Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Visiting Deception Island

Events of Tuesday, 29th November

Overnight we had headed away from the Antarctic Peninsula to intercept a unique island, Deception Island, which lies south of the main South Shetland Group. Early explorers considered the island ‘normal’. It was only later that a narrow passage (‘Neptune’s Bellows’, around 230m wide) was identified establishing that the island was, in fact, horse-shoe shaped, offering a protected anchorage around 9 km by 6 km within the horse-shoe. The misleading appearance of the island gave rise to the name ‘Deception Island’.

Deception Island: Approaching Neptune's Bellows.

The whole island is an ‘active’ volcano, where an earlier eruption had caused the side of the cone to collapse, allowing the sea to flood the caldera, producing the present arrangement. The island provided a useful refuge to the early sealers and whalers then, in 1906, a base was constructed in Whalers’ Bay, which supported 13 whaling factory ships by 1914. The role of the onshore plant was to boil whale carcasses to extract whale oil but, following the price collapse during the Great Depression, the base was abandoned in 1931, to be later used by the British for a time as a research station.

Whalers’ Bay

We were encouraged to be on deck for around 8.00 a.m. to observe the passage through Neptune’s Bellows. Starting at 9.00 a.m., a wet landing by Zodiac was offered, allowing walking around the extensive, flat area of black 'sand' leading back from the sea. The buildings and equipment in Whalers’ Bay are in derelict condition and a decision has been made not to attempt restoration.

Deception Island: Derelict buildings and equipment in Whalers’ Bay.

I spent my time walking from the landing point to the abandoned aircraft hanger and back, making a photographic survey of the buildings, equipment and wildlife.

Deception Island: The abandoned aircraft hanger, Whalers' Bay.

I didn’t take the guided walk to a viewpoint called Neptune’s Window as I’d done that on my earlier visit to Deception Island in 2008 (described here).

Near the Zodiac landing, steam could be seen rising and, in places, the water and black 'sand' were pleasantly warm, attesting to the ‘active’ nature of the volcanic site (the last eruption was in 1970). However, I declined to take the ‘Polar Plunge’ by swimming in the (hopefully) warm water as I’d done that in 2008, although a number of my fellow guests did accept the challenge.

Deception Island: One guest makes use of his hat when emerging from a 'skinny dip' whilst another takes the 'warm sand treatment'.

After a very enjoyable shore visit, it was back to the ship by Zodiac, in time for lunch in the restaurant. Whilst we enjoyed lunch, the ship re-positioned to Telefon Bay, also within the caldera of Deception Island where we had a final opportunity to go ashore.

Telefon Bay

It was quite cold when we made our landing on a windswept beach of black ‘sand’. A 1 km walk was offered to inspect the crater formed during the 1970 eruption. Most of the route was covered in soft snow which made walking very tiring. I was on the point of turning back when Steffan from the Expedition Team pointed out how close the crater rim was so, after a breather, I persevered and was rewarded with an impressive, if bleak, sight.

Deception Island - View of the crater, Telefon Bay.

Quite a few guests continued on a further 2 km hike which they concluded with a slide down a snow-covered hillside on their way back to the landing point. I decide to retrace my outwards route back to the Zodiac, in the company of quite a few guests.

Deception Island - View of our ship, Telefon Bay.

The wet landing at Telefon Bay was the last trip ashore before we left the South Shetland Islands to cross the Drake Passage to our final destination, Ushuaia in Argentina. However, the weather forecast for the area was not promising, so the Captain decided to move the ship outside the caldera of Deception Island and anchor overnight, hopefully allowing the unfavourable weather system to pass before we attempted our passage.

In the evening I attended the Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party in the theatre followed by the Captain's Farewell Dinner in the restaurant.

'Silver Explorer': Most of the crew, housekeeping and catering staff on stage in the theatre at the Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party held on Tuesday evening.

Related Posts

Next post describing this trip: Into the South Atlantic.
All posts describing this trip: Chilean Fjords.
Just posts on the Antarctic segment: Antarctic Peninsula.

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, my pictures from this (and earlier) trips may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-

Deception Island - 2016.
'Silver Explorer'.
All my pictures taken in Antarctica on both this visit and my earlier visit in 2008 are in the collection here.

[Links to pictures added 6-Feb-2017: Pictures added 8-Feb-2017]

Visiting the Antarctic Peninsula (3)

Events of Monday, 28th November

Brown Bluff

Brown Bluff is located on the Antarctic Peninsula, facing the Antarctic Sound. A rust-coloured, steep-sided, flat-topped mountain towers above a shingle beach which is home to Gentoo and Adelie penguin rookeries.

Brown Bluff

The Zodiac ride led us through numerous large pieces of ice to a wet landing on the beach. The wind was quite sharp and it was snowing, so I was well wrapped-up.

Brown Bluff: A Zodiac lands another group of guests.

Although some of the penguins were nesting around the large rocks at the foot of the cliff, most were congregated near the shore so we were asked to take a path higher up the beach. We passed colonies of both Gentoo (readily recognised by their white ‘ear muffs’) and Adelie (no head marking but with piercing eyes) commencing nesting.

