Sunday, February 23, 2014

Antarctica Day 4: Crossing the Antarctic Circle

Posted via email from satellite phone on-board the Ioffe. Photos will come
when the voyage is over!
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ANTARCTICA DAY 4: CROSSING THE ANTARCTIC CIRCLE

We woke up in the morning in a sea of icebergs. At breakfast it was
announced that we would be crossing the Antarctic Circle sometime later that
morning. Although the trip was billed as a circle-crossing trip, often the
ship is stopped well beforehand due to sea ice. We got lucky. It was also
announced that the shipboard pool would be filled with ocean water once we
crossed the Circle, and any brave souls wishing to swim in polar waters
could do so. I was the first to raise my hand when they asked if anyone
would be interested.

The morning started off with a lecture on Pinnepeds (seals, sea lions, and
kin) by whale expert Ari—one of three professors and several more PhDs,
scientists, and experts who are our guides onboard—and marine mammal expert
#2, Dr. Brandon Southall. It was another excellent sciencey lecture, and I
loved every second of it.

After lecture we all gathered on the bow of the ship, led by intrepid
explorers Huw (our historian) and Beau (one of several generalist outdoor
guides), who dressed for the occasion (you'll see what I mean when I am able
to upload photos, but they were decked out in shorts, wool socks, rubber
boots, down jackets, floppy hats, goggles, ropes, ice axes, and a whole
kitchen's worth of cookware dangling from their oversized external-frame
backpacks. We were informed that the large iceberg ahead of us was sitting
just past the great invisible Circle line, and the excitement grew as we
steamed toward it.

Two Russian sailors hoisted flags representing every country from which each
of us hailed, eliciting a cheer from the huge group of Chinese students when
the Chinese flag unfurled. New Zealand, the Netherlands, Australia, Fiji,
New Zealand, USA, Germany, Portugal, and, of course, Russia, were also
represented. The Japanese flag, tragically, tore away in the wind.

Mimosas were passed around, music started, and the ship's horn blasted just
as we pulled up to the iceberg. The party raged on the bow in the frigid air
and beautiful sunshine. Then land came into view as we approached the
Western shore of Adelaide Island: visible as snowy triangular peaks barely
distinguishable from the white clouds that hid their bases. It was an
indescribably beautiful sight.

Antarctica.

I was almost too excited to sit through lunch, and then through the
post-lunch lecture on penguins by our ornithologist David, a.k.a. "Birdmon",
as the Plunge Pool was being filled up on deck above us. With my bikini on
underneath a pile of snow clothes, I headed up to the deck, and was greeted
by a cheering crowd of onlookers and mostly-naked polar swimmers. I stripped
down, jumped in, and jumped back out almost as fast. The swimmers piled into
the ship's sauna to warm back up, and we were informed that in order for it
to really count, we had to go in three times. So I ran back out and jumped
in again. And again. It felt, dare I say it, good. And it was a blast, with
all of the shrieks and yells and cheering and hugs and energy. One of the
tiny Chinese girls who had been standing and watching in her purple fleece
pants and down jacket and bright pink beanie with matching pink glasses
suddenly stripped down to her shorts and T-shirt and jumped in. Three times.
Amazing! Few people get the chance to swim in Antarctic waters, fewer still
South of the Antarctic Circle. It was pretty special.

After warming back up, there was one final lecture, this one an excellent
set of tips for photography by our head guide, Antarctica expert David
McGonigal. I was really glad to get a good photography lecture. I like to
think I take decent photos, but I've never had a photography class and
really wanted some tips. He had some good ones. And also urged us at least a
dozen times to BACK UP our photos, including on some shipboard computers
where a bunch of "best of"s will be collected and shared at the end of the
trip.
There was a Pilates class that a bunch of the women and myself braved, just
enough stretching to prepare our stomachs for the onslaught of food to come
soon, and followed up the healthy exercise with Happy Hour! at the bar with
bartender Ian, who it will surprise nobody who knows me well, was my BFF
within 48 hours of the start of the voyage.

Happy hour spilled into dinner, which spilled into hanging out on the bow of
the ship to watch a stunning sunset which magically coincided with the most
beautiful moonrise I've ever seen, which spilled into more happy hour, which
ended in a rowdy game of Cards Against Humanity at 1AM with a 6:30AM wakeup
call. Oops, but a fantastic, fun day.

Love these people.



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