National Geographic : 1971 Nov
Antarctica's Nearer Side By SAMUEL W. MATTHEWS SENIOR EDITORIAL STAFF Photographs by WILLIAM R. CURTSINGER FF OUR BOW, sharp-etched in the summer sunlight of January, towers a wild, gaunt island of black cliffs and glacier-cloaked mountains. Icebergs drift all around us, a stark white fleet riding an ink-blue sea. Across half the horizon, south and east, marches a jagged succession of snow peaks. They seem only a few miles off, but our chart shows that they lie more than 50 miles away. They stand on the Antarctic Peninsula, the long, beckoning finger of the Antarctic Con tinent that reaches north toward Cape Horn and South America (maps, pages 624-5). I brace between bulkhead and hatch rail to keep from sliding across the ice-lookout house. Belowdecks, cans crash from stowage shelves and the cook shouts dark oaths. Each time we roll, water cascades over the side onto the weather deck. The stubby little trawler flies a blue flag with the initials USARP-U. S. Antarctic Research Program. Her name is Hero. "Hero is wet, cramped, and uncomfortable as a bucket in a heavy sea," Philip M. Smith, deputy head of polar programs for the Na tional Science Foundation, had told me in 622 Washington, D. C., weeks before. "But you'll see a lot of the peninsula by living aboard her. She's hard used-always on the go." How right he was, I think, as I hang on. For more than a month I've ridden Hero as she roved hundreds of windy miles, carry ing Antarctic researchers from outpost to outpost along this icebound coast. Now, on yet another scientific foray, she rolls and yaws along, driven by two rumbling diesels. She carries two stout wooden masts, with heavy orange sails furled to her booms. Tim bered of thick oak and Guyana greenheart, sheathed at the bow with steel ice plating, she sails alone in this far-southern realm of sudden storm and uncharted rock. Yankee Skipper Sights a Forbidding Land Through these waters, just 150 years be fore, another wooden ship named Hero sailed south. Only 47 feet long (we measure 125), she was the scouting sloop of a sealing flotilla from Stonington, Connecticut. Her captain, Nathaniel Brown Palmer, was 21 years old. Historians are not sure who first saw and recognized the mainland of Antarctica, last of earth's continents to be found. Nat Palmer Waddling through the snows of a continent reserved for research, a gentoo penguin wears a radio backpack that provides monitoring biologists with data on blood flow and pressure. The neck rig draws blood samples by remote control. After a few days in the service of science, the bird will be released in a nearby rookery, unencumbered and unharmed. This project-helping man understand penguin physiology and adaptation to a harsh environment-is part of the multi nation Antarctic research program that began with the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year. KODACHROME © N.G.S.