Bands of growlers and bergy bits drifting together with sheets of sea ice lay on our path as the ship steers her way from her anchorage in the Herbert Sound towards the northern coasts of Vega, where the picturesque Devil Island is nested in a wide bay.
Once more, here we come across the Swedish Antarctic Expedition 1901-04, which named the first one after the ship Vega used by Otto Nordenskjöld's uncle in making the first voyage through the Northeast Passage, 1878-79. The second, Devil Island, got such an evocative name, for showing two sister peaks as the Devil’s horns, and offers unmatched chances for good hikes and a great wildlife experience.
With the ship in position to start our morning landfall, the zodiacs break through a thin layer of frozen water to reach the foot of the saddle that separates both of those mountain tops.
An easy start of the hike brought us first to a sort of plateau overlooking the island’s northern coast. There Adelie penguins nest on a rookery that extends over the available terrain on the shoreline. On the sea, open water mixed with icy patches and all peppered with numerous icebergs. At the background extend the inhospitable and heavily glaciated coasts of both, James Ross Island and the mainland Antarctic Peninsula. Closer to us stand the prominent cliffs of Vega Island’s headland, Cape Well-met. Still following Nordenskjöld's adventures and struggles here was the place where the three men stranded overwinter in Hope Bay walked into Nordenskjold’s sledding party, while they were exploring the Prince Gustav Channel on 12 October 1903. They had an important message to deliver to Nordenskjold, Their ship which was supposed to pick them up from Snowhill Island, had crushed and sunk in the icy waters of the Antarctic Sound.
For a higher point of view over all the amazing scenery, a climb over one of the very few Antarctic-trodden paths leads to the West island’s top.
Devil’s head is crowned with two horns, having stepped atop one of them, a group of daredevils amongst us head towards the second one. Loose rock slopes end on a narrow ridge to the picturesque summit. Not much more time for anything else during this landing than to get back to the beach and be picked up by the zodiacs.
The afternoon is open to new adventures, making way northwards to the Antarctic Peninsula coasts through the western part of the Erebus and Terror Gulf. A wide and large embayment at the Eastern area of the Antarctic Sound, named for the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, the vessels used by Sir James Clark Ross in exploring these waters in 1842-43.
Due to the wild and volatile character of the Weddell Sea, we consider it better not to make a comprehensive and fixed plan for our activities here, and leave time between landing sites for any eventuality it may appear or to take any good chance these waters offer at any moment. Large icebergs, and open waters around… but there is a clear and thick sea-ice edge. A good opportunity arises to drop the boats and cruise along, under the warm, sunny skies and calm seas. Scattered Adelie penguin groups rest here and there. In between lay several of the light brown colored Crab-eater seals. A good look reveals a large Leopard seal too. The sound of a blow, the noise of a close spout. Humpback whales chose to travel along the same icy edge that we are following. The Europa steers close to them too, up aloft many enjoy the wide view of the packed ice and the whales swimming and diving nearby. The rubber boats have a closer sight from a lower perspective.
A day to remember, one of those journeys where Antarctica will carve its beauty in our minds. But not to forget that the weather, seas, and ice conditions here are continuously changing, growing and abating, flowing. Today the sun shines over mirroring waters. Can’t predict how will it be tomorrow. Already on the way toward the islands in the northern area of the Antarctic Sound, where we plan some of tomorrow’s activities, the blue skies slowly veil under high clouds. So far we haven’t got much of a difficult way through the ice, but drifting and moving as it is, the navigation to get there overnight requires a steady and focused hand at the wheel and decisions on how and where to take the increasing amount of sea ice that seems to accumulate in this area.