Welcome! Thank you for joining me, Sharon K. Schafer, on my journey to one of the most remote, beautiful, and truly wild places left on our planet: The Antarctic. I am an artist and naturalist from Nevada, USA who will be photographing, sketching, and journaling my experiences in Antarctica for two weeks in November 2007.

23 November 2007

Going Home

I apologize for the time break in filing the blog. Due to numerous unforeseen conditions I was unable to file until I returned home. You will understand once you read through the remaining entries.

20 NOV07
Reached Dallas-Fort Worth Texas airport in the USA about 0615 their time about an hour late after spending a restful 11 hours on the plane from Buenos Aires. There was no one in the seat next to me so I could lie down and really sleep. Stepped off the pane in Texas to humid air, overcast sky and a temperature of nearly 21C. We aren’t in the Antarctic anymore!

Wandered sadly through the lines as I presented my papers and was officially stamped and scanned recording my final arrival back into the country. A quick run through customs and I rechecked my bags. Found the skylink and made it to my connecting fight’s departure gate with plenty of time to spare.

I fussed with my computer on the hour wait. I kept reviewing the Antarctic images I had taken, Penguins in their snappy black and white outfits running along the edge of an ice cliff, crabeater seals swimming in the turquoise blue near the edge of an iceberg, emperor chicks playing on the ice, and stunning reflections at sunset in the Antarctic sound. Perhaps the most precious image that I looked at was one that that someone else took of me - there I was in all my gear laying on the sea ice shooting photos as a long line of emperors came tobogganing straight toward me. I’ll never forget it.

On the flight from Texas to Nevada we flew directly over the Grand Canyon. It was a reminder we also have some amazing places. The Colorado River appeared as a silver winding ribbon gradually carving one of the most spectacular places in the world. With any luck at all, I may be on a three-week row trip there in April.

I can’t wait.

I reached Boulder City by 1900 and I was home again in my beloved Mojave Desert. The next two weeks will be filled with hard work and long hours of preparation for my show The Art of Nature: Images from the wildlands of Southern Nevada at Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas opening 8Dec07.

But in those fleeting moments not consumed by work, during that coffee break and during the moments just before sleep. I will be remembering the Antarctic and its precious inhabitants. I will remember the amazing things I saw and I will be forever grateful for having the experience in the land of wondrous cold.

I suspect that each night, once I drop into the mystery of sleep, I will be dreaming Antarctic dreams.

19 NOV07
Reached the dock in Ushuaia sometime during the night so when I awoke and stumbled out to breakfast I could look out to Ushuaia's snow capped peaks. I ran around did the final things I needed to do, said goodbye and went down that gang for the last time in a long time. By 0800 I set foot on the pier and the dream was over. We had visited amazing places, seen things that few people are privileged enough to see, and we had experienced a bit of what the Drake can do. We all had returned relatively unscathed with enough memories for a lifetime.

Picked up my luggage loaded it on the bus for the airport with lots of time to spare. I reached the Ushuaia by 0930 and my plane wasn’t until 1300 so I felt relieved and relaxed. Searched around for Internet. No Internet access. Searched around for a phone and of the 5 phones in the airport not one worked. Perhaps I’ll file during my 5-hour layover in Buenos Aires. Wishful thinking.

The 1300 flight to Buenos Aires finally took off at nearly 1730. Since it was about a three-hour trip to Buenos Aires connecting with the American Airlines flight at 2025 had become a bit questionable. We made it in and ran an administrative gauntlet of gargantuan proportions. We raced around checking bags, getting boarding passes, paying departure taxes, customs, security twice, and any other absurd dance of the bureaucratic polka that we could do.

Sat down on the plane in my seat with 4 minutes to spare. Then we sat for another hour for some unknown reason. Didn’t matter. I was safely onboard ready for a 11 hour flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, USA.

18 NOV07
Awoke this morning to the ship rolling 25 degrees each direction. It made walking down the halls a sport.

Got into the lounge for breakfast. Just a few hardy souls had braved the rocking and rolling. The Lounge was on Deck 5. Throughout breakfast we had waves crashing on our windows. Entertaining. Nice ambience for a sea voyage.

