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Port Charcot and Lemaire Channel ~ 27th January 2023

Today, thankfully, worked out exactly as planned! During the morning guests enjoyed a Zodiac tour in the Argentine Islands, named by Charcot in recognition of the support rendered by Argentina to his expedition onboard Francais in 1903/4/5. Wordie, from Shackleton’s Endurance expedition built a hut in 1946, on the site John Rymill had established a base in 1935 and thoroughly surveyed the islands. This Base F was known as Wordie House. A sign proclaiming British Crown Land stands nearby. The base was moved to Galindez Island in 1954, renamed Faraday in 1977, and transferred to the Ukraine Antarctic program in 1996, for the princely sum of one Pound. Now known as Vernadsky Research Base, Russ Manning who worked at Faraday tells us the bar is well known for its collection of womens’ bra. The Donaldson Spectromemeter took readings over 6-hour periods from the mid-1960’s. By mid 1970’s the scientists knew there was a major issue with the Ozone layer over Antarctica. The international Montreal Protocol in 1987 banned continued use of carbon fluorocarbons (CFC’s), and the Ozone has recovered remarkably. The narrow channels between the islands afforded us a special opportunity to see the Vernadsky base, famous for its ongoing research on the Ozone layer, Gentoo Penguins and chicks, plenty of moss and very deep snow banks. The weather appeared good, but started snowing shortly after we set off, and continued for both Zodiac cruises.

The afternoon was spent at Port Charcot on Booth Island. See yesterday’s blog for more information on Jean-Baptiste Charcot. Toby, the expedition’s beloved pig, swallowed fish with hooks in place. Charcot tried to operate on Toby, but the pig expired – apparently the only tragedy to befall the French expedition in 1903-5. The crew bunk beds had wooden doors which could be closed to afford the men some privacy. A famous Mumm Champagne advert was shot for Vogue in front of Francais moored in Francais Cove. When Charcot returned to Antarctica onboard Pourquoi Pas 3 years later, 8 of his men from the Francais agreed to join him. A great compliment to the doctor Scott and others referred to as the Polar Gentleman.

Guests loved having two hours ashore, the options of two decent hikes, Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins, surrounded by exquisite Antarctic scenery. Large snowflakes feel intermittently adding to the magical scene.

After dinner Le Lyrial sailed through the breath-taking Lemaire Channel, named perversely by de Gerlache (Belgian) after the Belgian explorer of the Congo. The channel known as Fujichrome Fjord or Kodakrome Canyon on account of its visual beauty is 7 miles (11km) long, and an average of one mile (1,6km) wide.

Today has been another of those Sassoon days, where the richness and beauty of experiences truly takes one breath away. Quite impossible to describe really..

Neko Harbour and Cuverville ~ 28th January 2023

On a glorious, calm morning we visited Neko Harbour this morning, named after floating whaling factory ship Neko, which operated in this region 1911-1924. Guests were kept off the shoreline, on account of the actively calving glacier across the narrow bay which often sends large waves along the shore. Gentoo Penguins delighted A&K guests who hiked up the hill to view the colonies. Hard, crunchy snow underfoot. Many penguins marched along the waters edge, seemingly nonplussed by our presence. Movement of brash ice challenged the Zodiacs moving guests to and from the landing site – driving through ice is always exciting! The views at Neko Harbour in all directions are exquisite, so photographers and viewers alike had a triumphant morning. The Phillipino shoremen who assist with the Zodiacs, loading/unloading of guests tease me endlessly. They call the 5 blue barrels holding our safety gear, for which I am responsible, my kids! My shape is barrel-like..

The safety gear goes ashore first, and returns to the ship last, in case weather changes and we are unable to return to the ship. Gear includes tents, food, water, stoves, sleeping bags, emergency blankets and medical supplies.

Whilst Le Lyrial repositioned over lunch some whales were seen close to our ship. The seamless mixing of guests at the restaurant on deck 6 is one of the great features of Le Lyrial. The afternoon was spent at Cuverville Island. The lively Gentoo breeding colony with eggs, and chicks ranging from day old to 3-weeks was a treat. A few Chinstrap Penguins added further interest.  Many chose to take the hike uphill, to other colonies and viewpoints offering beautiful views. The weather was fine to start, but became cold with snow as the afternoon progressed. Even the old Antarctic hands were seen adding another layer of clothing beneath their outer jackets. Patri Silva presented a fine resume’ on Gentoo Penguins at Recaps, before Marco outlined plans for tomorrow. A powerful low pressure system is creating huge winds, particularly in the South Shetland Islands – our intended destination tomorrow. There has not been a flight into or out of FREI Station on King George Island in a week! We shall instead remain in the Gerlache Strait and hope to find sheltered areas to run operations.

After dinner we slowly cruised in Wilhelmina Bay, well-known for its whales, but the cetaceans were sadly scarce this evening. The landscape of Antarctic Whiteness more than compensated for any lack of wildlife. The icebergs, views and reflections today have been beautiful.

In 1774 Captain James Cook completely circumnavigated Antarctica, and although he never saw Antarctica he dispelled the myth that a fertile, populous continent surrounded the South Pole. Captain Edward Bransfield onboard the ship Williams discovered the South Shetland Islands in January 1820. King George Island was named in honour of King George III who had died the previous day, 29 January 1820. Unbeknown to them, two days earlier on 28 January 1820, Russian explorer Fabian Gottlieb von Bellinghausen may have caught sight of an icy shoreline, now known to be part of East Antarctica. On the basis of this sighting AND the co-ordinates given his logbook, Bellinghausen has been credited by some as discovering Antarctica.

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