Deception Island, Antarctica, posted on Thursday, November 15, 2007
We had 3 “landings” on Deception Island (on Tuesday, November 13)…and oh what landings!
First of all-Deception Island is a C-shaped island and, it is a volcano. The “harbor” in the middle is actually the caldera.
We landed first on the outside of the C. The beach, called Bailey Head, has a notoriously tough-“wet”-landing. The sea swells and washes the Zodiacs up too fast, sometimes rolling them over. Our landing was calm–mostly because they urged us to be quick and jump out. We hiked up a snowy hill between dark charcoal mountain crags and deep snowy banks. Chinstrap penguins everywhere…walking in lines–black backs on one side going, white bellies on the other side coming…and that lovely little shuffle, flippers out and to the back. Great photo opportunities up at the top of the hill and we had time to sit and soak it all in. Sunny skies again, but with a deep blue front rolling in.
Next, we headed inside the island’s C. To get into the caldera harbor, you pass through Neptune’s Bellows…a windy, rocky, narrow pass where the volcano erupted and collapsed on one side. The Captain said a tour ship grounded there last summer and another tour company took on the passengers and had to return immediately to South America…ruining the trip for both ships. We had better luck–likely a more skilled captain!
Once inside the passage, we got a look at the deserted whaling station…and a lot of sea ice in pancake-like chunks floating against the shore line. The captain plowed through the ice slowly…trying to figure out how to get us close enough to launch Zodiacs. His creative solution was to drop anchor in the middle of the bay and literally drive the ship up on the black sand beach. Then he ruddered the ship from side-to-side in order to clear the floating ice away from the ship…again in hopes of getting the Zodiacs out safely. He stood on the outside of the bridge and talked into his walkie-talkie to the zodiac drivers in the back and below. He was confident and capable, joking with the crew and passengers. After a few minutes of this, he decided it still wasn’t safe and we began pulling out. Honestly though, I don’t think anyone was disappointed…most people were standing on deck delighting in the moment of feeling the hull run up on sand! Oh yeah…the anchor pulled us out!
Next, he steamed for the cove where volcanic run-off makes the water warm enough to swim. Again, “fast” ice around the cove. He motored into it doing 10 knots. We stopped cold…and the ice did not crack. People came running onto the bow to see the V-shaped indention in the ice as he backed the ship up. Swimming opportunities began to look bleak. But a few minutes later, Captain ran us into more pack ice…but at a different angle. And now, the Zodiac door opened straight down onto the ice. We simply walked off the ship onto the frozen fast ice of the cove. It was the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever seen! A ship about 300 feet long, pulled into the ice, a tow rope draping down from the bow on the ice, and people streaming out of the side door onto the ice. Giddy. Sheer giddiness. I laughed out loud and ran around like a kid–snapping pictures. Stunning! People played soccer on the ice, others posed for a photo on the tow line-as if heaving the Endeavor out of pack ice.
We walked across the frozen harbor, over the surf at the beginning of the black sand beach, around the curved beach and over to the steamy area near the back of the cove. Bryan and about 20 others stripped down and jumped in to the steamy surf. Bath water temperature for only about the first 3 feet, then a steep drop in depth and temperature. Bryan earned his Polar Swim award!
Bryan’s Antarctic “Swim” Video link to Bryan’s Pendulum Cove swimming…in the warm thermal run-off from the island’s volcano. 25 degrees, 10 with windchill. But warm like bathwater for the first 3 feet!
It was a fantastic day. At the evening “recap” before dinner, everyone applauded the Captain…his expertise made our day! And he looked nearly as giddy as we did…having had a day of playing with his boat!
Each day just gets better than the last!
It’s Thurs. 11.15 11 p.m. right now…not dark outside. Very rough seas right now. We’ve been in high mountain areas and internet access is dodgy. Stay tuned!