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Deception Island (Telefon Bay, Whalers Bay, Pendulum Cove)

Spending the night just at the shores off the entrance of Deception Island, proved to be a good idea. The strong winds were abating
gradually and the anchor held the ground well overnight. And just as planned, at about 06:00h we started our day, first just navigating
around the rocky cape of Baily Head to have a look at this spectacular place. The Baily Head headland is completely exposed to the Bransfield Strait, and as often, the beach is susceptible to heavy swell and surf making the landfalls here adventurous and in many cases impossible. Today was one of those occasions. Over 25kn of wind and a long surge at the beach just made for having a good look from our decks, while the Captain steered the ship close to shore. The site comprises the southern end of a long linear beach which runs
along most of the eastern side of Deception Island, and a narrow valley that rises steeply inland to a semi-circular ridgeline, giving the
impression of a natural ‘amphitheatre’. It is bounded to the north by a large glacier and to the south by the cliffs of Baily Head. A
substantial melt stream runs through the centre of the valley during the austral summer, becoming always busy with thousands of Chinstrap penguins walking back and forth to their nesting areas, which cover the whole site. An estimated number of 100.000 couples was given a few years ago, nowadays most probably counting a few thousands less, due to the Chinstrap penguin declining populations.
After a short visit, Europa moved towards Neptune’s Bellows, the narrow passage that leads inside Deception’s volcanic caldera. Leaving at our starboard-side a high lava cliff and at our Port-side the famous Ravn’s Rock, the captain steers the ship into the so called Port
Foster (the bay encircled by Deception Island rim). Then we motored our way northwards until reaching Telefon Bay, the first stop of our busy day at Deception Island. Its name isn’t derived after the telephone as such, instead, this area is named after a salvage vessel that was moored here in 1909, waiting for repairs. Once we anchored at the entrance of the small Stancomb Cove, the zodiacs were readied to bring us ashore, to spend the morning walking around this surrealistic volcanic landscape. Right at the landing site we were welcomed by a couple of Weddell seals and a handful of Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. The inner shores of Deception are not suitable for them to nest, due to the higher temperature of its waters along the tidal area, but some of them can be always seen around, seemingly relaxing on the hot spots and having steam baths. Soon we started climbing up the lower slopes of Cross Hill, the volcanic building that dominates the landing. Everybody could easily reach a great lookout point over the turquoise volcanic lakes and meltwater filled craters spread over this part of Deception. At our feet extends the so called Gonzalez Harbour, a small cove consisting of several linked explosion craters flooded by the sea. Named in honour of Prof. Oscar Gonzalez-Ferran, the author of several important papers on the
evolution of the Deception Island volcano. Surrounded by this lunar landscape, we divided in two groups, for a shorter and a longer walk. With two of our guides, the most adventurous of us climbed the rising slope that extends to a ridge of black, cinder-covered volcanic material, leading to the top of Cross Hill, 180m above the sea level. This volcanic cone got its name from a large wooden
cross, probably erected by whalers, near the summit, now disappeared. Almost the whole of Deception can be seen from up there. At the background the glaciers covering Mount Pond, over 500m high and the top of Deception Island, at our foreground the volcano’s crater filled by a meltwater lake, the ground under our feet is completely covered with a thick layer of recent coarse volcanic ash and small lapilli. The snow filling the little valleys and the gullies around us, creates a landscape of zebra stripes. A fantastic and scenic excursion, luckily in good visibility and with improving weather, that ends before lunch time, when we embark the ship and make our way towards Whalers Bay. There we disembark after lunch, to explore the remains and the surroundings of the Norwegian Hector Whaling Station, built at the beginning of the 20th Century. Many joined one of our guides for a little hike along the beach and up a saddle named Neptune’s Window. So named by Lt. Penfold, from the British Royal Navy, following his survey of Deception Island in 1948-49, because weather and ice conditions in the approach to Neptune’s Bellows could conveniently be observed from this gap. Also it was from here that in 1820 a young sealer, Nathaniel Palmer, spotted hitherto unfamiliar land farther to the southwest, which would later turn out to be the Antarctic Peninsula. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the continent had been sighted months earlier by Thaddeus von Bellingshausen, a scientist and explorer sailing for the Russian Czar. We enjoyed that very same view while imagining the sense of excitement that Palmer would have felt nearly two centuries earlier. From there we trace back our steps to the whaling station where we can enjoy a bit of time on our own, amusing ourselves on the eerie feelings as we walk around the derelict base at our own pace. Several melt-water streams from the snow and glacier above, form channels cut through the beach that is pretty flat, showing a very shallow slope both onshore and offshore, offering a good walking area through the whaling remains from the Neptune’s window to the hangar of the base. The steam coming from the heated meltwater on the low tide zone, gives us an idea of the ongoing volcanic activity of Deception and adds the perfect moody touch to our pictures. All the facilities ashore have been strewn and disheveled by the lahar, or mud-ash flow, of 1969. The memories of the massive whaling which took place here are strangely half-buried and masked by an equally devastating event. Here as well as along all the beaches inside Port Foster, it is noticeable that the wildlife on the beach is quite scarce. However there were again some Gentoos and quite a lone Chinstrap penguin chilling out at the beach. After our visit at Whalers Bay, the ship was repositioned to Pendulum Cove, where we could enjoy a short visit to the place and take a swim in
its “warm” waters. The cove is located on the Northeastern side of Port Foster, and its name comes from the pendulum and magnetic observations made by a British Expedition in 1828. The flat black sandy beach steams, inviting for a Polar dip. At the background we can see the remains of the Chilean Station Pedro Aquirre Cerda, which was destroyed during the 1969 eruption. The ground behind the ruins rises abruptly to the inner caldera wall which is mostly covered with glacial ice. We spent most of our time lounging and playing around in the hot springs generated by scalding water along the shoreline, and had a quick look at a solitary Crabeater seal solacing in the warm sands of Pendulum beach. Back on board afterwards, anchor is heaved and Europa leaves Deception Island on our way towards our tomorrow’s destination and activities, an additional landing in the South Shetlands before heading into the Drake Passage.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Guide

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