Passing Deception Island

12/28/01    0500 hrs.
63 02 S
60 27 W
High clouds, temp +1 C

After a long night and day working in the Boyd Strait we are again underway. Currently we are passing Deception Island.

Deception Island is a flooded volcanic caldera that lies near the southern end of the South Shetland Island chain. Since its discovery in 1820, its natural harbor has seen almost continuous use and an excellent history is recorded.

The South Shetland Islands were discovered in on February 19, 1819 by William Smith sailing the British ship Williams. The Williams was blown off course while rounding Cape Horn. Smith did not land on the islands and an attempt to relocate them later that year failed. In October of 1819, Smith was successful in relocating the islands and landed on what is now  King George Island, claiming possession of it and the surrounding islands in the name of King George III.

Deception Island was discovered shortly after the exploration of the South Shetlands began and it's natural harbor became a base for the early seal hunters. Nathaniel Palmer, an American sealer and explorer after whom the Palmer Peninsula and the NBP are named, is reported to have seen the Antarctic Peninsula from Neptune's window in 1820.

In 1906 whalers began to operate out of the area and a number of factory ships were anchored in the inner cove now named Whalers Bay. By 19-15 there were 13 factory ships anchored in Whalers Bay and a shore station. The shore station closed in 1931.

On December 20, 1928  Australian Hubert Wilkins and pilot Carl Ben Eielson took off in a Lockheed Vega from a crude runway on the beach  and flew 2100 km to about 71 20 S along the Antarctic Peninsula. A test flight around the island by Wilkins a month earlier was the first powered flight in Antarctica.

During WWII British navy operations destroyed coal and fuel oil stores at the whaling station to prevent use by German ships. In 1942, an Argentinean navel vessel was sent to Deception to take formal possession of the island. They left a flag and documents in a copper cylinder. In 1943 a British navel vessel removed all evidence of Argentina's claim, and hoisted the Union Jack. The official documents were returned to Argentina via the British Ambassador in Buenos Aries. Two months later the Argentinean vessel was back, removing the British flag. At the end of 1943 the British established a permanent meteorological station on the island.

The establishment of the station did not end the territorial tug-o-war. In 1948 the Argentinean base of Deception was built and in 1952 huts were constructed by the Argentineans and Chileans on the runway initially built by Wilkins. These huts were removed by the British the next year. In 1953-54 British Royal Marines were stationed at Deception Island for 4 months. In 1955 Chile built a research station on the island formalizing its claim.

An accident in 1957 between an Argentine naval vessel and the Scottish whaling ship Southern Hunter, which caused the Scottish ship to sink added to the unstable situation.

In 1961, Argentina sent its president, Arturo Frondizi, on an official visit to the island.

Today all three countries, Argentina, Britain and Chile, claim Deception Island.

The volcanic history of the island is another story. During the 1920-21 whaling season, water in Whalers Bay began to boil and removed paint from the hulls of the ships anchored there. In 1930 the floor of the harbor dropped 5 meters during an earthquake. 1967 saw two volcanic eruptions that forced the evacuation of the Argentinean, British and Chilean bases and destroyed the Chilean base.  In 1969 the British base was damaged during an eruption and another eruption occurred in 1970.

The active volcanism of the island provides geo-thermally heated water that percolates through the volcanic beach sand and makes it possible to swim in the harbor's water, or with some work dig a "hot tub" in the sand and enjoy a warm bath. During the Hamilton College alumni trip on the World Discoverer we stopped at Deception Island for a swim. After more than two weeks in the Antarctic visions of  soaking in warm tubs of water filled our minds. On the island, no holes were  dug on the beach, just a quick swim in the ocean for most of us, with some staying in much longer than others. The ocean water was warmed, somewhat, causing one member of the group to comment that this is where the deception in Deception Island came from.

Entering Deception's harbor through Neptune's Bellows is a spectacular trip. The Antarctic Pilot describes the cliffs that form the entrance: "present a curious and not unpleasing appearance."

More this afternoon,



(Click image for larger version.)


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