DEAR DIARY ~ Ross Sea February voyage

Tuesday 3 February 2009: Bluff / Foveaux Strait

The southerly port of Bluff treated us to a right royal day of splendiferous weather for our first day aboard Marina Svetaeva. After running the gauntlet of the wharf’s security access, we offloaded from buses and clambered up the ship’s gangway to be ushered to our cabins. We all put in time wandering the decks and hallways, and climbing those curious aft and forward staircases to discover where, exactly, they lead to.

Greg introduced us to the Aurora staff and spoke about our prospects of reaching all the way south to Ross Island. Current ice conditions look promising. Of course, we were also keen to learn about immediate plans, especially to learn that we might reach our first port of call in the subAntarctics by this evening!

We sat down to a delicious luncheon prepared by our fabulous foursome in the galley—Jason (head chef), Volker, Viktor and Kirsty (bakehouse)—then were lured outdoors to enjoy the last of the New Zealand sunshine and mild temperatures.

Close to 1500 we slipped our moorings and drew away from the wharf, motoring down the channel and passing Lands End on our right. We were soon into Foveaux Strait and our pilot boat appeared smack on cue. She pulled alongside Svetaeva, both vessels travelling in concert at eight knots. Our pilot scampered down the rope ladder and nimbly stepped across to his own vessel. Within seconds his boat drew away with a farewell toot of its horn, and we were finally on our own.

Seven short and one long blast from the ship’s horn was our cue to collect warm clothes, essential medicine and orange lifejackets, and assemble at the port and starboard Muster Stations on Deck 6. Those who had not before experienced the ambience of a Polar Class lifeboat, or wished to relive the experience, piled into the two stout vessels. The hatches were closed and our motormen fired up the engines.

Our group comprises 83 expeditioners, 17 Aurora staff, 1 park ranger bound for Macquarie Island, and our marvellous 38-strong Russian crew. We represent the nations of Australia, America, Britain, China, New Zealand, Germany, Canada and Russia. Perhaps a good omen of days and seabirds to come, a shy albatross wheeled around the ship—our first for the voyage—then later we watched a beautiful royal albatross.

Tomorrow we will close the distance to Auckland Islands, and if favourable weather conditions persist, we hope to reach this wild and rugged outpost by evening.

 

Wednesday 4 February 2009: Arriving at Auckland Islands

Our first night at sea was something of a culture shock, as we pitched through a sou’westerly gale that hammered us right on the nose. Greg’s morning call and breakfast announcement reverberated through the hallways, yet the dining rooms saw a number of empty seats. Alas, the dreaded mal de mer had taken its toll, and Dr Giles was kept on his toes through the day attending to those who felt poorly.

On the bridge and out on the decks, the twitchers and photographers were treated to some beautiful displays of seabirds— albatross aplenty, amongst them royals, shy albatross, black-browed, grey-headed and Bullers albatross. Squadrons of cape petrels— a favourite among ship travellers—darted around the ship, easily identifiable with their distinctive black and white chequerboard patterning. Throughout the day we enjoyed masses of sooty shearwaters skimming the waves, and some caught sight of tiny black-bellied storm petrels. There was great excitement on the bridge when in the distance, a half dozen pilot whales sped by!

Preparations were the order of the day with an environmental briefing held in the morning during the rolling and pitching. Because of the unpleasant conditions we held off our zodiac briefing until after dinner, in the hopes that we would be in the protection of the Auckland Islands. Indeed, by 1900, we were within cooee of Enderby and Auckland Islands.

Our arrival at this rugged subAntarctic output was quite atmospheric: we moved from 40-knot winds to peaceful waters where great shafts of evening sunlight streamed down through the clouds and silvered the bay. Rainshowers softened the profile of the wooded headlands where rata forests edged close to the shoreline. Bodies tentatively emerged from cabins when Captain Gena lowered the anchor—just in time to retire to the dining rooms for a delectable dinner of New Zealand Roast Lamb.

Jan topped off the evening with a talk on the flora of the Auckland Islands, and Roger with a zodiac safety briefing. Soon after, we headed off to our cabins to sort clothing and gear, and take in a good night’s sleep in preparation for a morning landing at the historic settlement of Hardwicke.

 

Thursday 5 February 2009: Auckland Island: Hardwicke / Enderby Island / Carnley Harbour

What a glorious introduction to the New Zealand subAntarctics. We woke to patches of blue sky and a total absence of wind; reflections from the rata forest stretched across Laurie Harbour. By 08:00 we were kitted up, had turned tags and sanitised our boots, and stood sweltering in our layers—we were ready to make our way down the gangway and into waiting zodiacs.

We landed on the cobbled shoreline of Erebus Cove and marvelled at the lush vegetation that grew down to the water’s edge. Most ventured along the boardwalk to the old cemetery where headstones lent testament to the hardships endured by those English men and women who created the settlement of Hardwicke in 1849. The settlement was named after the principal of the English whaling company whose mislaid plan was to create a prosperous whaling industry in the region.

Victoria Tree was the second landmark we visited, trekking beneath a thick canopy of rata and olearia forest. The song of bellbirds rang through the forest and the lightest breeze rustled the overhead leaves. The beautifully inscribed lettering on the face of the old rata stump commemorates the 1865 visit of the Australian government vessel Victoria.

Our zodiac cruise along the northern shore of Port Ross to Enderby Island included a stop at the site where a German science expedition came to observe the 1874 Transit of Venus. Along the rocky coastline, some caught sight of a large light-mantled sooty albatross chick nesting on the ledge of basalt columns. We all admired magnificent megaherbs and ferns, and streams of water drizzling down the rocky slopes. We glided through gardens of thick bull kelp then paused to photograph Auckland Island Shags feeding their young. We encountered brown skuas, giant petrels and the flightless Auckland Island teal. Yellow-eyed penguins perched on rocks at the waterline.

For most, the jewel in the crown was the large colony of Hooker Sea Lions at Sandy Bay on Enderby Island. We brought the zodiacs in close while seal lions cavorted around us, showing off their acrobatic skills. Onshore, large bull sea lions jousted and sparred, the beach-master protecting his large harem of females.

Our good ship Svetaeva motored down the east coast of the island after lunch, where we made our way into Carnley Harbour for a ship’s cruise. Carnley Harbour is the caldera of an ancient volcano formed 25 million years ago. Hundreds of sooty shearwaters sat rafted together on the surface of the water, and the dusk air was thick with flying birds. We motored all the way to Figure of Eight Island in the harbour’s North Arm.

