Day 8 |
Jan 12, 2011

 Telefon Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica 

By by Peter W. Damisch, Historian, General Naturalist & Cartographer


Co-ordinates: 64o 46’ S, 069o 18’ W
Weather: Overcast in the morning with snow, then increasing winds
Air Temperature: 0o C / 32 o F
Pressure: 981 HPa
Wind: 85 km / hour

Today was a day to try something new. We’ve already had such a wonderful run of spectacular experiences: landing on the Antarctic Continent, observing tens of thousands of penguins within many breeding colonies as well Zodiac cruising amongst towering icebergs, some with dozens of crabeater, Weddell and leopard seals lounging on their cold surfaces. We’ve also enjoyed multiple encounters with Minke, orca and humpback whales, including one who rested on the surface right next to the ship for over 20 minutes.

This morning the Prince Albert II literally sailed into the mouth of an enormous volcanic caldera. It seems incredible but yes, it is possible as well as amazing to take the ship safely through a very small entrance called ‘Neptune’s Bellows’ into a volcano that erupted as recently as 40 years ago, something that I think is only possible here in Antarctica.

Our morning destination offered a series of geological walk options. I was in the scout boat in which a portion of the Expedition Team goes ashore before guests to evaluate conditions, ensure the safety of the landing site and complete any set-up that might be necessary.

One of my primary assignments was to lead a short hike across a large, sandy volcanic plain that was formed when heat melted glaciers and created a volcanic mudflow or lahar. The slope of the trail was only slightly uphill but did finish at the lower lip of one crater, which gave us a great view both down into the pit but also back towards the water-filled caldera where the Prince Albert II was anchored. During the hike I had the chance to stop at many locations to provide some interpretation of the geological history of the area along with answering many questions from guests.

A longer hike option was also offered for people who wished to do a bit more exercise. It worked its way up across a series of volcanic pit craters that were created during eruptions in the late 1960s and have an outstanding overview of the ship’s anchorage as well as glaciers and nearby ice covered by dust.

However, as we hiked, the wind began to increase and a bit of snow or ice crystals began to fall to the earth. This new weather gave everything a light dusting of snow, which only added to the already otherworldly experience. I mentioned that walking on this type of remote, rocky and sanding volcanic plain surrounded by volcanic cones must be similar to walking on the moon.

Once back at our landing site, I next served as ‘towel boy’ as several of our guests took advantage of an opportunity to take a ‘Polar Plunge’. This is essentially a quick strip of their warm clothing down to bathing suits (just a little bit less insulating than multiple layers of polartec material!) and a quick run into the cold, ocean water in the caldera. A quick dive under water is typically followed by a shout of joy (or was that a shriek of cold?) and accompanied by congratulatory wishes and clapping by a crowed of onlookers. It was all great fun.

However, the winds then started to increase once again and there is a wind limit for the ship to enter or exit Deception Island due to the narrowness of the entrance. Since safety is always Silversea’s top priority, Captain Stahlberg made the decision that it was a better course of action to cancel our planned landing at an abandoned whaling station elsewhere on Deception Island and instead depart. As always, weather controls our operations in this remote and stunningly beautiful part of the world. At the beginning of our voyage we were able to make a faster crossing of the Drake Passage than usual and that allowed the Expedition Team to offer an additional, unplanned landing. Now the weather gods took away our final but planned landing, something that does occur from time to time.

Of course flexibility is the hallmark of any Silversea Expedition to the Antarctic, and in just a short period of time I found myself on stage speaking about one of my favorite topics ‘By Endurance We Conquer’. This material covers the early development of Ernest Shackleton’s leadership style along with his participation in two Antarctic expeditions as well as the start of his famous third trip to the frozen continent during the ‘Golden Age of Exploration’. I try to place our guests in a time machine and take them back to feel the emotions and energy of people who lived just about a century ago. The Theatre was packed and one of the best parts was the questions from guests at the end where they wanted to learn even more about this remarkable leader.

After a brief photo opportunity of the Expedition Team set up to fulfill to a guest’s request, I had a truly enjoyable lunch where guests discussed their most memorable moments during this extraordinary voyage. There were so many different experiences and so varied that it is impossible to provide even a short list in this log. However, it was very clear that the experiences were so much more that what everyone had expected.

After lunch I listened to an absolutely wonderful presentation by Robin, one of our marine biologists and professional cold-water divers. She gave comprehensive and personal account of a season on and below the ice in the Antarctic as she had lived at a remote research camp, cutting holes in the ice, then diving below to observe a wide variety of life in an environment not often seen by any human. Her presentation was both insightful and humorous, a wonderful combination for the early afternoon.

At the same time, Christian, our historian for German-speaking guests, provided a great review of Frank Hurley, who was one of the founders of Antarctic photography. Hurley was there at the beginning with glass plates on both the Mawson and Shackleton Expeditions at the very early part of the 20th century. As always, Christian was able to humorously illuminate the true artistry and skill of an individual who had to battle the elements while capturing iconic images, which are still reproduced in hundreds of books each year even after a century.

Later in the day, Juan, our onboard geologist, presented ‘Earth, What Lies Below’. I attended this presentation, which contains interesting slides and animations that review the rocks of the Earth with special emphasis on Antarctica and the southern regions of the planet. There is so much going on in this area with fault lines, volcanism, glaciers, rock formation, and mountain formation along with igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. It is always amazing to me to learn more about what goes on unseen under our feet, but which affects so much of our life each day.

As usual on this voyage, there was a simultaneous lecture for our German-speaking guests. In this case, Uli, one of our marine biologists and professional cold-water divers, provided insights to the ‘Legends of the Deep’. His presentation reviewed some of the mythical creatures in the unseen depths of the ocean, then compared to amazing but real creatures that inhabit those remote places, seldom seen by human beings. I always enjoy being able to view, through the eyes of others, this new world populated by bizarre-looking animals that, nevertheless, have a unique beauty.

Finally, just before dinner, the Expedition Team once again offered everyone the opportunity to listen and participate in a ‘recap’. This is something that we try to do on most days of the voyage and gives everyone the chance to ask questions about things they experienced or to have team members provide additional but short pieces about something unusual in their specialty; biology, glaciers, geology, history, etc but all typically related to our recent excursions.

Today I chose to discuss the 20th century volcanic history of Deception Island, including paint boiled off the hulls of ships in the 1920s and mudflows that buried the whaler’s cemetery in the 1960s. I concluded with a short video that I had just discovered in my historical research. It is a short film of the volcano eruption of just 40 years ago that covered the snow with dark, volcanic material.

As you can see, the day turned out differently than originally anticipated but was still pleasantly filled with a wide variety of topics for our guests to choose from. Now we head out on the Drake Passage with plans tomorrow to review the many thousands of images taken during our adventure as well as to enjoy another full round of educational and often humorous presentations.