Day 9: Deception Island

Morning of day 9—our last day of landings. SO BITTERSWEET.

We had two landings scheduled at Deception Island—one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Deception Island is the caldera of an active volcano. It erupted in 1967 and 1969. It looks all black, but it’s still ice, it’s just covered in volcanic ash. You can kick through the ash an inch or two and see the ice.

There’s an Argentinian research station here, and that was the site of our morning landing. We had the option to hike up to the top of the ridge of the caldera, where we would be able to look down to the other side to see a colony of 50,000 pairs of chinstrap penguins. ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND CHINSTRAP PENGUINS.

But first, we had to sail into the caldera, through a narrow channel (only 850 feet wide) called Neptune’s Bellows. The ship had an open bridge policy, which meant you could go in and visit it at any time, watching the captain and his team sail the ship. Even when navigating such a tricky channel, the captain kept the bridge open, they just asked that visitors please not talk while the captain got us through here.
It was a very foggy morning–the clouds hung really low in the sky. Most of us were out on deck to watch us sail through Neptune’s Bellows.


What the flight map looks like when you’re anchored in a caldera

Sailing very close to these cliffs.
And then we anchored and headed to shore in the zodiacs. This fur seal was waiting there to greet us.
The kayakers can be seen in the distance. During lunch, the ship would be repositioning to the other side of the caldera for our afternoon landing. The kayakers, instead of taking the ship, kayaked from this landing site to the other one. I think the idea of it was better than the reality of it—it sounded like it turned out to be a very difficult kayaking trip, cold and wet and challenging. But they can say they did it, right guys?

You can also see the steam rising from the ground.
We hiked up. And up. And up. And here Laurie, our guide, grabbed a quick photo.
The Quark penguins again.
The higher we hiked, the worse the visibility became. We were hoping that as the morning went on, the fog would lift, but it seemed to be getting worse, if anything. We hiked until we had almost zero visibility. It was hard to see people more than a few feet away. At that point, we decided it was pointless to go on—the goal was to see the penguin colony, and there was no way we were going to be able to see it in these conditions. No penguins!!! So sad.
We stopped and took a few photos of each other before turning around to go back down.

At this point, I was super disappointed. There had been a chinstrap or two at a couple of our other landings, but I had not seen them. I’d only heard other people talking about them or seen their photos of them. I really wanted to see one for myself. Even though I’d seen tons of other penguins, the chinstrap was the one type I could identify prior to this trip, so I really had been hoping to see one. Our afternoon landing, they’d already told us, was just more caldera, no wildlife. Bittersweet.
The research base. The Argentinians invited us in and had drinks and cookies set out for us. I tried to take a some photos inside but it was so warm compared to outside my lens completely fogged up, so I got nothing. It also got hot in there pretty fast in all my clothes, so I didn’t stay inside much longer than it took me to eat a couple of cookies.
Alex told us about a time a few years ago when they’d been anchored across the caldera, and someone called to them on their radio, asking, “Who is in that blue ship?” They identified themselves, and the Argentinians identified themselves and asked, “Do you have any cigarettes?” And they did, so they went over and visited them at the research station and have been visiting them ever since.
Time to go back to the ship.
Back on the ship, I realized that I hadn’t done my favorite trick of taking a photo of a scene through my phone, so I did that real quick. Since I had no internet on the ship, I didn’t use my phone at all, basically, for two weeks. I had thought I might use it as an alarm clock, but Alex’s wake-up calls over the PA system were all I needed, so my phone mostly just sat next to my bed, unused.

So then we ate lunch while the ship repositioned across the caldera for our afternoon landing. Next up: Telefon Bay.

Day 8: Port Charcot

This morning we were hoping for an early morning landing at Cape Tuxen before breakfast. This was our first attempt at a continental landing, but it was not to be. It was too stormy and the water too rough to land there. Alex came on the PA for our 6am wake-up call with the news that we couldn’t do that landing after all, so we could all go back to sleep.