Brown Bluff: Adelie penguins nesting on the beach.

Both species on the beach were either standing, perambulating or, in a few cases, lying on their front. The Adelie has a very urgent way of walking (“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date”) and they seem very sheep-like, walking one after another, single-file. One of my new friends suggested their behaviour was “lemming-like”.

Brown Bluff: A group of Adelie penguins march, single-file, across the shingle.

Puzzling is the way there can be a sudden change of plan, where the direction of travel is suddenly reversed. At times, a column of Adelies would end at the water’s edge and, one after another would dive in, apparently in pursuit of fish. But, on at least one occasion, we saw a version of the ‘change of plan’ behaviour where, almost as soon as the penguins had entered the water, they were hastening out again.

We had been offered a guided walk by Hans Peter to the moraine area of the adjacent glacier. I started on this walk which started by climbing a rather steep diagonal pitch up a hill from the beach over loose ‘scree’. There were good views from the top of this climb.

Brown Bluff: View from the top of the 'scree' showing the beach and numerous large pieces of ice.

Looking ahead, as the path crossed the moraine and continued up the ice at the edge of the glacier, I decided that it would be more prudent to return to the beach, particularly as the snow flakes were getting larger.

Brown Bluff: Guests crossing the moraine and continuing up the edge of the glacier.

So, having agreed my return with the Expedition Team, I very cautiously made my way back over the loose rock to the Zodiac Landing point. Back on the beach and finding partial shelter behind large rocks, I was happy to remain on the beach taking in the scene for some time before joining other returning passengers on the ‘Zodiac Shuttle’ service back to the ship. Once again, the morning’s activities had given me a good appetite for lunch. Whilst we enjoyed our meal, the ship moved along the coast to Hope Bay, where Argentina’s Esperanza Station is located.

Esperanza Station

Esperanza Station is a civilian settlement and research station built in 1953. In winter, there are 55 inhabitants, including a number of children.

At the kind invitation of the Station Commander, we made a wet Zodiac landing on a pebble slipway adjacent to a small jetty.

Esperanza Station: Guests coming ashore. The cemetery is visible in the background.

We were welcomed by the Assistant Station Commander and divided into two groups for a conducted tour around some of the station’s 43 buildings. Although some areas were roped off and reserved for the penguins on the island, the penguins, used to the presence of humans, wander unconcernedly across the whole Station.

Esperanza Station: A Gentoo penguin studies a large, abandoned satellite antenna in a 'Penguins Only' area.

We viewed the remains of the stone hut in which Andersson, Duse and Grunden were forced to over-winter in 1903 after the sinking of the 'Antarctic'. There's more information about this expedition here.

Esperanza Station: The remains of the stone hut in which Andersson, Duse and Grunden over-wintered in 1903.

Some large artefacts from the early days of the Station, such as a ‘Snowcat’, sledge and a section of railway track have been preserved outside.

Esperanza Station: Large artefacts preserved outside.

Smaller objects were indoors in a nicely laid out museum building, including an incubator for human infants as used in the early period when there were at least eight births at the Station. Outside the museum, a series of cast brass plates listed the residents of the Station year by year.

We were invited into the school building (not in use when we visited although I saw some young children by the jetty). The well-equipped building was kept heated so is also used for other functions. I was intrigued that the main room of the school was decorated with balloons but the schoolmaster explained that it had recently been used for his wedding to the lady teacher carried out by the Station Commander. The school provides pre-school, kindergarden, primary and (using distance learning) secondary education. The distance learning, of course, requires internet and a number of satellite dishes could be seen around the station providing voice, data and television services.

Esperanza Station: The Schoolmaster welcomes his visitors.

After we’d visited a small, nicely decorated Roman Catholic church, we were invited into the main meeting room provided with table tennis and pool tables, a seating area and bar. Trestle tables had been set along one wall with light refreshments for the visitors. Tables near the opposite wall were selling souvenirs relating to the Station.

The visitors enjoy refreshments and purchase souvenirs.

Everybody was most friendly and I was quite sad when we made our way back to the Zodiac landing point after a fascinating visit.

Tabular Icebergs

The day's excitement was not over because our course leaving Esperanza would take us through 'Iceberg Alley' where we were able to see a number of icebergs, including an impressive Tabular Iceberg, a huge flat-topped mass of drifting ice, rising at least 50 metres above the sea.

Tabular Iceberg.

For many of the guests, it was their first sighting of a Tabular Iceberg although, on an previous voyage, I'd seen a very large tabular iceberg or 'Mega Berg' which I described in the post South Georgia (day 4). The day ended with the ‘Recap and Briefing’ followed by a specially-themed buffet meal.

Related Posts

Next post describing this trip: Visiting Deception Island.
All posts describing this trip: Chilean Fjords.
Just posts on the Antarctic segment: Antarctic Peninsula.

