February 14-March 6, 2018
Notes from the Road (Less Traveled)
“Indeed the stark polar lands grip the hearts of those who have been there in a manner that can hardly be understood by people who never got outside the pale of civilization” -Sir Ernest Shackleton
Betty and I had the good fortune to be invited to join DUI in Antarctica, an expedition to Antarctica put together by our dear friend, Faith Ortins and Paul Holbrook. This expedition would include the extraordinary underwater photographer and speaker, Becky Kagan Schott and over 30 other guests, mostly divers, who wanted to fulfill their life-long dream of diving in the waters of Antarctica. This was, indeed, an adventure we could not pass up!
In our careers, we have traveled millions of miles to enjoy diving and touring above and below the water. This trip was to check off a few items on our respective Life Lists (visiting Tierra del Fuego, visiting Antarctica, diving in Antarctica, having visited all seven continents) and being well traveled, we have packed for many trips. Packing for Antarctica was, however, quite different. We had to deal with restrictions on the number of bags we could take and the weight of each bag. Although, if we had increased our credit limit, we could have brought more and simply paid potentially hundreds of dollars in excess baggage charges. As we shopped for the appropriate clothing and equipment, we would weigh each piece in order to find just the right balance between weight, size and utility. Items that we would have normally taken on such a trip but were either too bulky or heavy we rejected outright. We made endless lists of what we’d like to take, paring them down to just those essential items that we could not travel without. In the end, we made some pretty smart decisions and were able to get everything we needed, including my diving equipment, in four (4) bags, each weighing under the limit of 23 kg (~50 pounds). We were also limited to carry on bags not weighing more than 10 kg. (~22 pounds).
There were some unexpected expenses we had to incur in order to dive in Antarctica. With water temperatures that could be as cold as 28 degrees F, I had to have regulators with an environmentally sealed 1st stage. After doing some research and talking with friends who had dived in Antarctica before, I chose to purchase 2 Sherwood Blizzard Pro regulators from our local dive store in Idaho Falls, Idaho Dive Pirates. The owner, Bret Stewart also loaned me his lightweight travel buoyancy compensator for the trip since my BCD was not big enough to fit well over my DUI drysuit. We also decided to purchase some new ultra lightweight travel tripods.
I was very fortunate that Faith Ortins had loaned me a DUI drysuit and multiple layers of polar fleece undergarment for this trip. She also let me use a pair of DUI dry gloves to help keep my hands warm.
There was one, potentially serious glitch in our preparation. When we received our tickets on Aerolineas Argentinas (Argentine Airlines), Betty’s ticket was fine but mine, was written without my last name! My ticket was for DANIEL LEE instead of DANIEL LEE ORR. I called the airline and talked to their customer service representatives about this error. They told me that their computer sometimes fails to include the last name of travelers and that I should discuss it with the Aerolineas Argentinas representatives when I check in at the Miami International Airport.
Travel to Ushuaia, Argentina
“Fin del Mundo”
We arrived in Miami on American Airlines without incident and spent the night in the airport hotel. The next morning, we were at the Aerolineas Argentinas counter when it first opened. We told them of my problem. They had a discussion with their supervisor and told me “not to worry about it”. I replied that I was worried about it, especially since going through airport security required the name on my boarding pass to precisely match the name on my passport. Their reply was, “Don’t worry about it. There will be no problem”. Well, we checked our bags and made our way to security. I presented my boarding pass for DANIEL LEE and my passport that read DANIEL LEE ORR to the TSA agent. He looked at it, looked at me and paused. And so did my heart! He then put my boarding pass into their electronic scanning device, which gave a comforting green light. He put a check mark on my boarding pass and waved me though. I actually couldn’t believe it but was very happy to get through security. Betty, of course, had no problem.
