The harsh conditions we experienced last afternoon after leaving from the fantastic landing at Snowhill Island, soon abate as we make our way in the channel between Vega and Devil Island, at the end of the day allowing for a good overnight at anchor in calm weather.
All was ready in the morning to try again an excursion at the very same place where the piled up ice against the beach didn’t allow it a couple of days ago. This time, the northern coast of Devil Island offered better chances to approach with our zodiacs and set foot ashore. The island tucked in a large embayment of Vega, offers great opportunities for hiking and for good wildlife experience.
As many of the features all around, Vega and Devil were both discovered and named by the Swedish Antarctic Expedition, 1901-04, under Otto Nordenskjöld. The first one, named after the ship Vega used by his uncle in making the first voyage through the Northeast Passage, 1878-79. The second got its name apparently for its resemblance to de devil’s horns, having two twin peaks.
Right below the saddle between them, a steep but short gully gives access to a flat plateau. We found the little dream that runs through it frozen, making for the first steps of the landing a bit challenging. Guides have fixed a couple of ropes to help with our climb to reach the easy terrain. Once over there, a straightforward path led us to a viewpoint over the northern shores of the island, where a vast panorama reveals. To the West, a prominent headland from Vega Island. Cape Well Met, another familiar hallmark on the Nordenskjold saga, where the three men stranded overwinter in Hope Bay walked into Nordenskjold’s sledging party, while they were exploring the Prince Gustav Channel on 12 October 1903.
A narrative of the reencounter says: “What the deuce can those seals be, standing up there bolt upright?” says one of us, pointing to some small, dark objects far away one the ice, inn towards the channel. “They are moving” cries another. A delirious eagerness seizes us. A field glass is pulled out. “It’s men! It’s men!” we shout.
Though few months delayed because of the winter and bad ice conditions, they had an important message to deliver to Nordenskjold, Their ship the Antarctic, which was supposed to collect them from Snowhill Island, had crushed and sunk in the icy waters of the Antarctic Sound.
The rest of the scenery unveil onto a Weddell Sea peppered with icebergs, bergy bits and brash ice. At the background the Antarctic Peninsula mountains, glaciers and ice caps look half covered by rolling clouds.
At our feet the now deserted large Adelie penguin rookery that just a few weeks ago was teeming with thousands of them finishing their nesting season. Once they are done rising their chicks, this species literally disappear from their colonies ashore and scatter all around at sea and atop ice floes and icebergs.
Here and there quite unfriendly Skuas fly over us. Down at the coastline a few tired-looking Fur seals snooze. A short walk brought us straight down to the northern beach. There bergy bits lay stranded ashore by the hundreds on the low tide, offering great opportunities to walk amongst them and explore around the incredible landscape.
From there, a path climbs to the western island top. Once at the peak its all about the magnificent panorama.
But that was just one of the ornaments of the devil’s head, still it has another horn to climb. And up we went with a smaller and more adventurous group. Loose rocky slopes make the way difficult until getting to a narrow ridge that follows to the top. Sunny skies, good weather and great visibility offer an spectacular view before descending to the northern and ice filled beach, where the zodiacs made their way to pick us up once the Europa was repositioned here.
During lunch Captain had a look at the weather forecast, and we could already feel one of the things to come, an increase on the wind force. Also the prediction gives a better idea on where to steer the ship next and when it will be time to set course towards South Georgia. First the Europa will have a look at the Peninsula coastline, heading to an embayment called Botany Cove, maybe some shelter can be found there… and second, soon it will be time to head off the Weddell Sea, probably tomorrow.
Dealing with gusting winds up to 35kn and the growing waves, it is not until the afternoon coffee-time when we stick our nose into Botany Cove. A wide bay between Church Point and Camp Hill, first surveyed by Falkland Islands Dependencies (former British Antarctic Survey) in December 1946, and named from the fossil plants collected there. Icebergs and brash ice are all around the area, and the winds come up and down constantly. The coastline climbs steep in all sides to and elevated and glacial plateau, with just a narrow beach at the bottom. Close to shore, three Humpback whales swim. With no chances for a landing due to the weather instability, next was to check the neighbouring inlet further south, the so called Shelter Cove. A small coastal indentation on the Northern shores of Prince Gustav Channel, with a descriptive name indicating the only part of this coast which is sufficiently sheltered from the prevailing SW winds. But no shelter was found here today. Howling Northwest, West, Southwest blasts of 50kn sweep over the bay, rising clouds of spray. Spectacular scenery though, home for a solitary Leopard seal that we spotted resting on an iceberg.
Better to turn the ship around and head towards some other area that can maybe offer a bit more real shelter. Continuing our exploration of this southern part of the Antarctic Peninsula tip, Europa heads now again to her last night’s anchorage at Devil, passing by Red and Vortex Island at her Port side. The first one being circular flat topped, 495 metres high pretty much straight out of the water, formed by reddish cliffs of volcanic rock. Not far away the smaller but nevertheless as spectacular as the former one, the 245m metres high Vortex. Evocative name that reminds the struggles of the charting and mapping expedition of the Falkland Islands Dependencies in 1945, that was forced to to lie idle here in a whirlwind snowstorm. Sure something similar to what we experienced today while exploring the area.
All an all another great day at the Weddell Sea experiencing the dramatic and sudden weather changes typical of this remote region of the Antarctic Continent.
Photo by Jordi Plana Morales