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Kayak Excursion in the Antarctic "Belgica, the cradle of scientists and explorers - from A to Z"


The Antarctic Expedition on the ship Belgica (1897/99), was the first in history to overwinter in Antarctica. She was also the first expedition of a pure scientific nature in Antarctic waters. The expedition leader of this expedition was Adrien de Gerlache from Belgium. Ship Belgica set out from Antwerp on August 16, 1897 and returned after more than two years, on November 5, 1899, becoming the first ship in history which overwintered in the Antarctica. Belgica's crew and scientific staff consisted of five different nationalities. 
Many of them went down in history - whether, as well-known scientists or explorers.
For example:
Roald Amundsen - Norwegian, later became the conqueror of the Northwest Passage, the South Pole as well as an organizer of other pioneering expeditions.
Frederick Albert Cook - American, physician and expedition photographer. Arctic explorer and ethnographer. Claimed to be the first person who reached the North Pole
Henryk Arctowski - Pole, later became professor; geologist, oceanographer.
Boleslaw Antoni DobroWolski - Pole, later became professor; glaciologist, meteorologist.
Emile Racovitza - Romanian, later became a professor; zoologist, speleologist.

Scientific contribution of the Belgica Expedition into the knowledge of Antarctic fauna and flora is enormous. For the first time, the terrestrial flora of the Antarctic has been satisfactorily studied. 55 species of lichens and 27 species of mosses were collected. Several new species of freshwater algae, three species of liverworts, one species of grass and a new species of fungus were discovered. Between years 1900 to 1946, 92 reports
of official scientific results were published.
Also cartography was a big part of the scientific achievements.
On January 23, 1898, Belgica has entered previously unknown strait, which later was named the Gerlache Strait. Days between Jan. 23 to Feb. 12, 1898, were devoted to the detailed study of the Strait. Many soundings have been made to estimate its depth.
Scientific staff landed in twenty different places and gathered an impressive collection of zoological, botanical and geological samples.
On one of these landings several members of the Expedition attempted the ascent of the Solvay Mountains (Brabant Island, Palmer Archipelago).
Discovery of the Gerlache Strait (approx. 170 km long and 8 km to 30 km wide) confirmed that discovered much earlier Palmer Land, is not a part of the Antarctic continent, but rather a group of islands - Palmer Archipelago, where the Anvers Island is the largest one. Gerlach Strait separates Palmer Archipelago from Danco Land (current name - Danco Coast), which is the part of the continent of Antarctica.
More than 80 new geographical names were added into the chart of the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Much more geographical features were added without naming.

The sea chart of the Gerlache Strait, surveyed and mapped by Georges Lecointe (the first officer) showing the Route of the Ship Belgica

 

After 105 years since findings of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, in the immediate vicinity of the Belgica exploration, new geographical discovery have been made.
On Feb. 2, 2003, during so-called zodiac cruising, in a group of small islands named Melchior Islands situated in the Palmer Archipelago, Tomasz (Tom) Zadrozny discovered a channel which divides Omega Island. Two weeks later numerous measurements and soundings were made, what allowed outlining rough map of the newly discovered channel.
In 2004, documentation of findings has been sent to the SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research), together with the proposal of the name for the new channel and the new island. The names were accepted and since June 2004 Antarctica officially has one more island - Bremeninsel (name ID: 135,152, place ID: 17806) and the new channel - Bremenkanal (name ID: 135153, place ID: 17807).