We boarded our flight, took our seats far back in the economy section and prepared for our 9 ½ hour flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was a long and very uncomfortable flight with mere inches of legroom but we were happy to be on our way on this adventure of a lifetime. As a matter of interest, we had found out that passengers can submit bids to upgrade their seats through the Aerolineas Argentinas website. We had done that, submitting near the minimum bid but, unfortunately, did not receive an upgrade on this portion of the flight. We did, however, get upgraded from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina (with a short stop over in Trelew).
While waiting to board our flight in Buenos Aires, we did meet one of the other divers on the trip, a Canadian young man, Darren Erbach. Like us, he was going to Ushuaia early but he had plans to go on a hiking excursion for the few days before our departure for Antarctica.
As we made our approach into the Ushuaia Airport, we were met with stunning views of the snow-covered mountains on both sides of the Beagle Channel separating Tierra del Fuego from the remainder of Argentina and from neighboring Chile. Looking down from our altitude, we could see the blue/green ocean waters with patches of brown kelp below the surface.
The Beagle Channel
Ushuaia, Argentina is a resort town located on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, the southernmost tip of South America, nicknamed “Fin del Mundo” (“End of the World”). The town, perched on a steep hill, is surrounded by the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel. It’s the gateway to Antarctica cruises and tours of the surrounding mountains.
Panorama of Ushuaia
We checked into our hotel and then made our way down the steep streets to the restaurant and shopping area of town. These streets were extremely steep making walking to and from the hotel a physical challenge. Luckily, living at altitude (6,400’) in Idaho, made the hiking challenge tolerable. In town, we looked for a place to enjoy some local cuisine. As it turned out, Ushuaia is the King Crab capital of South America. Almost every restaurant featured this delicacy. Not wanting to miss out on this opportunity, we chose a pub and enjoyed some local Argentine wine with a King Crab cocktail and King Crab pizza! Wow, was it good!
Betty with King Crab Cocktail & Pizza
Having brought some brand new diving equipment and using multiple layers of DUI undergarment, I thought that it would be a wise and safe move to arrange a dive or two in Ushuaia before attempting any diving in Antarctica. I had contacted a local dive store, Ushuaia Divers, and made arrangements for two dives in the surrounding waters (the Beagle Channel). A light rain fell the morning we took a cab to the dive store to meet Carlos, the dive guide. I had read good things about him and his operation and was looking forward to getting my gear, and myself, together. At the dive store, I met Mike Carvalho, another diver on our upcoming trip. Mike had the same idea and it was a pleasure to meet and dive with him. We met with Carlos at the dive store as we put our gear together, estimated the amount of weight we’d need, talked about the equipment each of us was using and carried our equipment to the Zodiac waiting at the end of the pier. It wasn’t a very big boat but large enough for Carlos, Mike, Betty and me.
Photo of Carlos’ Zodiac
(L-R: Mike Carvalho, DanO, BettyO)
Carlos deftly piloted our Zodiac through the surrounding islands in search of just the right place for us to dive and make sure that everything was working properly. The water temperature was in the 40’s, much warmer than we were going to experience in Antarctica. We donned our gear and rolled into the emerald green water. The visibility wasn’t great but I could still see the bottom about 15’ below me. I gave Carlos and Mike the “OK” signal, let all the air out of my BCD and drysuit and slowly descended towards the bottom. I was wearing a DUI drysuit with 2 layers of polar fleece undergarment, a wetsuit hood and wetsuit gloves that Carlos suggested I wear. I was pretty comfortable throughout the dive with the exception of my hands. Carlos’ gloves were 7 mm of neoprene but still could not keep my hands warm. After 25 minutes of swimming through kelp following Carlos, I “called” the dive because my hands were so cold. We did our safety stop and surfaced at just about 30 minutes.
DanO Diving the Beagle Channel
Once back in the Zodiac, Carlos changed our tanks and I decided to use my own wetsuit gloves hoping they would be a bit warmer. Carlos moved the boat to a new location and poor Betty was smiling as best she could in spite of sitting topside in the cold rain and wind.