At Captain’s welcome drinks, our good Captain Gena gave us a warm welcome, and introduced Chief Mate Bogdon and Radio Officer Anton. Dinner was soon underway and our busy day was finished off with an evening talk by Colin on making the most of our photographic experiences in Antarctica.

Friday 6 February 2009

Our day at Campbell Island might easily have been one spent tramping across the Scottish Highlands. Mist cloaked the grey-green hills, while the waters of Perserverance Harbour were cast with a gunmetal sheen.

We were dressed and in the zodiacs soon after breakfast, some bound for the high road and others opting for the low. Our 23 climbers were promptly deposited onto the southern bank of the harbour to climb the island’s highest point: Mt Honey: elevation 569 metres. While the 23 mountain goats, accompanied by Roger, Franz and Gary, clambered up a gully and disappeared into the mist, the remainder of us ventured to the northern shore to explore the area surrounding the old meteorology station. Data from the weather station shows, unsurprisingly, that Campbell Island experiences 325 days of rain, with snowfall common in winter.

Our morning vacillated between light showers and mist, and for many of us, the soft, quiet atmosphere only enhanced the experience. A good number were content to simply sit quietly around the jetty area, enjoying the shenanigans of Hooker sea lions as they cavorted and splashed and showed-off their prowess in the water, enjoying bath-time fun as only seals know how. A Snares penguin, evidently a long way from home, perched near the peer, quietly preening and largely managing to ignore the entourage of onlookers.

After running the gauntlet of sea lions laying in wait around the buildings, we ventured along the boardwalk, trying not to disturb the construction group who were having a well-earned day off from building boardwalks. We wandered past lush megaherbs, heard the song of pipits, and between showers stopped to photograph the atmospheric views of Perserverance Harbour and surrounding hills.

Some of the zodiacs tootled up to Garden Cove where we saw kelp gull nests bearing large grey fledgling chicks. Those who cruised to Tucker Cove before returning to the ship saw two large elephant seals lounging on the rocks. The top of Mt Honey remained covered in cloud throughout the morning, but while our water-loghed climbers might not have been blessed with panoramic views, they returned to the ship buoyed up with enthusiasm, having had a marvellous encounter with nesting royal albatross.

Svetaeva upped anchor and we were out in open sea by early afternoon. Franz kicked off our educational series with an informative overview of the Southern Ocean, after which we congregated on the stern deck to celebrate Waitangi Day with hokey pokey ice creams. A great crowd of albatross and petrels wheeled across our wake.

Tomorrow we expect to cross the Antarctic Convergence, the biological boundary between warmer sub-Antarctic waters and colder Antarctic waters. For the coming days we will be steaming south toward to the ice. When will we see our first iceberg? To put a little sport into the occasion, we are running an iceberg competition. On the chart table of the bridge you will find a sheet where you can enter your name, and the time and position of our first berg. (Note: bergy bits do not qualify; the first berg has to be at least the size of a car!) We will keep the competition open until 13:00 on Sunday February 8. Glory and riches await the lucky winner.

Saturday 7 February

Its blowing so many knots, it's almost a macrame–Rod Ledingham

The Furious Fifties, indeed! Today, the Southern Ocean turned it on with a ferocious Force 9 gale: 50–60 knot winds streaked the ocean with fingers of foam, while 15 metre-high waves broke over our starboard bow and reduced our pace from a respectable 12 knots to 8 knots through the morning, to 5 knots by afternoon.

We were pushed and pummelled by the force of the mighty Southern Ocean, yet despite the uncomfortable motion of the vessel, Gary’s morning lecture on whales and dolphins was well attended. Gary ran through the various families of whales, with a focus on those species we may encounter in Antarctic waters. He gave us tips on identification and behaviour, and all was going swimmingly well until a mother of a roll sent chairs and legs akimbo, resulting in an unruly pile of bodies that resembled a New Zealand All Blacks rugby scrum. Thankfully no one was hurt, the main casualties being a handful of warped chair legs and a pair of torn trousers—Jill Downie managed to drop not one stitch of her knitting!

The entire day required extra care in moving around the ship as we pitched and rolled across the maelstrom. The heli crew—Casey, Keith and Jerry—tended to their helicopters lashed down in the hangar, while inside the ship our Russian stewardesses battled with runaway vaccuum cleaners and dining room spills. If you think it was hard work negotiating stairs and dining rooms, spare a thought for our remarkable hard-working galley crew who soldiered on through the day and still produced the goods: home-made bread rolls and delicious pizzas for lunch, fresh scones, jam and cream for afternoon tea, and mouth watering baked turkey for dinner with fresh berries dessert.

These wild untamed latitudes are tailor-made for albatross—this stretch of ocean is their home. Black-browed and wandering albatross wheeled around our ship, skimming the troughs of waves and tipping their enormous wings with such precision that it looked as though they were toying with the crests of breaking waves. The force of the gale had us marvel at the abilities of smaller birds: cape petrels, white-chinned petrels and even smaller prions that darted across our bow, occasionally landing to rest on the surface.

Unsurprisingly, Franz’s afternoon presentation was postponed, but as afternoon slid into evening, the wind moderated by a whisker to 40 knots.

After dinner, Colin went ahead with his evening presentation on ice. We curled up on the big magic carpet and took a virtual journey of discovery across ice in myriad forms, from the tabular bergs and ice shelves of Antarctica, to snow-capped peaks and glacial valleys in Nepal, to the diminishing pack ice of the High Arctic.

Through the night we finally crossed the Antarctic Convergence, and can expect to notice a significant drop in air and sea temperatures now that we are motoring south through Antarctic waters.

Sunday 8 February 2009

By morning, thankfully, the horrendous conditions of the day before had eased and the ocean had returned to a manageable roll—there were even occasional glimpses of blue sky. Some feared we were merely in the eye of the storm, but the seas further moderated through the day. Our good ship raced on south at 12 knots, keen to make up for lost time.

Raised by the breakfast call, weather-worn bodies emerged from cabins, bleary-eyed but ravenous after 24 hours of self induced fasting through a Southern Ocean Force 9 gale.

After breakfast, Franz presented a lecture on the complex processes involved in extracting core samples from ocean beds that provide vital information into climate trends over thousands of years. It was fascinating stuff, sending core-barrels to a 4 kilometre-deep ocean-bed to extract mud samples that are up to 100,000 years old.

Some took in their daily quota of aerobic exercise by walking the decks and stairwells, others opted for quiet time in the library, while the usual suspects stood eagle-eyed on the bridge, taking in views of the wanderers and large array of seabirds that followed our course south. Everyone kept a vigilant eye on the horizon for our first iceberg.

