Having been in the region of Antarctica for some time, we had not yet actually touched the continent itself. Heading across a large bay, we left Bluff and Challenger Islands behind us and headed for our first stop on the mainland. Beyond that lay an intriguing mooring in the form of a wrecked whaling ship at Enterprise Island.
The charts for this area lack accuracy and detail, and anchorages as surveyed are intended for large ships, not small yachts. The annotations on the chart pictured to the right are typical – these notes given to us by an ice pilot, together with hand-drawn maps from other boaters, were all that we had to go on in order to locate, approach, and navigate into bays and areas commonly ringed by moraine and rock.
Portal Point, Enterprise Island, and Cuverville Island
The Reclus Peninsula protrudes north from the mainland, and at its northern most point a little spike of land called Portal Point forms a small protected area. This peninsula of a peninsula of the Peninsula would be the first time we had walked on the Antarctica continent.
It was snowing when we arrived, but calm. The anchorage was recorded by other boaters as another mooring arrangement, requiring shore-lines. The weather can change rapidly in this area, and the elected set-up must be adequate for any possible surprises. However we decided that the Rocna was adequately set, and would be secure on its own, with just enough swinging room.
Portal Point is part of the continent, but the dramatic mountain ranges of the Peninsula run down the main coastline. On the other side of the bay, they give us a fantastic view whenever the cloud clears enough. Scale is difficult to comprehend, even when present in person. The coastline below is 12 nautical miles (20 km) distant.
The next stop was Enterprise Island, where the wreck of an old ship lies in the shallows and makes an ideal dock for visiting yachts. On arrival, there was another yacht already there. We would raft alongside.
The boat docked, we decide to do a little snow hiking. Walking on this terrain is a little dangerous, as the hills are mined with concealed crevices. In this event we followed the tracks of the crew of the other boat.
At the top of a high ice cliff above the boats, we found the crew and guests from Podorange, a French charter yacht on their first trip to Antarctica. They had rappelling equipment, and were abseiling down the ice cliff to the rocky beach below.
Our two boats were moored to the wreck of the Governoren, a Norwegian whaling ship which suffered a fire some hundred years ago. The crew were unable to contain the fire, and deliberately ran her aground on the rocks here. All were rescued with no loss of life.
The wreck provides historic interest, and is a symbol of the small impact man has made so far on Antarctica.
On a nearby islet, there are the remains of two abandoned whaling boats. The contrast between the old tradition and the aluminium of our own “ship’s boat” was striking.
Podorange have their own answer. Zodiacs with decent outboards are ideal for cruising and gunkholing in this area. For safety, at least one crewmember needs to remain on the yacht and radio contact with handheld VHFs is important.
A day later, we were at Cuverville Island, and the weather had closed in a little again.
This leopard seal had his own boat – he went floating past us, headed out to sea. It seemed he was resting after lunch.
Leopard seals are known to be fast and dangerous, and are a powerful animal not to be trifled with. Getting close is risky.
Power – and teeth – were on display. We left him alone, content with his free ticket to we can only imagine where.
Nearby, blue-eyed shags were safer but more skittish.
They were wary but not too shy.
Another 2 A.M. photo shows why visitors can find their sleep patterns disrupted in Antarctica. Winter can cause depression, while summer can cause stress from trying to do too much in each day – the light fools us into believing we are capable of it.