At the second dive site, we rolled into the water and followed Carlos through some very thick kelp forests. Along the way, he pointed out starfish, large sea snails, nudibranchs and even a large King Crab. He handed each of us the King Crab for a photo opportunity before gently placing it back on the ocean floor. My hands were a bit warmer this time but at about 30 minutes, I again, “called” the dive due to cold.
DanO with King Crab
Once back on the Zodiac, we returned to the dive store and talked about the dive. Both Mike and I agreed that it was a good idea to make sure we were familiar with all of our equipment in conditions approximating what we’d experience in the Antarctic. It was also an excellent idea to make sure our buoyancy was good before our upcoming dives. Preparatory dives like these are excellent ways to eliminate potential stressors when preparing to dive in a new and potentially challenging environment. As it turned out, another diver going on our trip, Earl Hemminger, was thinking the same thing and had made a few dives with Carlos the previous day.
L-R: BettyO, DanO, Carlos, Mike
The next day, Betty and I did a tour of Tierra del Fuego with a local tour company and thoroughly enjoyed seeing and learning about this fascinating part of South America. As we traveled the back roads of Tierra del Fuego, we kept seeing road signs with pictures of beavers. As it turned out, beavers were the scourge of the region. Back in 1946, a Canadian fur company imported 25 breeding pairs of North American beavers into Tierra del Fuego in a failed attempt to start a commercial fur trading industry. As it turned out, due to differences in climate and diet, the beaver fur was not of the quality necessary to be commercially viable. Unfortunately, these breeding pairs were far better at producing beavers than quality fur. As of 2011, there are an estimated 200,000 beavers not ravaging the forests and wetlands of Tierra del Fuego!
Divers and guest from our group began arriving at our hotel in Ushuaia later that day. That evening, Faith and Paul met with everyone in the hotel dining area to provide an overview of the upcoming trip and for everyone to introduce themselves. The DUI group was a very diverse group. There were divers with thousands of dives, outstanding underwater photographers, physicians, biochemists, diving instructors and people from all walks of life. Faith and Paul outlined our itinerary and talked about the tour of the local National Park that she had arranged for the following day. These trips are so popular that many of the guests had been on multiple trips with Faith and DUI. At the mere mention of a planned trip to another destination prompted calls of “sign us up” from around the room!
After the tour, we were to briefly return to the hotel before making our way to the town dock area to meet our vessel, the M/V Ortelius operated by Oceanwide Expeditions (www.oceanwide-expeditions.com). The M/V Ortelius was originally a special-purpose vessel for the Russian Academy of Science and has been converted for carry passengers for polar expeditions. She is approximately 300’ in length and can carry up to 123 passengers in 53 very comfortable cabins with a crew of 52. The crew was extremely accommodating making us feel comfortable and at home. The dive crew was very professional and did everything they could to give us the underwater adventure of a lifetime. There was a spacious dining room serving three tasty meals a day and a full bar and lounge on deck 6 that served a variety of adult beverages along with endless coffee and tea.
Once onboard, we had the requisite briefings including the lifeboat and life jacket drills before getting underway.
Our cabin (#449) was very comfortable and included 2 twin beds, an ample closet and a bathroom with shower. Each room had a television with channels giving us the day’s schedule, a map view of the ship’s location, a live view of the ship’s bow from the bridge. There was also a channel continuously playing The Blue Planet plus two movie channels with different movies every day. Like almost all the guests, we didn’t spend a great deal of time in the room except when the outside decks were closed due to rough weather.
