Monthly Archives: February 2013

Quick update from base camp!

To steal a phrase from another comment, that is. Stephen here, Gerry’s son.

The Fearless Four are currently en-route to South Georgia, safe and sound and still in awe of what they described as the “immense” experience of Antarctica. Amazingly, while they do not currently have sufficient bandwidth to update the blog, they can send text messages, and have asked me to update from here. They have promised bucket-loads of photos and much more in the way of posts once a proper connection is re-established.

On a technical note, my apologies to those of you who had posted comments which were not displayed until now – all comments must be approved by a moderator, and there are just the two of us. As the elder of the two has been somewhat isolated from the world wide web, I’m approving them for now – so keep them coming!

More from the travellers when they reach South Georgia.


First thoughts – Mary’s Blog

Sunday 24th February

The sky cleared as we approached to reveal the first view of the Peninsula. Land glided quietly by and to be one of so few who have experienced this is a privilege. What makes this place so special apart from its stunning form and structure is the acknowledgement between nations that it should never be used for commercial gain and that it will only be used for peaceful and scientific purposes.

Everybody still wants a piece of Antarctica, and there are bases ‘owned’ by a number of countries scattered around this part of the continent.

The light quality is remarkable and the similarity to the light experienced flying at 30,000ft  is striking. The hole  in the ozone layer is as large as the continent itself.

Monday 25th February

Our Passage south through the night was  slowed by high winds. Reached Neko Harbour in Andvord Bay at 09.30am,  90 mins later than predicted. The bay was awe-inspiring; surrounded on both sides by snow covered mountains and glaciers. Icebergs of various sizes and colours floated gently by while humpback whales, seals and penguins made themselves known. It was hard to know where to look as one vista was more stunning than the other. 

Like yesterday the weather improved remarkably, from strong winds, grey skies and choppy seas to minimal breeze, with sunshine and clouds creating beautiful reflections on still waters. All this accompanied by the occasional thunder-like sound of large chunks of ice or snow falling into the sea somewhere near us.

The landing at Neko was poignant as it is one of the few accessible landing spots on the continent  itself. The large colony of gentoo penguins paid little attention to us bar a few who became very curious and pecked at our boots. Again it was made very clear to us that this is their territory and they have all the rights so we moved out of their way if we crossed their paths. Their lack of fear was quite remarkable and suggests that we have managed the increased tourist access to Antarctica in a responsible way.

Leaving Only Footprints; Taking Only Memories

We have officially arrived having crossed the Antarctic Convergence at midnight ship’s time Saturday night into Sunday morning (3am GMT). This morning fog had closed in and the ship had slowed considerably – we have been warned that there are icebergs now in these waters. And just before noon we sighted the first one off the starboard side.

A little later the mist began to clear and then, like a theatre curtain being slowly raised on first night, the majesty of the Antarctic landscape was revealed. The rounded snow capped peaks of Robert Island in the South Shetlands were our first sighting of this picture postcard land. It is a moment that will live with us for the rest of our lives. Later, as we entered the channel between Grenwich and Livingstone Islands to anchor at in the not surprisingly semi-circular bay of Half Moon Island, the sense of anticipation among all on board was palpable. Getting on and off the small landing craft was suprisingly simple and the trip to shore took 3 minutes. Stepping on to the stony beach, our first footfall on Antarctica was, for all of us, an ambition achieved, a dream come true.

Back on line!

Been out of touch for the last 24 hours or so as we sailed thro’ a blank spot for internet coverage. But back in business so new posts coming up soon to fill you in on our activities during that time. Also found a way to resize photos so that should make uploading a wee bit easier. See Ireland lost to Scotland. Hard to credit!

The Tiger is a Pussycat

We woke this morning to bright sunshine and to find that the feared Drake Passage had been tamed. It was, as the crew informed us, the Drake Lake. In fact, I have seen bigger waves on the duck pond in St Stephen’s Green. Apparently, this is most unusual and the crew have not seen such good weather in some years. All their recent ”Drakes” (you have to get with the jargon here) have been stormy.

Mark and Dwane from Minesota are among those on board who are disssapointed and they have made it clear that they will be asking for their money back if things don’t disimprove and quickly.

Conditions were sufficient to induce in the Fearless Four feelings of mild elation but we refuse to become complacent. Already by mid-afternoon the sun had disappeared and the MV Fram was beginning to roll distinctly. Tomorrow could be another day.

Incidently, the lecture this morning entitled ”Whales I have Known” was not at all as dry as the title suggests and was very entertaining. It has teed us up nicely to distinguish a fin whale from a humpback from a minke. And already this morning peguins have been seen ducking and diving off the starbord side (that’s on the right, apparently). We have also been fitted with our boots for landings, the first of which may happen as early as tomorrow, Sunday.

