Penguins, Port Lockroy & The Lemaire Channel

Hunting the Ice...in Antarctica aboard Hurtigruten's FRAM. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Hunting the Ice…in Antarctica aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Friday, January 23, 2015

Our fifth full day of exploring the Antarctic Peninsula aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM was packed full of adventure, as we paired the white continent’s natural beauty with remnants of human settlements here.

We began the day by exploring the snowy expanse of Neko Harbour, where we ‘rescued’ the campers who had tented out on the ice in Antarctica the night before. They came back from their experience feeling cold but accomplished, though most of them retreated to the warmth of their staterooms and went straight to bed.

Hurtigruten's FRAM at anchor this morning off Neko Harbour, Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Hurtigruten’s FRAM at anchor this morning off Neko Harbour, Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Those of us not as fortunate to have spent an evening out on the ice donned our rubber boots in the Mud Room on Deck 2, checked off the ship by zapping our keycards against the scanner that then wished us a canned “Goodbye!” in a monotone voice, and set out for Neko Harbour aboard FRAM’s Polarcirkel boats.

Neko Harbour was discovered by the globetrotting Adrien de Gerlache, who named it after a Scottish whaling boat called the Neko. Whaling, as you may have guessed, was a pretty popular pastime back in the day. In fact, what little of Antarctica isn’t named after famous explorers is typically named after whaling ships, operations, or Captains of Industry.

Coming ashore on Neko Harbour for a spectacular early-morning view. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Coming ashore on Neko Harbour for a spectacular early-morning view. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Penguins heading off to 'work' on their little penguin highways. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Penguins heading off to ‘work’ on their little penguin highways. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The snow at Neko Harbour is less snow and more compacted ice pellets. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The snow at Neko Harbour is less snow and more compacted ice pellets. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests help each other up the deep, snowy embankment. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests help each other up the deep, snowy embankment. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Today, of course, there is no whaling in Antarctica. Only the pristine beauty of Neko Harbour is left behind. Once again, after hiking about 100 metres up a snowy embankment, I dug a nice ‘snow hole’ in which to sit and watch Antarctica’s beauty unfold. I also watched the penguins do something similar: they’d carved ruts out of the snow, which literally resembled little penguin freeways filled with the tuxedo-clad creatures. At the early hour, you’d almost think they were headed off to work…

Impressively, Neko Harbour is one of the few places on our cruise – and most Antarctic Peninsula cruises – where guests can actually set foot on mainland Antarctica. It’s a pretty big deal to be able to do that.

Returning to the FRAM in the late morning via Polarcirkel boat. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Returning to the FRAM in the late morning via Polarcirkel boat. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

After another delicious buffet lunch onboard the FRAM, we called on Port Lockroy – though not without a few hours of indecision. When we arrived off the small outpost on the western shore of Wiencke Island, strong winds and heavy swells were making launching the Polarcirkel boats impossible. So we stuck around for about two hours while the bad weather raged on outside. Even just stepping out onto the enclosed, relatively sheltered Promenade on Deck 5 was enough to seriously mess up your hair and chill you to the bone.

The warm, beautiful interiors of the FRAM...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The warm, beautiful interiors of the FRAM…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...provided a stark contrast to the nasty weather outside. Notice the rigidity of the Norwegian flag; the wind was that strong! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…provided a stark contrast to the nasty weather outside. Notice the rigidity of the Norwegian flag; the wind was that strong! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Finally, about thirty minutes before we were scheduled to give up and set sail for the Lemaire Channel, the weather eased up. Not a lot, but enough. The shell doors were opened, and FRAM’s Polarcirckel boats were hydraulically lowered into the water from their home on the sheltered “Car Deck” on Deck 2.

Waiting for the weather outside to clear up from Deck 4...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Waiting for the weather outside to clear up from Deck 4…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Port Lockroy was discovered in 1904 and was promptly named for Edouard Lockroy, a politician from France who was instrumental in securing government support for the French Antarctic Expedition led by Jean-Baptiste Charcot. During World War II, however, the United Kingdom established a base at Port Lockroy. Cryptically known as Station A, the base was a prong in the far-reaching Operation Tabarin: the UK’s special military operation to secure Antarctica from potential Nazi German forces, who were sort of ‘in bed’ with Argentina at the time.

Finally, the weather let up long enough for us to disembark the FRAM...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Finally, the weather let up long enough for us to disembark the FRAM…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and head ashore at Port Lockroy. Notice the penguin blocking the path! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and head ashore at Port Lockroy. Notice the penguin blocking the path! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Interestingly, there is still much speculation as to what Operation Tabarin really was. Some have suggested it was merely a distraction intended to confuse the German Kreigsmarine, which typically relied on remote, sheltered harbours as resupply bases for U-Boats – though Antarctica does seem a bit out of the way. Others have suggested the British presence in Antarctica was more related to control over the Falkland Islands.

Port Lockroy's Base A was established during WWII. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Port Lockroy’s Base A was established during WWII. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Base A; once wartime operation outpost, now museum. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Base A; once wartime operation outpost, now museum. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Either way, Port Lockroy’s Station A still stands to this day, having been turned into a museum in 1996. Even better, it has been restored to its original condition, remaining very much as it would have appeared during the height of World War II.

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Our Live Voyage Report aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM continues tomorrow as we continue sailing through the heart of the Antarctic Peninsula. Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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