The grand daddy trip to Antarctica

Trip Start Oct 07, 2010
Trip End Mar 13, 2011

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Flag of Antarctica  ,
Saturday, February 12, 2011

Was very excited about the trip to Antarctica.  After 3 weeks with the 11 mainly Aussies in the overland group, it was a last night out with them with yet another divine steak. Up early  In the for a jog (to get rid of the energy given the next 2 weeks would be generally on a ship), it was a morning of getting as much of the next month organized.  Flights out were changed, hotels in Buenos Aires booked, photos uploaded, blog updated, Brazilian visa paperwork (the bane of my travels) and an attempt to buy tickets to go home.  All dull but an idea of the relatively mundane things that a traveller worries about and not things like bills, work emails and the stress of everyday life certainly not a part of it. Also bought booze for the trip, a bottle of wine for each day and some beers and vodka.

The trip was a 13 day cruise with about 8 days of landings on island and the peninsular itself. We did about 12 landings and a few zodiac cruises, one night camping, swum in the ocean and ate way too much. This is a brief summary, I will update this in a few days.

Interesting Antarctica facts
- the 2nd most common large mammal is probably the crabeater seal
- only 2% of the continent is accessible (not covered by snow or has huge ice wall on it)
- the water is usually below zero degrees
- killer whales are the 2nd most spread mammal in the world and one of the only species without a predator. They kill anything in the water, including Blue whales
- Dolphins belong to the whale family. All whales with teeth use Echolocation. This involves having a bulbous forehead to send out signals and fat in the jaw to receive it, linked to the inner ear
- the continent is cooling slightly in the middle and warming significantly on the peninsular. The whole continent is a desert except for the peninsular. Winds from the west are damp and cold and dry from the East
- Chile, Argentina and England all have bases on the peninsular as they claim it should the Antarctic treaty stop
- the distance south we got, around 69 South, is under ice sheets in most of the rest of Antarctica, yet open sea west of the peninsular
- there are 48 signatories to the treaty, many are dubious as they have no stations or interest there. On the Eastern side of the continent, the Europeans, South Africans, Kiwis and Americans are the main players. On the peninsular, the Shetland islands have many bases as they just count and are the closest and cheapest place to have bases
- Some countries have things to claim sovereignty such as issue currency, have radio stations, have babies, schools, post offices. No military or mineral extraction is allowed
- whilst a lot of science is dubious, it's the one place on Earth that's put aside for peace and science and is one of the more effective international treaties
- Pirate and legitimate fishing and whaling happens on the 60th parallel, anything south is covered by the Antarctic treaty. 66 and below is the Antarctic circle.  The Sea Sheperd managed to stop the Japanese whaling fleet whilst we were at sea and shut it down for a year
- outside of penguin and seal poo, there are few smells there and very little plant life, certainly no trees or shrubs, only moss ad algae 
- krill are the bottom of the food chain, their purpose basically is to be eaten and yet they can live to 10 years. They feed off algae and basically a small shrimp 2cm long that form blooms visible from space.  They are the reason most poo in Antarctica is red
 - there is another species competing with krill to eat algae and could be scary if it wins. It's 95% water with a small orange middle. Hmm, forgot name, will find it shortly
- West and east Antarctic ice sheet quite different. They look the same above, but split by the trans antactic mountains.  East much higher a lot of accumulation is from wind, not snow
- Ice streams are fast moving glaciers, up to 2km a year. Ice tongue is ice stream jetting into the ocean, surrounded by water everywhere
- Ice shelves occupy bays, from ice sheets and streams, attached on 3 sides
- A tabular iceberg flat on top, green iceberg is inverted berg with marine ice below 
- Katabatic winds are super cold, very strong winds off the massive central glaciers that come from no where and can freeze sea water in minutes. The first Aussie base from Mawson was in a place famous for them
- Gentoo penguins are colonising further south on the western part of the peninsular very fast. They have a diverse diet and warming is allowing them into the range of the more skittish Adelies who are the most Southern penguin outside the Emperors. It's hard to tell how penguin populations are going, probably stable. The seals have recovered amazingly since they were almost hunted to extinction up till just 70 years ago. Some recovered and were hunted to almost extinction again. One theory is the whale hunting allowed more krill for the seals to eat
- Skuas are the hunters and chief scavenger of the birds. Funnily enough they live aside the penguins they eat
- Leopard seals are the chief predator in the water, they are unlike the other seals as they are snakelike and solitary. Amazing swimmers, they skin penguins by thrashing them in the water
- The wandering and Royal albatross followed us across the Drake passage only when the wind is strong enough for them to fly, otherwise they sit in the sea. As juveniles, they don't go on land for over 7 years. After devastation from fixed lines, they are stabilizing in numbers in this part of the world
- the Antarctic and Artic tern look similar, yet the Arctic tern flies down from he Arctic each year and the Antarctic one barely moves. Both elegant small birds
- the Drake passage is about 700km (maybe 900km) wide. The reason for the famously hugef seas (apparently the biggest on earth) is the circumpolar current around Antarctica has effectively unlimited fetch and is pushing a huge amount of water through a narrow passage (it's less than half of most of the rest of the circumpolar distance to South Africa, NZ and Australia.
- there was a strong push for history on the tour which is interesting as its very recent with most bases being only 50 years old at their oldest. Maximum a 100 in other parts. Certainly not old by any stretch. The names of the places are typically English, French and German reflecting the people who explored it.  capt Cook almost got there many years before others
- the ancient Greeks guessed there was a Southern continent based on the Earth needing to be counterbalanced with the northern hemisphere
- Some of the ice shelves are coming off in enormous chunks.  the Larson B and Ross ice shelves have had pieces the size of France come off in the past decade

