A Travellerspoint blog

In the words of buggs bunny..................

sunny 12 °C
View South America 2012 on Rosscopico's travel map.

As some of you have heard on the jungle drums already, we are unexpectedly back in the UK for 10 days or so to care for a very special friend.

Never fear the blogs will be "Back Soon folks"..............

Posted by Rosscopico 04:11 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Polar Bears? I think not!

overcast -8 °C

Having managed to convince Leigh that yesterdays clangers (passing comments) must have been attributable to the extreme cold outside causing brain freeze, over breakfast we happened to hear the couple from the next table ask the leader when they would get to see the polar bears! We can only assume that they must have booked the wrong expedition as Polar bears only exist in the Arctic Circle. Therefore we’ve concluded, its tough being a leader as sometimes the local wildlife will have greater IQs than your clients!

Last night, whilst sitting down to dinner in an almost empty dining room I’d almost convinced myself for a moment that I’d boarded the wrong vessel, but with the boat once again heaving underfoot one doesn’t have to guess where we are...yes we’ve begun our slow but steady journey back North to Argentina via the Drake Passage. With +12 m swells outside, most if not all of the boat, had headed to bed early leaving me to eat my dessert in peace......four slices later and top trouser button undone I figured it was time to go! Swinging by the forward lounge for a mug of tea I noted the Captain, First Officer and Chief Engineer by the bar drinking brandy’s.....as the boat shuddered in the water I was secretly left wondering who exactly was up in the bridge manning the wheel at this point in time.....thinking long and hard I thought it best not to ask for fear of hearing the truth!

Leaving this great continent under a grey and drizzly sky wasn’t quite how I’d imagined my final farewell to be but with a short summer here changes are already afoot. When we originally embarked on this wonderful journey I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but through the course of the past 8 days we’ve played witness to such amazing sights and sounds that it’s hard not to say we’ve changed a little! The next time I reach into the fridge freezer at home I’ll be sure to spare a thought for those cute Gentoo penguins freezing their proverbial off but I won’t linger long for fear of a leopard seal lurking behind the ice cube tray!

And so in my best Norwegian...Fram (forward) to our next adventure!

Posted by Rosscopico 11:21 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

Last day in Paradise...

overcast -12 °C

Following yesterday’s ramble I thought it best to lighten today’s blog before I’m accused by Russell of harbouring a secret ambition to explore the South in a little more detail - something which wouldn’t be far off the truth given half the opportunity!

This morning was one of those mornings! Whilst en route to Curverille Island from the back of the zodiac over the din of the outboard motor I heard one of the more elderly passengers ask the crew when we would be leaving Argentina and getting to Antarctica. Due credit to him as he kept his composure and responded calmly, much to her surprise and our amusement “We are already there mam!”

Later that morning, we took advantage of the relatively calm conditions in Orne Harbour and decided to scout the shoreline from the comfort of the zodiac. Before going any further it’s probably worth pointing out that ‘calm’ conditions here is relative to the local environment and consists of riding 3 - 4 metre swells – kinda like jumping up and down on a trampoline! Anyway I digress, having spent 10 minutes viewing and picturing two beautiful fur seals basking in the sun on a rocky outcrop our leader finally turned the zodiac round and made to head back to the boat, at this point the Japanese couple in the bow appeared to awake from their slumber and proceeded to squawk and point excitedly at the two seals as if noticing them for the first time! One is left wondering where exactly had they been for the past 10 minutes?

Returning towards the expedition boat we were treated to the mesmerising sight of 3 Humpbacks whales feeding for krill against a beautiful backdrop of brilliant white glaciers. With a gentle tap on the side of the boat our leader notified them to our presence and shortly afterwards we were treated to a fascinating display of spy hoping (when a whale raises its head partially out of the water to look) and tail fluking (raising of whale fin)...a lovely way if I might say to wrap up the afternoon! (The photographs, whilst not quite capturing the magic of the moment, should nonetheless give you a sense of the occasion).

Melchoir Islands – With the temperature rapidly falling and the drizzling rain turning to snow one could feel the weather changing around them. This was to be our last outing of the expedition, in fact of the season and what a trip it would turn out to be! So far we had been mentally ticking off all the amazing birds and mammals that we had seen against an imaginary checklist but would we ever get to see the prize....a blue whale? Alas no not on this trip.

Post Script: Apologies but with my inane historical ramblings of yesterday I completely forgot to mention our visit to the wonderful Skontrop Cove and Foyn Harbour.

Posted by Rosscopico 11:19 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” (Lord Tennys

overcast -8 °C

Sitting here surrounded by one of the last great wildernesses on the planet, it’s hard not to reflect upon the great sacrifices and struggles which have taken place to reach this white continent where the difference between life and death is but a single mistake.
On the outskirts of an abandoned, rusting Norwegian whale processing factory is buried an Irishman who lived and died an inspirational leader-hero of men, a giant during the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. I speak of no other than Sir Ernest Shackleton, a man whose name and South Georgia will forever be inextricably linked in the history of romantic and heroic exploration.

