Kayaking Amongst The Icebergs And A Visit To The Palmer Research Station In Antarcticap
(64° 46’S, 64° 03’W)
It was another first, I thought to myself as I drove my paddle through the icy water. The air was still and the ocean, flat as a pancake. The conditions were perfect.
From my Kayak I could see icebergs towering before me. They advanced in a variety of shapes. Some were at least 25 metres high. Each berg came in a different hue, whites, greens, turquoise, blues. An iceberg’s buoyancy is dependent on the amount of air that is trapped within it. Between 50% to 99% of an iceberg can be hidden below the water’s surface. The most dangerous icebergs, ‘growlers’ lie mostly below the surface with only a small amount showing above. Far in the distance we were able to make out the faint rumblings of an avalanche or calving.
After Kayaking we visited the US research base, Palmer Station, located in Arthur Harbour on Anvers Island. It was unheard of for them to show round such a large number of visitors so we were very lucky to be given the opportunity. Palmer Station is a small base named after Nathaniel B. Palmer, who was the first American to record sighting of Antarctica in 1820, during a sealing expedition. A more permanent station was established by the US Navy 1967 and today, the station is still runs as housing and research facilities for scientists and support staff. Of the three U.S. Antarctic stations, Palmer is the only one that is north of the Antarctic circle and can be accessed routinely during the winter.
As we walked to pick up a Zodiac, we saw a Crabeater seal cavorting on an ice flat at the edge of the harbor. It was the most active we had seen any seal. Navigating back to the ship was tricky. A significant amount of brash ice had begun to form in the bay making our exit difficult and forcing us to twist this way and that within the maze of water and ice.
Back at the ship we prepared for the traditional polar plunge. Everybody lined up in white robes and slippers at the stern of the ship. Vodka shots were stacked up in ice for a bit of dutch courage. Splash! I was in! I didn’t feel the cold at first but as soon as my head protruded above the water’s surface I felt an instant chill come over me and I could feel my muscle tissue starting to freeze. I couldn’t climb up the ship’s ladder fast enough! The ocean temperature turned out to be a biting -6 degrees centigrade. A warm swimming pool and some time in the sauna brought my shivering body back up to my normal temperature and I felt the blood in my veins once again.