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, my pictures from this (and earlier) trips may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-

Brown Bluff - 2016.
Esperanza Station, Hope Bay - 2016.
Tabular Icebergs.
All my pictures taken in Antarctica on both this visit and my earlier visit in 2008 are in the collection here.

[Links to pictures added, pictures added: 3-Feb-2017. Tabular icebergs added: 6-Feb-2017]

Monday, 28 November 2016

Visiting the Antarctic Peninsula (2)

Events of Sunday, 27th November

Cierva Cove

Overnight, we had moved back north at slow speed towards Cierva Cove which is located on the west coast of Graham Land. The cove was named in 1960 in honour of Juan de la Cierva, inventor of the ‘Autogyro’, regarded as the first successful rotary-wing aircraft. When I got up, visibility was poor because it was snowing and the temperature was around minus one or two Celsius.

Snow at Cierva Cove. View looking forward from the observation deck. The 'black ball' visible on the flagstaff indicates to other vessels that we are at anchor.

90 minute Zodiac tours were offered, with groups 3 and 4 leaving the ship at 8.00 a.m. and groups 1 and 2 leaving the ship at 10 a.m. Since I was in group 1, I had plenty of time to work on the computer before getting ready to leave the ship.

I was in a smaller Zodiac with just six passengers and Steffan driving. It was still snowing but not hard and the sheltered location in the long cove minimised the wind so I found it quite pleasant, although the contrast with the previous day’s weather was very pronounced.

Tall snow-covered mountains loomed on both sides of us, with bare rock outcrops in places. There was brash ice and icebergs of various sizes in all directions. We were quite close to an Argentinian Research Station on the mountain side called Base Primavera which carries out botanical research during the summer but did not appear to be staffed this season as yet.

Zodiac Cruise - Cierva Cove: Argentinian Base Primavera in the snow.

What was noticeable was the apparent good state of maintenance of the cluster of wooden buildings forming the base and the number of tall radio transmitting masts which appeared to be required. There were various groups of penguins near Base Primavera, some standing statue-like, others lying on their front.

As we moved further along the cove, the sheer variety of icebergs was noticeable, both in size and in the fantastical shapes they acquire as they thaw, roll in the sea with the change of centre of gravity and then re-freeze. Unless there’s a man-made object, like a Zodiac, nearby it’s very hard to determine how big any lump if ice is, but the tendency is to underestimate scale – the human mind is reluctant to accept how large a chunk of frozen water can be.

Zodiac Cruise - Cierva Cove

Perhaps most striking aspect of icebergs is the blue colouration that parts of the ice, particularly crevices, can display - not a faint, bluish tinge but often a bright, electric blue as if emanating from some internal source of illumination.

We came upon a flat piece of sea ice, roughly fifty feet across with a single Weddell seal stretched out on top. He opened his eyes to survey the strange creatures approaching but showed no interest in disturbing his relaxation as we sailed around his temporary ‘home’ twice.

Zodiac Cruise - Cierva Cove: Weddell seal relaxing.

Further into the cove, we found a group of five Gentoo penguins relaxing quietly on a humped section of sea ice about fifty feet across. In the background, we could see the glacier front of the Sikorsky Glacier. This glacier appeared to have a very ragged, overhanging front so we were not surprised, a few minutes later, when a rumble like thunder announced a calving.

Zodiac Cruise - Cierva Cove: Face of the Sikorsky Glacier.

Presently, we could clearly see the small wave propagating across the surface of the sea produced by the ice collapsing from the glacier face. When this wave passed the mass of sea ice with the penguins, it set the ice slowly oscillating. This motion appeared to disturb one of the penguins who made his way towards the edge of the sea ice and the others followed, as if playing “follow my leader”. The leading penguin dived into the water followed, in turn, by each of the other penguins, as if performing a synchronised swimming display.

Zodiac Cruise - Cierva Cove: Gentoo penguins enter the water one after another.

Mikkelsen Harbour

Whilst the guests enjoyed lunch, the ship sailed towards Mikkelsen Harbour - a rocky islet in a bay on the southern side of Trinity Island in the Palmer Archipelago. Once again, the variability of Antarctic weather asserted itself. The entrance to the bay is via a narrow channel and, on our approach to this channel, the Captain determined that the local wind was too strong for the ship to enter in safety. Since the wind was expected to abate, it was decided that our ship would wait an hour or so in the hope of entering the channel and still making a landing.

After around one hour’s wait, the wind did lessen and we passed through the channel, intending to anchor in front of the islet where we could see the Argentine emergency refuge hut.

Penguins and the Argentine emergency refuge hut at Mikkelsen Harbour.

However, sea ice in the area started to move, preventing anchoring. Since there was deemed to be insufficient clear water around the ship to ‘hold station’ without anchoring, the Captain decided that, on safety grounds, the planned landing would be abandoned. So the ship was turned and exited through the narrow channel, then continuing north again.

Instead, Luke gave an interesting lecture titled ‘Fishing in Antarctica’ at 5.00 p.m., there was a ‘Recap and Briefing’ at 6.45 p.m. and the accustomed splendid dinner in the restaurant at 7.30 p.m.

