I flew a few days early to New Zealand to await an Icebreaker as this gave me time to poke around Christchurch, visit Picton on the Marlborough Sound and prepare once again for the Ice. On the waterfront in Picton sits the very charming Le Café run by Peter from Switzerland. Peter looked after me for a few days forcing me to consume green lipped mussels, wild goat stew, very good New Zealand wine and gorgeous Kiwi scenery as I waited for the Kapitan Khlebnikov to dock in Littleton. This is the eighth trip where my studio is a small cabin that bobs, sways and rolls its way over polar seas. I plan to work on two small series of paintings. One stitched and painted group of Travailogues, the other will be oilstick studies of landscapes / icescapes / seascapes. A mini TRAVAILOGUE exhibition will be held at the end of the voyage.
The Kapitan Khlebnikov is a Finnish built, Russian owned 132 Meter long icebreaker that can hit a top cruising speed of 15 knots on open water. The ship carries approximately 100 passengers along with 100 crew/staff members and has been working in polar waters since its launch in 1982. Once again I am the artist in residence onboard, this time in cabin 819 and this time heading to the Ross sea region of Antarctica. Besides painting, I kept me busy with the following.
On Campbell Island which is 660 Kms south of New Zealand I had a small argument with a large 350 kilo Hooker Sea Lion. The beast decided that I was not to pass along the track heading up to Mt Lyall. Waving, shouting and stomping only created more barking and the display of more teeth. These creatures are known for their aggressive behaviour, which made the tag ‘lion’ very fitting. Cape Hallett was a grand spot with a massive population of Adelie penguins hopping about with their fat fluffy and very hungry chicks. We had sunshine and no wind for the entire day so the gods were certainly happy with us.
Terra Nova bay is where the stylish Italian station named Mario Zucchelli sits, here very neat Italian scientists spend the summer months then leave to run the station remotely from Rome. Located on Ross Island is the large USA McMurdo station that is really a town of 1200 people and over the hill the very green Kiwi Scott Station sits. The debate onboard after visiting a number of stations was “ How much science is really needed?” I believe we need a lot as long as data is not duplicated and the Antarctic treaty upheld by all those on the Ice.
We explored various explorer huts, Discovery hut on McMurdo Sound, Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds and the Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans all on Ross Island as well as Borchgrevinks hut at Cape Adare, which is surrounded by more than 500,000 Adelie penguins. These huts are historically of great interest as they are the first dwellings made by humans on this continent. Literally frozen in time for a century.
The KK went as far south as any sea vessel since the Fram in 1911 making it to the latitude of 78.40.871 South, which is in the Bay of Whales. Impressed? The Icescapes were very impressive but numbers on GPS navigation instruments are really just numbers. A helicopter landing on the Ross Ice Shelf one sunny midnight was a bizarre treat as was icebreaking through stretches of pack ice in Mc Murdo sound. It truly was a grand trip with a diverse bunch of people, a great deal happened and often it was incredible, impressive or some other superlative. I will attempt to enlarge an idea or two gleaned on this voyage with the desire to create some major works in the Broome studio.
The most impressive sight was the very alive volcano Mt Erberus that puffed smoke into the clear blue sky as we visited sites around its home on Ross Is. I also puffed smoke from an Indonesian clove cigarette out on the stern of the ship one evening. I watched icebergs and thought about other lands. The perfumed smoke swirled around me as we crunched through sea ice. Is the Ice really in my blood I wondered? The smell of the tropical spice was rich and highly alien at this latitude. Soon I will be back near the equator probably missing the Ice.
One final recollection was a zodiac landing on a tiny dot of a rock situated at 74.54 S 164.39 E. We were there to see the remnants of a camp where a few men spent a year in a snow cave eating penguins to survive and dreaming about eating anything but penguins. They had a BAD year. Inexpressible Island is the name of this tiny lump of rock and ice. The islands name could be suitable for the entire Antarctic continent as it often is extremely troublesome to describe. In terms of brutal weather it is troublesome for sure but also tricky to describe in a positive way as every grand view bankrupts language. It is inexpressible but I will attempt to paint some elements of the far south by melding views with experience, memories with stories, colours with textures, the sublime with trinkets. Wish me luck.