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9th of March

From midnight, Europa makes her way from Half Moon Island towards the famous Deception Island. Windless conditions made for motoring all the way and, as scheduled, about 07:30h we drifted for a while to have a look at the spectacular Baily Head, the East most point of Deception Island. Next to its rocky cape extends a long beach, exposed to the swells and winds of the Bransfield Strait which makes landing here impossible in many cases like today, when the surge washes high on the
shoreline. But with the ship positioned close to it, we could have a good look from our decks. Nowadays pretty well charted due to the popularity of the whole of Deception Island, it was first roughly surveyed as long ago as 1829. A more recent mapping effort was made by the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (the former British Antarctic Survey) during the summer 1953-54, naming the place after Francis Baily (1774-1844), English astronomer that gained his fame describing the
characteristic light-rings that occur around the sun limb during total solar eclipses, produced by the rugged topography of the lunar contour. But in another of his studies he worked on Henry Foster’s pendulum observations, some of them made on the landing site we plan for later this morning, deducing the elliptical shape of the earth. But before getting there it was worth to check the nature’s spectacle right in front of us, where a linear gravel beach stretches along most of the east side of Deception Island. A wide valley rises inland opening at its head in a sort of semi-circular natural ‘amphitheatre’. The area is bounded at its southern end by the cliffs that name the cape, while at its northern side a small glacier front covered in volcanic ash makes
a picturesque background. Along the valley runs a melt stream that is used by the large amount of Chinstrap penguins nesting here as their highway access to the coast.

An estimated number of about 80.000 couples breed here in the high season, while now we can find them moulting covering the site with their loose feathers. The ones that are ready to disappear in the water until next spring, seem to wander around up and down the beach looking not very decided to do the final step. About half an hour from there we can find the only entrance to the Deception Island caldera. A relatively narrow channel between high rust-coloured cliffs at our starboard side and gentle slopes up the hills on our port. But just half of the width of the channel can be used for navigation, as we have to leave the treacherous shallow of Ravn’s Rock close to port side to get into the wide embayment inside the island, called Port Foster. The narrow gap leading into it is known as the Neptune’s Bellows. This name was already used by American sealers
prior to 1822 because of the strong gusts often experienced in this narrow channel.

But today Europa gently motors through it under calm seas, light breeze and overcast skies. Just right around the 160m high cliffs of the northern side of the bellows, descriptively named Cathedral Crags, the remains of the Norwegian Hektor Whaling Station start to show up along the beach. With its activity as whaling base starting in 1912 and finishing in 1931, later on had passed through different uses, like being part of the “Tabarin” British Secret Military Operation during WWII, and then refurbished into a research facility by the Falkland Islands Dependencies.

Nowadays all the structures lay slowly falling apart as a witness of important episodes in the Antarctic history. The area, nested into the so called Whalers Bay, will be our visit ashore for the afternoon. For the morning, taking advantage of the falling tide, we aim for a little bay deeper into Port Foster where we are about to have a morning swim in the heated tidal shoreline along the beach of the so called Pendulum Cove. Its curious name derives from the pendulum and magnetic
observations made there by the British expedition under Foster in 1829. He was a Naval officer and scientist who sailed and made relevant scientific observations in the Arctic Antarctica. Part of his work was on surveying the coasts and trying to estimate directions and oceanographic current flows in both hemispheres. But his name was made even more famous here. At the nowadays most visited bathing beach in Antarctica, as in many other surveying points around the world, he experimented with a Kater invariable pendulum to measure the strength of the Earth's gravity. Comparing with other measurements elsewhere and with the help of other scientists of the time, it was possible to calculate that our planet is not a perfect sphere but slightly deformed, being wider at the equator than at the poles. That fact makes the gravity slightly weaker at the equatorial latitudes as the earth surface is farther from its centre.

