I’m being a spoiler, but I did return alive from a month in Antarctica and Argentina. I was not eaten by a Leopard Seal, or crushed by an iceberg or dehydrated to death by seasickness (although that was touch and go for a few days). I wrote a half-dozen posts while at sea on the Ocean Tramp (www.quixoteexpeditions.com), and I figure the best way to tell the story is to post them, one day at a time. So here goes:
At dinner, the night before we sailed, some guy who’s drinking by himself at the table next to us leans over and asks if we’re going to Antarctica the next day. We say yes. He says, “I think we’re on the same boat.” We look at him like he’s a lunatic or a psychic (or both), but he’s neither. And he’s right about being on the same boat. Adam is from Rhode Island and quit his job to try to see all the countries in the world. In year two, he’s on number 40, and just on this day, he joined in on the Ocean Tramp adventure. I’m so glad he did. He has that adventurous spirit and spontaneous nature that is rare and much-appreciated by me. Potentially dangerous company.
The next morning, we rendez vous’d at the Ocean Tramp, home for the next 25 days. I already love our little group. Besides Heike and me; there’s Adam; Annie from Tasmania, a biologist who hopes to captain her own sailboat one day; Katherine from South Africa, Donna and Meryl, a grandmother and granddaughter from California; Miguel from Ushuaia, who wants to race his dogs in the Iditarod and who’s our cook (LOVE him!), Bertrand from France, our guest scientist who brought 50 pounds of dried krill along for his study on whether whales can smell or taste, and Laura and Fede, our expedition leader and captain. After stops at the Coast Guard and Immigration stations, we are ready to sail. The adventure is about to begin. I can hardly stand it. #Live Fearlessly.
The Dreaded Drake 12/19
It took me a couple of days to recover from our three and a half days on the dreaded Drake Passage. We hit it almost immediately after getting out of the lovely, calm Beagle Channel. The Drake is the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, where they meet the Southern Ocean. Basically, you have water from two oceans squeezing through the passage, creating, as Donna described it, the feeling of the wash and spin cycles of a commercial washing machine. At the same time. For nearly four days. I’ve had more awesome stretches of life.
I had done pretty much everything possible to combat seasickness. Motion sickness is familiar to me. As a kid, I tossed my cookies in most of the family vehicles at one time or another. So to prepare for the Drake, I did hypnotherapy and acupuncture; I have the seasickness patch, Zofran, bracelets with the pressure points, even a couple of homeopathic remedies going on. Collectively, they worked for about 18 hours. Then, I was down for the count. Flattened. Sick as a dog (where does this saying come from, anyway?). Take your pick. We took 2-hour turns in the wheelhouse, steering and watching for icebergs and other vessels. I had to skip almost all of mine, as I couldn’t see the wheelhouse from my bunk with my eyes closed. Not only didn’t the patch work, it made me hallucinate and gave me insane dreams.There weren’t really any long periods of passing out though, because every big roll to starboard sent me dangerously close to the edge of my bed and the floor, which was a long way from the top bunk. More than once, I woke up just in time to jam my feet on to the ceiling to save myself. It was a long night into day into night into day into night into day. Not that I could tell any difference between them. We have about two hours of darkness a day, which is actually pretty cool, though disorienting.
When the swells shrank, the edges of the incredible Antarctic beauty we are about to experience began to emerge. Peele’s dolphins escorted us for hours. A seal popped his head up to say hello, and all kinds of birds swooped around us, even though we were hundreds of miles away from land. It was other-worldly.
The first penguins we encountered were playing on a giant iceberg. We were giddy with seeing seven… SEVEN little guys playing and sliding around. We had no idea what was coming. We would soon be delirious with penguin proliferation. For the time being, I was delirious at solid food from Miguel. Apple pancakes and coffee from a French press. Things started looking up after I finally got up.
Our first anchorage was in Potter’s Cove, on King George Island. This is part of the South Shetland Islands. There’s an Argentinian Research Station, Carlini Base, there and an Argentinian Navy ship anchored in the bay. Both extended invitations to visit, which we did. Our tour of the research station was interesting. Their mission is to take samples of water, algae, and soil from underwater to measure changes over the years. They’re here in 12-month stints, which seems like a long time, even though there are elephant seals and penguins and a glacier to watch. Everyone seemed dedicated to their task at hand, though, and mighty happy to see us. I don’t think they get many visitors.
The Navy ship is anchored in the Bay, just standing by to help anyone who needs it, if I understood correctly. The Argentinian Navy just bought the ship from Russia. It’s 30 years old, and apparently quite an upgrade from the ship they had before. I’m not sure which country got the better end of that deal. Anyway, the crew was proud to show us around and let us take as many pictures as we wanted.
It’s hard to keep track of time here, and it just keeps slipping away. It was after ten by the time we sat down to dinner and nearly midnight before I cashed in. This is a whole new world beyond my imagination. More proof that you have to take the leap and take the risk and get out there to experience angles of life you didn’t know exist. As Adam says, “You can’t shoot a moose in the lodge.” Get out there!
Wait til you see what we saw, in my next post.