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7. Morning Just Scraping By

Port Lockroy Beckons but will have to wait...

sunny 32 °F

As happens with men of a certain age, I was returning to the warmth of my bed at 3:55am when the noise of Hebridean Sky changed. The low hum she normally emitted audibly shifted to a louder and more pronounced mechanical hum, as if a large electric motor had been engaged. That humming sound was quickly joined by something even more pronounced and consistent. In the spirit of approaching Christmas, as “there arose such a clatter, I pulled back the shade to see what was the matter.” The new sound was a scraping noise, one caused by our entry into what I could ow see was an ice field. We were not breaking but certainly pushing ice from our path.


A new phase of our journey had commenced at this early hour. From the window of 336, I shot a quick video and also snapped a closeup of the bow camera on my cabin’s television screen. You can see for yourself what Hebridean Sky and yours truly had entered. By 4:15am, we had made our way through and entered more open water.

Hebridean Sky (sister ship to the Island Sky whom we passed last night around 9:00pm) had entered into the thickened Gerlache Strait near to Neko Harbor during her overnight run to Port Lockroy, Base A, UK Station, in Neumayer Channel. Port Lockroy is a natural harbor on the northwest shore of Wiencke Island, home to the most southerly operational post office on the planet. Discovered by France in 1904, it was home to a whaling operation from 1911 until 1931. The British set up military “Operation Tabarin Station A” here during World War II. Half the island is open to tourists; the other half is reserved for penguins.

This slushy field, blocking our way, needed conquering en route. I cannot resist: “We came, we saw, we…”

The noise and drama, perhaps unnoticed by those not lucky enough to possess an enlarged prostate and thereby been awake to have realized it, marked our entry into a new phase of this journey.


This gives me an early morning opportunity to tell you a bit about our ship. The blue-hulled Hebridean Sky, an all-suite, ice-hardened expedition ship was built in 1992 (then named Sea Explorer). The vessel was refurbished in 2005 and again in 2016. The ship is owned by Noble Caledonia of Belgravia, London. For an air-cruise such as this one, primarily due to aircraft capacity, she can hold only 75 passengers—instead of her maximum capacity of 112 guests--in 59 suites divided into eight categories of accommodation. 336SittingArea.JPG336Bedroom.JPG336Toilet.JPGI have opted for a middle of the road cabin number 336, a “Sky Suite,” a 225 square-foot starboard-side “picture window suite.” Suites on decks five and six have balconies and are larger; up to 370 square feet. I don’t think a balcony is worth the money in this cold weather. All suites offer a sitting area two double beds which can be converted into a queen as mine is if desired. There are amply sized showers but no tubs. I need—and brought—a two pin American adaptor for the 110v plugs; there is an adaptor extension box with USB ports by the TV to use for charging this or that.

She is about a football field long and offers a fleet of 10 Zodiacs. That means she must have a crew that includes 10 “guides” to pilot those Zodiacs. (In the Arctic, the guides all carry rifles in case an unplanned encounter with a polar bear would ensue. Here, there are no threatening predators so there is no need for our guides to be armed.)


Public areas on the Hebridean Sky include The Club (bar and 24-hour coffee), The Library (books and games), The Lounge (lecture and a/v presentation space) and The Restaurant which offers open seating for tables of 8, 6, 4 or 2. (It was to the bar that Tate yesterday afternoon delivered his chunk of 20,000-year-old captured black ice of which a piece met it’s Maker in a nice glass of 12-year-old scotch to create for me what must be described as a 10,000 year old scotch and water)

There is no room service. There are 14 television channels and a beauty salon. Hebridean Sky can make up to 12.5 knots in open water (just under 15 miles per hour). With a draft of just under 17 feet, we can operate in shallow water. As an “Ice Class 1C” vessel, she can operate in ice of a thickness of between six to twelve inches but no more than that. She is capable of “pushing” (but not breaking) floating ice of a greater thickness should she need to. That was exactly what she was doing to bring me to my keyboard at this extraordinarily early hour.


I would describe the ambiance here to be similar to what one might expect at a small hotel. Lauren, Dianne and I have, for our meals, glommed onto a prime six-top table in The Restaurant where we have been joined by a rotation of expedition crew and fellow guests offering us wide-ranging conversation and the opportunity to learn about the lives of young people who have opted for adventurous careers here on the underside of this blue planet. By the way, the name “Hebridean” refers to “of the Hebrides Islands” fifty of which are located off the northwest coast of Scotland and are called home by fewer than 30,000 souls. I think the Hebridean Sky would feel at home there.

The noise has abated as we are back in open water. I see that it is 5:00am as I finish this burst of words. A couple of more hours to sleep are available and I opt to claim them.

BergHorizon.JPGLaurenDianneOnIcyBowCU.JPGOur calendar for today is: 7:00 wake up call, 7:15 breakfast, 8:30 Port Lockroy briefing, and then our 9:00 landing at Port Lockroy/Jougla Point where I am to be off to snowshoe. But, calendars mean nothing on an expedition. We encounter more and more ice, slowing and altering our route. That is not a problem, however, as this process is both beautiful and fascinating. There is drama, noise, motion and activity at a highest level. It is, I suspect, every bit as fine an experience as that which had been planned for us.PaulOnIce.JPGd6f9fd80-200e-11ea-a85f-7736ed12f421.jpeg
We alter our plan and head up Gerlache Strait in a different manner to head for Neko Harbor for an afternoon landing.

Posted by paulej4 06:20 Archived in Antarctica

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Looks like an incredible trip, Paul. Wonderful pictures! Have a great time exploring.

by Amanda Burge

Astounding the daylight at 3:55 am!

I love the photos and videos, Paul. More “real” than a nature documentary.

by Theresa

Wow! pretty luxurious digs for an expeditions of this magnitude! Enjoy...

by ursula terrasi

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