Monday 30 December 2013

Intrepid Landing at Elephant Island

This morning we arrived at Elephant Island. The sky was a thin overcast and the wind was negligible, as a result there were barely ripples on the surface of the ocean. Best of there was almost no sea swells. It was the first time in the 11 years that Hurtigruten has been operating in the Antarctic that we could attempt a landing at this fabled site. Decisions were made and Polarcirkle boats were launched.

Looking backward, in 1916 Elephant Island is the first land reached by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men after their ship “Endurance” was crushed by ice in their attempt to reach the southern coast of the Weddell Sea. Shackleton’s party reached Elephant Island in 2 small boats. Here the wood from the smaller boat was used to strengthen and deck over the second boat. The “Boss” then left 22 men under the leadership of Frank Wild while he and 5 others sailed on to South Georgia, where he planned to obtain a ship and rescue the men had to leave behind. That plan was not to be and it was 135 days after he left Elephant Island that he returned on the rescue ship YELCHO under the command of Chilean Pilot Luis Pardo Villalon.

On our ride to the island we enjoyed a short coastal cruise viewing the steeply inclined rocks that form the island. The rocks are shales and mudstones that have been compressed, heated, tilted and at the landing site they were riddled with thin veins of white quartz. On the rocks and nearby snow and ice fields were 100’s of Chinstrap Penguins. In additions we saw 3 Gentoo Penguins and 1 Macaroni Penguin plus a Leopard Seal cruised past the landing site.

Our landing at Point Wild went smoothly as the weather and sea conditions never deteriorated. We were able to get people in and out of the Polarcirkle boats with ease.It was a short walk to visit the monument to Piloto Pardo and from that site we could see the remnant stonework that Shackleton’s crew constructed during their isolation.

Our landings were interrupted for short periods of time on 3 occasions by calving from the Furness Glacier. Needless to say everyone had a great time and no doubt we will all try to match the photos we took today with those taken by Frank Hurley the photographer who documented the “Endurance” Expedition.

As we left Elephant Island we circled clock-wise passing Cape Valentine and then headed for Gibbs Island on our way to the Antarctic Sound area.