Monday, August 4, 2008

Antarctic Soil at Last!

We ended up going to neither Deception nor Elephant Islands as previously discussed. Our deserved and appreciated stop on Antarctic soil was in Potter Cove on King George Island. After the sampling madness at our last station B, the hoped for visit to the Antarctic continent became reality.
The gossip from a few days before somehow became reality. Lucky us! We did not make it to Deception Island since we passed by there around 6:00 am, in complete darkness and 35-knot winds which would have precluded zodiac boat operations. . “Ok, let’s steam a bit to the north and stop in King George Island” says Craig. “We will arrive there around noon so we will have some daylight hours to stretch our legs and do some sightseeing and a bit of exploring too." Uh oh! Time for gearing up! Mustang suits? That’s my call! They are the nice and warm orange suits that make you distinguishable from the whitish-snowy background from miles away. That was the main outfit chosen by our group. Some brought their backpacks with some snacks (cookies, orange juice, cereal bars, etc) and, of course, their digital cameras.

Potter Cove, on King George Island, is home to the Argentinean research base Jubanay as well as a few abandoned whaling stations, which were active in early-mid of 1900’s. Whalers hunted around the Antarctic Peninsula and use these islands for shelter and base camps. It is not rare to find huge whale skeletons lying almost intact on some of the Island beaches, scary ghosts of a period when whale hunting was a legal activity. We hope it stays that way, at least down here in Antarctic waters.

We filled two of our inflatable Zodiacs to accommodate our team of 31 avid explorers. Quite a few of them were first-time Antarctic travelers and some anxiety could be seen in some of their facial expressions. As we approached the landing spot in the west side of the bay we saw a bunch of Gentoo penguins concentrated in one corner. “Nice, we will be able to bring home those fantastic pictures very close to our buddies”. Besides, it was a quite unusual but pleasant sensation to sit in the snow for a while and to watch a few of them approaching you as if they are trying to scan you for that weird new smell or simply due to the brightness of that orange appearance. It was also incredibly to witness the penguins awkwardly waddle into the water and instantly transform into the most agile swimmers, zipping around and leaping from the water as fast as dolphins!

After spending some time with the penguins we decided to hike up the hill in a small gorge near our landing spot. It was quite steep as you can see in one of the pictures but almost everyone made all the way to the top. At the top was a great view of the whole Bay and then time for our group team photograph.

After sightseeing for a while and people sharing their amusement about the great views and already planning their hiking trails for our next trip in February, the background silence was suddenly interrupted: “Uh oh!!!” A loud and continuous scream was heard from not too far away. That was the signal for our sliding show to begin. One after another, we started to run downhill and jump butt first into the snow hoping to gain enough velocity, then losing grip with the ground and sliding downhill like human avalanches. Awesome! We were finally having our playground time after three weeks of intense work. We looked like children in kindergarten. We even had time for a few group slides. Check out the pictures.

After the snow sliding session we stopped for a few more pictures of our Gentoo friends and stepped once again into our inflatable boats now for a nice ride around the bay. Stian and Jack, our super trained pilots, taught the newer MT’s Joe and Eric how to drive in ice while giving us more sightseeing and also a wildlife entertainment show. While we were trying to break through brash ice near the Argentinean base, a leopard seal came up to our boats, checking to see if we would make a nice meal. Some of us, of course, were a bit scared since this animal has been known to attack zodiacs and kill drown a diver. Not this time though. The leopard seal kept checking on us for a while as if it was playing hide-and-seek, emerging and submerging under an ice flow. It would come nearby, swim below our boat and ended up near the stern were is nibbled at the propeller. This moment made the video makers’ dreams come true, and we have a couple of nice video clips to show for it.

That was a great day and we are thankful to everyone onboard who made it happen: the PI’s, all the Marine Technicians, the ship's crew, etc. It will certainly be a day to be remembered by everyone.

We had a nice break the night before to celebrate Christian’s 21th birthday. Welcome to adulthood, Christian!! We toasted with chocolate milk spiked with vanilla extract to add a little punch. Christian now is a big boy and deserves to celebrate this rite of passage! Cheering, their mugs full of wisdom’s liquid, our gang yelled: “Take another shot Christian, that’s on the Chief Scientist’s tab!!” Ahahaha!!! That was course a bit funny since we are not allowed to drink any alcoholic beverages aboard the ship. I guess the vanilla-flavored chocolate milk tasted like cognac for everyone …”Happy Birthday Christian”

Some people in the boat also would like to share some important dates with their family and friends:

Craig sends love and wishes a great birthday (July 30th) to his beautiful wife Melissa
Linda sends her husband a kiss for they 4-year anniversary (August the 1st)

Fabio wishes his mom a happy birthday (July 27th) and also send his best wishes for his cousin Andre who is getting married with the beautiful Ethiene (July the 26th): “Save a piece of the cake for me!!”

We are now steaming north back towards home, or more accurately, to Punta Arenas in Chile where we will pack samples in freezer boxes to ship them home and store all our equipment to get ready for the next cruise. We are looking forward to setting foot on land again, and will all be making a beeline for the coffee shops and stores as soon as we arrive. See you soon!


Anonymous said...

look like the expedition was a total success, in this case I can see the huge effort the entire crew putt to complete the object, tell me something, what specie of penguin is that? and you found >Canada Viagra in that place?

Maria said...


Maria said...

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