On our next stop
the anchor chain had hardly finished clattering down into the bay in front of
the U.S. Palmer scientific station when a boatload of welcomers came aboard.
They were part of the eight U.S. Navy personnel and four scientists who man the
station, and one of them was Mike Bergin from Summerland Key, Fla. Mike is the
supply officer at Palmer, and he remembered seeing a small rod and reel among
the quantities of gear in his storeroom.
The next morning
I found him somewhere in the recesses of the building, which, with its big
picture window and wide second-floor balcony, looks like a California mountain
chalet. He had found the rod and reel. Captain MacDonald had said that the fish
lived in shallow water, so, with a piece of raw bacon, I clambered down the
rocks behind the station and cast offshore, an unsatisfactory procedure, since
the line, which was much too heavy for the small reel and also dried and curly
from long disuse, ran through the guides with all the alacrity of a string of
popcorn. The Chilean supply ship Piloto Pardo was tied up at the station's
dock, and one of its young officers came ashore and cast for me, getting the
bait farther cut than I could. While my Explorer companions climbed the glacier
behind the station or investigated the shoreline of the bay, I stayed fishing
until the lifeboats came to haul us back to the ship for lunch.
I was back ashore, fishing again, when one of the deckhands of the Piloto Pardo
suggested I go aboard to fish off her stern, in about four fathoms of water.
"Fish the bottom," the sailor said, unreeling his own handline. My
exhausted bacon bait looked like wet fuzz, and somebody kindly brought me a
morsel of Chilean beef. The sailor with his handline grunted and pulled up a
fish, and a moment later there was a tug on my line and I reeled in, yelling
and dancing in my big boots. It was a fish that looked to me like a member of
the grouper family. I put him in sea water in a couple of plastic bags and
hurried out to the Explorer, where Captain Gjesdal was standing on the main
deck at the top of the gangway. He had bet me five drinks I couldn't catch a
yelled. "My fish!"
looked. My fish was plopping around in the sea water. From his Olympian heights
the captain announced, "That's not a fish."
I filled a pail
with fresh sea water and put the fish in it. I took it up to the Penguin Room
to await identification.
problem, and mine, was that nobody could identify him. It was demeaning, both
for my fish and me. He kept trying to jump out of his pail, and I pawed through
books in the ship's library, hoping to find a picture that resembled him. An
unspectacular fish, about a foot long, a bigmouthed, biggilled,
brown-and-yellow-mottled thing with its dorsal fin running all the way down to
the tail. Ultimately we identified him as Trematomus bernacchii. He has no
common name. I'm not even sure he should be called he. But grilled for
breakfast the next morning the fish was delicate and delicious.
northward to King George Island again to spend an afternoon playing with
elephant seals on the beach at Potter's Cove, admiring their sweet smiles and
their ruby eyes, apparently being regarded by them not as enemies, only
nuisances. Then we crossed the boisterous Drake Passage and rounded the
villainous Horn. I remember Richard Harris, a bearded, brisk-tongued lad from
Lancashire who was a meteorologist at the British scientific station in the
Argentine Islands (65° 15' south latitude ), who dined with some of us aboard
the Explorer. Of the rising tide of tourists he said, "They're a bloody
nuisance. They come without warning, swarm about the place like they owned it
and interfere with our work."