Blog 5 | Attempting Detaille
After visiting Port Lockroy and Damoy, we travelled further south to Rothera, Base R, Britain's largest Antarctic Research Station, where supplies were unloaded. From here, we planned to sail over to Blaiklock Refuge Hut and then attempt to sail north again via a tight passage known as 'The Gullet' to HSM No.83, Base W on Detaille Island.
The weather however, had other plans, preventing us from moving on for some days. The Captain of the ship and the British Antarctic Survey team at Rothera reviewed ice and meteorological charts hoping the weather would change to allow a safe passage up and around Adelaide Island instead of through 'The Gullet'. In the video clip to the right you can see the sea ice surrounding the ship and beautiful as it is, it can make transits very tricky! The Antarctic winter is definitely on the way!
Blaiklock Refuge Hut
Blaiklock refuge hut is considered an integral part of the Horseshoe Island HSM No.63, though located several miles away on Blaiklock Island. The hut hasn’t yet been visited by any UKAHT personnel so I was very excited and honoured to be the first in the team. The last report we received was in 2010, when it was described as being in urgent need of repair. As these reports are over ten years old now, the plan was for me to gather information on the current condition of the hut and any associated artefacts, and carry out emergency repairs.Image: Blaiklock refuge hut in 2010, photo by Phil Wickens
Base W was established in 1956 on Detaille Island as a British scientific research base. It is the last of our HSM sites to be surveyed as part of our Conservation Management Plans. Detaille only operated for three years and was hastily abandoned in 1959 due to encroaching sea ice, and when the ship bringing in winter supplies couldn’t reach it, the men took a few personal items before sledging 30 miles to join the ship. Despite its short operation, much was achieved in terms of geological mapping and surveying of the surrounding areas. Today there is lots of sea ice around us and very rough seas - in fact, I am having difficulty trying to remain on the bed while writing this!
Unfortunately, after days of waiting and watching from the ship in Rothera, the difficult decision was made to not visit Detaille or Blaiklock as the weather and sea ice continued to make the passage and a safe landing impossible. Although this was disappointing, it was not unexpected. We knew there was always a possibility that we wouldn’t make a landing here due to the access issues and local conditions on the day. This is part and parcel of operating in such remote, wild places and just means we will have to try again when we can!
I remember Detaille very fondly from my last visit and still recall getting the impression that the previous occupants had left quickly. Since the base’s closure it has remained unoccupied and relatively unaltered, preserving it as a time capsule of 1950s Antarctic life. I spent all day half expecting tired and hungry men to return, hoping for a hot meal. I can also vividly recall the thousands of artefacts that were inside the base, including a homemade scrabble board, hundreds of tins of custard and even more strangely a bottle of human plasma....! We will be back!