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.

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!