Day 12: The Drake Shake and Ushuaia

The Drake Shake quieted the closer we got to Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel. The sun was out and – though windy – there were ample opportunities for albatross sightings and photos. The expedition team was very good at encouraging us to be out on deck as much as possible. Part of this is probably because they know that passengers “stranded” indoors get antsy and often unhappy. But mostly it was because they are each passionate about the birds and the marine life and they want us to see everything we can, and the only place to see it was out on deck. When we got wrapped up in our cardgames and picture swapping, we’d forget that in a matter of days we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see these birds anymore.

Lecture: “Freezing the Balls off An Englishman” – Chris Dolder
One of our lectures today was by Chris Dolder who spent three months camping on the Ross Ice Shelf for his studies at the University of New Zealand. He used this as an opportunity to share the intricate details of camping in sub-freezing weather. Such as what to pack; how to cook; and the all-important how to pee. His lecture was especially interesting because the stories of the “heroes” don’t go into such mundane but ultimately critical details. Now we know exactly how many times one changes their underwear on an ice plateau.

Lecture: “Save the Albatross”
Later Heidi gave a presentation on how line fishing is killing the albatross in alarming numbers. What’s worse is that the fishing is done for exactly those fish hat I love: Chilean Sea Bass, Some types of tuna, etc. A sad day to discover that some of my favorite dishes are on the “Don’t Buy” list since they’re killing off the albatross in alarming numbers. When I went to Cocos in May, there was a man on the boat who was the opposite of vegetarian: he refused to eat fish because he refused to support the fishing industry, so he only ate meat. After watching Heidi’s video of line fishing and how it affects the albatross, and thinking of Cocos – I can see how someone would make that decision.

Later in the evening the team auctioned off a few items, with all the money going to the Save the Albatross fund. They auctioned a map of Argentina and the Antarctica peninsula – marked with all the places we’d been. Also a book about the “heroes” of Antarctic exploration – signed by the crew and inscribed with the Robert Service poem “The Quitter”, signed by the expedition team, and stamped with the captain’s stamp. (Shannon bought one of these) And the tattered GAP flag that flew from the bow of the boat for our entire trip. The auction was hilarious to watch because Chris Gilbert and his very dry sense of humor announced the different items and teased the bidders to go higher with hilarious statements like, “This is a British Empirical Map, you Brits don’t really want a Canadian taking it home, do you?” I was especially impressed with how very generous everyone was – the team raised over $2000. Not too shabby.

* Aside *
Mindy and I thought it would be a great idea if Shannon read her lovely and inscribed auction book and then sent it to us. That would make us, like, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Book”. Shannon thinks we should get our own $#*)(@$ books. Huh. Not very sisterhood-like.
* End Aside *

Travel to Ushuaia
The rest of the day and evening was spent outside on deck, enjoying the sunny and gradually warming weather. We constantly attempted to capture photos of the albatross and petrels that flocked around the ship, and occasionally someone would get a quality shot. Not so with my camera – it’s simply not powerful enough (and I’m not coordinated enough) to get these big beautiful birds through the lens. So instead I just watched and enjoyed.

Aft side of the Polaris

Wandering Albatross

Jurg, Daniel and Mindy enjoying the day

Daniel and his women: Louise, Shannon, me, Daniel, and Mindy (pic by Chris?)

Land, Ho! The gang on the bow as we entered the Beagle Channel

We had some bow-riding dolphins appear later in the evening as we traveled through the Beagle Channel. Sixty-five of us leaned over the bow of the boat to try to capture the fun of dolphins riding the waves in front of the boat.

Bow-riding dolphins (pic by Shannon)

Half the boat looking for more dolphins (pic by Shannon)

I debated whether to get this personal on the online journal, but because it was on my mind and because it’s significant this is probably where it belongs.

This night – Feb 17 – marked five years since Jon died. Though he technically passed on the morning of the 18th, for me the 17th is always a day of memories, both good and bad. When I realized our rescheduled Antarctica trip would overlap with the five-year anniversary I thought “I couldn’t have planned it better myself.” Visiting a gorgeous, exotic, remote part of the world with cherished friends is exactly what Jon would have wanted me to do.

I can’t help but think of him and how excited he would have been by the chance to see an area of the world some people will never have the opportunity to experience. He would have taken hundreds of photographs of penguins and the brilliant colors of the icebergs. He would have loved swimming in the cold water of Whaler’s Bay. He would have enjoyed the GAP excursion team and would have dreamed up some alternative lifestyle in which we lived together on a boat and lead excursions. (Which of course wouldn’t have been enough… he would have eventually aspired to run the entire company)

Every sunset makes me think of him, his laugh, and his joy for life. Even after five years I miss him terribly, but wherever he is I know he is happy that I continue to travel and, as he used to say, “take in all that culture”. And I’m thankful to have special friends like Mindy and Shannon who are not only willing to go to crazy places with me, but who also understand the significance of a day like this.

I was alone on the bow of the boat, watching the sunset over the Beagle Channel when Mindy walked out and wordlessly looped her arm through mine. We stood quietly for a while, staring at the colors of the sky until out of nowhere three dolphins jumped through the waves to our right, surprising us with their antics and making us laugh with delight before they disappeared as quickly as they’d arrived. Like a little sunset gift – just for us.