JAN 21: ANTARCTICA - Port Lockroy, Lemaire Channel

Saturday, January 21, 2017
ANTARCTICA: Lemaire Channel, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica
Jan 21st, 2017: Port Lockroy, Lemaire Channel, Pleneau & Cuverville Landing, Antarctica

STORMY TODAY: We are now making our way along the northern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, trying to find safe harborage where we can access calm enough conditions where we can reach other penguin or other bird colonies or find other marine mammals. More disturbed weather has come in overnight. Temp 2 degrees C, but this morning winds are blowing 35 knots, gusting to 45, so it may not be possible to get to Port Lockroy, where there is a British station that has a museum, a post office and surprisingly a primitive "gift shop". Well, the weather deteriorated more so that we cannot visit Lockroy. However, we were able to send our post postcards (which will be stamped with the station's post mark) with one of the station keepers who visited our ship today. Our cards will be transported by ship to the Falkland Islands. There, they will be picked up and flown to the United Kingdom, and from there they will be mailed out. It may take 6-8 weeks to reach their destinations, but this is much faster than mail would have been delivered during Shackleton's era! As with all activities here in Antarctica, we are at the mercy of the weather and the waves. However, so far and we have been incredibly lucky, and the leaders have been super smart about adjusting our itinerary to maximize our ability to see as much as possible even when weather has limited our options of places to visit.

We were not able to reach the Lemaire Channel because of high winds and icebergs blocking much of the channel. Instead, we motored to another location, Couperville Island in Point Portal, where we sent out our Zodiacs to visit a Gentoo penguin colony. Its colder here and the penguins in this colony were much slower along their reproductive cycle that those further north in that many individuals were still sitting on nests, mostly with small chicks or even eggs. There was lots of snow and ice still covering part of this colony’s ground, which shows how micro-climates can affect the outcome of the breeding cycle for many species here. The Gentoo nests were still in very active state, and many of the males were still helping to build and reinforce their mate’s nests by bringing in more stones which they find around the perimeter of the colony site, OR, feeling no remorse about stealing them from their neighbors nests. This behavior is rather funny to watch as those "intruders" get scolded and nasty treatment when they try to engage in thievery. If you want to see a video of this hilarious action, go back to the Entry on the 19th.

On the trip back to the mother ship, we came across a leopard seal lying on an ice flow, looking very contented, and seemed to have a big smile on its face; maybe it had recently consumed a bunch of penguins…or…..? Also saw some nice humpback whales just cruising at the surface, with an occasional dive, and later a pod of about 6-8 killer whales that played along at our bow as our ship was moving to a new location.

During dinner, we traveled further south, still looking for safe harborage and passed quite close to many icebergs, probably 100 ft x 100 ft x 40 ft tall, that passed by our portholes.

Finally found some reasonably calm conditions where we are now settled in for the night. After dinner another group went out for a 1-1.5 hr Zodiac trip to get more up close views of the local glaciers, some with gorgeous deep azure blue sections where the ice is especially dense. Now that we are so much further south, on and adjacent to the Antarctic Peninsula, it is considerably colder, and that alone will result in the breeding seasons of the penguins being later than those further north. So here we find Gentoo colonies that are still building nests, some with eggs, some with chicks, and lots of pebble stealing going on... Read some of the descriptions of the photos... Lots of neat Gentoo images to share!

Darkness (dimness) now begins around midnight, but since we are socked in with some overcast or fog, it is a bit hard to tell whether the dimness is due to a setting sun, or mostly the fog, or both. We have to close our blinds in our cabins at night so that birds will not be attracted to the light and crash into the ship and be injured or killed.

• The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-17):

As Shackleton, Worsley and Crean motored toward Elephant Island on the whaling ship Southern Sky, sixty miles from the island the pack ice forced them to retreat to the Falkland Islands whereupon the Uruguayan Government loaned Shackleton the trawler Instituto de Pesca, but once again the ice turned them away. They went to Punta Arenas in southern Chile where British and Chilean residents donated £1,500 to Shackleton in order to charter the schooner Emma. One hundred miles north of Elephant Island the auxiliary engine broke down and thus a fourth attempt would be necessary.
The Chilean Government now loaned the steam tug Yelcho, under the command of Captain Luis Alberto Pardo, to Shackleton. As the steamer neared Elephant Island, the men on the island were approaching lunchtime. It was August 30th, 1916 when Marston on the shore spotted the Yelcho in an opening in the mist. He yelled, "Ship O!" but the men thought he was announcing lunch. A few moments later the men inside the "hut" heard him running around, shouting, "Wild, there's a ship! Hadn't we better light a flare?" As they scrambled for the door, those bringing up the rear tore down the canvas walls. Wild put a hole in their last tin of fuel, soaked clothes in it, walked to the end of the spit and set them afire.The boat soon approached close enough for Shackleton, who was standing on the bow, to shout to Wild, "Are you all well?". Wild replied, "All safe, all well!" and the Boss replied, "Thank God!"

