It’s zodiac time

So! How do the zodiacs work, anyway? How does Quark move 100 people off the ship and onto land and back again?

To start with, we were assigned into one of six different zodiac groups, each named after one of Antarctica’s early explorers. We signed up for these one of the days we were crossing the Drake. Allen, Jeff, and I were in the Amundsen group. For each landing, we were called by group to board, so that only a few people were in the boarding area at a time. It took a while to put on all your clothes and get all geared up, and it would get hot in all that stuff waiting inside, so a lot of people would put on all their gear and then go stand out on the decks while they waited to be called. It usually took only about 15 minutes to load everyone.

(Landing times were noted on our daily program, and Alex would notify us over the PA system when they were about to start calling groups, so we knew about when to be ready to go.)

On landings where there was a long hike, the “long hikers” were called first, before the regular groups, so they could get going. Then as soon as they were all ashore they could start hiking immediately without having to wait for the last zodiac to arrive.
I was waiting outside on deck for them to call the Amundsen group when I took this photo.
Before we left the ship, we had to sign out. Quark needed a way to make sure they knew who was off the ship, so they could make sure everyone was back ON the ship before we left. For each landing or zodiac cruise, they hung up a list of passengers by cabin number near the gangway, and we had to sign or X by our name as we headed out.
Here’s what the loading area looked like. You can see along that far wall is a trough, which contains a cleaning solution (called Vikram? I can’t remember the name of it and can’t find it googling…) that we had to dip our boots in before we left the ship, to ensure we weren’t tracking anything onto land.
Zodiac checklist + daily program (where, if you look really closely, you can see the listed disembarkation order of zodiac groups for each landing).

We were always to bring extra warm clothes with us in our backpacks, in case the weather changed quickly, or in case we got stuck on land for longer than expected. (Same reason they told you to bring essential meds with you each time.) Hands had to be free during loading & unloading (because you gripped arms with the people helping you on), so everything had to be in a backpack.


Cleaning boots before loading

Zodiac ride. On the way to/from shore, they went pretty fast.

(Also, do you see that cool watch that the guide is wearing on his jacket? Jeff got me one of those as a birthday gift on the ship after I admired them on the guides. I love it!)
Unloading from a zodiac at a landing site. We often had to step out of the zodiac into a few inches of water. That was fairly easy, though it was sometimes slippery walking on the wet rocks into rocky beaches. On one landing, we were stepping out onto some large rocks from some deeper water, and the waves were pretty rough so that the zodiac bobbed up and down by a foot or more, making it tough to get the right footing. The Quark guides held onto our arms and Alex told us when to go as the boat bobbed up to meet the rock. Most landings weren’t that tough, though, and it was just a matter of swinging your legs over and stepping down into the water.

As we unloaded onto land, Alex would tell us what time the last zodiac was returning. You could go back any time you wanted. There were always zodiacs waiting ready to go. I was almost always on the last or the second-to-last—I could’ve stayed on land for even longer. I was never really ready to go back to the ship.
Alex (in the orange jacket) waiting with a zodiac for people to return.

Another safety measure Quark took was having everyone remove their life jackets as soon as they got to land. They had big bags where you piled them near where we’d unloaded. Then before you left, you put on a life jacket again. Hence, they knew whether there was anyone still on land by whether there were life jackets left.
I took this photo once when the zodiac I was on broke down. We sat in the water for several minutes while Jimmy tried to get the motor started again, but finally he had to radio for a tow. Another zodiac towed us back to the ship.


Unloading back onto the gangway to the ship

Once you’re back onboard, time to dip and scrub your boots again. Also any other places where you picked up anything. Penguin poop was everywhere, so it was very easy to end up with it on your pants. We used long-handled brushes to scrub those spots. Things I never thought I’d say: “Will you scrub the penguin poop off my butt?”


That’s my foot.

And then you signed back in. And if you didn’t, you’d get called out over the PA system to come back down and sign in. Once they were sure everyone was back on the ship, we could lift the anchor and set sail again.

Did I miss anything? Is there anything else you want to know about how the zodiacs worked?

Raise your hand if you have a question

What do you want to know? I can’t answer questions about why minkes rarely breach but humpbacks do it all the time, but if you have questions like, how do you go to the bathroom on Antarctica? I’m your girl.

(Answer: You don’t. You go back to the ship to use the bathroom.)

So if you have any questions, ask away in the “reply” box below! It’s a good way to give me ideas about what else to write about, too…I have some ideas for future posts but tell me what you are curious about! Of course, you can always ask questions on any post, too.

I don’t know of any way to make comments anonymous without losing all my spam protection. If you want to be anonymous, you’ll have to just make up a name and email.

Day 5: Zodiac cruise

After we had sailed south of the circle, we were hoping to do a landing at Detaille Island, but there turned out to be too much ice to reach it. So instead, we dropped anchor near there in Crystal Sound and did some scenic cruising in the zodiacs after brunch.

We spent about an hour and a half cruising around among the ice and the wildlife. The weather was perfect, with blue skies and very little wind.
Inside the zodiac. Adrian the bird expert was driving it, and you can see his camera is out and sitting on his bag next to him. That’s how I knew it was safe to get out my camera.
Arches in the ice look really cool, but they aren’t safe to sail under because they could collapse at any time.
Quark had hired this French videographer, Hugo, to record some promo videos during our expedition. By the end of the trip, he had already put together a first cut of his video, and they showed it to us on the last night. It was awesome! It will eventually be online.
He got to go out in his own zodiac to get the footage he wanted.


