Day 8 – Saturday, February 5,2005 - Travel to Deception Island
The early morning cruise brought us along the volcanic South Shetland islands where we were treated with an early morning rainbow. As we passed through the waterways of the Antarctic Peninsula we were treated to more stunning pristine views and then I got to see my first humpbacked whale. Later in the morning we reached our destination of Deception Island.
Deception Island is an island in the South Shetlands off the Antarctic Peninsula. Deception Island was historically a refuge from the storms and icebergs of Antarctica. Deception Island's collapsed volcano provides ships one of the safest harbors in Antarctica. The recently active volcano erupted in 1969 and caused serious damage to the local scientific stations. The remnants of the eruption were obvious on the blackened ice and black streak snow.
The deception of this island was that the bay has a narrow entrance, about 250 meters wide, called Neptune's Bellows because of the fierce winds in the channel. Added to that hazard was Ravn Rock, a large submerged, hull piercing, rock which lies 2.5 m below the water in the middle of the channel. Just inside Neptune's Bellows lies the placid cove of Whalers Bay which is surrounded by a large black volcanic sand beach.
As we slowly entered Whalers Bay through Neptune's Bellows the damage of this active volcano becomes apparent as the only remaining signs of the whaling station are the rusting boilers and tanks.The station would take the whale carcasses and boil them down to extract whale oil using large iron boilers and then storing the results in iron tanks. It was abandoned in 1931 and much of it was buried during the 1969 volcano eruption. Once anchored in the bay we travelled ashore in the inflatable Zodiac boats. The landscape is moon or mars like and consists of barren volcanic slopes, ash-layered glaciers and beaches that steam as the fumaroles let the hot water from below escape. This large flooded caldera is now home to several colonies of chinstrap penguins and is known for being able to take the polar plunge and then escape the chill by making a warm bath by digging into the black sand of the beach. To this day it is still classified as a restless caldera with a significant volcanic risk.
I hiked along the black sand beach reflecting upon the lives that once were here in this land of solitude. Over forty of them had been buried here, not once, but twice, after the volcano re-buried them. I passed by an abandoned, wooden whaleboat where a weddels seal was lounging under its shade. The dories were left here in the early 1900's by the whalers along with what remained of the old whaling station itself. Walking past the rusting iron boilers and whale bones on the beach made me think what a great setting this site would be for a movie about what it would be like after a nuclear war. Then two crosses marked gravesites near the station suggested I wasn't far off base...
After returning to the luxurious confines of Le Diamant one couldn't help but reflect how hard their lives must have been. As we are leaving, another ship is about to enter the safe harbor so we sail past the bellows and back out to sea. We began to pass huge tabular icebergs several the size of football fields and reaching several stories high. Other icebergs were nothing short of finely carved pieces of art. Later that evening, a violent storm was brewing up and the pressure was dropping quickly. I went up to the bridge and was told by the captain that we were about to make a hasty departure due to the approaching storm, a nasty polar low that may or may not hit us in transit. He said if we didn't leave now and were a bit unlucky that we would be experience all the drake passage has to offer in 60 foot plus seas. The "motion sickness" bags once again appeared on the handrails through out the ship...
NOTE: The volcano on Deception is one of 35 and erupts about once every 35 years with its last eruption a minor one in 1989.