Deception Island – Nature’s Wrath

16th January 2019

It was an early start this morning, for the first time on this trip, I really didn’t mind. Deception Island. We’re actually going to disembark on Deception Island.

The captain had navigated the ship through Neptune’s bellows, the island’s gates in the early hours of the morning. Deception Island is a caldera, not unlike the caldera of the Greek island of Santorini. The volcano here, though is still quite active and completely submerged.

We disembarked at 6:40am and came ashore on the black sand. The first thing that was apparent was that the beach was literally steaming. The water in Whalers Bay, due to the submerged volcanic vents was a pleasant 20 degrees, while the exterior air temperature was 0. For the first time in Antarctica, I put my hands in the water, there was certainly no need for gloves here. I would have actually liked a swim. The sun was shining, the sky was clear blue and cloudless, and it didn’t really seem that cold.

Whaler’s Bay takes its name from the large amount of commercial whaling undertaken here by the Norwegian’s. The facility was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1965, it was like nature was telling man “No!” We didn’t get the message and in 1967 there was another eruption that put an end to Deception Island’s use as a whaling station for good.

It was a lovely big area to explore, so everyone fanned out away from each other and for the first time we could really hear the deafening silence and feel the total desolation of this last wilderness.

We walked along the beach through the steam rising from the shore and ocean and explored the huts left by the whalers. There were a few graves of men who had died due to the limited medical care available. What a place to spend your final days. As we walked along the beach, we saw a few chin strap penguins walking along in front of us with their feet in the water, then an Antarctic Tern. I’d really been wondering if some of these animals feel cold at all. I think I got my answer, they certainly seemed to be enjoying the warmer water on their frozen little feet.

Antarctic Tern - Deception Island
Artic tern paddling in the warm water

After about two hours, (could really have used more time, I would have happily spent the day here) we reboarded L’Austral and watched the captain renegotiate Neptune’s Bellows to get to the exterior of the island. Navigating Neptune’s Bellows in no mean feat, especially in a ship of our size. The gap is only 240 metres and there is a large rocky outcrop in the centre which could easily puncture the hull. We slowly passed through the island’s gate and everyone onboard applauded.

In the afternoon there was another zodiac cruise around the outside of the island. It was rather rough which meant a few less people in the craft. We really had to hang on and almost immediately a big wave climbed over the front of the zodiac and hit Darren (who was on the front) right in the face. Lucky for all of us, everything we had on was completely waterproof, so laughs all round.

We skidded around the outside of the island, which was made up of jagged rocks, two pillars of rock jutted out of the ocean near the gate to the interior. We passed between the two of them, it was really rough, and we were tossed around like we were in a giant washing machine.

We skirted around the edge of the island, the rocky peaks were covered in penguins, and seals lounged lazily on the beach. We shakily reboarded the ship, tired and windswept. It was amazing how much our short sail in the rough sea had taken out of us.

Our next stop was Robert Point on Robert Island, for the last landing. It didn’t seem to be anything special and we felt the crew were just trying to make up for a missed outing yesterday. Which really wasn’t necessary, we had enjoyed our adventure in the Weddell Sea and snowball fight on deck surrounded by ice floes. We decided to give this one a miss and just enjoy the ship.

Exhausted, we had dinner in our cabin and got some rest in preparation to recross the Drake Passage, which we will begin this evening by crossing the Antarctic convergence. As much as I’ve enjoyed this amazing adventure, I really wish we could skip over this part. I don’t want to be seasick again, and the crossing over was one of the only times I’ve been frightened during 13 years of hardcore traveling. The Yeti also seems to be most active during rough seas.

Deception Island Ruins
Ruins of the whaling station on Deception Island

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