Almirante Brown: An Englishman in Argentina

This was to be our last morning on land. I was filled with trepidation.

This would be my goodbye to this fragile wilderness and hello to my fragile health.

My health was fragile as we were to cross the Drake Passage after the landing.

William Brown is anathema. He was born in the 18th century in Ireland, emigrated to Philadelphia with his family as a nine year old and lost his father soon after to yellow fever. He was offered a job as a cabin boy on a steamer and worked his way up to captain. He was pressganged into fighting for the British in the Napoleonic wars. He then established and fought battles around Argentina and is an Argentinian national hero, and popularly regarded as the founder of the Argentinian navy. Then the Argentinians named a research base after him on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Vavilov with ice blowing in

The Vavilov with ice blowing in at Paradise Harbour

I often wonder how the passage of world history would have changed if it were not for the Irish that stood up to the English and the United Kingdom. Is say this because of one of my great grandparents who was Irish and who came out to South Africa to support the Boers in the Anglo-Boer War.

Paradise Harbour is a beautiful natural bay on the Antarctic Peninsula. The mouth is not too narrow but steep mountains rise up from all sides, with glaciers reaching the see in the valleys. We landed at Base Brown, and Argentinian Scientific base that was not occupied. A colony of Gentoo penguins were breeding in and around the buildings. The base had suffered a serious fire when one of the Argentinian doctor who was conscripted into military service set he base alight when a service ship did not have space to take him home after his due service. He and his team were forced to camp in tents till the next ship a few months later. The base has ugly debris in its center.

Glacier mouth in black water

Glacier mouth in black water

Most of the Vavilov’s passengers fanned around the base and up the hill to the highest point. The came tobogganing down on their backsides, whooping in excitement. Reece, her boyfriend, proposed to the ship’s doctor, Sarah, on top of the hill. There were loud whoops of joy and congratulations as the messages were relayed down the slope to the base.

The peace of Paradise harbour

The peace of Paradise harbour

I stood alone absorbing the peace and grandeur of the place. The stillness away from the passengers was intense, broken by occasional glacier calving. The sea in areas was black and reflected the glacier faces like a mirror.

Blue….

Blue….

I looked back on the sturdy Vavilov moored in the bay. It was small, but I knew I would be safe in the Drake crossing. I was just scared I would be sick. Then the bay filled with ice as the wind changed.  The winds were only supposed to pick up later in the afternoon. Back on board Boris announced that we would be making a dash for the Drake on account of some serious weather that was coming.

Oh, boy. My heart sank!

Norwegian grave stone: hidden but not forgotten….

Norwegian grave stone: hidden but not forgotten….

Ocean Notes Day 16

Ocean Notes Day 16

 

My Travels: Gentoos Being Born

Gentoo Chicks

Gentoo Chicks

The Vavilov had sailed on the north of the South Shetland Islands because thick ice prevented us entering the Antarctic Sound.

Now we had turned and were sailing in the channel between the islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.

On ether side of the ship rose towering black cliffed mountains with thick glaciers cutting the valleys right to the sea.

Inquisitive land birds: the Gentoo penguin

Inquisitive land birds: the Gentoo penguin

After a fresh smoothie from Amanda and breakfast we landed at Mikkelsen Harbour, facing the great continent. The ice and snow shone bright white in the sun, under a blue sky with small cumulus clouds dotting the horizon.

We landed amongst the debris of whalebones, geometric vertebra lying like toys in the gravel and ice blocks. I lay down to compose pictures with the ice shapes and the Gentoo Penguins came to investigate me. They were inquisitive, like short-necked giraffes; dreamy eyes stretching forward to see what was lying on the ground.

After a while I climbed a short hill to the other side of the bay, where the weathered red container structure of an Argentinian base scarred the rocky promontory. Before reaching the Gentoo colony at the base, I played around with penguins on snow highways and then moved to the colony. From there we had sight of a long highway coming straight at us down the slope, but somehow the pictures were not working.

Lost in a penguin highway

Lost in a penguin highway

Another sunny morning in the Antarctic

Another sunny morning in the Antarctic

There was a lot of excitement around the base. The penguins were not feeding but roosting on their eggs. Movement was limited. Then slowly one would bend down and nudge the speckled white egg as the chick breached the shell and came to life. We saw a few at various stages of birth. Time seemed to stand still as these noisy garrulous ungainly on land birds shifted up and moved back to allow the egg to crack and the young chick to hatch.

We had to rush back to catch the last zodiac to the ship, passing another Gentoo on the beach that was pecking at the remains of one of his kin.

On deck the sun remained low and it got much colder. The kitchen staff had put barrels on the stern and had prepared a braai (a South African barbeque). The smells were incongruous for me and as the meat came off the grill it froze to the plate in my hand. I was warm initially from the activity on Mikkelsen Harbour and did not take all my outer gear to the braai and froze. I found a protected spot and stood chatting to Luis who guides for Rock Jumper birding tours and also Suricato in South America.

As lunch wound down and people snacked on the fresh profiteroles for desert, the sky became grey and we set sail for Cervia Bay. Between the

peninsula and us we spotted 5 Orcas, about 1 kilometer off the starboard. What excitement on the ship.

Family of Orcas

Family of Orcas

 

This way, then that way

This way, then that way

 

Ocean Notes Day 14

Ocean Notes Day 14

Ocean Notes Day 15

Ocean Notes Day 15