Detaille Hut, HSM no. 83
Base W, Crystal Sound

Detaille Island hut was established in 1956 as a British science base used primarily for mapping, geology and meteorology as well as to contribute to the science programmes of the International Geophysical Year in 1957. Located in the Lallemand Fjord, off the Loubet Coast this small island (66°52’S, 66°38’W) south of the Antarctic Circle is in an area most commonly referred to as Crystal Sound.

Sledging Base

The base has a brief and exciting history as a sledging base. Over three years the men and dog teams at Detaille covered distances of up to 4,000 miles, mapping the area for the first time.

In 1959 it unexpectedly closed due to severe pack ice. At the first opportunity, with very little notice, the men abandoned the base sledging across the sea ice to reach the evacuating ship. 

Winter freeze of 1958

For the first two years of the base’s operation, unstable ice meant that field parties working on the peninsula were repeatedly cut off for long periods. However, in the winter freeze of 1958 solid sea ice formed which allowed safe sledging and made it the most productive year. The solid sea ice however caused other problems as when the relief ship arrived in the summer of 1959 with new personnel and fresh supplies it was unable to break through the ice despite assistance from two American icebreakers. 

Leaving the base

The base did not have enough coal for another winter and the ships were unable to unload essential provisions from the ice edge. Eventually, the master of the ship made the call to shut the base and with little time to spare the men secured the building against the elements, packed the minimum of their belongings and sledged across thirty miles of sea ice to reach the ship. Detaille operated for just three short years and in spite of the difficulties, much was achieved in terms of geological mapping and surveying of the surrounding areas.

Today

Since the base’s closure it has remained unoccupied and relatively unaltered, preserving it as a time capsule of 1950s Antarctic life. The ice conditions still make it difficult to reach Detaille, however, sea ice permitting, tourist vessels occasionally manage to visit the site.

The site provides a rare and important insight into the science and living conditions at the time that the Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959. Detaille is now under our care and management. Our conservation teams made the base structurally secure and weather tight during the seasons 2010-11 and 2012-13.  

Download your full information sheet here.

Read more information about Detaille on the British Antarctic Survey Archives website

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