What a fantastic day! Our morning started off at Bailey Head, home to over 100,000 pairs of Chinstrap penguins. Definitely one of the coolest places to see penguins riding the surf although the weather didn’t cooperate as it was raining heavily. While the majority of the passengers decided to head back for lunch, we opted to hike from Bailey Head to Whaler’s Bay…what a gorgeous hike! In the late afternoon, we decided to join 7 other crazy travelers in a polar plunge at Deception Bay. Awesome and loads of fun…definitely an unforgettable experience and we were glad we did it.
17 JAN: (Sunday: Bailey Head and inside the caldera of Deception Island): We had an early wake up call this morning. Since our shared bathroom was used already earlier this morning, we were both awake before Doug’s cheery announcement. After breakfast, the weather was OK, so the staff decided that we were a “go” for today’s landings. The landing at Bailey Head is a tricky one, and if conditions aren’t optimum, it can make for a dangerous landing. Bailey head is famous for housing the Antarctic’s largest Chinstrap Penguin colony on the Antarctic Peninsula (about 75,000 to 100,000 pairs). It felt like all the Chinstraps were surfing the waters, and as we made our way to shore, Hugh told us that a leopard seal had already killed a chinstrap and the skuas were in the sea feasting on its remains. When we got to the landing, the swells hitting the shore were enormous, and we had to time it just right to sprint up the steep landing to avoid getting soaked. The poor staff was drenched from head to toe, and we heard that Doug “went snorkeling” twice, and it looked like Bruce was pulled under a zodiac when he disappeared beneath an enormous wave. We both managed to make it to shore with no problems, but then it started pouring down rain. We took some photos and decided to wait out the heaviest downpour beneath the shelter of a cliff overhang. The penguin colony was really cool…a distinct separation between those coming and going was evident as they walked in massive highways, always keeping traffic to the right side (just like in the States!). It was a joy to watch. We heard that in years past it was possible to climb up above the highway for photos, but there were simply too many penguins and it was impossible to take a similar picture. We decided to hang out by the water’s edge, getting a lot of really neat shots of the penguins surfing. A Weddell Seal decided to check us out, and there were reports of the leopard seal in the distance but we never got a good look.
After spending some time getting video of the penguins in the surf, we headed towards the colony and were able to watch some chicks feeding and realized just how immense the colony was. The rain was off and on, so it was difficult to take photos without getting our camera lens wet. We had to head back to the landing site at around 1030 because the last zodiac was at 1100 and anyone’s bags left on the beach would be policed up and brought over to Whaler’s Bay. Becky had to grab her bag, and stuffed the contents into Robby’s day pack. We had agreed to do the hike, which would give us a late lunch on the Polar Star. The hike from to Bailey Head to Whaler’s Bay was fantastic! Probably the best hike of the trip, with fantastic views of the Penguin colony in their natural amphitheater. We marveled that some of the penguins hike over a mile to reach the shore, and that the highest nesting grounds are the most coveted. Amazing. The weather took a turn for the worst once we reached the peak of Whaler’s Bay, overlooking Neptune’s Bellows on Deception Island. Ted was waiting with chocolate, and he led us down the steep slopes. Once we hit the main beach area, we could see the decrepit whaling station, but the weather was storming, and Doug was waiting for us with a zodiac. He lured us onto the Polar Star by letting us know that yummy pizza awaited us for lunch…it was delicious! Tomato & basil pizza, pepperoni, and salmon pizza…all wonderful. We ate ravenously, and even had desert to boot. Afterwards, we took a short rest until the zodiacs were ready to take the intrepid (or perhaps crazy) swimmers back to Whaler’s bay for a wallow in the very limited hot springs. 9 of us (Becky, Robby, Ross, Mark Rentz, Vick Cooper, Jessie and her mom, Therese Faller, Pat Brown, and Jana Kristin) decided to strip down to our swim suits, shock our bodies in the freezing cold water, and seek whatever warmth we could from the geothermally heated water. And of course there were plenty of photographers ready to capture the action…it was a lot of fun and good thing that we had a shot of alcohol beforehand to provide us the liquid courage to perform the foolhardy! We took hot showers immediately after returning to the boat (we could see why Ted warned us that the gravely sand would clog up the drains as we all found that the gravel had made its way into our swim suits, and up crevices we didn’t even realize we had. Afterwards, we all headed up to the observation lounge for some celebratory drinks. There, we had a nice talk with Rob and Libby from Australia (their son was in Kabul and is now in the Congo for anti-mining). Ross wanted us to sign his book (what a great idea), and Craig Poore gave us a lecture on Amundsen and Scott in their race for the South Pole…it was a fascinating insight into what drove both men, and carried us right to dinner. We enjoyed lamb for dinner, and Ted gave us congratulatory certificates indicating that we were perhaps a little insane for attempting our afternoon swim, stating that they were the worst conditions anyone had ever undertaken before on a Cheesemans’ tour. Very funny. We crashed right after dinner as we had an early wake up call tomorrow.