Day 14 |
Jan 03, 2010

Deception Island, South Shetland Island, Antarftica

By Peter W. Damisch, Historian & General Naturalist

Coordinates: 62° 57' S, 060° 38’ W

Weather: Sunny with a few white clouds and very calm sea

Air Temperature: +0o C (32o F)

Sea Temperature: -2o C (30o F)

Pressure: 989 Hpa

Wind: 20 Km / hour from Southwest

I woke up to a beautifully clear sunny morning with exceptionally calm seas, then wandered up to the Bridge to check on ship status, position and possible weather forecast. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Expedition Leader and Ship’s Captain had decided to take advantage of the flat ocean water with no waves or swell to completely rearrange our day’s plan in order to make an extra landing at Bailey Head, Deception Island. This is an unbelievable treat! Due to the normal difficulty of landing, this is a very, very rare occurrence. In fact, I have only been able to land there on only a few prior occasions and some of the expedition staff had not landed there for many years.

Announcements were made to alert the guests and Expedition Team of our great luck. I rushed down to change into our ‘play clothes’ with many layers of hats, jackets, boots and gloves, etc. Just 20 minutes later all of the Expedition Team was ready to go and I found myself working to get the Zodiacs in operation so we could get everyone ashore before the weather changed.

The view at the landing site was spectacular. To the left of the beach is a large rock outcropping and further down the coast I could see a brilliant white chunk of ice, which made for a lovely contrast to the dark, black volcanic sand. There were numerous Chinstrap Penguins walking to and from the ocean and their nesting areas along ‘penguin highways’. Apparently they must recall the British historical heritage of Deception Island as the penguin highways seemed to funnel all penguin traffic through the use of ‘left-hand driving’.

Everyone had the chance to go ashore and enjoy this outstandingly rare, surprise extra on the voyage. In other words, we were able to accomplish not only this landing but also still complete our planned landings at Telefon Bay and Whaler’s Cove as well with only a slight adjustment in and extension of shore times.

As soon as I arrived back on board, the only thing to do was to immediately go up to the outside observation deck to watch the Prince Albert II’s entry to Deception Island. Yes, the ship sails right through ‘Neptune’s Bellows’ into the actual caldera of the dormant volcano, and is always an amazing experience for me! Fortunately there hasn’t been any serious volcanic activity for over 50 years and thus we are still quite safe.

After such an early start, a delicious lunch beckoned to me before our next destination at Telfon Bay. No, this isn’t named after the instrument on your desk but rather a ship that was abandoned in the South Shetland Islands, then salvaged and repaired here at Deception Island in 1909. This time our landing was a bit easier on a nice level, sandy area. Upon departure from the Zodiac, I found a small, complete krill on the beach and was able to display it in my glove for the guests. Krill is a small shrimp-like crustacean that is the foundation of the Antarctic food chain. It is rare for any food to remain in the open for long given all of the birds hovering nearby and I felt quite lucky to have this opportunity to view the full creature and not just the shell.

My responsibilities at this time included providing assistance at the landing site while other Expedition Staff escorted guests on a geological hike to observe one of the smaller volcanic craters. Yes, I did not get a chance to hike this time but one of the beauties of Antarctic travel is that there is always opportunity for wonder and awe around every corner. In this case, four of us were able to sit down on the beach to quietly look out across the blue waters and simply admire the blue skies, volcanic hills and peaceful silence that marks so many beautiful places in this remote and startlingly wonderful ecological preserve.

The hikers soon returned with tales of great views from the top of the crater. Just one thing that I personally enjoy so much about the Antarctic Experience is being demonstrated today by the wonderful combination of unexpected beauty, natural wildlife such as penguins, quiet time, strenuous activity and the chance to learn about so many disciplines from sea life to geology.

Next I’m back on board after having put ‘our toys away’ while the ship moves a relatively short distance to Whaler’s Cove. This was the site of an extensive whaling station and research facilities in the early part of the 20th century. Now I have the chance to discuss historical aspects of Deception Island, just another piece of today’s multi-faceted travel experience.

Here there were multiple options to select from. I assisted in transporting everyone to the beach, starting off with the strenuous hikers who were off to complete a serious climb up past ‘Neptune’s Window’ to the ridge line overlooking both the outer ocean and inner caldera of Deception Island. One guest remarked to me that it was one of the best hikes that she had ever been on. Another group walked off in the opposite direction to climb Ronald Hill, which is a bit less work but still provides and excellent 360-degree view of the volcanic interior of the island. Others took advantage of their time ashore to walk amongst the remains of the whaling station and research facilities. There were so many things to do, it was difficult to decide which one was the best!

Near the end of our time ashore, everyone including myself, collected near the shoreline to watch or participate in the “Polar Plunge”. Yes, we gave people the chance to go slightly insane, strip off all of those layers of clothing down to bathing suits and run, with only a few screams, into the frigid waters of Antarctica. Fortunately I had also helped to prepare by digging a small ‘hot tub’ of water warmed by the volcanic geothermal activity. Thus after guests plunged with the penguins, they were able to run back on the beach to soak in the relatively warm water while being photographed like film stars before a cheering crowd.

I had such a wonderful day from start to finish with a wide range of activities across so many areas. It is quite difficult in a short review such as this to describe what a special time we had at Deception Island before finally heading back to the ship for a warm shower, recap / planning session followed by another excellent 5-star dinner. I went to bed tired but enthusiastic about the events upcoming for tomorrow, including our passage through the Lemaire Channel.