Wednesday 9 December 2009

A true taste of Antarctica

After two days of calm, sunny weather, we awoke to high winds (25 m/s, 90 kph, 56 mph) and snow. This, and the ice in the Lemaire Channel made the navigation extremely difficult and our planned transit had to be postponed until lunch time, when conditions improved. There were still lots of icebergs, bergy-bits and brash ice in the channel, but the good ship Fram under the steerage of the Captain, made it through. Although the visibility was not the best, this is the way to see Antarctica- icy, windy and foreboding. It is not a complete Antarctic trip unless she reveals her darker side.

As we exited the Lemaire and entered the Penola Strait we could see a huge field of icebergs in the region of the French Passage. A towering, cathedral lay to the starboard side of our ship, one that we know has been in the same place for a least a month. At nearby Petermann Island, Charcot overwintered in his ship the Pourquoi-Pas? during the 1909 winter season. Across the strait was Mount Scott, 880m high and named after of course Robert Falcon Scott. This area is full of history!

The afternoon found us at the Ukrainian station of Akademik Vernadsky. In the past the station was owned by the British and called Faraday. It was a great visit as we got to see what it is actually like to live in Antarctica, and conduct research. The station houses the most southerly bar in the world and serves up an apparently pretty good home-made vodka, called Horilka in the Ukraine. Note the station skuas peering through the window opposite!

Our surprise of the day was that we were able to run our special Polar Cirkel boat cruises in the Lemaire Channel from one end to the other with the Fram bringing up the rear! We had planned to do this in the morning but the weather conditions did not allow it. Sixty lucky passengers won the draw to purchase this very special excursion, and it was indeed an incredible experience. The light from the low angled sun through the channel, filtered and coloured by the mist and low cloud. It was quite literally one of those experiences that will stay with us for the rest of our days on this good Earth. We saw both sides of Antarctica today.