Monday, April 28, 2014

A CAPE HORN ADVENTURE - BARB ANDREAS - 1st in a Series of Amazing Hocking Hills Women

Garden clubs are wonderful, and the Four Seasons Garden Club of Hocking County, Ohio, is many-times blessed to have Barb Andreas as a member. Barb has a Ph.D. in Botany and is a retired professor from Kent State University. At our March, 2014, garden club meeting Barb was so kind to share her month-long experience on a ship that took her around Cape Hope, Archipelago (South America) and the Straits of Magellan, no less.

Certainly not a luxury cruise, but a rough and tumble thirty-day voyage on board a king crab fishing boat built to quarter four people, but re-fashioned to accommodate nine scientists and four crew members. In addition to Barb, two of her colleagues came from the Field Museum of Chicago, one from Alaska, one from the Missouri Botanical Garden, Bill Buck from the New York Botanical Garden and three scientists from Chile.

The expedition took place within the UNESCO (United Nations, Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) biosphere, and was funded by the National Science Foundation. The mission was to gather Bryophyta (mosses), non-vascular plants that do not have veins to carry water and nutrients to the plant’s system. This lack of a vascular system is the reason mosses are relatively stunted in height and mostly lay low to the ground. Instead of developing flowers and seeds, mosses create one-celled spores that rely entirely on the wind to relocate and thrive.

You might be just a bit curious as to how a sweet little gal like Barb ended up on a fishing boat in turbulent waters off the southern tip of Chile.  Answer: She was invited by the prestigious New York Botanical Garden to go on an expedition. In 2010, Barb spent the summer as an intern at NYBG, where she studied the genus Blindia. From that, in a publication Barb named three (3) species of Blindia that are new to science, thus becoming the world’s expert on this genus, those being her qualifications for being a part of this expedition.

Barb’s quest for her target genus, Blindia, began in Punta Arenas, when she boarded the 17x58 foot sea-faring vessel, Doña Pilar. Captain Pato and his 3 seasoned mates quickly assisted the nine scientists to settle into their Spartan sleeping quarters. Normally claustrophobic, Barb adjusted well enough to her top bunk, where she could not even sit up to read or write. One of her colleagues suggested that she keep her eyes closed while in the bunk. That worked.

Ship accommodations were cramped, the only luxury being one bathroom with a hand-held shower sparingly used because of a lack of fresh water onboard; however, dining in the galley was relatively splendid, the crew serving up such delicacies as king crab stuffed with avocado or tomatoes.  The members of the expedition woke up each morning to the smell of fresh-baked bread. Not bad, huh?


The ship was crowded with thirteen people occupying a space about the size of a two bedroom mobile home. Except for the galley, it wasn’t easy to comfortably roam about the ship without bumping into each other. The galley became the main gathering area of the ship, because it had a stove, the one and only source of heat on the entire ship. In the evenings, the scientists would

sit at the table in the galley to sort through the day’s collection of specimens. The engine room became another valuable area for not only drying wet clothing but for storing and drying samples. Because of limited space, each scientist became down-right territorial in claiming their individual “drying shelves” during the thirty-day expedition, which took place between January 4th and January 31st, 2014.

In the region’s summer season, the average January temperature was a chilly 42 degrees, the wet and windy conditions making forages onto the islands rather perilous. Dressed in layers of warm clothing, rain gear, and cumbersome rubber boots, they were taken ashore by a Zodiac (inflatable boat). Each scientist carried a pack that contained a GPS, a marking pen, lunch-sized paper bags, and a hand lens, much like a jeweler’s loupe, used to closely inspect specimens in the field.

By the thirteenth day of the expedition, Barb had collected only a few samples of her target genus, Blindia. By the same token, by the 30th day she’d collected and bagged approximately 530 specimens, gathered each day and taken back to the ship for an evening of sorting in the fragile warmth of the galley, the galley becoming a make-do laboratory. Then, after sorting, mosses were taken to the engine room for drying. The collections would later be boxed and readied for shipment to the New York Botanical Gardens. For the better part of the next year, Barb will be spending an enormous amount of time going through the detailed process of identifying and cataloging the mosses from the Cape Horn Archipelago.  

[Excerpt from Barb Andreas’s journal]
"The landscape is beautiful.  There is never a view that does not include snow-capped mountains and southern beech forests.  We wear rain gear and big rubber boots in the field.  It makes moving through the vegetation really tough.  There are no paths! 

One day we "walked" to the edge of a glacier.  It was pure hell.  There were large and small waterfalls pouring over us, and the rocks were very slippery.  I mostly crawled up, often clinging to clumps of grass and other dwarf vegetation.  The easiest way to get down was to slide from one level to the next.  It was the scariest thing I've ever done.

We go to bed around midnight, after we are finished with the specimens.  Wake up is around 6:30 am, often to the smell of baking bread."

At the beginning of the trip, the topography was made up of rugged mountains, high elevation tundra and glaciers. As the ship voyaged toward Cape Horn, the mountains became softer, an absence of glaciers, the tundra coming down to the shoreline.

[Excerpt from Barb Andreas’s journal]
"We spent two days on the island where a famous English botanist, Joseph D. Hooker, was stranded for several months.  During that period, Hooker collected one of my target plants and I was able to re-find it.  

We also went to Isla Wollaston, and I was able to recollect one of mosses I named, Blindia buckii.  When we arrive at these islands, we spread out to cover more territory.  My colleagues found many more localities for that moss.

The forests on these windswept islands are low, about 4-5 feet in height and tightly packed.  It's sort of like climbing through a never-ending blackberry patch.  Sometimes it would take me an hour to go a hundred feet (and I am not exaggerating).  Sometimes hidden among the brush would be a steep-sided stream that I would then fall into. There were numerous times I asked myself "what am I doing here?"

Rounding the treacherous waters of Cape Horn, Barb cracked a rib, but it was well worth the pain considering the incredible sightings of birds that inhabited the remote islands. Dolphins played and swam around their ship, even racing the Zodiac whenever she and her colleagues went ashore. Numerous Orca whales were spotted, and at one point there were so many that the captain went below to tap on the hull of the ship just to make sure the whales knew the ship was there. Sea lion colonies graced rocky outcrops of islands, relatively secure on the rocks in their isolated habitat.

[Excerpt from Barb’s Journal]
"We once passed a cruise ship while in the Beagle Channel -- it dwarfed our little 17 x 58 foot ship.  Mostly, however, we never saw other boats.  The captain knew the area well and each night we would find a cove in which to dock in order stay out of the incredible winds.  Some of these coves had little corrugated metal cabins that fishermen had built, and there might be a rope to which our ship might attach."

 Finally, mission accomplished, the ship arrived back at Punta Arenas. Barb said, “Never again in my life will I have an adventure like this.”

One last point of interest, Barb was the only one who thought to bring duct tape on the expedition. Rain gear was punctured and torn by the thorny vegetation, and then repaired with the tape. Barb also used the tape to bandage sore and cracked hands and fingers.  It goes without saying that Barb’s duct tape was a very popular item during these thirty days.

What an incredible journey, Barb Andreas! Another note of interest is that Barb and her husband, Denny, who are both avid “birders” will be venturing to Iceland in June. Well, now, that’s a whole different story. Can’t wait! What an amazing woman!! 

For more information about the expedition, go to New York Botanical Garden - Bill Buck From the Field - Cape Horn 2014

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