Saturday, 17 January 2009

Whalers Bay, Hannah Point and Swimming in the Antarctic 13/01/2009

Day 17 January 13th 2009
Remember - if you want to see a larger version of any picture - just double click on it
A nice picture of Pat (taken at lunch today)
A nice picture of Pat
Day 17 January 13th 2009
Whaler's Bay is the first bay inside Port Foster as you pass through Neptune's Bellows at Deception Island. It was given it name by the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot due to the whaling activities undertaken in this bay in the 1900's/ This site has a flat cinder beach which extends approximately 100m inland before meeting the steep caldera wall. The buildings include the remains of the Norwegian Aktieselskabet Hektor whaling station and a British Antarctic Survey base which was evacuated in 1967 during an eruption. The BAS base, Station B has been a centre for aircraft operations in 19555-7 and 1959-69. Meteorological and geological research had also been conducted as this site. The beach itself is covered in ash and cinder under which you can see barrels, whale bones and other artifacts. From the landing beach it is a 15 minute wall up to Neptune's Window on the caldera wall. From this vantage point there is an excellent view of Port Foster and on a clear day you can see the Antarctic Peninsula on the other side of Bransfield Strait. The temperature of the water leads to cooked invertebrates being washed up on shore, for example, krill, brittle stars and sea urchins.
Educating the traveller is an important priority on this boat (and the fact that it happens is one reason why we chose it). On board there is a bird specialist, geologist; photographer; geneticist; biologist; historian and various other specialists (some a bit too esoteric to remember). There are also a number of general "dogs bodies" who help out and can answer most general questions. We are out in the boats or on-shore for five to six hours each day and one of them can usually be within distance if you have a question (unless you have chosen to go off on your own).
Overnight we have sailed through open sea to get to Deception Island and therefore the sea swell has picked up. After breakfast we sail through Neptune's Bellows (in the fog) into the
Neptune's Bellows in the fog (fog going in)
Neptune's Belllows (no fog going out)
Caldera and make our penultimate shore landing. It is very foggy at the moment but we are told it will clear up soon because it is quite warm at 2 degrees.
Around 1100 years ago, Deception Island was an active volcano, it erupted (massively) and once that eruption ceased, the volcano collapsed leading to a caldera which flooded and it also created Neptune's Window (a low part of the volcano wall) through which an American explorer (Palmer) claimed to have been the first to see the Antarctic Mainland in the 1800s.
Neptune's Window
Ioffe in the Bay
The Ioffe moored in the Bay and we went ashore. The shoreline exhibits the remains of whalers stations.
The British Antarctic Survey briefing on Whalers Bay says: "Deception Island has a history of human occupation dating from 1911 when a whaling station was established by "Hvalfangerselskabet Hector A/S" of Norway. It closed in 1931 because of a slump in whale oil prices.
On 3rd February 1944, a British base (Base B) was established on Deception Island by the Royal Navy during "Operation Tabarin" using three of the abandoned whaling station buildings. In 1945, Operation Tabarin terminated and the base was handed over to the Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS), the forerunner of the British Antarctic Survey. The main activities were meteorology and the operation of an air facility to support survey work and the other British bases in the Antarctic Peninsula region. An aircraft hanger was built in 1961.
The base was abandoned when the 1969 eruption mud flow destroyed most of the buildings and dramatically changed the topography and coastline."
WHalers Buildings and Tanks
Whaling Hut (0)
Inside Whaling Hut (1)
Inside Whaling Hut (2)
Inside the whalers hut and also the apparatus for extracting Whale Oil from blubber.
Boilers for whale oil

