Saved by an Orange Suit:A Night of Adventure in Remotest Antarctica

This blog is dedicated to my husband who passed away last September. He is pictured here in his now-infamous orange suit. He saved the entire crew of the ship as we reclaimed Peter the 1st Island for Norway.

As a crew member of the MS Lindblad Explorer, my husband led tours into remote regions of the Antarctic.

Your Photo Lady, me, went along as support staff using some new technology at the time known as a VHS video camera. I had to lug around two large pieces of heavy equipment over harsh terrain and in rough seas, but it was refreshing to be actively participating in the many different expeditions.

I was an extra pair of hands to assist wherever I was needed.

My husband drove zodiac boats to take passengers right next to whales and other animals.

He took photographers out to take pictures of penguins.

I enjoyed meeting the wildlife up close. The baby sea lion pups in their nursery were very friendly and didn’t mind me petting them.

And if I laid real still in the penguin rookery the penguins would walk right up to me.

The cruise was going along very well and we had settled into a somewhat regular routine. Then late one afternoon my husband informed me that the crew was going on an adventure all its own. The handful of seasoned explorers was going to take a zodiac and land on Peter the 1st Island. This had only been done once or twice in recorded history.

We were going to land just before sunset.

We were sailing on the only ship in the middle of the Antarctic ocean, and we were barreling through pancake ice. There were no other people within thousands of miles of us except for a few scientists at a couple of research stations.

Yes, this would make for an extraordinary adventure!

I was a bit young at 22 and too nieve to know any better. My husband, on the other hand, had his orange survival suit in hand and was putting it on. This adventure was going to be extremely dangerous.

After hearing a little history about Peter the 1st Island from our expedition leader, I pondered that what we were about to do could be written in the history books. I was in awe of our mission to reclaim the island for Norway. We had an official plaque, and the plan was to leave it on the island as the formal claim to Peter I Island. The island is an uninhabited volcanic island in the Bellingshausen Sea, 450 kilometers (280 mi) from continental Antarctica.

It is claimed as a dependency of Norway, and along with Bouvet Island and Queen Maud Land comprises one of the three Norwegian dependent territories in the Antarctic and Subantarctic. Peter I Island is 11 by 19 kilometers (6.8 by 11.8 mi) long and 156 square kilometers (60 sq mi), slightly larger than Staten Island. The tallest peak is the Ultra and 1,640-meter (5,380 ft) tall Lars Christensen Peak. A glacier covers nearly all of the island, and it is surrounded most of the year by pack ice, making it inaccessible during these times. A Norwegian expedition led by Nils Larsen and Ola Olstad managed to make the first landing on February 02, 1929. Peter I Island was, for the first time, claimed for Norway, a claim that was turned into Norwegian law in 1931 followed by the island’s status as a dependency in 1933. It is interesting to note that Norway was one of the 1959 signatory members of the Antarctic Treaty which came into force in 1961. The treaty states that all claims to any land south of 60 degrees remain invalid as long as the treaty remains valid.

By the time we all loaded into the zodiac and navigated it through the ice it was dark. It was a thick eerie pitch-black night as we tried to land on the beachhead since there was no moon at all to light our way. The night became frightening.

Do you remember the old polaroid cameras? That’s all we had to document our landing to leave the plaque. We snapped a couple of photos to commemorate the event. We left the plaque as planned to reclaim the island for Norway.

As some of the crew began to climb back into the zodiac the pack ice moved in on us. As the tide came in, the waves began to break onto the shore much larger and tried to flip the zodiac over on its side. My husband lept into action, plunging himself out into the icy water. He grabbed the front of the zodiac to stabilize the boat. He planted his feet firmly on the bottom of the ocean in the sub-freezing temperatures stood firmly holding the zodiac in place as each crew member climbed in.  He would not have been able to do this without his big, warm, orange survival suit. We all finally made it back into the zodiac and all of the crew was saved. It was a harrowing night, and as we were sailing back to the ship I was so thankful to see the lights of the MS Lindblad Explorer pierce the darkness. I was so thankful my husband wore his big orange suit!

We received accommodation from King Olav V of Norway for reclaiming Peter the 1st Island.

I recently traveled to Poulsbo, Washington to visit the Sons of Norway on King Olav V Ave. where I shared lunch with the local members telling them about our adventure so long ago.

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Comments

  1. Lee Ann Hamerski Post author

    Yes, it has been quite an adventure and I want my kids and grandkids to know all about it. When I finish a blog post I am creating a photo book from it. It’s very therapeutic.