Our first challenge was to cross the Drake Passage, a 500-mile stretch of ocean between the southern tip of South America and the islands of Antarctica. This is considered by mariners to be some of the most challenging water in the world because of the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Southern Seas. Our two-day traverse of the “Drake” was a bit rough with gale force winds (gusts up to 60 knots) and high seas. During the crossing, there were lectures by the ship’s crew on sea birds and Antarctic research. Becky Kagan Schott gave a lecture during the crossing on how to photograph snow and ice. It was extremely informative and right on the mark to get us prepared for the frozen continent. Later on in the trip, Becky was presented with the coveted “DUI Bi-Polar” patch given to those who had been diving in the Arctic and the Antarctic!
Also, during the crossing, the divers got together with the dive staff to work on getting our equipment configured properly. We were to be using high capacity steel scuba tanks with an “H” valve that could accommodate two regulators. The two regulators were necessary in case a regulator experienced “freeze up” due to the extremely cold water. We all had to make sure that our regulator hoses were configured so that we could inflate our dry suits, our BCDs, monitor our cylinder pressure and have access to our alternate second stage in any emergency. Each of the divers worked hard to reconfigure their regulator hoses so that everything was in the proper position when diving began. It was not an easy task for some with the boat rocking back and forth while we were working in an interior hallway.
At this time, I asked the dive staff if I could see the emergency oxygen units they intended to use in case of a diving accident. I was introduced to the ship’s doctor who explained to me what she would be doing if a diving casualty were delivered to the hospital. She then showed me the ship’s emergency oxygen unit that turned out to be a DAN Oxygen Unit. I opened the case, did a quick inspection making sure that there was gas in the Jumbo D oxygen cylinder and that both the demand and constant flow systems worked. I was satisfied that this oxygen system would work if a pressure-related diving accident were to occur during our voyage. I did have a discussion with the leader of the dive team, Henrik Enckell, and said I would make some suggestions about how to improve the emergency oxygen capabilities of the M/V Ortelius.
During our transit of the Drake Passage, one of our number, Angel Yanagihara, a biochemist from Hawaii and one of the world’s experts on box jellyfish, was knitting and crocheting hats made from yarn she purchased in Ushuaia. She also crocheted a couple of hats using fluorescent yellow/green that a few of the DUI divers really liked. She gave each of them one. I complemented her on her work and she offered to make a hat for me. She and Betty measured my head and she then proceeded to make my hat out of black and brown Argentine wool. After a few days of very aggressive knitting and crocheting, she presented me with a beautiful hat that she personally designed. It was a wonderful gift that definitely kept my head warm even in the brisk Antarctic wind! It took her a few extra days and lots of extra wool since my head was so big! After that, my hat was so popular that other guests were asking for the “Dan Orr Hat”!
Angel & DanO with Hat
After two full days at sea, we finally spotted the islands surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula. That evening, we would sail into the Gerlache Strait and experience some very welcome calm water. The next morning, we awoke to our first full view of Antarctica. The starkly beautiful landscape made up of ice, snow and rock. It was almost beyond description. Everywhere you looked, you saw glaciers marching to the icy Antarctic waters unimpeded for thousands of years. Besides the whites and blacks, there was just about every shade of blue. Blue ice of every shade imaginable was seen in the glaciers and the icebergs floating all around us. You could hear the cracking of the ice in the glaciers and crash as the glaciers calved building sized chunks into the sea.
One of the most breathtaking experiences was cruising through the Lemaire Channel. It is a narrow passage 6.8 miles (11 km) long and just 1 mile (1,600 m) wide. It was partially filled with bergy bits (small bits of icebergs) and growlers (larger chunks of ice).
Photo of Lemaire Channel
Before doing our first landing in Antarctica, we attended a lecture on the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) and what we all must do to prevent the introduction of invasive species. Following the tour, each passenger had to vacuum the external clothing they intended to wear during a landing. We also had to rinse our landing boots (supplied by the Ortelius) before and after making a landing.
Our days in Antarctica included landings where passengers donned lifejackets, clambered down the gangway to waiting Zodiacs and were taken to landing sites, many unavailable to larger vessels and cruise ships. The landings were opportunities to actually step foot on the Antarctic islands and the Antarctic continent where guests would view and photograph penguins and seals. There were the prolific Gentoo penguins, a small colony of Adélie penguins and we saw a colony of Chinstrap penguins from a distance. Although, we were told not to come closer than 15 feet to a penguin, you couldn’t control what they did. If you stood quite still, they would come up to you and give you a test peck or two before getting bored and moving on to someone or something more exciting.
It was fascinating watching the penguin behavior and you had to constantly remind yourself that you had a camera. We especially loved seeing the adults porpoising towards shore bringing a full belly of krill back to their chicks. Once ashore, hungry chicks would chase their parents, pecking violently under their bills hoping for a regurgitated meal. It was pretty amazing watching this feeding process, marveling at how much krill each adult carried!
Gentoo Penguin Porpoising
Each landing lasted a few hours before the announcement was made to board the Zodiacs for the turn to the ship. Betty went ashore at the first landing to discover it was in the middle of a Gentoo penguin colony. She was surrounded by “baby” penguins that easily outweighed their parents. They had absolutely no fear of humans and the incredible curiosity of all baby animals. She relayed stories of watching them walk, slide, fall, swim, argue, eat, sleep and of being experimentally pecked with a beatific look on her face. She was in penguin euphoria. When I asked how many photos she had taken in that one-and-a-half-hour excursion she looked at her camera and said, “Almost 1,100.” It must have sounded like a machine gun out there.
Betty and friend
Betty with Penguin
Darren and Friend
Gentoo Chick being fed krill
As we cruised between landings and dive sites, there were regular sightings of Humpback, Finback and Minke whales. We were even treated to groups of Humpbacks using bubble circles to corral krill for feeding. On the rare occasion when no whale activity was in sight, we would cruise past sleeping seals on large and small patches of floating ice.
Humpback Whale feeding
Those of us who were diving were divided up into 6 groups and assigned to one of three Zodiacs. The Zodiacs went out in waves of three. Each morning and afternoon, you checked the list of divers and indicated whether or not you were going to make that dive. The divers kept our gear in a hanger on deck 6 that is sometimes used by an onboard helicopter. No helicopter was onboard this trip, so we had most of the hanger to ourselves. The remainder of the hanger was used by the other passengers who were kayaking. All guests onboard had the option of kayaking during our trip. Besides kayaking, there was an opportunity to camp on Antarctica. The original plan onboard was to offer camping each night so that all guests would have that opportunity. After one failed attempt to camp that was cancelled due to adverse weather, one night was designated for camping and a lottery was used to take 30 campers. A few of our group were selected but Betty and I missed out on this opportunity. This was not camping in the traditional sense. There were no tents and campers dug depressions in the snow surrounding their depression with berms of snow to protect them from winds. The next morning the campers told of a couple of hours of cold rain but they definitely enjoyed the experience.
Many of the divers, including me, did some shore excursions rather than make every dive. It was a tough choice because you could rarely do both a dive and a shore excursion or landing. My plan was to make no more than 1 dive per day. I was also glad to be in the second wave of divers since this gave me time to get my equipment and myself organized before each dive. Out of the 11 possible dives, I made 5 and chose to spend some time ashore or touring in a Zodiac.
Diving Zodiac being lowered into the water full of dive gear
Divers in Zodiacs
I did skip one planned dive after I made some repetitive errors in preparation. Both Faith and I have the same philosophy regarding planning and preparation for a dive. If I make three or more errors in preparation for a dive, I will “call” the dive. On that particular morning, I was making repeated errors and determined it was just not my day to dive. For me, it was a good decision. Even when I decided to skip a dive, I was on the hanger deck to help the other divers get suited up. It’s always good to have an extra pair of hands when putting on a drysuit.
Zipping DanO into Dry Suit
Faith Ortins worked with the divers in our group while Paul Holbrook worked with those who were just snorkeling. Each day, divers and snorkelers were taken to sites along our route to places that may have never seen divers or snorkelers.