Related Posts

Next post describing this trip: Visiting the Antarctic Peninsula (3).
All posts describing this trip: Chilean Fjords.
Just posts on the Antarctic segment: Antarctic Peninsula.

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, my pictures from this (and earlier) trips may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-

Zodiac Cruise - Cierva Cove 2016.
All my pictures taken in Antarctica on both this visit and my earlier visit in 2008 are in the collection here.

[Links to pictures added, pictures added: 2-Feb-2017]

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Visiting the Antarctic Peninsula (1)

Events of Saturday, 26th November

Cuverville Island

Overnight, we had cruised towards Cuverville Island, which is situated just offshore the Antarctic Peninsula itself. I was up early and on the Observation Deck as we approached our anchorage. The temperature was around zero Celsius but the wind chill made it appear cooler. I was happy to return inside for breakfast and then ‘suit-up’ for a ‘wet landing’ on the beach by Zodiac at 7.45 a.m.

The sheltered location of our anchorage and the appearance of bright sun meant that conditions were much improved by the time I reached the shore. I had decided that the “difficult hike” on offer would be too demanding. The bay we were in was picturesque, littered with oddly-sculpted icebergs of various sizes, patrolled by birds of various Antarctic species and criss-crossed by Gentoo penguins continuously making their (to human eyes) clumsy progress between the various colonies on the snow-clad hills and the sea where they are instantly transformed into the most elegant and athletic swimmers. Since the weather was so inviting and untypical of the Antarctic Spring, I decided to move only a few hundred yards from the landing site, sit in the snow and contemplate this world.

Contemplating the view from Cuverville Island.

It’s hard to convey what a special experience this was. I remained there, perfectly warm in my multiple-layers of clothing for around two hours, occasionally taking photographs but mainly trying to ‘absorb the moment’. I was so comfortable that, from time to time, I lay back in the snow, listening to the calls of the penguins, looking up at the blue sky tinged with wisps of clouds (which would have counted as a memorable Summer’s day back home in England). The gentlest hint of breeze carried the odour of the ‘guano’ from the large number of penguins but, where I was located, it was distinctive but not unpleasant. In the past I’d discovered that, near large colonies of penguins, the smell can be almost overwhelming.

From my spot, I could see fellow-guests clambering aboard Zodiacs to be returned to our ship, which I could also see across the bay. I watched the hikers return from their more strenuous excursion but, noting the ‘Last Zodiac returns to Ship’ time we’d been advised, I was still reluctant to break the spell Antarctica had cast.

Cuverville Island: Guests making their way back to the Zodiacs.

Eventually I rose from the snow, which was at least two feet thick but nowhere near as solid as it appeared (injudicious movement could result in collapse of the snow into a deep depression, as I’d seen happen to a fellow passenger earlier). I made my way back to the landing area, in plenty of time to avoid rebuke, but ferried back to the ship in the last or last-but-one passenger Zodiac. We took the ‘scenic route’ back to the ship, cruising amongst the strange shapes of the scattered icebergs.

"... cruising amongst the strange shapes of the scattered icebergs".

Since we had the Ship’s ‘Videographer’ Ray aboard, we took a little longer to complete the trip – at one point he was using a ‘Go-Pro’ waterproof video camera attached to a trekking pole to take underwater shots illustrating the submerged bulk of icebergs. I boarded the ship, elated at the experience of the morning, quite ready for a mug of boullion to sustain me until lunchtime.

Once everyone was back on board, the ship moved south, heading for Port Lockroy. Antarctica is, of course, in the Southern hemisphere with the seasons reversed compared with my home in England. This trip to Antarctica was ‘Silversea’s’ first of the spring, when the winter’s sea ice starts to thaw and access to some areas is still uncertain. From Cuverville Island, there were two possible routes to Port Lockroy – a shorter, northern route and a longer, southern route. The Captain attempted the northern route but decided that there was too much sea ice remaining (the ship is ice-hardened but is not an icebreaker). So we diverted to the southern route. But this, too, still had quite a lot of sea ice.

Through the ice.

However, we did get some good sightings of a group of Orca whales before the Captain decided that the visit to Port Lockroy be abandoned. The Captain and Expedition Team then had to review the various possibilities to re-plan the next part of the trip.

Jean-Baptiste Charcot

Whilst the ship was re-positioning, a lecture on the French expolorer Charcot was given by Peter in the theatre. This lecture was originally advertised for earlier in the voyage but had been cancelled on that occasion because of our ‘extra trip’ to Cape Horn.

Enterprise Island

The ship cruised to Enterprise Island where we were offered a late-afternoon Zodiac Cruise in a picturesque bay with snow-covered mountains, icebergs, birds, penguins and the possibility of whale sightings. In the middle of the bay lay the wreck of the whaling ship ‘Governoren’, which was accidentally set on fire at a party to celebrate a successful season. The amount of whale oil on board ensured the complete destruction of the ship.

Wreck of the whaling ship 'Governoren'.

Because of the altered timing of the events, the planned recap and briefing was cancelled.

