Ship's Route:
From 7 to 8 and 9
Saturday, 24/11/2001
Antarctic Sound
Noon navigation report from the bridge:
Location:Antarctic Sound
Speed:12.5 Knots
Air Temperature:10°C/50°F
Sea Temperature:0°C/32°F
Wind Speed/Direction:  Variable

The Antarctic Sound is called Iceberg Alley for a reason: countless bergs of all shapes and sizes drift through during the warmer months, and freeze together in a solid mass in winter. The day was bright and clear beneath a spotless deep blue sky, and we spent most of the morning scuttling from observation deck to observation deck watching (and photographing: we have many more photos in the archive than are displayed here) the ice drift by. The captain frequently pulled the Adventurer to within 30 meters so we could see the intricate (and sometimes delicate) details of ice and water, and to thrill with the varying hues of blue as the sun light illuminated both ice and water.

The most impressive were the massive tabular bergs which can reach sizes exceeding some US states! While most of the ice bergs we saw were on the scale of a large building or a city block, we saw a few that were at least as large as our home city of Portland, Oregon. Our favorite bergs had to be those which had been at sea for some time and into which the water had etched a distinct line. Icicles and other bizarre frozen shapes hung down over the water in curtains of shimmering glory. Still older bergs have had their center of gravity shifted through the action of waves, or the process of melting or even sublimation and so have rolled over, with the flat top
now plunging into the sea, and the new water line intersecting the old at odd angles.

And in between the larger bergs were countless smaller chunks of ice: some rising high out of the water, like icy sail boats, and others laying low and flat, with the latter especially popular as personal flotation devices for seals. Sometimes the entire sound was filled with these ice flows, both smaller and large, and other times it was almost completely clear. The pattern shifted as the currents and winds moved the floating ice about in an ever changing pattern.

The Adventurer steadily made its way around the bergs and through the patches of smaller ice as it made its way toward our destination for that morning: Esperanza Station. Nestled between the shoulders of Mt. Flora and Mt. Fauna, this small Argentinian base was a remote outpost of civilization, and would be our first contact with the actual Antarctic continental landmass. There was some concern in the bridge, because all morning long we received no answer to our radio request for a visit. As we closed the distance to the station the radio came alive with a warm welcome, encouraging us to board the zodiacs for a trip ashore.

Little did we know that a band of Elder Things had flown down from the plateau and summoned half a dozen shoggoths, and together they had destroyed the encampment. They had taken the severed head from the
Dr. David Dallmeyer
base leader, and connecting it to some insane device were able to control his voice over the radio, thus luring us in... okay, I had just been reading from Beyond the Mountains of Madness the night before, and my imagination was playing games with me.

But there was no doubt that Esperanza was odd, even without the mysterious radio silence of that morning to add to the plot. It began as the English research station, Hope Base, before being transfered first to Uruguay, and then finally to Argentina. Although the Antarctic Treaty forbade development for the purpose of establishing a claim to Antarctic territory, Argentina has put forth a great deal of effort to create and maintain an actual town, or village of 42. Many of the residents are single adults, but some are families, including children. Each person or family volunteers to live at Esperanza for twelve to fourteen months at a time. Argentina is so obsessed with establishing a claim that in the 1970s they flew a pregnant woman to Esperanza where she gave birth to the first human born on this frozen continent.

Most buildings were modular units that perch several feet above ground on sturdy metal legs, and were cabled or chained to the bedrock to prevent the extreme winds from blowing them away, but some of the structures are very permanent. A massive concrete dock and boat launch led from the shore up to the village, several hefty concrete helicopter landing pads dot the town, and several large maintenance and storage garages were built on the ground itself. All of the buildings were bright red, and most of the modular units can be interconnected to create larger, typically communal structures.

We visited a school which had about a dozen students who ranged in ages from 6 to 16, who were taught by a dedicated instructor in addition to live radio and television broadcasts that linked them with their home country. Radio enthusiasts can tune into their broadcasts between the hours of 15:00 and 18:00 Argentinian time (+3 hours from UT) at wavelength 15,476 Radio Nacional.

