February 6, 2012; Isla Londonderry, Bahía Isabel, approximately 54º59’S, 70º52’W
The engines started early this morning, and shortly afterward we hit rough seas. Those who had stayed up late had been warned. I was not amongst them, but fortunately, I found it a pleasant surprise. When we came out onto the deck we were in a secluded harbor, surrounded by snow-covered peaks. In short order the sleet started up again, and in no time at all, it was accumulating on the deck. I guess it is a bit colder than usual, but I haven’t noticed that.
February 5, 2012; Isla Londonderry, Puerto Fortuna, approximately 54º54’S, 70º26’W
Last night after dinner, I stood under the tarp that tents the hold where our dryers are kept, listening to the rain. Juan came out and said, “You enjoy this weather!” I looked at him quizzically, and he continued, “I can tell by the expression on your face.” And you know what? It’s true! I love bad weather–maybe not snow, it’s too soft–the aural component is critical. As long as I can remember I have loved rainy days, and the local version with sleet only adds to my delight. And a good thing too!
This morning we moved to another harbor on Isla O’Brien. The weather forecast was not encouraging. However, the sun kept trying to come out, and all day it shone brightly, on and off, but only for a few minutes at a time. In this region, the weather is a losing battle. Those little bursts of sunshine provided momentary false hope in a day that ended up being dominated by sleet. In between the bouts of sun, the clouds would thicken, the wind would blow, and the sleet would pelt us relentlessly. Thank the heavens for good rain gear!
I told myself last night, shortly after I went to my bunk, that I would have a better attitude today.
The ship moved in the early morning to our field site for the day, Seno Ventisquero in Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. I was summoned to the bridge from my bunk, so I quickly dressed and went upstairs. The seas were very rough and the captain wanted to explain that rather than heading for our tentatively agreed upon site, we would instead be tying-up in a calm harbor at approximately 54º45’S, 70º19’W. I always leave these decisions to him anyway so it was just a formality.
The day didn’t look like it was going to be a good one; the clouds were so low that they seemed to be barely hovering above the waves, and sleet pelted the ship’s deck. As a consequence, most of us were a little slow in getting ready to head into the field. Lily and I boarded a Zodiac and were taken to what appeared to be a coastal southern beech forest with a small river running through it. Throughout the entire ride we suffered through continual sleet, but, the moment we stepped ashore it stopped! Surely a good sign!
February 3, 2012; Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, Fiordo Garibaldi, approximately 54º58’S, 69º49’W
This morning we collected in Brazo Inutil (approximately 54º58’S, 69º49’W). The day began with patches of blue sky and the promise of a nice day, but it was colder than it had been recently, which I should have known signaled a change in the weather. The collecting wasn’t great, but I know at this stage that I have seen and personally collected much of the flora, and so have to fight surrendering to boredom. Most of my time has been spent looking for mosses and I have not really paid great attention to lichens. NYBG now has three lichenologists, as well as a new lichen graduate student joining us soon. My colleagues at the Garden, as well as various researchers outside of my home institution, have asked me to be on the lookout for certain groups of lichens, and I have decided that now is the time for me to do so! Once I have found what mosses I can at any site, I then devote some time to looking for lichens.
February 2, 2012; Isla Gordon, middle arm of Bahía Tres Brazos, approximately 54º58’S, 69º41’W
You might have noticed that I didn’t write yesterday. About 5 p.m. I came down with a bad headache and went to my bunk. Apparently I missed some bad seas, including 9-10 foot waves in the Beagle Channel as we moved sites. I got up around 8 p.m., decided against dinner, took a couple of aspirin and went back to bed. I didn’t get up until about 8 a.m. I still have a mild headache, but felt that I needed to deal with yesterday’s collections.
So, while the others are out collecting this morning, I got yesterday’s haul onto the dryer and am now catching up on my blog. I had hoped to do this on the deck because it wasn’t raining this morning, and there were even a few patches of sun, but typical of the region, the skies have darkened again, and it is now spitting rain (at least not sleet or snow). I have managed to be able to sit outside, but under cover, which is a real treat because, once again, the scenery is spectacular. My vista is a row of snow-capped peaks, with much of the snow fresh. Usually when it is raining at sea level it is snowing on the mountains and since yesterday was colder than usual, the snow is lower down on the slopes.
The engines started at 7 a.m. as we headed toward our morning collecting site, Ventisquero Alemania (ventisquero is an archaic Spanish term for “glacier,” and this one is located at approximately 54º53’S, 69º25’W). The weather seemed to want to remind us that we were in the sub-Arctic; it was cold and rainy. When we arrived, the weather caused some hesitation amongst our group about heading out, but in the end we all suited up and were soon on our way.
I had planned to collect at a site featuring large, moss-covered boulders and an open Nothofagus woodland that I had previously seen a photograph of, but I made a logistical error. When the Zodiac left me on the shore, I soon realized that I was not in the site I had seen in pictures, but that, rather, I was trapped on a steep, densely vegetated hill. Laura had gotten off the Zodiac with me and neither of us wanted to stay where we were. We returned to the beach and tried signaling for an early pick-up.
What a difference a day makes! We anchored last night in Caleta Olla (approximately 54º56’S, 69º09’W) and for the first night of the trip we could see the Southern Cross and many more of the bright stars that illuminate the Southern Hemisphere’s night sky. But by morning it was completely overcast with a cold wind spitting light rain. Today, we were hoping to hit three localities rather than our standard two, the first being Caleta Olla itself. The group spread out to hit the various habitats, including a beaver-disturbed peatland and various forest types, while I chose to collect along an extensive cliff base not far from the harbor. It was not the richest cliff face I have seen, but it occupied me for well over an hour, and I even had time to make a few large collections of pleurocarps for Bernard Goffinet‘s genomic work. However, I was anxious to get to our next site, Glacier Italia.
January 29, 2012; Canal O’Brien, on the way to the Brazo Noroeste of the Beagle Channel, approximately 54º55’S, 70º35’W
The day and a half in Punta Arenas flew by. Upon arriving, our luggage was taken to the hotel while we went to the Universidad de Magallanes where we have left our collections to dry completely while we are on the second half our trip. The humidity in Punta Arenas is so low that all we have to do to is leave all the plant materials spread out in a warm room. The whole next day was spent doing chores, depending on need. Some went shopping, I worked on keying my blog into a laptop, and others were simply tourists. That evening we had a final dinner, in part to say goodbye to Ricardo and Mauricio, but also to see some Spaniards who were in transit to and from Antarctica (including bryologist Francisco “Paco” Lara).
We had hoped to get an early start the next morning, but of course we didn’t. We finally left the dock at around 2:30 p.m. The weather was glorious and the seas calm; patches of blue sky showed through the clouds and the sun shone brightly on the glacier-capped Monte Sarmiento. With such surprisingly good weather, our spirits were running very high.
Today is the last field day before we return to Punta Arenas for a few days in order to process all of the specimens that we have collected in these first nine days. We are currently anchored at Isla Darwin, but we will be setting off shortly for the long trek home, about 24-hours of travel.
Before retiring for the evening last night I talked with the captain and told him that ideally tomorrow, we would like to get to one of the more exposed southern islands, Isla Waterman, and that he would have to decide–based on weather and sea conditions–if it would be possible in the morning. As a backup, I told him we would be quite happy collecting on Isla Whittlebury, off of which we were anchored for the night. This morning the engines started at 7 a.m., and almost everyone just stayed in their bunks for the ride. Because we were moving for about an hour, and we hit rough seas for about 20 minutes on the way (while crossing Seno Christmas), I realized that we would soon be arriving at our first choice, Isla Waterman.