Heather Willimot Talk

An Expedition to Antarctica

Heather started her Antarctica trip in Ushaia, the Southernmost City in South America.  Her ship, a former Russian ship designed for Arctic Waters, looked like something from a Christmas cracker alongside a regular cruise liner in port at the same time.  There were about a 100 passengers on board.  To Heather’s surprise, most were younger than her or her husband, Peter.  (Bucket lists start younger these days!)  There were 31 nationalities on board and they had the services of a Tasmanian Geologist as a guide for the trip.

Now en route to Antarctica, Heather showed impressive photographs of the mountainous seas in the Drake Channel.  The sea sickness protection on offer from the ship was an easy sell.  The ship visited a number of places – Paradise Bay, NekoHarbour, Port Lockray, Jougla Point, WeinckeIsland, Peterman Island and, lastly, CuvervilleIsland.  To optimise the travelers’ experience, the passengers were often split up.  First half of the passengers were on the land while the other half used the boat’s Zodiac inflatable boat to see sights from the seaward side and then vice versa.  A number also used kayaks to do their own exploring.

Once the ship had reached the Antarctica Peninsula, Heather’s photos captured the awesome snow covered peaks of Antarctica which became their backdrop for the rest of the expedition.  The only colour coming from the occasional light caught in the ice which glows a unique beryllium blue.  

One of the major interests on the tour was penguins.  These included Gentoos, Chin Strap and Adelie penguins which have no fear of humans. Heather, unsentimentally explained that the Petrels and Cormorants to be seen in the vicinity gathered because penguin chicks were part of their diet. While onshore, all the passengers wear wellies because of the penguin poo which saturates the ground.  So much so that they need to be disinfected every time they came back to the boat. Seals, too, were often to be sighted, the commonest being the Antarctic Fur Seal and the Crab Eater Seal.  

However, the most unusual sight in the Antarctic water were a number of passengers who had doffed their clothes to take a dip in the sea at NekoHarbour.  Maybe of sound body but the jury is out on whether they were of sound mind!

At Port Lockray there is a Post Office.  It does a roaring trade in post cards every time a boat comes in.  In addition, one of the former expeditionary huts has been converted into a museum to show what living conditions were like in the 1940s.  Heather found them very comfortable and well heatedmuch better than enjoyed by Scott and his men in the early 1900s.  There was a radio room and a tool room with underwater breathing apparatus.  This is a clear demonstration of the dedication of the Antarctic scientists.

In her closing remarks Heather observed that she and her husband wore the same clothes as they would normally wear on a Scottish summer’s day.  Members suspect this is probably true!  She did observe that they hadn’t even traveled South of the Antarctic Circle, having only reached the equivalent of Iceland in the Northern Hemisphere.  An illustration of how much we benefit from the Gulf Stream in the Northern Atlantic.  Heather’s talk gave members a memorable picture of her expedition to Antarctica, its inhabitants and the sense of its isolation.

Heather Willimot Talk