Related Posts

Next post describing this trip: Visiting the Antarctic Peninsula (2).
All posts describing this trip: Chilean Fjords.
Just posts on the Antarctic segment: Antarctic Peninsula.

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, my pictures from this (and earlier) trips may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-

Cuverville Island 2016.
Through the ice 2016.
Zodiac Cruise - Enterprise Island 2016.
All my pictures taken in Antarctica on both this visit and my earlier visit in 2008 are in the collection here.

[Links to pictures added, pictures added: 1-Feb-2017]

Saturday, 26 November 2016

The South Shetland Islands

Events of Friday, 25th November

Aitcho Island

Having entered the Drake Passage with benign weather conditions on Wednesday evening, we had spent the whole of Thursday continuing the crossing and the weather remained good. Around 6.30 a.m. on Friday, we started to see the South Shetland Island chain. We anchored in the English Strait in the Aitcho Island group at about 7.30 a.m. 'Aitcho’, we were told, stands for ‘H.O.’ or ‘Hydrographic Office’. A ‘wet landing’ was announced for 8.00 a.m. There was some confusion in calling groups to Reception on Deck 3 but, eventually, my group was boarded on one of the larger Zodiacs to be taken ashore with Peter Damisch driving. The sea was quite lively and there was a cold wind. Although Peter took a roundabout route to shore to minimise the spray, we received a fair soaking. Hans Peter took us on a conducted tour of the Gentoo and Chinstrap penguin breeding colonies.

Aitcho Island: A colony of Gentoo penguins. The pink guano indicates a diet of krill.

It was overcast and started to snow – “A typical day in Antarctica” commented Hans Peter. We saw Skuas patrolling between the penguin nests, looking for a chance to steal an egg. A little later, two inquisitive Skuas walked right up to our group, reminding us that they are quite large birds. We passed a time-lapse camera set up on a short pole in the one colony, part of an ongoing research project tracking changes in penguin numbers. Hans Peter then indicated an area we could explore freely (with the usual restrictions applicable to Antarctica) and we spent the rest of the time on shore as we wished, before returning by Zodiac to the ship for an early lunch whilst the ship re-positioned to Halfmoon Island which is also part of the South Shetland Islands.

Aitcho Island: Guests boarding a Zodiac to return to the ship, ignored by the wildlife.

Halfmoon Island

It had been hoped that we would reach Halfmoon Island by 1.00 p.m. but adverse wind meant it was around 1.30 p.m. when we dropped anchor and the start of disembarkation to shore was similarly delayed. A weak sun was shining and a fairly sheltered location meant that it was much more pleasant. Various walking routes had been identified with red flags.

Halfmoon Island: 'Silver Explorer' guests explore the island.

Most of the areas were covered with snow but, fortunately, it was not actually snowing. Deviating from the trodden path by even a few inches risked a wellington-booted foot sinking into the snow up to the top of the boot but I’d taken a trekking pole on this landing and that helped a lot. In places, our marked path crossed ‘penguin highways’ extending from the shore to the top of the adjacent hill and, at these locations, penguins had right of way.

Halfmoon Island: Chinstrap penguins using one of the 'penguin highways'.

The colonies were Chinstrap apart from a single Macaroni Penguin who, we were told, is an annual visitor. Near one of the beaches, a Weddell Seal (with the attractive, innocent face all Weddell’s seem to have) was relaxing on the shingle. When the Expedition Team suggested that we should make our way back to the landing site, I carefully complied and was ferried back to the ship by Zodiac. I was in time to enjoy tea with scones.

At 6.45 p.m. we had our usual recap and briefing. Plans for the following day were somewhat flexible because of uncertainties about the weather. Then, I enjoyed another splendid dinner in the company of an English couple and our knowledgeable Guide and Historian Peter Damisch.

Related Posts

Next post describing this trip: Visiting the Antarctic Peninsula (1).
All posts describing this trip (Chile, Antarctic, Argentina, Brazil): Chilean Fjords.
Just posts on the Antarctic segment: Antarctic Peninsula.

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, my pictures from this (and earlier) trips may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-

Aitcho Island 2016.
Halfmoon Island 2016.
All my pictures taken in Antarctica on both this visit and my earlier visit in 2008 are in the collection here.

[Links to pictures added, pictures added: 1-Feb-2017]

Friday, 25 November 2016

The Drake Passage

This trip to the Antarctic Peninsula is a continuation of my trip to the Chilean Fjords.

Events of Thursday, 24th November

Albatross were never far from the ship.

Having entered the Drake Passage with benign weather conditions on the previous evening, we spent the whole of Thursday continuing the crossing and the weather remained good. The sea state was also moderate, although, as we traversed the Antarctic Convergence (where the warm water from the north meets the cold water from the south) the sea water temperature dropped from 10 degrees Celsius to zero degrees Celsius.

Ship's chart of the Drake Passage. Cape Horn is near the top of the picture, the Antarctic Peninsula at the bottom.
Click for larger view

Sheri gave a most interesting lecture of the Antarctic Treaty and its provisions which makes Antarctica a unique example of co-operation between many countries in the administration of a continent.