The water temperature in Antarctica hovered around 32 degrees F (0 degrees C). Visibility on most dives was limited in the first 30’-40’ but cleared up to about 15’-20’ on the deeper dives. Dive depth was limited due to safety concerns, so divers rarely exceeded 60’. Antarctica, like Ushuaia, was a macro photographer’s dream. There were starfish galore, anemones of many shapes and colors, delicate nudibranchs, prehistoric-looking isopods and numerous small fish. There was also kelp, colorful sponges and algae of many varieties. On a couple of dives, we saw piles of whalebones littering the bottom. Our last dive was on the wreck of the Governoren, a whaling factory ship that processed whale blubber into oil. In 1916, the Governoren caught fire and was intentionally grounded in Foyn Harbor to save the cargo of whale oil and the crew.
Wreck of the Governoren
Each dive was unique, with challenges in terms of equipment and the cold. Faith loaned me a pair of dry gloves that attached directly to the arms of my dry suit. She also loaned me two pair of glove liners to help keep my hands warm. Each dive, we loaded our scuba cylinders with regulators and BCDs attached into our respective Zodiac. I was assigned to group 5 along with Mike Carvalho and my new buddy, Dave Dockweiler. We also loaded our weight harnesses. Most of the divers wore weight harnesses with anywhere from 30-50 pounds of lead. Many of the divers either had additional lead weights integrated into their BCDs or wore additional lead on weigh belts. I had 36 pounds of lead in my harness and 4 pounds of lead in my weight-integrated BCD. This weight, plus the negative buoyancy of the scuba cylinder, was just perfect for attaining neutral buoyancy with my DUI dry suit and three layers of undergarment.
Dave and I
We also loaded the Zodiacs with our masks, fins and cameras. On this trip, I was only using my small Canon G12 with a housing. I chose not to even carry it on the first few dives so as to concentrate on getting used to the environment.
After loading the Zodiac, it was lowered into the water from deck 4. We then walked down the gangway, boarded the Zodiac and were whisked off to our designated dive site. Once at the site, the boat driver (one of the Ortelius dive crew) helped us don our weight harnesses and our cylinders with BCDs and regulators. We each slipped on our fins and masks, visually checked each other and on command, rolled backwards off the Zodiac into the water. A back roll entry wearing a drysuit is always a bit of a trick since air in the suit invariably rushes to your boots causing you to flop around for a few seconds until you can get upright. Once that ordeal is over, you look for your buddy and prepare to descend. We each descended feet first eventually leveling out at depth careful not to move too quickly fearing air shifting uncontrollably in your suit. Luckily, Faith Ortins and the Ortelius requires all divers to have a minimum level of dry suit experience in cold water before being allowed to dive in the Antarctic. This is a smart move considering the remoteness of our location and the impossibility of medical evacuation in an emergency.
Our first dive was in a shallow, benign location in order to develop comfort with our equipment and with our diving partners. As mentioned, I did many of my dives with Mike Carvalho and the last three with Dave Dockweiler. His diving partner was unable to dive due to illness and I welcomed him as a buddy. As it turned out, like diving with Mike, Dave and I were extremely compatible as buddies and enjoyed our time in the water together.
I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to dive in Antarctica. I am extremely grateful to Faith Ortins and Paul Holbrook for giving me that opportunity. The DUI dry suit worked extremely well and the DUI polar fleece undergarments were certainly up to the task and kept my core comfortable even under these extreme circumstances. My hands, however, were another story. Even with the dry gloves and the two layers of glove liners, my hands got extremely cold. The dry gloves were able to keep my hands comfortable for about 15 minutes. After that, the cold made my hands uncomfortable and at about 25 minutes, I was forced to “call” each dive as I shifted my arms upward to allow air into my gloves. I was able to complete each safety stop moving my hands open and closed in a desperate attempt to keep them warm. I surfaced from each dive at just about 30 minutes and was happy to see the boat waiting a few feet from where we surfaced. With little grip strength left, my buddy and the boat driver would help me remove my BCD and weight harness. Once free of those encumberments, I bobbed up and down a few times before using all my strength to pull and kick my way onto the Zodiac. Not graceful but effective!
