The Dreaded Drake

When I got on the LMG, the new mate asked the Captain if he had to shake the fire extinguishers when he did his regular rounds.  The Captain laughed and told the new mate that the Drake would take care of it.  It didn’t sound like a joke, but I sure as heck hoped it was!

Well, since you are reading this I clearly made it through the Drake Passage.  I won’t lie, it wasn’t fun.  The Drake lived up to its reputation.  It was blowing between 30-40 knots.   There were 30 foot swells and lots of rocking and rolling.  I have the bruises to show for it.  I kept all of my cookies (thank you very much) by using lots of sea sickness meds, and laying in bed with my eyes closed most of the day.  The horrible conditions last more than 24 hrs (** note while I thought this was horrible, I am now informed that it was only rough. To be considered horrible the waves needs to be at least 55 feet).

When it was all over I learned that we changed course to get out of the worst of it and that at one point the waves/current/swell was so strong that we made no forward progress.  Having been through that, I seriously question the sanity of yachtsmen who want to sail through that particular patch of ocean.

Despite the horrid weather we had several bird species as our near constant companions.  I got outside with my camera at the start and the end of the horrid crossing.

1)   I am not a bird nerd, 2) I haven’t had a lot of time to pull out the bird guides to give you more specific identifications , 3) Sorry Sad smile

First! Day! At! Sea!

Can you sense my excitement from my liberal use of exclamation marks?!  We set sail shortly after breakfast.

Right after we pulled away from the dock we had  “the talk” where we learned about all the ways we could die (fall down the stairs, get washed away by waves) maim ourselves (finger gets closed in a door, jewelry snags while working, slip).  To quote the first mate,  “this boat is designed with one purpose: to injure you”.  I think that Andrew would have really liked this talk (more than 5 ways to die while having the same kind of fun).  We also learned about the number 1 way to  anger the crew, not closing the toilet valve  so no one on the whole ship can flush.  You would think it wouldn’t be that hard to flush….

Sadly, I have already been visited by the flusher police.  There was some grunting about the vacuum, but I think I was in compliance.

After lunch we were set free… and I of course I went straight out on deck and stayed there until dinner.

I saw my first (and many more) Commerson’s dolphin.   We saw them in the straits of Magellan at the last “pinch point”.  They appeared in small groups (I think 5 was the largest cohesive group of animals I saw).  They weren’t shy about trying to bowride, but I think we were going  a bit too fast for them.

I also got to see some of my old friends the pinguineras at sea.  I know that penguins are good swimmers.  I know that they can range far and wide in search of food.  However,  they still caught me off guard seeing them so far from shore (we saw them well beyond the oil rigs!)

We had a long stretch with not much wildlife except for non-cooperative (too small, too fast, too far away) terns.  When I returned to the deck for sunset, there was a great petrel  (I think that’s the correct common name, but this bird was big, close, and pretty cooperative).

The props on the boat go ‘round and ‘round

This morning started out with a tour of the engine room.  Perhaps, the crew thought it would be comforting for the newbies to see what was going to get us through the dreaded Drake passage and beyond.  As you might expect, it was incredibly loud in the engine room.  It was also immaculately clean and did not smell in the least of diesel.  Keep in mind the LMG is 230 feet long and houses about 30 scientists.  For me this is a huge boat, compared to the tour boats which typically carry about 100 tourists,  the LMG is  smallish.


Another day in port….still a little time before the rest of my “cruisemates” arrive.  It is another unusually gorgeous and not winding day.  I am told that Punta Arenas means “cold, windy, rainy and horrible” in Spanish.  I have been very lucky with the weather.  I even have a rather unfortunate sunburn (sigh).

What to do? What to do… I know penguins!  Like there was ever any question.  Just outside of Punta Arenas there are several colonies of Magellanic penguins.  Feeling absolutely crippled without a trusty guidebook I randomly picked a tour company.

