Saturday 10 March 2001
Peter Blake history
March 19, 2020

“…the big secret of Antarctica is that if anything happened to it we wouldn’t just be sorry and a teeny bit sad, we’d be in bigger trouble than the baby dinosaur who said ‘look mummy, a shooting star – that means good luck’. ”
– Sir Peter Blake

  • Location: Ardley Cove, King George Island
  • Latitude: 62.12S
  • Longitude: 58.57W
  • Wind: 15 knot northwesterly
  • Sea state: Smooth
  • Air temp: 3 deg C
  • Sea temp: 0 deg C
  • Barometer: 995 mbs and rising slowly
  • Conditions: Fog
  • Visibility: Very poor

The waiting game

The air temperature is well above zero – but this has brought fog to the area. The Chilean base a few hundred metres away is often hidden from view. The rocky island just off our stern is no more than a dark blob at times as the fog lifts a little, then descends again.

Today has been one of wait-and-see. The plane bringing our friends from Punta Arenas in southern Chile is still there – they will be checking in for another night at the Cape Horn Hotel and hoping that there is better visibility tomorrow to allow the flight to go ahead.

The massive solid ice pack that we had to find a way through a couple of nights ago has grown considerably larger as enormous quantities of ice are added from the Weddell Sea. This ice “pack” has moved close to the shores of the South Shetland Islands – the edge is just outside Maxwell Bay (see map).

It is now beginning to fill the whole of the Bransfield Strait – the piece of water between here (the South Shetlands) and Antarctic Peninsula proper (see satellite photograph).

At the mercy of the weather

However, the change to strengthening west and northwest winds over the next few days should keep a navigable passage reasonably clear along the shoreline – we hope. It is very early in the year for the big freeze to begin in earnest – but maybe this is how it starts. We are now seriously considering having to move south down the islands in the next day or so, as we really don’t want to be forced to spend the winter here, interesting as it might be.

Fortunately, Seamaster has the ability to float in very shallow waters – with both centreboards up and both rudders at mid position. This means we only require 1.5 metres of water to float. As there is a narrow but very shallow channel nearby (Fildes Strait – see chart) leading to the southwest, if the worst came to the worst and Maxwell Bay became closed off, we think we could still escape though here with the dinghy leading the way out. I hope we don’t have to find out.

For the moment we are fine, just waiting for the weather to improve so we can carry on with our programme for another week or so and for the wind direction to become favourable for the 600 mile run back to South America across Drake Passage.

Today the Log photos are of Antarctica. They are not from today as the result would be a fuzzy haze. This is the sort of day that is not conducive to filming of any sort – there is nothing to see.

This is the sort of day that we only go on deck to see if the damp fog is lifting, or for a quick breath of very fresh air.

This is a day to catch up on correspondence and sleep and engineering odds and ends.

The Rabbit is in the galley this evening – making devilled sausages, he says.

The rest of us are going to be very interested in the result!!

Dan has been working on the video tapes all day, but had time to write the following:

“Antarctica is cold, very very cold. I guess that’s obvious to you if you’ve been reading the logs over the last few weeks. That makes it a place of fantastic and rather unnatural beauty. Lumps of ice drift by us, and I’m not talking about enough for a gin and tonic, but lumps big enough to consider invading and setting up a small principality on. Down on the George VI ice shelf we had to move once because Belgium came crashing into the ice sheet behind us. The sea here freezes in great flat sheets the size of a hundred thousand football pitches (if only the penguins had better ball control…). Amazing animals inhabit this land and everyone’s seen them on the TV – penguins, seals, whales. The unique qualities that allow them to survive the Antarctic extremes make them appear strange and alien and curious, like the land itself.

So it’s very beautiful and very wonderful here, but really it’s just a curiosity isn’t it – something to be very very impressed by. But the big secret of Antarctica is that if anything happened to it we wouldn’t just be sorry and a teeny bit sad, we’d be in bigger trouble than the baby dinosaur who said ‘look mummy, a shooting star – that means good luck’. All this ice and all this cold generates huge and mysterious currents as the icy water sinks to the ocean floor, but there’s a lot we don’t understand about them. What we do know is that freezing water carries a lot more oxygen than warm water and that these deep currents creep from Antarctica towards the equator before upwelling to the surface. And this is the bit that makes Antarctica so amazing. This water provides oxygen to support the fish that feed more than a billion people. And the low temperature of the water cools and regulates the climate of the planet.

If we lose Antarctica, all that will go and the least of our worries will be all the wonderful and irreplaceable wildlife that has been lost. Even the possible massive rise in sea levels may be as nothing compared with the massive instability in weather systems and the sudden disappearance of one of our most vital food resources.

We don’t know much about Antarctica, but the tiny bit we have worked out tells how absolutely vital it is. So if it is giving us warning signs we better pay attention to them.

And not just because Antarctica makes good telly.”

Tomorrow I intend to outline our overall philosophy. What it is that we are endeavouring to achieve with all of our expeditions, with the television documentaries, with the Logs, with our web site – and why. I want to get into the real reasons that we are here.

I hope that you will find it more than just interesting. I would like to get you really thinking about what we all have. And how it all fits together.

So until tomorrow, best wishes from all onboard.