Day 10: Antarctica and the Drake Shake

I slept for a full eight hours that night, which was such a treat after the string of 4-5 hour nights. So I woke feeling like a champ and ready to do our final landing in the afternoon.

The morning was travel time – it would take us a few hours to get to Penguin Island just next to King George’s Island and that would be our last landing before we leave for Ushuaia. We passed the time looking at each others’ photos and going to a few lectures.

Lecture: “Balls of Blubber” – Shannon
This lecture was about whales, so definitely one of my favorite subjects and an educating session since I didn’t really know the detailed differences between baleen whales vs. toothed whales. She also told us a bit about the International Whaling Commission that was originally formed to regulate the whale population by recording and putting quotas on the killing of whales for the purpose of business interests. But in the years since it has changed it focus from the revenue of whaling companies to the conservation and protection of whales.

Definitely an interesting lecture, and then definitely time for a nap. Shannon and I curled back into our bunks and dozed until Stephen’s voice came over the intercom announcing another Chris Gilbert lecture.

Lecture: “Nordenskjold and a Penguin Egg” – Chris Gilbert
Storytime!! Usually after Stephens’ announcements I lay in bed for a bit and get up slowly and gently. But not with storytime. We jumped up and gathered our stuff so we could be in the lecture hall with great seats as soon as possible. (Of course we never missed anyone’s lecture… How could we? The team is so knowledgable and interesting. And why come on this fabulous trip and miss a single minute of this fabulous experience?)

Gilbo Storytime
Gilbo had two stories: one about a team that set out in winter to find the colony of empire penguins and to bring back a few eggs. They had hardships and weather (50 below!) that were so awful the entire lecture hall cringed and squirmed at the descriptions. Like wind that was so strong they had to wear clampons in order to walk. Or that the dead of Antarctica winter is completely pitch black, but when they lit a candle the huge blizzard winds would snuff them out. Or – ew! – the massive frostbite blisters that, when lanced, didn’t ooze because the blister fluid was frozen solid. Yikes. Chris recommended a book called The Worst Journey in the World that tells this story quite well.

Then he shared the story of Nordenskjold, who brought his team to Antarctica to do more scientific studies, and the amazing efforts that were taken by his boat captain to collect the team after multiple attempts of sailing, hiking and skiing.

Penguin Island near King George’s Island – wind delay
We arrived at lovely Penguin Island and had a briefing about where to go, what to do, and how to climb the big lookout hill. Unfortunately the wind kicked up and prevented our anticipated last landing, so we entertained ourselves with pictures outside and filming the noise of the wind.

Shiny Iceberg

Super high winds and whitecaps

Seriously strong winds – I could barely hold the camera steady

After a few hours it was clear that the wind wasn’t going to quiet down for our landing and there was no way we could launch the zodiaks in this weather. We could barely stand up outside, the wind was so strong. Steven said they clocked wind speeds of 50 knots! So the crew pulled anchor and we cruised around King George and enjoyed the scenery.

Windy King George Island

Windy Mindy

King George glacier

Windy day outside our porthole

Of course we were sad not to have our last landing but such is the way with unpredictable Antarctica. We’d miss the last of the penguins… but not so much the penguin guano. After days of climbing rocks and islands full of penguins our jackets and trousers reeked so badly that – after returning from landing – Shannon and I would often leave our cabin door open to stop our cabin from stinking like our clothes / a penguin colony. Since we weren’t going to have another landing we gave our smelly stuff a really good scrubbing and left them in the sauna to dry.

Iceberg Champagne
During Barbara’s iceberg briefing the other night she said that the first person that pointed out an iceberg would win a bottle of champagne. They do this on each trip, but they know that the first iceberg usually appears at 4:00 AM. This trip, however, moved much faster because of the tailwinds which allowed us to bump up everything: our arrival, our first landing, and of course our first iceberg. We were standing on the bow of the boat when I squinted into the fog, “Is that… is that an iceberg?” Val – a woman who was standing behind me announced – “Iceberg! We see an iceberg!” Someone on the upper deck saw it at the exact same time as I did, so two bottles of champagne were awarded. As a celebration for our last landing (which of course didn’t happen, but who needs a reason to drink good champagne?) I popped open our bottle.

Champagne – perfect for penguins, icebergs, and 50-knot-days


Officer Drinks and Dinner
The Polaris Officers – all of whom were Russian – continued the champagne evening with a glass for everyone. They came to the lounge and expressed their delight having us on board.

The officers (pic by Mindy)
The GAP staff also used this as an award ceremony for those of us who went swimming on the 12th. When Dolder announced our names he said, “And of course, the ‘Terrible Trio’, Mindy, Heidi, and Shannon.” Yeah… I that about sums it all up.

The “Terrible Trio” and the Swim Team Captain, Richard. Thank goodness we have certificates because the photographic evidence clearly wasn’t enough
Over dinner we sat with Sergey, who was our Chief Passenger Mate and the man who announces our meals with his thick Slavic: “Good avternoon. Lonch iz now zerved in ze Dinink Room. Velcome and enshoy. Bon Apeteet.” He’s from an area of Russia I’ve never heard of, but he’s clearly the ‘black sheep’ of the family since his job takes him around with world but the rest of his family stay in Russia. His work schedule is four months on – four months off, and the funny bit is that when he’s off he prefers to stay home because “I doynt loyke to travel.”

The Drake Shake
The seas were rough that day, my friend…

Our Drake Crossing journey from Ushuaia to Antarctica was nice and easy and very much “The Drake Lake”. So it figured that our trip back north would be across “The Drake Shake”. The waves were huge and rough and the boat pitched this way and that way. The GAP staff left out of a box of Dramamine with the sign “Take one every 12 hours” for anyone who felt less than spectacular in the middle of the night. They also strategically placed brown paper bags in and around the boat so they would be easily accessible. That’s the good part about traveling with a doctor – endless scopolamine (anti sea sickness) patches.

“Just in case” paper bags (pic by Mindy)

Mindy’s pic of the crazy outside with the wind, waves, and sleet. We’re pretty sure she risked her life to get this shot. 🙂 (pic by Mindy)

It was definitely a rough night. The boat rocked, rolled, and moved so much that sleeping was difficult since gravity would push us every which way. Eventually anything that was on a shelf / hanger / hook ended up on the floor, and anything that was on the floor got pushed around.

The stool in the bathroom slid all over the place making a horribly loud metallic sound so I got up to settle it a bit more securely. While in the bathroom a particular huge wave took me by surprise and I stumbled backward and almost tripped into the shower, except that I grabbed the nearest item to hold my balance – the bathroom sink.

Good idea in theory; not so good in execution. I managed to pull half of the sink away from the wall as well as disconnecting the drainage pipe at the base. Uh… woops. It could have been much worse. There could have been water spouting all over the place and/or I could have cracked the sink wide open. (I flatter myself with such great feats of strength). But as it was I only had to do minor plumbing triage to get it back in order.

The “repaired” bathroom sink. I don’t think I’ve missed my calling as a plumber