Instead, we repositioned to a more protected area where we would be able to land safely. After breakfast, we did a split-landing—half time on land at Port Charcot, half time on a zodiac cruise. Allen, Jeff & I were in the land-first group.
This is probably my favorite photo from the entire trip. (If I had to choose just one.)
Taking photos from the ship as we wait for our zodiac group to be called
Hey, seals.
Getting some GoPro footage
This was a private French yacht with a team on board who were filming underwater wildlife. Snorkeling in Antarctica is serious bzness.
I did not know until this trip that penguins jump out of the water like this as they swim! We saw this many times, and every time it was just as fun to watch.
It was snowing lightly this morning.
Penguins like to enter the water in groups, in case there’s a predator waiting.
Penguin highway…white means coming, black means going.

And then it was time to hop in a zodiac for a cruise through some spectacular ice.
There’s a waterfall coming off this one…see it?
More of the awesome jumping penguins
And even more penguins.
Double arch!!
Look at all the seals swimming together.
Then we came upon this seal chilling on a hunk of ice. We cruised right by him, very slowly.
He was mildly curious about us.
And then it was time to go back on the ship. Next up…humpback whales and the polar plunge!

Day 6: Seals and some surprised Chileans

The seals may have been surprised, too, come to think of it.

After lunch, we prepared to visit Carvajal, a former British Antarctic Survey station that was transferred to Chile in 1984. It hadn’t been used in 14 years, though, so the expedition team had no reason to expect it would be manned now. Alex explained how part of his job is to make contact with manned stations the day before we hope to land there, to make sure they’re okay with having us as visitors and so they are expecting us.
But this day, since they thought it was vacant, the Quark team went ahead in their zodiacs to scope out the landing site ahead of bringing the passengers up, as usual, and they were surprised to find a group of about 10 Chileans working there. The Chileans were also pretty surprised to see them, since no one else had stopped there this season. (I can’t remember if they said they’d seen any other ships go by or not, but for sure none had stopped.) They were there to do repairs and maintenance on the buildings to get them ready to use as a research station again.

Despite having no advance notice, and possibly because they hadn’t seen other people since they got there in November, they were very welcoming towards us.
Here’s the spot where we landed. This was the rough landing spot I mentioned the other day…the zodiac was bobbing up and down by a foot or so in the water and we had to step out onto some large rocks and climb up a few big wet rocks. The Quark team and the Chileans stationed themselves along the path to give us a hand if we needed it. You can also see the bags (in the foreground here) where we put our lifejackets once we were on land.
Fur seals everywhere! Dozens of them!
What we looked like taking photos of them all.
The first elephant seal we’d seen. They open their mouths not to yawn but to bare their teeth, just so you know.
The blue bins stored a variety of things, including human waste. Even the people living on Antarctica must bring everything out with them.
The are the largest seals (in fact this one isn’t even a full-grown adult–he will likely still double in size), and their name refers to their trunk-like noses. Although it totally fits their massive size, too.

Parasites live in their noses for their whole lives, so they always have what looks like a runny nose as they try to expel them.
The hikers heading up a glacier.
More elephant seals at the base of the glacier. This was quite a ways from the water. I was pretty impressed that these seals can move well enough on land to get this far inland.
At the top of the glacier, remnants of a plane crash.
There’s the baby again with the others.
Dozens more fur seals were hanging out at the base of the glacier.
After this landing, we were back on the ship having our daily re-cap in the main lounge when suddenly one of the team brought in the Chileans!
They had wanted a tour of our ship. Everyone gave them a very warm welcome (there was lots of clapping and cheering), and one of them gave a short speech in Spanish (which was translated for us) thanking us for visiting. Several people wanted to take photos with them. Quark also gave them a couple crates of fresh produce, which they hadn’t had since November.

And then we had dinner and sailed into a hurricane. I’ll make that a separate post, since this is already so long.

Day 6: Morning on Horseshoe Island

Day 6, still south of the circle. Our third day of doing landings.
Keeping the deck clean. I was out on deck a little earlier than usual this morning. Before we got to Antarctica, I had thought I would be up super early to take pictures, or even get up in the middle of the night to see the stars. But as excited as I was to see and photograph it all, I was exhausted at the end of each day, so I never woke up before the wake-up call each morning, which came 30 minutes before breakfast. (The time of breakfast varied depending on the day’s plans.)

