Paulet Island: death on the beach



Paulet sits at 63.3° south on the eastern edge of the Joinville Island archipelago scattered off the northern tip if the Peninsula, shadowed from the setting sun by the bulk of Dundee Island. Europa crackled with ice, the feathers beautiful against a sheer blue sky in the early morning.


Around us, enclosing the island,lay floes and bergs where seals posed. It is only March, still late summer, but Paulet is hard to reach and forbidding. Mark was posted to the rigging to look out for ice, it lay so thick around us. (How do we know it was cold: Mark was really muffled up. This man was in shorts first as we went north, when I was still wrapped in thermals.) With some difficulty we made it ashore.

A strip of beach encloses deep, still lakes in the remnants of craters. Dead remains are everywhere. A Weddell seal corpse lay on the stones, its skull picked clean and its body desiccated in the cold. A huge whale bone sits under the volcanic slopes. Everywhere are the remains of penguin chicks. Shags and sheathbills hop among the wreckage while a few fur seals still lounge along the water’s edge before heading off to sea.

Here the survivors of the wreck of the Antarctic came after two weary weeks battling ice in their lifeboats, and here they set up camp. They knew there was no rescue and that they had abandoned two camps for the winter, at Hope Bay and Snow Hill Island. They built a hut and hunkered down to living on seals, penguins and the occasional egg to be found in the snow.

Only one died. Ole Kristian Wennersgard was just 22 but he died of heart disease. His grave is still marked by a cairn and weathered cross. The rest all lived. Indeed Larsen kept them all well enough that in the spring he and three others rowed the 35 miles to Hope Bay and then another 45 miles to Snow Hill to find rescue

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  1. Fantastic photo of the ice feathers. Still very much enjoying your blog, don’t know what I will read when you stop x

    • Chers for such encouraging comments. Always good to get feedback! Pondering what next to do with all this material …

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