As timing would have it, soon after the Bridge was cleared for lunch, Second Officer Valery caught sight of a 20-strong pod of pilot whales porpoising by!

Dick’s afternoon talk on Carsten Borchgrevink and the first winter-over at Cape Adare, primed us for our own encounters in Antarctica. Cape Adare lies on the north-west tip of the Ross Sea, and if conditions permit, we hope to make a landing at this historic site—remarkable not only for Borchgrevink’s hut that still stands to this day, but as the site of the world’s largest Adelie penguin colony.

Soon after 17:00, we crossed the line of 60° south – following in the footsteps of James Cook. Many of us gathered on the sun-lit foredeck to feel the distinct bump. We’re now in Antarctica proper!

Before dinner we gathered in the bar to enjoy Terry’s cocktails, and to participate in the judging of the first photo caption competition: congratulations to the winners, Bruce Mitchell and Max Howie!

Our good chefs prepared another fine dinner (Bambi and sashed potatoes) and Laurie enjoyed his Southern Ocean birthday with Kirsty’s home-baked, chocolate birthday cake and champagne.

The day finished with a screening of The Bucket List in Cinema One. Then, with tired eyes and anticipation for coming events, we trundled off to our cabins to snuggle up for a sound night’s sleep ... oh how blessed are calm rocking seas!

Monday February 9 2009

After a peaceful night of gentle ship movement, we woke to Greg’s announcement that we were approaching our first iceberg. Iceberg coordinates at 0635 am on 9-2-09 were 62°45.9S, 171°31.5E. This was no ‘could it be a growler or a bergy bit?’ It was a genuine, ‘bigger than a block of flats’ iceberg. Something to comfortably show in your photo album of the trip, and it had two big pals with it to make sure it wasn’t missed. To fully appreciate its’ size and consume it with photographs, Captain Gena performed a ritual circumnavigation. The highlight was when a tower of ice crumbled from the berg and littered the sea with ice.

Of 47 entrants in the ‘First Iceberg Competition’, 10 were less than 100 nautical miles off. The clear winner, though, just 21 nautical miles off and 35 minutes in predicted time, was Vaun Monk.

Through the morning more icebergs appeared and in mid-morning the patient whale spotters were presented with some clear, strong blows and some arching fins of what looked like a couple of large Minke whales (or small Sei whales?).

Gary then introduced us to the lives and characters of the penguin world. We’ll all be on the lookout for some sexy Adélies now and the ship should bristle with penguin impersonations after our first encounter in the flesh with these charismatic little folk.

At midday we had our helicopter briefings. Be safe, careful, follow instructions and keep cameras poised. Its very, very exciting. With images of sitting in chopper seats tearing past icebergs and looking down on glaciers crossing our minds, we went to lunch. We had pumpkin soup and pita bread sandwiches and lots of chatter in the dining rooms.

After lunch and a brief rest, Dick presented Part 1 of the epic saga of the ‘Trans Antarctic Expedition’. Dick’s personal account is so absorbing, full of intrigue and anticipation. The scene is set, the characters introduced and the adventure is about to begin – in the next matinee session.

Huge icebergs then appeared and beckoned us to the foredeck for a closer view. Once there, afternoon tea of hot chocolate and Viktor’s Russian fruit buns was served and avidly consumed. Icebergs of various shapes and sizes passed on the horizon and kept our bridge-watchers busy up till evening drinks in the bar. Geoff Pickup won the photo caption competition for the day. Then off to the dining rooms for more eating.

In the evening, just prior to the night’s entertainment in Cinema One, three hour-glass dolphins cruised along under our port bow for a few minutes. Such tiny things, they looked smaller than the royal albatross that cruised above them.

In the early morning hours we crossed the Antarctic Circle and encountered our first pack-ice. Another full day in the Southern Ocean lies ahead.

Tuesday 10 February 2009

We woke early to the unforgettable sound of pack ice grinding against our hull as we forged south through a magical vista of Ross Sea pack ice. Through the night we had crossed the Antarctic Circle—66°33.33 South—and can now call ourselves true Antarcticians.

Crabeater seals basked on floes, distinguishable from weddell seals by their sleek, angular line, some bearing scars from encounters with other seals and orcas. A few saw a leopard seal, these powerful predators iconic with their large reptilean-like heads. Two juvenile adelie penguins—recently fledged—received an abrupt initiation into stranger danger when Marina Svetaeva swept past their tiny piece of frozen real estate.

Colin’s morning talk on Ernest Shackleton, fittingly entitled ‘No Turning Back’, took us through the life and exploits of this unstoppable polar explorer who, along with Scott, Amundsen and Australia’s own Douglas Mawson, personified the 1901–16 Heroic Era. We learned about the 1901–04 Discovery expedition (so named after their expedition ship, and the Discovery Hut on Hut Point Peninsula) where Shackleton accompanied Robert Scott as a team member on the first assault of the South Pole. Shackleton then mounted his own 1907–09 Nimrod expedition where, from winter quarters at Cape Royds, he reached the farthest south, 82°17'S, before turning back. And of course, no story on Sir Ernest is complete without relaying the tale of the 1914–17 TransAntarctic expedition where, in the Weddell Sea, Shackleton’s Endurance was crushed by pack ice, playing out one of the world’s great tales of heroism, camaraderie and adventure rescue.

Svetaeva’s ice-strengthened hull motored unimpeded through bands of soft pack ice—at times 10/10ths in surface area—and while the pack has a significant dampening effect on the surface of the ocean, the rising swell lent a clue to 40-knot winds blasting up from the Ross Sea. At the beginning of spring, this pack ice would have been as hard and impenetrable as concrete, but as summer progresses, the ice begins to melt and takes on a honeycomb texture. Just weeks ago this same gauntlet of ice stretched for 200 nautical miles across the mouth of the Ross Sea. We can feel thankful that wind and current from a recent series of low pressure systems have dispersed the ice and created, so far, a relatively clear passage south.

Dick resumed his story of the 1956–57 TransAntarctic Expedition, where Sir Vivien Fuchs, following in the footsteps of Shackleton, traversed Antarctica from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea, assisted by depots laid by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and his convoy of Massey-Ferguson tractors. We saw images of snow-cats wedged at impossible angles in looming crevasses. We peered inside the large tent housing a team of international journalists, and saw glimpses of Dr Dick as a young keen-eyed zoologist. As luck would have it, Dick stayed on for a second Antarctic summer, resulting in his first 10-day foray into the Dry Valleys.

