Antarctica is the only continent without a permanent native population. Instead, the year-round population of about 1,000 is made up mainly of visiting scientific researchers and support staff who live in roughly 50 permanent stations throughout the continent. A similar number of seasonal stations allows the summer population to reach 4,000. Forty-two countries operate research facilities there, all signatories to the Antarctic Treaty System, which protects the continent for scientific research and prohibits any military or sovereign activity.
The British opened their first of twenty-seven stations there in 1944. Most have since been closed and dismantled, with only three permanent and two seasonal currently operating. Four others were preserved as Historic Sites and Monuments, including one at Horseshoe Island. Built in 1955 for survey work and geological and meteorological research, the Horseshoe Island station operated continuously for five years before the personal were transferred to nearby Stonington Island. It was used again briefly for survey work in 1969, and declared a Historic Site in 1995. The station stands largely intact much as it was in the 1950s, and provides a unique glimpse into the living and working conditions of those mid-century Antarctic researchers.
After a morning visit to the Adelie penguin colony at Pourquois Pas Island, we spent the afternoon touring the research station and hiking on Horseshoe Island. Dinner that evening was a special Christmas Eve treat of roast suckling pig. We watched during our meal, fascinated, as the Endurance broke deep into the fast ice (ice fastened to shore) at Blind Bay. Few Antarctic cruise ships have the ice-breaking capability of the Polar Class 5 Endurance. The ship stopped, a stairway was extended to the ice surface and, after the crew checked for safe ice thickness, we got a rare opportunity to walk onto the ice around our ship. We were reminded somewhat of standing on the ice in front of Dirona while frozen in at Farsund, Norway, but on a completely different scale.
Below are highlights from the afternoon and evening of December 24th, 2022. Click any image for a larger view.
Spectacular ice formations en route to Horseshoe Island.
A zodiac heading to shore amid icebergs at Horseshoe Island, underlined in red at right.
The British research station at Horseshoe Island opened in 1955.
A 1969 calendar, left, and logbooks kept by past residents
Station pram dinghies, left, and veins of the precious stone Malachite
Hiking on Horseshoe Island. The Endurance is visible in the background at left.
Left: Suckling pig for a special Christmas Eve dinner. Right: During our meal we watched, fascinated, as the Endurance broke deep into fast ice.
Few Antarctic cruise ships have the ice-breaking capability of the Polar Class 5 Endurance.
The Endurance embedded in fast ice.
Left: A rare opportunity to walk on the ice next to our ship. Right: James “pulling” the Endurance through the ice.
Captain Oliver Kreuss, and Santa, officiate a guest wedding ceremony at Blind Bay.
The Officer on Watch backing the Endurance out of the ice.