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22 September 2014
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The Golden Fleece sets out from Falkland
Travel diary

Read producer Nikki Waldron's dispatches from Deception Island:

Deception is one of the South Shetland Islands and lies at nearly 63°S. Just getting there is a serious mission.

Day 1: Bristol to the Falkland Islands

Sitting in Bristol, the idea of being in a tent surrounded by thousands of penguins seems a million miles away. In fact, the journey to Deception Island is only... about 8,300 miles! We fly from RAF Brize Norton to Ascension Island. The plane refuels and carries on to the Falkland Islands. From there it's a tough five-day sail across Drake's Passage into Antarctic waters. Stephen and I will be dropped on a beach near the penguin rookery with tents, generators, fuel, food and all of our camera equipment and left for three weeks to film the wildlife.

After 18 hours in the air we finally arrived at the exotically named Mount Pleasant RAF airport in the Falklands. Tornado fighter jets had flown alongside us as we approached, like something out of Top Gun. We collected our baggage, ticked everything off the list and piled into a minibus to take us to Stanley and our floating home for the next five days, the Golden Fleece.

Day 4: Setting sail from Falkland

Leaving Stanley, there was a buzz on board that was very contagious. I went out on deck and was enjoying the fresh air and seabirds with Steve when up ahead we saw waves crashing rather menacingly on rocks. The soothing calm waters of the outlying Falkland Islands with their white sand beaches and petrels were no more. Within the hour I had been sick twice. I don't claim to have my sea legs, but being ill so soon was embarrassing. I went for a lie down in a bunk at the back of the ship where it apparently moves about less. That was pretty much it for me. After a while of lying down with my eyes shut, I tried to get up to grab my book and iPod from the other end of the boat. Making it back to the bunk, I was sick again. Then I slept for about four hours.

Day 5: Crossing Drake's Passage

Things start to become a bit of a blur. Just imagine driving over a humpback bridge with the sensation of your stomach 'going' – but over and over and over again. Lying down, I was fine. I could chat and talk but I couldn't even sit up without going swimmy in the head. Walking about was an effort and I only rose from my bunk to go to the loo. Salvation came from Harry Potter books on my iPod. I did manage about 10 minutes up and about, every four hours or so. The team called my efforts Challenge Vertical.

Day 7: First sight of Deception Island

After a very, very lumpy night – things started flying out of the kitchen as the boat rolled – we awoke to signs of land. The weather was pretty rough, so going ashore was out of the question. The wind was bitterly cold, but it was great to see penguins around the boat.

Day 9: Arrival

The landing beach
The bay where we landed. All the kit went up the hill to the right

At Baily Head (our intended landing spot) there was lots of sucking of teeth and shaking of heads when we saw the rolling breakers smashing down on the shore. The wind was over 20 knots, and the approach was going to be pretty dicey. Landing people was just about do-able but landing 40-odd cases of luggage without tipping the inflatable boat was asking too much.

Around the headland is a small bay with a much calmer beach. The downside? A very steep cliff up to the back side of the penguin colony. Unbelievably there was a leopard seal hauled out and dozing on the beach. It was quite pale white and had a huge head and enormous flippers. The penguins didn't seem too bothered by it on the land, even though it is their main predator in the water.

We started loading up the boat and the crew went ashore and started to move the various boxes, cases and bags up the hillside. It took seven of us two hours to drag all of the equipment up the steep slope and down to our new camp site. We marched up and down the slope with the penguins who were returning from fishing trips – and kept stopping to check us out.

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 In From the field

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Chinstrap penguins and other polar creatures.

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Play science officer aboard an Antarctic voyage to discover how temperature and salinity control ocean currents.

 Elsewhere on the web

Wikipedia
Entry for Deception Island.

British Antarctic Survey
About Antarctica, its wildlife and geography.

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