National Geographic : 1899 Jun
THE BELGIAN ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION The Societe Royale Belge de Geographie, of Brussels, through whose efforts the Belgica was equipped and dispatched in search of the South Pole, has published the preliminary report of Captain De Gerlache on the results of the expedition. After leaving Punta Arenas, December 14, 1897, the Belgica kept on southward, and without any incident except the loss of a few days, caused by grounding on a submerged rock near Lapataia, reached Hughes bay January 24. Three weeks were then passed in exploring this bay in every direction, and also in investigating a strait discovered between the lands toward the east and a large penin sula, which they temporarily called Palmer archipelago. They entered the Pacific February 12 and soon made out in the dis tance Alexander I Land, but as an impenetrable ice-floe prevented an ap proach, changed their course to the west. Two weeks later, when at 70° 20' south by 85° west, a violent northeast wind opened up deep chan nels in the pack, so that, although the season was very far advanced, the occasion seemed favorable to continue on toward the south. The dan gers of a winter in the Antarctic zone were evident, but, on the other hand, if caught in the ice and unable to regain the open sea, they might drift to a high latitude and perhaps winter near new lands. On March 3, seeing the absolute impossibility of continuing farther, they put the helm about, and during the few following days drifted seven or eight miles in the midst of a compact mass of ice. By March 10 the Belgica was completely blocked, as the cakes of ice which surrounded her had welded together and formed an impenetrable field. Beginning with the latter half of the month of March the cold became very sharp because of the winds from the south. The temperatue, how ever, was dependent upon the direction of the wind, for winds from the south brought clear, sharp weather, while those from the north- that is, from the ocean-almost always meant clouds and mist and a tempera ture about zero C., and sometimes even higher. The drift also was a direct function of the wind. The aspect of the pack changed continually ; though for the most part very compact, at times great gaps and chan nels would open and extend for miles, but the ship, imprisoned in a wall of ice, could not gain them. By May 30 they had drifted to latitude 71° 36' by 87° 39', apparently the farthest point south gained by the expedi tion. During the winter snowstorms frequently made all work out of doors impossible; also the treacherous character of the ice-floe and the violence of the gusts of wind prevented any long excursion upon the ice. The sun set on May 17 and did not rise again until July 24. The seals and penguins, without ever being very numerous in the immediate neighborhood of the vessel, constituted the main part of the crew's fare during the last months of winter, and this fresh food not a little con tributed to maintain their good health, which, except during the polar night, was excellent.