A great many Adelie penguins made their homes all around the base, especially up by the town's cemetery, but bird and man managed to live peacefully together,
although the occasional helicopter flight in our out obviously upset them. Still, like all other penguins we encountered, these displayed no fear or even interest in our presence.

After touring the settlement we were welcomed into the cafeteria, where we were treated to hot beverages and snacks, and the opportunity to send postcards, each of which would receive an Antarctica postmark.

Alas, but once again we had to press on in order to make our next destination while daylight lasted. Well, not really. Although the sun did set, it never dipped far below the horizon, and so it never really got dark. We would experience a couple of hours of near twilight between midnight and 2:00 AM, but then it would quickly brighten for the rest of each 24 hour period. never the less, we had a schedule to keep, and so we fled back to the ship for lunch as she steamed eastward into the very northwest corner of the Weddell Sea and then on to Paulet Island.


Antarctic Sound

On the Way to Paulet Island

Adelies everywhere. Note the penguin corpse to the far right.
The moon rises over a penguin covered ridge
Paulet Island

Paulet Island could easily have been named Penguin Island, but then considering that almost every square foot of exposed rock in this region was covered with penguins any place could easily contain the word penguin in its moniker. While estimates vary, the Adelie penguin population on Paulett Island was in the tens of thousands at the very least. As you look through the associated images pay close attention to the penguin density in the foreground, and then know that the speckled appearance on all the background hills, ridges and coast line is caused by the same packed penguin state everywhere you looked.

A stiff wind had picked up in the afternoon blowing directly off the Weddell Sea, and as a result relatively large waves were breaking onto the beach, making for a difficult, and sometimes wet landing in the zodiacs. Large tabular icebergs had also been blown into the island's small bay, and one towering monster that had titled up at an angle was actually grounded, although the water was still quite deep where it had come to rest. Another smaller iceberg drifted about the bay as the wind pushed it into a game of chase with our ship, the Adventurer.

We walked up from the shore, avoiding the penguins, both living and dead. Each year the penguins nest, lay and hatch their eggs, and then raise their chicks into adult hood by the time the extremes of the Antarctic winter hit full force. A number of the juvenile penguins do not survive, and their corpses from the previous season litter the ground. The snow and ice that covers everything for most of the year acts as a preservative, and we would encounter numerous skeletal remains, bodies, and artifacts of mankind's presence throughout our journey, each in an amazing state of preservation -- so good in fact that some things which had been there for decades looked as if they were from just the previous season.

Never ones to miss out on a hike, we began to clamber up the ridge toward the island's central peak: a dormant volcano. Along the way we paused to look at the shelter built and used by members of the Nordenskjold party who, after surviving their ship's destruction, overwintered on Paulett Island. Only a single crew member died in the ensuing struggle for survival, and he died from a heart attack, and not from exposure to the elements. The members of the Nordenskjold expedition had split up into different groups after loosing their ship, with some setting up camp at Hope Base (now Esperanza), and others living here.

Looking at a neighboring ridge to the north we saw the pale moon sitting in the clear blue sky. Being from the northern hemisphere it took a while to get used to looking north to see the sun and moon, and it was forever throwing off my sense of direction. Unfortunately because it never got dark at this time of year we were never treated to the delights of the southern constellations. In fact, while we were experiencing the perpetual days of an Antarctic summer, friends back home were experiencing the most active Leonid meteor storm in recent history. An equal exchange of rewards, but I hope to return to the far southern hemisphere some day when I can observe in the southern night skies.

We continued our trek up the nearby ridge, at the top of which we saw a small partially frozen inlet, and then another rise leading up to the top of the island. We had come as far as we could for this visit, and so after watching the hordes of penguins milling about, and the Imperial shags soaring overhead, we retraced our steps and finally returned to the ship.

That evening the ship sailed back through the Antarctic Sound toward our next day's destination. We were actually quite glad that it did not get dark, despite my misgivings about missing the splendors of the night sky, because the sound was still choked full of icebergs, and it was comforting to know that the crew had plenty of light in which to see them a long, long way off.


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