From Ushuaia, Argentina to the Antarctic on the Anne-Margaretha
Thursday 5. March 2015
The Melchoir Islands
(photo: Anne-Margaretha at the Melchior Islands)
Not wanting to waste any of our last hours on the Antarctic Peninsula, we set off in the dinghies soon after breakfast to explore the cluster of Islands. The islands themselves aren’t very high but were covered in metres and metres of snow which created some of the most spectacular cliffs you would see anywhere. Thomas wanted some pictures of kelp gulls and we saw quite a few. There were also fur seals on the stony beaches and up high on some of the snowy slopes. We found a fresh water waterfall hidden behind the snow cliffs, creating holes in the snow and pouring out underneath the snow where it met the beach.
Wood smoke at the Argentinian Base
We decided to visit the Argentinian Base which we had passed on our way into the anchorage the previous night. It had looked closed and no-one was answering the radio, but as we got closer we smelt wood smoke. Wood smoke in the Antarctic?? There are no trees here! As we neared the base a couple of people emerged from the building and waved us around to a landing point. We were warmly welcomed and invited inside to meet the residents and have tea.
Earthenware pots of mate tea were passed around for everyone to try, then we were each given a cup of our own. Bowls of sweet biscuits and cakes appeared, along with more residents and soon the room was abuzz with chatter. Luckily we had two in our group who spoke Spanish, Sam and Johannes, who were able to translate for us. We deduced from what was being said that the base had been there for over 100 years, had been closed for the last four years and was now being reopened. The current crew had only been there for a few months doing basic tidying up and readying the premises for a full crew next season. They had obviously shipped wood in because there was a wood burner providing the heat.
Anne-Margaretha: just the 3th vessel this year…
The Argentinians were so pleased to see us. They had only had three vessels visit all season, unlike Port Lockroy which had seen 18,000 tourist. I know which place I’d rather be at. This base had no penguin colony, but did have resident fur seals and the odd chinstrap penguin. The crew had also got the one lone navigation light working again. It was probably the only working navigation mark in the whole Antarctic. The fact that it flashed every 3 or 4 seconds instead of every 5 seconds as the chart said didn’t seem to matter. This was all part of ensuring that Argentina had a presence here and therefore a claim staked. We were invited for lunch but declined as we were expected back at the mother ship.
The penguin suit was a big hit. The suit belongs to Sigrid, but we’d all been taking it in turns to wear it and pretend to be a penguin. Henrike wore it to the base so lots of photos were taken by residents and guests alike. Heinz had refused to wear it so a deal was struck between him and Henrike. If she went for a swim, he’d don the penguin suit. We reluctantly waved goodbye to our new friends at the base and headed back home.
Henrike and Sigrid both stripped to bikinis and jumped in the water. They actually swam around for a bit before scrambling back into the dinghy. Not to be out done, Thomas stripped off and dived in from the cabin top. This started a mad rash of Antarctic swimming. Sam followed Thomas, then Johannes stripped off, donned the penguin suit and dived in. He was followed by Lieke and Allard, then a little later and more sedately, by Paul who paddled around for a bit before getting out of the water. The rest of us decided that this was a game for mugs and stayed fully clothed and on the boat.
Still one glass of wine and than…!
As the day drew to a close, we dined on lasagne, another triumph from the galley, enjoyed a last glass of wine and headed to bed. A 4 am start was planned for the next day to give us time to get clear of any ice before dark.
Dawn was just breaking as the lines were reeled in and the anchor raised and stowed. The dinghy was stripped of its outboard motor which was stowed in the lazarette (the big locker on the aft deck). The dinghy was then stowed upside down on the cabin roof and we motored quietly out of our anchorage.
It was sad to be saying goodbye. We have had an extraordinary time. Just before we got into the Drake there was a huge iceberg in front of us. It was the biggest iceberg we had seen, long and narrow with a flat top, the kind that are called tabular bergs. It was sparkling in the early morning sun. The view astern as we continued on our way north was nothing short of spectacular. Everyone was taking last photos and reminiscing on what we had seen and done. It was time to turn our thoughts to the passage home. We still had the Drake to contend with!