Being a Belgian on the Antarctic waters can not go without thinking about Adrien De Gerlache at certain moments. I choose to take his book “15 months on Antarctica” with me on this trip. Refreshing my French and at the same time reading about one of the first people who came where we are now, is not a bad combination:
De gerlache, searching for unexplored territories in Antarctica
Adrien de Gerlache leaves Antwerp in August 1896 to explore some missing parts on the map of Antarctica. He reaches Ushuaia on New Years day 1897. Almost 120 years ago, he sailed the same waters we’re facing here. His ship was double the length of ours, and 1.5 times as wide. Still, it would be way smaller than most of cruise ships and ice breakers that go to Antarctica these days.
The Belgica, his expediton ship, got stuck in the ice in February 1897, and it would take him and his crew 13 months to get back out of there. He’s the first to have overwintered on Antarctica. He discovered many locations and updated the map of Antarctica as we know it today.
It feels as an honnor to be a Belgian and sailing in these waters that have been charted by a young citizen of our country. When reading de Gerlache’s book, one sees how much he saw it as his duty to discover this area and bringing some Belgian influence. It’s partially thanks to his work that Belgium was one of the first 12 signers of the Antarctic Treaty.
Many bays, mountains and islands in the Antarctic peninsula got their names by de Gerlache. The passage he called the Belgica Strait, was later renamed to the Gerlache Strait in his honnor. Anvers Island, Brabant Island, Flanders Bay are just a few of the places that got their names by mr. de Gerlache. and his crew. And even the Netherlands have de Gerlache to thank for the fact that the Wilhelmina bay on Antarctica caries its name.
De Gerlache is not just famous for his own expedition. He has had influence on several later discoveries in the Antarctic region. One of the crew members was Roald Amundsen, who would later be the first reach both poles. De Gerlache later also assisted Shackleton with his infamous expedition. It was de Gerlache who sold him his yacht. Ernest Shackleton renamed it to “Endurance”.
Statue of De Gerlache in Ushuaia
When you make it to Ushuaia: he’s statue is the first in a row of people who played a role in the discovery of Antarctica. He overlooks the harbor where every year ships like ours take of on expeditions that wouldn’t have been the same without what he did 120 years ago. De Gerlaches expedition is also featured in the scientific part of the Museo del fin del Mundo.
This article is part of a series, describing my trip to Antarctica. Follow on http://boarding.today/antarctica