Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Visiting Deception Island

Events of Tuesday, 29th November

Overnight we had headed away from the Antarctic Peninsula to intercept a unique island, Deception Island, which lies south of the main South Shetland Group. Early explorers considered the island ‘normal’. It was only later that a narrow passage (‘Neptune’s Bellows’, around 230m wide) was identified establishing that the island was, in fact, horse-shoe shaped, offering a protected anchorage around 9 km by 6 km within the horse-shoe. The misleading appearance of the island gave rise to the name ‘Deception Island’.

Deception Island: Approaching Neptune's Bellows.

The whole island is an ‘active’ volcano, where an earlier eruption had caused the side of the cone to collapse, allowing the sea to flood the caldera, producing the present arrangement. The island provided a useful refuge to the early sealers and whalers then, in 1906, a base was constructed in Whalers’ Bay, which supported 13 whaling factory ships by 1914. The role of the onshore plant was to boil whale carcasses to extract whale oil but, following the price collapse during the Great Depression, the base was abandoned in 1931, to be later used by the British for a time as a research station.

Whalers’ Bay

We were encouraged to be on deck for around 8.00 a.m. to observe the passage through Neptune’s Bellows. Starting at 9.00 a.m., a wet landing by Zodiac was offered, allowing walking around the extensive, flat area of black 'sand' leading back from the sea. The buildings and equipment in Whalers’ Bay are in derelict condition and a decision has been made not to attempt restoration.

Deception Island: Derelict buildings and equipment in Whalers’ Bay.

I spent my time walking from the landing point to the abandoned aircraft hanger and back, making a photographic survey of the buildings, equipment and wildlife.

Deception Island: The abandoned aircraft hanger, Whalers' Bay.

I didn’t take the guided walk to a viewpoint called Neptune’s Window as I’d done that on my earlier visit to Deception Island in 2008 (described here).

Near the Zodiac landing, steam could be seen rising and, in places, the water and black 'sand' were pleasantly warm, attesting to the ‘active’ nature of the volcanic site (the last eruption was in 1970). However, I declined to take the ‘Polar Plunge’ by swimming in the (hopefully) warm water as I’d done that in 2008, although a number of my fellow guests did accept the challenge.

Deception Island: One guest makes use of his hat when emerging from a 'skinny dip' whilst another takes the 'warm sand treatment'.

After a very enjoyable shore visit, it was back to the ship by Zodiac, in time for lunch in the restaurant. Whilst we enjoyed lunch, the ship re-positioned to Telefon Bay, also within the caldera of Deception Island where we had a final opportunity to go ashore.

Telefon Bay

It was quite cold when we made our landing on a windswept beach of black ‘sand’. A 1 km walk was offered to inspect the crater formed during the 1970 eruption. Most of the route was covered in soft snow which made walking very tiring. I was on the point of turning back when Steffan from the Expedition Team pointed out how close the crater rim was so, after a breather, I persevered and was rewarded with an impressive, if bleak, sight.

Deception Island - View of the crater, Telefon Bay.

Quite a few guests continued on a further 2 km hike which they concluded with a slide down a snow-covered hillside on their way back to the landing point. I decide to retrace my outwards route back to the Zodiac, in the company of quite a few guests.

Deception Island - View of our ship, Telefon Bay.

The wet landing at Telefon Bay was the last trip ashore before we left the South Shetland Islands to cross the Drake Passage to our final destination, Ushuaia in Argentina. However, the weather forecast for the area was not promising, so the Captain decided to move the ship outside the caldera of Deception Island and anchor overnight, hopefully allowing the unfavourable weather system to pass before we attempted our passage.

In the evening I attended the Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party in the theatre followed by the Captain's Farewell Dinner in the restaurant.

'Silver Explorer': Most of the crew, housekeeping and catering staff on stage in the theatre at the Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party held on Tuesday evening.

Related Posts

Next post describing this trip: Into the South Atlantic.
All posts describing this trip: Chilean Fjords.
Just posts on the Antarctic segment: Antarctic Peninsula.

My pictures

Where necessary, clicking on an image above will display an 'uncropped' view or, alternately, my pictures from this (and earlier) trips may be selected, viewed or downloaded, in various sizes, from the albums listed:-

Deception Island - 2016.
'Silver Explorer'.
All my pictures taken in Antarctica on both this visit and my earlier visit in 2008 are in the collection here.

[Links to pictures added 6-Feb-2017: Pictures added 8-Feb-2017]