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OTL23-23, trip log, Weddell Sea, In search of the Emperor penguin incl. helicopters

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Ushuaia - Embarkation Day

Ushuaia - Embarkation Day
Datum: 20.11.2023
Position: 54°48.561’S / 068 18.070’W
Wind: NW 3
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +14

Today was the start of something amazing: an expedition to the Weddell Sea in search of the Emperor Penguin! Snow Hill Island is where the most northerly Emperor Penguin colony exists, and this is where we will be going once we leave the port of Ushuaia.

The 102 guests embarked M/V Ortelius at 1400 with smiling faces and excited hearts. Sara the Expedition Leader started with a safety briefing, followed by a safety drill where everyone donned their giant big life vests and went to the lifeboat station. This was shortly followed by the captain’s cocktail with the Expedition Team, who eagerly handed out sparkling wine and canapés to welcome us all on board.

While we were cruising through the Beagle Channel, Captain Per toasted to a safe and fantastic voyage. It had begun, and we were off! We were all introduced to the Expedition Team. There were nine of them, all from different walks of life, with an array of knowledge and experience on birds, whales, Emperor Penguins, photography, and microorganisms.

That night there was a buffet dinner in the restaurant. There was everything you could possibly want to eat. We joined in the bar and chatted away as the ship slowly moved farther away from land and into the notorious Drake Passage, a 620-mile (820 km) wide body of water with the roughest seas in the world.

Day 2: At Sea towards Antarctica

At Sea towards Antarctica
Datum: 21.11.2023
Position: 57°14.9’S / 064°24.1’W
Wind: SSW8
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +1

“Good morning, good morning, good morning.” It’s always a bit of a mystery when Sara wakes us up on the first morning of our journey. Overnight we’ve left the calm waters of the Beagle Channel, and we are out in the Drake Passage. Do we have the Drake Lake or Drake Shake? This morning we had a mild sea, but with sufficient movement of the ship the day before, quite a few of us felt that breakfast wasn’t a very attractive option. The swells were only up to three meters, so seasoned sailors considered it a dawdle, while newly minted Antarctic explorers felt decidedly otherwise. Nevertheless, the show must go on. Up on the bridge, the bird watchers were steadily ticking off new species as the morning wore on: Light-mantled Albatross, Cape Petrel, Southern Fulmar, Blue Petrel, and many more. Starting mid-morning, we started the process of getting everyone ready for the next 10 days.

First, we had the great gumboot giveaway. Everyone was called down to the lecture room to receive their muck boots for the trip. Shortly after that, Martin gave us a well-illustrated talk on the seabirds in the Drake Passage. All the while, the ship was scooting along at about 11 knots towards our goal of the Weddell Sea. During the day, the seas built up over the morning to a little stronger swell. We even had a few high splashes at the bow, soaking the hardy souls down on the ship’s bow with sea spray. But then in the later part of the afternoon, the sea started to calm down a little, so the ship was moving less as the day progressed.

Unfortunately, immediately after lunch we had our roughest part of the day. This happened at the exact same time that we gathered in the lounge for the last of our mandatory briefings, important information on Zodiac and helicopter operations that everyone must hear in order to get on and off the ship safely. It was a huge challenge for some, but those who felt the least well did a remarkable job of trying to finish the briefings. Everyone received their helicopter numbers and Liability release forms. We were now all set for the last of our required activities tomorrow, a dry run of getting into the helicopters and cleaning our equipment for biosecurity. Those things will take up the afternoon tomorrow. With a big sigh of relief, those who needed to their cabins to get horizontal quickly did so. Those who were still able gathered at the bar at 16:00 for a good introduction to photography given by Werner. He gave us all excellent tips on composition and handling of our cameras.

By then the sea was calming slightly, so we had a lovely hour of watching the peaceful sea as we continued motoring southeast towards the South Shetland Islands. As dinner approached, we had our first of our daily recaps. Sara told us about the plan for tomorrow (mostly our dry run with the helicopters and the biosecurity cleaning), a bit about the weather, and our progress. Charlotte then gave us a thorough description of the Drake Passage, and Gary followed up with an explanation of the Antarctic convergence.

Sara finished the recap with a wonderful visual demonstration of just how large those seabirds are that we had been watching all day. It’s so difficult to gauge their size while they are soaring over the featureless sea surface. Even the Cape Petrels, which appear to be quite small when seen from the ship, were just short of a meter in wingspan.