Onboard, our hearts went out to those at home, with the sobering news of ravaging bushfires in Victoria, Australia, and the devastating news of the large loss of lives.

Tomorrow we hope to close the distance to the northern shores of the Ross Sea and take our first steps on new land. Keep a lookout for the snow-caped peaks of the striking Admiralty Mountain Range as we approach Cape Adare.

Wednesday 11 Feb 2009

Land ho! the loudspeaker bellowed, which succeeded in a mass exodus from the dining rooms to clamber out on deck and soak up our first sight of the Antarctic continent: before us the beautiful Admiralty Range—150 kilometres away—that sits as a backdrop to Cape Adare.

Captain Gena skilfully manouevred our ship through bands of thick brash ice. We glided past titanic tabular bergs that may well have began their existence as the Ross Ice Shelf, farther south. The sea calmed, the ice was drenched in sunshine, adelie penguins porpoised amongst the floes. This was the Antarctic of our dreams.

Cape Adare marks the western entrance to the Ross Sea and was discovered in 1841 by Captain James Ross, who named it for his friend Viscount Adare. On 24 January 1895, a party from the whaler Antarctic, under Commander Kristensen, made the first landing on the continent at Cape Adare. Cape Adare was our own first continental landing when, clad in wellies and layers and armed with cameras and hiking sticks, we took first steps on the frozen shores of the seventh continent.

Once on the shingle beach, the walking was easy. We discovered that many adult adélies had left their nests, leaving a surplus of stones for next year, while South Polar skuas, with their own chicks fledging, conducted fly-overs, keeping a stern eye on the two-legged wildlife. At the peak of the breeding season, 250,000 pairs of adélies nest at the Cape, rearing one or two chicks.

Now, as the season draws to a close, we witnessed the culmination of the breeding cycle: some adults still feeding their young, some chicks that hadn’t made it or were too small to stand a chance, and clusters of large ungainly chicks moulting their downy coats for adult plumage, readying to take their chances in the great unknown. We even watched several ‘first swims’ as small groups of chicks summoned the courage to take their first leap into the surf.

Cape Adare is the site of the first wintering-over in Antarctica by Carsten Borchgrevink and his party in 1899. The construction method of his prefabricated Nowegian hut made use of interlocking boards, and looks in such sound condition that it might have been assembled last year instead of all that time ago. The timbers were bleached blonde from a century of wind, sun and blizzard. Nearby, the only standing remains of the hut from Robert Scott’s northern party is the porch.

Once our eyes had grown accustomed to the dim interior of Borchgrevink’s hut, we could make out the ten bunks, and saw shelves lined with old bottles and food supplies. Some bunks still housed the remains of bedding and clothes, and above a corner bunk, those with a torch could study the intricate illustration pencilled on the ceiling. What must it have been like through that first winter, ten men confined in a primitive pint-sized dwelling? The party’s Tasmanian physicist Louis Bernacchi wrote in his journal, All packed together in this miserable, dirty hut, unable to go out… and, May I never pass another twelve months in similar surrounding and conditions.

In contrast, evening sunlight bathed our surrounds. Colin and Franz led the mountain goats some 400 metres up the scree slopes to the gravesite of Nicolai Hensen—the first known man to die in Antarctica, from suspected beriberi. A boulder and iron cross mark his headstone, while above the climbers, a crowd of skuas circled.

Back aboard Svetaeva, Romeo and Victor were wheeled out from their hangar and bladed up for a reconnaissance to Cape Hallett to assess the extent of the sea ice. Their aerial survey revealed that Hallett’s Moubray Bay appears navigable, so, with the exciting prospect of zodiac landing and flying in the region (weather permitting), we upped anchor and motored nine hours’ south to tomorrow morning’s destination.

Thursday 12 February 2009

Antarctica turned it on with yet another glorious day of sunshine and breathless conditions. Our stout little vessel motored south into Cape Hallett, inching her way through a picture-perfect bay choked with pans of sea ice. Seals kicked back on floes and our first emperor penguin made a brief debut.

We were in position after breakfast, anchor down, Zodiacs launched, helicopters fired up, and away we went. Svetaeva’s reception area resembled Central Station as we made beelines for gangway and helideck rendezvous.

We were treated to a stupendous day of flightseeing in Romeo and Victor, with panoramic views of Cape Hallett (named by James Clark Ross for the purser on his ship Erebus), Edisto Inlet and Edisto Glacier. On our left we passed Mt Herschel (3,335 metres), while to the north the summit of Mt Minto remained tucked beneath the clouds. These mighty peaks were matched in both awe and grandeur by the fathomless tonnage of ice that makes up the Tucker Glacier at the foot of Hallett Peninsula. The unanimous feedback on the flight: sensational! One glowing remark from a passenger about her flight can’t be replicated in print (secret women’s business), but needless to say everyone on every flight returned breathless with delight.

The zodiacs were having their share of fun cruising through the ice, around small grounded icebergs and large pans of sea ice, many of which were covered with adolescent and adult adelies. We spotted half a dozen weddell seals on floes of ice.

After searching high and low for a suitable beach to land upon, the zodiacs finally went ashore near the site of the former Hallett Station, a former USA-New Zealand scientific base built in the International Geophysical Year of 1957, and in operation until 1973. New Zealand and the USA are still removing pieces of the station, and surrounding debris, as per the Madrid Protocol of the Antarctic Treaty, which deems that huts must either be maintained or removed from Antarctica, along with unused materials and equipment.

Onshore, thousands of adelie penguins scampered hither and thither, and it was remarkable to see that this colony is at least one week earlier in development than the rookery at Cape Adare. There was no end of regurgitated krill being shared between parent and chick, along with big fluffy youngsters relentlessly chasing down adults in demand of food, food and more food! Some had personal encounters with chicks running between their legs! And of course, every self-respecting penguin colony has its resident community of feisty skuas with their own hungry fledglings to tend. All in all, a wonderful excursion ashore.

We returned to Marina Svetaeva famished after our big day out in all that fresh icy air, and luckily our fabulous four in the galley did us proud, firstly whipping up a delicious lunch of home-baked bread, soup and lasagne, and later for dinner a fresh mushroom and tomato entree followed by mouth-watering baked salmon.

Overnight we motored south, ploughing through sea ice and having to pinch ourselves that we are steaming far beyond the 70° South latitude line. Depending on conditions, our plan is to reach Terra Nova Bay sometime tomorrow afternoon, where a wonderland of possibilities awaits us.

