Deception Island to Mikkelsen Harbour

An early start this morning – well for the crew anyway as they let us lie in and they left Deception about 4am. We got up and joined them at a more sociable time as we sailed south from Deception Island across the Bransfield Strait to the southern end of Trinity Island. We sailed a lot of the way under mizzen and staysail, but around lunchtime the wind dropped a bit and the engine went on for the final few hours. We anchored in Mikkelsen Harbour around 4pm – an open harbour surrounded by rocks and with the coast of Graham Land to the south.

A small cruise ship – the Ushaia – was already anchored further inshore and disgorging passengers in Zodiacs, so we waited until just after 5pm to get in the dinghy to have a look round. We took the long way round past the islands and glaciers, getting a close look at the incredible blue of the glaciers as we went slowly past. We looked in vain for leopard seals. They apparently frequent the area as there is a large gentoo penguin colony and so this is a favourite hunting ground for them. However, none were to be seen today. Good for the gentoos, not so good for us, but it didn’t seem to matter as the haunting beauty of the ice all around was sufficiently captivating. The scenery is starting to change to be much more heavily snow-covered and the white surroundings increase the intensity of the early evening light.

Shortly after 6pm the last of the Ushaia Zodiacs had left the shore, but just as we were heading in, a loud rumble and splash heralded the collapse of a chunk of ice from the end of the nearby glacier, so we waited for the waves from that to dissipate before beaching the dinghy. On the beach we were greeted by the distinct aroma and sounds of a large gentoo penguin colony. There were also sheathbills just wandering around on the beach, seemingly completely oblivious to us. We wandered through the snow, past the remains of an old water boat, and up the hill towards an old Argentinian refuge hut, now more or less derelict with the surrounds completely taken over by gentoos. On the way we had to watch carefully, following the penguin green cross code looking left and right, as we crossed the paths they used as they walked purposefully backwards and forwards between their colonies and the water. The paths were fairly narrow and there always seemed to be a period of confusion when they met with a hesitant face-off before they worked out how to pass each other, much like people meeting and each ducking left or right together before coordinating themselves to pass on the pavement.

After an hour or so taking it all in, we headed back aboard for dinner and during the night each took on an hour of ice watch, just watching every ten minutes or so for any larger chunks of ice being swept into the anchorage. I poled a couple of small chunks off during my hour, but nothing substantial at all.