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01/22/2009

Deception Island and Half Moon Island

Captain Biasutti carefully piloted Minerva through Neptune’s Bellows during breakfast time. Although it looks quite wide, the navigable channel of the Bellows is only about 160 meters wide as there is a rock in mid-channel. As we sailed through this breach in the caldera of this volcano island, we could see red, grey and brown layers of ash from past eruptions. Deception Island is still an active volcano and it is this geothermal activity that heats the water in which we hoped to take our Antarctic plunge.

Sure enough, as we cleared the Bellows and turned into Whaler’s Bay, we could see clouds of steam emanating from the gravel beach. The zodiacs dropped us ashore beside the ruins of the old whaling station that was in use between 1911 and 1931. The British later built a base here complete with airstrip and hanger from which Sir Hubert Wilkins did the first flight in Antarctica. In 1969, an eruption badly damaged the base and partially buried the old whaling station in ash and cinders. We were able to walk up to Neptune’s Window, a partially collapsed section of the caldera wall from where we were afforded views of the Bransfield Strait. We also explored the remnants of the base and whaling station, taking care not to enter any of the ruins as they are quite unsafe now.

But the highlight of the landing was of course the polar plunge. Conditions were good with lots of hot water oozing from the gravel beach. It was easy to dig a shallow depression to create a pool to wallow in. The very brave among us ran straight into the ocean for a quick dip accompanied by screams and laughter and then a sprint back to the warm water depression. A quick zodiac ride back to the ship, a hot shower and a bowl of hearty lentil soup soon warmed the swimmers up again.

Our afternoon landing was at Half Moon Island. It was our last landing in Antarctica and this afternoon’s weather was a reminder of just how lucky we have been up until now. The low cloud layer obscured the glaciers flowing down from the mountains on nearby Livingston Island. The wind picked up and a wet driving snowfall began. By the end of the landing, it was cold! It was a far cry from the sunshine of yesterday but there were a few fur seals and a chinstrap penguin rookery to see and a last chance to walk down the beach and reflect back on our Antarctic experience.
 

   

Neptune's Window in the distance, waiting for us to conquer.

The first few brave souls who swam in Port Foster.

After them, quite a few followed, and went into the wallow

Even Father Christmas was there, enjoying a vacation from his recent exertions.

In the afternoon, a view of the Argentinean base, Camara, in the snow drizzle.


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