Dramatis persona*

helenhead Helen Chick

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that said "I'm a female, LDS/Mormon, Scout leading, geocaching, piano-playing, bicycling, mathematics educator with a PhD in maths ... and I VOTE"!

I think this makes me a minority group of cardinality 1!

* Since there's only one of me and "personae" is plural (I think), I've gone with dramatis persona.
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BT – A white and wet Christmas

We woke on Christmas morning to find a gift bag outside our doors, containing, among other things, a Christmas hat and a chocolate Christmas tree. This day would be our last in Antarctic waters, and we made two landfalls in the South Shetland Islands, which are just north of the Antarctic Peninsula but still inside the Antarctic confluence (a water current boundary that delineates what counts as Antarctica and what doesn’t).

The morning’s visit was to Half Moon Island (S 62°35.7′ W 59°54.2′) which shelters in a large bay on the east side of the much bigger Livingston Island. It was here that I saw my first Chinstrap penguins, with their characteristic head markings (one or two had been seen earlier on the trip, but not by me).

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The small beach where we landed is home to the gradually decaying wreck of an old whaling boat, while there is an Argentinian base up on the low ridge that forms the centre of the half moon shape that gives the island its name (the Google satellite view suggests that the island was, in fact, two or even three islands that are now connected by a high pebbly isthmus).

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There were Chinstrap penguins everywhere, and at least one chick was being fed up on a nearby rocky outcrop.   bIMG_6419

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The main colony of Chinstraps was out on the south-eastern point and we followed the path across the rocks and between the crags to get a closer look, encountering more rock-hopping Chinstraps along the way. [You can follow this path yourself if you would like; I’ve just learned that Half Moon Island is the first place in Antarctica with Google street view (see here, and head south, keeping the bay on your left to start with). The weather on Google’s visit was much nicer than ours, and since their visit in January was a little later in the summer the snow and ice cover is reduced by comparison to what we experienced.]

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En route we got some fantastic views over the surrounding islands of the archipelago, made more dramatic by the grey weather conditions.

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At the end of the point I managed to capture a photograph of the not especially endangered subspecies of Viator pictorii antarcticii.

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These specimens were in hunting mode, and were especially excited because hiding in amongst the Chinstraps was one lone Macaroni penguin, similar in size to the Chinstraps but characterized by its funky yellow eyebrows.

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Apparently there are about 2000 breeding pairs of Chinstraps on Half Moon Island (and one currently non-breeding Macaroni!).

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As we made our way back to the landing point, we were lucky enough to see a couple of kelp gull chicks (Larus dominicanus).

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Arriving back at the pebbly beach Catherine and I decided that it was lovely enough (for some definition of “lovely”) to go ahead with our plan to brave the waters with a so-called “polar plunge”. I also decided that it was entirely appropriate to do this wearing the Christmas hat we’d received (plus, thermal leggings and a short-sleeved thermal shirt).

The water was cold — and it took my breath away enough that I struggled to say so when I resurfaced after the dive — but it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I didn’t feel as if I had to rush ashore lest I turn into an iceblock, and so I kind of wish I’d forced myself to swim a bit more rather than assuming that it was sensible to get out quickly. Mind you, it started snowing as I got out, so maybe it was sensible to get out quickly!

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Towels were supplied, and it was nice to get back into dry clothes on the rocky shore, and then the plungers were given priority spaces on the returning Zodiacs.

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I will freely acknowledge that the hot shower back on board Plancius was very nice.

2 comments to BT – A white and wet Christmas

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