||No Man's Land
by Clare Coppa
The population of Antarctica is listed like this ( ) in the Rand
McNally World Atlas. Thats right. Its blank. Other than sparse
groups of scientists, the ice continent of 5,100,000 square miles
(13,200,000 km2) is a virtual no mans land. In journeys there,
fickle wandering men have been starved and frozen, so why would
a shipping outfit charter tours of the ominous region?
Sharon Farrar often asked herself this question last winter as
she was tossed about on a ship plowing through 25-ft. (7.6-m)
waves amid icebergs in the Antarctic seas.
Her husband Harry, a nuclear physicist, yearned to visit the icy
span ever since he read Endurance by Alfred Lansing, a gripping
tale of Sir Ernest Shackletons trip to the penguin resort in
1914. Harrys father and brother came along to share the experience;
with 82 passengers they journeyed 21 days along the coast of the
Antarctic Peninsula on a Russian research ship whose owners devised
the tours to fund its studies.
You had to hold on, recalled Harry, the chairman of ASTM Committee
E10 on Nuclear Technology and Applications. There were waves breaking
over the front of the ship. Between the tip of South America,
Cape Horn, and Antarctic peninsula is the Drake Passage. Thats
the roughest sea in the world. Going from the Falkland Islands
to South Georgia, we hit some very rough seas. The ship was tilting
20 degrees each way. When we were down in the dining room, one
wave caused a whole row of people to fall off their seats.
In waters near the Antarctic Peninsula, he saw as many as 50
huge icebergs around them. It was subarctic summer and the temperature
averaged 20 degrees (-7 degrees C). Upon reaching South Georgia,
the ship waited offshore while the passengers rode to shallow
waters in zodiacs. Harry said they waded ashore in Wellingtons,
knee-high rubber boots, and saw penguins coming out of the sea.
There were maybe 10,000 young penguins waddling around in groups,
and the parent was able to find their penguin out of all that
crowd. What they do is make a squawk and the young one knows which
one is the parent and then they go into a squawking dance. We
saw that happening all the time.
The penguins will walk right up to you and follow you around,
he reported. He also saw elephant, tiger, and fur seals, reindeer,
and whales. So it was a thing where it cannot but affect your
emotions. Youre standing there with huge glaciers, huge mountains,
and the sea so filled with sea lions that you can hardly find
a place to land, and you have to push them aside and edge in between
them. Some of them were several tons. Youd walk right up to them.
And youre standing there with all this happening around you and
its just an incredible experience. And of course,
Sharon, who didnt want to go on the trip, would love to go back.
Weve been halfway up Everest, and weve trekked around Annapurna,
the 11th highest mountain in the world, and weve been to a lot
of remote places. But Antarctica was the most amazing trip weve
been on because of all of the wildlife and the fact that its
untouched. One can only hope it remains so.
Copyright 2001, ASTM