Sunday, April 16, 2006

Deception Island, Antarctica

Safe Harbour in Volcano at the end-of-the-world
The quality of this picture is poor but the courage and audacity of the yacht’s crew for me commands the greatest respect.
I took this photo just over a year ago in Deception Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. (Yes, the word in is correct – I’ll explain later!)
Today I look at the picture and wonder who the brave sailors were who ventured there.
To have rounded the Horn is an awesome adventure; to have sailed across Drake Passage a challenge few would consider; to have contended with the tumultuous seas, icy winds and snow on a small yacht (albeit summer in Antarctica) is near unbelievable.
Having sailed to Antarctica on a cruise ship, I wasn’t able to relate to the experiences of sailing to those lethal latitudes.
The nearest I came was standing on deck for hours armed with a camera – my hands almost dropping off with cold.
But that alone allowed me to conjure in my mind an idea of what the early sailors would have endured on their voyages of discovery.
Deception Island is well named. It is not an island but a huge caldera of a (currently active) volcano. The land which surrounds it (as seen in the photo) sits out of the sea like the rim of a huge teacup. But unlike the white china appearance of the other Antarctic Islands the inside walls of this crater contrast starkly –they are thick with black volcanic ash.
The only entrance to the island is through a narrow crack in the rim but for those who find that entrance, the island's water is welcoming - calm in comparison to the unpredictably moody sea's outside, littered with treacherous icebergs; even warm in parts, where the volcanic activity below heats the water sending clouds of steam rising like smoke on the water.
Despite the inhospitable nature of this end-of-the-world location, in the summer months scientists live and work near the water's edge in the Antarctic Research Stations.
From the ship I saw two, each comprising of a handful of huts which priovide a temporary home in this desolate, virtually inescapable place - one of the most isolated places on earth.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, to see a yacht, moored as if it was in a fashionable harbour in some cold but peaceful bay or river.
In this case, however, the buildings in the background are not a yacht club, but the long abandoned remains from a previous expeditionary/scientific/whaling station.
(Perhaps there is an expert who can put me right here.)
I would love to know who the intrepid crew of the yacht were who had taken their lives in their hands, braved the elements and done what many seamen today and in the past would never contemplate doing.
I envy your courage!
Photo M. Muir – Jan 2005 Deception Island, Antarctica


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