(This blog is in an unconventional format: The dates displayed are actual trip dates - not post dates.)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Down the Gullet

January 26, 2010
67°10"S, 67°38"W

The further the ship pushed into Crystal Sound, the harder the wind pushed back - and by mid morning it was becoming clear that the public liability risk of running landing operations in such weather was starting to exceed the Fram's insurance policy constraints. The bit of chop on the water really wasn't anything beyond what your average explorer could handle while fighting a bear one-handed, but there were so many old ducks and geese on-board who would get seasick in a bathtub (or forget to stop taking photos and just hang-on) that the afternoon landing at Detaille Island had to be canned. The island held a visit to the abandoned British Base W; but given that there would be other British bases to visit, and that this would be the only landing missed when there's usually an average of four - I couldn't really raise a complaint.

But as a consolation prize, the captain offered up a "rare" opportunity to instead cruise down The Gullet - a narrow channel between the eastern extremity of Adelaide Islands and Graham Land, a passage usually filled with pack ice and large bergs. It also became apparent at this time that someone on-board had let slip to the crew that it was Australia Day - and so as an afterthought, this little adventure was sold as a special gift to the ten Australians on board (two of whom were Austrians, but like that matters).

In a classic display of Antarctic weather, the wind dropped and the water flattened (perfect for an, ahem, landing) as we traveled southward through the large open expanse between land masses that funneled down to this fabled Gullet, some hour or so later. The side of this stretch were a mix of sheer glacial walls, tall jagged peaks, and mountains completely covered by undulating snow that gave them a close resemblance to giant puffs of meringue. Minke whales surfaced and dived around the boat, while a lone South Polar Skua escorted us down the channel. Rarely seen Snow Petrels glide around the bergs passing by the ship.

The Fram pulled back short of the Gullet itself, lowering a landing boat into the water for the crew to investigate the narrowest parts of the shortcut into Marguerite Bay. Some thirty minutes drew out before the small craft re-appeared around the bend; returning the report that a huge unpassable berg lay just around the bend. A public apology was give to the Australians, and well, everyone else had to just lump it. The Fram lowered its tail between its legs and settled for the long way round.

The afternoon light in Antarctica is beautiful. The suns rays are lightly filtered by thin jet-streams of cloud stretched across the sky, refracting soft oranges and yellows on the iceberg littered waters. This perfectly compliments the smooth snow covering of the landmass, and the flat still water. Loosing the afternoon on the observation deck, we watch icebergs as big as apartment blocks glide by at an arm's length. They are unaffected by the movement of the water, their shear underwater-size has them wedged tightly against the seabed. Smaller examples float by, the resident Weddell seals lift their heads to witness the commotion, before flopping back into their relaxed state.

About 8pm after a solid meal and a warm shower, we arrive back on the observation deck for the Australia Day party. Lyndall had been so excited about the prospect of spending an Australia Day with temporary ex-pats, binge drinking in the Antarctic. However, despite a good forty-five minutes of trying to kick start that party, it was just too difficult to get into the mood at a bar that was empty save for an aging German tourist who was snoring in one of the near by recliners. None of the other Australians had shown up - not even the Austrians.

No comments:

Post a Comment