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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Twenty-one, Drifting Ice and Stromness

Monotony, boredom, and the dwindling food supply settles on the men of Endurance in Camp Patience.   Thomas Orde-Lees, in charge of supplies, frantically inventories again and again with the dire prediction that there is only a month’s worth left.

Seals and penguins are scarce on this unstable, slushy ice.  One Jan. 27, 1916, 27 dogs are shot as they are no longer useful and their pemmican feed is saved for human consumption.  Two men make a dangerous trip to Ocean Camp and salvage 900 pounds of supplies.

The scarcity of seals and penguins means little fuel for their blubber stove so hot food is limited to one cup of tea in the morning. 

Shackleton in leather traces used for dragging life boats across the pack ice.
January creeps on.  Near the end of the month, the ice has rotated such that the abandoned Ocean Camp is now west of them and less than six miles distant.  Shackleton authorizes men to retrieve the third life boat, Stancomb Wills.  They now have three boats, with the James Caird and the Dudley Docker.

A flock of Adelie penguins appears near the end of February and 300 are taken for food.  Their fat-rich skins are used for fuel.  Almost all the provisions are exhausted and meals consist  primarily of penguin meat.  Cocoa is gone, tea and flour almost depleted.

The austral winter approaches and the weather turns bad.  Blizzards, gales, and cold bring even worse conditions to starving men already suffering from wet and freezing clothing and sleeping bags.

The red line shows where Endurance became trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea and the men set up camp on the pack ice.  The line then turns white, showing the drift and rotation of the ice where the men are stranded.


Access to the Fram’s bridge is on Deck Six, the same deck where my cabin is located.  Occasionally, I meet one of the ship’s officers leaving the bridge after his watch.   The day after "The Storm," as it becomes known, we meet in the companionway.

“On a scale of one to ten,” I ask,  “How does that storm rank in your experience?”  He pauses and I’m wondering if he’s thinking about other storms he’s encountered or searching for a passenger-correct answer.

“Nine,” he says. That’s a good answer, although I admit I wished he’d said 11 or 12.  While we did get hit with some hurricane-force gusts, they weren’t sustained at that force.  

This afternoon’s landing is at Stromness, just a 16 mile jaunt around a point of land to another bay called, appropriately, Stromness.   Again Fram anchors in calming water.  From the ship, we see ruins of a whaling station built in 1912.  It operated for a couple decades before its conversion into a ship repair station.

Stromness is the center red spot.  Fortuna Bay is at the top right corner of the photo.

The Polarcirkle boat lands us away from the ruins and we are instructed to avoid them as they are unstable and might contain hazardous material such as asbestos.

There are seals everywhere.  They line the beach and lumber far inland over mossy humps and across muddy drainages.   Gentoo penguins and King penguins travel back and forth, oblivious to the seals and tourists.

These journals will return to Stromness a few chapters hence as this valley figures large in our adventure. 

Male Antarctic fur seals can weigh up to 460 lbs and be 6.5 feet long.  Females weigh considerably less.

Now though, Fram anchors here for the night, a treat after several days of rough and rougher water.  We walk about the ship normally, climb stairs the way they are supposed to be climbed, and both elevators are operational. 

No one is likely to be thrown out of bed tonight.  

This guy chose this position.  He didn't get tossed there.

Gentoo penguins, identifiable by the white band across the top of their heads.

Adult King penguin.  Immature but fledged King penguins have a yellow ear patch that eventually turns orange.

Reindeer at Stromness.   There are an estimated 4000 reindeer on South Georgia, introduced by whalers in the early 1900s as a source of fresh meat.  Beginning this year, expert hunters will eliminate 1000, salvaging the meat for Falkland Islands residents.  The balance of the herd will be taken in the next couple years.  A program to rid the island of rats and mice is underway.

Gully and seals at Stromness

This is the first iceberg we've seen.  All those lumps on the land are seals.

We found it impossible to stay 15 feet away from the penguins.  Instead, we stood still when they approached.

Gentoo penguins on a mission march.

Male fur seals are known to attack humans when they become territorial as breeding season approaches.  This Orange Person holds a broomstick in case the seal needs to be dispelled of any such notions.

Too early in the season, apparently, as this male fur seal doesn't seem to care.  An Orange Person with a broomstick would be stationed near any male fur seals in our path.

Back aboard Fram, the boot battle continues for some.

For others, the boots come off all too easily, especially when stuck in the mud at Stromness.


  1. Curious about the reindeer, mice and rats. Is there an ecological or some other benefit to ridding the island of them?

    The green moss-looking ground cover looks like it might be slick. Was it?

  2. The green moss ground cover looks to BE DEMANDING that one and all lie down upon it and just snooze away! What wonderful photos ..