From the National Geographic Endeavour in Antarctica
Jan 24, 2009 - National Geographic Endeavour
Detaille Island & The Antarctic Circle
In the Antarctic dreams of our girl and boyhood, inspired perhaps by some 19th century woodcut, a tiny vessel makes its way through a wonderland of tortured shapes as the sea presses in with pack ice that extends far beyond the horizon. And of course, snow, driven by a howling force from the interior of this continent, lashes everything that stands before it, and piles in great heaps and cracks and crevices that erase any trace of unevenness or irregularity, creating a deceit of sinuousity over the landscape.
Today we dreamt while awake, as the National Geographic Endeavour passed the Antarctic Circle, 66 degrees 33 minutes south, and into the realm which brings the vision of the “Real Antarctica.” As Captain Kruse deftly navigated the ship through the pack ice that we encountered almost immediately after crossing the Circle, all gathered on the upper decks or on the bridge to marvel at the scene stretching as far as we could see in the blinding snow. What not long before had been liquid water, now a seemed a fantasm of solid floating islands. Some were there on deck to see if we could press on through the ice, for others it was a possible encounter with a denizen of the sea ice, a leopard or crabeater seal, or for many, a possible glimpse of an emperor penguin.
Although we could now imagine the landscape of the emperor, a sighting eluded us as we slowly made our way around sea ice and bergs to Detaille Island, a former British Antarctic Survey research station, abandoned, it would seem, in great haste, in 1956. The station was a literal museum, the last inhabitant’s jackets still hanging on pegs on the wall, magazines spread on the kitchen table, the 50-year old paper as crisp as last week’s mail delivery. Cans of oatmeal and tins of biscuits still sit stacked on the shelves, you can almost imagine the day’s cook calling through the rooms to announce breakfast. The ongoing storm outside only lent authenticity to what this snug hut represented to the people stationed here -- the fine balance between comfort and the harsh conditions outside.
Meantime, the two of us, Melissa and Steve, onboard researchers with Oceanites, were able to get to a small Adelie penguin rookery on an adjacent island, and while there, made a count of snow-encrusted Adelie chicks. Oceanites has had a great voyage, visiting a number of new sites and this site at Detaille, which we have been unable to reach for several years, as part of our ongoing collaboration with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions in monitoring seabird populations on the Antarctic Peninsula.
The only thing that could lure us away from the great frozen landscape was the apropro lectures offered by the onboard naturalists and National Geographic photographer. Rod Ledingham kept us rapt with the history of the British Antarctic Survey occupation of Detaille Island both in the lounge and whilst inside the structures. Jason Kelley taught us about the distinctions of sea ice & glacial ice – both part of the “Big Ice” which is Antarctica. Finally, Tim Laman, described the techniques and hardships of Antarctica’s earliest photographers working here at the turn on the 20th century.
Today we reached our furthest south, at 66.87 degrees south latitude. Our senses filled with this white and wintry wonderland, we can’t help but stand in near disbelief as we remember this is the height of the Antarctic summer.