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HERE to read about these totally UNIQUE
Millennium covers I created in Antarctica..
for the New Millennium!
Firstly, a Happy Millennium to all clients! Hope you and yours had a truly wonderful and memorable Christmas and New Year! Regular clients know I am a pretty keen traveler, and have been fortunate to have visited about 100 countries around the globe, many of them several times. Still get a huge adrenaline buzz from visiting new places, and seeing new faces and lands. One thing I've done for about 20 years is to spend Christmas Day and New Year's Eve somewhere especially unusual each year. Both in a different country is the usual itinerary. It is amazing how clearly you REMEMBER those dates when somewhere quite unique. These trip notes to clients have become a tradition now and hope you may enjoy this set!
For the end of the 20th Century I really wanted to organise something pretty different, and go to somewhere never previously traveled, which after a while is harder than it sounds. I decided upon a Russian ice breaker deep in the waters of Antarctica. That is absolutely as far away from civilisation as you can get! A very big place - which many do not realise is larger than the USA and Europe combined. I did not take the "short" route - this trip covered 32,000 miles via 16 flights through Canada, USA, Brazil and Argentina - (over 50,000 km) plus a couple of weeks cruising.
Next stop Calgary Canada, and met at airport there by Peter and Mandy Smith. Pete is the police reporter for the Calgary Sun and writes a great weekly stamp column there. He has the world's largest VANUATU stamp collection - I saw it last visit - amazing! Mandy runs a thematic stamp business. Off by van with them for a stay at Chateau Lake Louise for a few nights - one of the most beautifully sited hotels in the world. In summer when I last saw it, lake was a stunning milky moraine blue-green. This time was frozen right over - even went on a horse drawn sleigh ride over the top of it! This is a popular Ski area, and interestingly was a LOT colder than any day in Antarctica actually. Not what you'd think in advance!
|Stunning Winter wonderland at sunset just before Christmas near Banff in Canada - note the hand made ice wall!|
Then a stay at the equally superbly located Banff Springs Lodge
Hotel also in the Alberta Rockies. In winter, just magic - surrounded by
snow laden fir trees. Back to Calgary for the flight to Washington DC, and a bit
of sightseeing there - years since I had done that, and BOY were they getting
the town ready for a massive NYE celebration. Had a nice lunch with a very good
client whilst in town, who I also caught up with last year. From Washington to
Miami, then to Buenos Aires Argentina, a 14 hour flight sequence,
arriving very early morning. Crossed the town to domestic airport, and a flight
up to IGUASSU airport, and a short trip over to the Brazilian side for Christmas
Day. To all Aussies - the Brazilian consulate in Sydney charge $A90 p.p. for a
visa, and are the rudest, most arrogant and most difficult embassy I have
ever encountered. UTTER CREEPS! So there.
|Christmas Day at Iguassu Falls. Brazilian side shown here. Argentine side is more spectacular.|
Got into one of those jet ski boats on the Argentina side, which zooms one RIGHT into the mists of a big fall - very exciting - and WET, and NO visa needed for Aussies over there! From Iguassu Falls another domestic flight on the quite hopeless Aerolineas Argentinas back to Buenos Aires for a few days. There are TWO downtown stamp arcades largely full of stamp dealers - a world first I imagine. High rents have seen to that - Sydney now has for instance ONE such street level dealer. These shops have a huge array of material. A local collector friend set up a few nice deals for me. One shop sold me a bunch of scarce GB 1960s FDC - another had good Aust. States hi-vals. However, all stamps for some reason are sold by the French published YVERT & TELLIER catalogue, and dealers ask for, and get, "full cat" for most things. Worse still is that the Argentine Peso has been literally pegged 1=1 to the $US for nearly 10 years. Everything there thus costs a FORTUNE, to both locals and visitors. For example, domestic letter post is US 75¢, and a postcard to Australia is $1.50 = $A2.25. A one page fax from the Sheraton B.A. cost me $A20 (twice!) etc.
|The Argentine Post Office's lowest
paid employee! If only they knew WHAT I was cancelling here!
FIVE different countries' stamps on one cover.