Friday 13 February 2009

Ice, ice and more ice–a great swathe of it greeted us in the morning. The day felt decidedly cold and our chilly surrounds offered a textbook demonstration of sea ice in the making. We saw where the surface of the water was covered with a film of grease ice, and alongside was the next stage of sea ice: small frozen pancakes that will eventually coalesce into larger pans. A reconnaissance flight surveyed the ice that stretched for 15 miles between our vessel and our Cape Washington destination. Just the same, it was worth putting our nose in to test the waters, so to speak.

Gary presented a morning talk on seals: the crabeater and Weddells we have already seen out on ice floes, the unforgettable elephant seal, the elusive Ross Seal, and the subAntarctic fur seals and sea lions, some of which we encountered at Campbell Island. Gary showed dramatic images of a leopard seal making short work of a penguin, thrashing it from side to side like a cat with a mouse.

During the day several emperor penguins made an appearance out on the ice floes. Cape Washington is home to a large rookery of emperors who, by now, have finished rearing their chicks and left the rookery for open sea. The adults will spend the next months foraging and fattening up—by April some of the biggest males will be edging up to 40 kgs—regaining the weight they lost during their chick-rearing months. Their chicks fledged in December and January and are now at sea, beginning adolescent life.

Try as we might to push through the pack, the snow-laden pans banked up around our vessel, hampering our progress to a tedious pace. Finally, Captain Gena gave the signal to turn back, opting instead to steam south alongside the pack ice before changing course toward Franklin Island. We watched adelies on floes and the occasional seal. We had a clear view of water sky and ice blink–the primary means of ice navigation in the days before radar and satellite imagery. Water sky appears as an almost ominous grey, being the dark reflection of ice-free ocean, while alongside we saw a strip of brilliant white sky–the glare thrown up from ice.

Our hard working galley team put on another wonderful dinner: enormous T-Bone steaks followed by tiramisu, and soon after we had Franklin Island in our sights, along with a super-sized tabular berg that measured around 5 kms in length.

In the late, late evening we lined up along the gangway for a landing at Franklin Island—a normally inhospitable place that rarely offers the chance for a visit. Onshore we spent time with groups of large moulting Adelie chicks, and gave way to adults being harangued by young ones for food. A number of Weddell seals had hauled out on the ice, including some juveniles born back in October.

We returned to our ship where the swell had turned the gangway into something of an acrobatic act. Every one did well though, and we soon steamed away beneath a flame red sky.

Saturday 14 February 2009

Leaving Franklin Island in the wee hours of yesterday made for a short night as we made our way into McMurdo Sound this morning. Those of us sensitive to the fine movements of the ship would have felt the 50 knots winds very early, but those of us still slumbering after a late night woke to more moderate conditions of 25 knots—but it was the mixture of blowing snow and fog that made our visibility just a few hundred metres at breakfast. We were well within McMurdo Sound and passing alongside of Cape Bird, but we couldn’t tell any of it because of the bad visibility. As the morning progressed, however, the snow stopped and the cloud lifted enough to show some promise as Captain Gena brought the ship into a windy anchorage just off Cape Royds. The one landing area was looking a bit dicey so we sent out Gary and Franz to scout the conditions. After a thorough search, the news was disappointing. The one landing site was so guarded by heavy pack ice that was pushed tighter by the wind, that we couldn’t safely get in to it. The ice was too thick to push our zodiacs through, and too thin to walk across. Never fear, there is always Plan B—or was that Plan D? Once we got the scouts back on board, we pulled up the anchor and headed farther south to Cape Evans.

At Cape Evans, there was no pesky sea ice to hinder our landing. The wind was still high, but with everyone keen to experience the feel of a true Antarctic hut, the captain put us into just the right position for our exploration of Cape Evans. Getting out and on to shore was a wet and wild ride in the zodiacs. When timed just right, the gangway was in the lee of the ship and gave no need for concern, but many were festooned with a light grey armour of ice covering their coats when they got to shore. The feeling was unanimous though: it was well worth braving the spray to get on shore at Scott’s hut and the surrounds at Cape Evans.

The hut was first built in 1910 when Captain Robert Falcon Scott and 24 men (16 officers and scientists, 9 men) arrived to set about on an ambitious scientific program and, of course, his historic and tragic attempt on the south pole. In the now well-established pattern of arriving in the autumn by ship, wintering in a snug hut, then spending a full summer for exploration and scientific work, Scott and his team spent a busy winter preparing for the following summer. In their fateful expedition, Scott, Oates, Wilson, Bowers and Evans reached the pole on 12 January 1912 only to find that Amundsen had reached it a month before. They all perished on the return journey—just 11 miles from One Ton Depot which had the food and fuel they desperately needed to survive.

Inside the magnificent hut we had the privilege to share in the history by experiencing the atmosphere of 1912. The food, clothing, beds, tools, and accoutrements of their daily lives are preserved in situ—better than any museum we can imagine. The soft light and slightly musky odour created such an atmosphere that we wouldn’t have been surprised if Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Gerrard walked in on their return from the “Worst Journey in the World”.

While waiting for a go in the hut, many walked Weather Vane Hill to the prominent Cross—commemorating the three men who perished during the later Shackleton expedition to cross Antarctica. Through many difficulties, they successfully laid all the depots, but scurvy took Spencer-Smith just a before they reached the safety of the hut, and Macintosh and Hayward walked out onto unstable sea ice and were never seen again.

In the late afternoon we departed Scott’s Terra Nova hut and proceeded in our own Marina Svetaeva to the fast ice edge. We followed the icebreaker channel to our farthest south to date: 77°43.600S at approximately 18:30. Satisfied with the foreknowledge of getting close enough for our Monday visit to McMurdo, Captain Gena steered our ship/home westward to our access point to the Dry Valleys. Weather permitting, we hope to fly up into the Taylor Valley to see just what an Antarctic Oasis really is...

Sunday 15 February 2009

Young Dr Barwick was raring to go this morning when his old stomping grounds, the Dry Valleys, beckoned him home. Dick spent two memorable, life shaping seasons working in the valleys in the mid 1950s, and luckily for us, both the scientist and his field gear have stood the test of time. Indeed, Dick was the most photographed wildlife of the day, dressed as he was in the same ventile jacket with wolverine-edged hood he wore all those years ago, his original drawstring ventile trousers, leather sledging mitts, and a 50-some-year-old wool tartan shirt that he regularly wears to this day.

We piled into helicopters to be taken on a magic carpet ride over fast ice littered with dozens of slumbering weddell seals. The 20-mile flight from the ship up Taylor Valley was a geologist’s dream—weathered valleys devoid of ice and snow other than Commonwealth Glacier and Canada Glacier, visible from space as shown in the accompanying NASA satellite image, along with Lake Fryxell.