But the most remarkable, of course, was the Wandering Albatross with its huge wingspan. After our lovely dinner, we had free time. Things seemed to be looking up for the passengers who felt sick due to the rough seas. The bar was pretty well attended that evening, so perhaps the worst of the seas were finished for our southward trip.

Day 3: At Sea towards Antarctica

At Sea towards Antarctica
Datum: 22.11.2023
Position: : 61°35.5’S / 060°04.0’W
Wind: WSW 4
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: 0

Today marked our second day navigating the waters of the Drake Passage. Unlike the turbulent conditions of a typical Drake, we experienced relatively calm seas with only two-meter waves. We emerged from our slumber to the presence of fin whales encircling the ship. Fin whales are the second-largest species of whales, surpassed only by the blue whale. Following breakfast, Sara presented an educational overview on the diverse penguin species we could encounter during our journeys, exploring their breeding cycles and mating behaviours. Later in the morning, Massimo provided an insightful presentation on the ice in Antarctica, which plays a pivotal role in shaping the region’s unique environment and encompasses about 70% of the world’s fresh water.

Just before lunch, multiple humpback whales made an appearance, many of them gracefully displaying their flukes as they dove into the depths. In the evening, we gathered for our daily recap at the bar, where Sara outlined the plan for tomorrow. Charlotte introduced us to the "Happy Whale" citizen science project, encouraging us to submit our marine mammal pictures, particularly those capturing the distinctive flukes of humpback whales. To conclude the day, Chloe shared insights about the colossal squid, though her recap was interrupted by the thrilling sighting of whales near the ship.

Day 4: Snow Hill Island

Snow Hill Island
Datum: 23.11.2023
Position: 64°37.2’S / 057°09.8’W
Wind: WNW 7/8
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: -3

The morning started, for many, much earlier than the wake up call. Many of us were keen to see the first morning in Antarctica. The weather was clearly Antarctic early in the morning with strong winds of 60 knots, snow, and poor visibility at times. As Sara announced the start of the day with her lovely wakeup call, the wind started to abate and the planned activities for the day became more possible. After another wonderful breakfast, we were treated to a fascinating lecture from Gary about the Emperor Penguin and his studies of them over the years. This gave us a truly lovely introduction to a bird that we were about to see a lot of.

As Gary was giving his lecture, the first members of the expedition team had flown out to the sea ice around Snow Hill in order to scout the area, confirm the location of the Emperor Penguin colony, and mark a route from the landing site to the colony. Then, group by group, we were called to the ‘departure lounge’ for our flight from Ortelius across sea ice towards the landing site. The flight itself was beautiful. We saw lines of marching or sliding penguins, and in a couple of places we saw holes in the ice surrounded by seals. For some it was the first flight in a helicopter, and what a first flight it was!

After landing, we collected our bags of camera equipment and headed along the poled route to the colony and the Emperor Penguins. On the way, we came across adults who had wandered away from the colony, which gave us our first views of these wonderful, charismatic of birds.

There had been a fresh fall of snow that was, in places, quite deep. This made the going quite hard work, but we all managed. As we got closer, we could hear a cacophony of calls from the huge amount of fluffy grey chicks, which were sometimes being answered by the adults. It made for a wonderful experience, as did the sight of all those gorgeous chicks, some wandering around in groups and others with their parents. The larger chicks were very curious and kept approaching us, meaning we had to keep backing away in order to maintain the proper distances.

We spent as much time at the colony as possible, watching the birds and also some of the chicks being fed. It is amazing to think that the chicks, when fed by the adults, never see what they are eating, since they put their heads inside the mouth of the adult when the food is transferred. When the chicks finally get out to open sea, they have to work out what food is for themselves. We would often see Skuas and Gulls flying over the colony, looking for bits of spilt food. But of course, the Emperors were the main focus. Some of us were lucky enough to see an Adelie Penguin wandering around the colony as well.

When it came time to leave, we could hardly drag ourselves away. But we somehow managed and made the walk back to the helicopter, seeing the last few adult penguins on the way. It was then time to fly back to the ship. Watching Ortelius come into view was a beautiful sight amongst the sea ice and the water’s edge. It was time to warm up and have some food. Some had eaten lunch and some had been out at the colony, but there was food available upon our return, arranged by the wonderful hotel and kitchen staff. Sara rounded up the day and gave us the plans for tomorrow, along with an interesting insight into tourism in Antarctica. It was then time for another fantastic dinner and chance to reflect on what an amazing day we had experienced.

