John and Karen Clarke ’77 Antarctic
Alumni couple from Class of 1977 traveled to Antarctica on a National Geographic cruise to kick off their retirement travels.
John Clarke ’77 and Karen (Benz) Clarke ’77 journeyed to Antarctica on a 10-day National Geographic Cruise in December of 2021. Both John and Karen are retired following careers at the U.S. Geological Survey and Delta Airlines.
The couple traveled on the Resolution, a 126-passenger ship, during just its second overall voyage. It was named to honor the first ship to cross the Antarctic Circle in 1773 – navigated by the legendary Capt. James Cook.
John and Karen praised amenities and service, which included delicious seafood dishes highlighted by the Antarctic toothfish. Their spacious cabin included a balcony, which offered many spectacular views of passing icebergs. The entire trip was spent on the ship as there are no hotels or developments in Antarctica. The cruise was offered by Lindblad Expeditions in partnership with National Geographic.
The trip was a dream come true for John, who majored in Earth Science and went on to work in a 37-year career as a geohydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Atlanta.
“It was like going to geologist Mecca,” said John. “We got to see glaciers in both the advancing and retreating mode, icebergs, sea ice, and remnants of an ancient volcano that developed under the icepack.”
The ship utilized its ice breaking capability and breached sea ice while also providing passengers the chance to disembark the vessel to visit penguins. A sea kayak excursion allowed close viewing of emperor penguins.
Karen, a retired IT manager for Delta Airlines, is an avid travel buff. For this journey, she made the trip to witness all the truly unique wildlife.
“We got to see four species of penguin, including the emperor, gentoo, Adelie, and chinstrap,” said Karen. “On a zodiac trip, we encountered humpback whales who got within 10-feet of our boat and circled us four times, blowing and breaching, while looking up at us. While cruising on the ship, a pack of killer whales followed us. At the penguin colonies we got to see nesting penguins and their eggs with many recently hatched chicks. Offshore, we saw leopard seals waiting for their penguin meal to enter the water.”
During the trip, they also saw numerous sea birds including the giant albatross and several types of petrels. Sunsets were spectacular and a reddish hue hung around the horizon hours after the sun fell below the horizon. December is during the Antarctic summer, so it was never dark.
Temperatures never fell below 30 degrees and apart from some windy days the crossing of the Drake passage between South America and the Antarctic was surprisingly calm. The Drake passage has a reputation for being among the roughest seas on the planet.
“We were lucky to have a skilled captain who used all of the ships instruments and forecasts to avoid bad weather,” said John.
A highlight of the trip was the polar plunge in which passengers were allowed to take a dip in the 28-degree water. After taking a shot for courage, both Karen and John took the plunge.
John stated, “It took your breath away. I can now see why you don’t survive a sinking ship in such waters. We went into the sauna afterwards and I never broke a sweat after spending five minutes in there.”