Ushuaia Pre -voyage
We have all just spent three days in Ushuaia looking deep within ourselves! This really requires focused thinking at a level that is not always comfortable but is so very necessary to progress towards a better self. From the very beginning, our opening dinner, it was obvious that we, as a group, have so much positive energy and so much connection. Within minutes of meeting someone we were having really rich and meaningful conversations. Touching base with people we feel like we already know so well but have never met in person. This is us with our NZ comrades. We have spent a lot of skype time together over the last year. It is strange to ‘meet’ someone you already know.
We are on the ship! This summer has seen rough conditions on the Drake Passage but we were blessed with calm seas. Some people suffered from the rocking motion so it was a day off from content today. Our ship, the Ushuaia, is tiny compared to many others that come through these waters. But we stand looking out across the endless expanse of blue and consider those who first explored this chilly part of the world. We can’t decide it they were heroic or crazy? While travelling up the Beagle Channel, before heading out into the open water, the ships doctor STRONGLY encouraged us to “take her pill”. She knew the best medication to take to prevent sea sickness and she was a little bit scary so we all took her pill!
We could tell we were nearing closer to land because the occasional penguin was spotted, small pieces of ice bobbed past us and the waves calmed. Our expedition leader, the famous Greg Mortimer who has been to Antarctica 80+ times, informed us that we were heading between two islands and all we could see was a wall of fog! Finally, finally, finally a dark shadow loomed ahead the odd squawk of a penguin could be heard. We were among the South Shetland Islands at Half Moon Bay, right at the tip of the Antarctic peninsula. The energy and excitement were palpable as we all donned our gazillion layers of warm clothing. Before we knew it we were in the zodiacs, which was quickly followed by the crunch of stone underfoot. The beauty in what lay before us was incredible. For many of us, we simply stood for a few minutes to take it all in.
Our ship anchored in Potters Bay which is small and consists of many multi-story glaciers (which are sadly retreating at a rapid rate). We visited the Argentinian Carlini base with its backdrop of a huge rocky outcrop called the three brothers (tres hermanos). The staff graciously invited us into their world of shipping container style huts and patiently answered a barrage of questions. Today’s HB session was deep and insightful. We learnt the art of coaching. What makes a good coach is someone who can listen and coax information out of a person in a way that they can get to the core of the problem and encourage the ‘coachee’ to devise their own solutions and ways of moving forward.
This morning we had a quick trip ashore to the Chinese research base ‘the Great Wall’ which is on the continent. We were not able to enter any buildings but could explore their monuments and take some photos. This afternoon we had a learning session on emotional agility, but, it quickly became a session on resilience and persistence. We started the session only to be interrupted by humpback whales out the window. As the excitement passed, we all headed back to our seats to refocus. Then the ship started to roll and lurch to the point somebody fell off their chair. Then we entered into an Antarctic blizzard. And just when we all felt we couldn’t be any more interrupted, the captain took us closely past a huge iceberg!
The beauty and stillness of the Weddell Sea in morning sunlight is an experience that will stay with us for many years to come. Some are tiny and some are bigger than the ship. We had a shore landing onto a small volcanic island called Paulet Island. Over summer this is home to 100,000 Adelie penguins. Since our visit timed with the end of summer there were only a couple of hundred left. But, the smell of 100,000 penguins lingered! Holy moly – the smell! Now we understand why mother nature put the penguin colonies at the bottom of the planet.
Last night we motored through choppy seas from dinner until breakfast so we travelled a fair way down the western side of the peninsula. The rough passage was worth it because we found ourselves in a beautiful, stunning and emotionally moving place – Portal Point. Standing at the top of the hill we had 360 degree view We continued the Symposium @ Sea, where each Homeward Bound participant gets three minutes and three slides to describe themselves and their work. It was so great to hear more about everyone, what they do and what motivates them to stay in the STEM profession. We also learned more about Antarctic marine life through another science lecture and had a session on peer coaching. This is such a valuable skill to learn.
This morning we stopped at Danco Island. This is home to a crazy amount of Gentoo penguins and fortunately there were many pairs still raising their chicks so they had not yet headed north for the winter. We had the pleasure and disgust of watching parents feed their chicks. It was revolting. They actually gag and you can sometimes see the regurgitated krill coming out of the throat before the chick gobbles it all up. Yes it’s all normal, and yes its nature. But, nature can be revolting sometimes. Once the parent has finished feeding the chick they then run away so the chick stops hassling them. And those awkward little critters can move!
Today we visited the U.S. Palmer Station. Alarmingly, there is a glacier behind this station that has receded so much in recent years that there are new islands popping out of the glacier that were previously hidden. One island is nicknamed pie because it was discovered in March 2014. 3.14 – get it?! It’s a nerd joke. Following on from this, we all had to contain our energy and settle into more Homeward Bound learning. We worked on our personal strategy map. For this task, we chose the values that we think are most important and from there determined aspirations that we hope to achieve in the area of relationships, self and work.
