Day 4 |
Dec 03, 2008

Attempts At Paulet Island, Stahlberg Cove In Active Sound, And The Argentinean Base Esperanza In Hope Bay

By Chris Srigley

Noon Position: 6310’S, 5708’W

This morning, our plan was to approach Paulet Island, located just southeast of Dundee Island and Antarctic Sound on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Here the first group of guests would head ashore, visiting the Adelie penguin colony and a hut left from Otto Nordenskjold’s 1901-1904 Swedish South Polar Expedition, while the second group would cruise amongst the ice in the Zodiacs. We would later switch groups ashore and have the same in reverse. Having not been able to land on Paulet last trip, all of the Expedition staff were excited.

Unfortunately, on our approach at 0500, it was decided the winds were too strong for the Prince Albert II to hold anchor. Captain Peter Stahlberg quickly made the decision to turn around and make for Stahlberg Cove in Active Sound located between Dundee and Joinville Islands. Here we would find shelter from the winds allowing us to get to shore and visit a small mixed colony of Gentoo and Adelie penguins.

With the change in our itinerary, we had some time to enjoy the scenery, but only from inside as the strength of the winds prompted our Captain to ask everyone to remain indoors. During our transit into Active Sound those of us in the Observation Lounge were treated to a large group of Snow Petrels soaring amongst the large icebergs. These Petrels are the world’s most southerly breeding bird, and are found on cliffs all the way to the Pole.

As the Prince Albert II arrived at our intended anchor position, it was evident that Plan B was now going to have to be rendered into a Plan C. Winds were reaching in excess of 120 kilometres per hour making anchoring impossible. Quickly, our Expedition Leader Robin West along with our Assistant Expedition Leader Jarda Versloot and geologist Juan Carlos Restrepo jumped into action. Their plan was to contact the Argentinean base Esperanza located in the opposite side of Antarctic Sound in Hope Bay. Here we hoped (no pun intended), we would find some shelter once again, with a chance of visiting the station.

Founded in December 1952, it has been continuously operated since. In 1978, an expansion program was put in place where whole families were brought in. Shortly after, the Tierra del Fuego Education Ministry built a school, however this school burned down in 2007. The population of Esperanza ranges from approximately 55 in winter to 90 in summer, of which children and spouses make up about a third. In an attempt to strengthen their claim on the peninsula, the base commander’s wife was brought down when she was seven months pregnant. On January 7, 1978, Emilio Marcos de Palma was born, the first “Antarctican”.

Upon our approach towards Hope Bay the winds have continued to increase along with the swell. It has, once again, become evident that it will be time to make yet another change of plans.
Running out of areas where we may find shelter from the wind in our current vicinity, the decision was made to head into the wind and make our way back towards the South Shetland Islands and a better chance of shelter.

With the decision made, lectures were scheduled and our Captain set course. First up would be our historian Victoria Salem with her talk entitled “Shackleton”. A look at his life, and the legacy he left behind upon his death on January 5, 1922. He will be remembered most for his 1914-1917 Imperial Tran Antarctic expedition onboard the Endurance.

Immediately after Victoria had finished, Rob Suisted prepared for his talk while the hardy few that had attended stretched their legs. Rob’s talk was entitled “Photography 101”. When not working on ships in the Antarctic region, Rob makes his living through photography, and a well-published one at that. He showed us some of his favourite shots and took us through tips that he felt could help us all improve regardless of which type of camera we are using. Before finishing up, Rob played several time-lapse sequences that he had put together in the Sub Antarctic Islands of the Ross Sea region. Some 1,000 photos over approximately 10 minutes were used for each sequence.

By this time of the day, both the wind and the waves had still been increasing. Gusting winds of 155km with waves reaching 8m and sometimes 10m left those in the Observation Lounge mesmerized as they spent time glued to the windows. After some time watching the waves, Chris Harbard, our ornithologist, gave his talk “Seabirds”. Taking us through the species that we hoped to see once the wind died down, of course. Although seabirds are completely at home in high winds, what we were experiencing had likely sent them off in avoidance of the weather. Chris’ talk was well attended, and we all left The Theatre in wait of the Cape Petrels’ return.

Having had Victoria’s talk on Shackleton earlier in the day, it was decided it would be appropriate for us to invite the guests into The Theatre at 1715 for a screening of Shackleton. Originally filmed for IMAX and narrated by Kevin Spacey, this version of Shackleton’s story is worth the 40 minutes it takes to watch. During the film, the hotel department was gracious enough to prepare popcorn for all!

With this, we all realized where had the day gone. Originally on standby for 0600 this morning, it was time to gather again for our first recap and briefing of the trip. Our plans for tomorrow depend on what progress we can make through the night, but it was sure to be an early start!