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January 2003 trip to the Antarctic

Part 2 of this story left us on the islands of South Shetland ready to cross to the mainland of Antarctica ...

3. The White Continent

Before we left Half Moon Island the cloud lifted and we could see Arctowski Peninsula, part of the main land. We navigated the Errera Channel on our way to our next port of call seeing Leopard and Weddel Seals resting on the ice floes. Of course the icebergs have had penguins jumping on and off them for the last couple of days - the penguins and seals regard the icebergs as their cruise ships!. Once across the entrance of Andvord Bay we saw another ship, the Marco Polo, as we passed close to Waterboat Point where the early explorers were able to go ashore to collect snow to melt for drinking-water; it is now the site of the Chilean base of Gonzales Videla.

Paradise Bay

Mid afternoon we arrived at Almirante Brown Station at Paradise Bay which is on the actual continent of Antarctica. This is now Argentinean owned, although they seem to have abandoned it due to lack of funds. The sight that greeted us was wonderful; snow, and lots of it, on the ground. This is what most people think Antarctica is like, however this is the first ground covering of snow we had seen. The other landings had been on pebbles and rocks. What fun - the first people ashore had built a snowman, and lots of other people were having snowball fights. Allan decided to walk to the top of the mountain, Debbie tried to follow but the snow was so deep she took one step forward and two back, eventually falling flat on her face!  Defeated she went back to the landing site and watched the penguins and the Minke whale in the bay. Allan succeeded and took some wonderful photos of the view from the top. Coming down was a lot quicker - a path, rather like the Cresta run, had been made - you sat down and were soon at the bottom! Altogether it was a most enjoyable time ashore, followed by the most spectacular sunset we’ve ever seen.

 

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A seal goes cruising on an iceberg
The spectacular Errera Channel
Forcing a way through the ice in the narrows of the Errera Channel
The only time we met another ship (the Marco Polo) near Waterboat Point
Debbie enjoying the snow at Almirante Brown Station
Debbie not enjoying the snow quite so much at Almirante Brown Station
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The mountain next to Almirante Brown Station
Magnificent view of the ship, seen from the top of the mountain
A seal sunbathing on an iceberg in Paradise Bay
Paradise bay - just before sunset
Paradise Bay - the sun is setting (an hour after the previous picture)
Paradise Bay - sunset (5 minutes after the previous picture)

Port Lockroy

Delivering the mail

Wednesday was a special day for us. We were to be postmen! One of Allan’s work colleagues had a sister-in-law, Amanda, who worked for the British Antarctic Service at Port Lockroy, so we had been given a letter to deliver to her. Before we reached Port Lockroy during the afternoon we navigated the Lemaire Channel, a most spectacular channel which is very narrow with mountains of ice and snow menacing the passage. It is indescribable, and photos don’t do it justice, but the memory lasts forever. Once safely through the channel we crossed the Lemaire to reach Petermann Island, the southernmost point of our trip. We landed at Port Circumcision and wandered around the Gentoo and Adelie Penguin rookeries. We also met Vladimir, a Ukrainian researcher, working on this island; he stays alone there all the year round, being completely cut off for more than 6 months of the year, and is pleased to see any company!

 

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Approaching the icy Lemaire Channel
Lemaire channel - Glacial ice gives it a ghostly blue colour
The penguins are very friendly on Petermann Island
They don't see many visitors on Petermann Island so the penguins are keen to pose for photos
A very sleepy seal on Petermann Island
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The small hut on Petermann Island
Inside the small hut on Petermann Island. Imagine being cut off here for 6 months
It's easy to track the  penguins are on Petermann Island. They find it quicker to lay down and slide
Returning to the ship on the Rigid Inflatable Boat
Wonderful colours in the ice as we approach Port Lockroy

The research site

Soon we were back on the ship for lunch while navigating to Port Lockroy. This is the site of the Antarctic Heritage Trust museum of Base A. It had been established during WW2, as a deterrent to enemy submarines – originally intended to be many miles further south, packed ice had prevented the ships reaching their destination and it had been assembled here at the furthest point they could reach. After the war it continued as a research base, and it was from here that they found the hole in the ozone layer! Port Lockroy - a small island - is the home to Peter, Amanda and a small colony of Gentoo Penguins. When the British abandoned the base in the 70’s the Penguins took over so when the Base was resurrected in the mid-90’s as a living museum to the life of the early Antarctic Explorers the Penguins did not understand and carried on laying eggs under the steps and even, if doors were left open, in the bike shed!  Port Lockroy is the world’s most southerly British post office, selling special stamps for post cards which can be posted in the red mail box. All our passports were taken ashore to have a special stamp in them - again rare but what a memento of the holiday. When we told the crew we had to deliver a letter to Amanda they let us go ashore on the first boat, and told us we could come back on the last one.

 

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Approaching Port Lockroy
Landing at Port Lockroy
There are penguins everywhere at Port Lockroy
Teatime
Debbie has an interesting conversation with a penguin chick
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Water was rationed; the person who gathered the snow would be allowed to have a bath. When there were 9 people at the base this meant one bath every 9 days.
Port Lockroy kitchen
The radio room - the only link with the rest of the world
This detection apparatus discovered the hole in the Ozone Layer
The comforts of the lounge at Port Lockroy - a stove and a wind-up gramophone

We had another delightful surprise awaiting us at dinner that evening. Amanda and Peter always come aboard the visiting cruise ship for a decent meal and use of showers etc, so we were invited to join Amanda, Peter and a number of the specialists for dinner. Before we sailed we said “goodbye” to Amanda who gave us a letter to take back to her sister in Liverpool!  The postcards we sent from Port Lockroy, via a supply ship and flight to the UK via the Falklands arrived before the letter we brought home! What a wonderful place to see the Penguins; there is definitely no way you can stay the regulation 15 feet away from them!

A sauna on Deception Island

Overnight we cruised through the Neumayer Channel and Gerlache Strait heading for our next, and last, port of call in Antarctica: Whaler’s Bay at Deception Island. Deception Island is an active volcano: the last time it erupted was in the 1960’s. The entrance is very narrow and known as Neptune’s Bellows, but when you cruise through the gap you enter an “inland” lake in the crater of the volcano. The ground is covered with black volcanic dust which is very difficult to walk on - rather like soft sand, but the quarter mile walk to the heights of Neptune’s Window was well worth the struggle. The volcano is still very active, so that if you dig a hole in the volcanic sand it will fill with hot water. Some hardy (maybe foolhardy) passengers wallowed in the warm pool then rushed into the freezing sea!  All were rewarded with glasses of Norwegian Aquavit. There is also a derelict Whaling station on the island which attracts a colony of penguins. Being the opposite end of the bay to Neptune’s Window there wasn’t time to visit both places unfortunately.

 

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The captain finds the hidden entrance to Deception Island (Neptune's Passage)
The remains of the survey station after the 1960's eruption
The remains of the survey station after the 1960's eruption
The remains of a whaler's boat after a much earlier eruption
The ship inside Deception Island
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Allan takes a paddle in the hot pool
Allan takes a paddle in the icy seawater
A couple of Norwegians take a dip in the hot pool
Soon they're all stripping off in the sub-zero temperatures
After the hot pool - the icy sea

We returned to the ship knowing that the next time we land it will be on the main land of South America. Now read about our return to Patagonia and the Chilean mainland and the beautiful Chilean fjords (with even MORE pictures) .....

 

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