Sunday 18 February 2001
Peter Blake history
March 19, 2020

“In our minds they have achieved a very significant goal – one that not many would contemplate attempting.”
– Sir Peter Blake

  • Location: Petermann Island
  • Latitude: 65.10S
  • Longitude: 64.08W
  • Wind: Variable 5 knots
  • Sea state: Slight northerly chop and a 1 metre SW swell
  • Air temp: 6 deg C
  • Sea temp: 0 deg C
  • Barometer: 996 mbs and steady
  • Conditions: Perfect
  • Visibility: 100 km

We woke to the sea in our cove looking like a mirror, the sky clear and the wind almost zero. A perfect day for setting forth to explore other islands and look for wildlife that we want to film below the water.

It’s now 1400 hrs. We are anchored for the day at Petermann Island – just south of the majestic rock formations that line both sides of Lemaire Channel.

The gentoo penguins are friendly, whilst the fur seals are not sure. A large weddell seal asleep ashore doesn’t seem to care.

We have “spoken” to two ships today. The first was the British Navy vessel Endurance, on their way down to the all-year base of Rothera. The second was Explorer, the small Abercrombie and Kent cruise ship. They called us on VHF channel 16 – actually it was the kiwi kayak team that made contact. If you remember, we dropped them at Hope Bay after the sail across Drake Passage in January. They have since paddled right the way from the top of the Antarctic Peninsula, to south of the Antarctic Circle around 66 degrees, 33 minutes south. This is a distance of several hundred miles, which meant stopping most nights to camp in tents wherever they could find a spot on the shore. This is a first for the record books.

In our minds they have achieved a very significant goal – one that not many would contemplate attempting. On a difficulty level this would have to be well up the scale. Explorer is to drop them off at Port Lockroy where they are being picked up by a 14 metre Australian yacht, for the trip back to Ushuaia on the other side of Drake Passage. We hope to meet up with them before they depart and hear some of their (no doubt) hair-raising tales.

Antarctica has its share of tales in its short history.

There have been exploits that have caught the imagination of the world, like Shackleton’s small boat voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia, after his ship Endurance was beset and finally sank, leaving the entire crew on the ice. This was a long time ago now, but is a real-life tale that is still held as a model for leadership and a “never say die” attitude.

But in 1901, 13 years prior to Shackleton, there was a Swedish expedition lead by 32-year-old geologist Dr Otto Nordenskjold that similarly deserves recognition. The Antarctic Sound, that we sailed through on our way to Hope Bay at the beginning of our time here in Antarctica, was named after his ship Antarctic. The plan was to drop Nordenskjold and five others off to winter-over on Snow Hill Island at the northern entrance to the Weddell Sea. On approx February 9, 1902, with all their stores and equipment, including several sledge dogs, on shore, their ship Antarctic then steamed back to the Falkland Islands. A year later, their ship had not returned for them, and on February 18, 1903 a storm froze the sea solid again in 24 hours. They knew they would be getting no relief until at least the following year.

When spring arrived, two of them set off on a sledge journey, wanting to explore further. They spotted something strange. At first they thought the three moving objects were penguins, but they discovered they were men. When they came face to face, Nordenskjold’s bewilderment at the appearance of the trio was total. “Black as soot from top to toe; men with black clothes, black faces and high black caps;” The three men said they were from the ship Antarctic, but he did not recognise them.

Their story is truly astonishing.