Trip To Antartica With Dick Pace
(photo courtesy of Adventure Life)
Hope you enjoy reading Trip To Antartica With Dick Pace
Well, as promised, I am sending the first of many travelogues of our trip to lovely Antarctica. Most of you requested that I do this. In fact, many of you begged me to send you e-mails depicting the highlights of our trip; from counting the number of icebergs that we see (or hit dead-on) to the mating habits of the Chinstrap Penguin. I know that many of my friends and family were merely humoring me but I do not care, you are getting these stupid emails anyway, like it or not. If I have to be bored for ten days, then so do you.
First, here’s some background. You may ask “Why Antarctica?” but so do I. Here’s the story; this year is our 35th anniversary, and my lovely wife Mary asked me in October where I would like to go to celebrate our survival. I immediately responded as loud as I could “any of my favorite islands in the Caribbean. I would like to go somewhere and fish, golf, dive, drink rum and lay on the beach watching the scenery”. Mary is a very good travel agent and I knew that she would set up the perfect warm holiday. On Christmas Day I jumped out of bed as excited as a four year old kid. I ran downstairs, went to our beautiful Christmas tree (which I so painstakingly put together), and snatched the envelope which I was sure contained the contents of my perfect Caribbean vacation. I quickly opened the envelope and my mouth dropped – ANTARCTICA!!!!!!!! Well, there went the golf, fishing, hot weather and babes on the beach. Instead it was replaced by ice, ice, penguins, ice and a few whales.
Day 1- The plane ride.
Mary used her magic (and a few million American points) and got us upgraded for this 11-hour flight. I felt pretty good for the first 5 minutes. Then, in the seat right across from me, a woman who looked and acted exactly like Yenta the Matchmaker from Fiddler on the Roof sat down. She started to stare at me so I, being a friendly sort of guy, said hi. What a mistake. She didn’t shut up for the next two hours. She was from Brooklyn so I understood everything that she said (my buddies from the mid west would have needed an interpreter). Finally I popped a few pills and went to sleep. Poor Mary has a cold so she coughed in my ear for most of the night.
Buenos Aires – We arrived here at noon and were met by a very loquacious tour guide. We had about a 30-minute ride to the hotel and she told us about every street and house that we passed along the way and gave us a list of the best wines to drink. Mary’s eyes lit up at the thought of a Chardonnay and, miraculously, her cold went away. Oh did I mention that it was 97 degrees, which broke a record.
The Cocktail Party — We went to the required cocktail party to meet our fellow travelers. I would not be exaggerating if I said that it looked like the bar scene from Star wars. One woman looked like she just walked out of the 60’s with a joint in her hand. Most of the guys were bald and had beards, especially the Duke Alumni Tour. It turns out that they were all Phi Beta Kappa’s and are now different types of scientists. I would have a lot to talk about with this crowd! We also met a girl that joined us for dinner and who looks exactly like Bilbo Baggins wife from Lord of the Rings except not as tall. Mary pointed out that they are probably saying something similar about me – like, “did you meet that a-hole from Connecticut?” We also met the worlds foremost authority on krill. Can’t wait to hear his lecture…
Dinner — The fact is that Buenos Aries is one of favorite places to visit. Great food, wine, and the people are fun. We had two terrific meals with some of our shipmates (another story) and are now getting ready for our 6 am plane ride. Most people take jets to southern Argentina. It usually takes a few hours. We are going on a prop plane that was built in Poland and takes 3.5 hours.
Hopefully I will able to send my next report from the ship. I have volunteered to do Iceberg watch duty.
They woke us up at 5:30. We stayed at the Park Hyatt, a really nice hotel in a good section of town that I know from my days traveling to Argentina. We had joined our merry group of travelers for breakfast; Mary and I made a point of meeting more of the adventurers. I was sure that someone on this trip had an IQ of less than 190 and was not a Mensa member and I was determined to meet them. Sure enough we sat at a table with a couple from Texas who came out of central casting. Their names were Clem and Gloria, Clem weighs about 300 pounds, wears a top hat (I kid you not) and jean overalls, apparently all the time. His wife is only slightly smaller, and looks and dresses exactly like Clem except that she has hair. Clem was doing needlepoint and let us know that the main reason he was taking this trip was to do a needlepoint of a Penguin. I wondered how Clem was going to have a Penguin pose for him. We also met two very nice (and young) couples from Russia. Their only problem is that they don’t speak a word of English… I take that back, they can say Vodka!