The "Vavilov" then set to sea for 2 weeks with about 60 paying passengers (and BOY did we pay - they thought of a price and doubled it for this Millennium expedition!) with more than 60 crew and staff. There are 6 large rubber "Zodiacs" on deck. The entire 60 could be landed or mobile in 10 minutes or so if needed. I had a radio, video, TV and CD player in my suite, but NO TV or radio was accessible whilst at sea. I also had a huge fridge loaded with booze so the time passed smoothly enough! Imagine 2 weeks where not ONE news report from "civilisation" reached you! No inkling of NYE events worldwide, hostage dramas or cricket scores. Eerie stuff for a "news junkie" like me! Many people advise they tried to phone on NYE, but the on-board satellite phone just did not respond they tell me. Colleague Michael Eastick did manage to get a fax through on December 31st saying "What Is Big And White And Goes "Glug, Glug, Glug"? Answer: Your Ice Breaker When The Y2K Bug Hits." The non-Ozzies on board did not understand the Eastick sense of humour! I swear the surname of our Russian Captain was KALASHNIKOV, so I did chuckle at that.
Firstly, 2 days or so at sea across the infamous Drake Passage, where turbulent Atlantic meets Pacific Oceans, and we passed right by the treacherous Cape Horn. Bolt down ALL loose items in the cabin here folks. MANY green faces at meal times! Then our first sight of land and ice, to much excitement. We had reached the Antarctic peninsula's outer islands, and the adventure of a lifetime REALLY had now begun.
The amount of wildlife you see and visit as you go further South is quite astounding. Not only sea birds like the various Albatross and Petrels, but Cormorants and many Skuas (hiss, boo), and a few Penguins. Make that about 100,000 Penguins! We visited Adelie, Gentoo, Macaroni and (my favourite - ) the Chinstrap varieties, often in huge colonies, each and every day (up to 3 times a day) in different locations and Zodiac landings.
|The stunning looking "Macaroni" penguin, with chick, in a rookery of "Chinstraps."|
To me, the Penguins just "made" Antarctica. Not just due to their massive numbers, but their total disregard and lack of fear for man is wonderful. They walk by you, and at you. Some even follow you like wobbly upright puppy dogs. You walk among their nesting rookeries and they are not fussed. Many of their rookeries were on heavily snowed over positions, and often way up hill sides/rockfaces. Humans sunk to their knees in powder snow each step. Yet 1,000s of penguins waddle and wiggle past you to and from the sea. They hop rocks, and obstacles like snoozing Elephant seals! They climb up hills. Their comic tuxedo clad ungainly waddling & tobogganing has you laughing day after day. Nature is amazing.
Sitting a meter or two from a penguin colony quietly observing for 30 minutes or so is fascinating. Coming, going, angrily baying, pecking, courting, coupling, always stealing nest rocks from each other, or spraying the neighbours (and often tourists!) with voluminous lethal "jet blasts" of liquid pink krill excrement is a memory I'll never forget. Or the SMELL...phew! Chicks were hatching, feeding, and squawking everywhere. The tiny new ones, and the older ones the size of their parents, who comically try and sit on them still. Many had one squirming huge chick to "sit" on, as well as a fertile egg to hatch as well. All this on a "nest" of frozen small rocks. The nasty big brown Skua birds are constantly stealing eggs and chicks from the fringes. Life goes on as it has for eternity here. Classic "survival of the fittest" stuff.
We saw of course more icebergs than I have had hot breakfasts! A few hours zipping around the perfectly named Paradise Bay was stupendous. Huge bergs "calving" off massive glaciers on all sides. The Bay was filled with big and bigger chunks of ice and small bergs, and these thick rubber Zodiacs just zoomed right through it all. I really was expecting a puncture, or LOTS of punctures. One did get damaged, but they have 8 or so compartments, so HOPEFULLY you will live to tell the tale, as in this water, you DIE in 2 minutes whilst in the frigid water!
Lots of seals also seen - Weddells, Leopards, crab eaters, fur seal and huge Elephant seals. Also not bothered by man, and calmly wallow and belch on beaches or ice floes, and barely even open an eye at you even when meters away. Dolphins of course, and whales too - Minkes, one type I forget the name of, and Hump backs but usually only fleeting encounters. Except one. Picture this scenario - it is 100% true. New Year's Eve, about 8pm. Bright sunlight. Passengers all into, or getting into, NYE party gear. The P.A. system from Bridge announces two hump backs sighted off 300 meters away at 11 o'clock. Zodiacs are launched. Tiaras and Tuxedoes hurriedly exchanged for lifevests and Parkas and off we skimmed.
|The evening of NYE. What a way to see
off the last Century!
These huge guys were only meters away and just played!
