Throughout International Antarctic Expedition 2016, participants in the voyage are recounting their experiences on the 2041 Foundation website at 2041.com. Selected entries are reproduced below.
Our final day in Antarctica, but our team was not perturbed. Ready to take it in as much as possible we made way towards our favorite landing spot, Neko Harbour. Once again, we were awakened by an announcement from Jumper, but this time much earlier than usual — it was still dark outside. He said the view was like an oil painting, a great day in Antarctica, a sunrise not to miss. Slowly but surely almost everyone made it out on deck and it was certainly worth it. The colors were like nothing anyone had seen before. The sky was ablaze with orange and pink light, perfectly reflected in the still waters of the bay, the illusion only broken by the occasional piece of ice floating into view, somehow maintaining its blue hues amongst all this red light.
Because we needed time later to subject our team to the daunting polar plunge, we only had the morning to enjoy Neko. The team was again split between zodiac cruising and being on shore. Everyone got the chance to hike up to meditation rock, where we handed out postcards for people to write to their future selves, reminding them of what they learnt in Antarctica.
Before we set sail back into the Drake, it was time for the Polar Plunge. For those crazy enough, they could jump off of the gangways into the freezing Antarctic waters. Many did and with such style!
Once everyone had recovered from the plunge we had a leaving ceremony, thanking Antarctica, the Ship’s captain and crew and of course Robert Swan and the 2041 Foundation. Now we head back into the Drake Passage and can reflect on this incredible experience.
Another incredible sunset. Golden light flickered over icebergs on the horizon as if lit by candle. Everyone was out to watch, leaving little time for breakfast. Some had to eat faster than others, since the call for the zodiacs had been made. Half of our team headed out to Petermann Island, a low lying island surrounded by impossibly blue icebergs and home to a historic Argentine refuge hut, but it seemed like the weather was closing in again. We had to move quickly and hope for the best.
The other half of the team got into their zodiacs to cruise around the bay, a lot of whales had been spotted headed towards us — it was fortuitous timing!
On Petermann we had another chance to get up close and personal with penguins. Today they seemed to be even more inquisitive about us humans. If we stood still, they would come up close and check us out — but mostly to use us as a shelter from the wind.
It had been a day to encompass all of our senses;
We see the morning light,
through the darkened snow clouds
doing its best to fight
hitting icebergs floating in crowds.
Painting our snow-based view
as penguins chatter in their paces,
with another golden hue,
As the icy wind hits our faces.
Every day we say ‘this feels more Antarctic than the day before,’ but what we’re learning is that Antarctic is diverse, not a white wasteland to exploit, but a homely land to many creatures that just aren’t us.
Our second excursion of the day was really very special. We travelled back through the Lemaire Channel, but this time in the zodiacs, having been in awe of it just a day before from our ship. Being inside this channel and seeing it all with the ship also in our view really gave us a better sense of perspective. The scale of it all was nearly daunting — realizing how tall the mountains really are and how tall the glacier faces are. We travelled through passing icebergs and amazing formations on glaciers, getting closer than we ever had before.
We closed the day with a talk from team member Edward who outlined his work at NASA Ames, CA and set sail for our last stop on the Antarctic Peninsula, Neko Harbour, our favorite place to visit on IAE which we hope will be an amazing conclusion for everyone.
Another wakeup call from Jumper. We had to get up to see the most amazing view to wake up to, a favorite place in Antarctica for many: the Lemaire Channel. It is a created by Booth Island’s peaks and Humphries Heights mountain range making a corridor. This small body of water is like a trough with the mountains rising suddenly out of the ocean on either side, sometimes at near vertical in angle and up to a kilometer in height. The 5 mile long channel is sheltered and plays haven to minke whales, humpbacks and penguins. A truly dramatic view that encompasses many of Antarctica’s features, starkly beautiful landscapes, wildlife and, of course, ice.
After passing through for sunrise, the snowstorm only got heavier. Soon our view of Pleneau disappeared into a cloud of greys. This weather meant another change of plans. With conditions too harsh for zodiacs to be deployed the team welcomed the time to rest before venturing out into the cold once more.
