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Day 9 - January 15, 2010 - Deception Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

By Peter W. Damisch, Historian, General Naturalist & Cartographer

Coordinates: 62° 57' S, 060° 38’ W
Weather: Overcast turning to partly sunny in late morning
Air Temperature: + 0o C  ( 32o F )
Sea Temperature: -  2o C  ( 30o F )
Pressure: 978 Hpa
Wind: 35 Km/hour

As usual I set my alarm to awaken well before the Prince Albert II’s dramatic entrance into the flooded volcanic caldera of Deception Island through a gap appropriately called “Neptune’s Bellows”. Yes, it is a continuing amazement that we can actually sail the ship into the crater of a volcano that was active as recently as 1969! Of course, it does take a bit of skill, but that we have in abundance with our Captain and bridge team.

The Island had a light dusting of snow across the peaks, partially held over from winter and partly from the snowstorm that we had last night. Fortunately there were only a few snow flurries as we started our landing. The clouds slowly cleared away until the sun was peaking through at midday and we then had the good fortune to enjoy full sun by the afternoon.

The Zodiac ride into the beach was quite smooth due to the protected nature of the harbor, which had been utilized in historic times by sealers of all nations in the 1820s and whalers throughout the first half of the 20th century. In fact our landing site was located next to the remains of a floating dock previously utilized by the whaling station and we could also see “Neptune’s Window”, a nearby cutout in the rim of the caldera. It was from this location that Nathaniel Palmer first sighted the Antarctic Continent in November 1820, which was about 9 months after the Continent was first observed by Bellingshausen as well as Bransfield within only 3 days of each other.

Our ‘welcoming party’ was a small group of chinstrap penguins who evidently wandered over from their colony location at Bailey Head on the outside shores of Deception Island. I gave a brief overview regarding the history of the station in addition to reviewing the feeding habits of penguins. I also pointed out the nearby sites of nesting kelp gulls and skuas, some amongst the wreckage of the whaling and research station, which was destroyed by the volcanic eruptions from just over 40 years ago.

In addition to the geology, historical and ornithological aspects of this great location, our Expedition Leader offered a hike to the top of Ronald Hill, which provided a spectacular 360-degree view of the surrounding area and nearby freshwater Kroner Lake. I also had the wonderful opportunity to discuss skua predator behavior as well guiding guests around the remains of the station, including a hangar that was the site of the first aircraft flight in Antarctic, which occurred in 1928.

All too soon I found myself walking back to our landing site where a small ‘hot tub’ had been dug in the warm, volcanic sand to provide some relief to those brave and hardy individuals who stripped down to their bathing suits and ran forward to participate in the “Polar Plunge”. This essentially consists of running quickly into the freezing water, diving under the sea, then running out, often with a scream of delight (or was that cold shock?) into a relatively warm pool of water while simultaneously being photographed like film stars and cheered on by fellow shipmates. As always, the whole ceremony was great fun for all and I never get tired of the enthusiasm and excitement of all the participants and on-lookers.

In the afternoon, the Prince Albert II repositioned the ship to Telefon Bay, a location of unique geological qualities. I was delighted to be able to lead a long hike up to rim of one volcanic crater where David, our resident Geologist, gave an excellent overview regarding the formation of the area as well as the eruptive history of the island. Along the way I was able to point out both volcanic and composite rock formations along with discussing the impact of steam eruptions leading to the formation of local rock scoria. Our hike then briefly descended to a small valley before climbing again to the high rim of another ridge of volcanic debris. From this high location we had an outstanding view of the surrounding area, including high mountains studded with small ice formations and glacial melt lakes at the bottom of other craters. We could also look down on our lovely ship, the Prince Albert II, resting peacefully at anchor inside the gigantic volcanic caldera named Port Foster after an early British explorer in the area.

After doing the hard work of climbing up to the vantage point high above the surrounding terrain, our group was able to easily make our way down towards the beach area where high ice formations and more Chinstrap Penguins could be observed along the water’s edge. I took a moment to sit on a small ice shelf and plant my feet on the black sand beach and simply admire the view across the sunny waters. It was an absolutely stunning and a great day to celebrate our visit to the Antarctic.

Unfortunately and all too soon it was time for all of us to “put our toys away” and go home to our warm and cozy ship. Yet I also had the small sense of disappointment that I had as a child when coming home from playing outside on this, our last day in the Antarctic.

I returned back to the ship just before departure and once again had the chance to observe our passage out of Deception Island en route the famous Drake Passage and eventually towards Ushuaia after completing a most memorable voyage to the South.

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