Humpback whales usually disappear from close human encounters. Not these two! They literally played for an hour with the six Zodiacs. Constantly deep diving and re-appearing only meters from the tiny boats, "blowing" huge spouts in the process. Then diving in unison with those massive tail flukes gracefully gliding under the surface - sheer magic. Time and time again - meters away. An end of century Ballet none of us on that vessel will EVER forget. A few 1,000 rolls of Kodak later we reboarded - like 60 excited, chattering school kids. Still was bright sunlight.
(At the Antarctic circle, sunset was officially 1.25 am and sunrise 1.45 am. And twilight in between. True! Nearly 100% daylight when that far south.)
|Midnight with Roz on boat deck at the
turn of the Centuries.
Note the almost full light outside. Sun did not set until 1.25am and sunrise was 1.45am!
And what a NYE party it was after that. Superb dinner prepared by the Austrian/German chefs. Special German champagne with 100s actual 24K gold flakes in each bottle. Chilled by bluish chinks of 10,000 year old glacial ice. The boat broke out bottles of Möet for us at midnight. After dinner, out on the rear deck for an all night disco etc. At midnight of course, it was almost full light. BIZARRE! An amazing experience. And superb weather for the whole trip. Often chilly, but generally not terribly cold - shirt sleeves often on the decks. New Year's Day held a further surprise for me. A totally unscheduled visit to Port Lockroy, a genuine working base of the British Antarctic Territory. They have a quaint historic wooden building with a dog sled tethered outside. Snow everywhere. Union Jack fluttering and 100's of Gentoo Penguins nesting right up to all four walls. And a big shiny "Royal Mail" sign. I have the photos! The place was just like a film set for a Shakeleton or Amundsen movie!
There is a tiny room in the Port Lockroy hut which is designated as an official British Antarctic Territory Post Office! Rod Downie was dressed in full kilt, sporran, and black frock coat - a trifle overdressed perhaps? Not to be outdone, I had on my life-preserver from the Zodiac rubber boat! I could not believe my luck. New Year's Day, in Antarctica, and here was a P.O. open - a British Antarctic Territory (B.A.T.) one at that! The 1st mail of the 21st century, when literally few other P.O.'s anywhere in the WORLD were open on a public holiday and a Saturday. YES, I franked all my 100 special ice breaker covers with B.A.T. stamps and PERSONALLY, with special permission, cancelled them all "01-01-00 Port Lockroy - BAT" with the tiny steel CDS that looked like it was 50 years old. See the photo of me doing this above.
Our ship arrived mid evening 1/1/00, (despite the full sunshine) just as these guys were closing down to go sleep. All the tourist mail lodged by our passengers they processed the NEXT day, with "02-01-00" - they told me my 100 were the ONLY mail items cancelled on that day with that day's postmark - hence their huge philatelic desirability. A magic day. I presented a signed cover to each staffer who in turn posed for photos in their tiny P.O. (See above)
THE ultimate Antarctic or even general stamp souvenir cover, cancelled in person during TWO centuries from two exotic places. The front and reverse of this special cover is shown nearby. Click on them if you'd like to see MUCH larger and more detailed views of all the handstamps and cachets and cancels! Also NOTE: - A multi-line handstamp was added to back flap outlining the unique position these covers have in Antarctic philatelic history - first carried across Antarctic circle, and first to land on Antarctica this century, etc - click blow-up of cover to see wording on that. Cover number #1 is $A200 if anyone wants to ask for it specially! These illustrated covers are just $A100 each - and lower prices for quantity for dealer or re-sellers etc. They were the ONLY mail cancelled in the Antarctic on January 1, 2001. Just 100 numbered copies exist - that is it.
NOTE: - The basic envelope used was an OFFICIAL Australia Post "Planet Ocean" unserviced cover, that a colleague ran through his laser printer with the front side multi-colour cachet of the ice-vessel I was travelling on. The amount of preparatory work behind getting these covers created was immense. I needed to have all the red and green rubber stamps made BEFORE I left Australia, and take inkpads. Have artwork created for the covers, and have them all printed here on blank Australia post basic covers, which had to be pre-ordered.
I needed to buy the new just-issued Australian hologram stamps, source the old 1983 AAT wildlife stamps and take them all with me, and then source the decades old Argentina Antarctic 1000 peso map stamps, which was not easy for 100 mint copies, and cost me $$s each. And then find 100 mint copies of the Tierra Del Fuego "Popper" stamps from 1890 was a near impossibility, and took me 2 months. These cost me $A50 each on average, so at $A100 a cover, when you look at it, they are not expensive! Not when the airline and cruise tickets ran to near $20,000 a person for this NYE cruise.
