• Day9

    Danco, the Hapless Hero

    February 18, 2020 in Antarctica ⋅ ⛅ 32 °F

    As a child Emile Danco always wanted to be a soldier or a sailor, but a heart defect prevented him from entering either the Belgian Army or Navy. The sickly young man became a studious pupil, and his studies led him to become one of the world's first geophysicists. In 1897 the Belgian explorer Adrienne de Gerlache proposed a survey of Antarctica, and Danco signed on as the expedition's scientist. At one point Danco fell overboard in the icy waters, but was rescued, barely alive. Yet the accident didn't kill him; his heart defect did, and his shipmates buried him in an unmarked grave here at one of the most beautiful places on the globe. The expedition commander named this place for him, and now Danco Island offers us some of Antarctica's most attractive wonders.

    Before going ashore, I loaded up with ibuprofen to mask the horrible cold shared by half our passengers. The humpback whales spouted, the penguins cavorted and the fur seals lolled in the sun just as they have done for the last twelve million years. They have done this whether anyone was there to see them or not. Indeed, they are doing it right now as you read this. We saw the remains of the British Station "O," an antarctic outpost dismantled in 1959 during the International Geophysical Year. At that time the nations holding claims in Antarctica relinquished them to cooperate in the exploration and preservation of this wonderland. We are allowed to take nothing from Antarctica--no souvenirs whatsoever. Even the junk remaining from the observation station is being studied for its rate of decomposition. Washing our boots before boarding the ship ensures that we carry no soil, seeds, spores or lichens with us. I borrowed Shayne's polarizer to intensify the blue of some icebergs. Caroline, Ray and some others stripped down to their swimsuits to plunge into water right at the point of freezing. All reported relief when re-emerging from the icy ocean into relatively warm 40-degree air. Looking around at the snow-clad mountains, the sapphire sea and the pearlescent palaces floating past us, dwarfing our Zodiac, I remembered Emile Danco. All things considered, he would be pleased.

    We cruised through the LaMaire Strait, a path passenger ships almost never visit. Usually this gloriously beautiful passage is choked with ice, even in summer. Today the ice is melted and we are seeing majestic mountains whose steep sides tumble right down into the sea.
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