Monday, September 5, 2016


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Our most illustrious Karfi passenger this summer was a tree frog nicknamed "Chester,"  who rode back and forth many days to Rock Island.

This was back in June, and we were at first puzzled by the occasional, loud sound made by this frog.  I looked about on the shore, never imagining a frog might take up residence aboard this passenger ferry.

Then, one day, Jeff Cornell and his crew spotted the frog near the bow of the Karfi.  They took it ashore, and it returned.

On one of my days with Tony Woodruff, the frog was spotted clinging comfortably to the vertical wall above the door frame to the storage locker.  Like Jeff, Tony removed the frog from the boat and placed him (her?) in the woodsy strip adjacent to the parking lot.  And like the other previous occasions, it was found back on board the boat the next morning.  

I guess it was this persistent personality, with a penchant for traveling back and forth to Rock Island, that earned it the name "Chester" (Thordarson) from Jeff.    

Then, on one of my days in late June taking a turn as operator aboard the Karfi, I spotted the frog sitting on the starboard rail, just outside the screening.  (The starboard rail seemed to be its preferred perch.)   After several trips to Rock Island and back that day it disappeared, slipping, maybe, into a pile of camping gear for a ride to a new, more exotic location.

We haven't seen it since.

   *        *        *

View of decimated Pilot Island during height of cormorant nesting,
with ore boat entering Death's Door Passage, enroute to Escanaba.

During an Island visit in early June, boatbuilder and youngest son, Thor, and I took a leisurely trip around Detroit Island on the Moby Dick.   This short cruise turned out to be a practice run for our upcoming journey to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, where bird life is concentrated in the various harbors.  Thousands upon thousands of seabirds and penguins rest, mate and raise their young on the relatively small patches of land sprinkled across waters of the vast Southern Latitudes.

Thor at the helm of Moby Dick as we round Detroit Island.

The bird activity - in this case,  Pilot Island, and of seagulls and cormorants - and the smells that emanate from this nesting island favored by fish eaters - proved to be a practice run for what we expect we might encounter on our trip south.

But, first I should back up a bit to say that I've always been interested in reading about early exploration and man testing his limits, especially in those days when sailing vessels were the only means of going to the ends of the earth, and when discovery of new lands and the planting of a flag brought national prominence.

The risks of finding uncharted lands often meant lasting recognition for the vessel captain, ship sponsors (with the subsequent naming of islands, bays and sections of coastline) and occasionally, crew members.  More often, sailing in the high latitudes, whether the Arctic or the Antarctic, also brought on severe bouts of illness, months of deprivation and hardship, and not infrequently, loss of life.

Such has been my interest since reading a paperback book in seventh grade titled, Shackelton's Incredible Journey.  It was pure luck when I blindly chose this title from among several recommended in the flimsy, monthly paper called The Scholastic Reader.   (There was a faint image of a sailing ship on the cover.)  I ordered a copy, knowing nothing about Shackleton and his efforts to cross the southernmost continent.  

Such interest in books about men and expeditions picked up once again in recent years, and when I finished reading Alan Gurney's book in March, Below the Convergence, I wondered aloud, "Wouldn't it be fun to visit some of those places?"

Mary Jo firmly declined, having listened to my recounting of the literary descriptions of frequent storms, steep seas, ice, fog and generally harsh conditions experienced in the high southern latitudes.  But, she suggested, our son Thor might be interested.  And he was.

So, on October 24 we'll embark on a trip with Lindblad / National Geographic to the port Ushuaia,  Argentina, board the National Geographic Explorer, spend a night in the Falklands, and then steam onward, and southward, to South Georgia.   This island is rugged, with many fjords and indentations, along with grassy slopes in the southern spring (not to forget the interior glaciers).  This rarity of landmass in the midst of vast ocean reaches is what the population of Antarctic birds find to their liking for nesting.  One particular variety of penguin, in its favored cove, may number upward of a quarter-million, making Pilot Island's bird population, in comparison, a paltry warm-up.  

But it is the human history of this region, and the history of exploration of these remote, scattered lands that has most captured my interest.   I only realized, after first suggesting this trip, that May 2016 was the 100th anniversary of the noted crossing by Shackleton and five other men in the 22-ft. lifeboat James Caird, sailing from Elephant Island to South Georgia.  That desperate, heroic voyage of 15 days was equalled - topped in some ways - by the exhausting, life or death climb up and over the interior of South Georgia by Shackleton and two crewmen.  This climb brought them to the Norwegian whaling station on the far, eastern side of the island.  There, he found assistance, and he eventually succeeded in saving the lives of all of his men, including those men left behind without knowing if they would survive, on Elephant Island.

I've read almost nothing about this 100th milestone year of Shackleton's expedition and survival except in the marketing literarure of the Lindblad / National Geographic cruises.  The cruise ship company has planned this voyage in commemoration.  Their two ships will moor at South Georgia at the same time, to witness a recreation of the climb up and over the island.  Sons of noted explorers will do the climbing:   Peter Hillary (son of Sir Edmund Hillary);  Jamling Norgay (son of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay), and Sven Lindblad, son of Lars-Eric Lindblad, founder of Lindblad Expeditions. Lindblad was the first company to provide public cruises to Antarctica and adjacent southern waters, and 2016 also happens to be the 50th year of Lindblad Expeditions operating in Antarctic waters.  

Passengers will have the opportunity to meet this small group as they descend from the island's interior toward Grytviken, where the remains of the old Norwegian whaling station (now a small museum) can be found today.

In all, a most exciting time lies ahead!    

-  Dick Purinton