For a week in mid-December, a Webster City resident visited a strange land. It took a lot of money and fortitude for him to make the trip on a cruise line south through the turbulent waters of the Drake Passage. While riding a small boat between the cruise liner and land, he knew that only a few minutes in the cold water could be deadly. With the help of trained professionals, Dohms took a step onto Antarctica. The event marked the seventh continent he has visited in his life.
While visiting all seven continents is certainly an achievement, Dohms said he didn't visit Antarctica just to cross a line off his bucket list.
"I really wanted to see the continent," Dohms said. "I don't like cold weather, so it really was a concession on my part to give up vacation time to go to this place."
Mark Dohms stands in front of the seven sisters mountain range in Antarctica.
Despite the usual cold temperature of the polar location, Dohms visited Antarctica at an opportune time. While Iowa was experiencing sub-zero temperatures, summer was coming to Antarctica. That meant highs temperatures in the low-to-mid thirties during the day.
Getting to the cruise's destination along the Antarctic Peninsula was the most taxing part of the journey for Dohms. The ship left from Ushuaia, Argentina, what Dohms said is the southernmost city in the world. From there, they traveled to their destination through the Drake Passage.
"Sailors say it's the roughest patch of sea in the world," Dohms said. "It held up to its reputation."
Dohms and 93 others on board experienced what was labeled moderately rough seas through the passage. Even at that moderate level, the turbulence of the sea affected many parts of the trip.
Out of a 58 hour cruise, Dohms said he spent about 47 hours in bed. Each of the beds on the ship were equipped with a seat belt to keep passengers secured as the boat thrashed through the waves. Some travelers suffered injuries from the turbulence. Dohms said one friend he made on the trip was thrown through a glass coffeetable and had to be treated for multiple lacerations. Another was tossed from her bathroom door across the room and into her shower which dislocated her shoulder. Dohms said everything in his room was affixed to the wall or his floor. He didn't even have an alarm clock by his bed.
While Dohms managed to not become ill for most of the passage, others weren't so lucky. Dohms was invited as an honored guest to the captain's dinner one night. However, it was postponed when many who were planning to attend, including the captain, fell seasick.
Once Dohms and other passengers made it through the passage, he said they learned a lot about Antarctica from the naturalists in the crew. In addition to discussing safety precautions, they talked about the animals and little plant life in the area.
Of course, a visit to Antarctica wouldn't be complete without seeing penguins. Through three excursions to land each day over four days, Dohms saw many groups of penguins. However cute the flightless birds might be, visitors are told to keep at least 15 feet away from the birds. Dohms said all visitors to Antarctica are to not take anything or leave anything behind and have minimal interaction with the wildlife.
"That's kind of tough, since the penguins will walk right up to you. They're curious little creatures," Dohms said.
Amongst the wildlife and pristine landscape stood a single building. In Port Lockroy, a research station operated by the United Kingdom housed just five people. The station also had a museum and gift shop at the Bransfield House, which is where Dohms had his passport stamped. Aside from the four researchers and one person working on a documentary about penguins, Dohms said he and others on the trip saw no other signs of civilization.
The voyage kept travelers busy. However, their time in Antarctica quickly came to an end. Dohms compared the amount of Antarctica he saw to visiting the continental U.S. and only walking around Long Island. Still, Dohms said it was worth the trip just to see the amazing landscapes of the continent. He had plenty of time to enjoy it as the sun was up for about 21 hours each day.
"I could get up on my balcony at 2 a.m. and take pictures because it was still light enough," Dohms said. "We went on a couple of 11 p.m. hikes with nice daylight and beautiful colors in the sky."
The return trip was much easier through the Drake Passage, with only about eight hours of rough seas for Dohms and other visitors. Even though it wasn't easy, Dohms said the trip was worth it to say he's stepped foot on every continent.
Dohms is planning to discuss his trip at the Friends of the Library annual meeting. The event will be hosted Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the Kendall Young Library meeting room in Webster City.