Hidden Bay, Gerlache Strait & Enterprise Island: We started our adventure today at Hidden Bay, an area first explored in the late 1800’s and named because the bay is hidden from the north by a set of islands. The fierce weather that had been following us continued to make its presence known in the morning.
As we prepared to enter our zodiacs, the snow was falling hard and being swept into our faces with the wind. However, the sight of ice in the water, beautiful mountain peaks and snow along the shores kept the grins on our faces as we plunged through the water to explore the bay.
We were treated to many different sights included Gentoo Penguins swimming in the water and leaping onto small icebergs floating in the water. Another time we saw calving ice thunderously falling into the water.
This is also home to a shipwreck which we explored. The Governoren, once a cattle carrier, the ship eventually functioned as one of the largest whaling factory ships of her time. On January 27, 1915, the Governoren was at sea, performing her duties as a floating factory.
At the time, building whaling facilities on land in Antarctica wasn’t always feasible. Enormous ships like Governoren became ideal carriers of everything needed for hunting and harpooning whales. Additionally, when the whales were brought aboard, the ships provided a space for flensing – the removal of blubber – and separation of other usable parts of the whale.
As this particular 1915 whaling mission wrapped up, the crew threw a party (as was standard practice aboard floating factories) to celebrate the success of a long and laborious mission hunting and processing whales, and the anticipated journey home. Someone, perhaps while dancing too boisterously, knocked a lamp off a table and the ship caught fire. The Governoren was of course full of thousands of gallons of whale oil, so you can see the result coming… that’s right, the oil fueled the fire, causing it to quickly grow out of control.
Although resulting in the terrible loss of whale oil and of a historic ship, the captain set Governoren aground and the entire crew of 85 were able to escape, only to watch the blazing ship burn to ruin. None of the crew members were injured by the fire; all were rescued by another whaling vessel. So the story does have a happy ending… kind of!
In the afternoon we began cruising through the Gerlache Strait. Our resident whale expert and naturalist, Connor Ryan, began a wonderful talk on whales only to spot out of the corner of his eye a Killer Whale swimming in the distance. So, the talk was put on hold for a while so we could get a better look at these magnificent animals.