Antarctic Dream diary from Ylva - March 20th 2011

 Adventures on Antarctic Dream 11th - 20th March

Currently I am sitting on a sofa on Antarctic Dream after a nice dinner in the Drake. Yes, you do read it correctly, we have had dinner instead of being seasick. This phenomenon is called a Drake Lake instead of a Drake Shake. But what all of us experience is best expressed by observing Michael on the adjacent photo. All of us are worn out and have an urge to catch up with sleep, let it be from the hard work or the still rocking motion of the ship.  

Michael catching up on some well deserved sleep!

On 12th of March in the morning Hannele left the island leaving only four of us, Michael, Liesl, Anna and Ylva on the island for the final closure. We had a couple of gorgeous days which enabled us to finish all the necessary painting and sealing work on the windows and outside timber. Michael was able to build a shelter for the gas bottles outside which should protect them from all types of weather and also prevent any damage to them in the early season snow digging activity. Liesl ensured that the chimney of the Storburn incineration toilet was properly secured and sealed. 

One challenge that we encountered in the last couple of days was selling all of this years calendars. We developed a quite good strategy on it with Michael being outside, talking about the last calendars in the shop, Anna and myself being in the shop either asking the person directly if they already had quite a few items to buy or praising the calendars openly to the entire crowd that was in the shop. Once we even pointed out that it was possible to obtain an autograph of one of the photographers (which was Anna) when buying the calendar.....loads of energy everywhere.

Our last ship visit prior to our pick-up day was quite exciting. Julio and the team from Expedition had managed to pick up the essential gear from Detaille that had to be left behind previously due to the strong winds above 40 knots.  What a great help from them as well as from multiple other teams throughout the season. Thanks to all of them!!! 

The penguin chicks become large, curious, lazy and just move if there is a parent with food around. They keep lying on the ramp in the sun or even have a peak into the porch itself. One time the visit even had to be delayed due to an inquisitive young penguin visitor being interested in the history of the skis in the porch donated by the family of late George Lewis. What a privilege being able to follow the penguin cycle from mating through hatching, moulting and the first swimming attempts.

Lazy chicks! Inquisitive visitor...

The last days were filled with more finalization tasks as the last day at Port Lockroy came nearer and nearer. Just to give you an impression on how we lived in the last couple of days, we have changed the format of our blog a little:

  • Store the dog sledges into the boatshed for winter
  • Cleaning the Elsan bucket (our toilet)
  • Finishing the inventory of all buildings including the shop
  • Taking the VHF radio antenna down
  • Write all reports
  • Taking the flag down
  • Remove the Stevenson Screen from its stand
  • Walked around Bills Island one last time
  • Take just a few more penguin pictures
  • Moved the generator into the shop
  • Take the flag pole down
  • Take a polar plunge
  • Climb Anemometer Tower for final views of the island
  • Repair the front door of Bransfield house
  • EAT all perishable food and finish all half-empty jars ...

We had one major checklist in order not to forget any crucial activity but here and there you heard that actually all of us had their individual short lists. All activities went very well since all of us were self driven and just saw new items every minute.

Ylva lowers the flag at the end of the season Anna preparing to take the Stevenson screen in for winter Moving the sledges into the boatshed over the winter period

Antarctica would not be Antarctica without another unexpected change of plans. We were scheduled to be picked up on the 16th March around lunch, thus after the morning visit of the passengers. The day before we received a radio call asking if they could already land in the afternoon and pick us up early in the morning. Great, that gives us more time after the last visitors left to ensure the final closure of the Island. One hour later another change of plans, meaning that we would be picked up directly after the visit the same night..... uugghhhhh. Fine, we can manage that as well. Everybody was very focussed and we took turns in packing while the others manned the shop and doing the final closing activities. Despite all of the hard work, there was room for some humour and enjoyment. As we were taking the flag down, a couple of the expedition staff that came to help whistled the national anthem. At the end we even managed to eat up all the leftovers, our dinner being the remainder of the porridge (intended for the next morning) mixed with apple compote (intended for desert). Typically in the style of Antarctica where you have to improvise with what you have got at that moment.

We were sort of sad to leave our small island that has been home to us for up to 4.5 months. But how can the season end better than being picked up at 22:30 on a moonlit night with mirror-like water, ice in the bay and a zodiac being propelled by paddles rather than a motor keeping the silence intact.....A perfect end to a great season thanks to everybody involved.

Being collected by Antarctic Dream on moonlit night

Humpback whalekeen eyed whale watchers!Ylva, Liesl and Anna

However this perfect ending was not the end of the nice experiences. On our way home we were welcomed by Antarctic Dream and felt at home immediately. The next morning we woke up in dense mist which rose magically after a couple of hours revealing a gorgeous scenery and blue skies. We had several magical whale encounters, one even from a Zodiac. When sitting with a coffee on deck we could see all types of marine mammals around either with or without binoculars and even the difference between a Minke whale and a Humpback whale is clear to us now. On our final day in Antarctic waters we landed at Halfmoon Bay with a large colony of chinstraps even visited by one Macaroni Penguin. Fur seals did not always agree with our presence while the Giant Petrels were stumbling over the rocks as always. This just animated our own craziness and we enjoyed our last glimpse of Antarctica....for this season...!?

Ylva (Liesl, Anna, Michael)