Down to the Real Business

The real adventure has begun. After a long day getting here, the Fearless Four have finally departed Ushuaia on the MV Fram en route to Antarctica. The descent into Ushuaia on our chartered aircraft was something special (and we will post some photos in due course – check our Gallery page for updates). But the following bus tour and short walk through the Tierra del Fuego National Park – no doubt memorable in other circumstances – was little more than a distraction to our real objective. As we write this, we are five hours into our voyage and reaching the end of the Beagle Channel and entering the dreaded Drake Passage. The Captain has told us that weather conditions are good and we should expect a relatively calm crossing. Apparently that is a disappointment to some who had hoped to experience one of the Southern Ocean’s legendary storms. The Fearless Four, on the other hand, remain wary and are not convinced what might be meant by the term “relatively calm.”

For the anoraks, our position at 02.45 GMT on 23 February, 2013 was 55′ 5” S, 66′ 36”W, traveling at 14.6 knots on a course of 126 deg. It’s a wee bit chilly on deck.

Exploring Buenos Aries

Inspired by our encounter with The Man on The Bus we changed our plan for a motorised tour of Buenos Aries and decided instead to walk to the old town in San Telmo, an area we had been advised would be a suitable test for our emerging photographic talents.

En route, we stopped for refreshment in a bustling coffee shop just off the main pedestrianised shopping area, visited some ancient churches with amazing painted ceilings and stained glass windows, browsed second hand bookshops and had lunch with some locals in the Cafe Relax on the edge of the old town. In the afternoon we continued to wander the quaint cobblestone streets and marvelled at the variety of archetecture and streetscape. We watched a local hatmaker at work and at the La Poesia Bar we stopped and relaxed over some splendid artisan beers from their very own micro brewery and agreed among ourselves that we were having a very fine time indeed. We then stumbled upon a quaint indoor market where we browsed happily for an hour among a myriad stalls selling everything from fresh fruit to esoteric antiquarian paraphanalia. a browsers delight. But don’t ask us where any of it was as there is little chance we could find it again given a week to further explore these amazing backstreets.

At the end of a long day, we felt we had seen some of the real Buenos Aries and, drained by our exertions, we paid homage to The Man on The Bus.

A True Story

This a true story of a conversation with The Man on a Buenos Aries City Tour Bus

Scene: Fearless Four stood at stop 13 (quite clearly so marked) on the route of the Buenos Aries City Tour Bus. Bus Arrives and FF attempt to board. Following conversation ensues.

Man on Bus: Sorry but you must go to stop 13 to buy tickets.

Me: (Pointing to sign) But this is stop 13!

MoB: Sorry but the sign is wrong. This is stop 14. Stop 13 is four blocks that way.

Me: And what number will be on the sign at stop 13?

MoB 12!

Me: I’ll walk!

This IS a true story.

And so we did walk. And walk, and walk, and walk…….but more of all that later.

In the Shadow of The Irish Diaspora

The city of Buenos Aries, one of the most important in South America, has been around for almost 500 years. A settlement was originally founded here in 1536 by the Conquistador, Pedro de Mendoza. Sitting on the banks of the Rio de la Plata (River of Silver), the city has enjoyed a tumultuous history under a predominently Spanish influence. That notwithstanding, Buenos Aries has also secured the unenviable distinction of being invaded by British forces twice in the one year – 1807. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, Buenos Aries has seen considerable immigration from many counties in Ireland and the military, social and cultural history of the region is dotted with names like Santiago Phelan, Benito Lynch, Rodolfo Walsh, Ricardo Lopez Murphy, and, perhaps the most famous immigrant of them all, Admiral Guillermo (William) Brown. Brown was born in Foxford, Co Mayo in 1777 and after emmigrating to South America became a national hero and is credited with founding the Argentine navy. Brown is still revered in this country but he is possibly trumped in the fame stakes by another legendary Argentinian of Irish descent, Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary who played a major part in the Cuban Revolution. The Irish Diaspora in Argentina is significant and it is currently and variously estimated that the number of Argentinans of Irish descent is of the order of between 500,000 and 1,000,000. Sadly, the Fearless Four won’t be adding to that number as our stay here will be all too short. For us it is only a staging post on our way further south to the Great White Continent of Antarctica. However we are conscious of the Irish connections with this great city and we do have two days here which we intend to make the most of. We arrived this morning after a door to door journey lasting 26 hours. This included a 14hr flight from Heathrow which was made a little more bearable by virtue of being upgraded by British Airways to Business Class. The food was excellent, and we all managed to grab at least a few hours sleep in our very comfortable seats that converted to lie-flat beds. We have now set a standard that we hope to maintain for the remainder of our adventure. Things became a little more difficult once we landed in Buenos Aries, however. The immigration hall was a teeming mass of people and, having already travelled for almost 23 hours since leaving home, we were forced to endure a further 2 hours queuing to enter Argentina after which it took another 40 minutes to collect our bags, clear customs and arrange a taxi to our hotel in the centre of the city. We are now rested and actually managed to enjoy a splendid afternoon tea in the elegant surroundings of the Alvera Palace Hotel in the company of Beatrice, a local Argentian friend, and her son Alan. Unfortunately as I write this, and struggle to build an appetite for dinner in an hour’s time, it is teeming with rain in Buenos Aries which was not something we had been led to expect. Hopefully it will have cleared by tomorrow when we hope to explore the city, and particularly the old town, a little more. And tomorrow night is tango night. Looking forward to that.