One of the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty relates to the preservation of the environment and, to comply with this, there was a Biosecurity Inspection, item by item, of all guests’ outer clothing before going ashore in Antarctica.

After lunch, the ship’s bridge was open to visitors for a time so, of course, I re-acquainted myself with the modern systems which control the ship.

'Silver Explorer' Bridge Visit.

Once the ship’s internet service had been resumed, I managed to sort out problems on my laptop which I think were partly caused by earlier intermittent internet service. By the time I’d checked e-mail and updated the blog, it was time for afternoon tea, which a particularly jolly affair as one of the waiters from the restaurant, Allan, gave a “Barista class with Cappuccino and coffee art demonstrations”.

At 5.00 p.m. Peter Damisch gave one of his invariably stimulating and meticulously-researched lectures titled “Shackleton, By Endurance We Conquer”.

The Recap and Briefing at 6.45 p.m. reviewed recent sightings and outlined the plans for the following day at the South Shetland Islands.

Related Posts

Next post describing this trip: The South Shetland Islands.
All posts describing this trip: Chilean Fjords.
Just posts on the Antarctic segment: Antarctic Peninsula.

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, my pictures from this (and earlier) trips may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the album listed:-
Silver Explorer.
'Silver Explorer' Bridge Visit.
All my pictures taken in Antarctica on both this visit and my earlier visit in 2008 are in the collection here.

[Links to pictures added, pictures added: 30-Jan-2017]

Cape Horn

On Monday 21st November, I got in a muddle with the dating of events, which I corrected as soon as I was able but, once we entered the Drake Passage, we had some (fortunately temporary) trouble with internet access.

Events of Wednesday, 23rd November

The previous evening, Kara, the Expedition Team Leader, had announced that we were to take an alternate channel through the islands of Terra del Fuego which should save time, allowing a closer look at Cape Horn, which the Chilean Navy had approved.

Our first few days travelling south from Valparaiso had enjoyed good weather and this had continued overnight. On Wednesday morning Kara announced that, with a following wind, we had made good time overnight. As we continued our transit to Cape Horn, I was able to spend some time outside on the open deck without the need to wrap up.

IAATO Briefing

At ten o’clock there was a mandatory IAATO Briefing in the theatre. The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) was set up by the industry to regulate tourism in Antarctica so as to comply with the objectives of the multi-governmental Antarctic Treaty System which has developed from the original Antarctic Treaty of 1959 designating Antarctica as “a zone of peace and science”. The briefing outlined guests’ roles in:-
Protecting Antarctic wildlife
Respecting protected areas
Respecting scientific research
Remaining safe
Keeping Antarctica pristine
IAATO has a website here.

Learning about Whales

A feature of the Silversea Cruises is the regular lectures by members of the Expedition Team. At 11:15, Luke’s lecture on whales and identifying species was warmly received and was followed by many questions from the audience

. Approaching Cape Horn

The afternoon lecture by Peter on the little-known Polar explorer Charcot was postponed as we approached the impressive bulk of Cape Horn. The decision to divert to Cape Horn had introduced a complication: We’d had two Chilean Pilots on board since leaving Valparaiso and I think the original plan called for us to release the pilots at a small port to the north of Cape Horn. The small manned station actually at Cape Horn, we discovered, is serviced by the Chilean Navy and the revised plan called for us to ‘drop’ the Pilots at this station, from where the Navy would transfer them to an airport for an internal flight back north.

Approaching Cape Horn.

So we ‘Rounded the Horn’ and could then see the lighthouse on the next headland where the manned station is located. As we came closer, the ‘Albatross Memorial’ could be seen near to the station. Of course, all of this was very unfamiliar to most passengers (and, indeed, most of the Expedition Team).

Cape Horn Station.

The plan was to put the Pilots ashore by Zodiac and assess whether it would be safe for the guests to make a landing. As we anchored a few hundred yards from the steep cliffs, we could see a tiny, boulder-strewn beach with a daunting-looking set of wooden steps zig-zagging up the cliff face. Our survey Zodiac reported favourably so those wishing to go ashore dressed warmly for a ‘wet landing’. Since the landing groups rotate, on this occasion I was in one of the last Zodiac groups.

Cape Horn: The landing place, steps, funicular and (left background) the Albatross Memorial.

Our Zodiac driver went bow to the shore, with two members of the Expedition Team holding on to the Zodiac whilst passengers clambered over the side of the boat into a foot or so of water. The first couple of yards over large, round stones was tricky, but help was at hand from the Expedition Team members. Then it was onto well-constructed wooden stairs with a handrail – a stiff climb but with wonderful views from the top. I was surprised to find a working funicular railway provided to carry stores from the landing site to the top of the cliff. There was a modern brick building, with a huge Chilean flag facing the sea which housed the electric motor and winch for the funicular railway. Nearby was a fuel tank and a helicopter landing pad. A long boardwalk with some steps led to the lighthouse building with a modern extension serving as office, visitor centre and accommodation for the family in residence. Just outside was a small, rustic wooden church. Another boardwalk with steps led to the ‘Albatross Memorial’ which commemorates all sailors who lost their lives near Cape Horn.

