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A Diversion to King George Island, South Shetland Islands


My prior posts on our visit to Antarctica ended with a fun day at Hidden Bay, followed by an evening cruise through beautiful LeMaire Channel.  It was a day of near perfect weather, and we looked forward to our next adventure the following day.  Our ship was repositioning overnight to Robert Island, where we would disembark and explore Robert Point.  We would get another chance to land and enjoy the scenery and wildlife up close!

Unfortunately, our day at Robert Island was not to be.  At 8:00 am the Captain of the Octantis addressed the entire ship over the P.A. system and announced a change of plans.  Overnight there had been a medical emergency and the ship's physician had determined that a passenger needed to be evacuated to a hospital.  Our ship was heading full steam (about 19 knots/hour) to the nearest place that had an aircraft landing field, which was King George Island.  We were expected to arrive late in the afternoon.

01 King George Island

02 King George Island

Our plans for the day were abandoned.  Everyone on board knew and (some reluctantly) agreed with the plan, although most of us were hugely disappointed in the loss of a day's activity.  Time in Antarctica is both expensive and limited.

03 King George Island

04 King George Island

05 King George Island

06 King George Island(Scattered showers over some of the South Shetland Islands)

The day was windy and there was scattered rain and lots of clouds.  My wife and I spent the day exploring the Octantis, especially its extensive library, and stared out the window at the pretty scenery of the South Shetland islands as we cruised past.  It was too cold and windy to spend much time out on the decks.

07 King George Island(Our ship heads north into heavy rains)

By midafternoon we were approaching King George Island, passing a few research stations along the way...

08 King George Island

09 King George Island

A Brief History of King George Island

King George Island was claimed by the British in 1819 and named after its monarch, King George III.  It is the largest of the South Shetlands and lies about 75 miles from the Antarctic continent.  Most of the island is covered with ice, with less than 10% being ice free.  Still, King George Island is home to multiple year-round research bases as well as some summer-only bases, including those run by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Ecuador, Germany, Holland, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Uruguay and the USA.

10 King George Island

11 King George Island(Nearing King George Island)

The research stations are located here because King George Island is easily accessible from South America, having a small airport which Chile runs.  For those who wish to avoid the uncertain waters of Drake's passage, flights are available from Puenta Arenas, Chile, to King George Island, where you can board your cruise ship.  Despite all its research stations, King George Island is home to a lot of wildlife, like Elephant, Weddell and Leopard seals, and Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins.

12 King George Island

13 King George Island(On approach to King George Island)

14 King George Island(The tallest building on King George Island is a Russian Orthodox church, seen atop a hill.  Built in 2004, it is the southernmost church in the world, one of the few permanent structures in Antarctica, and has a year-round resident priest)

We arrived at the harbor closest to the airfield on schedule, but the size of our ship limited our access to the harbor.  The patient was transferred by Zodiak boat to an ambulance, then to a waiting plane that flew her to Chile.  We later learned that the patient who had been evacuated lost a lot of blood after a fall.  An update a few days later from the hospital in Chile let us know that she was doing well, so the story had a happy ending.

15 King George Island

16 King George Island

17 King George Island(Some of the research buildings on King George Island)

18 King George Island
(Zodiac in the mid-foreground from the Octantis, carrying an ill passenger, is speeding to King George Island)


For a list of all the posts in DrFumblefinger's Antarctica series, please click on this link:


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Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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