Day 8 – Visiting A Volcano & A Rough Ride Ahead?
I spent the day in a caldera. And it was in the most unusual of places for a traveler: Deception Island, in Antarctica. Not many travelers get to Deception Island, only about 10,000 people annually, I was told.
While Deception Island has one of Antarctica’s safest harbors, there are at least two hazards that travelers will want to avoid. The first is the narrow entrance to the harbor. Called Neptune’s Bellows, the entrance is only 754 feet wide (230 meters). It has the additional challenge of a rock, called Ravn Rock, situated in the middle of the channel just 8 feet (2.5 meters) below the water’s surface. It’s enough to make captains sweat.
The second hazard is that Deception Island has an active volcano. I was told that eruptions were predicted to be on a 30-year cycle. The last eruption was 44 years ago, in 1969. That eruption caused serious damage to research and whaling stations on Deception Island.
We made it through Neptune’s Bellows and anchored in a cove called Whalers Bay, where we spent the day exploring the remains of facilities destroyed by the 1969 volcanic eruption — rusting boilers and tanks, an aircraft hangar and the British scientific station house (Biscoe House), with the middle torn out by the 1969 mudflows.
We also hiked along a black sand beach where we saw a single seal and penguins. We continued hiking up to the crest of a hill that ended with a dramatic drop into the sea.
It was snowing, and the contrasts between the bleach-white snow and the black sand evoked thoughts of charcoal drawings. The scene was different from anything else we had experienced on this trip so far.
It was remarkable to be in the caldera of a volcano that was born more than 10,000 years ago. When the volcano erupted millennia ago, the bay known as Port Foster was formed. The eruption apparently was a powerful one. Core ice samples from the South Pole contain ashes from the volcano.
Nearly 60 percent of the island is covered by glaciers, though some appear as rocks because they are covered with soot.
After lunch, we motored on a bit more — Deception Island has a diameter of 7 miles, and the bay, known as Port Foster, is only 5.5 miles long by 3.6 miles wide. We dropped anchor in Telefon Bay, where we walked to the edge of the crater that was created during the eruptions of 1969-1970. Those who wished could continue hiking for another mile, across volcanic soil along ridges and back to the beach and the zodiacs waiting to shuttle us back to the ship.
The fact that our trip is drawing to an end seemed to be on the minds of those I spoke with. Antarctica is powerful place, and it has had quite an impact on all of us on this voyage.
Shortly after 5 p.m. we hoisted the anchor and headed out of Port Foster, through Neptune’s Bellows and away from Deception Island. We were making our way around the west end of the South Shetland Islands, the archipelago where we first made landfall in Antarctica on Day 3 of our voyage.
As I write this at 11:30 p.m., Silver Explorer is rocking. The waves are not more than a couple of meters at this point, but they will continue to increase as we make our way back through the Drake Passage. Earlier, during the Recap & Briefing, Silver Explorer Expedition Team Leader Kara told us that seas could reach six meters to eight meters on Saturday. That’s 18 feet to 24 feet.
During the day tomorrow, we’ll have a few bumps before winds increase up to 40 knots, “straight on the nose,” Kara said, “and that causes the ship to pitch, which does make for a bumpy ride.” Worse, the wind and waves will require reducing the ship’s speed from around 15 knots to four or five knots. Nonetheless, we will be in Ushuaia early Sunday morning for our return to Buenos Aires.
Tomorrow, I’ll let you know how we’re faring in the Drake Passage, and I’ll tell you a bit more about our voyage and Silver Explorer. For now, I’m hoping for a comfortable ride for the next two days.
|December 12||Ushuaia, Argentina||Charter flight from Buenos Aires; Embark Silver Explorer||5:00 PM|
|December 13||Sailing The Drake Passage|
|December 14||Crossing The Drake, Day 2|
|December 15||Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula|
|December 16||Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula|
|December 17||Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula|
|December 18||Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula|
|December 19||Cruise & Explore the Antarctic Peninsula|
|December 20||Sailing the Drake Passage, Redux|
|December 21||Sailing the Drake Passage|
|December 22||Ushuaia, Argentina||8:00 AM||Disembark Silver Explorer; return charter flight to Buenos Aires.|