One of my main reasons for heading to the south of Adelaide Island was to visit the decaying buildings of Carvajal base. Carvajal was originally a British base, known as ‘Station-T’, and was established by FIDS (the predecessor to BAS) in the early ’60s. The ship that delivered the first people and buildings to the site actually planned to locate the base at Rothera Point. However, the sea-ice made Rothera inaccessible and they settled for their second-choice site, on the southern tip of Adelaide Island.
The location is an impressive one – an isolated rocky bluff with a steep, icy ramp giving access to the main ice-shelf. One of its disadvantages is that it is exposed to the heavy swells coming in from the ocean, making resupply operations by ship risky in all but the calmest conditions. In addition, the Twin Otter skiway that was established above the base began to deteriorate in the ’70s, eventually becoming unusable. In the end, the Brits decided to move their science and airborne operations over to Rothera (as had been originally intended), and the Chileans stepped in to take over the base that they left behind.
By the early 2000s, the Chileans were winding down their operations at Carvajal and the base began to decline. The buildings left behind, exposed and battered by the Antarctic elements, are gradually losing their weather-proofing; the doors no longer close properly, the roofs leak and in the summer the base is overrun with elephant and fur seals.
At this time of year, the wildlife is absent and the place is eerily silent. The first things you glimpse as you approach the site are old abandoned dumps of fuel drums and the stark skeleton of a crashed BAS Twin Otter, half buried in the snow. A couple of hundred metres further on and the base itself comes into view, the scattered buildings a deep, rusty red of peeling paint.
We had a wander round the main living quarters, gaining entry by slipping through an open doorway half blocked with blown snow. The inside of the base is cold, damp and gloomy, but still surprisingly homely. The last residents apparently left in a hurry as there are sheets left on the beds, a half-finished game of dice left on a table and books and videos scattered on the floor. The pantry shelves are stocked with food and drink, now deep frozen, and a bottle of Grand Marnier sits half-full on the bar.
The Chileans managed to erase most of the Britishness of the base and had painted an enormous Chilean flag over the front door. However, there were still signs of our predecessors – shelves of nuts and bolts and lamp-wicks were still neatly labelled in English, and the splendid wooden bar looks like it came straight from an English pub!
We are told that the Chilean Navy is planning to revisit the site this coming season, though apparently this has been promised before. It is not obvious what they would do with it – most of the buildings are beyond useful repair and my guess is that any attempt to fire up the generators would cause sparks to fly out of all of the snow-filled fuseboxes and rotting wiring. However, it would be a shame to let the whole place decay its way into oblivion – it should either be preserved as a historical curiosity (as has been done with most of the old British bases, which are now a tourist destination for adventurous yachties), or dismantled and shipped out. Only time will tell what the Chileans are planning.