The full extent of the Dry Valleys was not discovered until 1957, the International Geophysical Year, and Dick was a member of the first science party to explore and survey the valleys on the ground. The Dry Valleys are a natural phenomenon—in simple terms, the surrounding mountain ranges hold back the polar plateau ice from filling the valleys with ice, making them the largest of the Antarctic Oases (ice-free areas).

We had time to climb weathered hills of old moraine, wander alongside the snout of Canada Glacier and sit a while to soak up the ambience of these stark surrounds. This really was a remote corner of our planet.

Back at the ship, those waiting for their afternoon flight spent the morning out on the fast ice, photographing statuesque emperor penguins who seemed to know just how to pose for a camera. It was great fun out there on platform of frozen sea, fun that escalated to some heart-fluttering excitement with the realisation that the ice we were standing on was gradually parting, hairline cracks easing apart! When all hope is lost, get down on your knees and pray for Giles, who sallied forth on his trusty black steed and soon brought us all to safety

For the entire day, the weather looked kindly upon us, and while Joe was able to confirm a chilly -8°C temperature up at the Valleys, the absence of wind made the conditions reasonably pleasant. It seemed a fitting night to hold an extreme southerly barbecue out on the deck—not a flying insect in sight.

Perhaps the aroma of Volker and Viktor’s king prawns lured the two emperor penguins across the fast ice and close to the ship. Cameras were soon whirring, as few could resist a composition of emperor penguins bathed in low silvery light with the dry valleys as a backdrop.

Elena’s Glüwein was warm and intoxicatingly delicious, Kirsty’s garlic bread and all our chefs’ fine food was marvellous, but finally the cold got the better of us, and we found our way indoors to defrost and catch up on a good night’s sleep in preparation for Monday at McMurdo.

Monday 16 February 2009

Minus 13.2°C—our coldest day yet (thank you, Joseph, our trusty record keeper!), never mind factoring in the wind chill factor. But what a day to be alive, to be here at the bottom of the world, at the foot of Mt Erebus and within 10 kms of America’s McMurdo Station and New Zealand’s Scott Base. Before breakfast we were given tantalising glimpses of the great Antarctic volcano so aptly described above—a taste of things to come.

While Roger and Greg were ashore handling the formalities of a station visit, we congregated in the lecture room to clarify our plans. Soon after, we were in the air, cameras, passports and dollars tucked safely in our pockets, all ready for a big day out. Most of our 38 Russian crew followed suit, eager to spend an hour or two onshore.

Casey and Keith expertly landed us on the ice directly in front of McMurdo Station. Or is it a town? Indeed, in summer more than 2,000 people reside at McMurdo, not only scientists but the many hundreds of science support, administrative and communications, and trades and domestic staff required to run and maintain such an enterprise in the most hostile of surrounds. First impressions? like a mining town, to many, while others who have ventured to the Arctic with Aurora found it reminiscent of the port of Longyearbyen, the starting point of our Svalbard voyages.

Our McMurdo guides conducted a walk around town, giving us an overview of the various buildings, science projects and facilities. Finally we migrated to the store where every manner of McMurdo merchandise could be procured. Then it was off to the coffee shop for American coffee and cookies.

Discovery Hut was erected at Hut Peninsula for Scott’s 1901–04 expedition—his first attempt on the South Pole—and while he and his men lived and wintered over on their ship Discovery, the nearby hut was used for storage, as a laboratory, and on occasion, a theatre for performances. The hut was made use of again during Shackleton’s 1907–09 expedition as an advance base for sledging operations, then again in 1915 as the Ross Sea base for laying food depots during Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

For a while, snow flurries and strengthening winds threatened to hamper our heli transport—indeed, an icy wind whistled through the base. Those waiting at Discovery Hut were glad to step inside. It took our eyes time to adjust to the gloom, to see that the hut was divided into rooms by bolts of sacking hanging from the rafters. Carcasses of mutton hung on hooks, alongside the skins of emperor penguins. The New Zealanders have done a sterling job of restoring these historic huts and put in a huge effort to include all manner of expedition artefacts.

While waiting for a ride to Scott Base, some were treated to the sight of a Hercules aircraft from the South Pole station coming into land on the Ross Ice Shelf, and several minutes later, an airbus. We learned that this was a busy week for both bases, with summer personnel packing up and preparing to go home. We were driven down the long and winding dirt road, past a stockpile of components for two wind turbines which, when erected later this year, should reduce fuel usage by 10%, equating to hundreds of thousands of litres of fuel.

Scott Base looked petite by comparison to McMurdo, a cluster of pale green buildings nestled at the base of the hill, overlooking the airstrip on Ross Ice Shelf. We were given a guided tour by Cornelia, the Base Coordinator, and given time in the original 1957 station building—which brought back vivid memories for Dick.

By the time our last groups were ready to return to the ship, the clouds had cleared and Mt Erebus appeared in all its glory, a plume of thick white steam rising into a luscious blue sky.

A special thank you to our galley team, who had delicious hot kumara soup waiting for us on our return. After a well-earned dinner, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to lower the gangway and spend time out on the fast ice, photographing mountains, spending time with a sociable emperor penguin, and waiting for an elusive minke whale that had made a brief appearance directly in front of the ship. Late in the evening we returned to our cosy vessel, retiring to cabins or the bar with a wealth of impressions and memories from a superb day.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

February 17 kicked off way, way, way before breakfast; indeed, the action began on the strike of midnight with a large crowd lingering on the bridge. Truly, we had to pinch ourselves: here we were, in an ice-strengthened ship, parked at 77° South. We were locked in a frozen channel of fast ice, with Mt Erebus on our left issuing a great plume of steam—the magic mountain appearing more beautiful by the moment, sunset and sunrise setting the summit alight.

Our good Captain Gena appeared less enamoured with the surrounds as he proceeded to negotiate a 100-point, 180-degree turn out of the frozen channel. For a couple of arduous hours, rather than extracting the vessel from the ice, Svetaeva seemed determined to nudge farther south toward McMurdo Station, pushing ice floes this way and that, only to be stopped time and again. In the meantime, an inquisitive minke whale took advantage of the ice holes created by our propellors and popped her/his head up several times, much to the photographers’ delight.

The ongoing racket of a steel ship bashing into ice finally defeated several of our slumberers, and lured a fresh stream of onlookers up to the bridge, two of our ladies still dressed in their `jamies. But at 02:00, Captain, with a sigh of relief, finally succeeded in turning Svetaeva around in a slow grinding arc, and inched our vessel northward. We left behind our farthest south for the voyage: our visit to Scott Base at an impressive 77° 51' South.

