My Second Continental Landing
Antarctica/ South America Trip (Argentina-Ushuaia) 2012
Weather: Snow and overcast. 34 degrees F
I awoke with the ship positioned in Paradise Harbor, ready for our second continental landing and a zodiac cruise.
Tough whalers were the first to call this wide bay Paradise Harbor; it is also commonly but incorrectly referred to as Paradise Bay. Situated behind Bryde and Lemaire islands, the bay is indeed spectacular. The name has been in use since at least 1920, and proves an irresistible lure to expedition ships following the western side of the peninsula.
The national station in the middle of Paradise Harbor is Almirante Brown, an Argentine base that once operated throughout the year, but did not open at all over the summer of 2000 - 2001. This base receives more tourists than anywhere else in Antarctica, partly because of the reputation of Paradise Harbor, but also because both places offer the chance to set foot on the Antarctic Continent.
Directly behind the base, a steep 165 feet snow covered slope is easily climbed for a fine view of Paradise Harbor; sliding back down the snow takes a matter of seconds. The base was built in 1951 and named after a founder of the Argentinian Navy; the burnt foundations near the existing buildings are a reminder of a fire in April 1984, a bizarre moment in Antarctic history. It is reported that the station doctor started the conflagration after hearing that he was required to stay for another winter because no relief doctor could be found. He and his companions then had to live in the burnt out ruins of the base until a ship could rescue them.
Almirante Brown appears to be surrounded by glaciers with no obvious way out. Beyond the station lies a red hut, and past that is a navigation marker on a gravel point leading up to a glacier, where Weddell seals sometimes pull up on the beach. The rocky headland that towers above the base is nesting territory for Antarctic shags, Snowy sheathbills, and Kelp gulls.
After lunch our ship wound its way through the scenic Neumayer Channel to Port Lockroy. On arrival, Delphine went to collect the station leader Florence and her assistant Ben, to bring them on the ship. They gave us a great introduction to the place and to their work and daily life on the little island during summer.
Afterwards we were ready to go ashore. The initial plan was to land half of us at the former British Base A station while the other half visited the Gentoo penguin colony at Jougla Point. However, ice conditions meant that Jougla point was blocked and landing was impossible. Therefore, this landing was substituted with a short zodiac cruise. In my Zodiac boat ride back to the main ship included entertainment from two leopard seals frolicking in the water while two penguins standing like sentinels floated past aboard a small iceberg.
Goudier Island is little more than a barren rock with some patches of snow and a few buildings. However, it has found favor with many Gentoo penguins; they nest everywhere, down by the boatshed, up at the flagpole, around the building foundations, and even on paths and steps. The birds are quite innovative in their selection of nest building material, incorporating old nails and bits of wood from the station into their design. After being told to stay at least 16 feet from wildlife in keeping with IAATO guidelines, passengers are often surprised at Port Lockroy when penguins stand on their feet and they see eggs close to the path. Over the past few summer seasons, a research project has been examining the effect of human contact on penguin breeding. Preliminary results suggest that there is little or no effect.
After dinner we gathered in the lecture room for a recap with the staff. Delphine shared the plans of the next day and Franz and Axel covered respectively the fascinating geology of Deception Island and the intriguing Operation Tabarin. The day finished off for me with an evening reading from Victor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning.