After Port Lockroy, we had only a few more destinations, including another two bases, before departing. The Peltier Channel leads away from Wiencke Island and Port Lockroy, and deposits the boater in the Bismarck Strait. A little to the north, the Americans have a base on Anvers Island. South, the Lemaire Channel and the surrounding area was to provide some of the most spectacular views we had seen.
The human presence in Antarctica is chiefly scientific in nature, beyond the political games between the Chileans and Argentines. The Americans, at Palmer Station and no doubt other bases, involve themselves with valuable research projects, and politics are kept off at least the public agenda.
Peltier Channel to Hovgaard Island
Leaving Port Lockroy, we made our way through the Peltier Channel before heading to nearby Anvers Island. The Peltier is renowned as a spectacular pass, but the weather had closed right in for us, and the upper heights of the mountains were concealed by cloud and mist.
We were headed farther away from the mainland, toward the south coast of Anvers Island.
The Americans have a base here, called Palmer Station. We approached through the ice.
The Americans have a reputation amongst the boaters for not being particularly enthusiastic about visitors. Charter yachts and cruise ships must arrange visits a year in advance with the authorities back in the US. The scientists and other residents are busy with their work, and don’t like being bothered too much by tourists.
However we found the staff there very welcoming, and were directed via VHF to a safe mooring location in a small creek adjacent the base. With no anchor holding on solid rock, we used four long shore-lines tied to rocks.
We were invited ashore for the evening and spent some time with a number of the workers at the base. Apparently we were the first private yacht to visit that year. Of all the bases we visited, we can say that the Americans were the most friendly – and some of the science projects we were shown were fascinating. The people here are working on actual science, and the presence of the base clearly has little to do with politics.
The Americans live and work in comparative luxury. No expense is spared, and every item, every piece of equipment, down to the smallest detail, is of the highest quality and caliber (and usually originates in the USA). They reason that happy workers will be more productive and generate better science, so the expense is worthwhile. The scale of the base alone speaks volumes about the resources invested – and this is small compared to some of the larger American (and British and Australian) bases farther south. Consider the logistics in supplying and supporting this base alone.
Some of the other bases we had seen relied on HF radio alone for communications. Not so the Americans. They seemed puzzled that we were surprised at the unrestricted broadband wireless internet available to all residents.
Americans love flags, and somebody found time to find a New Zealand national flag to fly below the stars-and-stripes. Of course our own flying of the US courtesy flag on the boat may have contributed – a bit of fun which we indulged in with the respective colors at most of the bases. The blue flag below the NZ one is the banner for an Antarctic conference.
After a few fascinating and enjoyable days with the Americans, we departed Anvers Island and headed back in toward the continent. Our next stop lay beyond the famous Lemaire Channel, renowned for its drama and beauty.
The entrance to the channel is marked by the fantastic Cape Renard. Such a mount if painted might be considered as unrealistic fantasy. We wonder if the drawings made and brought back to Europe by the early explorers were ever believed.
The Lemaire Channel is formed by the continental mainland (to our port), and the steep cliff-sides of nearby Booth Island (to our starboard).
Humphries Heights displays the same witch’s hat formations as Cape Renard.
The highest peak of Booth Island is nearly 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) and has never been climbed, despite a few attempts.
After passing through the Lemaire and rounding Booth Island, we had to navigate an “iceberg graveyard”, an area where icebergs naturally accumulate and run aground. There they remain until they break up.
We arrived at these small rocky islets, hundreds of them forming intricate waterways and channels between the larger landmasses of Pleneau and Hovgaard Islands. Finding our way through the iceberg graveyard, which can be seen behind us in the below picture, then seeking out a secure anchorage amongst the rock, was some of the most complicated navigating we undertook on this trip.