14 February 1998

Antarctica and the Falkland Islands

January 1998

On the trip: Colin Stump, Kevin Stump
Organised by Abercrombie and Kent

18 January

Fly to Madrid and connect on to Buenos Aires on Aerolineas Argentinas. Quick transfer to Santiago, Chile. Overnight at Hyatt Regency Hotel. Total journey time about 22 hours!

19 January

LAN-Chile flight at noon from Santiago, bound for the Falkland Islands. Short refuelling stop at Puerto Montt, before heading over the high plateau of Argentina. Landed at Mount Pleasant, the British military base, as our 737 was too large for Port Stanley Airport.
One hour bus ride to Port Stanley over barren rolling terrain which featured many ‘stone rivers’ (consequence of frost heaving and shattering) and Mount Tumbledown and Harriet, which both featured prominently in the 1982 Falklands War. Many minefields seen.
Pleasant evening in Port Stanley. Kevin managed to grab a Man U game via satellite in the Upland Goose Hotel.

Christ Church Cathedral, Port Stanley 
Boarded our ship for the trip to Antarctica, the M/S Explorer, which was built in Finland in 1969 and can carry 100 passengers. The ship, an icebreaker, is to be captained by Captain Uli Demel. Small cabin with twin beds and a porthole. Safety and trip briefing, etc. then embarked at 2100 on a low swell but with a strengthening wind to force 5 as we headed west to Carcass Island, just to the north of West Falkland.

Boarding MS Explorer, Port Stanley
20 January

Cloudy start to the day, landed via Zodiacs on to Carcass Island (137 n.miles from Stanley), then a 1.8 mile nature trek over the top of the hill to the McGill family settlement where we were treated to tea and cakes in their family home.
Of note: the bedrock strata at Carcass dips at 45 degrees, and is the South American end of a tectonic arch that uplifted the strata 200m years about the time when a rift separated S America and Africa, widened, and ejected basaltic rocks that became the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. The other side of the uplifted arch is in S Africa, where strata of the same rocks would dip in the opposite direction. The centre of the arch was broken by a rift. The Falklands are geographically part of South America, the bedrock connection being under water, but have more direct geological connections with a S African coastline south of Durban.
Spotted black-crowned night herons (‘Quarks’), tussock birds, snipe, upland geese and Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. Wind walking on the ridge amongst tussock grass and ‘diddle dee’ (low shrub like heather) with red berries. Tasted wild strawberry which was rather like raspberry in flavour.

Gentoo Penguin
Sailed between West Falkland and Westpoint Island to reach New Island (42 n.miles). South American Fur Seals seen en route.
Afternoon landing on New Island, now run as a nature reserve. Landed by an old seal rendering station and walked across the island to a large penguin rookery, home to 5,000 Rockhopper penguins, a thousand black-browed albatross and many king shags, high on tussock grass covered cliffs. Air temp. 13 degrees C. Welcome dinner at anchor off New Island, before setting off at 2200 for the Drake Passage.

Rockhopper Penguin, New Island, West Falkland
Departing the Falklands for the Drake Passage
21 January

As we headed for the Drake Passage we encountered winds up to force 11 during the night, creating a very rough sea and heavy swell (13-20’). The ship rolled and pitched heavily 55 miles S.W. of West Falkland, and an easterly course was taken to avoid the roughest water. An eventful night, and Kev managed to crash into the cabin toilet, breaking it! There was a vibration heard during the night and the Captain confirmed that this had been the ship’s propeller leaving the water during the height of the storm!

Force 9 Storm on the Drake Passage
Many on board were seasick but we were both OK. Wandering, black-browed and royal albatross glided in our wake. Numerous varieties of petrel also seen, plus Chinstrap and Macaroni penguins in the water. Lectures on board included one on the Falklands conflict and another covered plate tectonics.
Air temp. 10 degrees C, overcast to cloudy skies.

22 January

By noon we were cruising the Drake Passage, 150 miles south east of Isla de los Estados, Argentina. Air temp. 7 degrees C and the water now cooling (7 degrees v. 11 degrees C at Carcass Island). Sea rather rough with icebergs starting to appear in ever greater numbers. Lectures on Falkland Island birds, seabirds of the Antarctic Peninsula, seals, glaciers and icebergs, and Shackleton’s epic adventure.

