Christmas in the Antarctic - a very different Christmas!
Last November I was lucky enough to be chosen as the Irish representative on a teacher's trip with Mission Antarctica sponsored by Royal and Sun Alliance to the Antarctic. Mission Antarctica is an organisation whose aim to ensure the preservation of Antarctica for future generations through the renewal of the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty in 2041. It will do with the help, cooperation and support of industry, business and commerce by reaching out to young people in each of the forty-four signatory nations of the Treaty. The objective we were given as teachers was to begin to develop a resource for children on the Antarctic and why we should preserve it.
My journey began in the small town of Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego. Its claim to fame is that it is the most southerly town in the world. The mainstay of its economy is the port and the cruise ships that arrive and depart for the Antarctic.
From here on the 21st of December we set off along the picturesque Beagle Channel, flanked on one side by Argentina and Chile on the other side. Then it was into the inspiring stretch of water in the deep South Atlantic between Cape Horn and Antarctica…. The Drake Passage. We discovered quite soon that 'Welcome to Drakes Passage' does not exist - just 'this is Drake Passage: get on with it and good luck'. We broke into 2-3 man shift teams, with each group headed by one of the 2041 professional crew. Wind speed kept up to a healthy speed of 31 knots and boat speed to as much as 13 knots. This meant lots of sail changes and reefing - not much time for boredom!
The wind steadily increased with frequent gusts of 65 knots over the next four days. The surf permanently washed the deck as the boat rocked like a cork in the sea. Finally we got just North of King George Island, in its lee, sheltering from the wind and waves. While we had carols playing down below, we saw some magnificent Albatross swoop and glide behind the boat in an effortless fashion. They stay at sea their whole lives and only return to land to nest every two years. However we had to 'hove to' (which means try and stay put) here for about 36 hours as entering Bellingshausen would be treacherous in these conditions. By December 27th we got into Bellingshausen. Everyone heaved a big sigh of relief - very glad to see dry land!
For more reports and information on the trip, log onto the Mission Antarctica website : www.missionantarctica.comNext