We were told at the beginning of the Expedition to Antarctica that “flexibility” would be the word for the trip, and that’s proving to be especially true today. Our itinerary for today called for us to visit Deception Island in the morning, then sail about three hours north to Half Moon Island to see a colony of chinstrap penguins. (Most of what we’ve seen so far have been Gentoo penguins, which are definitely cute, but chinstrap penguins are flat-out adorable.) We accomplished the Deception Island part just fine, but that’s where things stalled out. A weather front came through with a lot more strength than expected, and we’ve been experiencing snow and strong winds—so strong that we’re stuck here until the storm passes.
At right is a shot (click on it to see it larger) of what the scene looked like out our dining-room window at lunchtime. The weather in Antarctica is so changeable. We’ve seen fog, rain, bitter cold, and bright sunny days where we were sweating like crazy in our ship-issued red parkas. But I think even the crew is surprised at today’s all-day snow in the middle of the Antarctic summer.
We did have a more or less successful landing at Deception Island this morning. The island is actually the flooded center, or caldera, of a collapsed volcano, with a single entrance called Neptune’s Bellows. Once the ship entered the caldera this morning, we made a right turn and anchored at Whaler’s Bay—named for the whaling operation that started here in the early part of the 1900s. You can still see remnants of the gruesome operation on shore: dilapidated buildings and equipment, and the big silo-like containers in which the whale blubber was processed into whale oil. About three-fourths of the ship’s passengers were willing to go over on Zodiac boats in less-than-pleasant weather to explore the grounds, but the visit was a quick one, as the storm kicked up strong winds and sideways sleet. Between that and the strong waves on the Zodiac ride, people came back with a lot of wet clothes.
I didn’t go out on this particular excursion. I looked at the weather, figured I might not have brought enough layers, knew that there wouldn’t be any wildlife to photograph, thought about how late I’ve been staying up each night to look at the icebergs and watch for whales from the ship’s deck, and decided it would be a perfect opportunity to take a nap in my cabin. I’m happy with my decision, but the ship’s expedition leader, Klemens Pütz, complimented those who did go for making a “true Antarctic landing.”
John Cannon, one of the Penn Staters on the trip, was one of those who ventured over to the shore, and he got some pretty cool photos on his iPhone. Check out the short slide show below. He has a nice eye, and the black-and-white quality of the photos seems apt for the haunting nature of the place.
Anyway, by the time everyone was back on ship, the captain announced that the storm had intensified and that we wouldn’t be able to leave the relative shelter of the caldera until it passed. Our original plans had called for us to cruise north for three hours after lunch for a landing at Half Moon Island, but no such luck. Instead we spent the afternoon just relaxing on the ship: One of the lecturers gave a talk, some of us hung out in the lounge listening to a classical pianist while we chatted and compared trip photos, others played cards in the lounge, and I suspect quite a few others got nice long afternoon naps. There are worse things than a day stuck on a cruise ship.
The latest word from the captain is that we might be able to get out of here after dinner tonight, and, weather and ice conditions permitting, we’ll head straight for a point called Brown Bluff. A colony of Adélie penguins is waiting for us there.