Saturday February 3rd, 2001

Location

Pourquoi Pas Island

Latitude

67.45S

Longitude

67.43W

Wind

Light and variable at anchor – fresh easterly elsewhere

Sea

Slight

Air temp

3 deg C

Sea temp

0 deg C

Barometer

995 mbs and steady

Conditions

Unlimited


It was great to get back to this anchorage yesterday evening – after a day of going backwards and forwards across Laudeuf Fjord that separates Adelaide Island from the mainland of the Antarctic Peninsula. It was amazing how quickly the katabatic wind could rise to full strength with no warning – apart from the very strange hazy clouds that we now understand are a sign for “watch out”.

We are back in our “anchorage” under Pourquoi Pas Island, between a couple of underwater rocky reefs (probably glacial moraines) in a deep “bowl” of about 30 metres depth of water surrounded on all sides by an underwater ridge of 10 metres or less. The relevance of this is that it keeps the bigger icebergs out.

There were a number of bergs stranded around the edge of our “basin” last night – giving us a feeling of protection – but some have floated away on the high tide and are now lying stranded closer to the rocky shore. However, the ice falling off the ice cliffs only a few hundred metres away fills the bay with brash ice from time to time, which then spreads out and comes knocking and scrapping past the hull. This is no place for a painted fibreglass yacht.

Pourqoui Pas Island is named after the ship of the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot. He organised a French national expedition in 1903, which charted large parts of the Antarctic Peninsula region. This work was to be of great importance to navigators in the years to come. Charcot returned in 1908 in the most modern polar ship to date, the “Pourquoi Pas?”

Besides exploring and charting further coasts and islands, he tested a lot of new equipment such as electric lamps, anti-snow blindness goggles, a petrol-engined motorboat and different types of clothing. Charcot was a very humane man, known as “the polar gentleman” and was one of the first to point out the dangers of over-harvesting the whales.

Whales: we haven’t seen any for a few days. The further south we have travelled, the fewer the sightings. We are told that they will be where the ice is – which is where the krill are in their billions – the staple food of much of the life in this part of the world. But we also know that there is little ice this year compared to normal. So, where have they gone?

We are still hoping to head another 130 miles further south to the King George VI ice shelf – maybe the life is there. But the weather forecast is possibly for fresh east or northeast winds for the next few days – maybe longer. So we are waiting for a break to move.

We have been told that the ice shelf has receded way back over the past 50 years and that this recession is accelerating. Why is there no sea ice at all in an area that is normally solid? Is it just “one of those years” when conditions are warmer? Is it because of something else?

On Anchorage Island we found the southern elephant seals – there were about 19 females (cows) to the one male (bull) and a number of young. But these elephant seals are not known to breed so far south. They would normally be found on the sub-Antarctic islands where there are beaches and tussock to lie on.

We can now add a new breeding site to the list, one a long way further south than previously known. Is this a sign of a different climate developing?