Our plane took us to Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world. It’s summer here and the temperature is about 40 with 30-knot winds. Perfect condition for a ride across the Drake channel. We actually met a bunch of very nice folks on the plane. In Ushuaia we had a terrific lunch and plenty of good Argentine wine. After lunch they took us to our ship, the Corinthian (boat is a better definition). Get this, the boat was built in Greece and has a Polish Captain. The Greeks and Poles sure know a lot about icebergs. Oh, and it is the only boat that sails to Antarctica that actually is NOT an icebreaker. The rest of the crew is mostly Russian so our friends from Moscow have someone to talk to. Mary is feeling better and is ready to do some yoga and have a few wines
Day 3 At Sea
We left the dock at 5:30 PM in 30 knots of wind and sailed 4 hours through the Beagle Channel. The boat rocked a bit but wasn’t too bad. Everyone seemed in good sprits and no one was seasick-yet. Our Polish Captain said that the conditions might get more difficult when we reached the open sea at about 9 PM. I have been around boats all my life and have never been seasick. Ditto for Mary. But I figured better safe than sorry so I took a Dramamine. I never had one before so I figured if one pill was good then two would be better. We then went to the bar for a few cocktails before dinner, two Dark and
Stormy’s, to be precise. They seated us with two couples, the women who reminded me of Janis Joplin (long ponytail, hippie clothes), her husband who had a small but noticeable stutter and another couple from New Jersey who seemed fairly normal, at least compared to everyone else that we have met.
As soon as I sat down to eat, the Dramamine kicked in. I guess that it didn’t help that I had a few drinks and started my first glass of Pinot Grigio. All of a sudden my mouth froze up, my eyes drooped and I couldn’t talk. Can you imagine me not talking!? I was comatose. I am not sure what it is like to take too much acid but now I have an idea. My tablemates started asking me questions about all sorts of mundane stuff and I couldn’t answer them. I really had a hard time with the guy that stuttered. I just sat there staring at them, dribbling on myself like a 100 year old man or a 1-year-old baby. Mary kept asking me why I was so stupid to take two Dramamine. After about 15 minutes Mary really began to enjoy herself. For once in her life she had the spotlight and I didn’t or couldn’t say a word. Mary later announced to the table that this was one of the best meals that she ever had.
We showed up for breakfast at 9. Aside from rolling around all night, we felt pretty good and were looking forward to a good meal. The restaurant was half full. Apparently the other half of the guests had their heads in their toilet bowls all night and couldn’t make it out of their rooms. After breakfast I visited the bridge to meet the Polish Captain. Nice guy who wasn’t impressed by the fact that I had a 23ft boat named Big Daddy and a GPS system. He proceeded to inform me that the weather was the best that he had seen all summer and that the Drake Channel was like a “lake”. Some lake; half of the boat was barfing all night.
After breakfast I attended my first and last lecture; “The Birds of the Antarctica”. For an hour I listened intently to a very attractive Argentine women talk about the differences between the 20 types of Antarctica Petrels from the Black Winged Petrel, to the white tipped Petrel, to the one legged Petrel, to the one eyed Petrel and so on. We also talked about the Albatross family, which are actually very cool. They have a wing span of about 15 feet and always can been seen behind our boat. Anyway, as far as I am concerned, they all look like f–king seagulls…
PS- Day 4. Just spotted land, and a bunch of penguins jumping in the water. Hopefully a sign that things will pick up
Now I know how Columbus felt when he finally spotted land. We made landfall at Half Moon Bay at noon, six hours ahead of schedule and in time to go ashore to see the penguins, seals, birds, etc. However, before the landing there was a lecture by Prof Orrin Pilkey of Duke University, one of the world’s foremost experts on Krill (small shrimp) and Global Warming. Let me describe Professor Pilkey as I met him the night before over a few cocktails. He is about 65, short (a lot of short people on this boat), large, has a big beer belly, a full beard, glasses like a coke bottle and always wears a plaid shirt with plaid pants that don’t match the plaid shirt. Sort of looks like Grimaldi the Dwarf from Lord of the Rings, expect Professor Pilkey has thick glasses. He is actually a real nice guy except the he whispers when speaking to people. It seems that he just had hearing aids put in and they have not yet been adjusted to them so he speaks in a very, very soft manner. As most of you know, I can’t hear too well either so when I was conversing with Professor Pilkey I had to lean over (he is no more then 5 ft tall) and almost put my ear to his mouth! Well, after 15 minutes of bending over to listen to the good Professor I decided that I would cut his class and send Mary to take notes – just like college.
