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50 Plus Club Around Antarctica in Sixty-Six Days

Lewis Krimen '51St would be only the second one in history…a circumnavigation of the highest, driest, coldest, windiest continent on Earth. Lewis Krimen ’51 couldn’t pass up his friend’s invitation to travel with him on this special journey to the continent of Antarctica.

Their journey began on November 27, 2002 in Lytellton, New Zealand where they met their ship, the Kapitan Khlebnikov. The commercial cruise ship, known as an icebreaker, would be their home for the next 66 days.

The first leg saw the travelers set sail from the Port of Christ Church through the dangerous Southern Oceans. Warm air and water from near the Equator combine with cold air from Antarctica to produce unexpected storms in the Southern Oceans. “We ran into a storm that lasted for more than 24 hours.

That would make anyone nervous,” Krimen says. With waves reaching as high as 30 feet, the passengers soon realized the Kapitan Khlebnikov was not equipped with stabilizers. “There was no way to keep the ship from being tossed around. I stayed in my room because it was dangerous to be anywhere else,” he says.

After riding out storms and dodging icebergs in the Southern Oceans, the voyagers finally reached the continent. Fortunately, since the trip was taken during Antarctica’s summer months, Krimen says they were spared Antarctica’s below freezing temperatures. But it was still pretty cold, he says.

Along the shore, the temperature would be about 30 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning and could reach near 40 later in the day. However, mild temperatures didn’t always mean smooth sailing. Fierce shore winds could reach 120 to 180 miles per hour. “The weather was very strange,” says Krimen. “If it was a nice day you could get a suntan at midnight.”

During the counterclockwise circumnavigation, Krimen and the rest of the Kapitan Khlebnikov crew made several stops, including half a dozen research stations manned by American, Australian, British, German and Chinese researchers. Perched mainly along the shoreline, the only way to reach the stations, which were researching mostly weather and geology, was by boat or helicopter. “Antarctica has the clearest skies in the world. It makes it easy to study weather and the ozone layer,” Krimen says. Unfortunately, they were not allowed to visit the American research station, McMurdo, because of heavy ice. “It was a big disappointment,” Krimen says. “It’s by far the largest station. There are 2,000 people there.”

But he wasn’t disappointed for long. As they reached the German station, Neumayer, and stepped onto the shelf ice on their way to the station, Krimen says only a large metal entrance protruding six to seven feet above the snow could be seen. Twenty years of snow and ice had piled up to cover the station. While it only snows about 30 inches a year in Antarctica, “it doesn’t melt…it just piles up,” Krimen says.

Traveling inland, the crew also visited the huts of the early 20th century English explorers Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton and Robert F. Scott. Shackleton and Scott tried and failed to reach the South Pole but their expeditions were historic and their huts are still intact. Citing this part of the trip as his favorite, Krimen says he was amazed to see that all of the explorer’s original equipment, even their food, was still there in the huts.

They weren’t allowed off the ship every day, however. But, there was never a lack of things to do, says Krimen. “During the day there were lectures and interesting films,” he says. With a Ph.D in organic chemistry and 20-plus years at Abbott Laboratories, Krimen enjoyed learning about Antarctica. The lecturers included a leading ornithologist, the history chair at Cambridge University, a geologist from Australia and a Navy sub mariner who recorded the deepest dive in the Pacific at 37,000 feet.

On February 1, 2003 the Kapitan Khlebnikov completed its circumnavigation. There was a lot to see in those 66 days – research stations that are constantly finding ways to improve the world; seas of penguins, a moving mass of black and white, scurring along the shoreline; nearly 100-year-old remnants of past explorers; and even an iceberg 148 miles long and 28 miles wide.

For Krimen, the trip was once in a lifetime. “I had traveled the world before, but this was never on my list.”

— Amy M. Buzinski ’03


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