LANDFALL AT DECEPTION ISLAND
Forty-three days ago we departed Christchurch, New Zealand. Behind us lies the Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties, latitudes known for their unforgiving winds and monstrous seas. Ahead, just below the horizon and less than a day away lies the great white continent Antarctica. I am on the Schooner Anne, at ninety feet overall length a small, tall ship that's described as a decade-old boat built with one-hundred year-old parts. The weather has mellowed, since at sixty-three degrees south we are far below the band of unobstructed ocean that breeds the most violent storms found on this planet.
We entered Antarctic waters when we crossed the Antarctic Convergence Zone, an imaginary line on charts that indicates a sudden drop in sea water temperature. A definite line was visible not unlike the line one sees where open ocean water meets the freshwater laden waters of Southeast Alaska. Great tabular icebergs appeared on the horizon and Gentoo penguins almost happy to see us porpoises off our stern. One does not realize the size of these great blocks of ice until you see one for yourself. To give you some comparison, tabular icebergs average about 100-160 feet in height above the water. The federal building in Juneau is about 120 feet high. Realizing that eighty percent of the mass of icebergs lies below the surface of the water, and that they can roll without notice, we had no qualms about staying clear. There are three categories of floating ice in Antarctica. The largest and most well known are the Tabular Icebergs. Tabular icebergs are pieces of the ice shelf that have broken away. They range in size from a few hundred feet across to upwards of seventy miles long. They can be recognized by their flat tops. Bergy Bits form from pieces that have broken off tabular icebergs or when tabular icebergs collide. Smaller Bergy Bits are about the same size as a small car and the larger ones are about the size of an apartment building. The final category is Brash Ice decayed fragments less than seven feet.
Then, just as predicted, (I always take pride in predicting the exact time of landfall) the snowy peaks of Smith Island, that outer sentinel of the South Shetland Islands, appeared. Our first port-of call would be Deception Island, a still active horseshoe shaped caldera with hot springs, fumaroles, and steaming beaches. Deception Island is a land of fire and ice. During the whaling year's, ships reported the island appeared to be on fire. Another report states the water inside the caldera became so hot paint on ships anchored there began to blister.