The weather change announced yesterday by a passing front and reflected in the forecast has reached the area.
Still in calm conditions though under some snow showers sweeping over the Butler Passage, late last night the Europa anchored at the so-called Back Bay, in Port Lockroy. Surrounded by glacier fronts and next to the tiny Goudier Island, it is one of the few good anchorages in this part of Antarctica. It has served as a safe harbor for Whaling Factory Ships since 1911, once Jean Baptiste Charcot found and charted it during his first French Antarctic expedition on board the Français (1903-05). Later on, he came back here with the Pourquois Pas? as well. The fine harbor took its name then after Édouard Lockroy, a French politician who assisted Charcot in obtaining government backing for his voyage.
The commercial whaling based on ships and not depending on land stations made this place a good summer headquarters. In a good summer season up to 40 of their ships could visit the area. Large rusty chunky mooring chains remain wrapped around several coastal big boulders as a silent witness of those old times. At the rocky beaches of Jougla Point, many whalebones still pile up and even a full reconstruction of a whale skeleton lays over the snow amongst the Gentoo penguins.
There too, a very easily accessible small group of Antarctic Shags nest, mixed with yet more Gentoos.
Cormorant and penguin chicks all over, a good open restaurant for predators like Skuas and Giant petrels. Good times for them during this month of food abundance.
With the wind picking up and the temperature quickly dropping, zodiacs picked us up to return on board to meet with the local team taking care of the Port Lockroy historical site.
In 1944, during WWII the British established a Station at Goudier Island, part of the secret “Operation Tabarin”. Named “Base A” its mission was to observe wartime enemy activities around these Antarctic waters and to establish permanent presence and territorial claims. At the end of the war, its focus shifted to science and exploration. The Falkland Island Dependencies (FIDS and former British Antarctic Survey) took over with projects on geophysics, short-wave communication, ionospheric, geomagnetism, botany, geology, and meteorology. They manned the Base permanently with the exception of 3 winters until 1962, when it fell into disuse. In 1993 the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust started taking care of all British historical sites in Antarctica, including Port Lockroy.
Nowadays the site works during the summer season as a sort of Museum, Souvenir shop, and the most known Post Office in the Antarctic Peninsula. Many ships pay the place a visit during their trips, but this season, taking the maximum precautions against outbreaks of the feared High Pathogenic Avian Influenza, the landings are not allowed. The several hundred couples of Gentoo penguins that populate the island make not possible to keep enough distance to them to walk around the reduced space available. It is difficult to believe that there were none back in 1944, one of the main reasons to build the Base on that place.
Instead, the Heritage Trust team in charge of the area came on board and set up their small shop, including stamps to send postcards.
Outside the snow falls and the wind blows gusting up to 30kn and it doesn’t look like it is easing until late at night. So the Europa makes good use of this sheltered anchorage and holds her ground until midnight. Then is forecasted an improvement in the conditions, a better time to make way north along the Neumayer Channel to reposition for tomorrow’s activities.
Cold and snowy outside, Sea Shanties can be heard in the cozy and warm deckhouse, with our crew member Amelie at the guitar and lead voice. Work songs and stories from the classical sailing and whaling era to spend a good time in this afternoon while a bit more Antarctic weather blows out there.
📷 Arnoud Apituley