Day 9 |
Dec 30, 2008

Deception Island – Whaler’s Bay and Baily’s Head

By Juan Carlos Restrepo

Noon position: Latitude 62º 57.644’ S, Longitude 060º 30.126’ W

Incredibly enough, the weather was still great today. It is very rare in this part of the world to have as many consecutive days of good weather as we have had during this voyage. Blue skies with calm winds and seas have been the norm for this trip. We had an early start today; some of us woke up at 4 a.m. to see the entrance to Deception Island through Neptune’s Bellows. It was quite dramatic and well worth getting up that early.

Deception Island is a unique place in the sense that we sail into an active volcano. The 10km-wide volcanic caldera produced by a cataclysmic eruption that occurred 10,000 years ago was flooded by the sea after the caldera’s rim was eroded on its southern side. The inside lagoon, known as Port Foster, was used as a whaling station in the early 1900s, and at this specific site we can see many remains from that era.

Disembarkation at Whaler’s Bay started at 5:30 a.m. Conditions were mild and calm; the temperature went from +1ºC at 5 a.m. to a nice +5ºC at noon. Once ashore, we had the chance to walk around and see the remains of the whaling station, as well as the semi-destroyed buildings of a British research station. A series of volcanic eruptions in the late 1960s and early 1970s practically destroyed both a British and a Chilean base.

A guided walk to Neptune’s Window was also offered and most of us took part in it. As we walked along the beach, we saw a water boat, piles of whalebone and many wooden barrels used to store the whale oil. Up at “Neptune’s Window” we enjoyed the views across the Bransfield Strait. The air here is so clean that we could clearly see in the distance the Antarctic Peninsula, which was 110 km away!

On the way back, some brave souls went for the traditional “Polar Plunge”, in the sometimes hot (not this time) waters of Deception Island. The water temperature was +1ºC (34 F). After this refreshing dip, they all went back to the ship for a hot shower and breakfast.

We left Port Foster and were sailing around the outer side of the island towards our next destination, when we encountered some humpback whales very near to the ship. Shortly thereafter, we arrived at Baily’s Head, home to the largest colony of Chinstrap Penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula, with about 100.000 pairs. Conditions at the landing site were a bit hard with some swells coming in, so the Expedition Team, with the help of a few sailors, organized stern landings so we could make landfall, and everybody did. The penguin colony was indeed spectacular in its numbers. Thousands of penguins coming in and out of the water and commuting back and forth to and from their nests were an overwhelming sight. On the way back to the ship, we saw again some humpback whales.

After lunch, most people enjoyed a good nap, and at 5 p.m. Juan Carlos Restrepo, the onboard geologist, presented his lecture “Earth, What Lies Below...” an introduction to some basic concepts of geology which lead to the geological evolution of the Antarctic continent. At 6:30 p.m. there was a recap and briefing followed by dinner. A quiet night at the Drake Passage was the prelude to a calm crossing. So far...