Week 4 of Antarctica

Highlight for all of us:
Sunshine, vistas & history

This week has featured a nice amount of sunshine. We enjoyed some amazing views of the peninsula and the islands. We toured around, watched more wildlife and enjoyed the adventure. We even closed out the week around other people.

Tuesday we awoke to sunny and calm weather. We moved from Dorian Bay around the point to Port Lockroy. We took a dinghy adventure around the islands in the bay, walked around a bit and toured the historic Base A. It is typically manned by a couple of representatives from the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT), but this year it has been left unmanned. The UKAHT seems to have come through on Voyager or Explorer (both National Geographic ships) (or possibly the James Clark Ross, a British Antarctic ship) to open up the buildings or at least check on things. There have been some visitors to these sites from all 3 of these ships, plus some Chilean Navy visitors and a couple of sailboats. It is quite amazing that we are able to tour the sites and we are so thankful they are open. How different it must be when they have a constant stream of cruise ships! The boys were sad that they couldn't buy a souvenir in what looked to be a pretty extensive gift shop.

The historic building, Bransfield House, is latched but unlocked and we were able to tour the very interesting site at our leisure. The area (bay) was discovered in 1904 by Charcot; used by whalers from 1911-1931; and the British established it as a base in 1944. Bransfield House was built in 1944 and after WWII the site was turned over to researchers and used until 1962. It was primarily used for ionospheric research and was instrumental in understanding High Frequency (HF) radio. There was a lot of information to read, quite a few rooms to look at and a nice chance to imagine what it might have been like to spend a year or two on the peninsula at a small research base back in the 50s or 60s.

Outside of the buildings, there were more older gentoo babies who are really starting to chase the adults around for food. According to our book this is the normal way of things - the parents make them chase them for food in order for them to gain needed coordination, and they use this time to gradually orient the young closer and closer to the water where they will soon need to go in order to get their own food. To us the parents seem quite exasperated and unwilling to give them food because they are getting so big (about the size of the parents) and so demanding (not unlike constantly hungry teenage boys?). Either way, it remains quite entertaining.

Wednesday was sunny again but a bit windy with winds from the south - the direction we wanted to go. So we hung out on the boat. Around lunch time, we looked out of our window and saw another boat coming in! It was the French sailboat, Orionde. We have been in email contact and knew they were around. They also came from Puerto Williams. We both kept to our continued isolation but had a nice chat on the radio. They had come from the south so they shared information from the south and we shared information from the north.

Thursday was nice and sunny again so we got moving to take advantage of the nice day and very light winds. Orionde had already done the same and headed north. We saw some humpbacks as we left Port Lockroy, then some Sei or Fin whales in Butler Passage. Later another set of humpbacks swam right under us, and finally we saw some smaller whales or big dolphins (probably Minke whales) as we entered the Port Charcot anchorage.

This was the clearest day that we had moved around. The views to the peninsula and across the islands were incredible and extremely expansive. As the weather was so clear and nice, we went through the Lemaire Channel. WOW! It was indeed spectacular with high cliffs, mountains, glaciers and just raw, rugged beauty. It was very calm in the channel which made for a lot of ice but it was easy enough to pick through it slowly while enjoying the views. In this channel, we saw lots of penguins swimming and quite a few seals drifting around on bergy bits and growlers.

Friday was again sunny with some wind from the south. We went ashore in Port Charcot and walked quite a bit, post-holing in the snow. Well, that was largely Jon breaking ground with Megan and R largely staying in his footsteps, while D ran all around - enjoying being lighter and tending to stay on top of the snow. He did also fall through a bit, but that was fine too as it consumed some of his seemingly endless amounts of energy. We could see that the northern anchorages on Booth Island were definitely the right choice as the winds from the south had completely filled the southern anchorages with brash ice (small to medium sized pieces of ice). We also had nice views of an "iceberg graveyard" from the hill and sunny views all around. It is such a stunning place.

Also on Booth Island, we saw more gentoos and enjoyed watching them some more. There are supposed to be Chinstrap and Adélie penguins there as well and we were on a quest to find them. We saw a handful of chinstraps but are still searching for the elusive adélie. We tried to hike up to where the chinstraps might be but decided we couldn't tell and that we didn't want to disturb all the gentoo nests along the way. We retreated back to the dinghy and took an explore all around the bay. We continued to see gentoos and enjoyed the dinghy explore, but decided that we were finished looking for adélies when the seagulls repeatedly tried to dive bomb us, attempting to poop on us. The kids enjoyed that Megan squealed and got angry at them. They were letting out quite a bit of poop! Thankfully their aim was poor or at least they were not accounting for the wind in their aim so we escaped un-pooped-on.

