I now have some time to catch up with my journal and post a record of our last days In Antarctica. Iâ€™m now on a rocking and rolling ship heading back to South America.. Itâ€™s just after breakfast on Thursday, February 2nd.
On Tuesday night, we left the Antarctic peninsular and sailed overnight to the South Shetland Islands. We awoke at 5.30 am to find we were offshore of Deception Island. Our original program did not include Deception but like other things on this trip, the plan was changed to take into account the weather and opportunities.
Deception Island is a dormant volcano. It has a very narrow entrance (230 metres wide) and slipped trough at a very low speed in the caldera of the volcano which is about 7km in diameter. An Argentinean naval vessel was moored in Foster Bay and we stopped nearby to make a pre breakfast landing. We were at the gangway at 6.00 am and had a very easy landing in our zodiacs on a wide beach. Of black volcanic sand and mud..
We spent two hours walking along the beach looking at the ruins of a a whaling station that was originally operated by the Norwegians and later used as a British base. It was also used by the Brits in WW2 as a meteorological station. We found a number of interesting buildings – all falling down and unsafe to enter..
At the left hand end of the beach was an old hanger that was used as a base for flights to / from Antarctica. The Australian, Hubert Wilkins, made the first powered flight over Antarctica from here in 1928 (All these details are from my Lonely Planet Guide that Cathy & Chris gave me for Christmas). The whaling station was first set up in 1906. Initially, they only took the blubber & baleen plates from the whales and dumped the carcases in the harbour. At one time, there were 3000 carcases floating tin the water. Can you imagine the smell!! The British took over operations in 1912, primarily to process the meat in these carcases and extract further amounts of whale oil. I understand that over 2 million whales were caught in the southern ocean during the whaling period. Whaling ceased here in the 1930â€™s.
We were back on board the ship at 8.00 am for breakfast. We have an American Chef and two Sous Chefs in the kitchen and they do a great job.
During breakfast, we sailed out through the gap and around the island to possible landing site. The expedition leaders went out in a zodiac to see if we could land safely as the landing site was on a ocean beach. They decided that it was OK to land and then gave us a briefing in the Bar as to the procedures. They made it very clear that this was one landing that was going to be very wet.
I wasnâ€™t concerned abut being able to handle that – I wore my hiking pants instead of my warm ones as they would dry more quickly and started putting on all my normal layers – T shirt, Thermal top and long johns, woollen jumper, fleece jacket, waterproof pants, Goretex jacket, inner and outer gloves and two pairs of woollen socks. The only parts of me that seems to get cold are my feet. I donâ€™t think that gum boots provide any insulation at all. For safety, I double bagged my camera in zip-lock bags and zipped it up in my jacket pocket. All of these clothes are stifling on the ship, but keep me warm and cosy outside.
Our process is then to walk down to the mud room on deck 3 and put on gumboots and lifejackets. Then its a walk around the ship to line up at the gangway and be checked off by name and cabin number. On returning, we get checked back on to the ship using the same method.
This landing, as it turned out was a bit rough. Going in was OK. Each zodiac driver accelerated just as we approached the beach to get the nose of the zodiac as high up the sand as possible. We e were able to get out in only ankle height water. By the time we returned to the ship, the wind had come up and the waves were 3 to 4 feet high. It had also begun to snow. This was the roughest weather of our entire trip. We waited in boat groups on the beach and as each zodiac came in, four of the staff would grab it and rotate it so that it was pointing out to sea again and quickly load every one on again from both sides. Some boats had waves come in on top of them and a few people were swamped during loading. It turned out that our briefing was for a very god purpose. Then we had a trip over the waves and swell to our ship which was standing about a mile offshore.
Enough of the landing process, what about the sights, you may ask! Well, this was the largest penguin colony we had visited. There were over 500,000 Chinstrap Penguins here. There were penguins everywhere – even over 1km inland on the hilltops. The beach was full of birds and I got one great photo along the beach of a mass of penguins on the black sand. The birds walked back and forth on defined â€˜penguin highwaysâ€™. One stream walking to the beach and another stream going back to their nests. It was impossible to maintain our regulation distance of 5 metres! Crossing these highways was reminiscent of crossing the road in Saigon. We had to gently walk across and let he birds walk around us. They donâ€™t see humans as predators, so they continued going about their business quite nonplussed about our presence. We spent two hours fascinated with their activity. The chicks were about five or six weeks old and nearly as big as their parents. Many were losing their downy chick fluff and getting their sleek adult feathers.
This has turned out be our last landing for the expedition. During lunch, we turned to head north with a course set for Cape Horn. We spent yesterday afternoon in a Force 6 Gale and there have only been a few people attending dinner last night and breakfast tis morning, Pity, we had Eggs Benedict today.
We are still rolling around a little although the seas have abated. As I write this we are at 59.33 degrees south – five degrees north of our most southern point. From here it is on to Cape Horn tonight at 9.30 pm and from there back to Ushuaia on Saturday Morning and preparations for a long trip home. I think that we still have a little more to come, but the grand part of this adventure is over.