Many of the divers were using electrically-heated undergarments that included heated gloves and boots. This required them to carry a battery pack that attached to their scuba cylinders. Wires went from the battery pack through a waterproof connection into the suit to keep the divers warm throughout the dives. The battery packs were good for approximately 1 dive then needed to be recharged. The next time I dive waters like this, I will be using a heated undergarment! (NOTE: Many of those using these battery packs had to surrender them at the airport in Ushuaia as Aerolineas Argentinas would not allow them in checked or carry on baggage even though they had no problem bringing them down to Ushuaia. Faith called Henrik from the airport and he was able to rescue the battery packs to be shipped back to the US).
On a couple of the dives, the divers swam around some small icebergs. One thing they noticed was the dramatic buoyancy change as they went from the saltwater to the freshwater around the iceberg. This caused them to drop dramatically in that freshwater and then rise as they moved away back into saltwater. That is one of the unusual and unique phenomena experienced when diving around icebergs.
On the shore excursions (landings), we were able to visit penguin colonies and see Crabeater and Leopard seals. Leopard Seals are the apex predators in Antarctic waters and have the capability of inflicting serious injury to divers. Although not normally a problem, a few years ago, a snorkeling scientist was attacked and killed by a Leopard Seal in Antarctica. Luckily, my partners and I did not see any underwater during the dives.
On one landing, Betty was able to mail a postcard from Antarctica and have our passports stamped with an Antarctic stamp.
Port Lockroy, Antarctica passport stamp
On another landing, they gave all the guests the opportunity to do the “Polar Plunge”. With the boat supplying dry towels, 35 of our fellow passengers (many of them from our dive group) stripped down to their swim suits and waded into the 32-degree water. After a few seconds, they fully submerged to the cheers of the rest of us shivering in our polar fleece jackets! I actually thought about it for a nanosecond and then a wave of common sense swept over me and I kept my clothes on. After all, Antarctica is not a place to go into cardiac arrest!
Earl Doing the Polar Plunge
One afternoon, I did a seminar for all onboard entitled, “Scuba Diving Safety: Risk Versus Reward” where I discussed the risks in various type of scuba diving. I also detailed various ways to reduce risks and improve diving safety. That seminar also reinforced the importance of liaising with Divers Alert Network (DAN) regarding any medical issues related to diving. I also discussed the need for an annual physical from a physician familiar with diving medicine and your life priorities. I mentioned that divers can get the name of a diving physician near them that are part of the DAN Physician Referral Network. It just so happened that one of the divers on our trip was a DAN Referral Physician! As part of the presentation, Betty and I distributed some DAN logo items that DAN had provided for this seminar. On another afternoon, Becky gave another seminar on the use of Photoshop to process your photographs. It was another excellent lecture and one that had lots of tips on how to improve the look of your photos above and below the water.
Because of impending bad weather in the Drake Passage, the Captain decided to start our return early. The weather deteriorated as we made our way north towards South America and the Captain closed the outside decks. Also, any seminars or lectures were moved from the interior lecture room to the upper deck lounge. There were additional lectures from the crew pertaining to Antarctica and I was asked to give my seminar on the effects of aging and diving, “Does Scuba Diving Have a Retirement Age?” The lecture was well received in spite of a couple of severe rolls the ship took, one causing me to lose my footing and fly across the lounge hitting my wireless remote device on a corner causing it to explode sending batteries and pieces flying everywhere. Luckily, the lecture was completed without serious injury to me, the passengers or my equipment.
