Livingstone Island is one of the larger members of the South Shetlands archipelago. Its southern coast is a ragged line of glacier faces, sharp peninsulas, and open bays. One of the points, protruding dry rock away from the glaciers, offers ideal breeding ground for the wildlife.
Glacier, rock, and snow comprise the typical terrain in this area. Deception Island, well south of the South Shetlands straight-line arrangement, is an exception: an enormous volcano, the caldera open to the sea, surrounded by volcanic geology.
The weather is typically dull surrounding Livingstone Island. Our anchorage at Hannah Point was a lee shore, with five miles of fetch to the other side of the bay. The day after we arrived, the clouds parted for a while, driven by a freshening wind which created other issues.
South Shetlands – Livingstone Island and Deception Island
The view off the south coast of Livingstone Island contains the typical elements: glacier ice, rocky mountains decorated with snow, and clouds which shroud the islands.
Hannah Point is a rocky peninsula on the south coast of Livingstone Island. It features a number of penguin colonies, some seal wallows, and bird nesting sites.
The Point is the eastern side of Walker Bay. The glacier face on the other side of the bay is five miles away, and it stretches all the way around to the north. The scale and volume of the ice is incredible.
Ashore, the penguins and the seals mix with apparent ease. These chinstraps are not too concerned about the nearby elephant seals, and the seals do not seem interested either.
The elephant seals are present in great masses.
The gentoo chicks are about the same age as the ones on the Aitchos – and just as hungry.
The greenery on the shore is not grass: it is lichen. No grass or shrubbery can withstand the environment of the Antarctic islands. This is looking south, and the cloud on the horizon covers the Antarctic continent – our eventual destination. Deception Island lies a little to the left of this frame.
A telephoto lens pulled this nesting site into view.
Ice calving from the glacier at the other side of the bay drifts downwind, and makes landing on the lee-shores very difficult, as it collects and makes the possible landing areas awkward to reach with the dinghy. While we were ashore, the ice become more of a problem, and began to damage the boat’s anti-fouling as it drifted past. Time to head for the final destination of the Shetlands: Deception Island.
These are the “Sewing-Machine Needles” on the east coast of Deception Island, a warning to mariners if one was needed that this is no forgiving land of soft coast lines and protected harbours.
This message is reinforced by the entrance into the island interior. Rocky cliffsides reluctantly split and permit access into the volcano’s caldera. This pass is called Neptune’s Bellows, on account of the accelerated winds that funnel through. As we got closer, we were welcomed by high winds and driving sleet.
If it had been warning us, the island wasn’t kidding. The next day, we were anchored on the exterior coastline when the wind reversed and quickly strengthened. With nowhere to head for safety, we were tenuously anchored with jagged cliffs on one side and the open ocean on the other.
With 50–60 knots of wind, we were dependent on the anchor to keep us safe. Photographs never convey wind strengths very well, but the spray in the above picture tells the story. In the distance, the wind funneling through Neptune’s Bellows is over 60 or 70 knots. Below, the chain to the anchor is straightened and nearly bar taut.
Behind us, unforgiving rock and breaking waves awaited us should the anchor have failed. Had we dragged and the bow wiped off, we would never have been able to bring the bow around into the wind before ending up driven ashore. Fortunately, the Rocna anchor did its job true to reputation.
In the afternoon, the winds abated, and we headed into the island interior to find a better anchorage for the next night. We motored to the northern side of the caldera, a six mile trip across the huge ancient volcano.
We found what we were looking for at Telefon Bay, about the only anchorage of the whole trip that deserves to be called one.
The next day, we set out for Antarctica proper. On the way out of the caldera, we passed the old British Antarctic Survey base at Whaler’s Bay. Now abandoned, the British used to fly aircraft from here for survey projects on the mainland to the south.
We left Deception Island to the north.