As leader of the some of the greatest expeditions of the early 20th Century (Discovery, Nimrod, Endurance and Aurora, and Quest), he was once described by the great Norwegian explorers Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen as ’will forevermore be engraved with letters of fire in the history of Antarctic exploration”. In fact had he managed to land at the Bay of Whales in 1908, there was no doubt that Shackleton would have been the first to reach the South Pole, however faced by treacherous conditions and low supplies he took the difficult yet wise decision to cut short his expedition some 97 nautical miles short of his goal. Returning to England, he received a hero’s welcome though some of the newspaper titles (“splendid failure”) inferred that he should have gone further and should he have died in the process, thus becoming the perfect Edwardian hero, alas Scott was to meet this fate several years later. None-the-less Shackletons failure was soon to prove to be an irresistible invitation for others to follow in his footsteps in the race to be first to conqueror the South!

So how should we compare Shackleton with his great contemporaries Robert Scott and Amundsen. I think this was summed up beautifully by Sir Raymond Priestly when he said “For scientific leadership, give me Scott, for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen. But when you’re in a hopeless situation, when you are seeing no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton. Incomparable in adversity, he was the miracle worker who could save your life against all the odds and long after your number was up. The greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth bar none”.
Surprisingly though Shackleton was only one of a handful of Irishman who dared risk all in the pursuit of the unknown. During a time when Ireland was experiencing tremendous political upheaval within as the country began to seek independence from the British Crown let us not forget the contributions from the great Tom Crean, Mortimer McCarthy, Patsy Keohane and Cecil Meares – men from a golden age of polar exploration who sought not the spotlight but ended up inspiring many generations to follow including yours truly!

As you may have gathered by now, Shackleton remains one of my all time inspirational hero’s. A man who was intuitive and adaptive, decisive and good humoured. Leadership was his art, a chisel by which he could sculpt men’s lives and inspire them to believe in each other. So in closing perhaps it’s only fitting to leave you with a quote from the man himself.
“Leadership is a fine thing but it has its penalties. And the greatest penalty is loneliness.”

Until next time my armchair adventurers!

Posted by Rosscopico 11:16 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

A step back in time....

semi-overcast -15 °C

Earlier this morning we passed through the scenic Lemaire Channel a 11km long and 1.6 km wide channel which separates Booth Island from the Antarctic continent. It was originally discovered during Dalmann’s German expedition of 1873 but Gerlache was the first to navigate the channel in 1898 and named it in honour of Charles Lemaire, a Belgian explorer of the Congo. At its narrowest point the channel is a mere 800m wide and when you take into account the fact that your sharing this channel with some rather large icebergs it becomes a rather tight piece of navigation for a ship of this size.
Our first excursion of the day sees us visit Pleneau Bay, which lies just south of the Lemaire Channel. Here we were treated to what can best be described as an Iceberg Graveyard. Many of the Icebergs here originate from as far south as the Ross Ice Shelf and have drifted for many thousands of kilometres before finally being driven aground by the relentless power of the sea and the winds. Passing between these towering behemoths, which stretched as far as the eye could see, one was lost for words as we gazed upon their unique shapes which had been caved magically by wind and water.
Later that morning we had an opportunity to visit Petermann Island. This low rounded Island is home to the worlds southern most colony of Gentoo penguins and also contains a number of Adelie penguins. The rocky island was discovered by a German expedition of 1873-74, who named it after the geographer August Petermann. Seeing the coast was clear we did our very own bit for Queen and Country and made a lightening assault on the Argentine refuge hut to ensure that there were no supplies of Malbec wine tucked away...unfortunately we were too late as it was obvious that the penguins had beaten us to the prize.
Following a quick bite back on board and a warm up, we then headed out to Wordie House and Vernadsky Station an ex British Antarctic Survey station. In recognition of Britain’s contribution to scientific research and exploration, seven of its unoccupied sites have been declared Historic Sites and Monuments under the Antarctic Treaty System. One of these sites is Wordie House which is located on Winter Island. The station was named after Sir James Wordie, a chief scientist (Geologist) on Shackletons legendary Trans Atlantic Expedition (1914-1916) – Endurance and is now conserved and managed by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.
The Ukrainian Research Station - Vernadsky (65 Degrees 15 Minutes South, 64 Degrees 16 Minutes West) was purchased from the British for the nominal price of 1 GBP in 1995 - apparently it was cheaper for them to sell the station than remove the structure. Faraday station or Station F as it was then known, was occupied continuously for 49 years between 1947 and 1996 and is renowned for where scientists first observed the depletion in the ozone layer. Having being treated to a superb tour by one of the Research scientists our expedition leader turned to his collective audience and asked if there were any remaining questions, true to form our resident loon raised her hand and asked him whether it would be possible for him to start from scratch again as she hadn’t been paying much attention to his presentation....his face was a picture. Funnily enough this prompted me to remember the old adage never work with children or animals!
Following dinner earlier we decided to indulge in a wee tipple, purely medicinal in order to keep the cold from our bones (any excuse!). However, though the ice wasn’t your normal tap water, it was a chunk from a several thousand year old glacier. It sounds strange but sitting back sipping a whiskey with ice which has spent the last millennium playing silent witness to an ever changing world is a pretty surreal and special moment!
And finally for those of you looking to brush up on your knowledge for the occasional pub quiz here’s some fascinating facts for you. Did you know that the air here is dryer than that in the Sahara - which helps account for the excellent state of preservation of Scott’s expedition hut. Up to 80% of the worlds fresh water is frozen here in ice sheets up to 4 km thick.
Until tomorrow...

Posted by Rosscopico 04:05 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

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