Friday, January 30, 2009

Xplore in Antarctica: 30 Jan 2009

Walking on sunshine The travels of anyone here in Antarctica is an achievement; but those who ventured here over 100 years ago did it with a dream, a goal and what they believed at the time was the latest technology and equipment. We look back at those brave, brave people with admiration -- and wonder how they survived. We also need to be pleased with what we achieve in this modern era, because the length of time that we have, and the locations we are able to visit in such a small space of time whilst surviving and enjoying the experience amongst such a harsh environment, can only be viewed as success. I am not trying to pat myself and my team on the back, but it is so easy to become blase' about adventuring here in the south, because the south and Antarctica hasn't changed like technology has. It is still the same as it has been for hundreds of years: ice, snow, wind and water all mixing and forming at below-zero temperatures. Xplore and the team have covered some miles since our last report ... no reports generally mean that we have been busy and haven't had a lot of time to sit back and reflect, and busy we have been! Since last reported, we left Enterprise Island on a low cloud morning with soft snow falling, carefully slipping through the waters of Wilhelmina Bay. Dodging the ice floes along the way we arrived at the island of Cuverville at the northern entrance of the Errera Channel. This was the first encounter that the team had with a large penguin colony and they certainly weren't disappointed. The clouds lifted and the sun nearly shone, and the wafting smells of the guano (penguin shit) invaded everyone's noses, placing a memory of scent in their brains that time will never remove ... We moved on later in the afternoon through the iceberg graveyard of the Errera Channel, which swings to the SW and opens the path to Paradise Harbour and Waterboat Point. I wanted to take the team there because it is one of the easier places to land on the mainland Antarctic continent. At Waterboat Point there is also a Chilean summer station and a healthy Gentoo penguin colony, and if the conditions are right (wind direction and ice) it is possible to anchor there for the night. With the afternoon sun dropping and cloud level increasing, we dropped anchor and landed the team there on the "Continent" official. The bay was crowded with icebergs and growlers so the decision was easy to make: this was going to be a very short stop as to remain for the night would mean a night of no sleep with bergs and ice banging against the hull. At 2145 we weighed anchor and set course for the Neumayer Channel, with our final destination being the English historic station of Port Lockroy. We arrived at 1am and completed a four-line tie in, in the back corner of the bay called Alice Creek. Tying in with four lines means that we find locations that are small enough for us to enter, have enough depth that we can float at low tide, but give us protection from the weather; and the shallowness of the sea bed stops any large ice bergs from floating in as they ground out before hitting the boat. It had been a long day and even the arrival drinks on deck were very short, everyone was tired, and the forecast was for a sunny morning with low wind -- something that doesn't happen very often in the south. The first rustles of activity happened at about 8.30am: the sound of the toilet flushing with the mechanical hand pump, and the click-click noise of the stove lighter as the first kettle of the day went onto the stove. Sunshine was streaming in through every hatch and window beckoning everyone from their warm duvets to dance in the warmth of the sunlight on deck -- magic !! Sunshine-y days in Antarctica are rare some years, but when they happen it washes away any memories of the cold, windy. low cloud and snowy days that can last for long periods. 'Like taking your hands out from a wet soggy glove and putting them next to a warm fire, the warmth and heat enters your soul, and its those times that you really know why you came on this adventure to the frozen continent at the end of the world. Like kids in a lolli shop the team was full of life, running to see what was over the next hill, rock, or around the corner to the next cove. Snow shoes were all taken, cameras clicking away as battery life couldn't survive the onslaught; damp clothes and bedding were strung out on deck like a Chinese laundry soaking up the rays of light. The calmness of the bay - which has Harbour Glacier fringing the edges - gave rise to the changing state of the glacier's movement: you could sit on deck and hear the creaking and groaning sounds of its movement towards the sea. All glaciers must eventually end up in the water ... it may take thousands of years, but the sea calls the ice to its shores, and today was one of those special days where large sections of glacier ice were being set free. Like gun shots within an amphitheatre, the ice giants tumbled like Jack and the Bean Stalk, they fell and crumbled and sent waves of smaller ice to every corner of the bay. More news to come ~ Stephen PHOTOS: RICHARD LARONDE

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