(I later visited a Ukrainian scientific hut, run by Vernadsky Base, previously a British Antarctic Base named Faraday, and produced only 10 numbered special pictorial covers from that visit as shown below - $A65 each. Number #1 is $A125. Click HERE to see them.)
Click HERE to order either cover.
|( CLICK COVER TO GREATLY ENLARGE )||( CLICK COVER TO GREATLY ENLARGE )|
|Our less powerful sister ship racing
us to the Antarctic Circle. 20 miles further South
the ice was solid, and she was stuck TIGHT!
January 1st, 7am. I'd been hassling alleged expedition leader to allow an early Zodiac landing at Neko Harbour so that those who were awake or sober could be the first tourists to set foot on Antarctica this century. I was the first tourist in Zodiac #1 to land, and that then is my tiny piece of an Antarctic FIRST. Hardly Sir Ernest Shakeleton stuff, but hey it IS something! Yes, my head was VERY bleary but well worth the 7am rise. The 100 covers were with me, and had colour cancels applied at "11.59 pm - 31/12/99" and "00.01 am - 01/01/00" the night before. A further excitement was to come, also affecting these much cancelled covers. These vessels do not usually cross the Antarctic circle, as summer pack ice still extends from around Adelaide Island to the Pole. (By contrast the Ross Sea route allows ice free voyages 1,000 miles closer to the Pole.) THIS voyage was different. Not only was it the first this Millennium but the Vavilov's sister ship the R.V. Professor Multanovskiy was determined to take her passengers over the "Circle." "The Race Was On" with the two macho Russian crews competing. A few measly miles to go and we hit REAL heavy ice. Not just the usual large floes of ice, and mini bergs, but the channel was blocked SOLID with it. The thick steel ice strengthened bow just inched through it - our speed a fraction of a knot. An exciting experience to be on the bow watching us smash through that pack ice. Man against nature.
|This gives an idea of the ice
intensity. Sister ship 15 miles from the Circle.
Ice density and thickness increased many fold from here,
becoming 100% solid.
We could see the R.V Professor Multanovskiy 500 meters away. She had taken a faster heading but was now stuck tight in the ice and could not move. Stuck also, we later learned, was the British Navy re-supply vessel, the ice breaker HMS Endeavor, somewhere behind us. We literally inched forward. The on board Global Positioning System (GPS) crept closer and closer to the magic 66º.33S - 67º29W and a huge roar went up at 11.43am from passengers and crew- most of whom had also never crossed the Circle! Free booze broken out on deck. Our foghorn symphony scaring the heck out of every penguin and elephant seal for 20 miles. I was right on the point of the bow at 66º.33 holding a fellow travellers portable GPS so was technically the very first person to cross the Antarctic Circle this century. Very exciting stuff. All in bright sunshine. Several passengers were out in shorts and bare chested - incredible weather. Weather on nearly every day was thus, and I was often wearing only a thin shirt clamouring around penguin rookeries in meter deep snow in gum boots. Ive been far colder in Sydney than many of those days in Antarctica.
|The writer welcoming in the new Century at Neko Harbour, sitting on an ice floe at 7am 1/1/00.|
We then needed to go back and free the stricken Professor Multanovskiy. Captain put our engines on full power - we chewed up more fuel that hour than the other 14 days combined, and bore down on the frozen vessel through the pack ice and broke an ice lead it could enter and follow. Much despair on that boat - this was real adventure on the High Seas. So, my envelopes also bear a handstamp stating they are the FIRST stamp covers to cross Antarctic circle this new century and of course are the last of the 20th. Visited the South Shetland Islands for the following swimming in the frozen water madness.
|The historic crossing of the Antarctic
Circle, January 3rd.
Short pants and T-shirts on deck,
but solid pack ice for MILES!
NEWS FLASH: The Vernadsky Base Pictorial Cover...ONLY 20 Made!
The same day (January 3rd 2000) that our ice breaker vessel (the very catchily named R.V. Akademik Sergei Vavilov) crossed the Antarctic Circle, this cover was produced. We later visited a Ukrainian scientific hut, run by Vernadsky Base and I produced 20 only numbered special pictorial covers from that visit. 10 for a colleague, and TEN only for my clients, (mine numbered 001-010) and mine were the ONLY ones backstamped in Argentina at Isla Redonda, Tierra Del Fuego ..."The Last Post Office On Earth" as their cancel says. It is true...this is THE most Southern P.O. on the globe, and manned only a few hours a day, on an otherwise uninhabited island, to service a small coast guard station. Each of my ten covers also has a superb 4 colour "Millennium" sticker not used on any other cover by ANY other person. Unique. Both sides of my cover are shown here.
