My Second Antarctic Adventure – Palmer – Part V

Beautiful Chile to Antarctica – copyright 2009 Jack W. Cummings

Eighteen days after leaving the winter weather of Boston Harbor, we sailed into and docked in the warm waters of Valparaiso, Chile. Today, as I write his, it is a balmy 83 degrees there, so I can only assume that it was at least in the 70 – 80 degree range during our four day stay there.. It was a welcome change. Since members of the wintering over party were only passengers, we were permitted to come and go as we pleased. With this in mind Charlie, Tom, and I made our arrangements to take the train to Santiago and spend a couple of days exploring this beautiful city. Since we did not have any civilian clothes with us, we would have to travel in our dress blue (wool) uniforms. I don’t remember this being anything that we were concerned about. About the only thing I can remember about that train trip there and back was what horrible condition the train tracks were in, which made moving around the cars nearly impossible. I did spend some time in the dining car where I enjoyed a breakfast of “huevos rancheros” which included a thick steak. It was an amazing meal, and it only cost $1 US. All I can recall about the countryside that we travelled through was sparsely populated areas similar to southern California. To see if this train was available now, I “flew” the route between Valparaiso and Santiago via Google Earth. It is apparent that the train route is no more and has mostly been replaced by a modern four-lane super highway. I recently read the blog of Carla Appel who had in September, returned to South America from New Palmer Station and was pleased with the modern buses serving Chile and Argentina. I suspect that old train has been replaced by a modern highway and deluxe buses. In my “flight” I observed what appeared to be a very prosperous countryside.

During our short stay in Santiago we did a lot of walking around, visited some very nice parks, visited a nightclub, and enjoyed a Spanish version of a tortilla. Not knowing that their version of the tortilla was different from the Mexican one, I ordered three. The waiter suggested I try just one, as in South America, flat omelets or frittatas are called tortillas – my “one” was delicious! We were also introduced to a very popular drink called Vina con Frutas. During our walk about the city we discovered an establishment, which seemed a lot like a local beer hall, but instead of serving beer, they were serving water pitchers filled with white wine and sliced up peaches, a very simple drink similar to sangria. We were warned NOT to eat the peaches as it absorbed some of the alcohol in the wine. We did anyway, and it did too.

We have friends who just returned from spending a couple of days/nights in Santiago and marveled at what a modern city it is. From the traditional to the modern, its city core buildings were magnificent. It is good to hear from these friends and others that I have spoken with recently that Chile has moved beyond its growing pains to the turbulent years of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s into a country that its citizens can be proud of.

I can recall nothing of our return train ride to Valparaiso. The remaining days were uneventful, with the exception of our visit to the private home of an American ex-patriot in Vina del Mar, and being introduced to their national drink: pisco sour. This drink has to be tasted to be appreciated. I imagine I did bring in the New Year ashore, probably in a local bar, but I don’t remember it being anything to write home about. I was anxious to move on. During our stay in Valparaiso two people from the National Science Foundation (NSF) came onboard the Edisto: Arthur Rundle, who would be the scientific (USARP) leader for the next two years at Palmer, and Bob Austin, who would be overseeing the station construction for NSF. However, at the end of the season Bob would return to the states.

We departed Valparaiso on the 2nd day of January, and the Edisto set a course for Punta Arenas. January 3 was our first anniversary, and I had arranged for roses to be delivered to Barbara back in California. Sometime in the late afternoon hours we arrived at the entrance to the “Golfo De Penas”, the northern entrance to Chile’s inside passage, and began our transit through these beautiful fjords. By midnight on the 6th of January, the ship’s log showed our position at Latitude 48 44.4 degrees south, Longitude 74 22.5 west, in “Canal Messier”. The scenery was spectacular as we navigated these narrow channels. Navigating these waters must have been a nightmare for the personnel on the bridge. As far as I know this was a new experience for all hands. By the time we entered the Straits of Magellan the ship had steamed over 400 miles, and on the afternoon of the 7th of January we rounded the southernmost point of land on the South American continent and set a course for Punta Arenas fifty miles away.

Our stay in Punta Arenas was short, as we were only there long enough to pick up the last four members of our winder-over crew, the four USARP scientists: William F Ahrnsbrak, Ohio State – glaciology; Charles C. Plummer, Ohio State – glaciology; George A Lippert, Bernice B. Bishop Museum – biology; and Jack L. strong, Bernice B. Bishop Museum – biology. The ships log indicated that we weighed anchor at 1930 hours (local).

We were now over 160 miles from the open seas of Drake Passage, which is the body of water between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula, known as the roughest ocean in the world. A popular nautical term for the stormy ocean regions between 40° and 50° latitude is often referred to as the “roaring forties”. It usually refers to the Southern Hemisphere, where there is an almost completely uninterrupted belt of ocean with strong prevailing westerly winds. The Edisto would be sailing across the path of these fierce waters, not really a part of this journey that anyone was looking forward to. We spent and entire day and part of the night going through more inland passages to reach the Drake  Passage. The weather was so fierce upon our arrival, we were turned back into the safety of calmer waters. The rest of the night and the next day were spent taking another route to the “passage”.  We were treated to more beautiful hills and valleys, some heavily  laden with beautiful glaciers. Thankfully, after close to 36 hours later we arrived at Deception Island without drama. Deception Island is a caldera formed by a huge eruption which has been flooded by the sea to form a large bay named Port Foster, about 9 km (5.5 mi) long and 6 km (3.6 mi) wide. The bay has a narrow entrance, just 230 m (754 ft) wide, called Neptune’s Bellows. Adding to the hazard is Ravn Rock, which lies 2.5 m (8 ft) below the water in the middle of the channel. Just inside Neptune’s Bellows lies the cove Whalers’ Bay, which is bordered by a large black sand beach.” (Quoted from Wikipedia)

Several of us were permitted to go ashore for a short walking exploration. The Captain of the Edisto, several officers, and civilians paid a formal visit to the three bases there; Argentina, Chile and Great Briton. While I was ashore I visited the British base to obtain information concerning communicating with them during the year. Three things I remember about Deception Island were the black sand, steam rising from some spots in the bay, and sailing past Neptune’s Bellows. I suspect it was on Ravn Rock that the USS Eastwind ran aground in 1963. As we left Deception Island it became more apparent that we were definitely in Antarctic waters, as we were now cruising through grease and pancake ice, and in the distance – glacier covered mountains poking up out of the sea. (See examples of ice at: http://web.vims.edu/bio/microbial/NBPice.html?svr=www) Our passage through the Gerlach Straits was a sight to remember.

We steamed all morning through fairly heavy ice fields.  Numerous seals were seen laying in the sun on the ice floes. Around noon on the 12th of January the Edisto had finished the transit of the Gerlache Strait, rounded the southern coast of Anvers Island, and headed for anchorage  in Arthur Harbor, our final destination – Palmer Station.  This completed a journey that had started one year and twelve days before in San Diego, California.  JWC  Original BAS Hut

The above picture is the BAS Hut as it appeared before our arrival.

(Next: Part VI – Palmer Station comes to Life)

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