July 22, 1898

On July 22, 1898, the crew of the RV Belgica saw its first sunrise in over 1,600 hours. They had become the first crew to successfully endure an Antarctica winter. The Belgica had been purchased by Adrien de Gerlache and converted into a research ship with the purpose of sailing to Antarctica for scientific discovery. Gerlache went on the expedition and hired Georges Lecointe as captain of the ship with a complement of 23 men as the crew. Other members of the expedition included Roald Amundsen, Henryk Arctowski, Antoni Dobrowolski, Frederick Cook and Emil Racovita, all experienced in exploring arctic areas. The ship had many mishaps along the way, losing a couple of men to desertion, and having five men dismissed for dereliction of duty as well as general incompetence. They also had one man fall overboard and be lost at sea. On March 3, 1898, the Belgica became wedge in the pack ice around Antarctica and became trapped. It quickly became apparent that Gerlache had not prepared very well for wintering during the Antarctica winter. He refused to allow the crew to eat the penguin and seal meat that had been stockpiled. Why? He hated the taste. Scurvy quickly became a problem for all. Seems he also didn’t pack away any limes or lemons because they planned on eating the penguin and seal meat. The magnetician, Emile Danco, died on June 5, because…scurvy. But the situation worsened on June 22. Nansen, the ship’s cat died. The crew felt worse about the cat dying than the magnetician dying. On July 22, when the crew finally saw the sunrise for the first time in three months, another ray of hope struck. Gerlache and Captain Lecointe became too ill to lead any more. Because…scurvy. Amundsen and Cook took over. They had the men start eating the penguin and seal meat and they all quickly recovered from the scurvy. Just think. A scientific expedition almost failed because the person leading it, didn’t want to eat his penguin or seal meat because he hated the way it tasted, and wouldn’t let anyone else eat it either.

About Joel Byers

Born in North Georgia and educated at some very fine public institutions. Real education started after graduating from college and then getting married and raising two boys. Has the ability to see the funny and absurd in most things and will always remark on it, even if it means getting the stink-eye from his victims.
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