Bremen Channel, surveyed and mapped by Tomasz Zadrożny

Our kayak expedition binds together geographical achievements of the Belgica Expedition and Tomasz's (Tom) discovery. By showing that geographical discoveries even today are still possible we are honoring and giving respect to the participants of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition
The expedition started from Omega Island which lies close to Bremen Island, both are part of the Melchior Islands. After leaving Omega island we paddled towards Grand Island and Anvers Island. We crossed the Gerlache Strait towards Ronge Island on Dagmar Aaen. Selvick Cove (Arctowski Peninsula) we visited during a day paddle. Our route continued through the Errera Channel, where we had a break on Beneden Head in Andvord Bay. After crossing Andvord bay we rounded Waterboat Point in the northern part of Paradise Harbour. From Paradise Harbour we continued through the Ferguson Channel, crossed the Gerlache Strait again in the direction of Fridtjof Island where we rounded Cape Errera on Wiencke Island. The expedition ended in Damoy Point on Wiencke Island.
Over 90% of our route overlaps with the historical route of the Belgica Expedition (see attached maps). Some of the landings were made in the same places as Belgica's scientific staff has landed (Selvick Cove, Cuverville Island, Beneden Head in Andvord Bay, Cape Errera on Wiencke).
Date of the expedition: February 04 - 22, 2016.
Expedition crew, kayaks and all necessary equipment was transported to the launch site by the passenger expedition ship, MV Fram. The same ship collected the participants after expedition was completed.
A part of the expedition was supported by Arved Fuchs‘s yacht "Dagmar Aaen".
The rout of the kayak excursion

The rout of the kayak excursion

Expedition crew: 
1. Henryk Wolski – Poland Expeditions Leader
2. Karin Strand – Norway
3. Tomasz (Tom) Zadrozny – Poland
4. Tessa van Drie – Netherlands
5. Wilfried Korth - Germany

Darwin & Tierra del Fuego Expedition May 2008 June 2010


The Year 2009 will be the 200th birthday anniversary of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his monumental work The Origin of Species. This book put to the test all previous theories about the development of life on Earth.

Darwin’s first observations towards the development of his theory were made in Tierra del Fuego, and not as many people believe in the Galapagos Islands. In 1833 Charles Darwin, as a young man of 23 was a member of the British Expedition on the HMS Beagle. The expedition, which left Plymouth on December 27th 1831, and returned to England on October 2nd 1836, was under the command of the young but experienced 28 year old captain Robert FitzRoy.

One of the primary tasks of the expedition was to survey the southern tip of South America. The hundreds of small islands and channels of Tierra del Fuego were not well known to sailors of that time. Even the relatively well known Cape Horn was not well charted. This lack of knowledge together with the stormy weather which is often present here, made the area very dangerous to ships rounding this tip of South America. The survey work could not be done without smaller boats which were on board the HMS Beagle. It was too dangerous to sail into small unknown channels with a large sailing ship of 30 meters without an engine as auxiliary propulsion. One of the types of boats that were used during the survey was the open whaleboat. These light, fast and easy to maneuver boats were originally built for whale hunting. With time, due to their excellent capabilities in difficult situations they came to be used as lifeboats on bigger ships up until the beginning of the 20th century.

Another chapter of the expedition was the story of four native Fuegians which Captain FitzRoy had captured during his first expedition. The main reason for capturing these young people was FitzRoy’s hope that having hostages would help him find a whaleboat which had been stolen by the Fuegians. There was no success with the boat but since the natives were on board it prompted the idea to civilize these natives of Tierra del Fuego. FitzRoy decided to bring the captives back to England with the hope of teaching them the Catholic faith, the English language and good civilized manners. After receiving this education they would be brought back to Tierra del Fuego to form the core of the Christian mission. The four Fuegians named: Fuegia Basket, York Minster, Jemmy Button and Boat Memory arrived with FitzRoy in England in 1830. In 1833 all (except Boat Memory who died in England of small pox) were back on board HMS Beagle on the way back to their home – Tierra del Fuego.

Charles Darwin’s and captain FitzRoy’s adventures have inspired us to organize the “Darwin & Tierra del Fuego Expedition”. The goal of the expedition is to repeat FitzRoy’s survey of this region in a replica of the 19th century open whaleboat. The boat’s name is FUEGIA. Christening took place in Potsdam/Germany on April 12th 2008. The godfather of FUEGIA is a well known German explorer – Arved Fuchs. Expedition leader of the “Darwin and Tierra del Fuego Expedition” is captain Henryk Wolski who together with Arved Fuchs sailed around the North Pole and in the footprints of Sir Ernest Shackleton. For Arved 2009 is also the 25th anniversary of his rounding Cape Horn with a friend paddling in two kayaks.

Henryk Wolski


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