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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Engine Room Blog:  Second Time on the Continent

By David Nickarz

David NickarzThe captain teased me for being a coward for choosing not to do the penguin swim.  Most of the crew got into their bathing suits and jumped in the water, which measured zero degrees.  I decided to stay warm and dry on board the ship.  I don’t think that’s cowardly, just smart.

Later that day, we all got to visit Cape Denison where there is a team of Australians digging up the old Monson’s Hut site.  Monson was a scientist who wanted to do research on the Antarctic coast in the early part of the 20th century.  His hut, which was very small, had 18 men living in it for up to two years.  There are still books, newspapers and glass bottles full of medicines still sitting on the shelves.  The old acetylene gaslights are still there and everything is covered in ice.  Some things like the old stove have been excavated. Truly incredible.

It made me think of the difficulties that we face begin on a ship and sharing cabins.  We see each other every day and at every meal.  Sometimes this can be stressful and people can get irritable.  After seeing that hut I can’t imagine how anyone could live like that.  Our ship may not be that big, but it’s much more comfortable than the old Farley Mowat which we used for many campaigns.

This is my second time on Antarctica.  I paid a visit to the French base (only a few miles away from Monson’s Hut) in December 2002. There were thousands of Adelie Penguins there, as well as in Cape Denison.

They are certainly curious animals.  We pulled up to the best rock for docking our zodiac and we were met by some of the scientists, as well as a few penguins.  It was hard to meet everyone and shake hands while these amazing creatures were just a few feet away.  A short distance awa,y there were a half dozen very large Weddell seals sleeping on the ice.

Later that day, we had the people from the base over for dinner.  They appreciated the visit since they would be getting no other people coming by until sometime in January.  The weather was probably the best we could hope for.  It was warm (about zero degrees) and sunny.  The average wind speed at Cape Denison is 50 km/hr.  They also mentioned wind speeds over 200 km/hr.  This is one of the windiest places on earth.