Day 13 |
Nov 26, 2008

Whalers' Bay Deception Island

By Chris Srigley

Position: 62°69’S, 60°34’W

Through the night, in relatively calm sea, we made our way across the Bransfield Strait from our previous day in the Antarctic Sound region. Our destination was to be Whaler’s Bay in Deception Island.

Deception Island, located in the South Shetland Islands, is an active volcano that has had its caldera breached by the sea. It is so named because many earlier sealers sailed past it in the early days without finding its entrance. Today, it offers us the ability to sail in and a chance to swim in its thermally heated waters. Its last eruption was in 1970.

Upon arrival at Deception Island, our first order of business was to enter through Neptune’s Bellows, a gap of less than 400m, which would take us into the flooded caldera. The Bellows are named due to the violent winds that sometimes blow across its entrance. With winds gusting quite strongly, the bellows were to live up to their name.

Once inside, the Prince Albert II would make a turn to its starboard and head into what is known as Whalers’ Bay.  This bay holds a history in both the whaling and early British Antarctic Survey annals. Whaling ceased in 1931, while the British left the site in the 1960s.  Here, we would drop the anchor within a short distance of the black volcanic beach shrouded in fumes and vapour from the natural vents in the sand.

Awaking for our 0730 entrance, we were greeted with little fanfare by a temperature of 1.5°C(34°F).  The winds were driving the rain across our bow leaving us with the impression that today was going to be a wet day!

Having had the same weather over the past several days, our first group of the morning, the Chinstraps, were not deterred by the rain.  At 0800 they were gathered and ready in the lobby for the trip to shore.  Once on shore, our Expedition Leader Robin West instructed them as to our plan for the morning.  To the east along the beach they could walk to Neptune’s Window, which looks out over the Bransfield Strait and, on a clear day, offers beautiful views of the peninsula some 56 miles away.  It is from this point where American Sealer Nathaniel Palmer would first spot the Antarctic Continent back in 1820.  Once guests had done this they would be able to head in the opposite direction from our landing site to view the former base huts or check on the old airplane hanger before taking the plunge into the heated waters.  Some would be quick to find out that the water was only heated within a few metres of shore!

As our lunch appeared, it was time for the Rockhopper group to return to the ship and for the Prince Albert II to heave anchor. While we enjoyed the amazing lunch prepared by the hotel department, we peered through The Restaurant windows as we sailed back through Neptune’s Bellows. In the end, some 20-25 guests had joined the Antarctic swim team and all enjoyed their time at Deception Island.

After lunch, some of us tried to brave the wind and rain on the outer decks before retreating to the bridge, which had been opened to guests for the afternoon. During our time we spotted Black-bellied storm petrels, Southern Fulmars, Wilson’s storm petrels, a couple of Black-browed Albatross and an Antarctic Petrel.  We had been hoping for cetaceans but were unable to spot any.  Fingers crossed for tomorrow!

This however, was not the end of our day.  At 1730 we were all invited into The Theatre for a surprise lecture from one of our guests.  Mr. O’Handley, who has worked with NASA for most of his career on the Mars program, had prepared a lecture entitled “Mars and Antarctica”.  He would explain the role of Antarctica and the dry valleys in preparation for the space program’s future plans for a mission to Mars.  He walked us through from the beginnings of life on Earth, through to the discoveries of man.  At only 45 minutes in length, I truly believe that we all were so enthralled with Mr. O’Handley’s talk, we could have continued to listen for hours.  When asked if there were any questions hands were raised by the dozens; this too could have gone in for hours!

Shortly after his talk, we all gathered again in The Theatre for our briefing on tomorrow’s events.  Robin asked, if we wanted the good news or the bad news.  The news in general was that our day was to begin with standby for staff at 0230 and disembarkation for guests at 0330… I think this means it’s time for bed!!!!