I set up my computer so I could get some work done but also watch the storm. Just amazing! It was 30 foot seas and up to 75 mile per hour winds just on the other side of the porthole. They canceled the lecture and encouraged people to stay in their cabins. Often times the worst injuries that occur on trips like this are during a storm when things are rocking and rolling and people try to move about. The adage is one had for yourself and one for the ship.

I am generally not a good sailor but for some reason I was blessed with a solid stomach this time and was able to move about without a problem. We it was a bit difficult when I’d be walking down the hall at a 25 % grade and within a few second be walking up a grade at 25-30%. It was like a day long fun house ride.

The oceans were amazing. I spent much of my time at the porthole watching the force and fury of the storm. The Captain had put a fourth engine on line to try and beat the storm across the Drake. As furious as it seemed we were not in the thick of it only skirting the storms edge.

When it’s rocking and rolling they wet the table cloths with water to provide a bit more friction. Despite this, occasionally everything on the table went crashing to the floor. Entertaining.

Once rocking and rolling gets over 15-20% they close the bridge so today I am unable to get to the radio room to file this blog. Even if the room was open I doubt I would brave going up all those four flights of stairs to get there. I really would like to keep my neck unbroken.

Made a fast crossing of the Drake and entered the Beagle channel. The Beagle Channel, though protected, was very rough but far less so then the Drake itself. Spent the rest of the day pacing back and forth in the channel. The high winds prevented us from setting anchor and the only way to maintain position was to pace through the night.

The farewell dinner was manageable without dishes flying around. Nice

The pilot came on board at midnight to guide us through to the docks at Ushuaia.

17 Nov07
On the Drake again we are heading home. Right now the Drake is fine a bit of rolling but nothing too significant. Energy of the passengers is low. We all are a bit saddened that the trip is almost over. It has been an amazing time together.

I wandered through the lounge and people are glued to their laptops processing their pictures. A few are out on deck photographing the clouds of Cape petrels around the ship. Still others are up in the bridge staring at a gentle Drake. A few have started packing. The bar has a steady afternoon business.

The Captain put another engine on line and is trying to out run a nasty impending storm. His hope is to get us to the shelter of the Beagle Channel with time to spare. I think that’s a fine idea. I’d rather not face the wrath of the storm on the open sea. By tomorrow we’ll know how well we did.

15 November 2007

Lemaire Channel and Port Lockroy

LAT: 65° 05' South
LON: 64° 00' West
TEMP: -2°C
WIND: 10-15 knot from N

We traveled through the Gulf of Erebus and headed toward the Grearlache Strait. Weather has been a bit dubious, but we are trying to head through a series of wonderfully scenic narrow straits and channels that lies along the edge of the peninsula. If possible, as we pass Port Lockroy, we will stop and pick up someone that was stranded at the place.

Port Lockroy is maintained and staffed by the British Antarctic Heritage Trust. If you are interested in getting more information about them, please visit their Web site: www.ukaht.org/portlockroy.htm

The mission of the trust is to preserve British history in the region. They maintain and staff some of the historic outposts and buildings in the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic Region. They are a very small historic radio relay station at Port Lockroy that was a vital link in the allied communication system in World War II. They have refurbished the building and created a small museum and gift shop. It is the only such place along the Peninsula and perhaps in all of Antarctica.

The small wooden building is situated in the middle of a Gentoo Penguin rookery on a tiny rocky island. Black rock, ice, and Gentoo Penguins...and that is about all there is. No neighbors, TV, suburbs, or stray dogs. It is staffed during the late spring and summer by three hardy souls. No showers, limited fresh food, very cramped living accommodation. Must be an interesting life. When ships do visit the Lockroy, staff is usually brought back to the ship for a nice hot shower, a gourmet dinner, and conversation. Last year when I was there, the manager told me how they had to make sure the door was always kept closed otherwise the Gentoos would wander in. The Gentoos aren't always the cleanest house guests!

By the afternoon conditions had worsened. We now had low clouds rough seas, -10°C and roughly 70-mile-per-hour winds. When we reached Port Lockroy, conditions were just too radical to launch a zodiac to pick up the stranded person. How he got to be stranded there was never explained. He'll have to go a bit longer without a shower.