Our ship and some other zodiacs in the distance



Fur seal, looking to me a lot like a wet rat



Crabeater seals, which aren’t found much farther north than this

Whales will come up to pieces of ice like this and try to knock the seal (or seals) off by diving under one edge of the ice and coming up to rock it. We didn’t witness this on this trip, but the guides told us they’d seen a group of whales work together for quite a while to rock a seal off the ice. (And sometimes the seal still manages to get away.)


Cauliflower iceberg?

We were able to get pretty close in our zodiacs…I shot these seals with my 24-70mm lens, not the long telephoto.
Approaching the ship at the end of the zodiac cruise. You can see the zodiac ahead of us unloading.
We’d been hoping to sail through a very narrow channel called the Gullet that afternoon. Alex had told us the night before that they’d been unable to see the area from the satellite photos from the past week because it had been cloudy, so they weren’t sure how much ice there was. He’d warned that there was a good chance that it would be choked with ice and we wouldn’t be able to get through, but we were going to try anyway.

And as it turned out, once we got there, there was, in fact, too much ice. We were still heading further south, but now we had to go out and around some islands, so we did not have an afternoon landing this day while we were repositioning.

When he made this announcement over the PA system, I was a little relieved, actually, because I was so freaking exhausted; I just wanted a nap. (But I didn’t want to miss anything! It was so hard to decide to sleep!) We had a light lunch at 2 in the afternoon, and then I headed to my cabin to sleep. Allen was in there resting, too, and as I stripped down to just one layer of long underwear, I said to him, “Since I’m taking all this off, something exciting is bound to happen outside.” Sure enough, about a minute after I’d crawled under the covers, Alex came over the PA system to announce that we were about to pass by a particularly impressive iceberg that we would not want to miss, and in fact the captain was going to circle around it 360 degrees so we could get the best possible views. I said, “I KNEW IT!” But I stayed in bed. I hated to miss it but I was so, so tired.

I basically slept the rest of the night. I woke up and went to dinner but after dinner I went right back to bed and slept until the morning wake-up call. I don’t know what was happening on the rest of the ship, but I needed that sleep.

The next day…the farthest point south we would go. But first…I think I’ll write about how the zodiacs worked.

Day 5: Crossing the Circle

The day we crossed the circle! We were all excited–passengers and crew alike, because it was the crew’s first crossing this season. Earlier in the season there is too much ice to get this far south. (Plusses to going in February–less ice and lots of whale activity.)

On this morning, we woke up to clear blue skies and bright sunshine. The night before, Alex had told us we expected to cross the Antarctic Circle–at 66 degrees (hence the name of this blog) and 33 minutes–at about 8am, so they would be holding breakfast until after so we could all be out on the deck for it. But during the wake-up call at 7:30, Alex reported that we’d been slowed down by ice overnight, so we would not reach the circle until about 8:45am. They would continue to hold breakfast and do a celebratory brunch after we crossed.

I was up on deck by 8am.
There was a little bit of snow from the night before.
More people started heading outside as the we approached the circle. The captain announced that we were fifteen minutes from crossing. Then five minutes. Then one minute! He joked, “You all see that dotted line, right?” Then he counted down: “10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1!” And he blew the ship’s horn a couple of times, and everyone cheered.
And then the next thing we knew, a bunch of the expedition team were running out in costumes and demanding that we deliver our leader to them.
That would be Alex, who came out down from where he’d been on the bridge and is kneeling here. First they poured (cold) sea water on his head, then they made him kiss a krill (a stuffed animal version), and then they smeared “penguin poop” on his forehead.
After they were done with Alex, they invited all of us to join too.


Jeff having water poured over his head. You can see the krill in someone’s hand, too.


The “penguin poop” smear

They also gave us shots of vodka after. As my fellow traveler Kristine said, “Every time I do something stupid on this trip, they give me vodka.” (We would get shots of vodka following the polar plunge, too.)

There was also a flag that showed the date we crossed, but I somehow missed this entirely and didn’t get a photo with it like many people did. They auctioned it off later at the end of the trip.

Meanwhile, my Uncle Allen had another idea. In 1999 he biked from Dayton, Ohio, to the Arctic Circle in Alaska, which took two months. He has a photo of himself biking across the circle there, so when we spotted a couple of bikes stored in an out-of-the-way spot on the ship, he decided to bike across the Antarctic Circle, too. That was an unexpected bonus! (Next up: biking across the equator?)
Eventually it was time for breakfast, and then we hoped to have a landing on Detaille Island, but it was not to be. Scenic cruising instead!

I didn’t realize how often I did this

I can’t promise that these photos aren’t going to show up in some of the daily reports, but I thought they were funny together as a set too.

Posing for the “I am here” shot always looks so dull when the person just dangles their arms at their side. So I don’t like to do that. The result is that I have thrown my arms up all over Antarctica to make this exact same photo over and over. LOL.
me-armsup-01 me-armsup-02 me-armsup-03 me-armsup-04 me-armsup-05 me-armsup-06 me-armsup-07

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