Antarctica Adventures: Any Port In A Snowstorm

Antarctica Adventures: Any Port In A Snowstorm

Date – 10th November 2010

Time – All Day
Position – 65o 10′ S
Geographic Location at start of Day – Lemaire Channel
Geographic Location at end of Day – Port Lockroy
Weather Conditions – Misty, Foggy, Icy
Wind – Not too bad, yet boat rocking

They said it was bound to happen in the Antarctic, and though it didn’t feel great to have a “more boring” day, we were literally frozen out, basically we were caught up in a snow storm which halted our progress on the fifth day of the trip. On reflection it was OK, and all part of the fun though. Life will have ups and downs, and this was the “down” day on the boat, which was easily over shadowed by the quantity and quality of the “ups”.

We all got up early on this particular day expecting an action packed day of touring round yet another part of the Antarctic Peninsula. Initially we were heading south, having spent the previous evening in the Neumayer Channel, near Anvers island.

The plan was to have a zodiac cruise and potential landing on Pleneau Island in the morning, and then a visit to Petermann Island in the afternoon. From a personal point of view I had also hoped to visit the British Base at Port Lockroy, which was no longer active as a research station, but had a post office, a gift shop, a museum and was a historic location in Antarctic history.

However at 7am there was heavy snow everywhere. breakfast was spent staring out at a nothingness of white. We were docked somewhere near Port Lockroy as it happened, but didn’t stop there, instead we moved on. This made me think we wouldn’t ever get our stop at Port Lockroy.

After a full breakfast, we entered the Lemaire Channel at 9.20 am and it was a wee bit rocky, and very unclear in front of us. There was a lot of pack ice in sight, but I always felt it would clear and we would be pretty far south for the next landing.

By 10.10 am the expedition had made an announcement which brought bad news to us all and that the morning Zodiac cruise was cancelled due to the abverse weather conditions. Only to be expected in the continent of extremes I guess.

We entered Playmore Bay near Mount Scott off the Antarctic Peninsula. A mountain sharing my middle name, of course named after Brit Robert Scott, the second man to have reached the South Pole and the heroic courageous man who died on his way back from the extreme southern tip of the planet.

I enjoyed some hot chocolate mid morning and relaxed to update my notes. I spoke with Josephine from Pennsylvania who wanted to copy some of my notes on the trip.

We were meant to have two separate Zodiac groups heading out on a cruise but the pack ice was too deep so the morning became boring and we would not be going to Pleneau Island.

Still I enjoyed chatting to George and Valerian out on deck and mingling with the snowman which some of the crew had built on the aft deck of the boat. 

We took it in turns to enjoy the snowstorm out on deck and it was particularly refreshing and I felt it was very nice on the skin. The snowman there!

A 10.45 am we instead got a photography lecture from Frank S. Todd, our onboard “Penguin Expert” however I fell asleep during the lecture and was a bit disappointed that not more exciting on board activities had been planed when the exciting outdoor adventure for the morning had been cancelled.

The snow storm, visibility and water conditions deteriorated the further south we got, and lunchtime at the table meant the discussion was a kind of “will we” or “won’t we” land today on Antarctica. By 2 pm we were in deeper ice packs and it felt like there was no way to board the Zodiacs and make a landing. So right enough the announcement came that we would have to cancel our afternoon activity as well. This, in fact was very depressing at the time, especially after the highs of Cuverville the previous day.

But now when I look back, it was just a typical day in Antarctica, and the cruise I had booked contained an extra two days in the cold continent, I basically stroked one of them off on this particular day as we didn’t step foot on Antarctica itself. 

Though the day itself gave us a real flavour of the weather conditions there. Unpredictable to say the least and we respected the crew’s decisions that we were unable to land on Petermann Island as well.

We were given a lecture instead by John Kernan, on underwater Antarctica which I didn’t fall asleep during and in fact I milked the free hot chocolate a few times that day.

By mid afternoon there were two main announcements from Julio, the expedition leader. The first was to tell us that we would have to turn around and head north again.

This meant that at a position of 65o 10′ S this would be the furthest south we got, and I could stare south knowing that down there somewhere was the South Pole and the proper end of planet earth.

As far south as my Northern Ireland flag has ever been!

The second announcement was at this very south point, where we were alerted there is a leopard seal, nestled on a piece of floating ice just off the coast of Petermann Island, and also to tell us that there was no chance of a visit to the Ukranian Vernadski Station.

Close up of the seal.

This is as far south as we got, and we soon turned around. All we could see there was more floating ice, that lonely leopard seal and also an Argentine Research Station. 

Argentina have a lot of stations, this was merely one of them.

So we were now heading north again and back up the Lemaire Channel towards Wiencke Island. I then fell asleep during a documentary about Whales and Dolphins, given by Frank S. Todd.

A lucky Irish shamrock sweet from Rhona O’Connor to brighten the doom and gloom of a day with no more landings. I liked that Irish spirit. Thanks Rhona.

After that the evening got a wee bit more exciting after such a boring day – my worst day in Antarctica. Most of us were a bit pissed off not just by the fact we didn’t land in Antarctica that day, but also by the poor choice (or lack) of activities on board from the Expedition Team. At least if we didn’t get off the boat we could have done something constructive, like each person could have been able to do a short presentation on a subject of their choice, or even in groups, or even group board games such as monopoly. Instead I kept myself amused by staring out at the snowy conditions, falling asleep in boring lectures, trying to keep my notes and blog up to date and by drinking a lot of hot chocolate.

By 6 pm the mood had changed slightly as Happy Hour began in the Lounge Bar. Around the same time, came the news that we had gotten as far north as Port Lockroy and were indeed docking there. The realisation that we were near Port Lockroy led me to think of the phrase “any port in a storm”, but with two twists. The first twist that originally I had thought that phrase referred to the drink “Port” and the second that it wasn’t a storm, but a snow storm.

I went straight to the bar and ordered a $3 Port (all drinks are $3 during Happy Hour on the boat), and there I had it – my “Port” in a storm, and actually the first time I had drank Port since sipping it with Noemi in February 2009. This one was well needed and out the Port (ironic) side window we got our first glimpse of that little piece of British Antarctic History…Port Lockroy.

Sipping the Port suddenly made me feel better, then we got the news about an evening of a documentary on Port Lockroy followed by an onboard visit from the British team at Port Lockroy. And the third bit of good news was that the next day we would have THREE landings, which in part would make up for the lack of landings today. One of those would be to Port Lockroy…

We watched a documentary called “Ice Cool Britannia” which focused on Gwion “Taff” Davies and the British History of Port Lockroy and its current restoration into a museum and popular visitor point in Antarctic. Plus the added bonus of being able to get an Antarctica Passport Stamp there, and send a postcard from the world’s southernmost public post office.

Dinner was even better, at our table of 6 we had the pleasure of being joined by the lovely Nikki Rickett, from England (Dorking in Surrey), one of the workers at Port Lockroy. It became a dinner of question time to Nikki and we were given a lot of information and facts about Port Lockroy.

Dinner included Antarctic mussels for starters, aubergine soup and lamb shanks. Gorgeous. 

I also asked Nikki about job opportunities at Port Lockroy and she revealed that you could apply for a job and you would need to spend 4 months of the year out in the cold of this little island. Port Lockroy is on Goudier Island. I hold that as an option for 2011, more a dream really.

After dinner there were speeches from Nikki Rickett and also Tudor Morgan, the two main British workers at Port Lockroy. I was already enthused and happy to be going there the next morning.

I asked them if any members of the Royal Family had ever been to Port Lockroy to which the answer was yes! Prince Philip in 1957 and Princess Anne in 2007. It is not a UK listed building in the same way that The Crown Bar or Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre are, but the Antarctic Treaty have it as number 61 on their list of historic monuments on the continent, so it will be preserved.

I went to bed pretty happy, docked off the coast of Goudier Island off the Neumayer Channel, with the British Port Lockroy one of three Antarctic landings we would make the following day. And a special day too – remembrance day.

Bar – Lounge Bar

Drink – Port

Weather – SnowstormKey Song – ACE OF BASE – DON’T TURN AROUND:






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