The islands beyond the Lemaire Channel

Lemaire Channel

Heading towards the Lemaire Channel

We were up at 6am and out on deck soon after - the snow had stopped and the fog largely lifted as the "Ocean Nova" headed down the Antarctic Peninsula and was fast approaching the entry to the Lemaire Channel. The towering ramparts guarding the entrance to this narrow waterway lay just ahead, as we took up position on the snow covered foredeck of the ship.

Skua in flight

The Lemaire Channel and the 980m ramparts of Booth Island

Entering the narrows of the Lemaire Channel


Soon, we were passing slowly through the channel, the continent on our left and Booth Island on our right; our ship hemmed in by the steep dark walls of rock and ice, and the deeply cracked faces of glaciers flowing down from the heights above. Icebergs and sea-ice floated in the dark water, while the distant snowy domes of the interior blended in with the cloud layer. The landscape was surreally monochromic.

The face of a Glacier on Booth Island

Ice-caves at the base of the snow-covered glacier

Emerging from the Lemaire Channel

A pair of monster icebergs

Argentine Islands


As we emerged from the channel, the sun broke through in patches to shine on the flotilla of icebergs in the broadening waterway.

A little later we reached the Argentine Islands and, after some searching, the ship found a safe anchorage amongst the large floes and bergs in the waters near the Vernadskiy Research Station.

The sun breaks through to illuminate Hovgaard Island framed by the mist-covered mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula

Icebergs glinting in the sunlight #1

Icebergs glinting in the sunlight #2

Heading off to shore again

View across the drifts to the mountains of the peninsula

Crossing Winter Island to visit Wordie House

Skua at rest

Adult kelp gull

We had arrived here to visit this Ukrainian (and ex-British) Research Station as well as Wordie House, an old British base nearby left as a museum of life in an early Antarctic station. The zodiacs dropped us off on the shore of aptly named Winter Island, a low white dome of snow. We trudged up and over the deep snow of the dome to reach the small timber buildings of Wordie House alongside a narrow, partly frozen channel on its far shore.

The setting of Wordie house on Winter Island

Wordie House is now designated Antarctic Historical Site and Monument No. 62 and it was fascinating to see the old equipment, bunks, stoves and even canned food that tided the researchers over the long Antarctic winters. At 65°15'S latitude, this was the furthest south we would reach on our Antarctic exploration.

Immature kelp gull

Cormorant in flight

Wordie House (closed 1954)

The pantry stocked with original tinned food

Kitchen and sleeping quarters

Station meteorology laboratory

Nearby, a crabeater seal and a Weddell seal had hauled themselves out to lie nonchalantly in the snow. As we wandered about the environs of the hut, we tried to imagine what it would have been like overwintering here. Today at the beginning of the Antarctic summer with our ship moored nearby, it seemed quite cosy, but fifty years ago in the depths of a dark winter ....???

The channel near Wordie House

The "Ocean Nova" moored off the Argentine Islands

Weddell seal showing a vague interest in the intruders

Returning across Winter Island from Wordie House

View across the channel to the Ukrainian research station - Vernadskiy - on Galindez Island

Visiting Vernadskiy Station

We retraced our steps to reboard the zodiacs for a short trip over to Vernadskiy station on the neighbouring Galindez Island. Under its previous British direction as Faraday Base, this station had collected data used to discover the polar ozone hole and measure its seasonal fluctuations. The research workers were waiting to show us how the base operated and the type of research they do, as well as to sell souvenirs and vodka from the bar to those with ready cash!

Young kelp gull in flight

Looking deep into the mountains of the mainland

Petermann Island

After our short spell of Ukrainian hospitality, it was back to the ship for lunch as we slowly sailed a few nautical miles northwards to Petermann Island, where a small group of researchers had set up a tented camp to study the populations of gentoo and adelie penguins.

We landed at their base in Port Circoncision, where the French polar explorer, Charcot, had overwintered in 1904.


Petermann Island

Gentoo penguin on its nest of piled pebbles

A group of nesting gentoos

Red refuge hut and yellow tents of penguin researchers add a splash of colour

Petermann Island is home to the most southerly gentoo colony in Antarctica; one that was increasing in population at the expense of the adelies. As one researcher explained, this was probably due to the warming of the peninsula, which favoured the higher temperature-adapted gentoos.

Adelies nesting on a rock platform

Mixed nesting colony of gentoo and adelie
penguins and blue eyed cormorants

Adelie penguins

Gentoo penguin turning its egg

The call of the wild gentoo

Nesting blue-eyed cormorants

The Argentine Antarctic supply ship adds a dash of colour

Cormorant colony

So, who's coming for a walk with me?

A pair of penguins heading home

We took the opportunity to wander amongst the colonies of adelies and gentoos, as well as those of blue-eyed cormorants, before heading off for a walk across to the far side of the island. The penguins treated with us a mild curiosity, more intent on stealing pebbles from each other's nests to add to their own.

From the research station tents we climbed through the saddle at the back of the cove to follow the low cliff line to a long rounded knob protruding out into the ocean. From here we could sit on the odd exposed rock and take in the glorious views over the iceberg-dotted channel to the continent and across the beautiful cornice-lined bay on the western side of Petermann.

Petermann crossing 1 - view over the channel to the Antarctic mainland

Petermann crossing 2 - view across the western cove and cornice-lined cliff

Hovgaard Island - a night on the snow

Our day was far from over, however; once back on ship we again sailed a few kilometres northward to anchor off Hovgaard Island, a large rounded mountain rising out of the sea, with a snow-covered glacier flowing down toward the north. After dinner, a group of 15 campers and expedition staff headed out in the zodiacs to this northern end of the island to set up our tents on a flattish area of snow alongside the glacier filled channel.


So what's going on here then?

The rounded dome of Hovgaard Island - our home for the night

The fair Nello in front of our "Hilton Antarctica" accommodation

Love in a cold climate

Pale blue icebergs next to our campsite

Tonight we would camp out in Antarctica. Several of the resident gentoo penguins waddled over to check out the camping equipment and cast a curious eye over proceedings. The tents were pitched and the port-a-potty was set up (in Antarctica everything that goes in comes out again).

Looking down on our campsite on Hovgaard Island

11pm - High on the saddle of Hovgaard Island

Entrant in the world's best loo with a view

The skiers return from the heights of Hovgaard

Once our Antarctic home for the night was set up, we wandered up the shin-deep snow of the hill to a broad saddle overlooking the channel to the rugged mountains of the mainland to the east. To the north, behind neighbouring Pleneau Island we could see the blue outline of the "Ocean Nova". We found a rocky outcrop to sit on and enjoy the stillness and silence of this vast white land - just sitting here alone, surrounded by snow, sea, mountains and ice in a pale monochromatic light was one of the highlights of our trip.

We could have stayed until dark, but darkness would never have come! It was close to midnight and the sun was just setting behind the cloud bank when we returned to the campsite to sleep in the curious twilight of an Antarctic summer night.