Thursday 29 December 2011

South Orkney Islands

Today we had the first experience of what is living in the Antarctic. We landed at Orcadas, the Argentine station at Laurie Island, in the South Orkney Islands. We were welcomed at the beach by the base commander and his staff, being the third ship in the season that called on the island. Eleven months had elapsed since they left Argentina and the relief boat is still two months away…
The South Orkney Islands, due to their position at the northern limit of the Weddell Sea, are famous for their difficult ice conditions. They were experienced by the sealers at the beginning of the nineteenth century, by the Scottish explorers that established the first station on the archipelago in 1903 and by the whalers that attempted to earn their living on the islands during the first decades of the twentieth century. Today the ice has been gentle to us.
Orcadas is a kind of living museum. The remains of Omond House, built by the Scottish in 1903, are still visible. So is Moneta house, the first Argentine building at Orcadas, completely restored and named after the first Latin base commander in 1905. The station of the 1930s is nowadays a sort of emergency hut, the magnetic observatories of the 1950s are still in use and what remains of the building burnt in the late seventies will in the near future be converted into laboratories and sleeping rooms for scientists to improve the capacity of the red painted modular living quarters of 1980.
Some Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adelie penguins showed up at the landing beach and a crab eater seal and three leopard seals were resting on the big ice floes that chocked North Bay. And as far as animals go, that was it. The Argentines told us that this year the winter had been long and all the biological cycles in the area are delayed.
We left Orcadas under heavy snowfall and we headed towards Elephant Island, sailing the Weddell Sea waters along the southern shores of Coronation and Signy islands. Weather permitting, tomorrow we will reach Point Wild. After all, we are in the Shackleton Christmas adventure…