Monday 5 February 2001
March 19, 2020

“Probably no vessel has ever been as far south in this arm of King George Sound as we are now – many miles south of where previous known depths finished.”
– Sir Peter Blake

  • Location: Moored alongside the edge of the sea ice in George VI Sound
  • Latitude: 69.52.4S
  • Longitude: 68.48.5W
  • Wind: Light southerly
  • Sea: Calm
  • Air temp: 1 deg C
  • Sea temp: Minus 1 deg C
  • Barometer: 998 mbs and rising
  • Conditions: Amazing
  • Visibility: Unlimited with a blue haze over distance

1600 hrs: All we can see now to the south is snow and ice – miles and miles of it. To the west and east as I look from the pilothouse is more ice, and distant high mountains and glaciers. To the north, behind Seamaster, are patches of sea full of icebergs.

7.6 miles short of latitude 70 degrees.

This is as far south as we can get. No vessel can go further. Not this year. Probably no vessel has ever been as far south in this arm of King George Sound as we are now – many miles south of where previous known depths finished.

It is far too deep to anchor – probably 1000 metres or more. But tied to the edge of the thick sea ice is a much better alternative.

In 1974 the permanent ice shelf was where we are moored now – but no longer! It is likely to be at least another 25 miles further south through the ever thickening and permanent sea ice that fronts it. The King George VI ice shelf has receded at approximately 1 sea mile per year for the past 26 years or so.

In previous years, where we are now would have been frozen solid. So would the rest of the Sound where we have just passed through comparatively easily. In previous years the bottom half of Marguerite Bay that we crossed from Pourquoi Pas Island would have been frozen solid. Not this year!

At 0400 this morning, still tied to our ice floe at the entrance to the Sound, we came quite close to a large berg – we were drifting faster than it in the really cold southerly breeze. So, engines on, and even though the light was still quite dim we retrieved our anchoring line and headed slowly into the Sound.

There were quite heavy concentrations of ice from time to time – some of it very flat, low lying sea ice. Seamaster crunched through and over this as we tried out her ice-breaking capabilities. Quite a strange feeling to purposely speed up to 6 or 7 knots and go up onto the ice, break a path, and carry on – leaving some of our blue bottom paint behind in memory of our passage.

Then there were sections, sometimes of a few miles, where there was no ice at all – just open water where we could be at normal cruising speed. Finally, though, and as expected, the big ice began to close in. There were few lanes of open water.

We had to wend our way backwards and forwards the last miles thru this ice to reach our destination late this morning. It was a great thrill to suddenly come to a great expanse of open water, having just been hemmed in – and to then see the line of solid ice and snow stretching the 18 miles or so right across the Sound a few miles in front of us.

There to port on the solid and very flat sea ice was an emperor penguin and some adelies waddling along in twos and threes. Seals were dotted about on the ice, asleep. A whale blew to starboard.

Alistair, Janot and Marc went ashore to prepare for us to come alongside the edge of the ice, with Dan and Andy filming. We then aimed Seamaster at the “shore” and went straight in – riding well up on the edge with the motors kept in ahead to stop her sliding back off, while the big bow-line was looped around a convenient large lump of old blue ice maybe 20 metres back from the “shore”.

Seamaster now has two bowlines holding her to the ice, and a stern line secured to a climber’s ice-anchor screwed into the surface. We are able to get off and on using a large fender as a step.


Photo credit: Ivor Wilkins