thousand-metre-high mountains. the ocean was dead calm and my only company was alone, yet curious, crabeater seal doping up on one side of me for a look, then diving and resurfacing on the other.
The support boat had seen me sitting so still they thought something was wrong and came to research. The state of euphoria I wont to be in at that moment was sadly broken by their interest in my welfare. The knowledge of where I was; the sense of being alone during this magnificent wilderness; was as near as possible to what I’d call absolute bliss. I never did manage to urge that feeling back.
During the voyage, I want to observe the series the BBC made on Antarctica, Life within the Freezer. it had been great to relive so vividly each evening all that I had seen during the day. As we headed out into the Drake Passage another time on our last night in Antarctica, we saw the last word episode.
Sir David Attenborough’s closing comments summed up my feelings about the continent perfectly: “At a time when it’s possible for 30 people to face on the very best of Everest in at some point, Antarctica still remains a far off, lonely and desolate continent. a neighbourhood where it’s possible to determine the splendours and immensities of the wildlife at its most dramatic, and what’s more witness them almost exactly as they were long, long before citizenry ever arrived on the surface of this planet. Long may it remain so.”