Day 5: Kinnes Cove and Hope Bay

Kinnes Cove and Hope Bay
Datum: 24.11.2023
Position: 63°19.1’S / 056°42.5’W
Wind: SW 4
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: -3

This morning we woke up with very warm hearts after the incredible day we had yesterday. The plan this morning was supposed to be Hope Bay first, but because of the tides it got switched to Kinnes Cove and Madders Cliffs.

These red rocky cliffs are home to a colony of 20-30,000 breeding pairs of Adelie Penguins. There was a slight bit of snow in the air which only made it feel more atmospheric. We heard a call on the radio from one of the staff ‘Humpback Whale’ in the bay! The Humpback surfaced very close to the Zodiacs, and then it showed us its beautiful huge fluke. It was next spotted on the other side of some brash ice, so we decided to leave the whale alone. We drove back to the Coast and watched some beautiful Adélies as they contemplated which section of the water they wanted to jump into.

We all boarded back onto the ship to warm up and prepare for an afternoon at Hope Bay. This Bay was discovered in 1902 by the Swedish Expedition Nordenskiöld, where their ship was lost and crushed by the ice. Three men overwintered here in a hut they built out of stone. It is also where the Argentinian base Ésperanza’ has been established since 1952. After lunch we all made it to shore. The weather was fantastic, no wind and it didn’t feel cold in the slightest.

The staff made a big poled route for us, so we could have a good leg stretch whilst we admired these funny birds stealing each other’s precious pebbles. Unfortunately, the landing got cut short because the chief of the base didn’t want us at the landing. They were doing research, so we had to leave the landing a little earlier than expected. It was shame, but we came across some beautiful pack ice that made up for it!

It was ice as far as the eye could see, with huge icebergs and penguins running across the pack. Every now and again, there was a clearing of open water with an iceberg or mountain reflecting directly into the water. It was truly breathtaking.

Day 6: Iceberg Landing

Iceberg Landing
Datum: 25.11.2023
Position: 64°18.6’S / 056°31.5’W
Wind: ESE 5
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: -2

Today’s expedition into the Southern Ocean Sea ice promised unparalleled adventure. The morning stared with a captivating lecture from Charlotte about the diverse and unique lives of whales inhabiting the Southern Ocean. Soon after, Sara, our expedition maestro, called us in the bar to reveal a bold plan – we were to land on an iceberg. The excitement reached a crescendo as the team organized us into groups, leading to a breathtaking scenic flight around massive icebergs and expansive sea ice.

Our helicopter pilot skilfully navigated us through the icy landscape before gently landing us on an iceberg, a surreal moment that will be etched into our memories. After the exhilarating flight, we were welcomed back on board the Ortelius with a heartwarming touch – hot chocolate and rum served at the bow. As the day unfolded, the evening’s daily recap provided a comprehensive overview. Sara outlined the plan for the next day, Massimo shared the team’s scanning process to select a safe iceberg, considering its flatness and strength while checking for crevasses. Gary delved into their fascinating dynamics, explaining their shapes.

The day continued to surprise us as Sara interrupted our dinner with an exhilarating announcement – orcas had been spotted in front of the ship. Rushing out, we were greeted with a mesmerizing sight. About 15 orcas gracefully circled around icebergs, creating a majestic spectacle. As we retire for the night, the collective sentiment is one of gratitude and awe. From the enchanting tales of Southern Ocean whales to the surreal experience of landing on an iceberg and the unexpected encounter with orcas. What a truly magnificent day in the heart of the Southern Ocean!

Day 7: Brown Bluff and Gourdin Island

Brown Bluff and Gourdin Island
Datum: 26.11.2023
Position: 63°19.1’S / 056°57.9’W
Wind: W 7
Wetter: Partly Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +2

The day started with another wake up call from Sara. We had moved overnight from the Weddell Sea to the Antarctic Sound and to Brown Bluff. The weather was sunny and calm. The view of the Bluff was spectacular. After breakfast we were taken over to Brown Bluff and the landing site, we were greeted by a large number of Adelie and Gentoo Penguins. The walk around the snow gave us a lovely view of Ortelius and great views of the breeding penguins.

As the tide dropped, we also had the chance to walk along the beach and find a little solitude to contemplate the huge scale of the scenery and the quiet. Later in the morning it was time to return to Ortelius for lunch and to move to our afternoon destination. On arrival at Gourdin Island the wind had increased to 30 knots, and we were warned that our zodiac cruise would be a little bumpy and, as a result, wet from spray. As we waited to board a Humpback whale cruised by right at the stern of the ship!