Antarctica is a very beautiful yet foreboding place. Glaciers and icebergs where everywhere and yet there was plenty of wildlife. For example, as we pulled into Half-moon Bay we spotted a bunch of Humpback whales and penguins swimming close by, very cool. We went ashore on Zodiac boats, all dressed in the same very warm red parka that was given to us along with knee high boots (we always get out of the zodiac in the water) and tons of cameras, binoculars, neck warmers and in my case, a small bottle of Bailey’s – just in case we got stranded.
The beach was rocky with hundreds of Chinstrap penguins and fur seals everywhere. We were told to stay about 15 feet away from the penguins and stay even further from the seals. Seals will occasionally charge people. By the way, we were told if a seal charges you, you must stand your ground and growl at them in a loud, menacing way. I guess that you will look like a jerk but at least not get your butt bitten.
After walking the cliffs and beach for about 30 minutes I turned around and realized that I was being followed by a bunch of Chinstrap penguins. Everywhere I went they followed me flapping their wings. Finally Mary figured out why they were following me; you see, when my hips were replaced I started to waddle like a penguin when I walk. Mary thinks that these penguins thought that I was one of them except taller and fatter. It is mating season so I keep my distance.
Off to dinner, which is always very good with plenty of terrific Argentine wine. We have met a lot of interesting and fun people, although I always end up being seated with the scientists or doctors on board. Last night there was a discussion about theoretical mathematics. Right up my strike zone
We landed on the 6th continent on Monday at a place called Brown Bluff, which is on the far northern part of the Antarctica Peninsula. (yesterday we landed on the South Shetland Islands which doesn’t count). As usual, it was overcast, about 32 degrees and luckily no wind. (We haven’t seen the sun since we left Buenos Aries!!!). We were met on the beach by dozens of fur seals and thousands of Gentue Penguins, which were covering every inch of the beach. I practiced my anti -seal growl in case one of them decided to eat us. It is hard to describe how beautiful the scenery is, and this is just the start of the tour. It seems everywhere you go you are surrounded by icebergs, glaciers and mountain formations, some of which look like what you would see in New Mexico – without the snow and ice. We toured the beach and were met everywhere by friendly penguins who would come right up to you and nibble at you leg or hiking pole. As Mary said 1,000 times, “Oh, how cute.”
A funny story about the beach; as we landed (always in the water) a German guy, about 70 years old, passed out. They rushed him back to the boat where the Bulgarian doctor was waiting… Nice guy who sort of looks like Count Dracula, greasy black hair and all. This was not the funny part. Apparently this German man, who also is a Doctor, had a severe allergic reaction to the motion sickness patch that he was wearing below his ear. Later that day he began hallucinating and started yelling that there were Cows in his room. Pigs later joined the cows and that’s when they gave him a shot that tranquilized him. It took him two days to recover. And I thought that my Dramamine attack was bad.
IN the afternoon, we cruised south in the passage towards our next destination, Port Lockerby, a British outpost located on an Island the size of my yard. On the way we saw a bunch of whales and a whole lot of penguins swimming and searching for food. They look like miniature dolphins and are fun to watch. I was sort of hoping to see a Killer Whale eat a few but no such luck. In fact, Mary did spot an Orca in the distance, maybe eating penguins.
After a good breakfast, we went ashore at another spectacular spot. This spot was about 5 miles from Port Lockerby and the beach was littered with whale bones in addition to the mandatory 20,000 penguins and a few fur seals. The best part of this excursion was the Zodiac ride back to the Boat. On the way we stopped by a few ice floes (not to be confused with icebergs). We immediately spotted a Weddell seal sleeping on one of the floes. As we circled him, all of a sudden a large head popped out of the water right near our Zodiac. Scared the hell out of us. The body of this seal was at least 11 ft long. It was a Leopard Sea, one most dangerous of all seals whose main diet, aside from fish is, — you guessed it – PENGUINS. Poor penguins, everything wants to eat them.
After a good lunch and a few wines, we arrived at Port Lockerby. It is a small island that has a store and four Brits who man the station; one guy and three attractive young British girls. Nice duty if you can get it. They sell shirts, maps, and all sorts of souvenirs in order to raise money for Antarctica preservation. They also have a museum full of artifacts from the station from the 1930’s. And guess what, we saw more penguins and seals.
