Tag Archives: Historic Site

Detaille Oriented

Monday 26 February 2024 – The morning dawned somewhat greyer and rather windier than I would frankly have liked.

But the weather was still, equally frankly, a lot more benign than it might have been.  There were two items on the plan today, the first of which was a visit to a disused British research base dating from the 1940s, Base W, on Detaille Island.  From the warmth of our cabin we saw the teams headed out to prepare a landing area

and if you know where to look, you can see the base in the picture above.  There it is, top left. You can see it more clearly below.

Our Orange group was due to do a short Zodiac cruise before making the landing, and we were hosted for that by the very droll Sasha.  The conditions weren’t great – 0°C, a little snowy drizzle in the air and just windy enough to make things a little uncomfortable – but we saw, as ever, some great icescapes

and a reasonably substantial colony of Adelie penguins.

Many of them were milling about by the water’s edge

and Sasha explained that what was going on was a sort of group negotiation about getting into the water. An individual going in might be caught by a passing predator, but if a group could all go in at the same time, individual chances of survival were better; so it was a game of “after you, Claude”, “no, after you, Cecil”.  This groupthink actually resulted in none of them going in whilst we were watching, which is a bit of a shame. One solitary penguin seemed to be trying to tell us something

but we don’t know what, since we don’t speak penguin (I wonder if it’s related to pidgin…?).

After a bit more desultory cruising, we made our landing on the island

and stumbled up a somewhat icy path to the hut that housed the main part of the base.

We had a short history briefing from Pelin as we stood outside the entrance.

She explained a little about the geopolitical games which surrounded the establishment of these research bases, but the idea mainly was to establish territorial rights before some other buggers got in and tried it on.  The first British base was Base A, and so you can work out that Base W was established some time later, sometime in the late 1940s.  It didn’t last long, as a really harsh winter forced an evacuation, which was carried out via a 30-kilometre dog sled pull across sea ice to Base Y (Base W actually had some 20 working dogs – more than the number of personnel – which were housed in separate kennels). The harsh conditions started to destroy the buildings and they have been only relatively recently excavated from the snow which had engulfed them, lovingly restored by volunteers and established as a historic site.  Clearly, as such, it has to be treated with respect, and no more than 12 people are allowed in at any one time.  But one can go in and inside it’s like a time capsule.

After spending time looking around inside the hut, we walked a little up the hillside to take in the overall view, which was spectacular, if somewhat difficult to capture in a single image.

Then we stumbled and slipped our way back down to the landing area

to take a ride back to Hondius. It was by this stage snowing reasonably obviously, and the wind had got up a little more, so we declined the option of a further Zodiac cruise in favour of a hot chocolate and a bit of a sit down.

After lunch, at which we had a really interesting chat with Judy and Knox, a North American couple who had lived and worked in China in the 1990s, the original plan had been to go to Hanusse Bay for a further look-round.  But the prevailing conditions didn’t make that a particularly inviting prospect,

so Pippa and the team decided to start heading back Oop Narth to cross back over the Antarctic Circle and head to our next place instead. It’s not, at this very moment, completely clear where that will be, but I’m sure it will be worth the wait; and in any case, after all the relentless expeditioning of the last days, it was nice to have an afternoon off.

We visited the bridge, which is an oasis of calm

even as quite a lot of attention has to be paid to not bumping into things as we go.

We were also able to pick up the certificates which proved that we’d crossed the Antarctic Circle.

Who knows what tomorrow may bring?  At the moment, not I, but you can be sure that I’ll let you know what actually happened as soon as circumstances permit.