The End of the World and beyond
August 2, 2004
The ANTARCTIC sank 25 miles from Paulet Island.
Along the shores of the Madero Docks in Buenos Aires is the worldly famous Corbeta Uruguay. Early in the twentieth century a group of intrepid and adventurous scientifics embarked in an amazing journey of discovery to the Antarctic.
It was an Age of wisdom and investigation, an Era of modern discoveries… International scientific societies claimed the importance of these studies for human development. News papers all along the world were discussing this intrepid adventures.
At the beginning of 1901 one of the world’s most incredible modern expeditions was being organized by a group of Swedish scientists leaded by the very famous geologist Dr.Otto G. Nordenskjöld, Erik Ekelöf bacteriological doctor, Gösta Bodman, meteorologist and two Swedish sailors, Ole Jonasen y Gustaf Akerlundh.
For its strategical geographical location, Argentina was a key piece to this operation’s success. Our government’s cooperation was such that the Swedish team agreed to include an Argentinean participant, this was a young local navy expert, José María Sobral marine second lieutenant of frigate.
On December 16th 1901 the Antarctic ship arrived to the port of Buenos Aires. The adventure was about to begin. The ship would sail off towards the white continent on the morning of December 21st from the South Dock of the Buenos Aires port –same exact spot where one can visit the Corvette Uruguay now a transformed into a museum. Captain Larsen would be directing the journey. A crowd of anxious locals farewell the troupe of scientists.
On New Year’s eve the Antarctic arrived at the Falkland Islands where they’d got some of the necessary supplies for their journey, specially Siberian dogs, key for any expedition that needed transportation.
Just a few days latter they would be coasting the New Year’s Island to get hold of some other supplies. That would be their last contact with civilization for a long time.
AS they sailed south the tip of the Estuaries Island and its lighthouse was their last image, a hearted farewell was implied in their looks as they turned to the unknown.
The days to come were filled with emotion. The Antarctic took them through the whiteness of an unspoiled paradise, through the Bransfield strait, along the Gerlache cannel... As they headed S-E towards the Joinville strait –nowadays Antarctic in memoriam of this ship- they arrived to the volcanic island of Paulet where they advocated to some research on the local flora and faunae.
On the 16th of January the expeditionary group arrived to what would be their home for a very long time, the eastern coast of Seymour island, nowadays Marambio base. Further up to the north Nordenskjöld and his team chose Snow Hill, they considered this spot the perfect location for their operation base in the north east area of the Antarctic peninsula.
The group researched the area on board of the Antarctic before they settle on firm land; however these trips had to come to an end due to some climatic complications that enabled the Antarctic to go further south the 66° latitude parallel. The crew of scientifics, experts and handymen decided to settle and on February 21st, the Antarctic took off the white continent.
The year-long expedition was very much successful all and all in spite of the harsh weather.
However, when it was time for the Antarctic to go back to bring them back home several complications arose. The Antarctic had safely arrived to Ushuaia, were the crew had a few days off to relax and enjoy the beauty of this one of a kind location. Six months latter the ship was already heading back towards the Falklands from where they’ll sail south to pick Nordenskjöld and his crew.
Navigating through the same coordinates they had gone by just a few months ago, the Antarctic began to face several weather and icy complications that had not occurred during the first journey. This 30 year old ship had sailed all over the world, and was very much perfect for the task, nonetheless, this would be this wonderful embarkation’s last journey. The thick layers of ice over the water finally damaged the base of the ship in a way it couldn’t be fixed.
On February 12th 1903 the crew was forced to abandon the Antarctic… in a matter of hours the once fantastic ship was in the bottom of the ocean. Unprotected, the ship’s crew was stuck in the middle of ice and snow without any possibility of soon rescue. And on the other side of the white continent, Nordenskjöld’s crew had no idea of the unfortunate success.
It took the Swedish authorities a while before they found out about the casualty. As soon as they confirmed the tragic success they began to put together a rescue team. Though this would take a few months, and time was a precious thing in that situation.
Therefore the Argentinean government organized a rescue operation on board of a specially improved for the occasion Uruguay corvette. This craft had been built in 1874 by the Laird Brothers, in Birkenhead -UK. Under Tenant Julián Irizar’s orders, the rescue began on October 8th. Just a month latter the Uruguay corvette was arriving to Snow Hill rescuing both Nordenskjöld’s crew as well as the Antarctic’s.
The sight of the Estuaries Island and its lighthouse from the Uruguay’s deck filled these adventurous scientifics with joy, as they began to dream about reuniting with their families. The ship would stop at the Santa Cruz port before arriving to Buenos Aires where an emotive and existed crowd would be awaiting their arrival.
The success of the rescue operation was unquestionable. The Uruguay corvette would sail through many more miles before it was its time to retire. Nowadays, in a somewhat symbolic homage this terrific ship has been arranged into a floating museum at the very same place where the Antarctic expedition took off.
This expedition was a turning point within the research field of the Antarctic. Nowadays its possible to visit the white continent without having to face the problems of yarn thanks to the advances in applied technology.
Such amazing were those experiences that one looks forward to repeating the journey with less scientific interests but with larger expeditionary and adventure tourism goals. Many of us dream of visiting the beautiful shores of Ushuaia, see from an other perspective those lighthouses that indicated Nordenskjöld’s crew they were about to come back home, and sail through the path they had traced. A wonderful dream that can come true…