Latitude: -53 53.278 Longitude: -71 07.253
It was the night before port call and all through the ship
Not a crew member was stirring, not even for chips…
Except 3 early career scientists sitting in the mess hall until sunrise.
So maybe I’m not a poet, but crossing through the Straits of Magellan has to be one of the most poetic scenes I’ve ever experienced. On a whim, myself and a few other members of the science crew decided to stay up all night talking about how we got to where we are now (going to Antarctica right before and election in the middle of a pandemic?!), what we wanted out of the trip, projects for collaboration, and what we hoped to do after this experience. It dawned on us (pun absolutely intended) that if we could just make it to the first bits of daylight we would be able to see the beginnings of the straits and furthermore, the first bits of land we would see since we left Port Hueneme over 3 weeks prior.
While this impromptu, late-night, science meeting was worth every minute for the awesome side projects (check back in later in the cruise for more from Team Bryozoan), it was a huge bonus to be able to see the giant straits appearing through the fog of early morning light. As soon as we were able to see the first signs of dawn through the mess port hole, we rushed back to our rooms to hurriedly throw on as many layers as we could find, grab cameras and binoculars, and race out to the bow. I felt very much like a child on a holiday.
The water around us seemed almost turbulent and in the distance we could see just the faintest shadows of land on the horizon. As we continued to move inland, the land got closer, the fog cleared, the water calmed, and more and more detail of what was around us appeared. Towering mountains covered in snow in the background were juxtaposed with sloping rocky islands covered in greenery and rivers around us. A pod of orcas swam by off the port side of the ship, seals floated by, and more birds than I had seen in the last 3 weeks combined flew around us. The Jurassic Park theme song played in the background. As the morning progressed, and word spread around the ship, more and more of the crew joined us on the bow. By midday most members of the science crew were outside taking pictures as the straits closed in around us and we moved in closer to Punta Arenas. It may have had a bit to do with my total lack of sleep, but it was in these moments that this whole experience finally felt real. We were all really going to Antarctica. After over a month together, we’d all grown pretty close and the collective feeling on the boat was nothing short of amazed excitement.
Pulling into Punta Arenas was just as exciting. The dock seemed to come out of the middle of downtown. The city of Punta Arenas moves up the hills around the port with wide streets gridding out the town and lighting the night. Most buildings have painted roofs or walls in shades of blue, red, pink, or yellow. Some of the architecture is new and modern and some looks like it may have been there for the last 100 years. All around the ship, hundreds of cormorants fly back and forth collecting bits of kelp and taking it back to their massive roosting area at the end of the docks. At night it’s clear there are things going on in the city. It was interesting to see streetlights and cars driving back and forth after being surrounded by almost no light pollution for so long. Our time in port was most characterized by rushing around and prepping the boat for FINALLY being able to depart to our destination.
As we left Punta Arenas again, we got to go back out the way we came in, through the straits. Instead of getting closer and closer, we saw the cliffs and snow move farther and farther away. The mood on the ship as we moved out to sea was even more anxious and excited than it was coming in. We are finally within a week of starting our scientific portion of the trip… the main event… the big one… the moment we’ve all been waiting for! Our time thoroughly bonding as a crew prior to the science was at the worst of times overwhelming, and at the best of times some of the most fun I’ve ever had. Going from isolation to living with 40+ other people was an adjustment, especially with little internet and no specific job to do day-to-day. I’m still extremely grateful for the first half of this trip, spending time learning about all the animals we’ll see, getting to know my new colleagues and seeing parts of the Pacific so few are lucky enough to go through.
All that said, I’m ready to get this show on the road and find some inverts!
Ph.D. student in the Halanych Lab