Late last night Europa anchored over the shallow waters of False Island Point. This mile-long low-lying isthmus is crowned by a series of high hills and stretches south of Vega Island. Like many of the other landscape and geological features all around, it was first sighted by the SwedAE under Nordenskjöld in February 1902, but it was thought to be an island. It was not until 1945 that was finally determined to be a part of Vega Island. South of it rises the high peaks and huge glaciers of its neighbor, James Ross Island.
The meandering waterway separating both of them, the Herbert Sound, often presents heavy ice conditions, with many drifting and stranded icebergs, bergy bits, and large sheets of sea ice.
On January 6, 1843, Captain James Clark Ross visited the area, and due to its difficult navigation and shape, thought it to be just an embayment and he named it after Sidney Herbert, First Secretary to the Admiralty, 1841-45. About 60 years later, the Swedish Expedition revealed its true nature as a channel. The sound is where we plan to spend our day.
Sun shines and the temperature feels warm as the zodiacs bring us ashore at the Eastern coast of False Island peninsula. Just a short walk across, half a mile brought us to a completely different Antarctic scenery. Breaking up fast ice still holds here, catching in-between its large sheets bergy bits and icebergs. The single-year ice represents a perfect area for Adelie penguins to have a rest from their busy lives at their breeding times, and for Weddell seals to snooze and recover until they go on another foraging trip hundreds of meters deep. It is quite impressive the contrast between False Island's isthmus shores, a completely clear and open East side, and an ice-clogged Western beach. Walking up the hills and mountainous ridges, the site offers fantastic views over a truly impressive Antarctic landscape. Barren, dry; rocks and ice; drifting ice and glaciers.
Under our feet and at sight all around, an orange and black combination of colors in the volcanic terrain, and the white of Vega and Ross ice caps falling to the sea on numerous glacier fronts. The waters between them are clear, calm, and open, at least for a couple of miles to sail to this afternoon's destination, The Naze, a sister peninsula to False Island, but now extending towards the north from James Ross Island.
To the Naze, we head after lunch, and zodiacs and scouting are ready, shortly afterward we head for the long zodiac ride to a long sandy beach. In the background, first the remains of an old snowfield along the shoreline, and then yellow and orange slopes uphill, to the summit of Terrapin Hill. Walking up we soon enter a characteristic canyon-like formation leading to an odd-looking plateau.
Mars. a dry red planet, devoid of any vegetation, arid and bleak. Something like the landscape that unfolds in front of us under today’s blue skies.
Here layers rich in fossils from the Jurassic period were covered by volcanic ignimbrite that rusted under the growing ice coverage in Antarctica. But that was not all that seemed to have happened here… then the recent vulcanism broke through all those different features, adding black basalts to the equation. On top of all, the scenery is completely peppered by erratic stones and rocks brought here by the glaciers that covered the area on several occasions since those geological periods. A history not very different from the surrounding areas, but here comes to the surface in the most spectacular way, all in all, giving the area more the appearance of a Martian scene than any place on Earth. Coming across freshwater ponds in-between the spectacular rock formations, having too Antarctic terns passing by, and having a look down the coast where Shags and Skuas fly and the Europa, now just a spec in the waters lay at anchor, all bring us back to our planet.
To settle our way back from outer space, a good dinner and half of the night laying quietly at anchor before trying to make our way through Herbert Sound first, then rounding the East coast of Vega Island to reach the southern shores of Devil Island. Tomorrow more adventures to come in the remoteness of the Weddell Sea.