By breakfast we were anchored at Cape Royds, and while the bay was bathed in sunlight, Mt Erebus striking a picturesque backdrop, 50-knot gusts blasted the bay. We observed small pockets of steam rising from the surface of the water—a curious anomaly resulting from the sea temperature (-1°C) being significantly warmer than the -13.4°C air directly above (air temperature courtesy ‘Freddy Mercury’ Joseph).

Greg announced that our morning prospects were a case of ‘hurry up and wait’—our chances of visiting Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds wholly dependent on the wind easing. Mid morning, Roger and Gary took a zodiac reconnaissance to the area to discover that a broad shoulder of fast ice lay locked to the shore. The two returned resembling abominable snowmen, shivering and wet, their clothing coated white in frozen sea spray. We were faced with the uninviting prospect of having to walk an hour over slippery fast ice to even reach the hut, then to return straight into the bite of a 30-knot wind. The odds were stacked up against us. But as someone once said, if the plan of an expedition does not fit onto the back of an envelope, it is over organised. With that in mind, Greg and Roger consulted the chart, deliberated our options, upped anchor and headed instead for Cape Bird at the north of the island.

What a contrast to the morning scene. The ocean calmed to a lazy swell, the temperature rose from -13°C to -3°C, and protected from the wind, the place looked positively tropical! Cape Bird was the site Gary spent six summers studying adélie penguins. We could see the New Zealand field hut painted in the same green as Scott Base, and surrounding it, the last of two colonies of adelies winding up their breeding cycle.

After another delicious lunch, we launched the zodiacs and made our way into shore, only to discover that the swell had collected large blocks of ice, these formidable chunks blocking the shore and bobbing like buoys. As keen-eyed as a pod of orcas, the zodiacs tracked up and down the shoreline, searching for a suitable landing site. Alas, in the end it seemed that a cruise was the go, so off we ventured, some to ice cliffs festooned with skirts of icicles, and others along the beachfront, stopping to watch a magnificent leopard seal taking time out on an ice floe.

Back onboard, we made a beeline for the dining room where Kirsty’s afternoon tea treat of ginger crunch was too good to resist. We motored away from Cape Bird via an impressive tabular berg measuring 3 kms in length—it was a beauty!

Tomorrow afternoon we expect to reach Coulman Island, and if the weather gods look kindly upon us, we will fire up Victor, Casey, Romeo, Keith and Jerry, for a bird’s eye view of these dramatic surrounds.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

After the jam-packed events of the last week, most of us relished the opportunity to lie in yesterday morning, so much so that it was Chef Jason’s dulcet tones that enticed us into the dining rooms for an 0830 buffet breakfast.

Franz’s informative talk on Antarctic Oases was the highlight of the morning program, with Franz giving a special focus to the formation and geology of the Dry Valleys that we have now all visited.

By lunchtime we had reached Coulman Island, where we were exposed to the same 30-knot winds that had hounded us the day before. Captain expertly motored Svetaeva along a band of grease ice and into the lee of a series of large tabular bergs, where we found ourselves in protected waters. We were surrounded by an expanse of sea ice, and though the swell was significantly dampened by the effect of sea ice, we lay at anchor amid a mesmerising roll, and the continual rise and fall of two-metre thick ice floes. The occasional adelie penguin scampered across the pack, either heading out to sea to forage or returning to the island.

Our trusty helicopters were fired up while a delicious lunch of croissants was being served indoors—despite the temptation to eat and run, our first heli groups turned their tags and kitted up for a scenic flight around Coulman Island. The island measures 18 miles long and 8 miles wide, 9 miles offshore from Victoria Land in the western Ross Sea. Sir James Clark Ross discovered Coulman Island in 1841 and named it for his father-in-law, Thomas Coulman.

The sky was brilliant blue and the sun bright—ideal for being whisked 7,000 feet up into the air above the top of the island. We were treated to a brief touch-down on the heights of Coulman Island before being roller coasted down the side, and on the return leg to the ship our helicopter even landed atop one of the large tabular bergs.

Ruth described the flight as one of her best three days on earth, and most will remember gazing down through a thin bubble of plexiglass onto this wild and rugged corner of the frozen world—our ship in the thick of it all. As luck would have it the weather remained fair and sunny, and by early evening we were all back onboard, having spent a sensational afternoon either in the air, or relaxing on the decks.

Barman Terry got evening proceedings underway with a Blind Wine Tasting (or was that a ‘Get Blind’ Wine Tasting?). Certainly the volume of conversation in the bar increased to fever pitch, even as Gary cautioned us about impending rough weather.

Congratulations to Gillian for her award-winning adelie photo caption—more images in our coming days at sea. And fittingly, in concert with a wonderful day featuring snow-covered slopes, Greg and his wife Margaret quietly celebrated the 21st anniversary of climbing Mt Minto in the Admiralty Ranges of Victoria Land, Antarctica. In 1988 Margaret accepted the invitation to take on the integral role of cook aboard the expedition yacht–a life-changing experience that ultimately steered the pair toward the creation of Aurora Expeditions, with a vision of bringing like-minded folk to this very special part of the planet.

Tomorrow we are on course for the northern reaches of the Ross Sea. Will we encounter the Ross Sea’s notorious gauntlet of pack ice? What do the weather gods hold in store for us? Keep a lookout during the day for whales, and our favourite seabirds, as we steam northward to the mighty Southern Ocean.

Thursday 19 February 2009

Today added up to a lazy day at sea, with time to recharge the batteries after the hurly burly of the Ross Sea. Thankfully, the anticipated rough conditions did not eventuate, and instead we pushed northward at good speed with nothing more than a soothing roll. Outdoors the ocean turned steely grey in the foggy surrounds, and soft falls of snow dusted the decks white—a remarkable contrast to our brilliant day of sunshine at Coulman Island.

Colin spoke in the morning of the bygone days of dog sledging and showed a selection of striking images, regaling us with stories of the dogs and his experiences at Scott and McMurdo Base. The Madrid Protocol of the 1980s deemed that dogs in Antarctica were an introduced species and should be removed. By 1988 the teams had been removed from Scott and McMurdo Bases, while Australia’s Mawson Station farewelled their last six dogs in December 1993.

Our chefs whipped up another wonderful lunch—Victor’s Russian Borsch was a treat, as were the chicken satays that followed. A public call for tips on ripening our four boxes of very green bananas brought an array of helpful suggestions, and were all duly passed along to our chefs. We’ll monitor the fruit baskets over the next 24 to 36 hours to assess the results!