Blackborow, since he couldn't walk, was carried to a high rock and propped up in his sleeping bag so he could view the scene. Frank Wild invited Shackleton ashore to see how they had lived on the Island, but he declined being keen to get on their way as soon as possible in the light of previous failed attempts to reach the men due to ice conditions. Within an hour they were headed north to the world from which no news had been heard since October, 1914; they had survived on Elephant Island for 137 days, it was 128 days since Shackleton had left for South Georgia with his small crew on the James Caird.

Not a single man of Shackleton's original twenty-eight was lost. And though the Endurance was lost to the sea ice, the James Caird was brought back to England and survives to this day in Dulwich College London, a living reminder of an act of remarkable courage in the heroic age of exploration.

AND... there remained the men of the Ross Sea Party (using the ship Aurora) who were to set out caches of food and some equipment from the other side of the continent in support of Shackleton's Expedition. They became stranded at Cape Evans in McMurdo Sound, after Aurora had been blown from its anchorage and driven out to sea, unable to return. The ship, after adrift for many months, had eventually returned to New Zealand. Shackleton traveled there to join Aurora, and sailed with her to the rescue of the Ross Sea party. This group, despite many hardships, had carried out its depot-laying mission to the full, but three lives had been lost, including that of its commander, Aeneas Mackintosh.


For those of you who are dying to know more of the details of this crew... read on:
left Hobart, Tasmania on 24 December 1914, having been delayed in Australia by financial and organizational problems. The arrival in McMurdo Sound on 15 January 1915 was later in the season than planned, but the party’s commander Aeneas Mackintosh made immediate plans for a depot-laying journey on the Ross Ice Shelf, since he understood that Shackleton hoped to attempt the crossing during that first season. Neither the men nor the dogs were acclimatized, and the party was, as a whole, very inexperienced in ice conditions. The first journey on the ice resulted in the loss of ten of the party’s 18 dogs and a frostbitten and generally demoralized shore party; a single, incomplete depot was their only achievement.

On 7 May Aurora, anchored at the party's Cape Evans headquarters, was wrenched from her moorings during a gale and carried with drifting ice far out to sea. Unable to return to McMurdo Sound, she remained captive in the ice for nine months (SOUND FAMILIAR??) until on 12 February 1916, having traveled a distance of around 1,600 miles (2,600 km), she reached open water and limped to New Zealand. She carried with her the greater part of the shore party’s fuel, food rations, clothing and equipment, although the sledging rations for the depots had been landed ashore. To continue with its mission the stranded shore party had to re-supply and re-equip itself from the leftovers from earlier expeditions, notably Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition which had been based at Cape Evans a few years earlier. They were thus able to begin the second season’s depot-laying on schedule, in September 1915.

In the following months the required depots were laid, at one-degree intervals across the Ross Ice Shelf to the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. On the return journey from the glacier the party was attacked by scurvy; Arnold Spencer-Smith, the expedition’s chaplain and photographer, collapsed and died on the ice. The remainder of the party reached the temporary shelter of Hut Point, a relic of the Discovery Expedition (1901-1904) at the southern end of McMurdo Sound, where they slowly recovered. On 8 May 1916 Mackintosh and Victor Hayward decided to walk across the unstable sea ice to Cape Evans, were caught in a blizzard, and were not seen again. The survivors eventually reached Cape Evans, but then had to wait for eight further months. Finally, on 10 January 1917 the repaired and refitted Aurora, whose departure from New Zealand had been delayed by lack of money, arrived to transport them back to civilization; Shackleton accompanied the ship as a supernumerary officer, having been denied command by the governments of New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain who had jointly organized and financed the Ross Sea party's relief.

Shackleton sailed south again for his third Antarctic expedition, the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition, but suffered a fatal heart attack on January 5th, 1922 in Grytviken, where he had started his fateful expedition 7 years previous, and where, at the request of his wife, his body now lies at rest in a graveyard memorial.


Quote by: Sir Raymond Priestley, British Antarctic Explorer and Geologist:

“For scientific leadership give me Scott, for swift and efficient travel Amundsen, but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems to be no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”

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Pearse, John

For the rest of the story-- after these men were rescued, most went right into the brutal trenches of World War 1, where many were killed. I don't know how many, but what a way to end up. Frank Wild, who was the intrepid second in command on Shackleton's expeditions, served in the Navy in WWI, and ended up in South Africa, where he had a tough time making a go of it. He died at age 66, and his ashes are buried next to Shackleton's grave on South Georgia.


Thanks John, for filling us in on those disturbing additional facts about the rescued crew members. What an awful end to an otherwise hopeful and successful rescue. Good to know though. I had heard snippets of Frank Wild being at Grytviken as well, but wasn't sure of the details. Thanks again!

McClanahan, Pamela