Mawlers’ Big Adventure ’06:

The Mawlers Go Bi-polar

Yalour Islands Around-the-World Shot

First Stop: Deception Island 12/10/06

We were prepared for our first stop by the staff photographer, Peter Hall. Peter is a South African who has worked for Aurora for a while and was lucky enough to spend about two weeks camping on Deception Island. I suppose that after seeing our pictures, you might not think he was so lucky. Regardless, he knows the place.

Tortured Artists
It seems that we are often misunderstood in our photographic endeavors. We have been asked many times "What are you taking pictures of?" Sometimes it's flowers, or patterns, or textures. But, we thought this trip might be different. After all, it was called the "Climbers and Photographers" trip. But, we got some interesting questions, nonetheless.

Q: Are you going to the loo?
A: No, trying to change CF cards out of the wind and snow.

Q: What are you taking pictures of?
A: The patterns of the snow against the black volcanic sands. (At this point, I involuntarily say, "You must not be a photographer" to which this person answers, "I am! [holds up camera as prooof] But you must be an artist!")

A picture of some of the patterns on the ground

Deception Island is an active volcano. The island is in the shape of a horseshoe made by the walls of the caldera that rise above the water. There is one narrow entrance called Neptune's Bellows, which is less than 30 meters deep and has one rock at 2.5 meters, so it is a bit tricky to get in and out, though large-ish ships do it regularly.

Just inside Neptune's Bellows is a small bay called Whaler's Bay, where there was a Norwegian whaling station on the shore. There were also Argentine and British bases on the same spot. For years, the Argentines and Brits argued over who controlled the island, regularly tearing down each other's stations, when the staff would leave. However, in the 60s and 70s, the island reminded everyone that the volcano is in charge with a few eruptions that destroyed some buildings. There is now a small Argentine volcano monitoring station on the far side of the island, where it is "safer".

Lea Ann read in some of the Aurora documentation that the water in Whaler's Bay is geothermally heated and can be great for swimming. Having "swum" in the Arctic, this ticked her fancy. But, as the bay came into view, it was plain that, even with some geothermal heating, the weather would not be cooperating for a swim. The temperature was probably 1 degree C (that converts to "cold" in Farenheit) with winds at about 40 knots. Not only does swimming seem like a remote possibility, but so does standing. The idea of camping here seems a bit crazed.

This is our first experience with the Zodiacs. They gave us 30 minutes of warning, so we could don all our cold weather gear, waterproof gear, camera equipment, lifejackets; then queue up, and leap into a small rubber dingy with a Yamaha outboard (60 horse power, we are led to believe). The driver then skips the boat to shore like a small stone, beaches it, and we climb out, wading to higher ground, where we take off the life jackets and squint into the driving snow.

We made it to land! This may be an island, but it is still Antarctica!

Deception Island has really cool ruins of the whaling station, though they are a bit macabre. There are large things that look a lot like pressure cookers for whales. There are huge drums for holding whale oil. All a bit icky, but quite photogenic.

Probably the most famous image from Deception Island is a group of whaling boats that are frozen into the beach. (Surely you have seen them, right?) Almost everyone who comes here takes pictures of the boats. Naturally, we did not. The boats were a walk to the right from our landing spot and there were big ruins of the whaling station and the British base to the left, so we went that way.

The longer we stayed, the harder the wind blew. The snow was both coming out of the sky and off of the ground, mixing in a swirling haze. Even the penguins were hunkered down against the wind.

Did we mention penguins? Yup, our first penguin sighting was here. We stalked a few who were just trying to keep warm. Then, we took pictures of some graves and the derelict buildings. We kept stumbling across more forgotten equipment and machinery in the ground, like random gears almost completely buried.

When we turned to go back to the Zodiacs, we ended up face-to-face with three little Chinstrap Penguins. They were like three old men, who had dropped by to complain about the weather. They seemed curious about these crazy tall penguins waddling around with the yellow and blue plumage.

Like excited children, we had all stayed out on the deck as we passed through Neptune's Bellows to enter the Bay. After being sufficiently chilled on land, most of the passengers gathered out of the wind and snow on the bridge to watch the Captain negotiate the exit, where we had a great view of the sonar used to track the obstructions. The picture here really shows the shape of the island. We are passing through that little notch on the lower right of the image

As an amusing aside, one of the younger bridge officers was standing with the captain, who was referencing the sonar. The captain would look and adjust the picture. When he looked away, the other officer would adjust the picture. Then the captain would adjust it back. Finally, the captain turned and said something to the officer. Now, we don't speak a lot of Russian, but it did not take a linguist to figure out the translation was probably something like "knock it off!".

The previous installment:
Time Flies

The next installment:
Deception Island Pix

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All materials © 2006 Lea Ann Mawler & Stuart Mawler