Not so interesting below, but a rough description of the places
Day 1- leaving port at 6pm, the the beagle channel had some great views on it. 
day 2 - crossing the Drake. super clear night watching the moon rise from the back of the boat. Cool lectures on the whales, birds and geology. Cool albatross and giant petrels following us coming down
Day 3 - Valentines day on the Drake,  lectures during the day, through the South Shetlands at night
Day 4- first landing day, firstly at a Gentoo penguin colony (old Argie base) and then at a massive glacier field in the dingy. Minke whales came up near the dingy 
Day 5 - first landing in Neko harbor, gorgeous location with plenty of bergs in the bay. Walked up above the penguin colony and looked onto the bay and glacier below, waiting for a massive calving. Highlight was a small group of Gentoo penguins swimming around. Great waking up with whales feeding around us. The afternoon was spent at a small old English hut thats been restored, Port Lockroy. In the evening went camping with a truly stunning moon rise come up over the bay. Great to camp in the snow and see the moon reflect through the ship in the bay
Day 6- started at port Charlot. The afternoon headed over to the Ukranian station, Vernadsky where it was vodka shots
Day 7- headed out to sea to go south. Some big waves before a late landing at Blaiklock island
day 8 - went to horseshoe island. In the afternoon went out to the British main base, Rothera. 
Day 9 - headed north to a stunning island surrounded by huge mountains across the Bay
Day 10 -  morming landing on Hannahs point, lots of elephant seals (gruesome moment when one fell off a cliff), lots of different life and grass! Such a luxury! Afternoon went to Deception island, a caldera that's flooded but couldn't land due to wind, so we went north to the Drake early which helped due to the rising wind
Day 11 - started returning on the Drake
Day 12- felt a bit ill on the Drake passage even though the horrible weather predicted wasn't so bad
Day 13- arrived into Ushuaia early. So warm up here!
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Roger on

Fannnntastic photos G. I reckon if the Sea Shepherds had gone on deck in bathrobes, the Japanese whalers would have given up years ago from the awesomeness of the 'antarctic casual' look...

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