Whale oil conversion faciliity
Tanks with volcanic steam
Boilers for extracting whale oil
Graffiti from 1911
Whaler Graffiti dating from 1911
There is also an old British Antarctic Survey base which has its origins from the Second World War when the Navy established a base here to try to listen to what the Germans might be doing in the South Atlantic.
Whalers living quarters
Aircraft Hanger
The BAS base was last used in the 1960's when it had to be evacuated when the volcano erupted again covering many things with ash.
Tractor buried in ash
Evidence that the Volcano is still active is seen from the steam which erupts from the beach in a number
Volcanic Steam
of places plus the sulphur smell which drifts over the bay.
There are a few old graves of old whalers scattered around (this one has a Kelp Gull chick and mother keeping guard)
Old Gravestone and Kelp Gull
The whole place has a very eery feel about it and feels a bit ghostly.
Being our last day before the return over the Drake Passage, we decide it is just the place for a swim in the Antarctic waters. This is a bit of a cheat really because the Volcano warms the water close to the shore to 90 degrees and therefore the difficult part is to find a spot which is not too hot nor too cold. We are successful as is seen below.
It's hot
Surely he cannot be going in for a swim
Paul swimming in the Antarctic
Coming Out
Getting undressed in the Antarctic wind is painful, getting into the water is worse because it is so hot along the waters edge - one's feet cannot really tell if it is hurting because of the heat or the cold. You soon realise it is cold when you start swimming - then you get back into a hot water wallow as soon as possible. When you are revived, you get dressed as quickly as you can and they take you back to the ship as a priority case.
Anyway I have swum and Pat has paddled in the Antarctic - beat that! We also got certificates to prove we did it (or to prove we were mad) and to commemorate our membership of the Antarctic Polar Plunge Club.
Plunge Certificate
The certificate says: "This certifies that on the thirteenth day in January in the year Two Thousand and Nine, Paul (Patricia) Harvey "did nost sturdily enter the invigorating waters of the Southern Ocean when the observed temperature of the ocean registered very cold. We do solemnly acknowledge that this was an act of indubitable courage (as well as extraordinary, incomparable foolishness). Based on the Expedition Leader's observance of the act of absurd heroism and the Ship's Doctor's confirmation of the said person's temporary loss of any common sense, we consider the bearer of this certificate a key member of the Antarctic Polar Plunge Club."
It is then signed by the Ship's Doctor and the Expedition Leader.
Hannah Point lies in Walker Bay on the southern coast of Livingston Island. It is named after a sealing vessel that was shipwrecked on this site in 1820. Hannah Point is renowned for its abundant wildlife. This includes chinstrap and gentoo penguins and the occasional macaroni penguin along with blue-eyed shags, snowy sheathbills, kelp gulls, pintados, skuas and southern giant petrels. An elephant seal wallow is located near the gentoo penguin colony while a small collection of fossil plants can be found at the base of Walker Bay. Antarctica's two species of flowering plant Deschampsia Antarctica and Colobanthus Quitensis are also present at this site.

This link leads to the official Antarctic Treaty visitor site guide for Hannah point - it is worth reading because it shows the seriousness with which Antarctica is treated by most nations. 

After lunch it was off to Hannah Point in Walkers Bay. To say that the weather had changed is somewhat of an understatement. The swell was up, the wind was blowing hard, it was raining and generally horrid.

Weather changes very fast in the Antarctic and this was another example. Very few people were put off however since this was our last landing before heading back. We got soaked going to shore and then very very wet coming back and there was ice on the shore line which we had to tramp through when we landed. The attraction here was two wallows of Elephant Seals plus Gentoos of course and Chinstraps and a few Macaroni Penguins. The Elephant Seal with the biggest nose gets the best girls by the way.
Elephant Seals (1)
Elephant Seals (2)
Giant petral
A Giant Petral looking for lunch
When we got back to the Mud Room it was somewhat of an end of term feeling, we had done the last Zodiac ride through heavy seas, we did not have to put on six or seven layers again and the Beach Boys were playing on the ghetto blaster.
At the moment the ship has got wet weather clothes spread along all of the corridors to dry as well as hanging from every possible hook in our rooms.
The Travel Teddies had inadvertently made
Travel Teddy 2 gets dried
the trip with us and had to be dried before they could go back into the rucksack (when that is dry).
We have been given an unofficial weather forecast for the two day re-crossing the Drake Passage and it is not good. Apparently there are "three lows close together" which the sailors in our midst say is bad news. Because of this, the navigator has said that the boat is going East (rather than directly North to Ushuaia ) to try to avoid the worst of the weather - let us hope that the sea sickness tablets together with our sea legs work. Whilst it would be interesting to see it in full force, we shall not object if we have a calm passage.
Now it is off to the Bar for Happy Hour - we are assuming we will be too seasick over the next two days to enjoy it again.
Pat also buys a new T-shirt to prove she has been to Antarctica.
Pat in new T Shirt
During Happy Hour, the Ship's Doctor comes on the tannoy (all ships carrying more than around 60 passengers have to have a doctor on board) offering free prescription strength sea sickness tablets - proof positive that a rough ride is expected (apparently after midnight when we hit open ocean).
The post dinner talk this evening is on "passengers most profound questions". Examples offered (from earlier trips) include:
What are those black and white birds?"
Does the ship generate its own electricity?
Are there female sperm whales?
Do I put my bag out before or after I go to sleep?
Is this the same moon I see back home?
What nationality are the Russian crew?
Is the Great Auk still extinct?
If a penguin lays two eggs, does that mean it has two nipples?

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