Deception Island, Antarctica


Deception Island was our last stop…upon reflection, it really tied everything together. I will start with a small detour and add an interesting twist and a bit of symmetry.

By chance, literally 48 hours after I landed back home from Antarctica, I was fortunate to see Mensun Bound speak at the Adventurer’s Club in Los Angeles. Steve Lawson had reached out to me a few months earlier to let me know he had secured Mensun as a guest speaker. I’m still amazed and not sure exactly how he did that.

In case you don’t know, Mensun Bound was one of the leaders of the expedition that found Shackleton’s Endurance ship 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) below the surface of the Weddell Sea on March 5th, 2022 — 106 years after it sank. Epic story.

I spoke to Mensun about the Endurance, my recent trip to Antarctica, and about photogrammetry.

Frank Worsley

Since I knew I would be attending the event and getting a signed copy of his book, I had been waiting to buy and read it. I’m reading it now and ran across a very interesting passage where Mensun describes Shackleton’s enviable navigator, Frank Worsley.

Worsley had written down the coordinates of where they abandoned the Endurance but Mensun needed to evaluate the accuracy given the technology available in the very early 1900s. It was the starting point, but how accurate was it?

As you might know, Shackleton and the other 27 sailors ended up landing on Elephant Island which was our first stop of the trip. What I did not know is that Deception Island was the first thought about where to proceed — which was our planned last stop.

Below is a quote from Mensun’s book (emphasis mine) along with a map that shows the path of the Endurance after it was trapped and pushed through the floes, when it sank, and when it was abandoned.

“At this that time they were heading in a westerly direction for the Bransfield Strait with the idea of heading down the South Shetland Chain to Deception Island, where there was shelter and possibly food.

On 12 April, three days after they had taken to their boats, Worsley managed to take a position. Until then, they all thought they had progressed 30 miles in the direction of the South Shetlands. Worsley’s fix told him that they had indeed travelled 30 miles – but in the opposite direction. The current from the Bransfield Strait had been stronger than they thought. Everybody, even Worsley, doubted his position. But then it was obvious that Deception Island was unreachable. For a while Shackleton considered Hope Bay at the very tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, but when they met with long streams of ice they decided instead to head for Elephant Island, which was at the very top of the Shetland Chain.”

Section of the map that shows the Endurance drift and abandonment

Based on the map above, you can see the path of the crew moving west when they realized that there was no way to reach Deception Island and instead went for Elephant Island which they did reach.

Deception Island

Deception Island is a very interesting place. It is the caldera of an active volcano and is shaped like a horseshoe. The entry to the “inside” and sheltered part of the crater is via small channel and it has a few navigation hazards including “Raven’s Rock” which lies 8 feet below the surface in the middle of the entrance channel.

Starting in the early 1800s, the inside area was used for whaling and sealing operations. It makes total sense given how sheltered the inside cover area is. It then died out for a while before picking back up in the early 1900s with an active and expanded whaling industry in South Georgia. Relics of the past whaling industry are easily visible and scattered throughout the area.

Later on, there were scientific expeditions and the island still has active research bases that are habituated during the summer season. In fact, there is still remnants of an ash runway that was used to land small airplanes and there is also a derelict airplane hanger.

We got to the entrance of Deception Island around 7:30am and had cloudy, overcast conditions. I snapped a few pictures as we slowly made our way into the relative safety of the inner part of the horshoe-shaped island.

Entrance to Deception Island (Neptunes Bellows)

Diving @ Whaler’s Bay

I had heard that visibility on Deception Island could be a bit “iffy” but I was determined to get a dive in at this historical location. It was also our last stop so I had to get in the water. We were stationed at “Whaler’s Bay.”

Indeed, the first part of the dive had pretty bad visibility. Maybe 5 feet. I stuck close to my dive buddies and had a strobe on me to help a little bit. We followed the gentle slope down to about 50-60 feet deep and then things got better and there was a little bit of a wall with all sorts of cool creatures. It really is amazing the difference in colors between the surface and underwater.

True to the location, I found whale bones.

Whale Bone surrounded by urchins and starfish
Crazy big sea star

Land Tour

After we finished our dive, we went ashore to explore. I took a risk and brought my 100-400 lens in a dry bag and fumbled around installing it and leaving my underwater housing on the boat. I’m glad I did. There was a lot of really interesting wildlife and scenery. The remnants of the whaling & seal operations were obvious and there were also a lot of seals that were “play fighting” which made for good pictures.

It reminded me a lot of the old “ghost towns” of the western US.

It was snowing a bit and raining / misting and I had changed my lenses in those conditions so I had quite a few “smudges” in the photos.

There was quite a bit of wildlife living within the Deception Island sheltered area.

End of Day & Start the Journey Home

We got back on the boat and left the area around 14:30 and started our long journey home.

During the debrief at 6:30pm, we got a glimpse of the weather prediction for our crossing of the Drake back to Ushuaia.

Suffice it to say, it was going to be interesting. We ended up having 100 mph winds and 20-30 foot seas on Saturday but we eventually made it back home. The 2+ days at sea gave us a chance to clean and re-pack our gear, attend more seminars, and reminisce about all the beauty we had witnessed.

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