Port Lockroy Blogs

13 November 2014: Ushuaia to Antarctica on Ioffe

IoffeandDaveMacGonagallHalfMoonBayLeaving home for a long trip is always exciting, but when the destination is Antarctica, everything piqued. Our excitement was building as we boarded One Ocean’s expedition vessel Akademik Ioffe in Ushuaia, Argentina, after coming together as a team in the southern hemisphere for the first time. This is my first time to Antarctica, while my new teammate, Liesl, has been there before but was equally excited. The journey from our homes to Port Lockroy took over a week, but it was exceedingly faster than Antarctica’s earlier explorers, who would have endured months of sailing to reach the southern continent. We were very grateful for the comfortable, fast, modern ship to take us across the Drake Passage to Goudier Island -- a superb journey to work!

With luck on our side, a storm system had just passed through and while there was some residual swell, the Drake treated us kindly and allowed us great conditions for bird watching from the decks and bridge. The knowledgeable staff were always at hand to answer questions and assist with species identification. Of course, we took frequent breaks to enjoy wonderful meals and the good company of our travelling companions from around the globe.

We made our first landing on the South Shetland Islands. IoffeAmyTakingPhotosThis was a stunning place, with many gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, four species of seal (elephant, Weddell, crabeater, and leopard) and even a single macaroni penguin, all posing beautifully while I took far too many photos. The scenery was also spectacular and hard to capture on camera.

That same day, we could not have anticipated a more exciting place to stop than Deception Island! We were so motivated by our landings that we partook in yoga on the top deck before delicately passing through Neptune’s Bellows as the cloud closed in, making it very atmospheric. One can imagine how excited Nathaniel B. Palmer and his crew would have been when first discovering the narrow opening in 1820 and the sheltered bay inside. The visit to Whalers Bay was immensely interesting with relics of the Hektor whaling station and British Operation Tabarin Base ‘B’ (Port Lockroy is Base ‘A’).

09WhalersBayFIDASEhutThe whaling station greatly aided the advance of exploration on the Peninsula in the early 1900s by providing support and provisions for adventurers such as Charcot. Later, Deception Island was also used as a base for the first Antarctic flights. Having recently watched the UKAHT’s new historic introduction to Whaler’s Bay (you can watch it here), we were keen to see the site for ourselves and witness the level of decay in the abandoned buildings and equipment. Amazingly, the buildings are largely intact, despite many bases on the Peninsula using Deception Island as a source of building materials in past years.

Some brave passengers took the opportunity to step from the volcanic black beach for the ‘polar plunge,’ but despite the infusion of geothermic water into the area it was still very cold!
We sent warm thoughts southward to Base ‘A’ from Base ‘B’, knowing that the rest of our team, Tudor, Sarah and Skinner, had arrived at Goudier Island that day after a lovely voyage on MS Expedition to start shovelling entrances and preparing the base for opening.

Amy and Liesl arriving at Port Lockroy with the friendly gangwaymanBefore our next landing we had the opportunity to watch Penguin Post Office with the Ioffe staff and passengers, before an excellent question and answer period. The conservation work the Antarctic Heritage Trust accomplishes was of great interest to those on board, and describing life-on-ice at Base ‘A’ ‘then and now’ made us all the more eager to get there. We experienced a ‘real’ (i.e., on-the-continent) Antarctic landing at Orne Harbour in strong cold winds and snow, before we entered the Neumayer Channel in beautiful weather and rounded Damoy point to our first sighting of Port Lockroy. I immediately recognised it from photos and started jumping up and down with excitement – our home for the next 4 months!

It was so wonderful to receive our new friends from the Ioffe ashore for a visit to Base ‘A’ before they continued on their adventure. We are so appreciative for One Ocean’s support, especially for giving us a wonderful passage to start our Port Lockroy season!

Amy Kincaid