Underwater volcanoes, Gentoo penguins and magnetic currents make for a memorable Peruvian Antarctic deployment

This article has photo gallery Published on Royal Australian Navy (author)

Location(s): Punta Arenas, Chile, South Shetlands Islands, Antarctica

Topic(s): Hydrography and Oceanography

Royal Australian Navy Hydrographic Officer Lieutenant Danielle Britton at Peruvian Antarctic Base Machu Picchu, at Admiralty Bay, King George Island, on board the Peruvian Navy polar research vessel BAP Carrasco. (photo: )
Royal Australian Navy Hydrographic Officer Lieutenant Danielle Britton at Peruvian Antarctic Base Machu Picchu, at Admiralty Bay, King George Island, on board the Peruvian Navy polar research vessel BAP Carrasco.

In the peak of the 2019-20 Antarctic summer, Navy Hydrographer Lieutenant Danielle Britton embarked on a six week voyage to Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands onboard Peruvian Navy polar research vessel BAP Carrasco.

The first placement of its kind between the two Navies, the voyage was not only an opportunity to engage with Australia’s friends across the Pacific, but a unique opportunity for the hydrographic service to broaden the experience of its people.

After a 40 hour transit, Lieutenant Britton joined the ship in Punta Arenas, Chile.

“Being a Navy ship - it was a familiar yet foreign environment on board,” Lieutenant Britton said.

“The Peruvian Navy structure is much like ours, however the food and daily routine are quite different.

“Potato, pork and legumes form the basis of many meals and the only milk available was canned evaporated milk. 

“The working hours also extend well into the night due to the Peruvian adherence to siestas, a custom which I had to quickly adjust to in order to get enough sleep,” she said.

After sailing from Punta Arenas with the Australian Navy officer on board, BAP Carrasco transited through the breathtaking Chilean Patagonian channels to the southern tip of the South American continent.

Royal Australian Navy Hydrographic Officer Lieutenant Danielle Britton on the shoreline adjacent to the Spanish Antarctic Base Juan Carlos 1st, with a Gentoo penguin (look closely!)

Royal Australian Navy Hydrographic Officer Lieutenant Danielle Britton on the shoreline adjacent to the Spanish Antarctic Base Juan Carlos 1st, with a Gentoo penguin (look closely!)

“Our first attempt to cross the infamous Drake Passage was unsuccessful,” Lieutenant Britton said.

“Many of the crew and embarked scientists went down with sea sickness.

“When we later made the crossing there was a lot of excitement on board as we passed the 60 degrees south parallel into Antarctic Territory.

“Humpback whales and swimming Gentoo penguins became a very common sight as the ship sailed further south.”

The crew commenced the base resupply upon arrival at the Peruvian Antarctic Base Machu Picchu on King George Island.

“Once complete, the ship, with its lower decks full of keen scientists, set to work out in the Bransfield Strait,” Lieutenant Britton said.

While Australian Navy hydrographic units deploy to Antarctica primarily to conduct shore based, small boat bathymetric surveying in support of safety of navigation, BAP Carrasco’s taskings were largely oceanographic in nature.

The ships primary role is to support scientific research projects from national and international universities.

“From underwater volcanoes to sub-seafloor profiling for magnetic currents, there was always something fascinating to get involved in,” Lieutenant Britton said.

“This voyage has opened my eyes to how other countries conduct Antarctic operations.

“I am interested to see how Australia’s whole-of-government approach to Antarctic operations evolve with the introduction of the impressively capable Australian Antarctic vessel RSV Nuyina, replacing Aurora Australis in 2020,” she said.

Naval Officers from Italy, Spain, Panama and France were also embarked for the voyage as was a UK Hydrographic Office cartographer.

“Having fellow hydrographic experienced officers on board made this a truly multi-national, and multi-lingual experience,” Lieutenant Britton said.

“There was a variety of polar navigation and surveying experience amongst us, and I have certainly gained a broad oversight of how other nations operate in polar regions,” she said.