The Iceberg Graveyard
Date: 19 February 2011
Position: 65:14.976S 064:15.935W
We set off from Port Lockroy for one of the highlights of the cruise – a trip down the Lemaire Channel. Otherwise known as Kodak Valley it is arguably the most spectacular stretch in this amazing area. As we left the anchorage it started sleeting. As we headed for the channel, the sleet turned to heavy snow. The channel is one mile across and visibility was down to less than half a mile. As we motored down the entire stretch of the channel we could barely see the shore on either side, let alone the beautiful towering mountains on either side that we could only guess were there. With a bit of luck we might get to see it on our way back ready for the tough passage back across the Drake Passage to Chile. But if we don’t – next year on Mina2 ??
In the Lemaire Channel there are two spectacular peaked mountain’s known locally as Una’s Tits, allegedly named after the wife of a Governor of the Falklands. The ex-Governor must be delighted to have his devoted wife remembered in this way. Sadly we saw neither tit. Many of the names of the islands, mountains, channels and creeks on Antarctica are named after the early explorers, or their ships or countries. Mount Shackleton, Endurance Reef, Uruguay Island etc. The more sycophantic of the explorers named great chunks of Antarctica after their sponsors or members of their royal families, like King George Island. But there are many islands which are descriptive of their geographical features like Snow Island, Low Island, Three Little Pigs (group of three islands) and so on. Some names paint a grim picture of the conditions for the early explorers: Desolation Island, Despair Rocks and Destruction Bay. Others are named for the wildlife that abounds like Skua Creek in which we are currently tied in. Finally there are those names which are just plain odd. I bet there’s a painful story behind Port Circumcision .
After the disappointment, as far as we were concerned, of the Lemaire Channel, we entered a large bay that is commonly known as the Iceberg Graveyard. A feature of the winds and tides in the channels surrounding it mean that loads of vast icebergs wander in here then have difficulty in getting out. So here you find numerous icebergs wandering around in every stage of melting decomposition. They are of every size; every weird shape and every hue of white and blue and every one stunningly beautiful. Some had enormous ice arches carved in them by the pounding of the sea. Others had capsized and had sea-etched striations at crazy angles. But it wasn’t just the icebergs. Pelagic Australis stopped and dropped the Zodiac and the two inflatable kayaks (brilliant way to mosey around in peace and quiet – must add one to my Christmas wish list). In the complete tranquillity of this almost spiritually mystical place we were surrounded by seals awkwardly launching themselves from the water onto the many horizontal low platforms of the icebergs and chilling out whilst penguins porpoised through the water on the way back to their chicks ashore with a stomach –full of yummy regurgitated krill. Having had such low expectationsfor the day because of the poor visibility, it turned into one of the most memorable days of such a highly memorable cruise.
Having run the batteries flat on our cameras, we motored the short distance to Vernadsky, the Ukrainian scientific station in Antarctica situated in the low-lying group of the Argentine Islands. We found that another charter yacht – friends of Miles and the crew – had beaten us to the favoured anchorage so Dave and I went off in the Zodiac to recce the peaceful alternative, the charmingly named Skua Creek. Why was it called that? We were to find out.
Vernadsky used to be a British scientific station which we passed over to the Ukrainians about 15 years ago. It is in a perfect position to measure the ionosphere and the ozone layer. In fact it was the research carried out here by the British that discovered the hole in the ozone layer which has given us all so much concern. (You will be relieved to hear that I was told by the resident ozonologist that it has now almost completely closed). Aside from their research, the Ukrainians are renowned for their partying. From 2100 to midnight all visiting crews are welcome to come and tour the station and then adjourn to the cosy bar, complete with a selection of ladies bra’s festooning the walls (the scientific team here are all males). The atmosphere was lively, enhanced by the staff noisily karaokiing Ukrainian songs and drunken scientists attempting to pot balls on the pool table. Memorable.