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1 December, 2004

The most beautiful spot on Earth?

Temperature: 19*F

Location: McMurdo Station

Some time ago, Mark Twain wrote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Today, I threw off the bowlines and discovered what is quite possibly the most beautiful place on earth.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to go SCUBA diving beside Little Razorback Island in McMurdo Sound. Today was the day to make the dive. We loaded up the piston bulley, which is a tracked vehicle, found three dive tenders, and headed out across the sound. We bounced and bobbled our way over to Little Razorback. When we arrived, we spent some time exploring the sea ice pressure ridges and the seals that were sunning themselves amongst the ledges.

We had to wait a while for the hole driller to arrive. Instead of melting our dive hole, this time we had a tractor come out with a huge drill. The hole was drilled in a matter of minutes; quite a change from the hole making at Lake Hoare! While we waited, however, I started to feel cold and a little apprehensive about the dive. I looked at the slush filled hole and seriously questioned whether I really wanted to jump in. The tractor pushed a dive hut over the hole so we could get inside and be protected from the fierce wind. That made me feel better, but I was still unsure I wanted to dive through the slush.

Mark Twain's words came back to me. I decided to go for it. Jack (who works in the Dive Shack) and I suited up for the dive. Jack went in first and disappeared through the slush. I threw off my bowlines and jumped in after him. There simply are no words to adequately describe the place beneath the ice! I lowered myself down the dive line and looked around. The area was simply breathtaking. I could see for hundreds of feet. The ground was filled with bright white sea stars and the largest tunicates I have ever seen. Fish swam right up to me and seemed to say “welcome to paradise.” Then I looked up.

It was beautiful beyond description. The blue, green, yellow, and brown colors in the sea ice cascaded across the ceiling above us. Salt tubes staggered themselves towards the bottom. My exhalation bubbles danced as they rose towards the surface.

Now for the devastating news. As I was about to get into the water, the underwater housing for my digital camera popped open and the camera plunged to the ocean depths; it is lost and gone forever. All the seal pictures I got prior to diving and the images from the dive itself will never be seen except in my mind. I hope the images last forever. I am truly sorry I can not share them with all of you following along with my journal. No one is more upset than I!

1) The view of Castle Rock on our way to Little Razorback Island.

2) The drill bringing up some snow and ice!

3) The drill clearing the snow!

4) Here comes the water!

5) Let the water flow out!

6) The infamous Weddell Snooze!

7) A Weddell Seal takes a moment to check us out.

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