||62°59.0’ S / 060°33.7’ W
The day started early today, with an overcast sky and a slow approach towards Neptune’s Bellows to sail inside the caldera of Deception Island. We arrived at Whalers Bay and after breakfast our first landing in the South Shetland Islands and of our last day before heading back across the Drake Passage started.
Once ashore we explored the remnants of the whaling station and the British Antarctic Survey station. Along the shore we found brittle stars, several skuas lying and resting, a very young male Weddell seal, who had hauled out a short distance from the shore for a long rest, and many pieces of different types of algae.
A short hike along the shore and up to Neptune’s Window allowed us a view of the Antarctic Peninsula, the same view from which Nathaniel Palmer in 1820 spotted the seventh continent for the first time.
Brave swimmers enjoyed the POLAR PLUNGE!
We left Whalers Bay and headed back through Neptune’s Bellows and sailed North towards our last landing of the trip, Hannah Point on Livingston Island. Shortly after lunch our ship encountered a pod of orcas, as well as a few humpback whales. We were extremely lucky as the orcas became rather playful, came right to the ship, diving just below the surface in front of the bow and staying with us for some time before heading off again to mind their own business.
A little bit later than expected because of our fantastic encounter we arrived at Hannah Point. We were split into three groups, and were guided on a walk from the landing beach through the rookeries of chinstrap and Gentoo penguins, past a pile of elephant seals to a nice viewpoint atop a cliff from where we were able to see Deception Island again. Amongst the chinstraps we spotted a single Macaroni penguin, bringing the total to four different species of penguins on our trip. From there we followed a well-worn path to Walker Bay where we could look at some of the fossils found in this area. As a special farewell, two male elephant seals started to fight right next to our departure point and we were able to watch this experience from a short distance.
As we departed the South Shetlands and set sail north across the Drake Passage we sailed past many big icebergs, some tabular, some sculpted by the sea into beautiful forms, and one of the last ones was particularly beautiful with fantastic blue colours and a big cave eroded into the berg by constant wave action.
Mysterious Deception Island loomed in the distance as we approached Neptune’s Bellows for safe passage into Whaler’s Bay.
Having now mastered the routine of getting people settled into their kayaks thirteen of us this time took off from near the beach in search of fur seals…they must’ve gone to the tropics, they were nowhere to be found.
But we did manage to paddle on and out through the Bellows, veering left past the numerous caves and toward the large stack and swelly gap. Fred and Neil explored the caves. Fred being in his element (a whitewater kayaker with 35 years’ experience, many of those years also as a high level instructor and certificate examiner, BCU) and Neil, his constant companion for worldwide kayaking trips, zipped into and out of each cave…timing the swells perfectly, of course. Fred was happy to report later the caves were quite deep…he could hear and see the rush of the waves as they hit the backs.
For the rest of us we paddled passed the swelly bit between the stack and shore to turn and have a look at it from the other side. The swells didn’t seem too large and with a low tide it seemed reasonable to paddle through the gap. With the wind in our faces we paddled hard and fast and all made it through without mishap!
If we’d given thought to attempting this at the beginning of the trip most of us would’ve laughed and said, “I don’t think so!”
But with our newfound skills, confidence and practice we were up for the challenge.
What a load of fun it was and extremely gratifying. It was also fun watching Fred as he rammed through swells breaking against the rocks…now we have something to aspire to in paddling! We accepted a ride to the beach and watched as some of our fellow paddlers joined the fray in having a Polar Plunge. Jason and Beverly had on their penguin costumes just for the occasion.
All in all it was paddling perfection…a wonderful way to see Antarctica on the mostly quiet waters, away from the ship and other forms of human intervention. We were thrilled to have this amazing opportunity and privilege to experience being on the water surrounded on all sides by this breathtaking scenery and these wonderful marine mammals and birds.
For many of us, this will be the highlight of our trip to the Antarctic Peninsula. In total, we enjoyed five kayak outings with all fourteen present, but for the last one when Rich sat it out. Well done, Lamb family (Graeme, Mel, Em and Georgie) and friend Vicki, Nikki and Ingrid (from Most Timid to Most Improved), Jason and Beverly (our resident penguins), Rob and Emily, Rich and Cheryl and of course Fred and Neil (our two sub-guides and intrepid paddlers).
You all made this such a splendid and memorable experience. It was Paddling Sublime in the Extreme!