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South of Sixty Paperback – June 20, 2006
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This is a very readable account of a young man's experience...He describes with great sensitivity the work... --Keith Holmes, March 10, 2006
Mike Warr vividly captures the excitement...felt on going to spend two years in Antarctica, serving on remote bases. --Cliff Pearce, March 17, 2006
South of Sixty...is the lively story of two years spent...at British bases...beginning in 1963, interestingly contrasted with his tourist jounrey to the same area in 2005. --Jeff Rubin, January 2007, The Polar Times
From the Inside Flap
The men made their own entertainment. They had to get on with each other, as they were isolated for eight months at a time until the relief ship could get through the sea ice. The experience left an indelible memory on all who lived in the Antarctic. South of Sixty describes this life, and contrasts it with the changes in present-day Antarctica. the lead dog whipped around, and the whole team raced off, without the driver, towards the ice cliffs that plunged forty feet into the cold sea. This is a very readable account of a young mans experience of two years working as a meteorologist in Antarctica for the British Antarctic Survey in the 1960s. He describes with great sensitivity the work and atmosphere at these stations and how much the experience meant to him. This excellent book will be much appreciated by the many tourists who now visit Deception Island and the Antarctic Peninsula each year - Keith Holmes, British Antarctic Survey geologist, 1964 to 1967 and BAS Club Membership Secretary. Mike Warr vividly captures the excitement felt on going to spend two years in Antarctica, serving on remote bases. This is a good read! - Cliff Pearce F.R.G.S., spent two years living in the Antarctic and is the author of The Silent Sound, (2004).
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The author returned after 30 years on a cruise and is nostalgic of the sights and recounts his work. There are some great photographs of the region too, which aren't often seen in other books about the continent. Most contemporary writing concentrates on the McMurdo area and the South Pole and this is a refreshing change.
I recently read Charles Darwin's famed "Voyage of the Beagle," and while Warr's account of his adventures is modest compared to that masterpiece, it is nonetheless similar in some respects. They went to some of the same places, Montevideo and the Falkland Islands, for example; and while Warr didn't circumnavigate the globe, he did get a lot colder than Darwin even did! And both men transcribed their notes some years after the event. There is a certain charm in such narratives perhaps because the writer gets to look back at the life of a younger man who was himself.
The further similarity that struck me was the love of learning and exploring that both men share. Like Darwin, Warr observes the flora and fauna and takes a delight in what he sees. His interaction with the huskies that pull the sledges, full of warmth and understanding, was one of the highlights of the book. Here's an example of Warr's clean, crisp prose:
"In May 1958 three men from the Horseshoe Island base sledged west to the Dions. They were not seen again. Nine of their fourteen huskies made their way back to the Horseshoe Island and the Stonington Island area. The dogs had traveled east for thirty miles over broken sea ice. One of the men, to give the dogs a chance at surviving, had cut their traces." (pp. 111-112)
Whenever I read a memoir I can't help but read between the lines, asking myself, what kind of person is the author? What does he think of himself? How candid is he? How much or how little does he try to make himself look good? The magic of this book is that Warr doesn't attempt to make himself out in any way. He lets the words of the 20-year-old that he once was speak for themselves. What comes through is an earnest, likeable, and talented young man learning about the world. His interactions with the other "Fids" at the two bases suggest a young man eager to learn from others and eager to take his place in that unique world of men, a world that was in some respects like being in the army or in the French Foreign Legion or even in prison! Warr adapted so well that when it came time to leave after two years of virtual isolation, he was a bit sorry to go and even wanted to stay longer. Personally I think I would be rabid with cabin fever.
Warr describes the penguins, the seals, the flying birds and the few other bits of wild life that he encounters in a way that makes them vibrant. His descriptions of breaking up fights between the huskies, of feeding them and sledging with them read like something from Jack London. There is a sense of being one with the dogs, of sharing their short, harsh existence, and learning from them, that reminds me of the best in nature writing. His observations about the seals reminded me of an experience I had with a friend a few years ago. We think of seals as being basically harmless since we usually meet them on land or see them from ships. But Warr mentions that one of the men living in the Antarctic was actually drowned by a leopard seal. I can believe this because my friend and I had hopped out onto a kind of natural rock pier north of Ft. Bragg, California, and while standing there with the waves splashing by us as they hit the rocks, we spotted a couple of animals in the water. One of them got closer and then so close that we could see it was a male elephant seal who was eyeing us strangely, like maybe we were something to eat! Because we were out on the low lying rocks it was like being in the water with the seal. For a moment I realized that, had we actually been in the water, perhaps the seal would have bitten us, or--surprising technique--tried to drown us!
Warr ends the book with a return to the Antarctic as a tourist and sees how things have changed. Women are now working there along with the men. They have snowmobiles and other modern equipment, and the dogs are no longer used to pull sledges. Trash is no longer just dumped into the sea or crevasses. There's email and the Internet, and clear evidence of global warming as the ice has receded noticeably. Warr looked at the changes that have taken place and realized that you can return, but it will never be the same. He notes though that there are more of the protected fur seals now.
There are a couple of small maps in the book, a brief bibliography, and 16 color photos, some taken back in the sixties and some from 2005. Here's another beautifully written passage from Warr:
"Saki, grey around the muzzle, got more arthritic as the winter progressed. Sometimes it was too painful for him to have his harness removed, and he had difficulty keeping up with the team.... It was decided to put him down. Jim offered to do it, but I felt it was my job. One morning in late October I led Saki up the edge of Neptunes Window overlooking Bransfield Strait. Cathedral Crags loomed up either side of the narrow gap, and a sheer drop fell to the sea below. I fired the .45. Saki whimpered as I grazed him. The next bullet killed him. I removed his wrinkled collar, and pushed him over the edge. I walked back to the base with tears in my eyes." (p. 76)