Historic British Antarctica

Since I spent most of my time traveling with the Royal Navy it seems fitting that my last post should highlight some British Antarctic history.   The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and its predecessor Falkland Islands Dependency Survey (FIDS)  have been operating in Antarctic waters since the dawn of time- or at least since the 1950’s.    I got to visit a few sites of historic importance

Then aboard the Hanseatic I saw Wordie House and Vernadsky Station.   Vernadsky is now run by the Ukrainian National Program,  but it was built by the British Antarctic Survey as  Faraday  Station.   Visiting with a tour operator was a bit different.  We had 10 minutes to see Wordie house  and we had to get in an orderly line to do so.  I couldn’t get a picture of the outside, but it looks like Port Lockroy,  black building  with red trim.  It had all the luxuries of 1950’s Britain (including something approximating indoor plumbing- not pictured) and…

So that is my trip in a nutshell.  I have been gone only 3 weeks  but it seems ages since I have seen Andrew and the cats.   I have had a wonderful time, but I am ready for the comforts of home!

Lemaire and back again (and again)

The Lemaire Chanel is one of those postcard perfect places in the Antarctic.  Clear blue skies and majestic icebergs reflect in mirror-calm water framed by steep glacially cut mountains.   I had three chances to experience the wonder of the Lemaire…and all three times it rained and fogged- there went the postcards.  Even still, it was impressive..and on the third attempt I finally saw the  fog magically reflected Winking smile

So my first pass through the Lemaire  was to get my group to Peterman Island  and to drop off a team of researchers further south at Green Island.  The Lemaire was just choked  with icebergs!

Once through the foggy and berg packed Lemaire it was on to Green Island

Then it was a quick trip to Petermann Island for more penguins and glacial scenery…I mean work,  yes definitely  work.

Hopefully, in some future year,  a will get a fourth chance to see the Lemaire at its best.  Even in the rain and the chop and the fog it was a surreal experience.

Cuverville, Danco and two Ornes, oh my!

I wish I had Antarctic stomping grounds,  and  if I did  they would be near Cuverville Island. One of the folks I was travelling with  had camped  for 3 summers in a row (4 months at time)  on Cuverville Island.   The idea definitely  appealed.  Cuverville is a lovely island, with snow banks perfect for bum-sliding down, a raucous penguin  colony,  and gorgeous  glacial scenery.  And  It is surrounded by several equally lovely sites.


Orne harbor, annoyingly, is not on Orne island. It can be found at a neighboring island. Both Ornes were spectacular and receive surprisingly few visits.

Orne Island is one of my favorite places we visited.  There are no nasty steep hills.  There are heaps of chinstraps breeding (very successfully  on rocky outcrops) and there is heaps of snow for people to walk on, or sit and peacefully watch penguins from.   I did a lot of sitting peacefully, and little photo taking. The site was a true delight and it is rarely visited by cruise ships.

Hannah Point

Hannah point is so very special because it is jam packed filled with animals.  There are so many penguins  that some areas are completely impassable to humans.  There were piles of seals  and loads of nesting giant petrels (a notoriously shy species).   Hannah Point raises some interesting discussions.   The internationally agreed guidance for tourists/visitors in the Antarctic is to keep  a precautionary distance of 5 meters  (15 feet) from the animals.    At Hannah point this just isn’t possible .  When tourists first started coming to Hannah point there were fewer penguins and more room,  but lately  the gentoos have been expanding. So the question is should the guidance be amended or should visits to Hannah point be further restricted or ended?

So that was Hannah point in a nut shell.   It was great seeing so many different species in one place,  but it sure felt crowded!

Irresistible Brown Bluff

I went to the most amazing place.  Brown Bluff is on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula proper  ( that makes this a continental landing).  It is famed for soaring brown cliffs and one of the northern most  colonies of Adelie penguins. Adelies are climate change losers and there northern colonies tend to be shrinking with rising temperatures and increased rain.  Brown Bluff is a favored spot  for tour ships due to the dramatic scenery and idyllic Antarctic Sound surrounding it.  This year the ice conditions have been challenging, blocking many of the ships from reaching Brown Bluff (or even entering the Antarctic Sound).

The crew of the HMS Protector  really liked the idea of a British ship helping a Norwegian  ship get  somewhere in the ice….the 100 year old rivalry of Scott and Amundsen is still alive and strong.   The crew delighted in informing the Fram that we are a proper ice breaker  and offered to  guide the Fram safely into Brown Bluff.   Since it was such a spectacular day, the Fram accepted immediately.

It took a rather long time to get out of the ice.  The Fram got stuck and we had to go  “cut” her out.  That involved going at a fairly good clip though the ice towards her  and then doing what can only be described as a  “hockey stop turn”.  The Captain  rapidly swung the ship around so that our stern passed within 60 yards of the Fram’s bow.  Thankfully  he waited until after the move had been successfully completed (on the first attempt) to tell us that he has never done that move outside of  a simulator training class he took two years ago!  I was really glad that they had practiced close maneuvers our first day at sea!

At a loss for moss

We went to Barientos Island in the Aitcho Islands.   Barientos is a favored tourist spot because it has breeding chinstrap and gentoo penguins AND a lovely walk  through the center of the island.  The trail is supposed to weave its way around moss banks and other vegetation.  However, in the past few years the trail has become so eroded that it has  been closed to prevent further damage.  We met up with some Ecuadorian scientists so they could explain the site and its issues to us.

The gentoos at Barientos were doing well.  Gentoos seem to be climate change winners.  Their colonies are expanding  and they are colonizing new areas.

Sadly, the moss and the trail were having a lie-in under the snow; we couldn’t actually look at the moss and the erosion.  We are going to have to wait for an update from our Ecuadorian friends after the snow has melted.