Antarctica - Land Ho Tuesday and Deception & Half Moon Islands Wednesday Nov 22 - 23 2011
Just around dinner time we sighted our first outcropping of land. The seas had calmed considerably as we had entered the shelter of the South Shetland Islands. These islands are not a part of the Antarctic Continent and are separated from it by the Bransfield Straight which we had just entered. This archipelago is composed of volcanic rock, and their spiky peaks are heavily glaciated.
Our first landing took place on Wednesday morning after the ship had negotiated the narrow entrance (called Neptune's Bellows) to "Deception Island." This island is actually a still-active volcano with the harbor in the caldera created about 10,000 years ago when huge quantities of magma formed a chamber that collapsed and was flooded with sea water. Because the island looks like a complete land formation from the sea, it got its name when the entrance was discovered. Of course, it is an ideal harbor and the flatness of the water was a welcome surprise after the rough seas of the Drake Passage. Anne and Tom were in group one (of 3 groups) and were whisked off the boat in the landing craft Zodiacs.
Because of the protective nature of this island, it was a haven for whalers and seal hunters and there was still evidence of that activity in rotting boats and broken casks that littered the shore. Hunting and processing of whale oil ended in the early 1930's when whale oil was not sought after and was no longer a profitable commodity. A climb to Neptune's Window would have given a view of the Antarctic Peninsula, but the clouds obscured this view of the mainland.
After lunch, we went on a second landing and in brilliant sunshine, we met our first penguins. Half Moon Island is home to over 3,000 breeding chinstrap penguins. It was a fantastic afternoon!
Antarctica - Thursday - Neko Harbor & Paradise Bay Nov 24, 2011
This morning we set foot on the Antarctic Continent. The sun was brilliant on the snow-capped mountains and we were greeted by gentoo penguins that flocked on the beach. There was also a Weddell seal sunning itself on a patch of snow. We were so fortunate to have such spectacular weather with the temperatures in the mid-30's.
After a short ship ride to Paradise Bay and another great lunch we decided to take the zodiac cruise around this bay that had icebergs as large as the ship. Unfortunately, all 11 zodiacs were out on this excursion and there were only 9 guides, so we had an apparently mute seaman to drive our boat rather than an expert guide and we missed any descriptions that would have been given about the bay and the surrounding glaciers and birds. He also got lost. Still, we got to get up close to the Petzval Glacier. There were stretches of pack ice that we had to maneuver through to get back to the ship. Be sure to watch the video from the zodiac. Dinner that night was turkey in honor of Thanksgiving.