Danger at every turn
The stormy weather had finally subsided; it was a beautiful
sunny morning. The
M/V Ushuaia was now 60 miles southeast of Greenwich Island
Astrolabe Island. Everyone piled into the zodiac boats to
circumnavigate the island. Engulfed with so much sunshine and
blue sky while at the same time being surrounded by pack ice,
icebergs, and freezing cold air felt dreamlike. Many penguins,
in the water and on the island, offered greetings as the boatman
steered the tiny rubber boat in and out of very tight nooks and
crannies making up the shoreline. Penguins are amazing as they
can leap out of the water up 6 foot cliffs at the water's edge
to get to their rookeries.
Close up with the pack ice
It was a very different experience seeing pack ice up close and personal
in a zodiac than from the bridge of the ship. Unworldly ice sculptures
floating in blue, green, and turquoise waters made up the scene. The sun
shone brightly while the cold seeped into our bones from the frozen world.
Just as the cold began to overwhelm us the boatman returned to the ship.
After lunch the ship sailed south to get in position for a landing on the
Antarctic mainland. The captain tried a route that went close to the
mainland, but he had to turn back due to the unexpected thickness of the
pack ice. It was a "Shackleton" summer which made the weather unusually
cold. This meant turning northwest until the captain could find clear waters
before turning south again. However, the new course put us back in the open
sea and it was rough out there. Mostly everyone was ill.
A frozen and icy world
I watched icebergs of all shapes, sizes, and colors sail by my small
porthole. When a berg would hit the side of the ship it made a loud scraping
sound as it dragged along the hull. I got up at 11:30pm and went to the
bridge to see were we where and found that we were on schedule for arrival
at our planned southern destination. I went back to bed and slept well
cradled by pack ice, frozen islands, and the Antarctic continent.
We were woken from our slumbers by a message over the ship's intercom
system announcing that another tour ship was sinking and had put its
passengers overboard in life rafts. Our ship had turned north on a rescue
mission to pick up the survivors! I got dressed and headed upstairs to the
lounge were the other passengers were abuzz with the news. None of us knew
much more than the message over the intercom so our imaginations ran wild.
We headed to breakfast where unsubstantiated stories ran rife.
The ill fated Explorer
The chief guide explained the situation to us. It turns out the tour ship
Explorer had struck an iceberg around 2:00am and was taking on water. The
captain of the Explorer had decided to abandon ship and so the crew and
passengers were all onboard life rafts floating about near the South
Shetland Islands. After the Explorer made her May Day call all of the other
15 tour ships in the area turned and headed to its last known position.
Another ship arrived and rescued everyone while we were on our way. There
was no loss of life. The captain turned back to his original heading and
continued the trek south. This event brought home how remote and fragile we
are in Antarctica.
The weather turned bad again and made it impossible to stop at the first
planned destination. The captain contined south. The sturdy ship made it to
Gerlache Strait and then turned in towards the Antarctic continent. The
weather did not clear up, it kept snowing all day. But, the wind did die
down a little bit offering some relief from the massive seas.
Cuverville Island everyone disembarked to explore the spectacular place
and its many penguin rookeries. The normal landing site was the main beach.
Thick and piled up pack ice forced a landing on another smaller beach. Heavy
snow kept falling, which made the surroundings feel tranquil. Unbeknown to
the boatmen pack ice was freezing in while everyone toured. Ice sheets
blocked the way when it came time to return to the ship. The crew used an
empty zodiac to chop an opening in it. We returned to the ship safe and glad
to be onboard. What an unexpected and worrying adventure this was.
Join me on the next part of this Antarctic adventure.