So it turns out that with my poor Spanish I booked a shuttle to the colony rather than an actual tour.  I really missed the educational spiel about the penguins and there weren’t very many plaques out at the site.  Here is what I learned from eavesdropping on other groups:

The colony we visited has declined from about 12,000 animals to less than 5,000 animals since the year 2000.  The decline was attributed to nearby mining activities.  The penguins dig underground burrows in grassy areas, so were very susceptible to disturbance from underground noise.  The mining has stopped, but the penguin numbers have yet to increase.  This time of year, most of the chicks have been born (Nov 15-Dec10).  Sadly I didn’t see any wee ones poking their noses out of the burrows, but there were a few juveniles around (though none of them wanted to pose for a picture).

Now I give you… pinguineras

That’s it for my exciting port call in Punta Arenas.  It’s going to be a few days before my next pos.  Stay tuned.

A Day of Opposites

This morning started out cold and rainy.  By the time I got to the warehouse to pick up my ECW gear I was covered in puddle.  Since I wrote about ECW last year, I won’t bore you  except to say that it isn’t nearly as cold in the Peninsula region so the cold weather gear is not nearly as exciting this year.

Fortunately, when I looked up from my computer to go to lunch it was a gorgeous sunny day (and I have a really unfortunate sun burn to prove it!).  The Cementerio in Punta Arenas is famous.  It is like a smaller, more provincial, version of Recolleta in Buenos Aires.  I spent a couple of hours wandering around.  It is really touching how the graves of loved ones many decades deceased are still tended.

It was about this time that I started getting very sentimental and was ranking my favorite graves.  When that happened, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was time to leave.

I went back into town and stumbled upon a children’s parade.  All of the kids and their parents were dressed up in themed costumes.  I have no idea what it was for,  but it was adorable!

And so ends my day out and about town.  I have finally learned where my room, the stairs, and the IT department live.  Go me!


I had a pretty easy trip down here.  All except for 1 of my flights were delayed,  but I had long layovers and Jimmy… so there was no drama.  Who is Jimmy you may ask… none other than the “fairy godfather” of the Santiago Airport.  As I stumbled bleary eyed into the over crowded customs hall, there he was waving an Antarctic sign and calling my name.   Jimmy has “magic” or rather airport security clearance and things to do so he whisked me to the front of the line, talked to the customs agents for me, found my bag, and deposited me in a private lounge with food and water (It was like the “Antarctic Club”).  I wish I had a “Jimmy” on every international trip!

I am writing this post from my stateroom in the Research Vessel Lawrence M  Gould (hereafter the LMG—why bother typing the long name out when you don’t have to?).  It sounds spiffy and important, no?  Actually, all of the “normal”  rooms here are called state rooms. With only 2 people per room and a bathroom inside the room, there is no reason to complain.

I am still trying to learn my way about the boat and jet lag wasn’t helping yesterday… but look what I found:

After I finally found the way out  (there are way too many doors that all look the same on this boat!) I made my way to the town square. The big statue honoring Magellan is the center piece of the square.

Just outside of the square were some lovely historic looking buildings.

After I took the clock tower photo, I returned to the square and noticed that it was filling up with teenaged girls dressed to the nines.  Maybe it was prom night.  I took that as my cue to head back to the boat and crawl into my bunk.

We still have 2 more days in port.  I need to go get my Extreme Cold Weather Gear (ECW) and then I hope to have time to explore during daylight.  Even in port I have very limited e-mail access on the boat, but I will try to post once more.

I’m Bringing Icy Back

And by “Icy” I of course mean the little blog about my adventures in Antarctica.  I hope you are all as excited as I am!  No, wait, you can’t be.  I am the only one of us headed off to The Ice.

So this year I am off to see a different part of Antarctica and learn about a new (well for me) station and the research vessels.  I am so excited to spend three weeks with marine biologists!  It’s been far too long since I have gotten dirty from fieldwork. Continue reading