Wordie House & Penola Strait

Trip Start Jan 17, 2014
Trip End Jan 31, 2014

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Flag of Antarctica  ,
Saturday, January 25, 2014

I visited the remnants of an old British research station on Winter Island this evening (one of the first scientific stations built in Antarctica) and then had a beautiful scenic cruise through Penola Strait en route to tonight's camping location.

After a visit to Ukraine’s Vernadsky Station, I boarded a Zodiac at 5:40 p.m. for transportation to adjacent Winter Island, home of the historic Wordie House (United Kingdom Base F). Established in January 1947, the hut was named in honor of Sir James Wordie, the chief scientist on Ernest Shackleton’s epic 1914-17 expedition. Its main area of science was meteorology.

My Zodiac passed a sailboat anchored in the creek that separates Winter and Galindez islands. Everyone aboard my raft looked at each other and some exclaimed, "What is a sailboat doing here?! How did it get here?!" We all looked a little baffled. Our Zodiac driver explained that a few sailboats and private yachts are chartered to make expeditions to Antarctica every summer. The sailing is no doubt quite spectacular once the boats make it to Antarctica, but we couldn’t imagine crossing the Drake Passage in such a small vessel!

The Zodiac pulled up to the landing site at Wordie House about 5:50 and I stepped ashore. Walked past the hut and climbed up to high point for a view of the region. I saw another boat pass by at 5:56. No idea what it’s doing here. It looked too small to be a tourist expedition vessel. A resupply boat for an Antarctic science station? Didn’t look big enough for that either.

I walked back down to Wordie House and entered at 6:13. The hut stands on the foundations of an earlier hut established by the British Graham Land Expedition of 1935-36. The BGLE hut is thought to have been destroyed by a tsunami in 1946, according to the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Wordie House “was constructed using building materials from the hut at Port Lockroy and material salvaged from the whaling station at Deception Island,” according to UKAHT. In May 1954, “the operation of the station and science program moved to a new building on the neighboring Galindez Island. The station was renamed Faraday and it continued the longstanding meteorological program that began at Wordie House. Faraday was renamed Vernadsky in 1996 when the UK transferred it to Ukraine.”

In 1960, Wordie House was briefly reoccupied when a party failed to reach Base T at Adelaide Island and were forced to overwinter in the hut. The hut was designed Antarctic Historic Site & Monument #62 in 1995.

“The hut consists of the kitchen and living room, generator shed, office, dog room, and toilet,” according to the trust. “A number of original artefacts are still found on site. … A timber flagpole and a rare timber British Crown Land sign are also found outside.”

Normal occupancy of Wordie House in its early years was four to five people. Cans of coffee and other goods, records, tools, paint cans, plates, pots, pans, books, typewriters, radio equipment, and other items still remain in the hut, making it a fascinating time capsule of life in one of the first scientific stations established in Antarctica. View the Antarctic Treaty Visitor Site Guide for Wordie House.

I spent about 15 minutes inside the hut, then came outside as staff tidied up and secured the hut. Amazingly there is a lock on the door and a key is kept at Vernadsky Station!

The last Zodiac back to the ship pulled up at 6:28. The other remaining passengers and I boarded the Zodiac. We stopped by the sailboat at 6:35 to hand off the key. The group aboard the sailboat is from Greece. They’ll be visiting Wordie House tomorrow. Several passengers on my Zodiac remarked at the seeming absurdity of having a lock and key for a structure here in Antarctica. I mean, who exactly is going to break in?!

We turned to Akademik Ioffe. As we climbed back aboard the ship, we saw the staff loading camping equipment into Zodiacs at the stern. Looks like we’ll be camping tonight! (Camping was originally scheduled for last night but postponed due to snowfall.)

I showered and shaved, then walked into the dining room at 7:32 for dinner. My main course tonight was salmon. As we ate, the ship was cruising northbound through the Penola Strait, the narrow waterway that separates Hovgaard Island from the Antarctic Peninsula. It is stunningly beautiful! I left dinner at 8:05 to step outside and photograph some of the fantastic scenery, including numerous glaciers plunging off steep cliffs into the sea.

Returned to dinner for only a few minutes before I had to dash back outside to watch the expedition vessel Fram, operated by Hurtigruten, pass us at 8:40 going southbound. You don’t see many other ships in Antarctica yet we’ve now seen three in the past few hours!

After finishing dinner, I went to my cabin to prepare for camping on Hovgaard Island. As I stepped outside to await a Zodiac transfer to shore, the sun had popped out to the west over the island and we saw our first glimpse of blue sky in Antarctica! Looks like it’s going to be an excellent night to sleep outside in the snow of Antarctica!
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