Day 5 |
Dec 14, 2009

Deception Island

By Luciano "Luqui" Bernacchi, Ornithologist and Glacier Guide

Co-ordinates: 62º58.9S, 60º33.87W

Weather: Overcast, with variable wind, foggy in the afternoon

Today was spent entirely at Deception Island. I have come to this island several times in the past years, and I feel a visit to Deception Island is always one of the highlights of any Antarctic voyage. The place is quite unlike any other part of Antarctica.

The excitement actually had begun the previous evening at recap when Expedition Leader Conrad Combrink briefed our guests about the island, and our plans for the following day.

At about half past six, the Prince Albert II was entering the feared Neptune’s Bellows, a narrow gap of 230 meters, which acts as entrance and exit to Port Foster. It is the only way to navigate towards the interior of this Volcanic Island. Every Captain and sailor in the area has heard about Ravn Rock, a rock that lies at only a shallow 2.5 meters below surface. It takes skilled sailors to safely negotiate this passage.

I went on deck before breakfast for a quick look around and found some guests, cameras in hand, shooting the nearby cliffs where Cape Petrels abound as the vessel made its way into Whaler’s Bay, our first landing of the day.

At around 0700 AM, the anchor was down, the Expedition Team ready, and guests eager to go to shore at Deception Island. I drove one our Zodiacs; this time it was the “Amundsen” named after the famous Norwegian Explorer who conquered the South Pole.

During the Zodiac operation the wind picked up quite a bit, but still all went well, only some sea-spray, which is always present at some stage in these latitudes. The tender was short and quite soon, half of the guests where walking along the black beaches of the island.

While the first guests went on short reconnoitre-walks amongst the relics of a whaling station, Victoria Salem from the Expedition Staff Team gave them all a history of the whaling station and the bygone days of whaling.

I kept driving my Zodiac for a while between the ship and the landing site until I stepped ashore to assemble a group and start a hike towards Ronald Hill. I led the hike towards the old hangar, where there used to be a small plane used for exploration. The group followed steadily and even the strong gusts of wind did not deter most of the walkers. 25 minutes after starting we reached the small summit of Ronald Hill. The peak offered wonderful views of Whaler’s Bay and most of Port Foster.

At the top, as I enjoyed the view, I found myself trying to picture the days when hardy men lived there, far away from their homes and families, enduring the harshness of the southern oceans and the weather. Luckily, today most of the whaling is over, but it is an important part of the history of these southern latitudes.

By the time I started heading down, I could see through my binoculars that the Expedition Staff and some guests were getting ready for the unique “Antarctic Plunge”. 

The not-so-glamorous Antarctic swimming (or plunge) consists of stripping to swimming costumes, getting into the hot springs right next to the shore line, and running into the frigid waters of the Southern Atlantic, only to rush back into the warmth of the island’s sulfur hot springs.

The Antarctic Plunge was a real success, with both staff and guests enjoying the invigorating waters. I jumped into my Zodiac once again and, together with the rest of the Expedition Staff, took the swimmers rapidly back to the ship.

Captain Peter heaved anchor and we were soon moving towards our afternoon landing deeper inside Port Foster at Telefon Bay.

I relaxed awhile during lunchtime at The Restaurant and shared the morning’s events with guests. Soon after lunch, the Expedition Team was ready once again for another landing. This time I did not drive Zodiacs, but instead focused on a longer loop-hike to see several craters.

I started the hike across some slushy snow heading to the glacier with stagnant ice in the heights. The walk in this lunar landscape is always fascinating, and the fact the fog was coming in rapidly made it even more interesting, creating an eerie atmosphere. Several groups followed the hike, and I talked with my colleague naturalists via VHF Radio to check on their progress since the clouds had covered us completely. We gathered on a small summit were a cairn and a wooden peg marks the site. I could hear in the radio the various communications with the ship, but could not see it; the fog was very dense. Soon after we began our descent the clouds cleared to give us yet another amazing view of the island and the Prince Albert II anchored a short distance away from shore.

The Zodiac operation ran smoothly and after the “all aboard” we sailed further south to be in Paradise Harbour next day. Many guests attended the lecture given by Marylou about krill. She talked about the importance of krill since it is the basis of the Antarctic food web.

As usual, before dinner we had the next day’s Briefing & Recap. We all agreed that this had been yet another spectacular day in Antarctica.