As Travel Editor Stephen Scourfield returns from his Antarctica voyage, he sends ahead some of his observations and experiences
As I write this, I’m standing on deck, sailing north across the Drake Passage, from Antarctica back to South America, with an albatross gliding right beside me, high above the ocean. The sun is out and it is cold and windy — just the sort of weather albatrosses like. For every metre of “drop”, these birds can glide 23m, at a maximum speed of 85km/h. A wandering albatross can live up to 60 years and fly up to 8.5 million kilometres during that lifetime. The wandering albatross effortlessly keeping station beside me as the ship ploughs northwards will spend 95 per cent of its life at sea while circumnavigating the Antarctic continent. There’s a lesson to be learnt in watching an albatross, effortlessly and sustainably using the energy in its natural environment.
There is a lot of snow on the Antarctic Peninsula this year — the summer feels three weeks, perhaps a month, behind. Penguins need the snow to thaw so they can find stones for their nests. The big amounts of snow and late thaw will put pressure on chicks to be fed, fledged and ready to fend for themselves by winter.
Q: Why is it good to know a bit about the wildlife of the Drake Passage at meal times on an Antarctic voyage? A: Because it’s a good ice breaker.
Around 6000 people applied to be in the team of four running the museum, shop, post office and science station at Port Lockroy Base A in Antarctica, which I have just visited. When it opened in 1944, it was the first continuously occupied base, establishing a year-round British presence in Antarctica. Pioneering ionospheric work was done here. (Before satellites, radio waves were bounced off the ionosphere, more than 100km in the upper atmosphere, for long-distance communication.) The base closed in 1962 and is now looked after and run by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. It is a living museum and Clare Ballantyne, Mairi Hilton, Natalie Corbett and Lucy Bruzzon are there running it. Newlywed Natalie, 31, who’s in charge of the museum’s gift shop, has described it as a “solo honeymoon”. Before explorers, scientific researchers and tourists in the Antarctic, whalers and sealers were here working, particularly at Port Lockroy between 1911 and 1931.
GRANT FOR ALBANY
Closer to home, Albany’s Historic Whaling Station is the only WA recipient of the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme for 2022-2023. It is one of 21 successful applicants from museums and cultural organisations across Australia. MMAPSS funds museums and other not-for-profit organisations to help preserve or display objects of national and historical maritime significance.
ROUND THE HORN
I am on Aurora Expeditions’ ship Greg Mortimer, approaching Cape Horn. The first recorded rounding of Cape Horn was in 1616, by the ship Eendracht, on a voyage to search for Terra Australis. Dirk Hartog and the crew of the Dutch East India Company ship then became the first Europeans to sight the coast of what we now know as Western Australia for, after rounding Cape Horn, the Eendracht had sailed further east than normal. By the time Hartog decided to head north, he was within sight of Australia’s western coast. Dirk Hartog left a record of his visit to the west coast of Australia inscribed on a pewter plate which is now on display at Rijksmuseum — the Museum of the Netherlands.