After getting back onboard from camping there was time for a warm shower, and to sort out some laundry, before heading to breakfast. While we ate Ortelius was on the move again heading for our first base visit of the trip, and the commute there was far from mundane!
We sailed along the Neumayer Channel, named for Georg von Neumayer (1826-1909, a German geophysicist), which separates Anvers Island from Wiencke and Doumer Islands, in the Palmer Archipelago.
It's a long narrow channel, 26 km x 2.4 km, with spectacular mountainous islands on either side. Captivating from the panoramic vistas down to the detail of eroded ice textures and colour spectrum of ice and sea.
Once again mirror calm seas defied my expectations of Antarctic weather, our incredible run of luck continued. The 'S shape' channel constantly gave the impression we were sailing into a bay but then it would open up to reveal the next leg. The geography combined with ever moving ice made for challenging navigation, even in this weather.
I look at these astonishing photos, entirely because of the scenery and not the photographer, knowing being there was about a million times better!
Some sights and sounds from the day;
With Ortelius cruising at about 10-11 knots (~20 km/h) it was amazing to see penguins overtaking us. Gentoo penguin can hit max 36 km/h when sufficiently motivated; chasing, or avoiding being, prey. The water was so still, so clear, I spent ages just watching them doing this.
Pippa and Pierre spotted Killer Whale in the distance and we followed them for about half an hour. It was good to see but not close enough to get a worthwhile shot with any of the lens I had.
Port Lockroy is a natural harbour, on the north-western shore of Wiencke Island, and a favourite stop for all the ships. In addition to stunning scenery it has a small base, so small it is limited to ~50 visitors at a time.
For those not doing the Base visit there were zodiac tours or kayaking alternatives; with a swap around so everyone saw everything. This is one huge advantage of being on a relatively small (by cruise standards) ship.
Pippa skippered the zodiac cruise I was on, with expert commentary on all the wildlife we encountered. There was a small shelf of sea ice still in the bay with seals basking. This area has a lot of human history too; whaling, spying(!) and science.
Base A was built in 1944 as part of a secret mission, code-name Operation Tabarin, to establish a British presence in Antarctica and monitor German activity there. After the war the base was used for meteorological, zoological and botanical surveys until 1962 when it closed permanently. In 1994 it received historical recognition and was restored back to its operating condition. Since 2006 the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust have managed it and occupy it over summer continuing research and preservation. To help fund this they operate a gift shop and the most southerly public Post Office in the world.
Base A is on Goudier Island; the little shed, once used for boats, is now food storage. Thought it a bit odd, living on an island, that they don't have a boat at all now.
The base accommodation is now a slightly more modern Nissen Hut, with solar power.
The 'white carpet' entry was actually towels to dry our boots which had been bathed/washed before entering the base. This is to prevent, probably not entirely successfully, lovely smelling pink penguin poo being trekked into the building. One aspect of living at Port Lockroy that is hard to avoid.
There are ongoing conservation efforts to maintain these 1940-60s buildings and artifacts as they were in the day.
A typical bedroom and I suspect, not from experience thankfully, a very cool long drop toilet!
I sent a few postcards and all but one made it to the NZ destinations (via Chile & London). I suspect the one which didn't was probably lost in NZ!
Having done the post I had a chance to chat with some of the resident staff. They had been here a couple of weeks (they stay November through March) and it had taken three attempts to get in. The idyllic bay we had sailed into had been chocked with ice, wracked by storms. After a rugged Drake Passage crossing it had taken several attempts to get through the Neumayer channel and multiple ship transfers (they 'hitch' on cruise ships) battling ice and storms to get there.
Originally aiming to land about November 10th, it was around a week later before they arrived. It took another week to prepare the living space (digging the snow around their Nissen Hut), Museum, Shop & Post Office for the likes of us. All this while trying to revive the power & coms systems, after the winter, and relying on Jerry can water (bought from the ship) as everything else was frozen.
Hearing this, on a beautiful, still, warm (9°c!) sunny day was yet another reminder of just how lucky we have been with weather.
I got a souvenir shirt but was also taken with some of the other gifts in the store. I thought the penguins (photo below) would be a cool gift for a young kid and remembered a work call before the trip. I was talking to a US based company and mentioned would not be able to talk again for about a month as was going off-line, to Antarctica. Mike was curious about the trip and I sent some links including the World Expeditions Trip page with photos (no longer on-line) & the Dr Karl video. In a later call, shortly before departure, he mentioned his four year old son was intrigued 'with the man going to Antarctica'; making him show the photos & play Dr Karl's video several times. Decided it would be cool to send him something from Antarctica, a penguin it was!
While waiting to be served I popped 'Lockie' (as I subsequently named him) in the window and took a snap with a real penguin in the background.
As I made my way back to the ship took a few more 'Lockie on location' snaps, and thought about making a story of his travels...
Zet was our Zodiac skipper back to the ship, we arrived while some others were unloading so he filled time with some high speed donuts in the bay, such fun!
Back on board Ortelius I returned to the cabin to let Lockie settle in, and found my laundry already done. Amazing service from the crew.
We sailed from Port Lockroy to Damoy Point, the site for tonight's camping. I was really glad they could go as building ice in the bay made the decision marginal. Captain Yury had to balance the risk of getting iced in even though Ortelius is ice-strengthened. In fact its 1A rating meant two other ships (not similarly ice rated) joined us for the night, albeit keeping their distance, so could follow Ortelius' escape path should it be necessary. It is extremely rare to see another vessel, the operators cooperate to avoid it, but exceptional circumstances meant safety prevailed.
We had another Dr Karl talk (the science of perception, beer goggles and more) and, after dinner, one from Lucas about the life and times of glaciers. As evening approached another, by now expected, sunset spectacular began.
The calm of Antarctic evening water colours
Lucas (guide) frames the setting sun getting his own shot.
No digital filters, no photoshop, just a very distant nuclear furnace (at about 22:30) reflecting off mostly frozen water.
The setting sun loses out to a lowering cloud base, a sign of things to come. In spite of little sleep the night before and a full on day, both physically and sensory overload, the spectacular evening meant it was close to midnight before I finally gave in to sleep. This place is incredible.
Day 6 – 29th November 2019 | Damoy Point and Port Lockroy
GPS position at 0800: 64°45.7 S 62°50.0 W | Air Temp: 8°C | Wind: NW1 | Sea state: Calm