03 October 2007

The Drake Passage

Or as I'll think of it from now on, the "Straits of Insanity". We had a really rough trip across the Drake, but we made it back to Puenta Arenas on Saturday, October 1st, after staying in the harbor in a holding pattern, unable to dock due to high winds. We finally got off the ship at 7:00 that evening after being checked through Chilean customs. After a night on the town, most of us got on planes the next day to go home to friends and loved ones. Below are a few notes I made during the voyage, but by day two of the trip I was too busy trying not to fall over to write much. No seasickness for me, but I'm still feeling "dock rock" after being off the ship for four days. Oh, and I got my finger fractured after being attacked by a 45 degree couch in the ship's lounge. I'm now back in California, enjoying some some rest and vacation, and looking forward to catching up with everyone.

24 September 2007-Aboard the LMG:

My fellow winter-overs and I left Palmer Station via Zodiac last night and spent the night aboard the LMG. This morning we all had breakfast, and then the ship went close to the Palmer pier so that our friends from the summer crew could do the traditional Polar Plunge as each boat leaves station. Lots of jumpers this time, including winter-over Station Manager Eric, who has to stay behind and help train the new Station Admin., Chris.

The forecast for our crossing of the Drake is bad. Definitely going to have a rough crossing, but since I’ve usually had easy crossings, I’m up for it. We may make a stop at Deception Island on the way home if we’re able to get to Neptune’s Bellows, (pictured left) the entrance to the harbor.

25 September 2007-Aboard the LMG

It’s going to be a really rough crossing. We’re not even to the Drake yet, and already the waves are above 5 meters. The weather forecaster for our voyage back in South Carolina says that it’s “definitely going to be a rough crossing”. Happily, we stopped at Deception Island for about an hour today. This island is actually an active volcano, or, a “restless caldera”. It’s the only volcano in the world that you can pilot a vessel into. The island has a long history of human activity since 1820 including exploration, sealing, whaling, aviation, and scientific research. The entrance to the caldera is a 500 meter wide channel called Neptune’s Bellows, and it can be treacherous to navigate. A cruise ship ran aground there last year. We made it through the Bellows into Whaler’s Bay, which contains numerous ruins of historical significance. The Norwegian whaling station Hektor was founded there in 1912 and abandoned in 1931. In 1928 the Australian Sir Hubert Wilkins and the Canadian Carl Ben Eileson undertook the first powered flight in the Antarctic, taking off from the flat beach at Whaler’s Bay. In addition there is a small cemetery used by the whalers, and most interesting, an airplane hangar built on the site by the British in WWII as part of a top secret operation known as “Operation Tabarin”, an effort to combat Nazi warships that were attacking and capturing Norwegian whaling vessels. As part of Operation Tabarin, the British established a permanent base in Whalers Bay, “Base B” in 1943. Operation Tabarin was terminated in 1945, and Base B was turned over to the organization that later became the British Antarctic Survey. The station was abandoned in 1970 when the volcano erupted and destroyed much of the site.

After the LMG got situated in Whaler’s Bay, we launched a Zodiac, and most of the people on board got taxied to the landing on the beach, and we all walked around the ruins for an hour or so as the weather began to deteriorate. In 1969-70, numerous eruptions occurred in the caldera, and the British base was abandoned, and some of the buildings were destroyed. It was amazing to walk around and see a bit of Antarctic history. Just as we arrived a small group of Gentoo penguins was arising out of the water as if to greet us. They walked up onto the shore about 100 meters or so to lie down for a break. We also sighted one emaciated looking fur seal sleeping under the hull of an abandoned whaling ship, and one indifferent immature elephant seal. We left just as the weather took a turn for the worse, and carried on into the Drake.


26 September 2007- on board the LMG

The weather forecaster was right. We are getting into some rough ocean. Today at lunch the captain of the LMG got up from the table and said, “well, lets go get our asses kicked” as he proceeded to the bridge. He wasn’t kidding. The waves are anywhere from 5-10 meters, making it difficult to walk around, or sit down, for that matter.

1 comment:

Suz said...

Dave - been following your blog for a few weeks. Great to hear about your latest Antarctic adventure! Enjoy your reunion with all in California. - Suzanne (W/O 96-97 McMurdo)