06.03.2012 - 06.03.2012 -15 °C
Earlier this morning we passed through the scenic Lemaire Channel a 11km long and 1.6 km wide channel which separates Booth Island from the Antarctic continent. It was originally discovered during Dalmann’s German expedition of 1873 but Gerlache was the first to navigate the channel in 1898 and named it in honour of Charles Lemaire, a Belgian explorer of the Congo. At its narrowest point the channel is a mere 800m wide and when you take into account the fact that your sharing this channel with some rather large icebergs it becomes a rather tight piece of navigation for a ship of this size.
Our first excursion of the day sees us visit Pleneau Bay, which lies just south of the Lemaire Channel. Here we were treated to what can best be described as an Iceberg Graveyard. Many of the Icebergs here originate from as far south as the Ross Ice Shelf and have drifted for many thousands of kilometres before finally being driven aground by the relentless power of the sea and the winds. Passing between these towering behemoths, which stretched as far as the eye could see, one was lost for words as we gazed upon their unique shapes which had been caved magically by wind and water.
Later that morning we had an opportunity to visit Petermann Island. This low rounded Island is home to the worlds southern most colony of Gentoo penguins and also contains a number of Adelie penguins. The rocky island was discovered by a German expedition of 1873-74, who named it after the geographer August Petermann. Seeing the coast was clear we did our very own bit for Queen and Country and made a lightening assault on the Argentine refuge hut to ensure that there were no supplies of Malbec wine tucked away...unfortunately we were too late as it was obvious that the penguins had beaten us to the prize.
Following a quick bite back on board and a warm up, we then headed out to Wordie House and Vernadsky Station an ex British Antarctic Survey station. In recognition of Britain’s contribution to scientific research and exploration, seven of its unoccupied sites have been declared Historic Sites and Monuments under the Antarctic Treaty System. One of these sites is Wordie House which is located on Winter Island. The station was named after Sir James Wordie, a chief scientist (Geologist) on Shackletons legendary Trans Atlantic Expedition (1914-1916) – Endurance and is now conserved and managed by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.
The Ukrainian Research Station - Vernadsky (65 Degrees 15 Minutes South, 64 Degrees 16 Minutes West) was purchased from the British for the nominal price of 1 GBP in 1995 - apparently it was cheaper for them to sell the station than remove the structure. Faraday station or Station F as it was then known, was occupied continuously for 49 years between 1947 and 1996 and is renowned for where scientists first observed the depletion in the ozone layer. Having being treated to a superb tour by one of the Research scientists our expedition leader turned to his collective audience and asked if there were any remaining questions, true to form our resident loon raised her hand and asked him whether it would be possible for him to start from scratch again as she hadn’t been paying much attention to his presentation....his face was a picture. Funnily enough this prompted me to remember the old adage never work with children or animals!
Following dinner earlier we decided to indulge in a wee tipple, purely medicinal in order to keep the cold from our bones (any excuse!). However, though the ice wasn’t your normal tap water, it was a chunk from a several thousand year old glacier. It sounds strange but sitting back sipping a whiskey with ice which has spent the last millennium playing silent witness to an ever changing world is a pretty surreal and special moment!
And finally for those of you looking to brush up on your knowledge for the occasional pub quiz here’s some fascinating facts for you. Did you know that the air here is dryer than that in the Sahara - which helps account for the excellent state of preservation of Scott’s expedition hut. Up to 80% of the worlds fresh water is frozen here in ice sheets up to 4 km thick.