Svetaeva felt decidedly sleepy in the afternoon, though a crowd emerged just in time for Franz’s talk on Gondwana Land. Franz took us through the earth’s geological history and the big dramatic events that have shaped our physical world today. He focused on the formation and breakup of Gondwana Land—the separation of major land masses, including Australia and Antarctica, confirmed by the discovery of identical fossils across each of these continents.

Following another screening of the Scott-Amundsen series, we congregated in the bar for predinner refreshments and to judge our photo caption entries. Greg brought the evening to a close with a talk on mountaineering and Antarctic expeditioning. We listened to his stories of the first ascent of the north face of Everest, followed, in 1988, by another first, the ascent of Mt Minto in Victoria Land, Antarctica. Among other tales of near catastrophes and unexpected challenges faced by the expedition, Greg shared a chilling description of travelling north across the Southern Ocean in a five-day Force 12 storm aboard a little yacht.

On that note we poured a hot cup of cocoa and made our way to dry and cosy cabins, thankful for the comfort of a 90-metre ship as we continue our course through the Sixty latitudes of the mighty Southern Ocean.

Friday 20 February 2009

Humpbacks were the highlight of the morning call, with many of us bounding up to the bridge to catch a look at these magnificent creatures. Throughout the day, despite periods of limited visibility, we enjoyed a great variety of birds, being a mix of Antarctic and subAntarctic species. Cape petrels and Antarctic petrels wheeled around our ship, we spotted fairy prions, a sooty albatross, and by evening were accompanied by loads of sooty shearwaters, at the same time as Kirsty spotted a dolphin.

Svetaeva has made good time to date, tracking north across the Antarctic Circle—66°S33'S in the wee hours. A thick covering of snow coated the decks through the day as we found ourselves cocooned in mist, our ship sliding in and out of banks of thick grey snow cloud.

Inside our trusty ship, Emperor penguins fast became the theme of the day, while out on the helideck, some vigorous snowball-throwing and snowman construction got underway.

Gary gave a morning talk on his research into the presence of avian viruses in emperor penguins, which he conducted throughout 2008 at Auster Rookery, 60 kms from Australia’s Mawson Station. Gary showed images and spoke of catching and sampling 400 adult emperors and 200 chicks—the adults weighing up to 36 kgs (70 lbs) at the peak of their condition. He explained the rationale behind testing penguins through progressive parts of the breeding cycle to determine the status and origin of poultry viruses such as Infectious Bursal Disease and Newscastle’s Disease.

Then it was up to the bridge to wile away the remainder of the morning. Greg announced our hope of arriving at Macquarie Island on January 23, depending on weather conditions and current speed.

Jason and Volker’s asparagus soup and tacos made for a tasty lunch, as did Kirsty’s fresh donuts that quickly disappeared during afternoon tea. Resistance was futile…

Robyn’s afternoon slideshow offered an insight into a year in the life of emperor penguins at Auster Rookery, and the social system that these 10,000 pairs of birds adopt in order to survive. In contrast to the adelie rookeries we have encountered, where stones are gold and each pair closely guards their territory, thousands of emperors work together as a single social unit, the males huddling through the colder months to maintain body warmth as they incubate a single egg held on their feet. The emperors display a gentle disposition at the same time as they demonstrate tremendous fortitude in rearing their chicks through the bitter cold of an Antarctic winter.

Terry’s mai thais and ‘Virgin Vircons’ created a hit in the bar before dinner, followed by an entree of green-lipped mussels then tender roast pork.

As fate would have it, our evening viewing of Happy Feet came to a premature halt when we discovered we had no Happy Feet onboard to screen. Gary still went ahead and spoke about his and Aurora Expeditions’ involvement in the early stages of the movie’s production. John Stuart also played his role, being among a large and boisterous choir of singers who produced the movie’s final chorus.

Late tomorrow we expect to cross the Antarctic Convergence, located at around 60°S, the same latitude that defines the legal boundary of Antarctic waters. With Macquarie Island getting nearer, we will soon move into subAntarctic climes.

Saturday 21 February 2009

What more should be said of today’s progress than we were blessed with fair seas that urged us northward toward Macquarie Island at a galloping pace. At 16:00 we farewelled Antarctica when we moved north of 60°S and the Antarctic Convergence, the air and sea temperature registering a gradual rise, as shown in the evening data. The benign surrounds seemed almost too good to be true after the beating we took on our passage south.

In the morning, Colin shared a selection of striking images and anecdotes of his time as Field Training Officer and Antarctician at Scott Base, when he spoke on Antarctic volcanoes. Not only were we clinging to his words, but now and again we had the distinct sensation of dangling by a meltable nylon rope over the rim of Mt Erebus’ bottomless crater!

Our day at sea was one of hearty fare, thanks to our talented chefs, beginning with our usual nutritious breakfast smorgasbord of fresh fruits, yoghurt, cereals, porridge, eggs and hot dishes, followed by a lunch of Volker’s bangers and mash. Anyone would think the galley staff are working on fattening us up, especially when platters of Kirsty’s cream and jam buns appeared at afternoon tea time. They looked entirely delicious and transported some of us right back to tuck shop days at school—the unanimous decision was that they tasted every bit as good as we remembered from all those years ago!

But we’re neglecting to mention that before afternoon treats, Roger gave a fascinating talk—albeit sobering—on the demise of albatross who are inadvertently caught in the process of long line fishing. We learned that these fishing lines can be 30 kms long, laced with tens of thousands of baited hooks—irresistible offerings to sea birds such as wandering, grey-headed and black-browed albatross, plus the deeper diving white-chinned petrels. Roger helped us understand some of the political and cultural complexities of the Patagonian tooth fishing industry, where commercial interests make any solution difficult to enforce.

In an effort to better understand the albatross populations breeding on remote stretches of coastline off southern Chile, Roger participated in a research project over two separate seasons. He showed us footage of camping in tents on a rocky precipice high above the shoreline of a rugged island, fitting satellite trackers to albatross and counting the occupants of resident colonies. We saw photos of ‘Nearly Dead Roger Point’, and were offered vivid mental images of Roger clinging like a limpet to low lying rocks as a large surging wave cascaded over his quivering self. Luckily, he is still in one piece to tell the tale, and promote awareness of the plight of these magnificent, endangered birds.

The Great Antarctic Quiz drew a large lively crowd to the bar in the evening—teams were forged and could be seen hunkering down in whispered debate. Four rounds of questions later, it looked as if the Skuas were clear winners—alas, the