Finally - Antarctica

Trip Start Dec 21, 2012
Trip End Jan 19, 2013

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Flag of Antarctica  ,
Saturday, January 12, 2013

And there it was, just outside the window when we got up. Antarctica. Our first early morning. As disembarkation was due to start at 8, breakfast was served at 6:30. Called up by groups in our 'zodiac ready' state to the rear of the boat, my group finally left for shore around 9. We were in Half Moon Bay where the main attraction is the nesting grounds of the Chinstrap Penguin. If you look at the photos you'll see why they were called that. Half Moon Bay is an island just off the main Antarctic penninsula where the British established a support facility for their Antarctic bases, but it's disparagingly called a token base by the team now.

It was snowing lightly, but about 6 degrees, not as cold as it seems at home sometimes. I actually didn't wear a full complement of cold weather gear as I started melting before I got off the boat. Zodiacs ferried us to the shore where we faced a 'wet landing', that is we waded ashore. The trails we were permitted to expore had all been laid out earlier by the expedition staff, who were stationed at regular intervals along the tracks. I sat down on a convenient rock to photogragh a penguin, and discovered the hard way what colour penguin poop is - red.

We actually weren't the only boat in the harbour this morning. The international inspectors had sprung a surprise visit on our expedition, and came ashore a little time after we did to see how we were being managed and interrogate the team. The boat was crewed by the British Navy, and this caused a lot of hearts to flutter amongst the female expedition crew when they came on shore.

Ferried back to the ship where we swiped back on board and went through the cleaning procedures before heading off to our cabins and eventually to lunch. While we were having lunch, the boat set sail for our afternoon destination - Whalers Bay on Deception Island.

After lunch we suited up again, queued up for the zodiacs, and went ashore on Deception Island. It's actually a caldera, the centre of a volcano cone, and in this case it's still active. The last eruption was in the 1960s. Being volcanic, the glacial ice is very black, and you can see the eruption lines in the ice walls. It was a whaling station 1909-1931 established by Norwegian company until it became unviable. Then the British re-established it in 1944 when they feared that the German's would use it as a U-Boat station. After the war, it was handed to the British Antarctic authority and used as a research base until 1966 when the last volcano eruption covered most of it. It even had 2 functioning runways.

So there were lots of remanants of tanks, boats and buildings from the station to see, as well as colonies of Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. Being an active volcano, there is lots gases that could be mistaken for fog or cloud, but when you are in them they smell of sulphur. The water near the escape holes is actually warm, but it doesn't last long.

Almost as soon as we got ashore the fog and cloud drifted in, and the view of the main Antarctic peninsular that we were hoping to see from the top of the hill wasn't visible. Had a couple of hours wandering around, looking at the wildlife and remains of the station before going back on board for a debrief and dinner. Whilst trying to get to the debrief, our door stuck in the locked postion, and the ship's carpenter had to come through a vent in the door to use a crowbar and rescue us.
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