Icebergs, South Atlantic 
23 January

Now 677 n. miles from New Island. Icebergs and growlers everywhere. First landing in Antarctica on a small unnamed island in the Aitcho Islands group. Gentoo and chinstrap penguins in abundance and a first sighting of Weddell seal. Overcast skies and light snow as we departed. Air temp. 3 degrees C, sea temp. 1 degree C.

Chinstrap Penguin, Aitcho Island
First Whale Sighting off Aitcho Island
After dinner we landed at Yankee Harbour on Greenwich Island. A sealing base in the past, with the remains of a trypot used to boil down elephant seal blubber for its oil still on the shore. Saw many Gentoo penguins and we then took a long walk around the bay to view the main glacier. Watched a petrel attack and kill a baby Gentoo. Life in the raw! Returned to the ship by Zodiac at 2200 in light rain. Calm seas, wind N.E. force 3-4.

Yankee Harbour, Greenwich Island
Kevin meeting the Gentoo's, Greenwich Island
Kevin emulating the leopard seal look!
24 January

After breakfast landed at Hannah Point on Livingstone Island, with smooth seas and calm conditions. Air and sea temp. 2 degrees C. Saw chinstrap, Gentoo and a small number of Macaroni penguins. We walked through a large crèche of Gentoo chicks waiting for their daily krill to a long beach with elephant seals on it. They were mainly young males and they were molting. Occasional outbursts of sparring were seen. We saw Antarctica’s only plants: the Antarctic hairgrass and pearlwort, plus a collection of fossils.

Elephant Seals, Hannah Point

Macaroni Penguin, Hannah Point, Livingstone Island
Over lunch we sailed past the wonderful mountain scenery of Livingstone Island and saw a display of humpback whales breaching in calm seas. They came very close to the ship, very curious to look at us humans!
In the afternoon we had two landings on Deception Island, a perfect caldera extensively modified by eruptions and glaciation. The vessel anchored off Whaler’s Bay, accessed through the tricky Neptune’s Bellows. We visited the ruins of the old B.A.S. station and the Hector Whaling Company.

Elephant Seals at Whaler's Bay, Deception Island
Pendulum Cove, Deception Island
Some of us trekked up to ‘Neptune’s Window’ to see pintado petrels nesting, buzzed by a Brazilian helicopter that was doing some filming as we climbed.
In Pendulum Cove (5 miles from Whalers bay), the visit concluded with the inevitable swim in the water close to the volcanic ash beach that is heated by seismic activity. Kev went for a swim in the colder offshore water (2 degrees C), much to the delight of some of our fellow travellers. We’re now both members of the Pendulum Cove Hot Tub Club!

25 January

We awoke to the magnificent glacial scenery in the flat calm of the Errera Channel. Passing the small British base on Danco Island, the sea was like a mirror, reflecting the icebergs and mountain/glacial scenery. 

Errara Channel, Antarctica
Then to Paradise Bay (Lat: 62-56S Long: 060-37W) arriving at 0900 in light snow with overcast skies, having travelled 140 n.miles from Deception Island overnight. Vessel moored north side of Almirante Brown research station (Argentinean). This was our first landing on the Antarctic Continent proper and we took the opportunity to climb up the wet snow ridge above the base to gain views of the bay in which a fabulous tall ship had moored up. Kev tobogganed down the slope.
We toured the bay in Zodiacs, observing a colony of blue-eyed shag, Antarctic terns, pintado petrels and kelp gulls.

Tall ship on Paradise Bay 
Paradise Bay
Almirante Brown Station, Paradise Bay

We departed at 1100 for the Gerlache Strait, passing through misty conditions into the famous Lemaire Channel, surrounded by 3000’ mountains and massive glaciers plunging straight down into the channel.

