Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Lemaire Channel, Vernadsky, Penguins, bras and more

Wednesday (19/12/12) started pretty early in the morning. At 6am we gathered on the bow of the ship to witness how the JCR would pass through the Lemaire Channel. This is one of the most narrow bits around the area through which the ship fits and it reminded a little bit of the final scene in Lord of the Rings when the sailing ships leave. Only difference that we had snow on the mountains ;) On the way we saw minke whales, crabeater seals (crabbies) and gentoo penguins. The latter were pretty special: 1. They are penguins, they have to be and 2. They “climb” up the walls to find spots without snow to breed and raise their youngsters. We also drove through an area with lots and lots of little icefloats/bergs on the water. I can’t really describe the noise but it was loud and just incredible. On top of that pictures just could not capture the amazing landscape! It is better than Frozen Planet!

Maria and Jacqueline
(the Dutch scientists)
bought me a little glas penguin in the
souvenir shop.
At around 8am (after missing breakfast – it was totally worth the scenery) we arrived at Vernadsky – Ukrainian base (former British base). First of all the RIBs with some crew members approached the base, delivered some cargo (fresh fruits, veg, etc) and asked whether it would be ok for us to visit. After the Yes from the base commander, two RIBs started bringing us across. Thanks to all the crew involved driving forth and back! (This was the first of many journeys I will have in Antarctica on a small boat and hence I was really excited!) We were welcomed very warmly on base, showed around and thanked for the things we had brought. They dished up cake, chocolate and more. Some of us were brave enough to try the homemade vodka offered. I was too distracted taking pictures of penguins from the balcony. In the beginning I was so excited that I said: “I really love penguins. So cool!!!” It was one of those moments where everyone was silent at that exact point in time so my outcry was followed by a lot of laughter :D

The bar is pretty special, as it was build with lots of effort by two wintering carpenters when the base was still British. Unfortunately, they were supposed to do something else with the wood and their time on base; I don’t think they made it back to Antarctica after that. However, the bar does look pretty impressive. There is also a pound coin on the bar which is symbolic for the payment the Ukrainian gave the British for the base. One of our passengers on board (Dave) wintered in the 80s on this base ...

I soon found my way out and sat down next to some of the penguins taking lots and lots and lots of pictures (did I mention that they are the cutest thing ever??). Some of them guarded the eggs, others went for a swim and porpoised (I learned that that means jumping around in the water like dolphins), some just stood around and some picked stones for their nests. One of the penguins was really adventurous and ended up surveying the nosy humans sitting close by, standing only a meter or two away from us J The sun was gorgeous and I did not need more than my two jumpers to keep me warm. Good job I put suncream on in the morning ... It was a “dingle” day in BAS terms (new word I learned today and describes lovely sunshine with calm sea – the perfect day). In the end, when leaving, I was sad to part with my beloved penguins, however I was also glad to still have my bra ... I was told before we went to Vernadsky that I should wear a plain and old bra which I would not miss afterwards as the base is known for asking for women’s bras (they still do not seem to have many female visits). I gladly escaped this fate.
The day ended nicely, we left late afternoon and are now on the way to Rothera, due to arrive late evening tomorrow/early morning on Friday. This leaves us 2 more nights on the ship.

The trail is visible where penguins regularly walk up and down to feed their young!

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