Sparky Travels

February 20, 2011

South of the Antarctic Circle

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On the morning landing on the 19th of February we landed at Horseshoe Island. Perched on the rocks was an interesting old base still in the condition it was in almost 40 years ago. It resembled a ghost ship, with shelves still stocked and old newspapers lying on the table.

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The island’s current inhabitants are adele penguins and seals. Adele penguins are small and with pure black faces, some of the young were moulting at time while the ones that had already moulted were heading into the water for the first time.DSC01003DSC01024

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Past the bay there was a scree slope which was fun for rock-hopping up but with an un-exceptional view at the top. Dotted around the place were interesting rocks with green oxidised copper veins running through them.

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This landing turned out to be our most southerly landing of the trip at 67º 51‘ S 067º 12‘ W. Nice!

Our afternoon landing was a rare treat. We had been invited to spend the day at Britain’s still-functioning Rothera Station, the British Antarctic Survey’s principal logistics centre. Apparently, only one other tourist ship had reached them this year so we felt quite privileged. As we arrived at the base we were able to watch a couple of their planes landing after supply runs further into the continent.

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We were split into groups and were given an extremely interesting tour of the whole base which has a population of over 100 people in the summer. The research buildings were especially interesting (the atmosphere was similar to QinetiQ in many ways) with terrestrial and underwater biological studies being undertaken. We were shown the diving centre with its hyperbaric chamber.and an aquarium filled with weird creatures such as sea spiders and various starfish type creatures. The staff who showed us around were extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

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That evening, on board the ship, we had a poker tournament between 20 of us. I managed to reach the final table but had fewest chips and didn’t last long. Out of the game, which was purely for pride, I took on the role of dj as we turned the library into a party room. It was pretty rainy on at this time and at one point I managed to slip on the deck, throwing half a cup of whiskey into my eye in the process. Not very clever!

Today, the 20th we started off with a zodiac tour of the icebergs around the Fish Islands. DSC_0257

The ‘bergs were spectacular and tightly packed. At times we had to force our way through the ice to make our way around. The bottom of the zodiac was filled with water but this couldn’t dampen our joy as we zig-zagged from ‘berg to ‘berg. The sheer variety of shapes and sizes was unbelievable with ones resembling towers, churches and ski jumps. We’d also regularly happen upon crab-eater seals lounging on icebergs and cruise right up to them to say hello.

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We thought it couldn’t get much better, but as we reached the end of the morning’s activity the sun came out and showed everything up in a whole new – and stunningly beautiful – light.

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We took advantage of the perfectly calm and clear weather to go out again in the afternoon. This gave us more time to enjoy the icebergs lit up by the sun resulting in vibrant colours. Although the icebergs were less densely packed we had the advantage of sailing through gorgeously blue water with great visibility above and below the water.

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In the late afternoon we had a chance to experience something very shocking! We changed into our swimming togs and headed to the zodiac platform to do a polar plunge. 40 of us (an amazing two0thirds of the passengers) queued up to jump into the freezing Antarctic water. The temperature was apparently somewhere between –1 and 0 degrees Celsius! Some jumped in naked, some dived in, some jumped high and some tried lowering themselves in. All of us received a well-deserved shot of vodka immediately afterwards. I have to say that although it was cold it was over so quickly that it didn’t really have time to register.The second you got out it almost felt like your skin was burning and it didn’t take long to get warmed back up.

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A further highlight was getting to drink a 12 year old Glenlivet with 30,000 year old (approx. could be older) icecubes taken from a piece of ice we grabbed from the water. This ice looks almost black in the sea because it has been compressed for centuries under subsequent ice on the ice sheet, causing all the air molecules to be pushed out.

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