Nevertheless, we all gathered for our last zodiac cruise of the trip. It was a little wet at times, but the conditions were not too bad at all. We were treated to great views of Chinstrap penguins alongside Adelies and Gentoos. We also had excellent views of Weddell Seals and spectacular Ice. We watched as some of the penguins jumped so high to get out of the water onto the ice. It was quite comical watching as some penguins missed the landing and fell back into the water, fortunately they are hardy souls and would try again and again until they got it right. Upon our safe return to Ortelius it was time to grab a hot drink and before long it was time for recap and the plans for tomorrow and then BBQ! The bridge team were able to find a sheltered spot for our evening outside in the sunshine, eating, chatting, and drinking. The Captain was serving the wine as some of the first few hardy souls hit the dance floor as the glistening snowy mountains loomed upon us.

Day 8: Whalers Bay, Deception Island

Whalers Bay, Deception Island
Datum: 27.11.2023
Position: 62°59.0’S / 060°33.7’W
Wind: NW 8
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +1

Well I think there were a few people who started a bit more slowly than usual this morning—and perhaps a couple of sore heads after our lovely BBQ last night. Even the very reasonable 7am wake up call seemed a bit early for many. But it was well worth the effort as Captain Per navigated the narrow Neptune’s Bellows to bring the ship into the flooded caldera of Deception Island. The already narrow passage is made narrower by the fact that there is a rocky shoal with a shipwreck blocking about half of the passage on the western side and this morning it was made even more challenging with a small iceberg in the way.

As we cleared the entrance, we quickly took a hard right turn to enter Whaler’s Bay. We could immediately spot the remains of the old whaling station and some of the additional buildings that were used by the British Antarctic Survey as a research station since WWII. There was even a yacht sitting peacefully at anchor—just where we would have dropped our anchor. We had a beautiful morning ahead of us with the sun shining and very little wind. Even with the fine weather, the whole scene looked a desolate place to think of living and working—especially for something as hard as the whaling industry. Whaler’s Bay has a long history for Antarctica. Deception Island was one of the first places discovered in Antarctica and very soon sealers and whalers were regular visitors to the protected area in the caldera. It wasn’t until 1911 that the full-on whaling station started operations and by 1936 when the selling price for whale oil dropped—and the whales had been hunted out of the immediate area that Whaler’s Bay stopped operation. The whalers were Norwegian, but they worked under permit with the UK who administered the island with a Magistrate living on the island. Early in WWII, the UK started a program called Operation Tabarin where they manned several stations around then Antarctic Peninsula to conduct research and watch for enemy shipping. When the war ended, they continued their presence with research based at the old whaling station.

During the whaling days Sir Hubert Wilkins made history in 1928 with the first ever flight over Antarctica. He took off from a gravel runway at the north end of the bay. The aircraft hangar we visited wasn’t built until 1965 when the UK began a busy program of mapping the peninsula using aerial photographs. They also serviced some of their other stations from the airfield at Deception. That all came to an abrupt halt when in 1967 there was a minor eruption on the island and operations closed for the season. They reopened in 1968-1969 season only to have the station destroyed by the last big eruption on 23rd Feb 1969 with the 4 men there just escaping with their lives.

On shore, everyone had a good stretch of their legs with a large scope for walking the steam-shrouded beach. Many enjoyed the view from Neptune’s Window where several whales were spotted. And the big excitement was a male leopard seal hauled out near the very end of the beach. He certainly drew a crowd, but simply napped through all the attention. Finally, before heading back to the ship, many of us decided to take part in the little bit of craziness and took a dip in the decidedly cold water at Whaler’s Bay.

Leaving the caldera was just as serious a navigation as coming in, but having done it on the way in it just didn’t seem to have the tension of entering. Shortly after getting clear of Neptune’s Bellows we had a wonderful session with humpback and fin whales near the ship. With the forecast (from our recap) of some rougher seas crossing the Drake Passage, everyone started to consider their strategy for finishing the trip. Maybe start packing now? At least take some medication? But during dinner a final bit of excitement for the day. Antarctic Petrels (at least 2) flying around the ship. Our keen birders immediately stopped eating to rush out on deck. For most it was a first look at the species. Success!

Finally, a bit later in the evening we left the shelter of the South Shetland Islands and started north towards Ushuaia. We did feel the ship pitch more, but seemingly not as rough as we feared. Maybe we all have our sea legs now. Tomorrow just might be OK for most of us.

