Antarctica!

Trip Start Jun 10, 2012
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Trip End Aug 20, 2013


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Flag of Antarctica  , Antarctic Peninsula,
Sunday, January 20, 2013

Antarctica
70 percent of all the fresh water in the world resides as ice in the Antarctic. 90 percent of the World's ice and snow is found on the Antarctic continent. Only about 0.4 percent of Antarctica is ice free. The ice is 4776 meters/15,522 feet thick at it's deepest point. There are no permanent residents in Antarctica. Antarctica has the worst weather in the world and it can change within seconds. One minute it will be sunny & mild, the next a raging blizzard. Highest winds ever recorded were 196 mph and lowest temp was -128.6 F (temp near the South Pole). Winds around 180 mph are common around the coastal areas. The winds and the waves encircle the continent unobstructed at enormous speeds. This circular current around the continent also keeps Antarctica isolated & blocks any potential warmer ocean currents. Since this body of water that speeds around Antarctica doesn't really mix with the Atlantic or Pacific, it's known as the Southern Ocean.

Jan 20th: We're here! Antarctica! We're part of the small group of people who have been below 60 degrees on the globe. There is talk of closing off all tourism to protect the area (& protect passengers) so I feel even more fortunate to have made it.

We've been preparing by attending the few very interesting daily lectures on board that explain everything about Antarctica including the Antarctic Treaty, wildlife, research programs, life on the continent, climate change, & history. We had Dave Bresnahan on board with us who worked in Antarctica for 40 years providing daily talks on his first hand experiences. We also had the Wilson brothers, Christopher, the bird & wildlife expert, and Dr David Wilson, the historian. The brothers are also great nephews of Dr Edward Wilson, an Antarctic explorer & naturalist who traveled on expeditions with Earnest Shackleton & Robert Falcon Scott. On Dr Edward Wilson's 2nd journey he made it to the South Pole before he froze to death, along with Scott & the other men in the group.
On January 21st we picked up US researchers from the Palmer Station who gave their own lectures & got to enjoy a little bit of cruise life with us. Antarctica was amazing. No disputing it. Words will never do it justice. I know the photos won't either but if each pic is worth 1000 words they'll do a little better. Smell the freshest air ever, listen to the serenity, enjoy the curious wildlife. The eerie fog freezes in the sky making you feel like you're in another world.

Jan 23rd, afternoon: We're leaving Antarctica today. Sophia keeps saying she wants to stay here forever. Antarctica was so much more than I expected. I knew it would be wild & untouched but I didn't expect the shear beauty everywhere I turned. The thousands of icebergs were completely gorgeous & sometimes littered with penguins or seals. There were almost always whales swimming around us, of nearly every variety. The best part was the pristine land of ice & snow though, with black mountains & blue glaciers.
Soon we'll be heading back north, again, through the dreaded Drake Passage. The forecast this time is 50 mph winds & 15 foot swells. Still nothing to complain about because it's mild for the Drake Passage but I'm sure glad I don't get as sea sick as I used to.

Jan 23rd, evening: I had dinner with an interesting group of people tonight. Sophia was feeling ill & went back to the room to lie down. After she left we talked about how sea sick some people are. One couple said they had a friend who took one of those crazy expensive National Geographic Explorer Cruises to Antarctica. The boat was much smaller & only held 45 guests. They said every single person on that ship was completely beaten up from the rocking... There were broken arms, wrists, legs, & bruises like mad... Wow, I can imagine based on what we're going through with this bigger ship that holds 1,250. I think this boat is the perfect size- small enough to get through tight channels but big enough to not be tossed around like a football too much. Next year this ship (The Veendam) is going to be replaced by a much larger ship for the Holland America Antarctica Expeditions. The captain pointed out lots of channels that we were able to traverse this time that won't be possible next year. I also learned something quite interesting at dinner: In 2010 this same ship encountered a monster wave crossing the Drake Passage. The wave broke a lot of the windows and glass & caused a lot of damage. Probably why they're switching to a bigger boat. Good thing Sophia was already gone from the table when it was brought up. Even so, I bet the passengers of that trip will still say the crossing was worth it.

I'm going to end this entry with a poem written by a cute 11 year old inspired by the beauty of Antarctica:
Antarctica, you are beautiful.
The snowy cap which lays atop your head is simply dashing, against the dark black mountain of your hair.
Your deep blue ocean eyes are captivating, with whales as your pupils, looking over everything.
Through the misty veil of fog which lays upon your face, birds dot your icy skin with freckles.
Your blue-white dress of glaciers is gorgeous, penguins prancing a belt around your waist.
Antarctica, you are beautiful.
Sophia Schmidt
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