So finally, the much-awaited departure day was upon us! We woke up in Ushuaia to blue skies and sunshine, full of excitement and anticipation at the thought of boarding the Ortelius Plancius for our forthcoming adventure - for many of us today signified the culmination of a lifelong dream!
We spent the morning exploring this lovely Patagonian city, soaking up the local flavours and enjoying the sights. Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 55,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Ushuaia which stands for “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue, clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting.
It was a sunny but breezy afternoon as we made our way along the pier to the boat at 16:00, ready to board our new floating home for the next 11 days. We were greeted by members of our expedition staff who directed us to the reception where we were checked in by Hotel Manager DJ and his assistant Sava, and the friendly hotel team showed us our cabins. There we found our luggage and in no time at all we settled in and started to explore our new surroundings.
At 17:00 we convened in the lecture room on deck three to meet expedition leader Cheryl, who welcomed us on board the ship. Third Officer, Warren then acquainted us with the safety features of the vessel and with the essential do’s and don’ts on board. Soon afterwards it was time for the mandatory safety drill and we gathered in the bar, donned our big orange lifejackets and went through the roll call to make sure everybody was there. We were then escorted outside to take a look at the lifeboats, but were left confident that we would have no reason to do this again in the next 11days!
Many of us then headed out on deck with cameras in hand as we pulled away from the pier and started to navigate the Beagle Channel.
At 18:30 we met in the lounge/Bar on Deck 6 in order to meet key crew/staff and learn about ship routine during our voyage. Hotel Manager DJ imparted useful information about mealtimes, Internet/Webmail access and treating the toilets nicely. He was followed by Expedition Leader Cheryl, who introduced Captain Mika – the person who would get us there and back again safely. He spoke a few words and explained that we were welcome on the bridge during daylight hours, which is a great viewing platform for bird-watching and also the place to find out from officers on watch what life is like at sea. We raised a glass of bubbly (or orange juice) to the success of our voyage and then Cheryl told us a little about the forthcoming voyage before handing a over to her team of guides and the Grande Espace team for a little self-introduction.
Shortly afterwards we were invited to the dining room to enjoy the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by head chef Khabir and his team. There was a real buzz in the dining room, as we got to know each other and talked about our hopes and aspirations for this voyage.
Our first evening was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements and settling into our cabins before retiring for the night.