With an unusually calm Drake Passage behind us, our time on the coast of Antarctica began sooner than expected. Due to incredible cruising speeds and the flat sea state, we were able to land on the morning of our second full day aboard. Unprecedented!
Robert Point in the South Shetland Islands, 75 miles NW of the Antarctic Peninsula, was our first landing in Antarctica proper. Strong winds and precipitation contrasted with our mild crossing but gave us a healthy taste of this part of the world. Moulting elephant seals were hauled out across the cobble beach while nesting Gentoo penguins sat on eggs and even hatched chicks! Some were a few seconds old while others a few days old. The next generation has arrived.
Half Moon Island was destination number two for the day. With the chance to get out on a long hike we took to the hills for a one-way journey around the island, ending at a chinstrap penguin colony. A surprising sight met us at the colony. Birds that had been building nests only 3 weeks ago were now gone. We are not sure what happened to this portion of what is a very well visited chinstrap colony, but food sources and weather could be two possibilities. Not enough fish or early rains followed by cold temperatures sometimes take their toll on penguins. A concerning discovery for sure.
Following dinner there was one thing left to do, enter the flooded caldera of an active volcano! Under warm evening light, our captain navigated Neptune’s Bellows, a narrow opening into the caldera of Deception Island. In the protection of the crater rim, we made a slow loop along the inner edge of the island, pointing out some of the research bases and active sections of the caldera. As the light got more and more dramatic, we took the ship back out through the bellows and set course to the south and the Antarctic Peninsula beyond.