As we neared the South Shetland Islands this morning, a healthy complement of albatross and petrels gracefully cut their way through the building winds and circled the ship as if they were escorting us to the icy continent. We entered the English Straits just as breakfast was concluding. This narrow passage provides a dramatic entrance to the South Shetlands, with its rocky exposed reefs and stark ice capped volcanic peaks serving as a strainer for the strong tidal currents and wind tortured seas. On the bridge, wind speeds of 70 knots were being recorded. By the time we reached our anchorage later in the morning the winds were still steady at 40 to 50 knots, less than ideal for our first landing. Being that this is an expedition, we all were prepared for the change of plans.
This area is notorious for unfavorable weather, as the South Shetlands Islands are exposed to the near constant wind and swells of the prevailing weather of the Southern Drake Passage. With no other options for a protected anchorage, the Expedition Leader and Captain chose to make way further south and west for a scenic cruise to Bailey Head on the southeastern side of Deception Island.
A still active volcanic caldera, Deception Island is a stunning and prominent sight, made even more so by the still howling winds, whitecap strewn waters and prominent volcanic landforms. A large colony of chinstrap penguins call this rather inhospitable location home, and for the breeding season all are visible from the ship as our fine bridge officers positioned National Geographic Endurance in the near gale force winds deftly. The outer decks were soon filled with excited guests taking in this dramatic scene.
As we navigated further south, we were treated to a wonderful presentation by Zaria Forman, our resident artist and the curator of the new and permanent “Change” art exhibit that fills the corridors and public spaces of the ship. An accomplished artist, Zaria was tasked with curating this climate change themed, global floating expedition vessel, making National Geographic Endurance the first of its kind. Shortly after, we all gathered again in the Ice Lounge for our traditional Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Reception, and celebrated our day and the journey ahead.