Antarctic Trip on HMS Protector
What an amazing trip!
I was fortunate enough to join the ship at the Falklands and had a few days acquainting myself with the ship and crew, and seeing local sights. I was immediately made to feel very welcome and was assigned the previous 2i/c’s cabin which had a desk, TV and en suite! The chefs managed to accommodate my vegetarian preference and I was also inducted into the vices of the ship’s tuck shop for supplemental biscuits and sweet items.
The marines on board supplied cold weather gear, although in the end I had most of what I needed. Their thick woolly socks were probably the most prized item. From my own store I valued the Dachstein mitts which had fold over fingers which made handling the camera in the cold much easier.
Gypsy Cove Near Port Stanley
The first ice berg. Bizarrely similar to one I had already painted!
The crossing of the Drakes Passage was choppy and upper decks were out of bounds. My most dramatic memory of that is an episode in the galley which happened at the end of the Marines’ cold weather brief. The ship pitched forward and then the bow lurched upwards sending furniture, cups of tea and bodies flying. Everything in the kitchen also ended up all over the place.
Our first landfall was King George Island and we took on two BAS scientists who had been camping out collecting fossils. The Captain assured me that this scenery was nothing compared to what we were about to witness further south, but already the scale and the majesty of the landscape was impressing itself upon me.
A couple of views of King George Island
Next, on to Deception Island. The quiet inlet in the centre of the Island was pond like in it’s stillness. Here we explored the decimated remains of the Norwegian whaling station at Whalers’ Bay. Fur seals and gulls were now it’s only inhabitants. There were three graves to mark the memory of those who had perished there.
Whaler's Bay, Deception Island
From there we continued to the tip of the peninsula and here a wonderland of ice opened up for us. Highlights included the Lemaire Channel and the Neumayer and Peltier Channels. The latter was previously unsurveyed and we were the first large ship to sail it’s vertiginous rocky corridor through the ice.
Scenes from the Lemaire, Peltier and Neumayer Channels
Ink illustrations of rocky pinnacles and an iceberg
On looking at time lapse footage of our transit through the Lemaire Channel it became apparent that an avalanche had occurred and sent a huge ball of snow crashing towards the sea just ahead of us.
Entrance to the Lemaire Channel
Whales became part of the scenery to. Mostly as distant slumbering logs with occasional water spouts. However, out best sighting was near Anvers Island when a pod of at least half a dozen Orcas played around the ship for about an hour.
In between channel transits we saw immense ice bergs; on apparently the size of Bristol! The scale of these objects had to be seen to be believed.
One of the enduring memories I have is of the dark light created by a strong low overcast of snow cloud. This made photographs extremely moody and different from the stereotypical blue skies I had come to expect.
We were spared that overcast at Port Lockroy however. Here a team climbed a mountain peak, whilst the Captain indulged in some SUP boarding on the chilly waters. There were Leopard seals there and we watched a few unlucky penguins become prey.
For the rest of us, we posted cards home and enjoyed socialising with the staff who ran the base whilst admiring the quirks of the local penguins.
A Gentoo Penguin at Port Lockroy with HMS Protector in the background.
There were other base visits and I was lucky to step ashore on an Argentinian base, which turned out to be unmanned. I did visit Palmer Station, a US base. I did an ink drawing of the base viewed from the ship and have left this with Captain Syrett to present to the base on a future visit.
Before you know it, we are travelling north again, back through the LeMaire Channel and in towards to Weddel Sea for some icebreaking. We travel thorough wildernesses of ice and sea innumerable seals, whales and penguins. The dark light from the overcast continues to add drama to the scene.
Ink Illustration of an island in the Erebus and Terror Gulf en route to Weddell Sea.
Here I was inspired to draw a cartoon strip for the ship featuring the penguins as they run across the ice to escape the breaker end of the ship. They are animated in why seems to be a comically human fashion.
After the ice breaking came our last highlight. A truly humbling experience as I was allowed to be one of a party aboard a Zodiac that attempted to land on Elephant Island at the exact spot from where Shackleton’s men were rescued. We were unable to get ashore and it did appear that the small shingle beach which was there a hundred years ago had been washed away. Nonetheless, it was on this tiny spur of land, no more than 30 feet across, that they survived those months. I have no idea how they did it.
Shackleton's landing photographed from a pitching Zodiac
From there we enjoyed a smooth transit back across the Drakes Passage, arriving eventually at Montevideo. There was a military band awaiting our arrival followed by cocktail festivities in the evening. I stayed on in Montevideo accompanied by the contingent from BAS and flew home a few days later.
I should say the best thing about being away is coming home, and it is, but the thought at the top of my list, is how to get back there again!
I would like to express my heart felt thanks to Captain Syrett and all the crew of HMS Protector for their companionship and support whilst I was on the ship, and of course to Bonham's and the Friends of The Scott Polar Institute for making the trip possible. Thank you all!