Sailing the Lemaire and Peltier Channels on our way North. Drop anchor overnight at Port Lockroy.
And so it was, a calm night drifting in the windless conditions of today’s Penola Strait. Today we will wander around areas with quite a historical baggage, all of them visited and first charted by Jean Baptiste Charcot in his two expeditions.
Starting with the morning destination, Yalour Islands. Just a handful of miles away, this little archipelago extends for just less than 2nm northwest of the conspicuous cliffs of Cape Tuxen. Both a celebrated but also an ill-fated headland for Charcot, who, during his first expedition (1903-04) took the honor of having trodden upon the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula for the first time confirmed. But the second time he came to continue his work in Antarctica (1908–10), he visited Tuxen again running aground aboard the ship Pourquois Pas?. Nevertheless, he continued his explorations further south without letting the crew know the real extent of the damage. A bet that this time worked out well, and after overwintering at the neighbor Peteman Island they could return safely to mainland South America.
You secretly find out that your keel had been badly damaged by hitting a rock. Do you accept defeat and turn for home, or do you conceal the truth from friends and colleagues and sail back into the ice and uncharted waters that holed her?
Jean Baptiste Charcot
Charcot named the islands where we set foot after breakfast in tribute to Lieutenant Jorge Yalour, of the Argentine Navy, who was an officer of the Argentine corvette Uruguay which came to the rescue of the shipwrecked Swedish Antarctic Expedition in November 1903.
A short zodiac ride put us ashore there for yet another good chance to wander around our second Adelie rookery.
The hard rocks of the island eroded and rounded by the glacial activity, stand out of the snow and ice here and there. Adelie penguins have made their nesting home atop every hill. In total about 8,000 pairs of Adelie penguins breed here.
Adelies, adapted to colder and harder conditions than any other penguin that visit Antarctica in summer, suffer the increasing temperatures and lack of good sea ice. A situation favourable to the Gentoos that every year seem to increase their numbers and travel further south.
And where’s a large amount of penguins with their young chicks, Skuas and Giant petrels find good hunting grounds too. With them around it is just a question of a bit of time and patience to see a kill. And so it happened, a successful petrel stole a little Adelie, and three of them took turns feeding. All happening in a classical setting for the Adelie rookeries. Icebergs all around, snowy fields over the islands, and a fantastic background of alpine peaks and glaciers.
What started as a cold morning developed into a warm day, but having a look at the sky we can see that something different from the last days is going on. A frontal passage is sweeping over the area, announcing a possible weather change to happen soon. And so the forecast says, with an increase in the wind conditions for tomorrow. But still having the sun with us, the afternoon ahead promises yet another hot and sunny landing after lunch.
Europa soon heads further north, to the southern shores of the large Booth Island, which with its “Y” shape shoots up its straight sides at the western shores of the Lemaire Channel. There we plan a visit to Port Charcot, after dealing with the closely packed icebergs at Salpêtrière Bay.
There, a well-trodden path running close to a busy penguin highway leads to some Gentoo colonies. Below our feet were the deep channels of Français Cove, where the ship from Charcot's first expedition spent the winter. Next to us, are the rock walls of the Magnetic Observatory they used for their measurements.
A bit higher up, the three penguin species of the Antarctic Peninsula share the nesting site. A few Chinstraps, a handful of Adelie, and Gentoos in higher numbers.
Atop the largest hill in the area and easily accessible across a snowfield, still can be found a large cairn and wooden stick built by the expedition.
All in all a fantastic visit ashore with great scenery, wildlife, and historical background. It is to Charcot and his crew that we owe for the first scientific works, maps, and charts of the area, made during his daring expeditions at the beginning of the 19-hundreds while visiting and studying these same sites.
The relationship between our trip and him is not over yet. Once all are on board, the ship heads north through the spectacular Lemaire Channel towards Goudier Island and Port Lockroy. There she plans to spend the night at anchor. Yet another place was found by Charcot, who started using it as a safe harbor on the 19th of February 1904 Charcot. It didn’t take long for the whalers to come here afterward and use the bay as a mooring place. Popular since then, nowadays is one of the most visited places in the West Antarctic Peninsula.
Humpbacks cross our path as we make our way there and at the end of the day surprise, a pod of Orcas swims pass. They seem to head south while we steer northwards, but in all our excitement we all could get a good view of them.