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Day 15 - December 9, 2011 - Half Moon Island and Whalers Bay, Deception Island, South Shetlands, Antarctica 

By Luciano Bernacchi - Naturalist, Birder, Glacier Guide

Co-ordinates: 62,36S 59,55W
Weather: Overcast, foggy, at times partially cloudy
Air Temperature: 2ºC
Pressure: 1004 hPa

Our last day of landing for this magnificent voyage. After a great day yesterday in the area of Cuverville and Neko, today we planned two landing further north of the peninsula in the Shetland Islands.

After breakfast, we got the boats ready, and operations began with landing our guests on Half Moon Island. After shuttling guest to shore, I jumped on land and enjoyed walking in amongst the chinstrap penguin rookeries. Luckily at mid-morning the clouds lifted a bit, and we could see the heavily glaciated peaks of neighbouring Livingston Island.

I spent some time with the guests watching the movements of the chinstraps that were very busy sitting on eggs, plus the usual coming and going to sea, pairs changing duties, the eternal arguments with their neighbours, and the pecking at any hovering skuas. They are always patrolling from the air and on the lookout for unattended eggs or chicks. Also by the landing site there was an elephant seal, and a few Weddel seals; it was a good opportunity for all to have closer looks at these Antarctic pinnipeds.

I kept driving Zodiacs for the morning, and at around midday we were ready to reposition to Deception Island.

Recap & Briefing was after lunch, just before entering the narrow entrance to Deception Island known as Neptune’s Bellows. Expedition Leader Robin West gave some information about our afternoon landing, and together with my Expedition Staff colleagues, we talked about various topics related to the past days’ activities and sights.

The Silver Explorer continued to enter the volcanic island of Deception, and I was exited to find quite a lot of sea ice, with big floes blocking the entrance. Almost all guests were either out on Deck 6, on the Bridge or looking from their verandas, as the Captain pushed through a year of sea ice. (Some parts were around 50 cm thick!) Most of the ice was pushed by wind and tide to the Bellows, so the actual anchoring position and landing around Whalers Bay was free of ice.

Together with some guests, we looked carefully as a sailboat was coming in behind us, taking advantage of the lead created as the Silver Explorer pushed through the ice and broke some floes. The yacht had to manoeuvre very slowly, one of the sailors was perched on the mast for a higher looking position, and slowly they managed to negotiate the passage and finally anchor near us.

Disembarkation was swift; this time my job was to lead a walk up Ronald Hill, past the whaling station. After most guests were ashore, many left for the walk through the beach toward Neptune’s Windows, which offers a view to the outside of the Caldera and into the open ocean. Others joined me on the hill for a short but steep climb up a moraine ridge. The weather was not too good, and on occasion we were inside a cloud in a complete white-out. Once on the summit I asked guests to wait a few minutes, and the fog cleared so we could see the Silver Explorer in its anchor position within the inner bay called Port Foster, the Whaling Station from above, and the surrounding cinder-and-debris-covered glaciers.

I made my way back to the landing site, and slowly guests were gathering there, some were getting ready for their Polar Plunge!! We had arranged towels, so after a quick, freezing plunge in the cold water guests could change and dry. More than 15 brave swimmers ran along the black sand beach of Deception Island and into the icy waters!

Overall it had been an amazing trip in the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. We are nearing the end of our journey today with this last landing. Guests seem very happy with their voyage, as we had a lot of landings and activities on board Silver Explorer.

Kara, one of the Expedition Team biologists, and I joined a couple from the UK for dinner in The Restaurant and we had a lively chat about this trip and various other subjects. Tomorrow we start two days across the Drake Passage en route to Ushuaia, and the weather forecast seems pretty good. What else can we ask for?

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