It is snowing hard and they expect a storm tomorrow.
We sailed through the Lemare Channel in a driving snowstorm. I went on the bridge to help the Captain. The channel is about a mile wide in parts and full of icebergs and ice floes so I assumed that he would need my help given that I am an expert with a Mako 23. It was an unbelievable performance, even for a Polish Captain. He navigated entirely by radar and slowed the boat to 5 knots when he was unsure what was ahead. He explained that if you hit an iceberg at less than 6 knots the boat would be ok. Faster than 6 knots and you could be Kaput!
Once moored, we jumped into the Zodiac’s for one of the most amazing things that we have ever done. We motored among hundreds of beautiful icebergs and ice floes in a bay surrounded by mountains and glaciers. It was still snowing hard which made the trip even more interesting. Within minutes we spotted three vary large Leopard seals that spent the next 15 minutes circling and going under our Zodiac. Our guide mentioned that from time to time a leopard seal might stick his head into the boat looking for a penguin, usually at the front of the Zodiac. Fortunately for me, Mary was in the front and I was in the back!
In the afternoon we sailed to Palmer Station, a U.S research station. We went ashore and I was forced to listen to a lecture on all sorts of stuff like plankton reformation, snail growth in cold water and other mundane topics that didn’t seem relevant to our trip (at least to me). On the way back we were joined by three men in their 30’s who looked like they just spent the last month in a tent. In fact they did spend the last week stranded on a remote island where they were conducting research. A wicked storm surprised them and they played Shackelton for a few days until a passing ship rescued them. Our Captain kindly offered to take them back to Argentina. All sorts of s–t happens down here.
What a day! Things just get more and more amazing. In the morning we sailed into Hector Harbor in the Melchior Islands. Nector is a small harbor surrounded by glaciers more amazing and spectacular than what we saw in Alaska. We landed on shore, did the obligatory walk among the penguins (I hate to say this but we never get tired of looking at penguins – they do the funniest things). Anyway, we climbed about 2,000 feet up a snow-covered mountain and it is hard for me to describe the beauty! To top it off the sun came out for the first time since we left Argentina.
In the afternoon we went to Dallman Bay and on the way we saw a bunch of 25 ft humpback whales and the usual sightings of penguins, birds and seals. At Dallman Bay, we hopped in the Zodiacs again for another spectacular ride among the ice bergs and rugged rock formations. The sun was out and life was good. Now we’re off to dinner and some Ukrainian vodka.
Sorry, no funny stories today but I have a bunch tomorrow about some of my fellow travelers. Some weird stuff is happening on this boat.
As I write this we are on our way to Argentina and are in the Drake Channel; we are on our way home. The waves are 14 ft high and the wind is blowing at 20-25 knots and everyone is popping pills. I suppose this is why they call this trip an expedition and not a cruise. No matter what, there is a lot to do such as attending lectures. Lets see, should I attend ” Overwintering in Adelie Island” or “Antarctica Krill and Biology: Management and Conservation” or maybe “The Rocks of Antarctica” by Professor Orrin Pilkey aka Grimaldi the Dwarf. Nah, I think that I will just sit here at the bar and talk to Natasha the Ukrainian bartender.
Day nine was another memorable one. We started the day by sailing to Deception Island, a semi-active caldera (volcano) that was a large whaling station in the 30’s. We sailed through a very narrow pass into the caldera and went ashore on the Zodiacs. It was a very, very beautiful place, the beach was lined by seals (again) and the remnants of the whaling station. After about an hour, we got back on the boat and sailed a short way to a hot spring on the other side of the volcano. Can you believe it, a hot springs in Antarctica! We were told to wear our bathing suit under our gear if we wanted to swim. The deal is that you jump in the hot water and then into the freezing ocean. It sounded nuts but Mary and I said “What the hell, you only live once.” We hit shore, stripped down, and joined everyone in the shallow hot pool. All of a sudden one of the many scientists yelled, “Look at the Black Wing Tipped Giant Petrel standing besides the one legged, purple feathered Ugandan Albatross!” The whole beach party, especially the scientists, turned and stared at the Petrel, which just looked like a fat seagull to me. At the same time, Natasha, the unbelievable hot bartender was standing about ten feet from me in her tiny white string bikini. My mind said Petrel vs…. Natasha, Petrel vs…. Natasha. Needless to say I have 10 pictures of Natasha and none of the stupid bird.
