Deception Island. Landings at Telefon Bay and Whalers Bay
The good weather and splendid visibility from yesterday lasted for the night and luckily for almost the whole day. Deception Island was visible already from the south of Livingston, though it took about 5 hours to approach its southeastern shores. In the early morning the Europa had the first closeby sights of the crags and cliffs close to the only entrance to the volcanic caldera, the so called Neptune’s Bellows. Coming into the flooded volcano involves sailing close to the cliffs of Cathedral Craggs right on our Starboardside, while on Port large shallows extend to the Southern shores of the entrance. In the middle, the infamous Ravn’s Rock is barely submerged. Being still an active volcano, its coastline is warm, often steaming with sulphurous fumes, feature that creates its own meteorology, frequently hiding the high hills up to 540m behind a veil of clouds. Also while Port Foster (the inner harbour of the caldera) seems to offer a good shelter, the winds sometimes can blow over the surrounding mountains, shooting down to the sea level again with great force.
Famous for its beauty, rough and bare scenery it also played an important historical role in the discovery of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Back on December 1819, William Smith, who accidentally already had seen the South Shetland Islands, returned for the third time, but now as the pilot of a British Admiralty Expedition under the command of Edward Bransfield. For there first time, they managed to land at King George Island and sighted Deception Island, to the southwest. Not just this but a few days later, and on a good day with similar weather and visibility we enjoyed ourselves the last couple of days, they could see (and effectively discover) the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula. The very same sight we could all see today during our adventures at Deception Island. None of the crewmembers were aware of the significance of what they just spotted, the mysterious and long sought for Antarctic Continent.
But the story tells that basically the same time, but even three days earlier, Thadeus von Bellingshausen who lead the Russian expedition to the southern seas, aboard the Vostok and the Mirnyi, had sighted and reported those lands too.
Unbeknown to him, the sealer Nathaniel Palmer sailing in the South Shetlands aboard the Hero, discovered Port Foster, the volcanic caldera located inside Deception Island. He named the entrance as Neptune’s Bellows and the distinctive saddle in the rocks next to it, Neptune’s Window. The legends goes telling that from up there he spotted too the Continent, thinking he had been the first one to do so.
Such an interesting island in so many aspects, biologically, for its geology and history was our destination to spend the day.
First heading northwards of the caldera, Europa let go her anchor right in front of the small Gonzalez Harbour, at the so called Telefon bay. This area of Deception consists of several linked explosion craters, some of them flooded by the sea, and surrounded by small volcanos. One of them, the top of Cross Hill, was the aim for our first landing. A short ride on our rubber boats brought us to set foot under its slopes. Up the hills the views of the whole of Deception are spectacular, and they just got beer and better as we climbed higher. At its summit, just about 160 meters above sea level, a wooden cross was erected by whalers, which gave the mountain its name, though nowadays it is not there anymore.
A good morning leg stretch was followed by yet another afternoon landing. While having our meal, the ship repositioned a handful of miles to Whalers Bay, located just next to the island’s entrance, the Neptune’s Bellows. So called because is there where in 1912 the Antarctic whaling station was built. Still today the remains of the “Hektor” Norwegian Whaling Base lay scattered around the beach, as an historical site and sort of an open air museum. It was in operation until 1931, but later on its buildings went through different uses. During the WWII some of the premises were refurbished to host one of the bases for the English secret “Operation Tabarin”, with the mission of intercepting German communications in the high latitudes of the South Pacific and Atlantic, try to control boat traffic in the Drake Passage and avoid the settlement of German Bases in Antarctica.
When the war finished, the Falkland Island Dependencies, (former British Antarctic Survey), took over some of the buildings for scientific research until 1967.
Before spending some time wandering around all those remains, a walk through a narrow valley brought us up the hills for an impressive overview of Neptune’s Bellows and most of the southern part of Deception. Down at the shoreline, accommodation buildings, warehouses, oil tanks, boilers, all come up in a succession of eerie abandoned structures, some twisted, others half buried after a late 60’s eruption that affected the slopes behind the flat beach, originating a hot lahar or mud flow that cut right in-between the whaling base. The Norwegian graveyard, where once more than 40 whalers were buried, was affected too and nowadays as a reminder of the spot where it used to lay, just a couple of refurbished crosses and an open coffin can be seen.
The whale oil from the large scale whaling that happened here in the early 20th Century was of great value for illumination and heating, and later on it was more used for specific industries like lubricants and infantry. The discovery of fossil fuels and mineral oils together with the successful use of electricity, finally put and end to the whaling industry.
With the weather worsening by the minute and the cold wind rapidly increasing, the zodiacs were called ashore to pick us up. Moment when a few brave ones took the chance to have a bath between the geothermal warmed waters of the shoreline and the cold seas just a few metres deeper in.
The ship still remained anchored until about 20:30h, when the winds started to blow from a favourable Northwesterly direction. Time to get off Port Foster and set some canvas to start our crossing of the Bransfield Strait. We start the night sailing at a good speed under squares up to the Top Gallants, Lower and Middle Staysails and the Inner Jib. A night and a day at sea will bring us to the Antarctic Peninsula, where we plan to continue our explorations, landings and hikes.