Archive for March, 2011

Spinning Yarn: Slurry and Black Ice #75

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

 Turning northward again, we traveled through the ice as it became smaller and less frequent. Like Ice cubes in a glass, or ice soup…called “Slurry” or “Brash”.

 You can tell the difference between sea ice (salt water) and Berg ice (Fresh water) very clearly when you see them side by side. The Sea Ice is solid white, almost dirty, and floats lower in the water. The Fresh water ice is a cleaner white and can be seen to glow blue/green.

 Black Ice is the very oldest and purest water, frozen and having been under pressure from the many layers of snow above it – all the air has been pushed out. It has a dimpled appearance similar to the surface of a golf ball, it is also totally transparent. The colour of the Ocean – deep gunmetal grey/black — shows through as it floats, and the ice becomes almost invisible…

 It still tastes the same, though…..

Spinning Yarn: Who can see the B9B? #74

Monday, March 28th, 2011

 I asked Harry, from the NZ Department of Conservation who was with us on board, if the quality of the ice is ever tested, and does it indicate any impurities, or age, or anything else. His reply was that the ice is tested, most of it to be found quite pure.

He also explained that Antarctica is divided into quarters (A, B, C, D) and the icebergs are named for their quarter of origin, tracked in their movements and recorded for size and distance traveled.

 There are 2 currents around Antarctica – they flow in opposition to each other, and the icebergs travel according to which current catches them. The B9B has originated in B quadrant, the 9th piece to break off and “B” because it split from “A”. What size must “A” have been?


Spinning Yarn: Ice Blocked! #73

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

 The summer ice Antarctica may well be at the lowest annual level and distance from land, but it is still present and it pays to be ever watchful, not only with eye but also with satellite and radar and all the modern navigation and positioning equipment. Originally planning to visit French Antarctica at Dumont D’urville (about an inch around the coast to the right of Cape Denison) the plan was abandoned due to inaccessibility – they were iced in!

 So was Cap Jules.

 Plan C was the B9B Iceberg, second largest in the world at 100kms long and 6 stories high. Not only can you not miss seeing it, you cannot see all of it all at once…..

 Its form is large and cold and dramatic. The wind was blowing the soft snow off the top, giving the impression of smoke. The colours were amazing – blues, greens, turquoises, jades, gunmetal grey at water level –  and its lines of growth quite visible even from our parking spot in the distance.

Spinning Yarn: The Sun Comes Out #72

Monday, March 21st, 2011

 For our visit, God had blessed us with TWO days of mild weather and no wind. We saw and experienced the Cape in its most welcoming behaviour, loving every minute. As we were preparing to leave on the next part of the trip, the sun broke through the overcast cloud cover and painted with light some of the icebergs in the bay.  All of a sudden, the Bay became the focus of our attention, the playful penguins and somnolent seals were spotlit on Nature’s icy stage, in full view of the 100 passengers and their cameras.

 The Orion weighed anchor and began to move around to the edge of the Bay, making progress towards the next point of interest, the B9B iceberg, one day away, while we the passengers took our evening meal out on the back deck, in the full Midnight Sun.

Spinning Yarn: The Yarn of the Penguins…#71

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

 They are adorable, these knee-high little guys in dressy feathers, sooo curious and having sooo much character. Quite cheeky, and totally fearless, you should see the way they careen down the slopes….Singly or in bunches, they streak by in their haste to make it to the next destination.

 The Adelie penguins arrive at Cape Denison about October each year, and they come to mate and increase their population as well as swell the numbers of things living in Antarctica over the summer. Travelling enormous distances to “home”, the penguins make their little nests of plain rocks in and amongst the granite boulders of the shore and the cliffs, making sure to have access to the ocean.

 Weddell seals join them for the season. These are huge flat blubbery masses with big round deep dark brown eyes, lying on the ice pretending to be asleep. The only things missing for them are the sofa and the remote control! You could be forgiven for thinking the seals are part of the boulders, being much the same colour and almost the same size. Take this advice: WATCH YOUR STEP. Seals can move VERY fast when they have to, and they have teeth!   (NO, I saw the teeth, I did not experience them!)

Spinning Yarn: The Cross on the Hill, Part 2 #70

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

 Left behind!  All the effort, all the energy, all the hope….

 How would you be?

 Mawson struggled to the Hut, but WAS SEEN by the 6 men that Captain Davis (in the Aurora), allowed to remain for another year, on the off chance that Mawson and the team would re-appear.