Day 9: At sea towards Ushuaia

At sea towards Ushuaia
Datum: 28.11.2023
Position: 59°31.7’S / 064°36.0’W
Wind: NW 6/7
Wetter: P.Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +4

Awakening on our second day in the Drake Passage, we found ourselves shrouded in the mist of the fog Drake Passage. The day unfolded with a captivating lecture by Martin, focusing on the renowned ships HMS Terror and Erebus. These stalwart vessels played a pivotal role in the Ross expedition—a scientific exploration of Antarctica led by James Clark Ross from 1839 to 1843. Following Martin's engaging talk, Gary provided a comprehensive overview of seals, enhancing our understanding of the adaptability of these marine mammals to the extreme conditions of the southernmost continent.

Claudio led the afternoon session with an insightful lecture on climate change, delving into the urgent environmental challenges facing Antarctica and emphasizing the importance of addressing and understanding these issues for the region's future. As the day neared its end, we gathered for our final daily recap. Answering a question from the “questions box”’, Sara shared a video of Metallica performing in Antarctica. Chris then offered insights into weather forecasting in this challenging region. To conclude, Chloe provided an intriguing talk about the sole bear found in Antarctica: the water bear!

Day 10: Drake Passage

Drake Passage
Datum: 29.12.2023
Position: 56°14.6’S / 067°06.9’W
Wind: W 6
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +6

We woke this morning not to Sara’s wakeup call but to Felipe and Marco, part of our helicopter team, with their farewell ‘’Good morning’’. The DAP helicopter team are due to leave later today. The weather had improved remarkedly from the fog of yesterday and was now bright and breezy. There were lots of birds this morning to keep the birders happy, including the largest of the Albatross, the Wandering Albatross, and the Southern Royal Albatross. They were joined by a large number of Giant Petrels, Cape Petrels, and some Black browed Albatross giving us the opportunity to see the size difference between the two Albatross species. Chloe gave us a fascinating insight into the world underwater with her lecture on diving in Antarctica, a great opportunity to see what lies beneath the waves.

We were then treated to our first sight of land, Cape Horn! This was followed by Sara and her lecture on marine threats. A very interesting, eye opening, but depressing story of how we are affecting our oceans and the animals that live within. It was the topic of discussion as we enjoyed our last lunch on board. We don’t really want to think about leaving lovely Ortelius…….

After lunch we were all called to the bridge. Captain Per was determined to beat his record for the number of people on the bridge at the same time. We managed 110 people, beating the last record by four people! We were delighted with the views of Cape Horn. We were about three miles off the coast, with great visibility. Gary explained about the monument to the missing seamen, the lighthouse, and the accompanying buildings. He then went on to recite the poem written by Sara Vial that is inscribed on the monument, followed by the ships horn being sounded.

A ballot then took place for some very attractive prizes, the first being the ship’s flag. It was then decided to have a photo taken of everyone on the bow. We gathered in our jackets and coats just in time for the photo to be taken, followed by a hailstorm. It was then time to warm up with a hot drink and watch our transit along the coast of South America. The alternative was to pay our final bills and do the necessary packing of cases and bags in time for our farewell drinks and the showing of the slideshow put together by the expedition team. The slideshow was fantastic, and it made us quite emotional being reminded of the wonderful journey we had all shared together.

We then went to dinner for the final time, a great meal prepared by the wonderful team in the kitchen. A great way to end our final whole day as we entered the Beagle Channel.

Day 11: Disembarkation Day- Ushuaia Port

Disembarkation Day- Ushuaia Port
Datum: 30.11.2023
Position: 54°48.6’S / 068°18.0’W
Wind: SW 7
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +4

It’s always sad saying goodbye to the guests we have spent so much heartfelt time with, but the time had come to disembark the ship. At 0830 this morning, after the staff had put all the luggage outside, it was time to say farewell and see you next time. This trip has been incredibly special and one we will remember for a lifetime.

Thank you for your enthusiasm and support, but most of all for joining us on this adventurous Arctic voyage. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

Total distance sailed: 1787 nautical miles

Farthest south: 64°37.3’S / 057°09.8’W

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Per Anderson, Expedition Leader Sara Jenner, Hotel Manager Volodymyr Cherednychenko, and all the crew, staff, and pilots of M/V Ortelius, it has been a pleasure travelling with you!


Tripcode: OTL23-23
Daten: 20 Nov - 30 Nov, 2023
Dauer: 10 Nächte
Schiff: MS Ortelius
Einschiffung: Ushuaia
Ausschiffung: Ushuaia

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Die eisverstärkte Ortelius ist für die Polarforschung und wenn nötig, für Helikopterflüge bestens ausgerüstet.

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