November 16, 2008
Drake passage, South Shetland Islands
and Half Moon Is. Landing
Ship's Program quote of the day: They come to me by water, by sled, by sky, over heaving seas. I have seen them rip apart the tight skirts of the rain, and plunge through the ice packs dense as thunder. Yet they come to me in the plumage of birds...They would sooner bare their souls than their flesh, so they come to me swathed in fur, down and leather, they strip from lesser beasts, and walk through my crystal orchards, quilted in tight posses of life needing the world's full beastiary to face my staggering charms, my cascading glare. - Antarctica considers her explorers, Diane Ackerman
The morning brings the final hours of our crossing of the Drake Passage. John is feeling better as we get closer to the South Shetland Islands. He is getting his sea legs, and the seas are calming a little as we get closer to the peninsula. Since he is feeling a bit better I took some pictures of the cabin, which is one of the larger ones. Best I could tell from the label above the door (in Russian), this room is used as quarters and office by one of the officers when the ship is working escorting other ships and not carrying tourists. The tag says СТАРШИЙ ИОМОЩНИК which to the best of my poor translation ability seems to mean "Senior Assistant" which makes me think it was one of the Mate's office and quarters. If anyone with better Russian than mine knows better, let me know.
The forward part of the cabin was a sitting area with two forward facing windows, a TV, two chairs and a table and couch. If you look carefully, you will see that the table and chairs are fastened to the deck with straps. All the furniture on the ship was either bolted down or tied down. The couch makes into a bed, and it has a side board to be rigged in rough seas to keep from falling out. The couch is where I slept. There is also a seat belt for each bed for especially rough seas. I never used the seat belt, but I occasionally wished I had.
The back of the forward half of the cabin was the office area. I used the desk drawers and cabinets for my storage, and the space next to the refrigerator was shared foul weather gear storage, as well as my hanging storage. This meant sometimes my one good dress shirt got to hang next to wet parkas. If you look closely, you will see the desk chair is strapped to the deck as well.
The open door at the rear of the office space leads into the quarters, which my dad used, and beyond that was our shared bathroom.
This is the bedroom John used, which had storage drawers underneath the bed and a small table in the corner (bolted to the wall)
The curtains are to allow the sleeper to shut out the sunlight from the ever present polar sun.
There were a couple of wardrobes in the sleeping quarters, one for hanging and one for drawer baskets. This was John's clothing and gear storage. The closed door leads to the head and shower. It was too small to practically take photos of, but small was GOOD in a rough sea. You did not have as far to slide or fall.
The phone in the photograph was rigged with a latch to keep the receiver from coming loose and clobbering the person in the bed.
The office desk phone had no such restraint, and it flew across the cabin a couple of times.
We had some more lectures in the morning. Norman Lasca, our geologist/glaciologist gave a lecture on An Introduction to Geology-the Rocks you'll be tripping over. Nigel gave a lecture on Penguins - The Feathered Fish.
After lunch, we had a mandatory briefing on Zodiac procedures and safety, and on the IAATO rules for conduct while on Antarctica, which ensure the continent's environment, flora and fauna are not damaged by our presence. These briefings were to prepare us for our first landing of the voyage, Half Moon Island in the South Shetland Islands.
About 10:30 am, we had begun to see land to the southeast, the first indications of the South Shetland Islands. They were hard to see at first, being completely snow and ice covered, and blending into the overcast sky.
There were also many smaller rocky islands and stacks near the larger Islands.
King George Island(?) of the South Shetland Islands
One of Many Rocky Islets in the South Shetland Islands
1600 Hrs Half Moon Bay
62°36'South by 59°55'West
We sailed south along the western edge of the South Shetland Archipelago until we could round the south end of Livingston Island and sail up the southwest coast of Livingston until we got to Half Moon Bay. There we anchored near Half Moon Island.
Half Moon is home to an Argentine research station named Camara, which at this time is only used intermittently during the austral summer.
Half Moon Island was our first landing, and was made by Zodiac boat. The South Shetland Islands are south of the Antarctic Convergence ( an ocean feature where the temperature drops suddenly)
Camara station (Argentina) on Half Moon Island
Since Half Moon is south of the Convergence, it is considered part of Antarctica, so this was also our first Antarctic landing. Here we also met a different kind of seabird, the Chinstrap Penguin.
This curious fellow was right by the gravel beach where we landed our Zodiacs.
Chinstraps can be identified by the line of black under their 'chin', which gives them the name.
Chinstrap Penguin at Half moon Is.
There is a Chinstrap rookery on Half Moon Island that we visited.
On the way to the rookery, I met another of the local residents, a Weddell seal stretching in the sun.
Stretching Weddell Seal
You can recognize a Weddell seal by its smile in a cat-like muzzle, and its mottled belly. Adults typically weigh about 1100 lbs and are almost ten feet long. They eat fish, invertebrates, squid and krill. They are generally gentle and timid in temperament.
After passing muster with the Weddells, it was time to head on up to the Chinstrap rookery. Penguin rookeries are noisy and fragrant places. There is a lot of activity going on and these penguins are fixing up their nests. Chinstraps nest on rocky ground and build their nests out of pebbles. There is much thievery of pebbles from other nests. Nigel told me a researcher once painted all of the stones in a nest blue, and in two weeks they were all gone, having been replaced with other stones. But after a few more weeks, the blue stones started to return to that nest.
When a penguin brings a stone to the nest, his mate likes to examine it for approval. This fellow is carefully placing his offering in the nest.
Building the gravel nest
Of course, there was another form of wildlife present that day
John at Half Moon Island
It was a great first landing, the weather was fantastic and the staff did a wonderful job of making it easy for everyone to get over to the Island.
Philip On Half Moon
This wreck may look like it goes back to the days of sailing ships, however, it is really not very old. It dates back a couple of decades if I correctly recall the story Bob Headland told me (correct me if I am wrong Bob!). It remains from an early tourism project, and it was a wooden landing boat that got in trouble and has remained here aground on the landing beach of Half Moon ever since. It serves as a reminder that the Antarctic is still a serious place.
I'll leave Half Moon Island with a parting picture of a Chinstrap that shows the markings better. Besides, I have so many pictures of penguins I need to use as many as I can!
I hope you enjoyed Half Moon Island, stay tuned for many more interesting places in Antarctica on the Semi-circumnavigation of the continent.