Lecturing in the Ship’s Lounge (Bar) with multiple TV screens
After two days in some pretty rough seas (20’-25’ waves), we made it to Ushuaia where we disembarked and said our goodbyes to Faith, Paul and all the friends we’d made during this extraordinary experience. It can truly be said that Antarctica is a place beyond description and that life-changing experiences such as these are best shared.
DUI Group of Antarctic Adventurers
DanO with our leader and our hero, Faith Ortins!
The next day, we arrived early at the Ushuaia Airport to find many of our friends on the same flight to Buenos Aires. This time, when I checked in with Aerolineas Argentinas, they recognized the problem with my ticket and it was re-written with my full name.
Our flight from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires was uneventful and, even though our luggage was checked through to Miami, we went to the luggage carousel just in case. There we said goodbye to our friends and Betty and I went to a local boutique hotel in the Monte Grande district of Buenos Aires to spend our 14-½ hour layover. This turned out to be more problematic than we anticipated. We had no idea until we arrived there that no one spoke any English and our Spanish is pretty limited to finding the bathroom and what’s for breakfast? Luckily, for us, the manager was computer savvy and we were able to communicate pretty effectively using Google Translate.
We had an enjoyable dinner at the hotel and ordered a taxi pickup for 5:00 AM the following morning before getting a very short night’s sleep.
We were back at the airport at 5:30 AM the next morning and ecstatic that we had been upgraded on our flight from Buenos Aires to Miami! It was certainly more comfortable flying first class for 9 ½ hours than being crammed into an economy seat near the back of the plane.
As we exited the plane in Miami and went to U.S. Customs, we both went to the Global Entry kiosks slipping our passports into the machine and were asked some very basic questions. Everything went well for me and the machine printed out my customs approval form even though the accompanying photo only showed me from the chin down! Unfortunately, Betty’s machine was not so cooperative. Despite the fact that we had both renewed our Global Entry before the trip, her machine said she was not registered for Global Entry. She was then forced to go through more than an hour waiting in the Customs line. I collected our 200 pounds of luggage, put them on luggage carts and waited patiently for her ordeal to be over. Eventually, she made it through Customs and we moved quickly to the airport hotel for our 15-hour layover. After checking into our room, we went to the local Margaritaville for a strong and much needed Margarita.
Betty then returned to our room and I scouted where we were to go tomorrow morning for our 7:00 AM flight back home. As I was returning to the hotel, I ran into dear friends Stuart Cove and Liz Parkinson. We gave each other a hug and I told them quickly about our adventure in Antarctica. I also apologized for my appearance having not had my haircut or my beard trimmed in almost 2 months. I was distinctly taking on the look of a jolly old fellow whose adventures were actually at the opposite pole! I truly expected children to start telling me what they wanted for Christmas!
We arrived back home to an unexpected snowfall! There was so much snow on the ground that I had to use our snow blower to cut through 3’ of snow covering the walkway into the house!
This was a great, if not the greatest of our adventures. We saw and experienced things that words fail to adequately describe. The outlaw Cole Younger may have said it best when he was trying to find words to describe the indescribable. He simply said, “It’s a wonderment!” Our Antarctic adventure was indeed a wonderment and much, much more! If you’re interested in being one of those shouting, “sign me up!” and joining Faith and Paul on any of their future adventures including a return to Antarctica, you can contact Faith at faith@DUI-Online.com.
No matter how great the adventure, it is always wonderful to walk in your front door! But, the door does swing both ways and we are now preparing for travel to Beneath the Sea (www.beneaththesea.org) where we will be working with the BTS Marine Careers Program, doing a couple of seminars (“Scuba Diving Safety: Whose Responsibility Is It?”, “Does Diving Have a Retirement Age?”, “Dive Into A Career”), acting as Room Chairs in a couple seminar rooms and I will be doing a book signing at the Best Publishing Booth.
After that, we will be preparing for our next adventure . . . the Philippines!