Following a disappointing false start to the Detaille season last year (sea ice prevented access so it did not happen) we were again looking forward anxiously to returning to the old FIDS sledging Base 'W' to continue the conservation works we started in early 2011 (see previous blogs). 'We' being a team of three from the Antarctic Heritage Trust – Anna Malaos and Michael Powell (both returning for a second stint!) and Tudor Morgan.
As we rely on the generosity of IAATO expedition vessels for all our staff transfers in the Antarctic the route we take is not always as straightforward as one would think! Detaille Island is the furthest south of the historic sites we manage currently lying at 66 degrees 52 minutes and just south of the Antarctic Circle. This season we have been supported by Hurtigruten Fram who offered to transfer us as far south as Port Lockroy where Lindblad Expeditions' National Geographic Explorer would collect us for the last leg of the journey.
So, the plan was made, bags were packed and we were off! After celebrating New Year's Eve in the air somewhere over the Atlantic, Anna and Tudor joined Michael in Ushuaia in southern Argentina for a celebratory Argentinian steak and Beagle beer to toast the New Year and the season ahead.
Then we were off again – sailing south with Fram (Fram is the Norwegian for 'forward') one of our first landings was on the lesser visited east side of the Antarctic Peninsula where we landed at Hope Bay. Here we visited the large Argentine military base 'Esperanza' where Michael, Tudor (and Anna) enjoyed reminiscing about their old British Antarctic Survey days when we came across this old skidoo! However, all fun aside Hope Bay has a deep
Antarctic history and we were fortunate enough here to visit a number of historic sites including the stone hut in which three men (Andersson, Duse and Grunden) from Otto Nordeskjold's Swedish
Expedition of 1901-1904 overwintered for two years before being rescued. At Hope Bay we also visited the British Operation Tabarin Base D where
we saw the remains of the original 1945 Eagle House which burnt down in November 1948 tragically killing Oliver Burd and Michael Green. A new hut was built in 1952 and named Trinity House – the hut still stands and it has now been handed over to the care of Uruguay. We were lucky to see it briefly from the outside although were unable to go inside as it is not staffed this season.
The night before Fram dropped us off at Port Lockroy were asked to take part in the regular fashion show. Anna and Tudor joined in with the ship expedition staff and officers for a few minutes of fun! Michael cheered on from the sidelines.
We arrived at Port Lockroy a day earlier than expected and enjoyed catching up with Florence, Kath, Ben and Flo who have been working there since November. We had four days on site to prepare our kit and supplies for Detaille Island and quickly made good progress allowing us some time to visit the neighbouring historic site Damoy Hut which was in good condition following Ben's recent maintenance works. We also had time to make some improvements to the museum at Bransfield House relocating stoves to their original locations, repairing some rotten floorboards and improving the display in the newly restored base leader's office.
And then we were off again! The National Geographic Explorer (Lindblad) picked us up for the final leg to Detaille Island. We had a fantastic two nights onboard and again were lucky to make some very interesting landings. Booth Island the following morning was a particular favourite where Charcot (who charted and named Port Lockroy, Detaille Island and many other features on the Peninsula) overwintered in 1904 during his first Antarctic 'Francais' expedition – here we saw a navigation cairn and a stone magnetometre hut that Charcot and his men left behind. Booth Island is remarkable in having three species of brushtail penguins nesting together (Adelies, chinstraps and gentoos). We had some fantastic whale sightings close up during a short zodiac cruise amongst the many icebergs in the bay known as the iceberg graveyard.
In the afternoon we visited Vernadsky station (run by the Ukrainian Antarctic Programme). The staff there act as caretakers for neighbouring historic site Wordie House where the ship allowed us a short time ashore. We were very pleased to find it in excellent condition with little snow and the hut clean and dry and obviously well cared for. Michael was pleased to find the British Crown Land sign in good condition following his hard work to restore it last season. Anna also discovered an original jigsaw puzzle which was lovingly and carefully put together by Rachel last season when she was completing the artefact cataloguing (wasn't she working?). We were amused to find the note that Rachel left behind explaining how satisfying the puzzle was and the board she used in case any future visitors wished to have a go also! On this journey we have managed to visit all the historic sites currently under the care of the Trust.
That night we left Vernadsky and Captain Oliver Kreuss ploughed further and further south navigating through pack ice, rafts of brash ice and icebergs in waters filled with humpback whales – or so it seemed... we didn't know where to look! We were all out on deck taking in the surroundings and blinking lazily in the blinding evening Antarctic sun and refusing to go to bed until the sun dipped below the southern horizon. Morning came with the thud of an iceberg and we were up and on the bridge by 6am with Detaille Island in sight 11 miles away. The visibility to the south was fantastic and we could just about make out the sight of the anemometer tower on the island. We knew that our landing was imminent so we went straight to a big and hearty breakfast knowing we had a long and busy day ahead of us and by 7:30am we were in the first zodiac and on our way to the island.
Magnus the chief ice officer and five deckhands very kindly helped ferry and carry out some of our essential provisions, kit and gear ashore for us and across the snow capped island to be depoted in the hut generator shed. The
conditions over the last two years have clearly been harsh as five strips of the newly laid felt had been ripped off and the shutters had received a battering from the winds. Otherwise we were pleased to find that following our hard work two seasons ago the hut had faired well and far better than we had expected.
Finally, we are here! So far so good. We are settled in for the next four weeks or so and ready to get started – we just need this lovely weather to hold.
Anna, Tudor and Michael