Last night we watched an interview that Fabian (Homeward Bound co-founder) conducted with Jane Goodall. She speaks very gently and calmly but what she has done with her life leads us to believe that underneath the surface is a fierce and determined woman. We had another empowering session on gender equality today which has filled the room with energy. Justine was feeling a little out of sorts in the evening and planned on going to bed early. However, at the end of dinner – “Orcas at the bow” was announced over the loudspeaker. How could she say no? It turned out to be a really beautiful evening of orcas, humpbacks, beautiful snowy mountains and a rising moon. Antarctica is so good for the soul. Better than sleep…
Today we reached the mid-way point of the expedition. We started the day by visiting Port Lockroy – the most visited place in Antarctica. Port Lockroy was previously a British base and is now a museum and post office operated by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. In the evening, we had a fancy dress party. Justine dressed up as a mad scientist whilst Karen dressed as a bag of jellybeans. By the end of the night, there were jellybeans everywhere, in people’s tops, in their pants – it was hilarious!
Today was supposed to be a day off, perhaps to recover from the party the night before. For many people it still ended up being a day of trying to catch up on creating their strategy maps, writing blogs or doing other work. We had two landings today – in the morning at Peterman Island (which Karen decided not to do so that she could catch up on some washing!) and in the afternoon at Pleneau Island. The latter landing was rather cold with a wind chill of -12⁰C, so we only stayed out for about an hour.
Today was the day that shall forever be referred to by TeamHB2018 as ‘Rotheragate’. The channel to Rothera was blocked by ice, and to get there we would have to go out into open sea. Unfortunately, some participants were suffering from substantial seasickness. Participants undertook a blind vote – 72 yes to 6 no. It was decided that we would not go to Rothera – we all go or none of us go. It was a real mess of emotion all around. However, as it turned out, many of us went through a real leadership learning experience during the process.
This morning we had a trip out in the zodiacs at Hanusse Bay in Crystal Sound. It ended up being an epic trip out, zooming around amongst the ice chasing a pod of orcas. At one point, we had a group about 20 meters away from us. It was a fabulous experience. After all the anxiety of the previous day, new data emerged which changed everything. The weather had shifted and Marguerite Bay was clear of ice – we could go to Rothera!
Having travelled all the way down the west coast of Adelaide Island overnight, we arrived at Horseshoe Island where there was an old abandoned British research station, which is preserved just as it was when it was left, complete with marmite, steak and kidney pies and strawberry blancmange powder. This landing is where we created a video for International Women’s Day.
An early start this morning to visit Rothera station (the British base). The residents took the whole morning to give us an in-depth site tour, explaining to us about the research they were undertaking and what life was like on an Antarctic base. They only accept two tourist vessels per year and the other vessel didn’t get through because of ice – so they seemed pretty happy to see us. In the afternoon we had many science group presentations on issues such as water quality and marine pollution.
Yesterday afternoon the Captain decided he wanted to try and negotiate his way back up through the ice in the channel that had blocked us a couple of days previous. We were all out on the deck next to the bridge watching him try to pick his way through. We had to stop in amongst the ice overnight, and then continued the journey this morning. It took 6 hours to go 5 miles but we did finally break through.
A slower pace to start this morning. We spent much of the morning working on our strategy map and our 100-day action plan (just like the U.S president has to do!). In the afternoon we landed at Neko Harbour, our last stop on the Antarctic Peninsula. On our landing, we watched as a glacier came apart and a huge amount of ice and snow avalanched down the mountain. It was here that we had our largest snowfall of the trip.
Today was International women’s day and we spent some of it on Deception Island, the caldera of an active volcano. To get there, we sailed through Neptune’s Gate and it was like looking into Mordor. The rock was volcanic and the beaches black. There was even steam coming off the water because the seabed was warm. We landed at Whalers Bay, where there is the remnants of a whaling operating with huge vats where the whale oil was stored.
Properly on our way home now, we spent all of today on the Drake Passage. We had a Nobel laureate on board the ship – Susan Scott – who was involved in the discovery of gravitational waves. This morning she gave a talk about physicists, the theory of general relativity and how gravitation waves were detected using LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory). One of the other talks today was from Greg Mortimer about ice movements in then about a perilous journey he took to Antarctica in the 80’s in a 20M yacht – which now resides in Kettering, Tasmania.
Today we passed by the southern tip of the Americas – Cape Horn (or as it will forever affectionately be known ‘Gay Porn’ – how it sounded when pronounced by French participant Valerie Sage). Much of the day was spent on organising projects that will be worked on by the 2018 participants on our return to normal life – everything from the HB website to fundraising tools, to gender equity work.
An early start to this morning as we had to disembark from the ship straight after breakfast. It was a sad moment, saying goodbye to the staff and to the ship. The expedition was finally over. In the evening we had our final dinner, where certificates of participation were presented, everyone was thanked, and there was much dancing. And then, just like that, it was all over… Or rather, the leadership journey was just beginning…