Day 8 |
Jan 10, 2012

Deception Island and Yankee Harbour, South Shetlands  

By Uli Kunz – Oceanographer and Zodiac-Driver

Position: 62°32’ S, 59°47’ W
Air temperature: 0 °C, 32.0 °F
Water temperature: 1 °C, 33.8 °F
Air pressure: 990 hPa
Wind speed: 30 km/h

At 9 o'clock, the Silver Explorer sailed through Neptune's Bellows, the narrow entrance to Deception Island, one of the most protected natural harbours in all of Antarctica. The spectacular passage leads into the giant caldera of an ancient volcano that erupted for the first time about 1 million year ago. But it is still considered active, as the last eruption took place in 1970 when it destroyed a scientific station and led to the evacuation of the island. Together with the rest of the expedition staff, I jumped into a Zodiac and drove to the shore in Whalers Bay, the place of an old whaling station. The remaining buildings, tanks and boilers are still visible on a plain that was destroyed by a landslide and mudflow 40 years ago.

The first guests came ashore and I lead a guided walk along the shoreline towards the outer cliff of the caldera into a big cut in the mountain, known as Neptune's Window. It is believed that from this place the Antarctic continent was spotted for the first time by Nathaniel Palmer in 1820. However, the weather was not to our advantage, the visibility was low and we could not see the Frozen Continent from the Window.

On the way back to the landing site, we watched a fur seal and a Weddell seal that hauled out to the sandy beach and joined several Chinstrap Penguins. Deception Island is home to one of the largest Chinstrap Penguin rookeries in Antarctica, but it is located on the outside of the volcano.

Back at the landing site, I watched some of our guests running around in their bathing suits! An odd sight in Antarctica, but it was time for the famous Polar Plunge! 41 people took the chance and jumped into the freezing waters of Whalers Bay. There is always a good chance to enjoy some thermal heated water in Deception Island, but it is mostly located close to the shore.

The Silver Explorer left Deception Island and sailed for Yankee Harbour, a protected landing site behind a gravel spit. It was raining very hard, so I dressed in several warm layers and put on my float coat as I was scheduled to drive a Zodiac. The first guests came to the shore and watched Gentoo and some Chinstrap Penguins on their nests. The chicks were already quite big and had fat bellies but looked somewhat miserable waddling around in big mud and guano puddles in the heavy rain. But the rain and wind stopped suddenly and it became a very pleasant and calm afternoon.

The weather forecast for the Drake Passage did not look very bad, but we will definitely have some movement on our way back to Ushuaia, so I stored my computer and camera to a safe place as the Silver Explorer made her way into the open Southern Ocean.