Saturday was back to overcast, with some wind from the north. We pulled ourselves together to get moving 20nm south. We saw a lot of bergy bits, icebergs and growlers. Soon after leaving Port Charcot we passed some ice and saw some whale spouts. There were 3 humpbacks eating right around the ice. They came up in unison at one point and we didn't quite know what we were looking at until we realized we were seeing the underside of 3 mouths. The water here is very rich in krill so hopefully the humpbacks are doing well feeding this year. We are thankful that we have been so lucky to see them so well. We had a pretty easy trip south even though the sky was getting darker behind us.

We arrived in the Argentine Islands in the mid-afternoon. It is an interesting and different spot where you tuck in between a bunch of low islands. The Vernadsky (Ukrainian) Base is here and we were looking forward to saying hello and visiting Wordie House (another UKAHT site). There are two spots that we knew to anchor in: one is a tight spot that requires shore lines in a small arm off of "Stella Creek", which is really a small channel between islands (that is the preferred spot and very secure), and the other is free swinging at anchor. We sometimes have trouble getting into tight spots with our short rudder so we felt more comfortable knowing there were 2 options. Well, the easy, free swinging spot had a large flat layer of sea ice covering it (called a floe) with a couple of seals lying on it - so much for the easy option! We dropped Jon off to figure out where he could arrange shore lines. He had to do a little rock climbing, navigate some snow and steep scree to top the cliffs and find something acceptable. Meanwhile, Megan drove the boat around in somewhat tight circles, up and down the "creek" trying to figure out how to successfully deal with 20+ knot winds coming down the tight channel and the need to move from that environment into the sheltered arm with no real wind but occasional swirling gusts. An inconvenient rock narrows the entrance to the slot, and a decent sized piece of ice decided to float thru and create another obstacle. It was proving to be a challenging spot indeed. After numerous attempts, we decided to take a break. Megan had taken off her gloves because they were getting in the way of her making sharp turns so she had gotten pretty cold. Jon came back to the boat and we anchored in the "creek" where we could look at the intended spot thanks to the wind blowing us straight down the channel. It proved to be an excellent decision. Megan was able to warm herself back up with some tea and grab gloves that she could still steer hard in. Jon was able to see what she was struggling with from her perspective. He was also able to convey what he was seeing from his perspective in the slot on the dinghy. We talked over an adjusted plan a couple of times and some strategies if we continued to struggle. When we decided we were ready, we gave it another go and got right in and settled easily on the first try. It's a good reminder that sometimes we need to take that break, take a step back and reconsider how we are going about something rather than just continuing to push on - becoming frustrated or committed to a strategy that isn't quite working.

Once we were in and settled we said "hi" to the Ukrainians over the radio. We picked up a key to Wordie House and submitted an email requesting a site visit to the Vernadsky Base. In this anchorage we were very securely tucked in with wind at the top of our mast, but nothing being felt on the boat. It felt like we were back tied up in the Patagonian Fjords. It then began raining on us to further the illusion. Overnight the rain turned to snow and we awoke to 3+ inches of snow covering Zephyros Sunday morning - summer on the Antarctic Peninsula!

Sunday morning continued to be snowy, but we got going and went to Wordie House. It is another nicely preserved historic site - size-wise between Bransfield House and Damoy Hut. It was used from 1947 - 1954 for meteorological research and was typically manned by 4-5 people. We also had some fun in the snow, took a dinghy excursion through some slush (grease ice) to see some seals (crab eater, weddell and maybe a leopard or two) laying out on three different ice floes (surface layer of frozen water). There were also some impressive icebergs and growlers that had come to the top of Stella Creek which would have made our previous day's entry and numerous circles much more sporty and challenging. The afternoon became quite sunny and we enjoyed getting some things done around the boat as well as hanging out together.

Monday morning we worked on boat chores, planning and getting the rest of the fuel can diesel into Zephyros' tank. We have just over half of our fuel left so now we need to start focusing on how we will finish up our time in Antarctica. We had also arranged that we would visit the base and headed over to meet the Ukrainians in the afternoon. We had a wonderful tour of their facility and thoroughly enjoyed getting to see a glimpse of station life (it seemed quite a bit like deployment on a Navy Ship to Jon & Megan).

The station has an interesting history having been built by the British as a larger replacement for the Wordie House base in 1954, in 1977 it was renamed Faraday Station, and then in 1996 they turned it over to the Ukrainians for one British Pound. The Ukrainians have preserved much of the historic material and traditions at the base including pictures of every expedition team, visitor log books, and the English pub space. We spent the afternoon chatting, learning about their science programs and daily life, sampling a bit of their homemade vodka and then they even invited us to stay for dinner. It was a fascinating day and very special experience - we are truly grateful for their wonderful hospitality! What a way to close our fourth week in Antarctica and share a day with other people, outside of our family of four, for the first time in over a month.

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