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Report from Antarctica
March 28th, 2011 @ 09:19 AM EST by admin

A teaser. Henry and Vicki will tell the rest of the story the night of April 6. -Ed.

Vicki and I look forward to sharing with you our terrific experiences on the Bark Europa. Vicki had a great time using all her camera equipment including her new 300-600mm telephoto. We enjoyed the whole expedition immensely and we hope that you can join us to see some of this harsh, merciless, and also beautiful life that carries on in the great white continent. Following is a brief taste of our adventure to whet your appetite for more. . .

Having arrived in the world’s southernmost city of Ushuaia, we can hardly await our adventure. We caught the last flight out of Toronto before the big snowstorm February 1st. Due to our upcoming Spartan quarters on the Europa, Vicki booked us into a somewhat ritzy (for Ushuaia) hotel on the edge of town. We took great advantage of the indoor outdoor pool and hot tub overlooking the picturesque Beagle Channel followed by a relaxing sauna to wash away our travel-weariness.

Choosing to eat in the hotel we were amazed by the exceedingly high quality of the food with a wonderful Chilean wine to accompany it. Vicki chose the hotel for good reason, because the next three weeks would take us back into another way of life, without 24-hour endless food tables complete with ice sculptures, acclimatized observation decks, perfumed and coiffed patrons, and luxurious lollygagging in the cabin.

We are in cabin # 7, comfortably and fortuitously amidships, sharing the two upper and lower bunks with a couple from Austria. We have very little storage space, and sparse room to move about, but our tiny and comfortable quarters includes a head complete with combination shower with hot water on demand, an efficient vacuum activated head and a floor that is heated with engine coolant. The fresh water on board, we are reminded from the outset, is a limited commodity despite the desalination equipment and so we receive a daily water usage report to discourage those who have a tendency towards lengthy showers.

The voyage crew is now divided into three watches to assist the professional crew around the clock throughout our passage through the Drake channel. With four hours on and 8 hours off rotating through the twenty four hour clock, there is much to learn and keep occupied with. The Europa was refueled back in Ushuaia and has plenty of fuel for the trip but she is a tall ship and wants to be sailed. The sail plan has to be altered to the wind conditions and there is plenty of opportunity for us to help furl or shake out the sails. Some of us help control the sails from the deck level with the orders shouted out by the professional crew. Others climb up the rigging. We are encouraged to take the helm and sometimes our very relaxed Dutch captain Klaas has fun with the helmsman by remotely taking control of the helm to test our reaction.

The wind is up and we are heeling to port. Protective netting is hung port and starboard on the main deck and lines are strung across the three decks for clipping onto. We have a long way ahead of us and many of the voyage crew and pro crew are fearful of becoming seasick. About two-thirds of all aboard have succumbed. The trainees at least may remain in their bunks for the night and the following days. Us able-bodied ones are eager to join and assist the crew in the lower part of the rigging. We are wearing harnesses and clip on appropriately. The ship plows on. Vicki feels somewhat guilty as she was eager for a good blow and has got her wish.

After several sleepless hours due to our cabin mates suffering acutely from seasickness, we awake for our 4am watch to discover the companionway closed to the main deck. Going forward we climb up to the forward stairs past the ship’s doctor retching into a sink and out to the lower foredeck where the wind was whipping water across the deck. Holding onto lifelines, we head aft to the main deck where the pro watch hustles us immediately back below. So we go back to sleep leaving the mayhem above. It is blowing over 50 knots, for the pro crew to deal with.

Breakfast was an under attended affair as most had lost their appetites.

We get into the swing of the watches, enjoying our lookout and driving opportunities, and of course capturing lots of pictures! We also attempt to provide cheerful support for those unused to the motion of the ship. The lectures and films are of great interest as is watching the washing machine churn outside of the portholes. On the fourth day, we all begin to get excited as we know we are nearing the South Shetland Islands where most believe the real adventure begins…..