Part II: Deception Island and Elephant Island
From the Antarctic Peninsula we cross The Bransfield Straits again and back to the southern end of the South Shetland Islands. It was a fairly calm crossing and we arrive in the early morning at Deception island.
We anchored at Baily Head on the outside of the caldera, and went for a Zodiac cruise. The surf is too rough to come ashore here so we cruised by the beach checking out chinstrap penguins, fur seals and elephant seals. The penguins are amazing, they walk so far up into the hills! Its foggy & overcast which makes for very dramatic skies and interesting light. Its also very cold so we didn’t stay out for too long, but the rock formations are quite spectacular.
Mid-morning our ship went in through the narrow entrance of the caldera and into Deception island at Neptunes Bellows. We seemed to be very close on the starboard side but we were up on the bridge and Captain Alexi seemed to have things under control! The opening is fairly narrow but the bay is surprisingly large, and voila! we are inside the volcano crater! There is a lighthouse on the port side, first one we have seen so far. It's calm inside but an icy wind blowing gusting up to 10-12kts.
Once inside we take a zodiac trip ashore and walk across the "beach" area and up to the edge of a volcano crater. We wind our way around and down the other side. While it looks like black rock it is actually a glacier covered with black volcanic ash. Quite a spectacular outlook and nowhere near as cold as Etna. There are only a few Gentoo penguins on the beach but I seem to have managed a photo of each of them.
On the way out of the caldera we cruise past the aptly named Whaler’s Bay for a closer look at the old whaling station.
See pictures below:
We head off into the night to cross to Elephant Island (700nm @ 061 South and into Drake Passage). The island is famous as the temporary home to Sir Ernest Shackleton's crew, after their ship was famously lost to the pack-ice in the Weddell Sea at the start of their failed Trans Antarctic expedition. Their story of survival is an incredible one about which much has been written from many perspectives. I enjoyed reading about it and was very much looking forward to seeing this place - it is every bit as desolate as described. The lesser known story of the Ross Sea Party, known as The Lost Men is also worth reading about. This party was meant to lay supplies on the other side of the continent for Shackleton's party to pick up after they crossed the polar region, but of course Shackleton never made it, and the supplies are probably still there!
We had reasonable seas overnight and came along the south coast of Elephant island early in the morning. We rounded Cape Valentine which is where Shackelton's party first tried to set up camp, however the campsite was continually flooding so they had to look for an alternative. We continued along the north coast to Point Wild (named after Frank Wild, Shackelton's 2 IC on this expedition, and a veteran of Scott's and Mawson's Antarctic expedition parties). It is hard to believe that this spot was the best they could find to host all those men for 4 months over winter (April to August). They lived in makeshift camps using the upturned lifeboats to make huts. And that they survived on a diet of penguins and the odd seal! Makes our current isolation seem luxurious!
Above: Into the brash ice
Our ship anchored in the bay, it was quite rolly but apparently these are pretty good conditions for here. Only 30% of trips get to do a zodiac cruise and even less can actually land. In any case the ledge that the camp occupied has long since collapsed into the sea.
The backdrop to this bay is a high and spectacular glacier, although sadly it has receded significantly in recent years. While we are here it is actively calving large chunks of ice into the water, and the bay is quickly filled with brash ice, making the zodiac cruise interesting. It was definitely bouncy getting on and off the Zodiac, which is apparently good practice for South Georgia... We cruised around the eastern side of the landing area first. There we saw one Leopard seal eating a penguin and another toying with one who seemed to be playing dead. A gruesome sight but everyone has to eat! There is no shortage of chinstrap penguins here and they seem to love to climb to the highest clifftops. The Leopard seal started chasing our boat which was concerning as they have been known to take a bite!
Near the campsite there is a bust of Pardot, the skipper of the Yelcho that rescued Shakleton’s men. Went around the other side of the spit but could not get so close due to the brash from the ice and swell.
Someone's following us...
Stay tuned for the final instalment, its a big one! South Georgia!
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.