Although I am now getting more anxious to get to Palmer, I really enjoyed my brief stay in Chile. The countryside about Punta Arenas was stunning. I particularly enjoyed the rocky inter-coastal scenes, which reminded me of growing up near the coastlines in California. We saw a plethora of different organisms while searching the intertidal including several species of algae along with limpets, salps, urchins, amphipods, and mussels.
Our group had a full day to explore prior to departure and we used it to tour a restored Chilean Fort and La Reserva Nacional Laguna Parrillar, a National Park. The old fort was interesting, but our group of marine biologists was much more interested in the local tide pools (hey, we’re scientists what do you expect).
The cuisine in the area, primarily seafood, was excellent. If you are ever down in Southern Chile, I highly recommend that you try the conger eel (congrio) and empanadas.
Before the ARSV Laurence M. Gould could depart for Antarctica, there were two specific tasks our group needed to accomplish. The first was going to the gear distribution center, down by the harbor, to get fitted for all our Antarctic clothing. This included sea boots, steel toed all weather boots, several sets of thermals, warm socks, a set of windpants, slickers, jackets, several different caps, an assortment of gloves, water bottle, and glacier glasses. For those of us who hate shopping and trying stuff on, it was a nightmare. However, I did get a stand-in to relieve me of some of my gear (see picture).
The other task was the completion of a time honored tradition, rubbing the Fuegan native’s foot for luck when crossing the Drake Passage. In the middle of Punta Arenas there is a little park with a large statue of Magellan along with some mermaids and Fuegan natives. It is traditional to ‘rub’ the native’s foot to insure a safe return and for good luck when sailing across the Drake Passage. Considering the Drake crossing can have some of the roughest seas in the world (I have heard several stories of winter time 40 ft. waves in the Drake), I was willing to give that bronzed native a complete massage.
Rubbing the toe must have worked, because our crossing was smooth. A couple of days we had 10-15 ft. swells but the rest of the time was perfectly calm seas. The ARSV Gould is a 230 ft. ice-reinforced research vessel and, compared to other ice rated ships I have voyaged on, was relatively comfortable (albeit slow).
During the crossing we witnessed many birds, one seal, and a couple of different whales. Along one stretch, we came upon several pods (~20-30 individuals) of Sei Whales. We seemed to have sailed right in to the middle of the pods because there were whales all about the ship.
The ship stopped twice along the journey, the first time to let off some passengers at Peter J. Lenie Station (a.k.a Copa) on King George Island (they were building and refurbishing cabins for penguin researchers) and again to scout new areas for geological research in coming years in the Neumayer Channel. The Neumayer Channel, by far, was the most scenic day of our voyage and one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. Words cannot describe the beauty and serenity of the area. Snow capped mountains and large glaciers flanking all sides of our ship and penguins constantly swimming about the vessel. It helps that the weather gods were on our side for the day was perfect, sunny, barely a trace of wind, and no constraints of visibility. Enjoying my morning coffee on the bridge surrounded by that landscape, I could have kissed that Fuegan.
A few hours after our passage through the Gerlache Strait and then the Neumayer Channel, we finally arrived at Palmer Station. I was really excited about settling into Antarctica, meeting the people I will be living with for months, and getting back onto Terra Firma.