With announcements made over the tannoy, it was time for action. We weren’t going to let the weather get in the way, we would land at Charcot Point and cruise around the icebergs, facing the conditions head on and challenge ourselves. The experience was amazing — being pelted in the face by snow and ice did not perturb our amazing international group. To think that some have travelled for the first time from home, left the desert or not even seen snow before, now to really be in the thick of it was really something special — and of course when they reached the top off the hike, it was only natural for everyone to enjoy the snow as much as possible and they had earned it!
The zodiac cruise was also a challenge. Even while witnessing natural beauty up close, sitting still on the water is a different kind of cold. We could get much closer than usual to the icebergs because they are all grounded, the bay is a shallower shelf to about 100m in depth where drifting icebergs get trapped. Knowing they are still, we can get closer because the chance of them suddenly rolling and either crushing anything near it or causing a sudden wave that could easily flip a zodiac is far lower. In a way, the weather was fortunate. The new snowfall clung to the icebergs and its pure white tones only accentuated their stunning form and hues.
With everyone defrosting on the ship after a thorough exposure to Antarctica’s cold-hearted ways, one of our own team members, Ben Towill, delivered a presentation on food, and the sustainability issues involved in its current mass production. This predominantly focused on waste of food itself and wastefulness in its production; reminding us of our current ship-based life and the finite resources available to us here in the Antarctic, a lesson we can all take home to our daily lives when we return to the ‘real’ world.
With our ship anchored in Pleneau, our ship’s crew pointed spotlights at the nearest icebergs, just to make sure they didn’t drift towards us. This lead to a usually panic-inducing view but for us, knowing everything was under control it was just spectacular.
Today was a day of exploring our icy classroom. With clear skies giving us a beautiful sunrise we arrived at Portal point; gateway to the polar plateau. An old route used by explorers and scientists for many years would now play host to our team members learning some outdoor skills and getting to explore group exercises with our leadership speakers, Nigel and Matthias. Focusing on taking in this experience as much as possible, one of these sessions was simply to sit and stare at the amazing view we had of the Antarctic. Our first blazingly sunny day with visibility for miles, light danced off the water and made the icebergs glisten as they slowly drifted past.
This silent scene only being disturbed by the melodic puffs of whale blows slowly gliding between the bergs.
After our sessions on the ice we headed out in zodiacs to join the picturesque scene before us, we got to see the icebergs up close and their mystical blue glow enchanted us all. The bay was filled with sunbathing Crabeater Seals and Gentoo Penguins porpoising through the mirror-like water. Our luck wasn’t so strong however…the clouds started to cover the sun and the wind picked up. Luckily at the end of our time out on the water, once again reminded of nature’s unpredictability we started to make our way back to the ship.
We moved through the Gerlache Strait towards Dollman Bay, where we hoped to find some Humpback whales. As we passed through the strait, murmurs spread around the ship of Orcas on the horizon. Moving up to the bridge, we could see a row of crew leaning against the counters, binoculars in hand, all hoping to spot the whales. With so many eyes on the mission it wasn’t long until we knew where to put the boat to not disturb them and to get the best few. The bow of the ship opened up and our team flooded down, changing from side to side of the ship as sightings were made.
It seemed we had caught the pod’s attention — having passed some of the Orca they caught us back up. They swam under the bow of the ship in full few of our team members turned audience as the whales pirouetted together under the waves in front of our eyes.
A key part of the session where we focused on absorbing being in Antarctica, involved not having cameras as we stared out at the view. We wanted to focus on really seeing and feeling a place, not looking at everything through a camera lens.
Tomorrow we head to Pleneau and Port Charcot to explore the Iceberg Alleyway. As we make our way there a snowstorm has hit us and visibility has gone from seemingly infinite to just a few hundred meters if that, we’re grateful to be on such a substantial ship that can look after us and keep us sheltered during these more unfriendly conditions!
Our first landing on the Antarctic Continent came at 8am on the majestic Brown’s Bluff.
This is another volcanic landscape, home to seals, penguins and glaciers. On the tip of the continent we got to see how this vibrant, dramatic landscape was also a comfortable home to so many species.
Team members were in high spirits, excited to explore and climbed a spectacular glacier. They were met at the top by Jason and the 2041 Team to learn about and how to navigate crevasses. There was a light breeze and temperatures hovered around -1°C.
