Clothing and Weather

The pictures I’d seen of tours of Antarctica always showed people in bright red jackets and we were told the ship would provide us with one. I expected the weather would be so harsh, no jacket I had would be good enough. Images of men with icicles dripping off their beards caused me to put my faith in the provisioner, who would know best what we needed to survive. When I was shown to my cabin, the promised jacket was on my bed. It was bright red, of a sturdy material that cut the wind well, and with some fleece for warmth. I tried it on and knew I was really on my way to Antarctica.

Livingstone Island Hike

What was not mentioned was that we might not need the jacket for every outing. We had boarded the boat in the Falkland Islands, where the outside temperature during the day was about 60 degrees and windy, but I was thinking, here I am in the Antarctic (technically, we weren’t quite there yet) and I’ll need this jacket. On our first shore trip, I wore my jacket and my heavy fleece, and nearly fainted I was so hot. I think the crew must have laughed at our naiveté, but most of the rest of the people wore theirs as well.

Adele Penguin and Fan

The real reason for providing the jackets was not that they did not trust us to bring adequate over wear, but that the crew wanted tokeep track of us all, and bright red against snow or bare rock showed up quite well. No one wandered far from the group, but there were times when the fifteen-foot rule from wildlife was hard to follow. Only once did a naturalist have to shout back a red figure on the next ridge creeping close to a cluster of penguins, camera poised for the photo of a lifetime.

The Antarctic Convergence surrounds and defines Antarctica. It is where the warm currents from the tropics meet the colder currents moving north from Antarctica, between 50 and 60 degrees south. Since the Convergence is not static, we had a contest on what time we would cross it. I won with what I would like to say was a careful calculation, which it wasn’t. When we crossed it on our way south, the water temperature dropped from 52o  F to 32o F and stayed there. We were fortunate to have very good weather, sunny and average noon temperature of 43o, including one day of 52 o F. Even some of the crew were on deck with their cameras and big smiles. The welcome sun made the ice sparkle, and sunglasses appeared.

The wind varied from very light to hurricane strength, but generally was not a problem on the ship or ashore with our special jackets. Everyone had several layers that could be added to accommodate changes in wind and temperature.