Well, yesterday evening was fun. And when I say “fun” I really mean it was hair-raising!
As we steamed back up north from the Antarctic Circle during dinner (to get towards the Antarctica mainland again) we hit a massive storm in open sea.
Storms are measured here on a scale of 1 to 5 and we were told we had hit a 3. But it felt more to us like a 23.
Category 3 storms mean “severe swell” (10m), 60-70 mile per hour winds, and 20-25 foot waves. We saw all that and more as we were tossed around in our little boat and watched the waves crashing over the bow with some degree of nervousness. Plates were going flying from the tables, glasses and bottles sliding away and smashing in the floor, and people were being dreadfully sea-sick. Many abandoned their food altogether and simply headed to their cabins for safety.
Not Stuart nor I though. Oh no, we finished our dinner off and weathered the storm out by heading to the lounge bar in the bow of the ship for something liquid and “medicinal”! We found some other fellow passengers holed up there too. The lounge seats were chained to the floor so we simply sat there and clung on tight to our drinks then oohed and aahed as the waves smashed around us.
It was exciting, frightening, and funny all at once. The boat continued to pitch and roll, we clung on and drank and drank, and the tempest continued to violently rage outside.
Eventually even we had had enough though and so we too wobbled our way back to our cabins to strap ourselves in and to ride out the rest of the storm in bed. It was some night!
Eventually things did subside though and by 7am this morning we had made it back to calmer waters inshore.
Most of the passengers emerged bleary-eyed for breakfast to swap stories of the night just gone, all set, despite being rather worse for wear from the lack of sleep and “medicinal” beverages, to start a full day of activities.
Firstly we Zodiaced to explore Petermann Island on foot. It was actually our first full excursion on land.
Petermann Island was discovered by the Dallman expedition of 1873-4 and named after August Petermann, a German geographer. The French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot and his vessel the Pourquoi Pas? overwintered here in 1909.
On the beach was an abandoned Argentinean refuge hut from 1955. There was also a memorial cross nearby for three British scientists who died nearby 1982.
We got to see Adélie penguins and the most southerly colony of gentoo penguins in Antarctica too - but sadly no blue-eyed shags.
After the landing we then took to the water again to cruise around the Petermann lagoon and were lucky enough to see many humpbacked whales up close. We got some amazing shots and footage of them playing together, breaching, and diving. And yes, got to see that classic whale-tail-in-the-air moment. It was quite some sight.
We returned to the ship slightly elated from our whale-watching and lunched as the ship moved round to the Ukraine’s Akademik Vernadsky Station located on Galindez Island within the Argentine Islands.
Vernadsky Station was purchased from the British for a nominal price of one pound in 1996, as it was cheaper to sell the station than remove the buildings. As a British hut, Faraday base or Station F, was occupied continuously between 1947 and 1996. It was actually where scientists first observed a depletion in the ozone layer. The Ukrainian scientists are continuing this ozone research in addition to studies focusing on geomagnetism, meteorology and glaciology.
A kind scientist gave us a tour of the station. It currently houses 26 summer personnel (in a few months it will be winter and it will reduced to 11). They continue the British tradition of celebrating with a posh meal in shirt and tie each Saturday night, and have “The best bar in Antarctica” - largely due to the fact they distil their own vodka.
There is actually another historic British hut nearby, Wordie House, named for Sir James Wordie of Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition (1914-16), on Winter Island, occupied from 1947 until the construction of Coronation House (Faraday) in 1953.
It was an amazing day of storms, whales, polar history, and modern climate research. Oh, and the odd bevy too.