Thursday, February 20, 2014

Antarctica Day 3: Into Antarctic Waters

Posted via email from satellite phone on-board the Ioffe. Photos will come
when the voyage is over!


Overnight, we crossed into Antarctic waters, leaving the Drake Passage and
passing into the "convergence". The Ioffe is booking it south with the goal
of getting well past the polar circle, which is pretty unusual to be able to
do on the Antarctic Peninsula. We should cross the circle sometime tomorrow
morning after breakfast.

The night got bumpy, and I didn't sleep well. At around 6:30 AM, I gave up
on sleeping and got up, thinking I could go to the gym and at least get a
workout in before breakfast. Turned out to be a terrible idea. I got thrown
from the treadmill right away, and got queasier and queasier to the point
where I ended up just lying on the floor for a while before I worked up the
stomach to wobble back upstairs. I took another Dramamine and managed to
make it through breakfast, but returned to a safe horizontal position right
after that until it was time to go to the first of a series of mandatory
morning briefings.

The first briefing by our expedition leader, David, was on IATTO guidelines
for low-impact Antarctic tourism with the slogan, "Creating ambassadors to
the last great wilderness". The IATTO is an organization made up of nearly
all of the tourism companies that operate in Antarctica that came up with
rules for behavior in Antarctica. Stuff like not harassing and approaching
penguins (5 m minimum distance unless the penguins decide to come to you,
which apparently they do pretty often), wearing lifejackets in zodiacs, and
sterilizing and washing gear between landings so as not to introduce
invasive species or cross-contaminate sites. It's an interesting example of
self-regulation in the tourism industry. The guidelines so thorough and
careful that when the Antarctic Treaty was updated in 1995, they just added
what the IATTO had put together to regulate tourism, since their rules were
stricter than what anyone else could agree on. It was this briefing—and the
Planetary Protection-like means of trying to get us humans to not
contaminate where we're going—that really brought home how incredibly
different this is going to be. I have not left the Earth, but I am going to
another world.

Then we Antarcticanauts got our briefings for when we arrive in the Other
World and are allowed to leave our floating spacecraft. We will be donning
thoroughly-disinfected spacesuits, leaving the mothership for transportation
to the surface in rubber pods, from which specialized teams will disperse to
characterize the surface. A subset of us with the courage and qualification
will pilot gliders (a.k.a. kayaks) to explore the ice labyrinths and, we
hope, meet some of the intelligent beings that inhabit this Ice Planet. We
will be coming in peace, carrying no weapons or means of defense, but some
of the aliens of this world are very large and potentially dangerous, and we
are hoping that any encounters will not be of a hostile nature. I was fitted
for my sealed flightsuit this afternoon, which, like the spacesuits of the
Apollo era, are unwieldy and require a bit of help to get in and out of.

I'll admit that, while certainly not among the sickest of the Antarctinauts
aboard the Spacecraft Ioffe on this voyage, my stomach has not adjusted
completely to the gravitational anomalies of ocean travel. Today was
particularly bad, although also particularly light for the legendary Drake
Passage, and although my stomach was growling, I couldn't stomach the mess
hall for long enough to eat lunch today, wobbling back to my cabin to lie
down for a few hours instead.

We had more lectures in the afternoon, one on ice by Kurtis, one of the
kayak guides who happened to also have a B.S. in geology, and another
wonderful lecture by Huw on Shackleton. While his "History of Antarctic
Photography" lecture the day prior was surprisingly engaging—more for his
infectious energy and enthusiasm than for the pretty pictures he was
showing—this lecture was absolutely riveting, going to show that while
pretty pictures may make a good presentation, good energy and passion for
the topic make it great, and people do actually give a flying fig about the
subject matter.

Went up to the top deck a few times for some air--always the only one up
there--and the sea is beautiful, really beautiful, but I'm starting to get
antsy for something to break up the horizon.

Thankfully I made it through and even enjoyed dinner. The Russian waitstaff
didn't take long to figure out that I was scraping the cheese and whipped
cream off of things and, without me asking for it, brought me fruit instead
of cheesecake for dessert. Impressive.

Oh, and I saw an iceberg.

An iceberg!

And had bourbon on the rocks after dinner with some new friends except the
rocks were Antarctic ice. Antarctic ice! With 20,000+ year old air trapped
inside! And I drank it!

Land ahoy tomorrow, hopefully. I'm wiped out, kids. This sea business is

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