Two Anniversaries - 3 February 2013

Today, the 3rd of February, as well as being blog day, is also a special day. It’s 49 years to the day since James Marr and the men of Operation Tabarin reached Deception Island, a super-volcano whose flooded crater forms a  harbour 7 miles across. The HMS William Scoresby sailed through Neptune's Bellows, the only opening into the crater, and arrived at Whaler's Bay. The buildings of the deserted whaling station there were converted to make the British Base B, after which the men sailed on to Port Lockroy erecting the buildings here on the island and establishing Base A.

Not only this, but it is also 29 years to the day since I was born. Please, there's no need to rush to send me your birthday wishes. Thanks to Florence and Flo’s briefings, I have already had it from nearly every one of the 300 passengers during today's visits, including a chorus of “Happy Birthday” from a group of Australians in the shop. So, what do you do to celebrate a birthday in Antarctica? Well, I have treated myself to my first shave in three months, and hopefully, we will have time to enjoy a drink or two this evening maybe with some ancient glacial ice.

Twin Peaks at Cape ReynardI also received an early birthday treat on Tuesday night. We were picked up late in the evening by the ship Ocean Nova who had kindly offered to take the four of us, and our guest Kim, on an excursion down Antarctica's most scenic waterway, the Lemaire Channel, and then on to the Yalour Islands. We sailed through the early morning, and were woken at 7am as we passed the twin peaks at Cape Renard.

Wondering if the magic of the Lemaire could be topped, we spent the rest of the morning trying to do so. This began with a Zodiac cruise on the lookout for whales, but failing to see anything except a brief sighting of a small Minke, we headed further south towards the Argentine Islands. Seeing masts and pylons over the rocky islands we realised how close we were to the Ukranian research station Vernadsky and the historic British base Wordie House. It would be a shame to come so close and not visit the base that is also looked after by the Trust. So we picked up the key from the Ukranians, sadly having to decline their offer of vodka in their legendery bar, and headed over. It was fantastic to explore the rooms and see the place that we have heard so much about, and it was fun to imagine what it would be like to live there instead of at Port Lockroy.

The Team at Wordie House

On our return to the ship, we we were checked out by a playful young humpback who came so close to the boat you could smell its breath when it blew. An awe inspiring encounter. At the end of what had seemed an epic adventure, we were back in Port Lockroy, and welcoming the guests with whom we had been travelling, to visit our base.  Sadly, at the end of the visit, we had to say goodbye to Kim. It’s been great having an extra pair of hands on base, mid-morning bacon sandwiches and coffee will be sorely missed.

The chicks on the island are growing up fast, they are now more curious of their surroundings and making greater use of their oversized feet. This seems to worry their parents, who have a difficult time keeping two chicks in check, and safe from the beady eyes of the watching Skuas.

     Big-footed Chicks Moulting Penguin

The adult penguins who haven't been successful in breeding this season have now begun their moult. Like an over-loved teddy bear, threadbare and loosing stuffing, they stand facing into the rocks as if ashamed, wanting no-one to see them this way. The painful process of a catastrophic full body moult, takes anywhere from 7 to 10 days, during which time the penguins are not able to go to sea to feed. As they starve their guano takes on the green hue of their stomach bile.

Thankfully, we are certainly not starving here ourselves, quite the opposite in fact. Florence is currently cooking something that smells truly delicious, and I have not one, but two birthday cakes to get through!