Booth Island, Lemaire Channel, and Paradise Harbor
We dedicated our morning to exploring Booth Island and its environs. And, what a glorious morning it was. This is where the famous French polar explorer Jean Baptist Charcot over-wintered aboard Francais in 1904 during the First French Antarctic Expedition. The island is an intrusive igneous structure which provided us with very good hiking over smooth, broad granite-like boulders and crusty snow fields, as well as wonderful views. Some of us hiked first up to a cairn on the mountaintop that overlooks the protected little harbor where Francais was frozen in. In addition, some of us hiked over to the remains of a small stone hut located on the north face of Booth Island where Charcot’s scientists conducted magnetometry studies in an effort to help pinpoint the South Magnetic Pole (Figure A). The view from here was equally impressive.
Higher up the mountain slope from the stone hut is the island’s main penguin breeding site, and we were able to see all three species of brush-tailed penguins here…gentoos (the most numerous), chinstraps, and Adélies. While some of us were ashore, others went on a Zodiac cruise to examine a plethora of magnificent icebergs between Booth and Pleneau islands. One large berg formed a gigantic arch, which was admired and photographed by all (Figure B). In amongst the huge ice sculptures, we met a friendly leopard seal, and nearby the ship we watched a trio of humpback whales as they meandered about.
Just before lunch, we set up the kayak platform at the port side gate and offered the chance for a “Polar Plunge.” This was not really a swim, because those that did it pretty much jumped into the water and then got back out as fast as humanly possible. Amazingly, about 90 of our guests partook in this crazy activity.
We lifted the anchor and set sail during lunch, reentering the Lemaire Channel, believed by some to be the most beautiful stretch of water in the Antarctic Peninsula. Located between the peninsular mainland and Booth Island, the channel measures about one mile wide by about seven miles in length. The channel was formed by a geological fault and the steep mountains on either side (metamorphic rocks to starboard and intrusive igneous rocks to port) presented wonderful displays of both geology and glaciology. This time through we enjoyed spectacular weather…bright sunshine, blue skies, and calm conditions.
Our northbound transit led us back into the Gerlache Strait, where we were surprised to find it quite windy, but in the middle afternoon we ducked into Paradise Harbor where we once again found beautiful calm conditions. The harbor is aptly named because the surrounding mountains look as though they rise straight up into heaven, with some peaking at more than 3,000 feet. Unfortunately, a low cloud cover obscured the peaks of the mountains surrounding us, but helped us with photography by reducing the blinding glare on the overwhelming number of glaciers pouring into the bay from all directions. There are a couple bases located within Paradise Harbor…one belongs to Chile and the other to Argentina. We came close to the Argentine base, named Estacion Brown, and inched our way right up to a nearby exposed cliff face in order to observe a nesting colony of blue-eyed shags. At the same time, we launched our undersea specialist and his party of SCUBA divers to explore the crystal clear water directly below the messy shags. Hmmm…well, maybe not so crystal clear. Meanwhile, our hotel manager organized a cookout on the aft deck with German sausages and beer.