A Navy launch arrived and anchored near our ship to collect our two Chilean Pilots and one man from the Cape Horn station. The Captain of the launch and three of his men took the opportunity presented by their unusual assignment to come ashore and take pictures. The Naval Captain chatted to us in excellent English. We had plenty of time to enjoy this very special visit before returning to the ship.

View from Cape Horn station. L: Navy Launch, R: 'Silver Explorer'. In the foreground, a Zodiac is returning passengers to the ship.

With everyone back on board, we set off on our long crossing of the Drake Passage which would take the rest of Wednesday, all of Thursday, making landfall at the South Shetland Islands sometime Friday morning.

Related Posts

Next post describing this trip: The Drake Passage.
All posts describing this trip: Chilean Fjords.

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, my pictures from this (and earlier) trips may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the album listed:-
Cape Horn.
All my pictures of Chile can be found in the collection Chile.

[Links to pictures added, pictures added: 26-Jan-2017]

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Visiting Punta Arenas

Events of Tuesday, 22nd November

I slept well with the ship moored against the jetty at Punta Arenas. My cabin on the port side was away from the quay, looking across the bay, so I was not disturbed by any lighting on the jetty. The programme offered a trip titled ‘Living Heritage in Punta Arenas’ by tour bus, lasting around 5 hours. By no means all of the guests took this trip – I think the duration discouraged some.

On leaving the ship at 8.00 a.m. we first had to walk to the landward end of the jetty past the activity on the dock where one cargo ship was unloading some sort of packaged marine-related product onto a curtain-sided lorry. At the gate I’d used the previous evening, we were then directed through the Punta Arenas Passenger Terminal (the inevitable steel-framed warehouse with souvenir shop) where we passed through a metal detector arch and all backpacks and similar hand-baggage was X-rayed. Two modern tour buses were waiting outside, each with an English-speaking local guide and members of the ship’s Expedition Team.

Punta Arenas tour: View of town from the jetty.

Punta Arenas is in the Region Magellianes and, because of the remoteness from Santiago, Chile’s capital, the region has its own local government and the people are fiercely independent. There is a regional flag and a popular movement for further independence.

The bus drove to a viewpoint on La Cruz Hill where we had a few minutes to admire the town laid out below us. Then we set off north through the town, just starting to come alive in the leisurely way I’ve come to expect on this continent. It was a surprise to see just how far the town has spread out around the bay – we must have travelled two or three miles on a dual carriageway before we came to the end of the development, passing attractive detached housing, schools, hospitals and university buildings. I believe that there are three state universities in Punta Arenas, plus private facilities. One university campus had an open air industrial museum attached. We turned back towards the town centre when we reached the military base near the Asmar site which appeared to be a ship repair yard (this is one of three shipyards operated by Asmar Shipyards in Chile - their website is here). On the way back, I had a good view of the public cemetery donated by the successful Braun family. The bus stopped outside the Maggiorino Borgatello Museum (the limit of my exploration the previous evening) and we spent a too-short 45 minutes touring the museum’s four sections.

Notes on the history of the museum

The indigenous peoples of the area around the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego were the Kaweskar, Tehuelches, Selk’nam and Yamanas. In the 19th century, the Jesuits promoted an initiative to these areas, the Salesian Mission, to convert the indigenous population to Christianity. In 1893, one of the priests, Maggiorino Borgatello and Coadjutor Angel Benove started the museum to form a record of the fast-disappearing indigenous cultures.

The first section of the museum deals with the archaeology, paleontology and fauna of Patagonia.

The second section covers the now-extinct indigenous peoples and the Salesian Mission.

Maggiorino Borgatello Museum: Part of the displays of artefacts of the indigenous peoples.

The third section presents a history of colonisation, immigration, evangelisation, the whaling industry and the exploration of the Antarctic and housing artefacts used by the indigenous cultures.

The last section deals with modern industrialisation of the region, covering the extraction of gas and oil and the development of aviation.

Maggiorino Borgatello Museum: A large model of a petrochemical plant.

The museum has a website here.

Plaza de Armas

After our brief museum visit I boarded our bus with some reluctance and we drove to the Plaza de Armas (which I’d also reached on foot the previous evening) where we had 30 minutes to explore. It was much busier than the previous evening but still with the same relaxed feeling. It was a warm, sunny day which, we were told, is very unusual for Punta Arenas where the normal weather is dull and overcast.

Punta Arenas tour: Plaza de Armas.

Our bus then continued south to the edge of town where we were to visit a sheep farm. On the way we passed two old ‘nodding donkey’ oil well pumps and a locomotive boiler displayed, near where the hulks of a number of old ships had been beached. The largest ship had four masts and what looked like an iron hull (later research revealed this as the 'County of Peebles', described on Wikipedia here and, a few hundred yards further south, the remains of 'Lord Lonsdale' detailed here on an interesting website called 'Wrecksite').

