Port Lockroy and Paradise Harbor
Dec 6, 2009
|Happy St. Nick’s Day!
Today our ship was taken over by the "Girls of Port Lockroy." Port Lockroy is a 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile harbor located between Flag Point and Lecuyer Point on the western side of Wiencke Island in the Palmer Archipelago. It is also home of one of the most visited places in the Antarctic Peninsula - British Antarctic Research (BAS) 'Base A' located on Goudier Island. (64°49S, 63°29'W).
Currently, the station is being manned by 4 women and one man. The girls will summer over, but the guy is leaving in a week’s time. He just came along to help open the base for the summer. The girls joined us for breakfast - a much appreciated delicacy compared to base food and then joined us in the forward lounge for a lecture on the history of the base and current operations.
Base A was established in February 1944 as part of a secret WWII mission to report on enemy activities and provide weather reports. After the war, the station was used for ionoshphereic research, but when BAS was re-located to the mainland in January 1962, Base A fell into disrepair. After a conservation survey in 1994, Base A was established as a historic site and underwent renovation in 1996. Today, residents share one bunkroom in the post office/museum building - talk about cozy. BAS is in the process of building separate accommodations, but those won't be ready for some time. Those accommodations will be reconstructed using original timbers from previous buildings on-site. The insides will be new, but the outer structure will remain true to the Base's history.
Because Goudier Island is so small, we were dispatched in two groups. Our group that went to Jougla Point first, and then to Base A. At Jougla Point is located on the northern shore of Wiencke Island (64°49S, 63°30'W) where the water comes directly over bare, rocky outcrops. It is home to nesting gentoos and blue-eyed shags. We were told that there are lots of gentoos and whale bones to gawk at. We exited the zodiacs right at the nesting sites on the northeast corner of the island. Since this was my first landing, I did quite a bit of gawking. We had 1 hour to explore a small section of this small island and I spent about half of it in one location, just watching the blue-eyed shags (cormorants) and gentoos on their nests. The shags nest on the outer edges of the Point and while they are not easy to see up close, I did admire their grace from a distance of about 40 feet. The gentoos on the other hand were hard to avoid and Dmitri had to keep telling people to mind their step and they came dangerously close to squashing a nesting gentoo as they backed up to take a photo.
This was my first real chance to watch the penguin habits. They are fascinating! They have a definite sense of space and don't like other penguins coming too close to their nest. I guess all that winter cuddling goes out the door when it is time to breed. Penguins build their nests out of pebbles (since there is very little to no vegetation). Often, instead of seeking out their own pebbles, they will steal from their neighbors. This often results in a lot of squawking and jabbing, but never actually deters the thief (at least that I saw).
After realizing that time was running short, Alyssa and I decided to head toward the whale bones. There were a number of whaling operations in the area, but these could have washed up on their own - no one is certain of their origin. On our way to the bones, we had a traffic jam. A group of 3 penguins were headed towards us on the one path. Not yielding ground, we stood staring each other down until eventually the penguins balked. I wasn’t sure if we should be giving up our ground for them, but the staff didn’t move either, so it must have been OK. Eventually the penguins jumped off the path and clumsily circumnavigated us on the right side, be bounded on the left side by the water.
After the standoff, we continued to the whale bones, navigating around waddling penguins and nests. Alyssa and I took out our Cardinal gear and posed for our newspaper shot with penguins, whale bones, and lots of white stuff. (My mom wanted a photo of us in Antarctica with our Cardinal gear to post in the St. Louis Post). It was so cool to see penguins in their element – tidying their nests, stealing rocks, hoping in and out of the water, waddling around the island, dodging humans, etc. A little bit further along, some crabeater seals were resting on some ice in Alice Creek (which is really more of a bay). The time on the island flew by! I didn’t want to leave, but next up was our chance to send postcards!
When our time was up on Wiencke Island, we took a zodiac to BAS Base A. Typically, the landing site is close to the building because half of the island is closed for environmental monitoring, but due to weather conditions we had to land in the controlled area. Researches are monitoring the effects of tourism on gentoo populations and have cordoned off a portion of the island. Based on the data, they say that the human presence on the island hasn’t seemed to impact the penguins – good thing since we were violating this controlled areas restrictions.
