After the few adventurous days of crossing from the Falklands to Antarctica, from now on and for the next few days we will try to venture into the icy and treacherous waters at the East of the Antarctic Peninsula, right at the northwest corner of the Weddell Sea.
Legendary waters that have seen many explorers from a past golden age of the Antarctic Exploration. James Cook, James Clark Ross, the Swedish Nordenksjold, Shackleton, Filchner, and amongst them all, the Sealer and Explorer Captain James Weddell in the early 18 hundreds. With the ships Jane and Beaufoy on the 4th of February 1823 he started searching for new lands to discover East and South of the newly discovered South Shetland Islands. Fog, bad visibility, and big seas prevented them to rightly position themselves until the 20th of February, when under blue skies and surrounded by bergs and sea ice they realised that had ventured into this remote seas some 214 miles further south than Cook had achieved on the 31st January 1774. Like him, Weddell left the area and sailed back the England without having any sight of land. But actually their feat of pushing south to the position 74°15′S; 34°16′45″W would not be overpassed until Wilhelm Filchner scientific expedition, nearly 100 years later actually saw the continental lands further South.
Its waters are often filled up with ice, any kind of ice. Bergs, bergy bits, growlers, huge tabular icebergs, and usually sea ice, both relatively thin sheets of a fast and single year, but also the denser, harder, and thicker multi-year. Add to the equation the unreliable weather with furious winds, and blizzards, and why not, let’s mention too its calm and sunny days.
A day like yesterday shows a combination of all that is mentioned. A rough start as the Europa sails deeper south, but a smooth night and morning as she approaches and drops anchor at the Northeast of Seymour Island.
Sailing by along its coasts before lunch, we soon realize its desert-like and barren looks. It stretches for 16 kilometers in length and 5 in width and lies at the southern margin of Erebus and Terror Gulf. These lands were first sighted by the British expedition under Ross, on the 6th of January, 1843, and named Cape Seymour after R. Admiral George Francis Seymour. But they were never sure if it was part of the continent or not. Its insular nature was actually determined by Capt. C.A. Larsen in 1892-93, about ten years before then joined many adventures and misadventures with Nordenksjold in the Swedish Antarctic Expedition.
Nowadays a permanent Argentinean Base (Marambio) is located at the flats atop the cliffs and mountains in its northern area. Leaving it behind we head a bit further south to a cape called Penguin Point. The Swedish Antarctic Expedition named it because a large penguin colony was found there. Adelies still thrive in the area over the remarkably dry landscape of bleak clay and mud, forming orange hilltops cut by ravines and meltwater streams from snowfields and decaying glaciers, extending on a wide coastal plain. Snail, shell, penguin, and tree fossils hide amongst the rocks and sedimentary layers, offering an idea of Antarctica’s warmer past.
Over this Martian landscape, we walk, until reaching the main penguin rookery. Along the beach it is busy. Lines and lines of them walk the shoreline, apparently towards a couple of preferred spots where to better access the shallow waters of the wide open bay. Amongst their nests lay a wooden plaque, a cairn, and a small pole. The latter ones installed in 1902 during the Nordenskjöld´s Expedition. Nowadays just showing atop a hill it is 44 cm in length, was in the past 4 meters long, with guy-lines and a flag, and was installed to signal the location of a well-stocked deposit, composed of a few wooden boxes containing food supplies, notes and letters saved inside bottles. The deposit was to be used in case the Swedish South Polar Expedition was forced to retreat on its way to the south. The wooden plaque was placed on 10 November 1903 by the crew of the rescue mission of the Corvette Uruguay at the site where they met the members of the Swedish expedition. Almost all faded in the present, its text read as follows: “10.XI.1903 Uruguay (Argentine Navy) in its journey to give assistance to the Swedish Antarctic expedition.”
Back on board, we heave anchor and set course north towards Vega Island. On our way, icebergs and bergy bits where penguins rest are around while the sun sets.