We were almost at the end of our journey in Antarctica. It was the last evening and we were supposed to head back to Drake passage after the last landing on the next day. On that day, we were again asked to get ready immediately after lunch and the evening briefing also started bit early. While we were wondering the reason behind the change, expedition leader announced that we will be heading back to Drake passage immediately. A strong storm was forming in the Drake passage during our return journey and getting struck in hurricane winds in the middle of Drake passage was not an option. Waiting for the storm to subside will result in delayed return to Ushuaia jeopardising all our plans. Captain mentioned that if we start back right away we can escape the storm except for the last few hours.
Does it mean that we will miss the last landing in Antarctica? The expedition leader announced that we will landing in the night and then start the journey back to Drake Passage!! The landing spot was Deception Island. It was a mix of joy and worry. The worry was that the return journey in Drake Passage will be rough but the joy was that we would be landing in Deception Island in the night!!
What is Deception Island?
Deception Island is an island in South Shetland and one of the two active volcanoes in Antarctica, the other being Mount Erebus in Ross Island. One part of the volcano collapsed which resulted in sea water flooding the volcano. That forms a very narrow passage into the caldera. The entrance is just 230 meters wide with a rock below the water in the middle of the canal making it very tricky for the ship to navigate. It got the name “Deception island” as it looks deceptive from outside with its narrow entry into the caldera.
The last time it erupted was in 1967 and 69 which damaged scientific stations in the island.
Expedition leader had announced that the entry into the volcano would be dramatic and unlike Lemaire channel it is going to last only for 5 mins. Dinner was served early that day and most of us retreated to our beds in the room to get some rest before the landing. Sleep sickness tablets made back their entry as we would be entering into Drake passage after landing!!
Sailing into Deception island
Alarm went off with the expedition leader announcing that it was time to get to the deck to see the entry into Deception island. In summer, the sun never sets in Antarctica. Since we were in the northern part of Antarctica, the sun indeed disappears for sometime but it never gets dark as the twilight light up the sky during that time.
But it looked darker outside than the other days. The mist had covered the area and the visibility was very less. Deception island was barely visible and was still 30 minutes away. We walked around the deck in anticipation of exciting time.
The visibility was almost zero as the ship approached the island. The outer part of the island was barely visible and I thought that the ship may not be able to enter the narrow passage into the island. I was surprised when I looked into the Google Maps to check the location. The ship was indeed moving into the volcano!! I also saw Captain coming out of the bridge and looking outside. He said “We are already in Deception island”. He took us into the bridge and showed how they navigated into the island. The radars and modern navigation equipment make it possible for the ship to enter in such low visibility!!
The mist started to lift as the ship anchored in Whalers bay in Deception island. Zodiacs were quickly lowered and we were in the land within few minutes. The geothermal hot spot was resulting in ice melting faster in Deception Island. It was the first place in Antarctica where we were seeing such a large ice free land!!
The experience at Deception island was completely different thanks to the night landing and the Volcanic nature of the place. The dilapidated buildings reminded of the effects of previous eruption. But the huge rusting boilers told a different but a sad story.
These huge structures looked like oil storage tanks but that was not the case. These were used to extract oil from whales. The whaling industry collapsed but the huge structures still remain to tell the story of the gory past. In fact, it was the sealing industry that accelerated in discovering Antarctica who were looking at new opportunities to get seals.
The final act
An opportunity was provided in Deception Island for polar plunge. Few brave souls jumped into the water!! The water was still cold and people could stay in water for only few seconds. It reminded me of a similar adventure earlier where I jumped into the cold water of Manasa Sarovar. I did not repeat the adventure here but spent time in capturing those nice moments.
It was post midnight when we settled into the warmth of the ship. What a great way to end the trip!!
Related posts of Antarctica
- Antarctica travel – Information and tips
- Crossing Drake passage
- A typical day in Antarctica
- Lemaire Channel