Jan. 22, Wed.: Deception Island, Half Moon Island

Trip Start Jan 13, 2014
Trip End Jan 25, 2014

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Flag of Antarctica  , South Shetland Islands,
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wednesday, Jan. 22: Volcano, Telefon Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands, the Antarctic Peninsula

This is our last day in Antarctica.  It was a very rough night as we crossed the open waters of  the Bransfield Strait and have arrived again at the South Shetland Islands.        We had 2 excursions planned, one early this morning at 8:00 am before breakfast.  Quite a few people stayed on the ship due to sea sickness overnight.  I resorted to Dramamine when I woke up, as the ginger was not quite strong enough.

We got up early, still rough water, but we wanted to see the ship entering the waters of Deception Island, a volcanic caldera.  There is only one entrance through "Neptune's Bellows," which is tricky to navigate due to shallow depth and narrow gap.  We anchored at Telefon Bay on the other side.  The waters were much calmer here in the protected area. 

There was a British Research station at Whaler’s Bay, near our entrance, but it had to close down during the 1967 and 1969 volcanic eruptions and never reopened.  Most of it is covered by lava now.  There were no animals except one seal resting on the beach… it felt like a moonscape, so desolate: just lava rocks and mud and melting ice.  I climbed to the edge of the cliff, then back down.  Others went all the way over the top and down the other side of the lava flow.

This was the day of the “Polar Plunge”.  A few hearty souls stripped down to swim suits or long underwear, and plunged into the polar waters.   The temperature was around 33 degrees.   I considered it the day before when it was 45 degrees outside, but today was very cold with brutal winds.  We headed back to 11:00 brunch on the ship.

The ship navigated out of the Deception Island harbor and along the Shetland Islands. 

We stopped in the early afternoon at Half Moon Island.  This was our last stop in Antarctica except for Frei Station and the plane out.   It is known for its chin strap penguin colonies, and is a breeding ground for skuas and other polar birds.  We were supposed to stop at Yankee Island, but another ship that had reserved Half Moon changed its course.  The staff was quite pleased to anchor here instead.

Did we tell you about the rules regarding tourism???  A ship with over 500 passengers cannot land at all in Antarctica.  Only 100 passengers PER DAY per ship can go ashore.  (So if your ship has 120 people on it, 20 of those do NOT get to go ashore.)  For every 20 passengers, there must be at least 1 guide.  Tourism in Antarctica has grown from 1990 with 6000 tourists to 30,000 in 2012.

First we took a group picture, then explored.

There were hundreds of chin strap penguins (little black strap under the chin, black beak, pink feet).  They chose their nesting sites early in the spring when the snow is thick and only a few rocks peak out.  Now it has melted and the colonies are on top of rock ledges, far from the water. 

Every day the penguins have to go to the ocean, swim and clean off, eat krill, and bring food back to their babies.  They regurgitate (throw up) the food into their mouths, where the babies receive it.  It is messy and they are dirty.  You can see a huge difference in the penguins going down the hill and the ones returning from a swim:  the returning ones are clean and white and shiny.

We “hung out” with the penguins, watching them climb from the water to high up on cliffs.  We even got to see a Macaroni penguin, with orange head-top feathers.  The guides call him the “crazy one” because he doesn’t have a mate and lives with the chin straps.  We had to climb up a steep path to the top of the cliff to see him.

We zodiaked back to the ship.  We cruised back to Frei Station and dropped anchor.  It was time to pack and prepare to our departure in the morning.  The time is still a guess but we will be told in the morning.  But for now, we will prepare to leave at 8:00 am.

We had a lovely dinner, and sat with our friends Walt and Greet from Holland.  There was a good bye program in the lounge following.  We watched a slide show of the trip, and heard fun stories.  The staff was dressed nicely in light blue shirts with Antarctica XXI ties and scarves.   Ben said goodbye as trip leader, and Morton took over for the next group trip tomorrow.

A farewell toast, a last dose of Dramamine, and to sleep!
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