What do you do in Antarctica?
That depends who you are, of course.
We were the lowest of all creatures, tourists.
Or as Tim preferred to be called “travellers”.
Our 1984 cruise proceeded in reverse order to the 1981 cruise, so leaving Punta Arenas, at the tip of South America, we sailed down the Beagle Channel and past Cape Horn.
In 1981, the World Discoverer had the distinction of being the first passenger ship to voluntarily land passengers at Cape Horn!
We were fortunate with the weather, and the rubber boats were able to get us safely ashore for a photo op! For reasons of foolish sentimentality, I was wearing my BA scarf. I think the idea was that I should fly the flag.
In 1984, we did not stop at Cape Horn, but launched straight into the dreaded Drake Passage which lays even seasoned sailors low.
Tim, seen here “having a minute”, discovered the perfect antidote to sea-sickness. That first night as the ship began to pitch and sway, he proceeded to the bar and ordered Bar Man’s Iced Tea. I think there is a Long Island version of this beverage which no doubt has the same effect.
Before long our Tim slid off his bar stool and clambered unsteadily down to our cabin where he lay prone for the next 12 hours by which time we had traversed the worst part of the passage. He then awoke feeling just fine.
Two of the others in our happy group proved to be excellent sailors and while most people lay moaning in their bunks, they ate their way through the extra entrees in the dining room!
I maintained a low profile. I found that keeping one’s eye on the horizon helped, and for some reason eating peanuts. I think I also took dramamine. Some people wore patches behind the ear. One way and another, we got through.
And then you wake up to this:
But no photograph can capture it, certainly not mine. The absolute stunning, aweful, sheer amazingness of it. A World of whiteness and jagged mountain peaks. It was cold, but not that cold, and who cared! Tim wanted Wagnerian opera, though this would likely not have been universally well received. But it was that grand.
At King George Island, we visited the Polish Research Station Arctowski. Typically, I was more interested in the wildlife.
Next we proceeded to Nelson Island which was a bit wet and rather chilly, but very full of penguins.
After Nelson Island, we entered the Lemaire Channel where we eventually arrived at:
Named after a barmaid from Candide, apparently.
We then came to the utterly astounding and aptly named Paradise Bay:
Gentoo Penguins, Paradise Bay:
You always know if you are near a penguin rookery, by the smell.
In 1981, we had stopped at the Argentine Station Almirante Brown and had been welcomed as the first tourists of the season with a fantastic barbecue.
Sadly on 12 April 1984, the station was burned down by the station doctor who had been ordered to stay over winter.
Fire is a dreaded thing in the Antarctic as the air is very dry and fire spreads rapidly. Once your station is gone, there’s nowhere much to go.
The station staff were rescued by USS Hero and taken to US Palmer Station.
Speaking of which, although technically, we didn’t get there yet:
Leaving Paradise Bay, we arrived at a wonderful place called Paulet Island. Some of us went ashore at 11 pm and it was still broad daylight. It was very special. Next day we landed again.
We proceeded then to Hope Bay where we intended to land at the Argentine Station Esperanza, but we came up against inclement weather. We saw a lot of icebergs, but of Esperanza…
Esperanza lay behind that ice sheet, but they told us it was too windy for us to land safely, so we carried on and ended up at Elephant Island, quite the most desolate place I have ever been:
When Ernest Shackleton’s ship the Endurance was stranded in the Antarctic ice in 1915, he was forced to take to the lifeboats. When they finally got to the open sea, they were able to navigate to Elephant Island, after 497 days on ice and sea.
Sir Ernest then undertook to sail 800 miles in the twenty-two and a half foot long lifeboat James Caird with 5 other men, in an attempt to reach South Georgia where they would get help for the remaining men. Sir Ernest wrote:
“The tale of the next sixteen days is one of supreme strife amid heaving waters”
The men who remained on Elephant Island spent the next four and a half months doing whatever they could, to survive in a stark wilderness, motivated by their faith in their leader.
The Endurance story was presented at the Natural History Museum in New York, in 1998 and having read the book, it made a profound impression on me. How brave were those men, how determined and what a leader was Sir Ernest.?
Where is this quality of men now?