Human presence must not have too much of an affect because the penguins are nesting right outside the door of the building. At least 10 nests were surrounding the entrance. We scrubbed our boots and went inside the museum/post office/gift shop. Most people were their to mail their postcards (Over 70,000 postcards are sent from here annually). We stamped our postcards with a penguin figure and the coordinates. Alyssa did her part by mailing at least 35 and taking the prize for most mailed on our ship), but a quick run through the building offered a glimpse at the activities of the past. Inside there is a photographic dark room (for processing ionosonde records and other photos), a lounge, kitchen, bunkroom, ionospherics room (to gather data), a radio room, and an old and new generator room. Besides the line for the post box in the vestibule, most spent a majority of their time in the new generator room, which was now the gift shop. I don’t think anyone escaped without running up quite a charge on their credit cards. Being the only “shopping” opportunity in Antarctica, we had to get our souvenirs. I think the most purchased item was the BAS map of the Antarctic Peninsula. This was the map located on our ship and used to track our daily location. Other popular items were T-shirts and stuffed penguins.
After an hour it was time to head back to the Orlova. As we departed, I noticed that we were also transporting trash off the Base. The symbiotic relationship between the bases and the ships was interesting to witness. We get access to their operations in exchange for some food and trash removal – easy enough. At the zodiac motor was Alex - and he raced back to the boat. The weather was turning and the Italian guy and I were almost ejected at one point when we hit a big wave.
As we ate lunch, the ship cruised to Paradise Harbor. YES, all this was just the morning activities! To get there we traversed the Neumayer Channel and back through the Gerlach Straight. Kevin said we had only a 30% chance of kayaking this afternoon because of the weather. They weren't even sure that zodiacs would go out. Kevin said it was all or nothing if kayaking as possible. If one person wanted to zodiac then all would zodiac. This made no sense to me since previously it had always been possible to split up, but whatever. I was feeling pressure to kayak because of this and didn't really appreciate it. I want variety in my experiences here. I don't want to spend the whole time under a kayak skirt. I want to stretch my legs and be able to take photos, not just paddle. I was not-so-secretly hoping for the conditions to stay bad.
After lunch, I headed out to the stern deck and awed at the painting-like landscape. The light made the mountains look flat. We navigated through the Neumayer Channel, which at one point looked like it dead-ended at an elbow shaped bend. The mountains were lit beautifully and there were several bluer-than-blue icebergs and bits off the boat.
Paradise Harbor was named by the whalers because it is protected from the winds that terrorize the Gerlache Stright. However, today the winds had penetrated the harbor and made it too miserable to zodiac or kayak. We arrived in Paradise Harbor (64°53S, 62°52'W ) about 2:30 and found the Minerva (another expedition ship) already at our destination. Time for Plan B - Noticing that a Chilean research vessel was at the Waterboat Point station, our expedition team a Spanish speaking team to the base to see if we could have a tour. Unfortunately, they had just arrived that morning and were unable to accommodate visitors. Time for Plan C – We repositioned in a location out of the wind and remained in a holding pattern until the Minerva moved. Shane entertained us with a lecture on “Whaling in Antarctica” (XXX rated due to its graphic nature). This delay gave us some time to relax and the lecture kept us busy until the BBQ. The weather did not fully cooperate, giving us a windy and cold on deck dinner. The meat was bountiful and people fattened up, preparing for a chilly overnight camping experience.
After dinner, we were finally able to get into Paradise Bay and explore Almirante Brown Station. This Argentine station is located on the mainland – yeah, our 1st peninsular landing!!!!! The first wave of passengers went aboard, but the campers waited until about 9pm so that we had as long of access to the bathrooms as possible. Once on land, a number of us immediately began to hike up the 165-foot hill behind the station for a stunning view of the bay. After taking in the surroundings, what better way to get down than to slide! And what a slide it was! The nearly vertical slope allowed us to get some serious speed. Unfortunately, at a few points along the luge, some major drops left some with bruised bottoms. But it was well worth it.
