Neither rain, nor sleet, nor blowing snow…

Originally posted by Linda Lou Burton December 27, 2005 from Port Lockroy, Goudier Island and Neko Harbour, Andvord Bay, Antarctica – Today was a little bit boring, actually. Well, except for Mother Nature and her whims. She kept our leader on his toes! The sun was hidden by low clouds and blowing snow for our breakfast view, but the winds were not too strong for a landing at Port Lockroy.

“Group 3 proceed to the Departure Deck,” was the first announcement. I could see a tiny building perched on the rock ahead, Base A, the handout said, on Goudier Island. The building housed a museum and post office, managed by Antarctic Heritage Trust as a historical site. I’d already handed over the postcards I wanted to mail, our Purser would make sure to deliver them for the precious stamp “Antarctica.” Nine postcards for me, $2.00 each. From the ship a total of 1,800 postcards were presented – a good day for the southernmost post office in the world! No automation there; hand canceled, each. Expect them to be delivered by Eastertime, we were told.

I watched the PolarCirkels back and forth, snow flurrying around, but most folks, like me, settled with their books, and cameras, content to stay aboard. It was good our group was small, Goudier Island is very tiny and half of it is off limits as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Too many tourists! There is a study now to see how visitors affect the nesting penguins. On one side tourists are allowed, the other, no.

Another announcement. “If you please to use your credit card in the gift shop on shore, you will buy the minimum of $100. Otherwise take cash.” I thought of Christmas sales back home. Shopping! Not for me. Soon everyone was back, and lunch was served.

Our leader Ian had raved about LeMaire Channel for days. He put this on our handout for 14:30 today, our approximate arrival time: First sighted by Dallman in 1873 and then charted and traversed in 1898 by Adrien de Gerlache who named it for Charles LeMaire, a fellow Belgian who explored the Congo. (?? My thought – what has that to do?) The steep cliffs and glaciers of Booth Island to one side mirror the opposite shores of the Antarctic Peninsula. So much film is exposed in the area of the LeMaire that it is known by expedition staff as “Kodak Crack” or “Fujifilm Gap.”

In my Lonely Planet book is this: This steep-sided channel – just 1,600 mm wide – runs for 11 km between the mountains of Booth Island and the Peninsula. The passageway is only visible once you’re nearly inside. Unfortunately, ice sometimes blocks the way, so ships may be forced to retreat and sail around Booth Island. At the northern end of the channel are two tall, rounded, and often snowcapped peaks at Cape Renard.

What do you think happened to us today? What? What? On this day of blowing snow and fog? Aha! You guessed! Mother Nature sent Ian scurrying back to his planning board. ICE BLOCKED OUR WAY! We could not enter LeMaire Channel.

I think this was our most excitement yet. Everyone gathered in Torghatten Salong as we approached, cameras in hand. We ran to one side, then the other, as icebergs scraped against the ship with crunching noise. Closer, closer, but plain to see. Ice everywhere ahead. Announcement. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we must turn the ship around.” Slowly we began to spin, floating in a pot of iceberg soup. The cameras clicked.

“We’ll go instead to Andvord Bay,” Ian announced, ten minutes later, “we’ll stop in Neko Harbour, an incredibly beautiful spot.” The pepping up, all part of the job. No disappointment, just a switch. Plan B.

At 5 PM (excuse me, 17:00) the PolarCirkels were ready, the Hardy Bunch began to go ashore. I watched from my warm spot, a funny sight. Through the camera zoom I saw a procession of blue on the snow, walking up the hill; and right beside, a shorter procession of black and white. Big human arms swinging back and forth, little penguin arms flapping, what a sight. It made me laugh.

The blue boobies (sorry, I think that would be the Galapagos), the blue PROCESSION in their Voyage of Discovery Antarctica jackets climbed to the top of the snow mountain, looked like little ants, plodding to the top, then rolling down, tumbling over in the snow. The penguins, meanwhile, kept feeding chicks, an ordinary day.

Dinnertime for us. Filipino night, in honor of our housekeeping crew. Lumpia! Pancit! Chicken with pineapple (they called it sweet and sour); exquisite flan. I am very happy and I eat too much. Bedtime and I’m stuffed.

Announcement on the intercom: Four whales are swimming on Port Side, if you want to come and see. I threw on sweatpants, sweater, slung the door-card around my neck, both cameras in my hand, no shoes, just socks. Please believe, I saw the whales. Thirty minutes of video, you see the waves, a spout of water, a gentle rise, the flip of tail, the whale is gone. A whale’s lung capacity is large, very large. They do not come up again for many, many minutes. No use, I thought, to try the still camera, I’d never get the timing right. Pamela watched, tried, John had his nose pressed against the window, we waited, another sighting, gone again.

I live near whales! One day I’ll take the charter boat and see the Orcas, Puget Sound. But now I’m in Gerlache Strait, with whales and icebergs floating by.

Did I say this was a boring day?