In the afternoon we sailed to Livingston Island, the home of many Sea Lions and Chinstrap Penguins. On the way we saw a bunch of whales, which is always a treat. The sun was shinning and the temperature was about 40; perfect weather for a day at the beach. Livingston is another magnificent place and the Sea Lions were monstrous. We were told that they were about 10 -12 feet long and weighed more than me. We went on a mile hike to see more wild life and some rock formations. When we got there one of the guides pointed out a collection of rocks that were compiled during the season. They looked like just a bunch of rocks to me. Well, along come Professor Orrin and his son, Grimaldi the Younger. When he got to the rock pile the Prof exploded in glee. “My God, this is the most wonderful collection I have ever seen. This is amazing. Look at them all. They are like a dream,” and so on. I think that the old guy was having an orgasm over this pile of rocks. Now, I could understand if Natasha was sitting there in her white bikini but a pile of rocks?
Tonight is “Captains night” and we all get to wear our jackets and dresses. After that we are going to the lounge for a karaoke contest. You see, we challenged the Russians last night to a sing off and got our American asses handed to us. They, however, had a major advantage – they were dead drunk. We called for a rematch. I hate being beaten by commies!
Sunday and our last day at sea. For those sailors out there we are at Lat 55 10.7 S by Long 066 16.9 W. and just spotted land. The winds are about 20 knots with seas of about 6 ft. Pretty calm by Antarctica standards. I decided to pass up the morning lecture: The Sedimentary Sequences of the Silurian and Devonian Ages, by, you guessed it, Professor Orrin Pilkey. Aka Grimaldi the Dwarf. I swear that this guy is so boring that we can package his lectures and sell them to people that have insomnia. I would rather watch a car rust!!
Since there is not much going on, besides watching the Albatross behind the boat, I thought that you may be interested in learning about Trevor Potts. Trevor is one of the world’s true adventurers. He is a Scotsman, 59 years old, about 5 ft 9 inches, in pretty good shape and always has a very dour expression on his face. We have been with him a week and have seen him smile only once -when Natasha walked by. We all smile when Natasha walks by.
We met Trevor on our first beach landing. Somehow Mary and I ended up with Trevor at the far end of the beach. Trevor was giving us a private lecture about every conceivable thing concerning the Chinstrap and Gentue penguins. He discussed their mating habits, their feathers, what they eat, their shit, their eggs, you name it and Trevor told us about it. After about 20 minutes of Penguin talk, I asked what I thought was a very interesting question. I asked Trevor if the Chinstraps ever mate with the Gentues. I figured that they must because they sort of look alike, they are the same size, walk the same way, eat the same krill, live on the same rock and look exactly the same from the back (which is how they mate so how do they know who is who). I said to myself if a German Sheppard can mate with a Chow then why can’t a Chinstrap mate with a Gentue. So I tapped Trevor on the back, put on my intellectual face, and asked him, “Trevor, can a Chinstrap mate with a Gentue?” He turned around, looked me as if I had three heads and emphatically said “NO”! And that was it. No explanation, no nothing.
A few minutes later I went off to study some rock formations and Trevor was alone with Mary still talking about penguins. He then asked her “Is he your husband?” Mary very proudly replied “Yes, that’s my husband Dick”. Trevor replied “Then I guess you are used to him”! He then went back to talking about penguins.
As the week went by we got to know Trevor well. He is a remarkable guy. Get this. He has sailed solo in the Atlantic and all across the Med. He has kayaked for weeks between Canada and Greenland, by himself!!! But he is most famous for sailing the route that Shackelton took when he went from Elephant Island to South Georgia in 1915. If any of you have not read about Shackelton’s survival adventure then I highly recommend that you do. In 1992, Trevor and three other men built a 23 ft sailboat to the exact same specs as Shackelton’s boat and left Elephant Island on the same date in the middle of the Antarctica winter. Aside from a radio, they took similar provisions and didn’t even have a life raft. When asked why he didn’t take a life raft, Trevor replied “What’s the use, no one would be close enough to save us” They sailed in 60 knots storms and used the stars and sun for navigation. He is in the process of writing a book, which I am sure will be interesting. Google him.
Well, almost time for lunch. I have felt like a fat Elephant Seal these last two days. We eat breakfast, nap, eat lunch, nap, have afternoon tea and cake, nap and have cocktails and dinner and go to bed. I look like Jabba the Hut.
Check back soon for more personal photos from Trip To Antartica With Dick Pace