So anyway, this was the only day I caught anyone cleaning the decks.
The first zodiac full of passengers heads to our morning landing site. This site had tighter restrictions on how many people could be on land at once, so they took us in two waves. Allen, Jeff & I were in the second wave.
The views from the ship were amazing as always.
This morning we were venturing to Horseshoe Island in Marguerite Bay, home of a British research base that had been abandoned in 1960. It was left basically as they’d left it in 1960–magazines & food & all.
This site had a guest book we could sign.
Fun fact: Buildings in Antarctica are never locked, in case anyone has emergency need for shelter.
That paper posted on the wall says at the top: “HOW TO BAKE ABOUT 9 LBS OF BREAD.”
This bright green is copper that’s been exposed and oxidized. It was in rocks all over the island.
Guess who!
More of the oxidized copper
We saw a few seals around the island.
But these were the only two penguins (Adelies) that we saw this morning. Mostly we were too far south for penguins.
This was one of the zodiac rides where I decided to take my chances and keep a camera out, because we’d gone through some really cool ice on the way to land.
This was also the zodiac ride where we had to get towed in. And sitting at the front of our zodiac you can see a piece of ice that Jimmy had collected. They melted this and auctioned off the glacier water at the end of the trip.
The ice was right there.

By the way this also reminds me that in the middle of the night on the ship, you could hear the ship hitting and scraping ice in the water. It was a little disconcerting, but I just told myself that it must be normal because I heard it a lot and nothing bad ever seemed to happen.
And thus ended the morning. Then it was time to eat lunch as we headed to our next landing site, which is where we surprised the Chileans.

Day 5: Zodiac cruise

After we had sailed south of the circle, we were hoping to do a landing at Detaille Island, but there turned out to be too much ice to reach it. So instead, we dropped anchor near there in Crystal Sound and did some scenic cruising in the zodiacs after brunch.

We spent about an hour and a half cruising around among the ice and the wildlife. The weather was perfect, with blue skies and very little wind.
Inside the zodiac. Adrian the bird expert was driving it, and you can see his camera is out and sitting on his bag next to him. That’s how I knew it was safe to get out my camera.
Arches in the ice look really cool, but they aren’t safe to sail under because they could collapse at any time.
Quark had hired this French videographer, Hugo, to record some promo videos during our expedition. By the end of the trip, he had already put together a first cut of his video, and they showed it to us on the last night. It was awesome! It will eventually be online.
He got to go out in his own zodiac to get the footage he wanted.


Our ship and some other zodiacs in the distance



Fur seal, looking to me a lot like a wet rat



Crabeater seals, which aren’t found much farther north than this

Whales will come up to pieces of ice like this and try to knock the seal (or seals) off by diving under one edge of the ice and coming up to rock it. We didn’t witness this on this trip, but the guides told us they’d seen a group of whales work together for quite a while to rock a seal off the ice. (And sometimes the seal still manages to get away.)


Cauliflower iceberg?

We were able to get pretty close in our zodiacs…I shot these seals with my 24-70mm lens, not the long telephoto.
Approaching the ship at the end of the zodiac cruise. You can see the zodiac ahead of us unloading.
We’d been hoping to sail through a very narrow channel called the Gullet that afternoon. Alex had told us the night before that they’d been unable to see the area from the satellite photos from the past week because it had been cloudy, so they weren’t sure how much ice there was. He’d warned that there was a good chance that it would be choked with ice and we wouldn’t be able to get through, but we were going to try anyway.

And as it turned out, once we got there, there was, in fact, too much ice. We were still heading further south, but now we had to go out and around some islands, so we did not have an afternoon landing this day while we were repositioning.

When he made this announcement over the PA system, I was a little relieved, actually, because I was so freaking exhausted; I just wanted a nap. (But I didn’t want to miss anything! It was so hard to decide to sleep!) We had a light lunch at 2 in the afternoon, and then I headed to my cabin to sleep. Allen was in there resting, too, and as I stripped down to just one layer of long underwear, I said to him, “Since I’m taking all this off, something exciting is bound to happen outside.” Sure enough, about a minute after I’d crawled under the covers, Alex came over the PA system to announce that we were about to pass by a particularly impressive iceberg that we would not want to miss, and in fact the captain was going to circle around it 360 degrees so we could get the best possible views. I said, “I KNEW IT!” But I stayed in bed. I hated to miss it but I was so, so tired.

I basically slept the rest of the night. I woke up and went to dinner but after dinner I went right back to bed and slept until the morning wake-up call. I don’t know what was happening on the rest of the ship, but I needed that sleep.

The next day…the farthest point south we would go. But first…I think I’ll write about how the zodiacs worked.