Staging Post for Intrepid Explorers

Cape Times (South Africa), January 9, 2013 | Go to article overview

Staging Post for Intrepid Explorers


As she has done for 35 summers, SA Agulhas headed for Antarctica on Monday but this departure was a little different. Bearing the British team, who will cross Antarctica in winter and 51 cadets, she was down to her marks with equipment, stores and fuel.

Cape Town has long been a staging post for Antarctic expeditions as intrepid explorers with rudimentary equipment and limited scientific understanding passed this way. Some never returned to their homelands; others became heroes as they conquered the perils of the hostile continent, displaying superhuman courage and endurance in the process.

In the days of sanctions, I was interested to see several Russian and East European vessels in Cape Town, en route to or from Antarctica, and somewhere amid my photograph collection, is a striking view of the hammer and sickle, fluttering from the ensign staff of a rust-streaked Russian vessel heading home.

In more recent times, Cape Town's staging post role has grown with numerous ships taking on stores and bunkers and embarking polar teams from various countries before heading south. Although some teams are flown to Antarctica, most of the heavy equipment and supplies are still carried south by sea.

While the Argentine port of Ushuaia has also become a base for Antarctic expeditions, Cape Town has more to offer in terms of similar time zones to Europe, easy access by air and a good financial infrastructure.

Besides the rush of polar ships at this time of the year, numerous specialised vessels called during the past week. …

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