"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Nine

Who Says Crime Doesn't Pay?

Two shipwrecked friends make their way to Buenos Aires in 1914.  They are looking for employment.

One, William Bakewell, is hired on as an able seaman by Ernest Shackleton.  The second, Perce Blackborow, is not, perhaps because he is only 18 years old.

Endurance is re-provisioned.  Frank Hurley, expedition photographer, also  boards the ship.

Then, Endurance sails down the sediment-filled waters of the Rio de la Plata (River of Silver), which mark the border between Argentina and Uruguay.  One hundred and eighty miles east southeast, the estuary is more than 140 miles wide at its mouth where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. 

Looking east to the mouth of the Rio de la Plata.  Argentina is on the right (south) and Uruguay is on the left (north) side.  Buenos Aires is the gray area, lower right.

Endurance clears the mouth and Capt. Worsley sets a southeast course for South Georgia Island, and the Norwegian whaling station of Grytviken.
Frank Hurley photo
Three days after setting sail, a stowaway is discovered.  It is young Perce Blackborow. 

Shackleton, in an apparent fit of rage, roundly berates the stowaway in front of the crew.  The reactions of two crewmen, Bakewell and another, expose their complicity in helping the stowaway.  Much of the crew feels the ship is under-manned and are relieved to have Blackborow. 

Shackleton tells the young man, “Do you know that on these expeditions we often get very hungry, and if there is a stowaway available, he is the first to be eaten?”

“They’d get a lot more meat off you, sir,” Blackborrow replies.


Shackleton's route is to sail to South Georgia Island and then to the Weddell Sea (the red line).  A second ship, the Aurora, leaves New Zealand (pink line) to lay a line of supply caches inland on Antarctica.


The Penguin Caper

Don't worry.  This is not a recipe for penguin steaks with a succulent piccata sauce, garnished with capers.   Read on safely.

"This isn’t a cruise ship; it’s an expedition ship."   We are repeatedly reminded of that by the Three Gauchos.  Fine with me.  Too many people on a cruise ship for me.

So, what to do when we’re at sea, far from land, naps accomplished, and no lectures to lure us?

Crime comes to mind.

I suggest to Kathy that we kidnap the penguin, hide it, and write a ransom note.  She loves the idea and off we go to Deck Three and the Vantage hospitality desk.  The Magellanic penguin sits there in full view, along with the list of suggestions entered in the contest to name it.  Winning name wins the stuffed toy.

There’s a security camera hidden in a black plastic half-dome on the ceiling.

Scene of the crime--the Vantage hospitality desk on Deck Three.

I’ve brought a plastic shopping bag, so I amble over to the desk with my back to the camera, pretend I’m writing my name on a slip for the daily drawing, and stuff the stuffed penguin in the bag.

Leaving another note from the penguin-nappers.

We go back to the cabin and Kathy writes the ransom note.   She writes a masterpiece--if you're looking for a master's degree in creative writing.  I tell her she has to write like she's a crook, you know, misspellings and so on.   It's hard for her, but she finally gets it done.

Then she dons her Hurtigruten parka and goes back to the desk on Three, hood up in case they check the surveillance camera.  She will look like every other passenger on the ship in that blue parka.

 The next morning:

Soon, an envelope is left for the penguin-nappers, purportedly containing the demanded ransom.

We leave it.  No sense drawing suspicion.  The ransom envelope disappears.   Has someone stolen the ransom???

And the day after, our note is taped to the bulletin board with a hard-nosed response written underneath..  “We do not negotiate with terrorist!”  


The winning name is selected:  Hurti-Gurti, a clever play on Hurtigruten, the company that owns and operates the MS Fram.   Sadly, the winner cannot be awarded the penguin.   I'd twirl my handlebar mustachio if I had one.

We hoped they would suspect these two, who are NOT Gully and Kathy.

We let a couple days pass in silence.  Then another note appears on the desk.

"Cabin 314" is a red herring, pardon the pun.  We have no idea who is in that cabin.

More silence and we surrender, leaving a big clue about the penguin’s hiding place in the main dining room.

More time passes before another passenger comes strolling out of the dining room with the purloined penguin.   Kathy and I happen to be sitting in the lounge outside the dining hall and I innocently ask her where she found it.

We are now in the clear.  This uncaring brigand has re-kidnapped the kidnapped penguin.

"Under the lavender and blue table where the menu is posted."  Each day, at least three times a day, every passenger and crew person passed by the missing penguin.

Every passenger passes this table at the front of the dining room every day.  The kidnapped penguin is stashed under it.

When asked, she says she’s going to hide it in her room, at least until it recovers from sea sickness.   I could have told a sea sick penguin is nothing to have in your room, what with it barfing up imaginary herring and Styrofoam all the time.  Besides they moult their feathers.

She eventually gives the penguin to its new owner.

The night before we disembark the ship forever, Kathy goes down to the Vantage desk and confesses.  All three Gauchos jump up in disbelief.  “We never suspected you!  The misspelled words!  We never knew!”

You never fooled us!  You looked suspicious from the start.

Kathy modestly places all the blame on me.  Well, what are friends for if they won’t spend the night in the brig with you?

Cohorts in crime.

One of the Gauchos orders her to wait right there.  In a couple minutes he returns with two smaller stuffed Magellanic penguins for us.

Who says crime doesn’t pay?

The Three Gauchos have preserved all the forensic evidence, though following her confession, Kathy carefully retrieves all of the notes.   Just in case, you understand.


  1. I've known Kathy since kindergarten and she's one clever gal.
    Love you both.

  2. I love it! It's hard to behave during idle time. I'm tickled that you were rewarded for your prank.

  3. You and Kathy definitely have that co-conspiratorial gleam in your eye.

  4. Something about this makes me think of Angela Lansbury at her best.