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Debenham and Stonington Islands ~ 25th January 2023

Our intended landing today was to be at Red Rock Ridge, originally named on account of the reddish coloured ridge. Two factors prevented our doing so – tremendous swell at the marina and much ice along the landing site shoreline. Russ Manning who drove the scouting boat spoke too of shallow, rocky shoals and huge icebergs further impeding any thought of landing if the swell was not enough in its own right.

Immediately the ship was repositioned, and within an hour, guests were taken on a wonderful Zodiac tour adjacent to Debenham Island. Debenham was on Scott’s final expedition, and instrumental in the establishment of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge. The San Martin Argentine station was seen at close quarters, along with plenty of Crabeater Seals. The massive North East glacier provided a magnificent backdrop, and the route early explorers took onto the Peninsula plateau with dogsleds. The weather was beautiful, no wind, 4 C or 38F, and the guests thoroughly enjoyed the landscape.
Over lunchtime, whilst one group watched On Thin Ice, the other were treated to the Southernmost BBQ in the World. Meat was cooked on the outside deck around the pool, and guests ate whilst watching glorious scenery slide by. Stonington Island, the afternoon destination was close at hand, so the Zodiacs were simply driven across to Stonington (not loaded back onto ship). Stonington Island is a tiny, low, rocky island, chosen as East Base of the United States Antarctic Service in 1939. Guests were treated to an extraordinary afternoon, exploring BOTH East Base (US) and Base E (UK). Sunny, perfect weather and stunning landscapes completed a quite magical scene as far south as we are travelling on this voyage (68degrees 11minutes).

Stonington Island is named after Stonington, Connecticut, home of sloop Hero (44 tons) in which Captain Nathaniel B. Palmer sighted the Antarctic continent in 1820, at 21 years of age! Stonington dominated the seal trade for decades. Base E was built on the same island by the British in 1946, as part of Operation Tabarin. Edith Ronne and Jenny Darlington overwintered at the American base in 1947/48 – the first women to do so. Sir Vivian Fuchs commanded the base from 1948/49. Stonington became the centre of operations in the south Antarctic Peninsula. Aircraft used the North East glacier as an airstrip, supported by 120 dogs on the ground.

The glacier provided access to the Peninsula plateau, and huge sledging journeys (1100 miles) were undertaken from this base. Sea ice restricted access between 1950 and 1960. In 1961 a new Base E was built by the British, the first two-storey building in Antarctica, and the precursor for modern construction methods. The old Base E burnt down in stages 1973/74, and the place was finally closed down completely in 1975.

Quite easily to become confused with names – Base East, Base E and North East glacier? What a pleasure to consider human history in these parts, and the privilege to view these well-preserved stations which have stood the tests of time in a particularly unforgiving climate.

Crystal Sound and Portal Point plans ~ 26th January 2023

We hoped to explore the Lallemand Fjord by Zodiac this morning. This 30 mile (48km) long fjord offers magnificent landscapes, and unusual wildlife sightings. Unfortunately plenty of ice and icebergs rendered entering the fjord impossible, so back to Plan A. Le Lyrial quickly repositioned and guests were taken out on a Zodiac tour amongst towering icebergs. The surrounding landscapes made for a sparkling scene in Crystal Sound.
The afternoon landing was planned for tiny Detaille Island, discovered by Charcot in 1908/10, and named after Detaille who assisted Charcot in obtaining assistance and supplies at a whaling station in Deception Island. From 1956-1959 it was home to Base W of the British Antarctic Survey. International Geophysical Year in 1957 brought prominence to Detaille Island and Base W. It closed unexpectedly in 1959 due to severe pack ice. With almost no notice, at the very first opportunity, the occupants abandoned the base, sledging across the sea ice to reach their evacuating ship. It is noteworthy as a relatively unaltered British scientific base of the 1950’s, and provides an evocative insight into the way bases were occupied at that time. Ironically sea ice prevented our even getting close to Detaille Island disappointingly.

The schedule was quickly altered. Garry Stenson spoke about Marine Mammals and their food webs, Michelle Valberg assisted guests with photography and I shared the story of Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition during the afternoon. Thankfully many guests appeared for my lecture, in a cooler Theatre than usual as I keep both rear doors open a little. Many guests moved forward on account of the cold air coming in – what’s not to like?

Recaps and dinner were moved forward 30 minutes, with the strong hope that we can make a short landing after dinner at Portal Point, on the Antarctic Peninsula. Many guests anxious to be photographed on what they consider “proper” Antarctica, rather than an island, and their 7th Continent! In what appears to be the order of the day, sea ice has slowed our progress to 1,5 knots, 4 nautical miles from shore. Abundant sea ice, on a perfectly calm ocean, ringed by white mountains is a scene impossible to describe adequately. This means a 3 hour trip to our intended landing, which in turn would compromise our timings tomorrow. So, sadly, tonight’s landing too has been called off. The musicians continue to weave their magic for the guests, and Paul Carter will host his popular Trivia quiz at 9.30pm.

Jean-Baptiste Charcot (1867-1936) was a French scientist, medical doctor and Polar explorer.  His father died when Jean-Baptiste was 26, leaving him a fortune of 400 000 Francs ($2 660 000 in 2018), which enabled him to pursue a life of scientific investigation and sea-borne adventures. Captain Scott always referred to him as the Polar gentleman. In two famous expeditions to Antarctica onboard the Francais and then the Pourquois Pas (Why Not?), Charcot produced extraordinary surveys, maps and scientific results. Both ships ran aground on rocks respectively, yet the ultimate survivor Charcot managed to get his men back to South America alive. Many features hereabouts were named by his expeditions, including Port Charcot where he overwintered onboard the Francais. Marguerite Bay is named after his second wife – the first divorcing him on grounds of desertion after the 1903/5 voyage on Francais. Charcot and all hands were lost when their ship sank in a storm off Iceland in 1936.

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