Saturday 3 December 2011

Fire is nice too!

The theme for today is fire, fire from underground. This morning we sailed through an opening in the caldera of the active volcano known as Deception Island. The opening is named Neptune’s Bellows and is probably a reference to the fierce winds that sometimes blow through. The bellows are tricky to navigate because of these winds but also because it is very narrow and has a rock below the surface in the middle. We had lots of ice floes going through which foretold what we would find inside the caldera.

There was lots of ice in Whaler’s Bay, which made landing impossible there. Instead we reached further into the caldera and found Telefon Bay free of ice. So we landed in this stark landscape, seemingly devoid of life and formed only by physical processes- volcanism and the interplay of rock and ice. Even in this place though, we saw a few birds like the Gentoo Penguin, Blue-eyed Shag and South Polar Skua. Many of us hiked up the side of the volcanic hill above the landing place, and eventually up to the peek of a cinder cone and around a greenish lake. We returned to the Fram feeling that we got to know a volcano a bit better!

After a short reposition over lunch we moored near the Argentinean base “Primero de Mayo” on the shores of Port Foster. Base personnel are not due to arrive until the beginning of the new year so we had the beautiful area to ourselves. We hiked along the beach and discovered a young Weddell Seal resting. Further along, two strong fumaroles were venting hot, sulphurous gases. The one down by the sea was literally boiling the seawater as it lapped over the vent. Sub-surface the water was stained with iron oxide. All this really made us feel close to the volcano. A real highlight for today was swimming in Antarctica! The volcanic activity warmed the water at the beach but beyond it was about 0°C! Many took the plunge and will receive a special certificate. Our intrepid photographer Simon captured all the action by immersing himself in the icy waters for almost the whole landing- "Mad dogs and Englishmen swim in Antarctic waters!"

So yesterday we had ice and today we had fire. Who knows what is in store for us tomorrow and we start crossing the Drake Passage on our way back to Ushuaia.