Heads or Tails – Fields of Snow

March 2, 2023

Damoy Point – AM

West of Wiencke Island was Damoy Point. If you’ve read “Madhouse at the end of the earth”, you’ll know why Adrien De Gerlache named the island Wiencke. It was on the “Belgica” expedition in 1898 when the young Norweigen sailor Carl August Wiencke met with his tragic fate. Thrown overboard, whopping waves aggravated by strong gales whisking snow all over their faces, Wiencke and a few others were trying to hold things together and keep the scuppers clean as water filled up on deck. After several hopeful attempts of pulling him out of the freezing waters, fierce winds persisted. The ship rolled from side to side and knocked him over back into the wild Antarctic seas.

A couple of years later, in 1904, Jean Baptiste Charcot sailed to Wiencke Island and anchored at Port Lockroy a few miles away naming islands and mountain peaks nearby, including the highest peak, Luigi Peak (1400m). He discovered Damoy Point and nothing much was said. In 1955, the Argentinian navy built an emergency refuge, the Bahia Dorian Hut and then the British Antarctic Survey built a hut next door in 1975 as a transit station for UK researchers who arrived by sea and were flown over to another UK research base on Adelaide Island south of the Peninsula often blocked by ice. The researchers waited around for weeks in the  hut, up to all sorts of activities including scientific discoveries until the ice down south cleared up. The hut became redundant in 1993 thanks to upgrades in tech.

Rocks and chunks of ice encompassed the bay as we headed towards the island covered in thick snow. We climbed up a steep icy cliff leading up to what was once the “runaway” and two bright orange huts, one painted in colors of the Argentinian flag, to single itself out.

I saved the restored British “hut tour” for later and headed towards Dorian Bay viewpoint to a penguin rookery within a frame of glistening blue glaciers brushed against rocky mountains powdered in white. I often sank in thick snow as I walked up the steep slope and then onto the mountain ridge to take in the 360 view of the bay and mountain peaks, sunbeams breaking through the cloud.

On the way back, a pair of brown skuaas sitting on snow made for perfect camera exposure practice. I checked out what life in Damoy hut was like. What interested me the most were ads and news articles from the 70s and 80s that exposed the sad truth of how world problems never change.

Port Lockroy, Goudier Island – PM

Before exploring Port Lockroy, one of crew members who runs the site with 3 other ladies came onboard to give us the low down on life and work in these frozen hoods. But first, she took a shower. There is no running water or flush toilets at Lockroy. The ladies were selected out of thousands of applicants who applied for the job to count penguins, tap credit cards and send post cards from the southern end of the world. They must really love penguins and so did JB Charcot who loved studying and writing about them.

When Charcot reached Port Lockroy in 1905, he named it after Eduard Lockroy a radical politician who not only funded his expedition but was also responsible for the 1889 “Exposition Universelle “in Paris that opened a competition for designing a structure that was going to be the center of attraction. Gustave Eiffel won.

From 1911 to 1931, whales and seals were exploited from Port Lockroy. Sheltered harbor with the right sea conditions, it was ideal for a whale station set up. It then turned into a military base in 1944. Enemies and what not, the British were determined to extend their Antarctic territory, setting up post offices here and there in the name of science and exploration. The secret base they set up during WW2, Operation Tabarin, one of the first British bases in Antarctica – Base A then operated as a research station until 1962. No different to the French cabaret it was named after, “apparently”. Nowadays, tourists visit the museum to get a glimpse of the cabaret style secret ops. Don’t get your hopes up.

Cabaret in mind, I took the first zodiac out to Port Lockroy. The air was fishy, suggesting penguins were close by. We scrambled up wet and slippery boulders to get to Bransfield House. The house, now converted into a museum, demonstrated life dusted over with plenty of mementos from the days of yore.

Desperate for fresh air, I left and shuttled across the bay to Jougla Point coated in grey rocks and Gentoo penguins huddled together with their chicks, piles of snow covered whale bones in the background. I roamed around the island, dabbled with my camera settings and took one of the last zodiacs out to cruise around the bay between Doumer and Wiencke islands. We spotted crab eater seals hauled out on ice floes and circled around them for ages.

A playful leopard seal distracted by our presence, fancied a play date and swam towards us rather than scare the crab eaters to death. It circled around us, somersaulted from one side to another and brushed against our boat. It even cruised by our side out of the channel until someone spotted an elusive minke whale. We stopped. All eyes looking out for the minke that was only spotted once. I was lucky and called it a day.

One response to “Heads or Tails – Fields of Snow

  1. Pingback: Heads or Tail – Le Finale | CRAYSCAPE·

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