Early this morning, in somewhat grey, overcast conditions, Le Lyrial entered Wilhelmina Bay. My cabin mate was up until 1.30am preparing his lecture and PowerPoint for today. Thankfully he was thoughtful enough to do so on the top deck, and let me sleep. Before, he happily worked in the cabin until 2am. Sharing with strangers has its challenges.
The bay is surrounded on two sides by the spine of the continent, rising up to 6000 feet ASL. The other boundaries are dictated by Nansen and Brooklyn Islands. Named by de Gerlache in honour of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands 1890-1948. I went out onto the deck and saw whales directly behind the ship. Imagine my disappointment when I rushed to Larry Hobbs, the Whale Whisperer, having an early breakfast, when he calmly replied that he knew they were there, and knew them all by name! Guests were in the Zodiacs by 8am, and were treated with beautiful Humpback and Minke Whales, and even found a juvenile Emperor Penguin! The poor bird was looking somewhat scruffy, not having completely moulted, and no doubt found all the attention a little too much. Eventually it lay down on the snow, and would not rise again before we left the bay. Much sea ice around the ship, but deemed unsafe to walk upon. It goes without saying that the scenery around Wilhelmina Bay is glorious, with the snow looking whiter than ever.
At 11, Jason Hicks did a lecture on Antarctic Ice and what it tells us about global warming. There are some, like Trump, who comment on the extra sea ice being recorded annually. This is a direct result of global warming, and glacial melt water making the sea water less saline. Water with reduced salinity freezes at higher temperatures than normal salt water! Increased evidence of global warming, that the fossil fuel companies wish us to know nothing about. Jason went on to explain the results of ice core drilling, and the clear results over the last 400 000 years of glacial ages, carbon dioxide levels, and mean temperature rise, particularly since the Industrial Revolution. Sobering thoughts indeed.
Jason is an incredibly intelligent fellow, and despite his magnificent PowerPoint (prepared till 1.30am this morning), many guests fell asleep – the level of detail was sadly too much for them.
Lunch was enjoyed slipping through the magnificent Neumayer Channel. This channel, 16 miles long and 1,5 miles wide separates Anvers from Wiencke and Doumer Islands in the Palmer Archipelago. Wiencke was born in Christiana (Oslo) and sadly perished on the de Gerlache Expedition. De Gerlache sailed through the channel and named it after Georg von Neumayer, a German geophysicist who was actively organising Antarctic exploration. There are many who consider the Neumayer even more beautiful than the Lemaire Channel, and in sunlight as we had today, I would be inclined to agree. There is far more ice and snow here than presently seen in the Lemaire, making everything so stunningly white. As many South Africans would say, the Neumayer is less “in your face” than the Lemaire, which is very narrow, steep and deep.
The afternoon was spent at Port Lockroy. This beautifully protected bay was initially named by Jean-Baptiste Charcot in 1904, when he sought refuge here to repair his engine boilers, and then returned to mend his badly damaged ship, Francais. Established as Base A during Operation Tabarin in 1944, largely for matters relating to British security, and named after a Parisian nightclub for secrecy. Gentoo Penguins nest literally on the walkways and guests loved watching these gentle birds with their tiny chicks, along with the Snowy Sheathbills. The shop attracted much attention as guests bought postcards and mementoes of Antarctica. The base was permanently occupied until 1962, and completely restored in 1996. The museum does the tough fellows who lived here, along with their significant meteorological and scientific work, fine justice. Wiencke Island surrounds the tiny island on which Port Lockroy stands, and this afternoon, in fine sunlight, looked absolutely magical. The local Post Office deals with 70 000 articles of post in the 3 month Antarctic season. There is also a notice board where letters are left for passengers on other ships – a favourite with expedition staff members, especially if one’s partner is working on another ship. I spoke to one of the 4 female staff based at Port Lockroy, a Norwegian dentist who leapt at this opportunity after 7 years of dentistry.
Yes, the appeal of the South is very powerful indeed. These women appreciate the opportunity to shower on passing ships – their base does not even have running water. I spent the entire landing (4 hours) in the museum, but the shop for a largely American clientele held far greater appeal. I even had time to read the fire evacuation procedure behind the door.
At Recaps, I spoke about Charcot having visited Port Charcot yesterday and Lockroy today, before Patri imitated Rob. Next time she promises to wear khaki shorts! Charcot is an often forgotten hero of Antarctic exploration, and deserves greater mention. Scott referred to him as the Gentleman of the Pole, and a special compliment indeed. The team and some guests were kind enough to say that I certainly got the Theatre’s attention, and set the stage for Patri. Patri then gave her inimitable Red Chested Albatross presentation, pulling the mickey out of all the guests. It brought the house down, as it always does – foraging trips for food, sexual displays, moulting patterns, long proboscis (lenses), mating for life?, and the fact that Albatross chicks fledge at 5-8 months, yet ours fledge at 30 years!
These guests could not have asked for finer weather in Antarctica, calmer crossings, nor a more appropriate last day in the Great White Continent. Le Lyrial is now steaming back across the Drake towards Ushuaia.
May the little white voices keep calling them back……