Antarctica Day 18 – Antarctic Peninsula Day 2: Half Moon Island and Deception Island

The day started as we finished navigating into the McFarlane Strait and dropped the anchor at Half Moon Island just before 07:00. The weather at this time looked misty, but the sea was relatively calm so looked promising for a landing. From the dining room we could see the building the Argentinians had used as a research station – it’s red walls providing a stark contrast to it’s snowy surroundings, and two communication towers just visible through the mist. To tell all visitors they were Argentinian they had even painted their flag on the roof of each building.

Half Moon Island

At 08:00 they began transporting people over to the shore where you could see a wrecked rowing boat; one which looked like it could be quite old. This island is predominantly populated with chinstrap penguins, and the occasional Gentoo penguin. There were reports though that a lone Macaroni penguin tends to frequent this island as well.

To start with we hiked up the hill and down onto the other side of the island across deep snow. There were points where the snow would be higher than my knees and at others where I barely sank at all. Eventually we reached the rocky beach and could continue walking down that at a much faster pace.

Eventually we got around to the other side, behind the research base and the peak. Here we found a number of Weddell Seals that were laying around in the snow. It would seem they were well camouflaged as one of the others in the group walked over to one and almost sat on it thinking it was a rock.

Weddell Seal

It was then quite a trek back to the chinstrap penguin colony and onwards in the other direction. We passed another Weddell Seal hauling itself up off the beach along the way, and around this time there was a large piece of ice break off one of the glaciers across the water.

The path we took circled part of the colony and headed down onto another beach. From this other path we could see Giant Petrels harassing the penguins. Apparently if I’d gone another 20 metres or so down this path I’d have seen the lone Macaroni Penguin that had been reported before we arrived.

On the way back along this path later I saw a pair of Giant Petrels take a young Chinstrap Penguin chick and kill it against the rocks – there was blood everywhere. They then continued to pull parts of the meat from the kill until they’d had their fill and flew off.

Chinstrap Penguin

On the way back I paused at the wrecked rowing boat to get a few pictures before heading back to the ship ready for the next briefing. This briefing was to prepare us for the plans for Deception Island as there was some hope we may be able to do a “polar plunge” there; i.e. swimming in the Antarctic waters of an active volcano. This included a bit about the geology and the history of the island as well as the special restrictions in place for this site.

Old Rowing Boat

As we approached the opening in the crater that we could sail through we had to get close to the rock face due to it being the deepest route. Going through the middle of the gap would have caused damage to the underside of the boat’s hull, such as what happened in the case of a British vessel during an “argument” with an Argentinian vessel.

Deception Island

Once ashore in Whalers Bay, the majority of us headed along the beach and up onto a lookout point called Neptunes Window. Scattered around along the way were pieces of whale bone and parts of what were presumably once wooden buildings, but now bleached white. It was a bit of a hike across the mostly desolate landscape, but from the top you could see across the crater of the volcano. The expedition leader marked an area off with rope as he knew part of the cliff edge had virtually nothing beneath it due to erosion from the sea.

We then took a casual walk back down from the viewpoint to the landing site and across the other side to look around an old whaling station. It was pretty wrecked and one of the buildings had a collapsed roof; it looked like it was one once used for habitation. There were also a few large storage tanks, one of which had a hole in it’s side so you could see what they used to put inside them – or at least what was there now.

Whaling Station

Following this a group of us got changed into swimming trunks and then ran out into the icy cold water. It may be the crater of an active volcano but the water temperature wasn’t really any warmer – the expedition staff mentioned that at best it would be only 1 degree warmer than the open sea. After I got so far out I dived under the water and swam for a bit before standing and casually walking back to the shore. Whilst under the water it wasn’t that bad, but once I’d started walking back it started to get quite chilly – I particularly noticed how cold my toes felt.

Post-Polar Plunge

As I got back to the shore the ship’s Doctor handed me a towel so I could quickly dry off and get into some warmer clothes. By the time I was back on the zodiac heading for the ship I’d warmed up enough to not be bothered about how cold it had been. Onboard the ship it almost felt too warm – it probably meant to some degree I’d gotten used to the cooler temperature.

I found it quite amusing that one of the group commented I was like James Bond coming out of the water – walking out slowly whilst everyone else was trying to get out as quickly as they could. Personally I don’t see that though, but still an amusing comparison.

As a special treat, outside on the deck we were then given a cup of hot chocolate with rum and cream in it. It was pretty nice and I did go back for seconds – it helped to keep us warm on deck as the ship navigated back out of the crater, Port Foster, through Neptunes Bellows and back out into the Bransfield Strait.

There was then a short briefing to explain the plans for the next day, and how we were returning back to the mainland of the continent. After dinner the mist returned and did so with a vengeance – the visibility was probably 10 metres at best.

It seemed like the mist might be around all night so I decided not to stay up to see the sunrise.


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