After sliding down to the bottom, Alyssa and I grabbed our camping gear and went to set up home for the night. On the way back to the camp site, Jamie challenged Alyssa and I to make an igloo for the night. Oh how I wish we could have, but we didn’t have the appropriate tools and I was told that it wasn’t actually good snow to make one in. Everyone in our group except Ken and Dianna decided to camp. Our gear consisted of an EXPED winter tent, a –5C sleeping bag, and two sleeping pads. A communal shovel also made the rounds as we dug out our sites. Wolfgang attempted to flatten out a space for us, but he was not very successful and I was about to redo it, but didn’t want to hurt his feelings. As we were grabbing our gear, the boat started to move away off into the outskirts of the harbor. About 10:30 Ken and Dianna signaled us from the boat. It was pretty funny to see the flashing light in the port window and have everyone, but us wonder who the heck it was. The tents required a couple pairs of hands to get the tents set up in the wind, but afterwards (about 11:30pm), they were secure and ready for sleeping.
BUT, how can one sleep when you are camping in Antarctica. We trekked to the location of our porta-potty, just past the nesting penguins and squawking sheathbills, and had a look round the buildings exteriors. I saw a seal swimming along the shore. Damage from the fire of 1984 is still visible. Not too far away is the old station that lies just next door to a massive glacier. At least one seal was resting nearby, but it was not reachable over a heavily crevassed snow hill. Per the usual evening activities, we got a game of poker going. We huddled out of the wind between two of the buildings and in lieu of poker chips, we used Uno cards for currency. They work pretty well since they pretty much match the colors of poker chips. Paul dominated early on as he took out Nadav, but Fon-Won came on strong taking the chip lead in the end.
Continued on DEC 7th............
Port Lockroy and Paradise Harbor
0630 Early bird coffee, tea and pastries are served in the Library.
0700-0800 Breakfast is served in the Dining Room.
0800 Join us in the Forward Lounge for a short (15 minute) presentation about Port Lockroy from our Port Lockroy station personnel.
☼ Expedition Morning ☼
We hope to make a landing at Port Lockroy and Jougla Point on Wiencke Island
Please stand by and listen to announcements regarding the timing of our landing.
Port Lockroy is a half mile-long and -wide harbor on the west side of Wiencke Island in the Palmer Archipelago. It is named after Edouard Lockroy, the French politician who assisted Dr. Jean Baptiste Charcot in obtaining government backing for his expedition French Antarctic Expeditions of 1903-1905 & 1908-1910. British history in Antarctica began when Captain James Cook first circumnavigated the continent in 1773-75. UK presence in Antarctica dates back to 1943 when the Royal Navy mounted operation Tabarin. Its mission was to provide reconnaissance and meteorological information concerning the South Atlantic by establishing a series of small stations along the Antarctic Peninula. Port Lockroy is the home to Base A, which has been turned into a museum. There is also gift shop and post office here where stamps and souvenirs may be purchased, and mail can be sent, although delivery usually takes a number of weeks. US dollars, pounds sterling and credit cards accepted.
Port Lockroy is a small space that cannot accommodate more than 60 people at once. Therefore, we will take Gerlache and Palmer to Port Lockroy first while Bransfield and Charcot will be taken to the nearby landing site of Jougla Point where we have many nesting gentoo penguins. After approximately one hour the two groups will switch sides so everyone has the opportunity to visit both places.
1230 Lunch is served in the Dining Room.
☼ Expedition Afternoon ☼
We hope to make a landing as well as take a zodiac cruise in Paradise Harbor
Please stand by and listen to announcements regarding the timing of our activities.
Paradise Harbor was named by whalers because of its reputation for being such a protected anchorage. The magnificent Petzval Glacier at the back of the bay is usually surrounded by icebergs and sometimes resting seals on floes. This region supports nesting blue-eyed shags, pintados and Antarctic terns on the nearby cliffs. Almirante Brown is an Argentinean base located in Paradise Bay. It is one of only a few sites that enables us to set foot on the Antarctic continent. Behind the station is a 50m (165 ft) slope up to a lookout point that offers excellent views of Paradise Bay. Please take care on the snow slope as the area is heavily crevassed.
We will take Charcot and Gerlache to shore first while Palmer and Bransfield go for a zodiac cruise. After 1 hour the groups will switch so that Charcot and Gerlache go for a cruise (which will start on the shore side) while Palmer and Bransfield make a landing at Almirante Brown.
1600-1700 Afternoon tea is served in the Library.
1830 Join your expedition staff for a Recap and Briefing in the Forward Lounge.
1900 A special BBQ dinner is served on the stern deck (Deck 6). Dress warmly!!!
2045 Campers ashore! (conditions permitting)
2100 Evening movie in the Forward Lounge: Happy Feet