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Sailing and birding around Antarctica, 9 January – 2 February 2008,
White-chinned Petrel and Wandering Albatross, Drake Passage, 140108, Photo Florrie de Pater
This is the report of a sailing trip made to Antarctica from Ushuaia (Argentina). The trip was made with the “Anna Margaretha”, a Dutch sailing ship owned by Heinz Wutschke and Greet Dekker. In antarctic chartering terms it’s a rather small vessel; it has a length of 22 meters and accomodation for 12 guest’s next to the three crew-members. I joined the voyage to act as guide and cook. Most guests were Dutch, although two Germans and two British members were aboard. The guests and crew were interested in landscape and nature in general. Except for me and Florrie de Pater there were no keen birders with us.
Before the sailing trip we spent a week in Tierra del Fuego (did a three day hiking trip through the national park). After the voyage to Antarctica I with my eldest daughter and friend travelled two weeks around Southern Patagonia, visiting Parque Nacional Torre del Paine in Chile and Glaciares in Argentina. Of course we saw a lot of birds there, but we did’t write a report about it. Same goes for our two visits to Costanera Sur during our stop-overs in Buenos Aires, others have written some solid material about this locations.
9 january; after completing harbour formailities we sail away from Ushuaia; through the Beagle Channel we arrive around 18.00 h. at Port Williams (Chile), where we have to complete formalities in the morning with the Chilean authorities.
10 january; after a morning walk through the small town we sail through the Beagle Channel to Isla Gardiner (Chile), where we anchor for the night
11 january; after a morning stroll on the island we lift the anchor and sail southwards to Cape Horn between the isles of Lennox and Navarino, cross Bahia Nassau to the isle near the the cape. Cape Horn itself we pass in the night.
12 january; dawn finds us on the Drake Passage south of Cape Horn which is still faintly visible. In calm weather we sail southwards, we leave the continental shelf around 13.00 h.
13 january; the whole day we continue in relatively calm weather across Drake Passage. We pass the convergence at about 13.30 h, the water temperature drops remarkably.
14 january; in the morning the wind picks up. The whole day we sail in strong winds of 9 – 10 Bft towards the South Shetland Islands. At midnight we halt for a few hours near Table Island because of icebergs and low visibility.
15 january; at 04.00 h. in the morning we sail through English Strait between Robert island and Greenwhich Island. We round Greenwhich Isl. to the west to reach Yankee Harbour where we anchor. In the afternoon we visit the penguin rookery.
16 january; in the morning we lift anchor and cross over to Half Moon Island, where we visit the penguin rookery. We anchor in Moon Bay.
17 january; for views of the astonishing landscape we circumnavigate Half Moon Island and then proceed through Bransfield Strait to Deception Island against a tough north-westerly wind. The island is a caldera crater, we sail into it at 20.00 h and anchor in front of the Argentine base Decepcion.
Our proposed initerary, which we followed for most parts. Due to ice-conditions we could not make it all the way to Vernadsky Base.
18 january; in the morning we visit the base, in the afternoon we cross the crater bay to Pendulum Cove, where most of us take a swim. Just below the shorline you can dig a basin in the black volcanic sand in which water from hot springs (scalding hot) and seawater (just above freezing point) mix. If you do it right it’s wonderful, if you do it wrong, you burn or freeze.
19 january; in the morning we visit the former norwegian whaler’s station and later (but now derelict) English base Whaler’s bay. In the cold dreary weather the partly by lava covered site is a godforsaken place. At midday we sail out. As we sail south the visbility gets poorer and the icebergs thicker. At night it’s not safe to proceed so we spend the night drifting off Christiana Island.
20 january; in snowy conditions we head further south. The evening finds us at Enterprise Island, where we moor to a partly sunk Norwegian whaler.
21 january; in again snowy conditions we travel south through Gerlach Strait and the Errera Channel to Waterboat Point. The suns breaks through when we anchor and visit the Chilean base, which is situated in the middle of a large penguin rookery.
22 january; we sail into Paradise Harbour, but the way to the south is blocked by icedrifts. We turn to the west to Gerlach Strait again and by that way sail south to Port Lockroy, where we anchor. The weather is cloudy and snowy again.
23 january; we stay at Port Lockroy (there’s too much ice in Lemaire Strait to proceed further south to Vernadsky (Ukranian base) as we intended first) and spend the day by visiting the British museum-base on Gondier island and the penguin rookery on Jougla Point. Wet snow and cold.
24 january; in dazzling sunny weather we sail through Neumayer Channel and Lion Sound back northward to Dallman Bay which we cross to the Melchior Islands. There we anchor in Anderson Harbour.
25 january; we spend the whole cloudy and rainy day waiting for more favourably wind conditions to enter the Drake Passage again. At 21.00 h. we lift anchor and sail off.
26, 27, 28 and 29 january; we are working hard for four day’s to cross the Drake Passage. Mostly it’s cold and rainy with windforces mostly around 7 – 9 Bft. Late at night on the 29th we see the firehouse light of Cape Horn again.
30 january; in the early hours of the day we proceed to Hershel Island ( Chile) where we anchor and enjoy a good sleep. After a morning stroll on the island we proceed northwards through Bahia Nassau, where a sudden gale of 12 Bft surprises us. We seek shelter in Puerto Toro on Isla Navarino.
31 january; after a morning excursion around Puerto Toro we enjoy an easy day sailing through Paso Picton and the Beagle Channel to Puerto Williams.
1 february; there’s a storm blowing in the Beagle Channel, which means that the harbours are closed. After completing Chilean customs, we have to wait for the day. Late at night we get clearance and in the dark we sail to Ushuaia.
2 february; at 03.00 h in the morning we dock in. We have a short sleep on board and with that the voyage ends. It was a very demanding, impressive, interesting and beautiful trip.
This would not have been possible without the opportunity of the Anne Margaretha sailing this water and me being invited to act as a guide on ons of the trips to Antarctica. So I like to thank Greet Dekkers and Heinz Wutschke, owners (and Heinz also the builder) of the ship., and their son Sam. Together they formed the crew.
Also I like to thank my fellow-travellers for their good company. Three-and-a-half week in a confined space in sometimes adverse conditions is not allways easy, but we did fine. I will not name all 11, but I like to thank Florrie de Pater who assisted me in birding and keeping track of the numbers, especially when I had to divide my attention between the ocean and the preparation of the evening meal.
1. A complete guide to Antarctic Wildlife, Hadoram Shirihai, 2002;
2. Birds of Chile, Alvaro Jaramillo c.s. , 2003
3. Birds of Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego & Antarctic Paeninsula, E Couve & C. Vidal, 2003