Land ho!

It seems appropriate that my first Antarctic landing was at Yankee Harbour.   It, however, seems inappropriate that the officially recognized  name for a site referencing Americans adds a “u” to  harbor.    Way back in the sealing days (1880s)  the Americans  sealers had a large camp/ seal carcass processing center at Yankee Harbour.  There was a kerfluffle over sealing rights and some nearby   British sealers   decided to  have it out with the Americans.  There were 40 American sealing boats in the harbor at the time…things did not go well for the Brits.

Sadly  things did not go so well for me either.  It was raining buckets and there were hordes of tourists everywhere.  So no photos and we carried on to Halfmoon Island.

Right so the fun is just beginning.  I can’t believe I get two weeks of island hopping.  If it weren’t for all the meetings  and writing I would feel like a tourist!

Practice makes perfect

You only have one chance to make a first impression and the HMS Protector  ( an ice patrol ship in the British navy)  certainly put on a show!

Captain P.J. Sparkes is one of only a very few full (4 bar) Captains in command of a vessel (most full captains in the Royal Navy drive a desk).  He  is what you would imagine from a British naval captain-  affable,  polished and a bit quirky.   In his former  position he captained vessels chasing down pirates  off Africa  (so a bit a of a lovely cliché really)- and sometimes institutes “Talk Like A Pirate” sessions on the bridge (yes he told a sailor to say “its clear’o stern me hearty” and not  “sir, it has cleared the stern, sir”.    The Captain informed us  that our first day at sea would be devoted to practicing essential naval skills.  We thought this was special,  but as it turns out the Royal Navy does at least 3 exercises a day,  however none of the other exercises were nearly as photogenic as these.

We have a couple of days of sailing (and trying not to get sea sick through the Drake!)  before  we start our work in the Peninsula.

A Sailor’s Life

This year’s trip is a bit different.  I am staying wholly on  a ship  with no pretext of going to a station.  We are largely Antarctic Island hopping and spending a lot of time in transit.  It is mostly quite pleasant-  well except for crossing the Drake  which was nauseating (despite the lack of big waves).  The Dr. said that the line to get seasickness meds filled the corridor and nearly went up the stairs.  I was less embarrassed about my sea  sickness knowing  that a number of hardened Royal Navy sailors were equally humbled.  Apparently the H.M.S Protector is well known in the Royal Navy as a rather sea-sicky  ship (a common problem for ice breakers)

The best feature of this vessel is that the bathroom floors are heated.   It makes drying out wet field gear so much easier.  I would show a picture, but the bathroom is the size of a closet.


The Bridge is a really good spot for doing some wildlife watching  and generally appreciating the scenery.  It is warm and cozy with pretty good views

I also saw Southern Bottlenose whales!   They are a type of beaked whale  (deep diving and often elusive).  I was so  busy trying to watch them with binoculars that I didn’t get a proper photo  grrrrr.

The Royal Navy is rather funny. They fully believe in taking all of the comforts of home with them when they go to war (or the Antarctic)- non of this Spartan nonsense that ground forces seem to follow..  We have proper mattresses in the bunk beds.   There are 3 fully stocked bars (one is pictured above, though the alcohol is put away)…and yes tea is served in actual china and the cream pitcher and sugar bowl are real silver.  So that is life aboard the ship.  I should note that the food is much better than anticipated and the chefs prepare special vegetarian options on request which is very kind of them.

The Islands that shall not be named

And so begins my Antarctic deployment for the 2012-2013 season. I should note that while I am writing as I go,  I’ll have no internet connection this trip, so everything will be posted after I return to civilization.

I am writing this blogpost  from a very comfortable  hotel room in the Falkland Islands, err Malvinas.  It’s the place where the Brits and Argentines  had a  conflagration in  1982, call it what you like.  It has been a  very interesting day and half here.

I arrived late yesterday afternoon.  We landed at the airstrip in the military base (no photos allowed)  then drove into town on the gravel road that was paved in parts but  still hard on the kidneys!   We drove past several landmine fields (well marked!)  but sadly did not stop for photos (apparently that is a tacky tourist thing to do).

Very quickly   after checking into our surprisingly stylish hotel  we went to a Magellanic penguin colony.  As you may remember from my previous trips to Chile and South Africa  Magellanics are burrowing penguins; they dig holes!    Chicks were hatched about a month or so ago.  We got to see a few still in the burrows!   I can safely say that this is the first wildlife site I have been to that also features the potential for landmines!  I was assured that the birds are perfectly safe because  they are too light to set off the mines.


We also saw some lovely night herons breeding on a stack of rocks

And some blue eyed shag,  but sadly those were a bit too far away to photograph

The next  day we went on a tour out to Volunteer Point.  It features,  Magellanic, gentoo,  and king (proper penguins!) penguin breeding colonies.

Our tour guide was Nobby  (no joke that was his name).  Nobby was born on the islands in the late 1940s  and he and his young family survived the nastiness of 1982.    He gave us a unique perspective on the conflict  as we drove past important landmarks (destroyed helicopters, mine fields,   farms that had been taken over by troops). We didn’t stop for pictures at any of these places- sorry.  Needless to say reminders of 1982 can be found all over the island.   Most years some lovely chaps from Zimbabwe  come out here and work on clearing the mines- it is rather slow work. It was a great day filled with lots of Island insight…now it is off to board the vessel.