An Ancient Caldera

Location: Kuril Islands - Yankich Island

Day 7
by Wayne Brown

Clipper Odyssey has traveled 231 miles (370 kilometers) since we left Atlasova Island yesterday. We are coming up to Yankich Island. Yankich Island was my favorite island when I visited the Kuril Islands in 1992. Yankich Island is made of one large volcano, like Atlasova Island, but not as big. Yankich island is about 1 1/2 miles (2.5 kilometers) in diameter. Unlike Atlasova there is no tall volcanic peak in the center of the island. Thousands of years ago the volcano exploded, like Mt. St. Helens did in Washington, May 18, 1980. The explosion blew out the center of the volcano and left a big hole (the "caldera") that the sea filled in. Now all that remains of the Yankich volcano is part of the rim of the volcano that surrounds the water-filled caldera.

When I was here in 1992 I studied this island with Russian scientists for 10 days. I even spent one night sleeping in a tent inside the caldera. I am hoping I can get inside the caldera so I can see if my old research camp is still there, visit the hot springs and climb to the top of the rim.

As Odyssey approaches Yankich I can see that it is covered with clouds and fog. As we cruise by the southern open end of the caldera I can see waves breaking on the rocky channel that is the entrance into the caldera. I am hoping it will not get any rougher by the time the ship anchors and we get our Zodiacs into the water, because this channel is the only way in!

Odyssey anchors off the southwest side of Yankich and our Zodiacs are lowered into the sea. We have six Zodiacs in the water. I am driving one Zodiac. I have 10 passengers. I am the second Zodiac to leave the ship. On the first Zodiac are our Russian guide, Sergey, and expedition leader, Susan, checking to find out if we can get our Zodiacs inside the caldera. I follow in my Zodiac around the southeastern point of the island and toward the entrance to the caldera. I stop away from the entrance into the caldera while Sergey and Susan go in for a closer look. Unfortunately I can see the waves at the entrance are higher than they were before. The entrance is very shallow and our Zodiac could get stuck. This could be dangerous if waves crash into our Zodiacs. Segey calls me on his radio that it is too dangerous to go inside the caldera. Unfortunately I now know I won't exploring inside the caldera and climbing to the top of the rim.

Fortunately there are interesting things to see around Yankich. Yankich Island is very green. It's jagged rocks are covered with grasses and bright yellow Kamchatka tiger lilies. From my boat I can see inside the caldera a little ways, even though it is very foggy. I can see that on one side of the caldera nothing is growing. Steam is coming from the ground. This is where the hot springs and fumaroles (FUM-ah- rolls) are found. This shows me that this is still an active volcano. Deep under the ground is a hot magma chamber. Gases heated by the magma come up through the ground. If the gases come up through water they heat up the water and causes it boil. If the gases escape on land through a hole that is called a "fumarole".

I take my Zodiac back around to the west side of the island and close to shore to see the seabirds. We are surrounded by thousand of sea birds in the air, in the water and on the steep jagged sides of the island. The birds are gulls, black-legged kittiwakes, and common murres. As I continue up along the west side of the island I can still see Odyssey anchored in the distance.

I head over to a small rocky island, near the west side of Yankich, called Babushka Island. Babushka Island is just a pile volcanic rocks that stick up out of the sea. This rock pile is only about 20 feet (8 meters) high, 100 feet (30 meters) long, and 50 feet (17 meters) wide. Unlike the Ptichi Islands there is no beach and I can get up close to the island. I can see the birds here up close. I am excited to see some of my favorite sea birds -- puffins! These puffins are not the tufted puffins that I saw on the Ptichi Islands these are horned puffins!

Horned puffins grow a little smaller (12 inches/30 centimeters) than tufted puffins (15 inches/38 cm).The first word in the scientific name of the horned puffin is Fratercula. This means "friar". This name comes from their habit of holding their feet together when out of water, giving the appearance of praying. Also their black and white bodies look like a friar's or monk's robes.

As I point out the puffins to my passengers I notice the ship is gone! The ship has not left without us. I just can't see it because the fog has gotten thicker. I radio the captain and he sends another Zodiac to come back with me for safety. It is easier for the ship to see two Zodiacs on its radar. If I get lost coming back to the ship the captain can radio me and tell me which way to turn to get back to the ship. As our two boats move away from Babushka Island the island disappears! We can only see the fog around us. In about 10 mintues we find the ship and get out of the cold and back into our nice warm, dry ship.

Unfortunately I did not get a chance to go inside the caldera, but I had fun exploring the outside cliffs, watching the sea birds, and especially the horned puffins!

Tomorrow should be an exciting day. I am praying for good weather tomorrow, because if the weather is good the captain will take Odyssey inside a volcanic caldera even bigger than Yankich! This caldera is something the Russians never told me about when I explored the Kuril Islands with them before, because this is a secret Russian submarine base!

"Dah svee-dahn-yah" (Good-bye)


Yankich Island, Russia

Position: 47º 30' N / 152º 47' E
Midday Air Temp: 46ºF
Weather: fog and heavy swell.
Water Temp: 32ºF

This map of Yankich Island shows that that island a gigantic caldera. (Enlarge the map to see the locations of all the fumaroles and hot springs.)

Yankich Island. The top of this volcano blew up thousands of years ago. You can see that it is covered with clouds and fog.

From my Zodiac I can see inside the water-filled caldera. Large volcanic plugs stick up inside the caldera like giants' teeth. The waves and dark line of rocks prevents us getting our Zodiacs inside the caldera. (Notice the fog is getting thicker and lower.)

Horned puffin. This puffin does not really have horns. The black lines behind and over his eyes look like horns.

Clipper Odyssey is surrounded by thick fog. We find Odyssey in the fog and bring our passengers back to the comfort of our warm, dry ship.


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