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Daily Archives: 12. January 2015 − News & Stories


Decep­ti­on Island

It is part of a polar traveller’s life to return to the same place again and again. Of cour­se the­re are tho­se pla­ces whe­re you are get­ting blown by the wind only once in a life­time. Others are rou­ti­ne. Most are some­thing inbet­ween. And occa­sio­nal­ly, as I have to admit, the­re are tho­se pla­ces I could well do without, at least some­ti­mes.

Decep­ti­on Island is amongst the let­ter. The island has got its name for good – or rather: bad – rea­son. Who cares that nobo­dy real­ly knows any­mo­re what that rea­son was. Any­way, too often you feel decei­ved for the pre­cious time after a visit the­re. But ever­y­bo­dy knows this famous island and almost ever­y­bo­dy wants to go the­re.

Not so today. Alrea­dy the approach was an ant­arc­tic delight, a light bree­ze under a bright sun, the rim of the cal­de­ra of Decep­ti­on Island ahead of us in full width. The ent­ran­ce, known as Neptune’s Bel­lows, is such a thing in its­elf. It is qui­te nar­row, and to make bad things worse, mother natu­re pla­ced a rock in the midd­le of it, pro­bab­ly in a moment of bad tem­per. This rock has cost some ships more than just a scratch of paint.

The Nor­we­gi­an wha­lers used to be tough peop­le. Put a wha­ling sta­ti­on the­re, on a plain of black vol­ca­nic sand. Tho­se who think that it is gene­ral­ly calm insi­de this see­min­gly well-shel­te­red natu­ral har­bour will soon be disap­poin­ted (decep­ted, isn’t it?), and I don’t want to know what it was like to spend the day up to the waist in whaleb­lood and –oil, in almost con­stant wind, cold and a natu­ral sand blower.

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Litt­le is left of all this, or of a sta­ti­on that was built here later by the Bri­tish. Vol­ca­nic erup­ti­ons that went tog­e­ther with ash­falls and meltwa­ter tor­rents tur­ned it all into splin­ters.

On a nor­mal day, which means in win­dy, cold, grey wea­ther, most will be done rather quick­ly here and hap­pi­ly be back on board soo­ner rather than later. But life is good here on a rare sun­ny day. Of cour­se, I am sup­po­sed to enjoy it in any kind of wea­ther and always to cap­tu­re some good pics, but … not­hing, it is sim­ply less fun in bad wea­ther. Peri­od. But today, the­re are so many lar­ger objects and small details that catch the eye and the photographer’s atten­ti­on. The com­bi­na­ti­on of decaying buil­dings, rus­ting ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry indus­tri­al remains and ant­arc­tic natu­re in a vol­ca­nic set­ting is inde­ed uni­que. Star­ting with colour­ful vol­ca­nic rocks lying on black ashes to lonely patches of mos­ses and the old air­pla­ne han­gar (it took ages and almost bury­ing the came­ra in the ashes to get that pho­to right) to the few remaing gra­ves (dito).

Con­si­de­ring that the ear­lier descri­bed visit to Half­moon Island was actual­ly also today, you will agree that it was a gre­at day.

Half­moon Island

Hoor­ay – Land! We have been at sea for just two days, very calm days, not­hing com­pa­red to the long legs that are to come later in the trip. But it is always gre­at to arri­ve some­whe­re. „Some­whe­re“ is th South Shet­land Islands in this case, a group of islands off the nor­thwes­tern Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la, neigh­bou­ring the Dra­ke Pas­sa­ge. As you might ima­gi­ne, the wea­ther is usual­ly sh … here, and opti­mism was limi­ted last night as I went to bed and the islands were most­ly hid­den behind curtains of snow.

And inde­ed, the wind was a bit adver­se when we approa­ched Half­moon Island in the midd­le of the night, so Cap­tain deci­ded to drop anchor not in the usu­al by of the island that bears its name for a rea­son, but behind it – the dark side of the moon, as one might say. Tur­ned out it wasn’t the grea­test posi­ti­on for our Zodiac ope­ra­ti­ons when we star­ted: a lon­gish ride into the waves, and my col­league Dima and I spent qui­te some time in (mode­ra­te) surf, hand­ling Zodiacs while we were get­ting ever­y­bo­dy ashore. At 5 a.m., as shouldn’t go unno­ti­ced. Well, sleep is gene­ral­ly over­ra­ted, and so is bre­ak­fast. But who cares about slee­ping and eating when you can spend the ear­ly morning wal­king around on an ant­arc­tic island in the vicini­ty of Chin­strap pen­gu­ins? They are the lou­dest, dir­tiest, live­liest and bad­dest-tem­pe­red amongst the ant­arc­tic pen­gu­ins. Ama­zing crea­tures, like all the wild­life down here. Very enter­tai­ning!

And a lonely Mac­ca­ro­ni pen­gu­in in the midd­le of one of the colo­nies. Wha­te­ver he was doing the­re, he must have been fee­ling like a hor­se in the midd­le of a herd of cows, but he did appear­ent­ly not mind, as he was stan­ding the­re hap­pi­ly with his big, red beak and his lovely yel­low-gol­den hair­cut. Good for us, as we are unli­kely to see this spe­ci­es again on our trip, and we would cer­tain­ly have mis­sed some­thing we we hadn’t seen this pecu­li­ar, rather sub-ant­arc­tic pen­gu­in. All this with the grand sce­ne­ry of the islands of Living­ston and Green­wich in the back­ground. Hard to lea­ve … but then the­re were rumours about bre­ak­fast on the ship, some­thing that came as the icing on the cake of a gre­at ear­ly morning. Don’t belie­ve anyo­ne who pre­ten­ds bre­ak­fast isn’t important.

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On the rare occa­si­ons when Living­ston Island is strip­ping off its usu­al cloud cover, it is just gre­at. A few small clouds for deco­ra­ti­on pur­po­ses near some of the hig­her peaks, most­ly blue ski­es over Brans­field Strait, war­ming sun­rays on the skin and the blow of Hump­back wha­les qui­te regu­lar­ly not too far from the ship. A mother with calf, swim­ming their way in a rela­xed man­ner, hard­ly taking noti­ce from us. Unf­or­gett­able hours!

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