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Some Musings

Some Musings from the only two Canucks, well its been a long time since we boarded the beautiful Bark Europa in Montevideo on November 14th. Allan and I, individually without discussion, decided not to keep a journal on this expedition. Initially because we figured we would remember what we did every day and then later because every day seemed like the day before, with more or less 
rock and roll.
It took us the planned twelve days to cross the South Atlantic Ocean to the Southern Ocean, finally arriving at our first scheduled destination, South Georgia Island. During those days we got to know our wonderful fellow voyage crew, gathered together from many countries for this major adventure, friendships formed that will last a lifetime. None of us really knowing what to expect, except for the three or four that had been on the ship before and decided they were crazy enough to come back. 
One of them even convinced a couple of friends to join him. Everyone brought what they thought was the right clothing for this venture some getting it more right than others. As we left warm and sunny Montevideo on the first day (where we thought bikinis might be 
more in order than down and wool), the weather became progressively cooler until now in the South Orkney Islands, where we arrived last night in high winds of up to 50 knots and 10 meter swells. It is around 0 degrees C, not taking into account the wind chill factor. We've all learned to move about the majestic Bark Europa while it is heeling wildly, sometimes up to 35 degrees.
The permanent crew (their virtues extolled by previous bloggers) are beyond amazing. They must all go to some crazy university to learn being nice, happy, kind and caring is the only way to be - nothing fazes them. It is not uncommon to see people and dishes flying across rooms and decks when the winds are high; they simply smile, clean up and ask if you are okay. Lots of dishes have been broken but luckily people have been only slightly damaged in one place or another. Some of the treks that Jordi, our Expedition Leader, calls a 
little walk or a stroll are actually more of a 10 on the 1 to 10 scale versus the perceived 2 or 3. Allan managed to gash his knee on 
a rock (and the three layers of clothing and gear) on a trek. Our amazing doctor, Dr. Hans, always has a solution - a patch, tape, band 
aid, and advice for pretty much everything. Hans has been a ship doctor much of his life and has probably seen all of the accidents that come with ventures like this. 
A little bit more about getting there before talking about the awesomeness of South Georgia. A nasty thing called seasickness was going around. Gosh it spread quickly! Before long more than half the voyage crew had it, to some degree or another. Sadly a couple of people still have it and have been bunk bound most of the time we have been at sea. Having being able to avoid it thus far we knock on wood. The Drake Passage is still ahead of us though. Most people were well over their seasickness by the time we arrived in South Georgia. It is an island at 54 degrees south and was well beyond any expectations we had. Its not cradled in the ocean like Prince 
Edward Island, but a similar shape and size (upside down). Otherwise no similarities. Captain Cook first landed there and claimed it for the Brits. Initially they didn't pay much attention to it but eventually the Norwegians did. Sealing and whaling. Other nations followed and eventually they slaughtered most of the hundreds of thousands of whales that lived in the southern ocean. It is banned now but whales are smart and they know what their ancestors endured. They will survive but it could take generations. We trekked up some big hills to view the beauty of the island  covered with snowcapped mountains of up to 3,000 meters. The weather was simply outstanding with glorious sunshine during our whole 6 day visit and 5 landings. We visited several decaying whaling stations and a museum that 
explained how they slaughtered the whales and boiled their blubber for oil. The only sympathy one can have for what happened is that the men didn't understand they were destroying a natural resource, which is a major component of the ecosystem of our oceans - covering 70% of this incredible planet. One cannot help but wonder if our current natural resource extraction plants might also become museums someday.
The fur seals guarded the beaches (I use the word beach loosely) where we landed in the dinghies. These guys were far more interested in female seals arriving or guarding the ones they already courted for breeding, than us assorted, multi-colored Goretex covered tourists. The fur seals can be quite aggressive and the males weigh as much as 620 pounds so its important to keep some distance because they can bite if provoked by invading their space. But ultimately they are pretty cute. But the real deal on South Georgia is the hundreds of thousands of King Penguins. We had the pleasure of seeing many of them during several landings. My favorite was the day we could sit closely to the 3-6 month old chicks with their thick brown fur. To say they are cute, peculiar and endlessly curious is an understatement. The penguins have no land predators so they come quite close to you the babies even more so because they might be seeing these strange beings called humans for the first time. It must be something of a spectacle for them. Some of us sat for hours just to watch them taking pictures of everything in due course. And then the elephant seals hmmm, they are large up to several tons big blobs of blubber that can move rather quickly if another picks a fight or the jig is up for some reason. Its fun to watch the tiny King 
penguin chicks sit beside these large beasts with no fear. We also saw the Macaroni penguins. We've desperately wanted to see them since watching Happy Feet! We saw several colonies they are so unique with their long yellow eyebrows.
After 6 fabulous days it was time to hit the high seas once more - unfortunately many succumbed to the dreaded seasickness again. I should also mention that we have many strains of the cold and flu on board too. What could you expect from 56 people gathered from all over the world that arrived on airplanes jammed with thousands of people? So I expect that between all of us we have consumed a lot of cold medication and ibuprofen for our ailments. After great anticipation of a smooth journey to the South Orkneys, we soon struck other trouble. We couldnt sail southwest so after just floating around for about 8 hours at one point, we headed north. That was a bit deflating for everyone but our wonderful Captain Eric kept us informed at our 8 oclocky meetings. He seemed sure we would make it to Antarctica even though we were going precisely in the wrong direction. Of course, sailing is all about the wind and if it is blowing in the wrong direction there is nothing you can do about it except wait for it to change. So wait we did. Now back to the Europa a couple of more things to say about it. The thirty sails are easy to learn but the 200+ lines needed to handle the sails are a puzzle more complicated than anything Ive tried to figure out before in such a short period of time. Before the seas got rough, Allan and I tried teaching ourselves by using the booklet provided but have since given up because of the ship movement and THE WATCH. You've 
read previous blogs on the watch system and the joys of getting up for the Dog Watch, which starts at 12:00 Midnight, or my least favourite, the night watch which starts at 4:00am. Lovely! The watch system has destroyed any sense of regular sleep. Even I can sleep in a two hour window now! Previously unheard of!! But the big upside is standing at the helm steering this incredible ship in extreme winds and big waves accompanied by albatross and other beautiful birds of this region, with the sun rising or setting. Often with wild winds carrying sleet or snow. Even the latter brings joy because you cant really believe that you are doing what you are doing! You are experiencing the reality of the adventure you were seeking. Living the dream! Today Plan A (we've previously progressed to Plan Q!) is to anchor at the British Research Station where there are four or five researchers who work there about 5 months a year contributing weather reports from their location and they also study the local penguins. We are anxious for a break in the rocking and rolling and a night of peaceful sleep before we head further into the Antarctic continent and the Waddell Sea and to view the Adelie penguins for the first time and talk to the researchers. In turn they are anxious for our arrival because we are the only ship that will visit them this year. Yay, company! It was said they would probably shower and vacuum to get ready for our arrival! I'm not sure 39 of us (voyage crew) will be able to shower for them given the current rock and roll. Showering while at sea is pleasant enough from a temperature perspective, ie., we have lots of hot water (our own desalination plant on board) but its quite an acrobatic feat to accomplish a shower (especially if you decide to wash your hair as well) without adding to your need for more Advil. From the Orkneys tomorrow we will head south again, this time to see ice sheets, bergs of all sizes and shapes, glaciers, lots more wildlife so many more experiences to come!

Written by:
Jessie and Allan | Voyage crew

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