We made it through the Lemaire channel despite the rough conditions and approached the narrow Neumeyer Channel but could not enter it. Numerous icebergs blown in by the wind blocked the channel. Even the Kapitan Kehlebnikov has it limits. Regretfully we turned the ship around and headed to a sheltered place to spend the night. During the night the ship will constantly be moving. Its impossible to anchor a ship like the Kehlebnikov in high winds due to the ships 8-story high profile above deck. So during the night we will essentially pace back and forth thus holding our position.

Russian word for the day: Beautiful! Prykrasna!

14 November 2007

Erebus & Terror Gulf: Breaking Ice

LAT: 63° 44' South
LON: 57° 14' West
WIND: 10-15 knots

The icebreaker is working hard. Struggling it way through the pack ice of the Antarctic pack ice. We are using five engines and barely making progress. The ice is pushed to the side as we move crashing it way down the hull. On an icebreaker the living quarters look as though some one took a 10-story hotel down on top of the deck. The reason they do this is very apparent today. If they were below deck the noise would be intolerable.

At the briefing this morning we found out that there were seven Antarctic eco-tours stranded in the South Shetland Islands. Stranded sounds too dramatic. Actually they just cant go any farther. None of those ships were icebreakers, so because of the intense pack ice they were unable to complete most of their itinerary. Usually those trips go to Port Lockroy, through the Lemaire Channel, make a continental landing at Brown Bluff, and maybe a visit to a few other islands. We will have the continent to ourselves this time.

Last year the Antarctic Sound was almost all-open water. It's an amazing the difference. The ice is far worse then when we came through it originally. The winds blew a lot of the pack ice together and packed it into the sound, I think I already mentioned that this year there was more ice then any other year since 1971 when they started recording things. Today made that fact very clear. We would push as far as we could then back off and try again. We reached one really difficult narrow spot between an iceberg and an island. Normally as we push, the ice is able to move away from us, however this time the island and iceberg prevented that. We finally started up the 6th engine used the ships entire 24,000 horsepower to try to push our way through. For hours we were going very slow. If there had been solid ice or land along side we easily could have kept up with the progress of the ship it really was that slow.

The plan was to travel north through the Erebus & Terror Gulf and the Antarctic Sound and try to get to Brown Bluff on the tip of the Trinity Peninsula. If conditions allowed we would make a zodiac landing on the beach and step on to the actual continent of Antarctica for the first time this trip.

By 1200 we had Brown Bluff in sight, but it took another two hours to go the final nine nautical miles. Had a zodiac safety briefing at 1230. Basically zodiacs are really heavy-duty rubber rafts powered by a 40 horsepower motor. The rafts have seven separate sealed air chambers and can easily stay afloat with 14 passengers and a drive on only three. By 1400 we were given the go ahead and we suited up for our zodiac ride.

I was on board the staff zodiac so we were the first to the beach. The tide was way out exposing a lot of rocks, thus making a typical beach landing difficult. We maneuvered into a spot and jumped out.

You know. Antarctica only gets better and better. Ten meters or so up the beach was a 3-meter of snow and ice layer that were abruptly chopped off by the tide creating a 3-meter cliff. There were hundreds and hundreds of Adelies walking the edge of the beach ice cliff. Once the tide was in there would be no trouble diving directly into the water. But at low tide the would march along in their long single file lines stopping now and then to peer down at us.

Once we climbed the small cliff we were standing on broad gradual slopes of deep snow and ice coming off the peaks. A few places were free of snow and it was there the penguins were starting to court, build nests, and mate. To the east was a very small area with a few Gentoo Penguins. To the west, going up to the horizon, as far as I could see, on the slopes were 30,000 40,000 pairs of Adelie Penguins.

Nest building was in high gear. Normally they build their nests of rocks, but the snow was so deep that few were exposed. Egg laying should have begun nearly three weeks ago and the females were still holding off laying. Some of the Adelies had finally built snow nests. They had created a mound of snow and made a depression in it in the same shape as their customary pebble nest, and had begun laying. As rocky areas are gradually being exposed, there is a perpetual motion to the rookery as penguin pick up the pebbles and walk it to their mate on the nest and add it to the growing pile of stones and run to get another.

We returned to the ship at 1800. A fine Russian dinner was served.

Russian Phrase for the Day:
We love it here! Nam Nravitsa Zdyes!