Arriving to such a noteworthy place just about 09:00h, we could see that the falling tide was leaving behind a steaming sandy beach, an indication of warm waters suitable for our intentions. But also the ruins of the Chilean Station Pedro Aquirre Cerda caught our eye, which was destroyed during a volcanic eruption in the 1969. The Base was named after the President of the Republic of Chile (1938-41), who proposed the limits for the Chilean Territorial claim of Antarctica. Chile, together with Argentina and United Kingdom share territorial claims that almost superimpose each other, taking a pie shape from
Antarctic Peninsula to the South Pole Itself. The ruins of the former base stick out from the ashes and gravel at the foot of the steep hills that rise to the heights of about 540m above the sea level at the highest point of Deception, Mount Pond. Some of us payed a visit to what is left of the old Chilean Station while many others went straight seeking for a good swimming spot right after setting foot ashore. In some areas the water and gravel can reach temperatures too high to withstand, so on that occasion the best areas were just along the waterline. Laying in the hot beach we could just think that Deception is
considered as an active volcano, that last erupted just a few years ago, in 1969-70. For the ones not joining the swim, walking along the shoreline represented also a sort of steam-bath, joined by two Gentoo penguins, that looking very contented, rested and rejoiced in the steam and warm beach water, just like we did. Brave ones amongst us decided to get deeper into the sea, where the heated water doesn’t reach, to just run again to the warm spots after trying to swim a bit. After the fun bath in the morning, we proceed to Whalers Bay, where Europa drops anchor before lunch. The visit ashore to explore the remains and the surroundings of the Norwegian Hector Whaling Station was about to be our last activity in Antarctica before heading to the open waters of the Drake Passage on our way to Ushuaia. The captain has been closely following the weather forecasts and decided that the best thing to do is leaving tonight. The whaling Station was built at the beginning of the 20th Century, in
1912, after the place had already been chosen by some easy sealing and whaling in previous years. Once on land many joined our guides for a walk along the flat long beach that at its ends leads to a easy reachable saddle amongst the cliffs of
Cathedral Crag, called Neptune’s Window. Lt. Penfold, from the British Royal Navy, named this eye-catching feature after his survey of Deception Island in 1948-49. He realised that weather and ice conditions in the approach to Neptune’s Bellows could be conveniently observed from this gap. But Neptune’s Window has a relevant history in the Antarctic discoveries that bring us back to 1820, when the young sealer Nathaniel Palmer, spotted unfamiliar lands further to the Southwest. The glaciated
mountains he saw at the distance could not be part of the South Shetland Islands, and indeed, later on it turned out what it was thought to be the first sighting of the mainland Antarctic Peninsula. But not known to him in a time when long range communications at sea were inexistent, the continent had been sighted already months earlier by Thaddeus von
Bellingshausen, a scientist and explorer sailing for the Russian Czar. Not having today the necessary good visibility over the about 80nm where the peninsula lies, we could bask in the views over the Bransfield Strait in the same surroundings that sure an excited N. Palmer enjoyed 200 years ago. The whaling Station where we head afterwards, had to wait more than 90 years to appear in the landscape. Nowadays its ruins stands scattered over a large plain, testifying the large scale whale hunting
that took place in the surrounding waters. Meltwater streams from the glaciers above, high up in the hills, cut through the beach amongst the old high pressure boilers, oil tanks, abandoned wooden water boats, buildings and all sorts of constructions
related with the whaling times. Also two crosses and a coffin still remain from the over 40 whaler’s graves that once were here, but were covered by the mud and ash flows after the last eruptions of 1969 occurred high above the slopes
surrounding the bay. That devastating event also disarranged all premises in the area, leaving the memories of the massive whaling half buried beneath our feet. Now the beach is home for Kelp gulls, Skuas and Fur seals, earlier in the season Antarctic terns nest here, and always a few penguins can be seen along the steamy beach. Steam coming from the hot water along the coast actually boils occasional swarms of krill that enter Deception and approach the shoreline, like we could see today at both Pendulum and Whalers beaches. There they lay scattered around, offering an easy morsel for the numerous Skuas and Kelp gulls that live here. After absorbing the ghostly feelings that such scenery seems to irradiate, many decided to start coming back on board a bit early to prepare everything for our imminent sail into the Drake Passage. Once on board, we could give a hand to the crew rigging safety lines and nets, or stow away our equipment properly to hit the swells and winds of
the open ocean. And so it was, right after our eight o’clock meeting, anchor was heaved and we started on our way, first leaving Port Foster through the Neptune’s Bellows under the rapidly dimming light of the late evening, then entering the Bransfield Strait in the darkness. Motoring our way first Southwards, Lower and Middle Staysails together with Inner Jib were started to be unfurled and hoisted at about 22:00h on SW-ly 16 to 17kn of wind. We motor-sailed on a 205º course for about
an hour, before tacking to port tack, keeping a speed of 5 to 6kn and a roughly westerly course. In the early morning Europa changed to a NW-ly course, setting more canvas on the WSW-ly good winds and sailing through the Boyd Strait, gradually leaving South Shetland Islands behind.

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Guide

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