One word sums up today. Penguins. Truckloads of penguins.
We crossed the final stretch of the Drake Passage in the night and arrived at King George Island in the morning. There we were to drop off four passengers plus a ton of supplies at the Copacabana field station. This station is open about half the year and is located right next to a huge penguin breeding ground. We, the lucky ducks that we were, got to help unload the boat and dig out the station from under the snow, in the process literally crossing paths with hundreds of penguins.
We gathered on deck of the LMG (Lawrence M. Gould) in our water-proof gear and mandatory "float-coats" (an up-and-coming style sure to sweep the survivalist demographic). The boat's crew then ferried us in groups across the stretch of water to the shore in Zodiacs (tough inflatable boats). It was on the crossing that I saw the best sight of the whole day: a flock of penguins bouncing through the water like little torpedoes, on their way back to the island. The sight is hard to describe; there must have been at least a dozen of them and since there were enough of them arcing out of the water to replace the ones who'd just re-submerged, they formed a steadily moving group, kind of like a slinky. I never realized penguins swam like that and apparently they can do this for hours (with occasional breaks) at a pretty steady rate of 5 knots. Apparently they have less-insulated areas under their wings so that they can use the frigid ocean water to cool themselves during these workouts. Wow.
The penguins we saw were mostly Gentoo with a few Adelie thrown in (no Chinstraps yet). They arrive at at random spots along the rocky shore and then walk down it until they get to the large group next to the field station. This meant that our movement of supplies from the beach up to the station crossed their path. A sled of gear heading up from the shore would halt approaching penguins, causing a penguin traffic jam until either we were out of the way or they broke rank and went around behind us on the shoreline. When we were out of the way the line would resume, with a few of the braver penguins leading a wave of waddling birds.
We moved a ton (literally) of supplies into the station, from research equipment to canned goods, fresh vegies and fruit. We also had some supplies for a nearby Polish station whose residents swung by to collect them. There's a bit of a neighborhood going on there, with a Polish and Brazilian station nearby (both larger and better equipped), and quite a few further away. Apparently residents hike over the glaciers or boat across the bays to have parties with each other during downtime.
I discovered that part of the computer guy's job in snow-covered field camp involves digging out the buildings where the computers live. After almost a week on the boat, the exercise felt great. I also helped bring supplies up the beach, assisted our radio guy setup the wind-generator (the station is solar and wind powered), and dug out various other bits of the camp.
By the time we were done setting up the electronics and supplies it was the afternoon and the penguin colony had grown in size quite a bit from when we arrived. There were even more than I realized initially, since they were also climbing up and gathering on the hills overlooking the beach. I'm surprised at how agile they are, and it's funny to watch them switch from waddling to sliding along on their belly when they want a change of pace.
We left the folks on station, Zodiaced back to the LMG, and had a hearty dinner from our rockin' cook Bobby. Tomorrow we arrive at Palmer! I still have to stop occasionally to look around and realize that this is my life. What a change from a month ago.
Antarctic lessons learned today:
IT work involves snow shovel and a lot of digging.
Penguins are agile and personable little critters.
Rubber pants are a godsend on an Antarctic boat ride.
If you want a frosty beer, leave it outside at sub-zero temperatures.
Red spots in the snow = Penguin poop. Look at the pictures closely.