Thursday 31 December 2009

South Orkney Islands

We reached the remote South Orkney Islands in the morning. We were surrounded by tabular icebergs as we sailed through Washington Strait en route to our landing of the day – the Argentine station of Orcadas on Laurie Island. The weather could not have been more cooperative as the Fram bumped and scraped against chunks of ice. Our imaginations ran wild as we spotted shapes in the ice. Crowds of Chinstrap penguins rode atop islands of ice like commuters on their way to work. Spouting whales and seals basking on ice floes made an appearance as well. Flocks of pintado petrels and several small snow petrels fluttered around the ship. It was an incredible way to begin the Antarctic phase of our voyage of discovery.

Fifteen station personnel lived at the Orcadas base. They were kind enough to give the passengers a tour of their facility. The base consisted of several orange buildings, several built on stilts on account of the wind. There was also a small museum that showed the history of Orcadas station. Founded by a Scottish expedition in 1904 and handed over to the Argentines, Orcadas is the longest operating base in the Antarctic. The base commander informed us during the winter the temperature sometimes plunged to 49 degrees below zero! It was most interesting to see how the Argentines lived, ate, slept and worked at an Antarctic base. We also had the unique chance to see three species of penguins in one place – the Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adelie.