Kevin on the Gerlache Strait
Gerlache Strait

In the Lemaire Channel ('Kodak Gap')

At 1600 we had reached our furthest point south, the Ukrainian research station, Vernadsky, at Lat: 65-14, Long: 064-15W, 49 n.miles from Paradise Bay. This station does ionospheric work and was the location where the ozone hole was first discovered. Welcomed with coffee, vodka and wine, we had a good tour of the base, followed by a Zodiac cruise around the nearby icebergs, spotting many seals and chasing a pod of Minke whales. Very cold in light drizzle and some snowfall! That evening we entertained the Ukrainian team to a BBQ on board.

Vernadsky Station (ex Faraday), furthest point south
Glacial Lagoon near Vernadski Station

Crabeater Seal, Argentine Islands
26 January

Awoke near Petermann Island, just south of the Lemaire Channel, and landed before breakfast in Circumcision Harbour (named by the Frenchman Charcot on the Feast of Circumcision in January 1909)! 
Visited a cross erected in memory of three Brits from the Faraday Station who were stranded and then lost through the sea ice while on a climbing expedition in 1982. Saw Adelie and Gentoo penguins (this is the southernmost colony of Gentoos), in a great photographic setting with a backdrop of the Lemaire Channel and a 1912 schooner, the Oosterschelle, anchored just off the island. 
A beautiful spot and we walked away from the rest of our fellow travellers to experience the wonderful isolation of this part of the planet. Air temp. 2 degrees, sea temp. 1 degree C.

Adelie Penguin on Petermann Island
Antarctic Continent from Petermann Island

Icebergs south of Petermann Island
 The Oosterschelle, off Petermann Island

By 1030 we had arrived at Port Lockroy (Goudier and Wiencke Island), a scenic spot in the Lemaire Channel and site of an old British hut, 28 n.miles north of Petermann Island. This was to be the last of our Antarctic landings and we saw Gentoo penguins, blue-eyed cormorants and sheathbills. We were privileged to visit the restored Base A hut, now the oldest B.A.S. building in Antarctica. Here we made use of the small post office and enjoyed bright sunshine.
Port Lockroy
Base 'A' Operation Tabarin, Port Lockroy 
MS Explorer off Port Lockroy
Whalebones at Port Lockroy
During the afternoon we sailed north up the Gerlache Strait, with several humpback sightings. Captain Demel took the ship very close to them in flat, calm conditions.

Humpback Whales off South Shetland Islands
On the Bransfield Strait, Antarctica

Orca Whale in the Bransfield Strait
Brabant Island
27 January

Returning north into the Drake Passage today, in overcast drizzly weather and by noon we were 150 n.miles north of South Shetland Island. Sea temp. up to 4 degrees C as we crossed over the Antarctic Convergence. During the day winds began to freshen and the sea grew larger – another storm approaches! Lectures on exploitation of Antarctic marine resources, Antarctic sociology and the Antarctic Treaty.

Kevin, braving the storm!
28 January

Our second full-blown storm, with winds rising to 50-60 knots (force 11). The captain had a long day at the helm! Lectures were cancelled today and dinner was fun with food flying everywhere. We passed Cape Horn during the afternoon and eventually we got into the lee of Tierra del Fuego, providing calmer seas before the Captain’s dinner (the wind increased to 70 knots closer to dinner, which had the ship on a slight lean!). Air temp, sea temp 8 degrees C.

29 January

Arrival early morning in Ushuaia, Argentina, a journey of 719 n.miles from Port Lockroy. Our total distance travelled on the M/S explorer was 1,900 nautical miles with our southernmost point at Lat: 65 degrees 14.7’S. Disembarked and spent the morning in the town before boarding an 1100 flight to Buenos Aires. Overnight in Marriot Plaza Hotel. Toured the city during the afternoon and had a superb steak in La Chacra Asador-Parrilla restaurant in Ave. Cordoba.

30/31 January

Departed 2115 Buenos Aires for Madrid, arriving 1430 on 31 January, then on to Heathrow, landing at 1815.

Footnote: Mount Stump, named after Edmund Stump, geologist, is at 86 degrees 11’S, 153 degrees 10’W. 2490m, I mile NNE of Mount Colbert and 2 miles NE of Mount Borcik in Se section of the Hays Mountains. Must climb one day!!

No comments: