From Ushuaia, Argentina to the Antarctic on the Anne-Margaretha
6 March 2015
Port Lockroy,” Penguins Postoffice”
We arrived in Port Lockroy around ten at night and it was dark and damp. One anchor was set and it held firmly, no need for lines ashore or a second anchor in this sheltered harbour, but we still did anchor watches to make sure we didn’t drag.
The day dawned bright and sunny so after breakfast we all clambered into all our gear including life vests and boots and laden with camera equipment we clambered into the dinghies and headed for the path to the British Base and the southernmost post office in the world. The Post Office and Museum are staffed as a commercial enterprise and all proceeds go to the UK Antarctica Heritage Trust. The Museum is housed in Bransfield House which is the original accommodation for the base. It is very well laid out and very informative. The whole enterprise was closing for the winter in a couple of days and the staff were busy touching up paintwork and sorting and packing up what was being taken home and securing what was being left behind. They had had 18.000 visitors this summer so were due a rest!
We all bought postcards and mailed them home, and some of us also bought mementos. I bought a penguin puzzle which has intrigued and irritated everyone who has tried to solve it. No-one has succeeded yet and there is only one solution. It keeps us out of trouble on anchor watch.
The base is situated, like the Chilean base, in the middle of a (gentoo) penguin rookery, except that this time the base was there first. It was a beautiful clear day with no wind and therefore no windchill and a bright blue sky, so we ambled about in the sun photographing and filming penguins to our heart’s content. Once we had had our fill of filming we piled into the dinghies and went back to the boat for lunch.
One more day on Antarctica…
After lunch, Heinz announced that we were staying put for the afternoon and night and that tomorrow we would do a 10 hour passage to the Melchoir Islands where we would be spending our last night on the Antarctic Peninsula. We would be leaving the following morning to cross Drake’s Passage back to Argentina. There was a weather window which we had to take as it was the calm before the storm and we couldn’t afford to miss it. We would be spending the last few days of our time on Anne-Margaretha around Cape Horn and the Beagle Channel.
(Photo: the whale bones)
Thomas led a hike ashore for the afternoon and we landed at a stony beach which was still part of the extensive rookery. Right in front of us was a huge whale backbone laid out up the rocky shore. The whale had probably been flensed (stripped of blubber and flesh) there and the skeleton left to bleach on the beach. We were surrounded of course, by penguins in various stages of moult. Higher up behind the shore was a penguin playground on a snowy incline. We hiked over the rocks in a single file so as to create the least disturbance for the residents. Climbing up to the snow we came across a big brown skua pretending to be injured as a decoy for its partner on a nest on the cliff face. Skuas are aggressive and harass the penguins and feed on eggs and chicks. When they dive bomb the roost the young penguins join up into a bunch and shout back! Safety in numbers.
Up on the snow the penguins were having a ball, running around on the snow, slipping and sliding and just enjoying themselves. The view was awesome, snow covered mountains as a backdrop, thick walls of snow all the way to the water, the brightly painted base nestled amoungst the rocks and Anne-Margaretha sitting quietly at anchor on flat calm sea. A beautiful memory to take away with us.
We tore ourselves away around 5pm when it was starting to get pretty cold again and went back to our floating home. Paul had bought a bottle of Pisco at the Post Office shop and went hunting for clean freshwater ice to mix his version of Pisco sours, a concoction of ice, brown sugar, lemon juice and pisco, pounded in a jug then poured for all. It was delicious, so delicious that we kept the remnants in the water jug to flavour the water! Sigrid and Thomas had made pizzas and quiches for dinner, with a cabbage salad. We ate our way through two huge pizzas and then two huge quiches and all the salad. All that fresh air had made us ravenous. Anchor watches were set for the night and one by one people sloped off to bed. Another great day!
Al and I scored the 5:30am till 7am watch. When my alarm went off I first thought I had forgotten to reset it from a previous night, then as I became more awake I remembered that I had to get up and get going. There wasn’t much sign of action from Al though I did hear his alarm. I dressed and went up to the wheelhouse. A sleepy looking Sigrid and Thomas had been looking at photos and film clips from the previous days and were more than ready to go back to bed for a couple of hours.
It was calm outside, no action and dawn was just breaking. The mountains behind us were lit up by the early morning sun but it promised to be an over cast day. It is amazing how much colder it is without the sun.
Via Neumayer Channel to the Melchior Islands
(photo: Neumayer Channel)
After an early breakfast we up anchored and headed up Neumayer Channel, a narrow channel between two steep sided walls of rock and snow. At one point early on the channel was thick with bergy bits and icebergs all the way across. Heinz slowed the boat right down and carefully picked a way through. It was cold and beautiful. I took over the helming to the instruction “Stay in the middle and don’t hit any ice!” so I did. The ice had all but gone except for a few sizeable bergs glowing pale blue against the white walls of the channel. Our usual mid-morning snack of fresh fruit appeared from the galley, the scenery was as spectacular as always and we were all on the lookout for killer whales (orca) as we hadn’t seen any yet on this trip.
Shouts of “blow” had everybody out on deck jostling for viewing space. It turned out to be a small group of humpbacks and they performed a different ballet for us this time. Instead of circling and creating a bubble curtain they came up head first, mouths open then entwined and rolled and softly retreated back into the sea. Over and over they repeated this ritual then one came right alongside us and rolled onto its back. It was awesome and there were penguins and seals and terns just to complete the picture. What a farewell from Antarctica.
It began to snow quite heavily in the late afternoon as we finally stopped whale watching and continued on towards the Melchoir islands. We had the first course of dinner en route, Hungarian goulash and mashed potato and cabbage, Delicious! What miracles Henrike, Sigrid and Thomas produce from the galley. They bake four loaves of bread a day, make soups from scratch with fresh ingredients and cook a fabulous dinner every night, keep the boat clean and tidy and join in all the fun.
It was dark and still snowing as Heinz manoeuvred Anne-Margaretha through a narrow channel between the islands, high cliffs of snow on both sides, some looking perilously close to breaking off and falling on top of us. We were just about secured with one anchor and two ropes to the shore, one off the bow and one off the stern when all was lit by a huge searchlite coming around the bluff and another yacht appeared. It was the Australis, another charter yacht heading south. They anchored around the corner from us. It was a surprise as we have seen few yachts in this wilderness. Once we were securely settled we had dessert, apple pie and a glass of wine. Heinz announced two pieces of good news. The first was that there was no need to do anchor watches and the second that we would be staying here for a day. Wowee! A chance to explore these stunning islands. Every day is a special day and we get one more day in Antarctica. How fast it has all gone, and how full every day has been!