14th January 2024 Antarctica.
Lemaire Channel. Argentine Islands
Winter Island-Wordie Hut and Galindez Island-Vernadsky Station
If we talk about scenic passages in the Western Antarctic Peninsula, the Lemaire Channel is a highly rated one. Starting below the impressive twin peaks of Cape Renard, it runs in a NE-SW direction amongst steep glaciers, 1000-meter-high mountains, jagged peaks, and saw-edged ridges, separating the large Booth Island from the West coast of Graham Land.
Its wonders were first seen by Dallman already in 1873.
With the exception of the 1844-1845 British Admiralty Expedition on board the Pagoda that carried out magnetic studies in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the British Challenger Expedition, and the German Dallman Expedition on board the Grönland both between 1871 and 1874, the only visits to the Southern Ocean after the 1840s were made by a few sealers who on occasion exploited the seal colonies shortly after the population began to recover from previous exploitations.
But it was 24 years later when Gerlache first ventured into its confined waters and put a name for it in the charts. For that he chose a Belgian explorer that actually never been in Antarctica, but in Congo (Africa), Charles Lemaire.
Seas are calm this morning and the sun shines over a blue sky, revealing the grandeur of this waterway as the Europa makes her way through.
Areas of open water at the beginning become more and more ice-covered as she gets deeper and the channel narrows. Icebergs stand out amongst thick bands of brash ice, all making for cautious navigation though the views are stunning all around. To enjoy a different perspective many climbed aloft this morning and have a good view of the ship dealing with the ice floes, tugged in-between cliffs and glaciers.
Now she passes close to monumental icebergs, with their tower and spires, holes and pools; then she deals with numerous growlers; a band here and there of the small bits of the brash ice; some narrow passages between shallows and rocks come later too as she steers south and heads to the middle of the island’s maze of the Argentine Archipelago, separated from the mainland by the Penola Strait. At view are the rocks and islets Fanfare, Irizar, Uruguay, Forge, Grotto, Corner, Galindez, Winter, Shelter, Skua, Leopard, Black, Three Little Pigs, and The Barchans islands.
Before lunch the anchor chain rattles on its winch and Europa stops at the small embayment between Winter and Galindez islands, where we plan to spend the afternoon and stay overnight.
Winter is home to an important historical site on the exploration and the beginning of the British scientific work in this part of Antarctica, “Wordie House”. The first hut built here dated from the
Graham Land Expedition (1934-37), but virtually nothing is left of it after being washed by a large wave that grew over these shallow waters after a large calving of the surrounding glaciers. But in 1947 a new Base was set up in the same place, named after James Wordie who traveled to Antarctica with Shackleton on the ill-fated “Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition”. The British were taking meteorological measurements here until 1954, when the Station was moved to a more convenient and accessible location, right on the next island, Galindez, and renamed “Faraday”.
Still standing, well preserved, and maintained as a sort of museum, Wordie House can be reached after a short walk over the snowfields over the island. The setup of the rooms, storage shed, and a large number of original artifacts, radio, and scientific equipment gives us an idea of how work and life were here in those times.
The atmospheric research started by the British is still an ongoing project conducted now by Ukraine in the former “Faraday, nowadays renamed as Vernadsky Station.
All their observations greatly contributed to the findings related to the depletion of the Ozone layer.
It was in 1996 when the UK reduced its budget to finance scientific work in Antarctica and let go of this Base. Ukraine had the expertise and the willingness to conduct long-term and all-year-round research in Antarctica, but couldn’t afford to build from scratch a new station. A suitable solution for both of the countries was to transfer the compound after selling it for a symbolic amount of one pound.
With this agreement, the series of data and measurements would neither end nor suffer from a great discontinuity.
Fortunately, and with the team of Ukrainians manning the Station making an exception for us to visit their premises, soon after paying a visit to Wordie House, the boats transferred us to Vernadsky. There, the friendly researchers showed us around. They have been busy during the last couple of years improving, and expanding. More rubber boats than they previously had allowed them to extend their study areas together with a better and higher range of aerials for radio communications. New lifting cranes help with their handling of heavy weights. Their Antarctic logistics got better too since Ukraine added the British Icebreaker James Clark Ross to their fleet.
The Base includes laboratories, scientific instrumentation, a large and new generator plant, fuel tanks, a galley, a dining room, a fitness room, some basic medical facilities, storage space for all the expedition gear, a sauna, and lost but not least – their famed bar. A sort of proper Antarctic Pub kept from the days when it was built by the British.
An excellent way to finish our visit before coming back aboard for dinner. Sun gets low on the horizon when afterwards the Ukrainian crew comes alongside the Europa for a visit to our ship. Welcoming them onto the ship, they spend some time checking our ways of sailing and visiting Antarctica, having a stop at our bar before leaving.