SCoM text logo

Antartic Revisted - With Harry Ashworth

by Norma Green, with technical assistance from Pat Ashworth

This short précis cannot do justice to Harry's interesting February talk - see the superb account written by Chris Massey which was published in the June/July Newsletter last year.

Harry's much anticipated Arctic Revisited talk and slide show was not a disappointment, we were all enthralled. On the night, some long-standing, and some new members helped to swell the core group who attend our usual monthly Friday nights. It was good to see Stewart Thompson, sporting his plaster cast, after an injury on his last day in Meribel.

This trip of a lifetime took five of our members - Harry and Pat Ashworth, David and Ruth Harrison, and Chris Massey - on the Marguerite Bay 2000 Reunion organised by ex FIDS (people who have worked for the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, now the British Antartic Survey) who had wintered in the area. The journey took them via Heathrow, Madrid, then after seeing the sights of Buenos Aires eg La Boca, the Presidential Palace and Evan Peron's grave, they flew to Ushuiaia to board the Russian ship.

The Drake Passage crossing took two days instead of the more usual three as the sea was atypically calm. The first view of Antartica (Adelaide Island) 35 years after departure was an emotional moment for those revisiting, as indeed was much of the trip. However, this time there was no pack ice, unlike Harry's first time when the ship had to dock next to an ice cliff and unload onto a glacier. It was here that our party sighted the first of many whales.

There followed a visit to Harry's old base at Adelaide, now run by Chileans who provided a warm welcome. The most startling difference here was the retreating ice shelf, exposing the beach, now home to a colony of fur seals not seen in Harry's day. There were three attempts to visit Stonington where several of the party had wintered, but disappointingly the Captain considered the pack ice impassable.

In Marguerite Bay they visited the old base at Horseshoe Island. A very nostalgic time as the hut is now maintained as a heritage site and refuge. Chris Massey, in his article, described it as "an undisturbed time capsule of a past world" with old books, food, Tilley lamps, etc. and we could see this via Harry's slides.

The following day they visited an ultra modern base at Rothera, quite a contrast. They then headed north to Detaille Island, another very emotional visit, but due to pack ice a special trip was arranged only for the two who had narrowly escaped death during their time there. This is also the site where the famous husky, Steve, who did not fancy being loaded onto a ship when the base had to be abandoned, slipped his harness and ran off. He was given up for lost, but two months later he turned up at Horseshoe Island Base 60-70 miles away. An amazing feat and a wonderful story.

During the whole trip 18 landings were made, all to very awesome and interesting places. Interesting names too, like Banana Belt, Hope Bay and Deception Island. Not to mention the amazing scenery and wildlife. The overall view of the return visit was of global warming, retreating ice and the absence of dogs that used to be such an important part of the FIDS lives - "If you were depressed you could always give the dogs a cuddle. Not the same trying to cuddle a snowmobile! "

The return sea voyage to South America was again calm, so the time saved enabled the ship to call at the Diego Ramirez Islands (Chilean nature reserve and lighthouse). There was an albatross colony to see and it was here that a Kara Kara bird flew off with Ruth's ski gloves.

We all realised just what this trip mean to Harry and his ex colleagues and also to Pat and other wives who were at last able to see this land first hand. It was also the trip of a lifetime for the whole party and one which very few people will experience. Great memories of an amazing holiday.

Unfortunately David and Ruth were unable to attend this evening, but thanks to all, especially Pat and Harry for their hard work putting the talk together and to Chris for his comments and contributions.