Day 9 |
Feb 06, 2009

Deception Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

By Peter Damisch

Noon Position: 62° 58''S, 060° 30'W

Weather: Superb with calm seas and overcast but great horizontal visibility allowing us to sight the Antarctic Continent! Air temperature + 6o C (43o F), and wind speed Nautical Miles / hour

We had another fabulous day in the Antarctic! Over the past two days we have slowly been making our way north along the western edge of the mountainous Antarctic Peninsula, gliding through waters strewn with icebergs in brilliant sunshine whose light changes from moment to moment. To the east on the continent we can often observe huge glaciers tumbling down into the sea, illuminated by the sun and transformed into a golden hue of colors. To the west we frequently see a wide archipelago of islands, including Anvers, Brabant and the South Shetland Islands.

This morning we arrived early at the entrance of an enormous, dormant volcano that forms Deception Island. The 'deception' is that if you know the secret, there is a narrow entrance that is just large enough for the Prince Albert II to safely enter into the seawater-flooded inner volcanic caldera. The entry always presents a stupendous view as our ship's Captain with more than 30 years experience skillfully negotiates 'Neptune's Bellows', so called because the wind sometimes whistles through the opening as if the Gods of the Sea are breathing in and out.

Once inside these sheltered waters we turn right into Whaler's Bay which has both a fascinating geological record as well as a great historical background. Early in the 20th Century, whaler's unfortunately utilized this location for processing those magnificent animals. In mid Century, research stations began to convert the island's use from commerce to science. However, during 1967 - 1970, a series of volcanic eruptions created vast lahars or mud slides which destroyed much of the whaling buildings as well as the research stations. We took the opportunity to hike up to "Neptune's Window", an overlook which Nathaniel Palmer first observed the Antarctic Continent in 1820, then walked along a volcanic beach with dark beach sand still slightly warm from residual heat. Fresh snow, a few penguins, nesting kelp gulls and a couple of fur seals helped to welcome us to this tremendous location that offers so much grandeur. Our journey ended at the remains of the human buildings partially destroyed in 1970. The combination of dramatic scenery, wildlife, and historical artifacts combined to yield an inspiring spectacle for the day.

In addition and by tradition, we were also inspired by those hardy souls who stripped off their otherwise warm Antarctic clothing and dove into the freezing waters to initiate themselves into one of the more exclusive clubs in the world; those intrepid explorers who have become members of the 'Polar Plunge Club'. Wet but happy bathers with perhaps only a small touch of temporary insanity, were instantly cured by a waiting towel, a fast Zodiac ride back to the ship and hot bouillon waiting to warm both the heart as well as the soul.

Taking advantage of the excellent weather, the Expedition Leader and Captain came up with a tremendous, last minute surprise: a special landing at Bailey Head on the outer shores of Deception Landing. This treat is only very rarely accomplished due to the need for a precise combination of perfect weather, relatively smooth ocean and a very experienced Expedition Team. The hard work was amply rewarded by the opportunity to view one of the largest Chinstrap Penguin colonies in the South Shetland Islands off the Antarctic Peninsula. These beautiful creatures are specifically noted by a thin black band under their neck. We spent quite some time observing their 'penguin highways' as they commuted between colony and beach before departing to gather food for themselves as well as their offspring who were just molting from down-covered chicks to feathered adults. The dark black volcanic sand made a striking contrast to the snow as we listened to a penguin serenade yielding a cacophony of sounds ranging from cries between parent and chick to warnings against brown skuas circling the group looking for their next meal. Some of us also speculated that their sounds were simply ones of joy stemming from their ability to live in this most beautiful and pristine environment. We also kept out a keen eye for Antarctic Fur Seals lounging on shore and who alternated between simply sleeping on the beach to sparring for dominance.

Following one final exciting Zodiac ride back to our warm and welcome home on the Prince Albert II, we enjoyed another fabulous lunch by the expert culinary team as we regretfully watched Antarctica slip over the horizon on our last day at this wonderful continent. As usual during this voyage, we also had additional sightings of the almost obligatory 'lunch whales', actually Humpbacks, who seem to know just when meals are served on board.

After lunch and having completed a perfect record of making every planned landing plus a bonus afternoon upon arrival and surprise special landing today, the Expedition Leader humorously declared a 'mandatory afternoon nap' after accomplishing two unique landings earlier in the day. However, most people stayed up in excitement to share the wonderful memories of the voyage with others in the Panorama Lounge or on the Observation Deck.

Later in the afternoon, people crowded into a highly anticipated Historical Presentation titled "Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer". This extensive but humorous lecture was filled with numerous contemporaneous photographs along with many personal vignettes, which provided a true insight into one of the great leaders and inspiring figures from the Golden Age of Antarctic Exploration. Shackleton's successful leadership style and perfect record of bringing back alive all members of each expedition is still studied by business managers on a worldwide basis.

During our daily recap, our Expedition Leader and highly experienced team reviewed just some of the marvels that we had had the privilege to witness today along with answering questions and laying out our plans for tomorrow during our transit across the famous Drake Passage.

Finally we relaxed with a six-star dinner, reminiscing with new-found friends about our many adventures before retiring to dream about the many special sights and sounds experienced during our expedition to planet Earth's greatest wilderness and wildlife area.