 The men did not recognize him.

 They did, however, take him in and nursed him back to relative health, but it took the full 12 months. Mawson later stated that he would not have made it back alive to Australia had he left on the Aurora that day…

 The men erected the cross.

Spinning Yarn: The Cross on the Hill, Part 1 #69

Monday, March 14th, 2011

On the left side of the site overlooking Boat Harbour stands the huge cross, erected to the memory and sacrifice of Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz, who lost their lives on the way back to the Hut from that last exploration and mapping trip with Sir Douglas Mawson.

 The three men, as The Far Eastern Party, were on their way to exploring and mapping as far east as they could.  They were 480kms from the Main Base when they decided it was time to turn back.  As they began the return journey Ninnis and most of the food, most of the supplies, with the best dogs, disappeared down a crevasse. There was no reply to the frantic and concerned calls from Mawson and Mertz, and no way the men could mount a rescue. After 3 hours and no result, Mawson and Mertz knew they had to go on alone, as quickly as they could. Going back to the previous camp for the discarded goods, they found a tent and a few supplies, but not enough. To make it back to the Main Hut, they would have to eat the dogs….

 Canine meat was not nourishing – the dogs themselves had very little left to eat, and they worked and pulled till they literally dropped dead from exhaustion. Canine meat also has an overabundance (for humans) of Vitamin A, which became a deadly poison and from which Mertz suffered and died, leaving Mawson alone to struggle the last 100kms, battling extreme fatigue, starvation, thirst and cold – and the weather – and his body disintegrating.

 Days and blizzards later, well overdue for the planned January 15th rendez-vous, Mawson came over the hill at the Main Hut, only to see the tiny ship – the Aurora – way out on the horizon –leaving!

Spinning Yarn: The Past is Present #68

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

I have stood in the spot where Sir Douglas and his team lived and worked for 2 years in the most trying and difficult conditions.

I have seen with my own eyes the workroom where the masses of information and data were collected, where radio messages were sent and received and where their supply of fresh meat (seal and penguin) was prepared and stored.

I have witnessed the living conditions of the main Hut and seen the signatures of the men who inhabited this place.

I have glanced at their novels and reading materials, read the labels on the remaining food containers, and imagined the warming wood stove in operation, heating the inside of the Hut to a milder than outside temperature.

I have been privileged to see the photographer’s work area and wonder anew at his skill with chemical and camera.

I have walked the site where the explorers made their magnetic observations, where life went on in spite of the 200km winds and -40º temperatures.

 I have experienced Antarctic history!

Spinning Yarn: Time Delay #67

Monday, March 7th, 2011

 My Grandmother’s attic smelled of old wood and dust. It contained old trunks with Union Jack bunting, old clothes from long dead family members, leather suitcases of toys sadly abandoned and lots of other interesting things from the Victorian era. Looking around the attic, I used to wonder at the treasures left behind, their purpose, their owners, why they were there and why they were not loved by the next owner. It was as if time stood still there in the roof space and when I came down, nothing had changed, no one had missed me for the hours I was there exploring.

 That was the smell and feel of “HISTORY”

 Antarctic History has its own smell:  Old wood, well-thumbed magazines and books, moldy leather thawing out on the floor, melting snow and ice, and over it all – the faint smell of smokey blubber……All the items of the everyday life of a Victorian, Heroic Age Antarctic Explorer are placed just so –books aligned on the shelf, bottles and tins arranged on the bunks, crates of unopened foodstuffs stacked on the floor away from the stove, sledging clothes hung on the hook near the door……

 They’ll be back in an hour……

Spinning Yarn: Inside the Hut #66

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

 Though now more exposed to the air than ever before, the main Hut still keeps some of its secrets. Crouching to go inside through the doorway marked in blue “A.A.E.”, you must watch your step on the still knee-deep snow and ice covering the floors. The Workroom welcomes you with its old wooden shelving bending and straining under the weight of the snow and ice in the place where, back in 1911, the radio and its operator used to sit.

Behind is the more modern equipment for restoring and cataloguing used by the Mawson’s Huts Foundation team who work in situ.  The plastic boxes are definitely from a different era, waaaay out of place in this setting.

I stopped and marveled at the structure and resilience of the building. I stopped and marveled at the artifacts left neatly in their places. And I filled my lungs with the aroma and smells of the last century.