Half the team was ashore ascending the glacier, riddled with small holes where volcanic rock had melted down through the glacier itself. The other half of our team were out in Zodiacs spotting Leopard Seals and Humpback Whales.
Suddenly everything changed. An impossibly strong wind rushed down the icy pathways and hit the ocean. People were nearly swept off of their feet and equipment was sent hurtling to the ground. Looking downhill towards the ocean, the blue sky had turned grey and the sea was now dark and inky, waves getting higher and smashing into each other, their own sprays being carried off into the distance by this new forceful gale.
Within 10 minutes the gusts had changed from a reasonable breeze to a full 40 knots, Antarctica had firmly reminded us who was in charge and that we were here on her terms.
The winds made their way down the glacier and across the water whipping up the seas and making for a turbulent, cold and very wet journey back to the ship. It was deemed too choppy for operations to continue and with a large sheet of sea ice headed towards our ship the captain masterfully repositioned the vessel and the zodiacs took shelter behind the iceberg from the threatening waves.
Through skilled negotiating of the rough sea we all safely made it back to the ship and quickly changed from our soaked clothing to warm back up.
Once the team were dried and rested; the sea salt marks now emblazoned on our jackets like battles scars from surviving a fight with the Antarctic sea, everyone was called to the top deck.
We were now gliding through the Antarctic Sound. Breathtaking gargantuan tabular icebergs were to our portside — so many were grounded here, their harsh edges creating icy corridors in a maze like fashion, so inviting to venture down but incredibly dangerous. These tabulars were another reminder of our purpose here. They had broken off from an ice-shelf, a worrying sign of climate change with disastrous consequences. Gazing out from the top deck of our ship we were in awe of these cubic forms, strange to see something natural have such a straight edge.
Another fantastic day in an incredible place. We are thrilled to have such a fantastic team that are willing to put up with whatever Antarctica has to throw at them!
Finally our first landing in Antarctica! The team’s excitement was somewhat subdued by our early start as Jumper invited us to get outside before the sun had even risen so that we could witness the ship entering what previously seemed like an island. Through a tiny gap in the rocks, a new body of water was revealed. As we passed through these walls of rock, team members gazed up at the cliffs, down at the sea and ahead to try to see just where this might be leading us.
Port Forster, the island’s flooded caldera, is entered through Neptune’s Bellows. A volcanic crater whose walls have been breached by the sea. On the port side of the entrance are the beached remains of the Southern Hunter, a whale catcher wrecked in 1957 after it hit Raven Rock, the reef that is Neptune’s Bellows’ volcanic plug. The Island was discovered during the 1819/20 summer by William Smith aboard the HSM Andromanche.
We first landed at Telefon Bay, a scarce landscape made of ash and snow. The most recent eruption was in 1970. Everyone hiked around this stunning landscape, thrilled to finally be off the ship, in the Antarctic and for some, the first time seeing snow — lucky to have close encounters with many wildlife like Gentoo Penguins and a napping Weddell Seal and of course the territorial fur seals. All of which we were cautious to give plenty of space and respect, being mindful that we are visitors in their land.
It was fantastic to see everyone making sure they put down their camera and took in the view. Taking just a moment to really see where they were, many meditated on the work it took them to get to this incredible point in all of our lives, even though we had harsh weather in this incredibly desolate location, it felt right and everyone was feeling good, excited to see as much as possible.
We were lucky to make a second landing on Deception Island, at Whalers Bay. Whaling began in 1906, first with the Norwegian Andresen and his floating factory ship, Gobermador Bories. The following season he was joined by two other Norwegians and a Newfoundland whaling company, all of which operated factory ships. The peak production year at Whaler’s Bay was 1912-13. 5000 whales were killed and processed; there were 12 factory ships, 27 whale catchers and 200 whalers based on the Island.
Getting to see these buildings still here in the Antarctic, in complete disrepair, is a chilling reminder of what dark things we humans are able to do to the natural world around us. As we travel south along the Antarctic Peninsula, we will visit locations that are more pristine and untouched, but having seen these scars left by our predecessors, the mindset will truly be about the protection and preservation of the Antarctic.