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The Spanish Cousins

Aggiornamento: 13 nov 2023

Port Foster, Deception, South Shetland Island

Despite the 4 degrees C° in the cabin, today's awakening has been greeted by a clear sky and a distant sun that peeks out from the snowy crown of Deception Island.

Fuel consumption is certainly one of our biggest concerns. We can count on just 800 liters of diesel to reach the Falklands and the false start added 4 unforeseen days to the already long period in which we will not be able to refuel. We turn on the heating system, in the morning when we wake up to turn it off as soon as the temperature reaches 18 degrees and then restart it only in the evening for a couple of hours before going to bed.

Whenever possible, we try not to use the engines, hoisting the main sail even before lifting the anchor and take them down only when the anchor is dropped back in the water. Likewise we are very frugal with the use of the generator. We start it only when the voltage of the batteries dedicated to the utilities is lower than 12.5V and once we run it we try to use, if necessary, all the on-board utilities which requires 220 V, such as the watermaker.

In addition to the cold, the great enemy of these latitudes is humidity. The difference in temperature between the internal and external surfaces generates an incredible amount of condensation that collects in the bilges. Although we have prepared Angelique II by placing insulating panels (Armaflex) of 1.5 cm in all the hull and providing every single porthole or manhole of a double glazing, in 5 days at sea we have generated about 25 liters of condensation for each hull!! Also our bodies generate so much moisture. The difference in temperature between the surface of the mattress and the support on which it rests generates a significant amount of condensation. Also in this case we have equipped each cabin of wooden slats (purchased from IKEA and then modified) so as to leave an air cushion between the mattress and the supporting surface of the same, but despite this precaution after a few weeks you need to dry well staves to avoid the appearance of mold.

After breakfast we organized in two teams, one in charge of cleaning the interior and the other in maintenance activities.So today's first activity was to get rid, as far as possible, of the moisture accumulated during the crossing of the Drake, not only in the bilges but also in mattresses, pillows, sleeping bags, etc. The team in charge of maintenance had to a control of the rigging, the levels of liquids in the engines and the generator and the alignment of the rudders.

After breakfast we headed to the Spanish Base on the opposite side of Port Foster, just 3 miles from our anchorage. When we reached the Base we contacted them on the 16 VHF channel. After a few minutes of waiting they put us in communication with the Commander Alberto Salas Mendes responsible for the base to which we asked permission to go ashore for a visit. Permission granted with an unmistakable Latin warmth and half an hour later we were already on the dinghy ready to land.

To welcome us the Commander was his second in charge, Lieutenant Fernando Rodriguez Alfranca who, after the ritual presentations, was our guide during the stay on the base. The Gabriel de Castilla Base has been inoperation since1985, acting as summer base between the months of December and February.

The responsibility of the base and of the safety of those present is entrusted to yhe Spanish army, which every year send to the base a team of 13 soldiers, all volunteers and it looks like it is very difficult to get this kind of job.

The scientific staff, is not necessarily Spanish, rather it is usually international and rotates during each annual "campaign" with stays that on average can vary from two to five weeks. The research projects here at Deception are mostly related to volcanology, the study of lichens and algae and the observation of penguin colonies and sea lions on the island.

The energy requirement of the base is supported by two large gasoline generators, while the water is taken from a crater a kilometer upstream through a plastic pipe through which a resistance passes to ensure a temperature inside the pipe around the 2°, thus avoiding the freezing of the same. The voice and data communications are instead entrusted to two large satellite antennas, housed in huge glass fiber containers, one for civil communications and the other for military ones. The base, like all the bases here in Antarctica, is also equipped with a small waste incinerator. The staff, paper and some types of plastics are processed on site.

The rest as well as the ashes generated by the incinerator, are transported by sea to land, in Chile in Punta Arenas or in Ushuaia in Argentina.

In fact, the agreements envisaged in the Antarctic Treaty, foresee that the Chilean and Argentinian Navy have the logistic responsibility of the support to all the scientific research stations in Antarctica as well as the SAR operations (Search and Rescue) that should become necessary.

After completing the tour of the base we were invited to have a coffee which, as was easy to imagine, soon turned into cerveza y hamon serrano.

At 20.00h, Commander Mendez told us that it was time for the evening briefing and that if we wanted we could attend. At the 20:00 Briefing, all the staff present at the base, both military and civil, take part.

The session is opened by the Head of Base announcing the weather forecast for the next day and assigning the various common tasks. In fact here at the Gabriel de Castilla Base the common activities such as cleaning the premises, are responsibility of everyone, from the youngest of researchers to the Head Base.

Forecasts for tomorrow gave 25 knots of wind for which the Commander Mendez announced the suspension of any field research activity suggesting laboratory activities.

Many of the research activities, in fact, take place in places accessible only by sea.

The base is equipped with 6 large Zodiac managed by the military who always accompany the researchers in their outings at sea and every passenger, before getting on board, must wear a survival suit, a kind of waterproof suit, but much more robust and comfortable to wear.

Finally, the Head of Base informed that on Sunday they would have as guests for lunch the neighbours of the Argentine Base who would also challenge in a Rugby match.

Before saying goodbye our cre member Matteo asked the Commander if it was possible to obtain some diesel.

In fact, on board several times we had joked imagining asking the bases for a few liters of diesel and Matteo went straight to the point.

Once again without any hesitation Commander Mendez replied: how much fuel do you need?

70 liters, or those that we could stow in the only empty jerry cans we have on board.

Half an hour later we greeted our lovely guests, while the dinghy returned to the boat, happy to have visited our first Antarctic base and to enjoy a few more hours of heating.

Tomorrow the 25 knots mentioned by the Base Commander in the briefing will arrive from the North, Northeast excellent to continue our descent to the south.

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