Punta Arenas tour: 'County of Peebles' in use as a breakwater.

El Galpon Estanza

The area we saw was a ‘demonstration farm’ but the owner who conducted the tour also has 30, 000 sheep! We were invited into a large, modern wooden barn with tables and seating for perhaps 100 which could clearly be used when required as a function room for full meals. Old farming and domestic artefacts were displayed everywhere. The was a display of a number of cast iron doors from old wood burning stoves and one large complete wood burning stove made by ‘Smith … Columbian Stove Works … London Liverpool Glasgow & London’ now just used as a serving table. After a brief introduction, the owner showed a short video on the history of the area and the introduction of sheep farming. The owner then led us up the hillside through a nature walk set up by him to re-introduce various local flora and past a small field with a group of sheep and llamas to another wooden barn set up to demonstrate sheep shearing.

El Galpon Estanza: The owner describes flora on our nature walk.

One end of the sheep shearing shed was provided with tiered wooden benches, theatre-style, to accommodate at least 100 people. This faced a shearing area with five shearing sets. One set had an electric ‘Lister Shearing 3-speed Shearing Set’ made after Lister became part of Hawker Siddeley which offered speeds of 2000, 2850 and 3200 r.p.m. (by manually shifting a drive belt connecting the motor pulley to the driven pulley). However, there was also an common overhead drive shaft to the shearing sets and a large single cylinder ‘Lister’ stationary water-cooled diesel engine which an elderly assistant laboriously hand-cranked into life, where upon the farm owner (who, it was becoming clear, was quite an enthusiast for preserving the old ways and equipment) slipped a drive belt around the Lister’s flywheel to power up the shearing sets connected to the overhead drive shaft. A retired shearer was then introduced to us and a sheep was brought in, which three minutes later had had its fleece removed in virtually one piece.

El Galpon Estanza: A demonstration of sheep shearing.

We were then invited into the other half of the shed which served as a garage for the farm owner’s collection of cars and an early ‘Evinrude’ outboard motor for boats which we were invited to examine.

The owner then led us to another similar wooden barn, this one laid out as a museum of the history of the area. What was particularly interesting was a section devoted to the owner’s family with photographs and artefacts.

El Galpon Estanza: Part of the owner's museum.

Finally, we returned to the first barn where we sat and were given drinks and a snack. Then it was back onto our two tour buses for the short drive back to the Passenger Terminal at the Port (which I believe is operated by EP Austral) and the walk along the jetty to ‘Silver Explorer’.

Leaving Punta Arenas

At our scheduled departure time,2.00 p.m., two tugs were standing by next to the ship – ‘Beagle’ which had attended our arrival the previous day and ‘Calafate’ (replacing ‘Pelicano II’ from the previous day), but bunkering was still in progress from a large, articulated tanker parked next to the ship. The tanker did not have pumping facilities so it was supported by a pick-up truck towing a rather home-made trailer. This trailer mounted a large automotive engine and gearbox coupled to a pump to transfer fuel via hoses from the tanker to the ship. Once pumping operations had finished, the ship prepared to leave.

Leaving Punta Arenas: 'Silver Explorer' prepares to leave after being replenished by lorry and tanker.

The tanker driver made rather a business out of reversing the articulated vehicle along the jetty, not made easier by the pick-up towing the pump trailer making rather a mess of turning round and then sneaking out ahead of the fuel tanker. As expected, no assistance was required from the tugs as the Captain manoeuvred the ship away from the quay. One puzzle was that a very noisy small tug ‘Atlas’ came bow-first against the opposite side of the jetty with power applied as we left, almost as if our departure was expected to displace the whole jetty sideways!

! Later in the afternoon, I attended Sheri Bluestein’s lecture titled ‘Cool Science in Cold Places’ outlining some of the research work being carried out at the various Antarctic Research Bases.

There was a special, short briefing at 6.15 p.m. where Kara announced a change of plan. Instead of following the originally-intended route to the Drake Passage via the Strait of Magellan, we were to follow an alternate channel through the islands of Terra del Fuego which was actually shorter and the time saved might allow us to have a closer look at Cape Horn, with the Chilean Navy’s blessing. All would depend upon wind and weather.

At 7.00 p.m. there was a Venetian Society cocktail party in the theatre. The Venetian Society is the charity set up by Silversea’s owners. Repeat travellers with Silversea are enrolled upon agreeing to a modest daily donation whilst on board.

For me, the last event of a busy and enjoyable day was dinner in the restaurant. Some guests liked to go on to the Panorama Lounge for a ‘nightcap’ but I usually spent some time sorting out photographs or writing text for my blog whilst the memory of the events was fresh.

Related Posts

Next post describing this trip: Cape Horn.
All posts describing this trip: Chilean Fjords.

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, my pictures from this (and earlier) trips may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-

Punta Arenas tour.
Maggiorino Borgatello Museum.
El Galpon Estanza.
Leaving Punta Arenas.
All my pictures of Chile can be found in the collection Chile.

[Links to pictures added, pictures added: 26-Jan-2017]