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02/18/2008

Deception Island and Half Moon Island

Before sunrise, Captain Giovanni Biasutti expertly maneuvered the Explorer II through Neptune’s Bellows, the entrance to the hidden central harbor of Deception Island. Beautiful golden light illuminated the zodiacs as the staff lowered them and, after bundling up in warm clothes, we soon found ourselves stepping out of the zodiacs onto the volcanic soil of Deception Island itself.

We strolled the cinder beach and explored the ruins of the whaling station and the British research station. A mud and debris flow, called a lahaar, swept down the mountainside in 1968 burying and destroying most of the human made structures; even the cemetery was washed away. The other direction down the beach, we came across whale bones and old decaying water boats, testaments to the whaling legacy that occurred here.

Some of us hiked up to Neptune’s Window, an opening in the caldera wall that affords views out over the Bransfield Strait and, on a clear day, all the way to the Antarctic Peninsula. This was the exact location where the American sealer Nathaniel Palmer first spotted the Antarctic Peninsula in 1821. Cape Petrels called from their nests on the volcanic cliffs up above, while humpbacks fed actively offshore.

After exploring ashore, we all made our way back to the landing to watch or participate in (or both) the Antarctic swim. A large gathering of intrepid swimmers (95 people in all!) took the plunge into the icy waters, and wallowed in small pools filled with hot water from the thermal springs. Many a camera clicked as humans, inflatable penguins and a large inflatable crocodile all took to the water. Warmly bundled onlookers enjoyed the scene and handed out towels to the brave returning from the drink.

Back onboard the Explorer II, we gathered on the pool deck for a steaming seafood soup, while Historian David Wilson got on the PA system and presented more information about the amazing history of this remarkable island. The snow continued to fall as we passed back out of Neptune’s Bellows, and we cruised by a few feeding humpbacks on our way to Halfmoon Island.

After a hot shower, crowds were gathered in the ship’s usual haunts, telling stories and comparing photos from the swim. In mid-afternoon, we arrived at Half Moon Island. The zodiacs landed in calm conditions on a cobble beach with several chinstrap penguins to greet us. The decaying remains of an old wooden lifeboat was laying slightly above the shoreline, and the brightly painted orange/red Argentine Station, Camara, could be seen in the distance on the southwest side of the island. We made our way up the hill to the chinstrap penguin colony, and beyond to groups of Antarctic fur seals hauled out on the shore.

As we steamed on south from Half Moon Island under dwindling light, we gathered for Recap and then for a hearty dinner. The Shackelton Bar was once again packed as storytelling and laughter reigned supreme, until we went off to sleep in anticipation of our morning arrival on the Antarctic continent itself.

   

A magnificent sunrise over Neptune's Window inside Deception Island's caldera

Whaler's Bay is a scene of much revelry as many participate in the famous polar plunge

This 'swimming event' is also considered a 'spectator sport'

A Chinstrap Penguin colony is our focus this afternoon at Half Moon Island

We also see many Antarctic Fur Seals at this crescent-shaped island


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