These covers were thus created, hand numbered, and hand signed by me on January 3rd, the very FIRST day ANY philatelic mail crossed the Antarctic circle this century. Quite a first. Each cover comes complete with a copy of my Certificate issued by the ship Captain, Alxandr KALASHNIKOV which is also illustrated here, in full colour (Click HERE to see it. Also verifies our ice breaker needed to go rescue the R.V. Professor Multanovskiy ice breaker which was absolutely stuck in the heavy pack ice nearby - on same day, January 3rd.
Price $A65 (=$US39) per cover, for number #2 through #10. Cover #1 is $A125. All credit cards accepted. Cover is franked with Argentina stamp and Australian Antarctic Territory stamp, depicting local fauna. There are various ship cachets in colour, and the cover cachet design is in three colours.
A lovely piece of Antarctic history, personally signed and numbered!
TEN copies only, so contact me TODAY! They will sellFAST. Click HERE to order.
|All these Gentoo Penguins nesting
around remote Vernadsky Base claim to have
Ukrainian Visas, and have all opted out of national service!
|The writer (center) basking in snow fed Antarctic waters, mostly 2ºC at Whaler's Bay.|
All too soon we berthed back at Ushuaia. I found and visited the tiny
P.O. on uninhabited Islas Redonda (Round Island) in Tierra Del Fuego National Park. It
serves a nearby coast guard station. Their cancel says it is THE most Southern P.O.
in the world. Guess what the 10 Veranadksy covers got backstamped with! Better
still, I bought 100 of the 1891 10c "Popper" stamp - look it up in SG - Tierra
Del Fuego - S.G. #1! A "Complete Country" in 1 stamp. Each of the 100 special
Millenium covers bears this legendary gold dust denominated stamp personally cancelled in
TDF. All along with Argentine Antarctic, Australian Antarctic, Australian, British
Antarctic and Argentina stamps and heaps of handstamps and colour cachets, all hand
numbered by myself - what a piece. Early 20th Century Antarctic covers - totally
philatelic usually, regularly sell for $A1,000s each, so these may one day
gain a serious following!
Back home after a month away to total chaos. I had 1000s of email messages, sacks of mail, 100s of fax and phone messages. Being a "One Man Band" none of this gets touched whilst away. SLOWLY getting on top of it...apologies if yours is delayed. A Russian crewman made a 45-minute edited video of the entire trip in PAL system -- if anyone wants to borrow it please ask. A few $Zillion on my Visa card account just to hand - please spend lavishly off the new pricelist posted on my website! And do not forget the 100 hand numbered and unique covers outlined above - $A100 each, or about $US70 for a piece of history. Or, five for $A400, which is only $US280 as this is typed. Your own piece of genuine Millennium history. Each cover has the superb Australia Post MILLENNIUM stamp on it, with the moving HOLOGRAM embedded into it, that changes in the sunlight from "1999" to "2000"... I carried a supply of these on board the vessel with me to cancel IN Antarctica on 31/12/99 and 1/1/00.
Each cover more astoundingly, has a 100% genuine 1890 10c "Popper" stamp from Tierra Del Fuego - Stanley Gibbons "Number One" - in fact the ONLY stamp this place ever issued! The 10c was not 10 CENTS, but literally 10 grams of GOLD DUST required for each stamp. This 100+ year old stamp sells for $70 in fine used condition, so being on every cover is a real SCOOP. In fact other than these covers I am selling, I doubt any of these Tierra Del Fuego stamps exist on cover ANYWHERE. Even if someone went to Tierra Del Fuego and cancelled a single Popper Stamp #SG#1 on a cover this week, they'd probably sell for $A100-$150 as curios to Antarctic collectors.
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Full Time Stamp Dealer in Australia for over 25 years.
Life Member - American Stamp Dealers' Association. (New York)
Also Member - Philatelic Traders' Society. (London) ANDA. (Melbourne) American Philatelic Society, etc
"Lothlórien," No. 4 The
Tor Walk, CASTLECRAG (Sydney), N.S.W. 2068
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