Antarctica Day 4: Waterboat Point, Gentoo Penguin Chicks & Mailing A Postcard
Today was cold! The crystalline blue sky and seemingly endless sunlight of our first days in Antarctica had dissolved into an ashy gray shroud. Snow was lightly falling as our zodiac sped through Paradise Bay. We were headed to González Videla, a Chilean base on Waterboat Point. Unlike our previous island landings, Waterboat Point is located on the Antarctic continent, rewarding visitors with the claim of officially setting foot on the White Continent.
As we approached, brown wooden buildings with white trim and a watch tower came into view. The rocky shore looked gray against the dark sky. The surrounding landscape was a backdrop of icebergs and glaciers, a world that had become so familiar in a few short days.
González Videla was active in the 1950s and reopened briefly in the early 1980s. It is now considered an “inactive” base, and we were told that about nine people live there during the summer. Narrow wooden platforms led us from the shore to the base’s main quarters.
The González staff operates a small museum, shop and post office where visitors can mail postcards from Antarctica by way of Chile. Our cards arrived in California about seven weeks later, but speed is not a priority when sending a postcard from Antarctica!
Residents at Waterboat Point share their land with an active Gentoo penguin colony. Many of the nests were just a few feet from the walking platform, giving us extremely close access to their world. I was continually amazed by how unfazed by us they seemed to be and how it was impossible not to smile as we watched them!
Waterboat Point is designated as an official historic site under the Antarctic Treaty. A sign on the north edge of the station commemorates the site’s honor of having the smallest ever “overwinter” party. Two men who were part of the British Imperial Expedition spent a year and a day there, living in an old whaling boat they had found on the site. One of them wrote the first scientific study of penguin breeding development.
Herb and I walked around Waterboat Point before catching a zodiac back to the ship. We explored pathways and sites along the water’s edge and caught a glimpse of our first Antarctic whale.
When we returned to the ship, Seabourn had set up a sort of customs desk, offering to stamp our passports with an official Antarctica seal. I always look forward to getting a new stamp in my passport, and this may be the most special one of all.