OTL28-20, trip log, Ross Sea Odyssey

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbuch

Day 1: Bluff, New Zealand.

Bluff, New Zealand.
Datum: 16.02.2020
Position: 46°35’S / 168°20’E
Wind: Various 1
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +15

From 1.30 pm the lobby of the Kelvin Hotel in Invercargill was packed with pre-embarking Ortelius passengers! Assistant Hotel Manager Carlos was busy checking off names; Dr. Lise was collecting medical questionnaires; Staff members Victoria, Simon and Mark were bustling around chalking Cabin Numbers on luggage. And indeed, despite the crowd, the operation went so smoothly that we were early boarding our buses. For the record – this is very unusual.

And so we took a scenic route to Bluff, allowing us a last opportunity to enjoy the mainland New Zealand scenery. Wind speeds at the port were somewhat stronger than they had been in town and we held on to our hats with difficulty as we stepped from the buses onto Ortelius’ gangway, making our way to Deck 4 reception in order to check in. This will be our home for the next month.

Hotel Manager Michael greeted us warmly, handed us our cabin keys and then we were shown to our cabins by hotel staff and were able to spend the next hour unpacking and getting to know the ship layout. Finding the Bar and the all-important coffee/tea station was a significant moment.

With everyone safely embarked and all luggage on board, it was time for the mandatory Safety Briefing in the Lecture Room on Deck 3. Expedition Leader Rolf welcomed us on board, followed by Andy (3rd Officer) & Clouds (Assistant Expedition Leader) showing a film which covered various safety aspects of living on Ortelius; Michael gave us a ‘virtual’ tour of the ship; Dr. Lise recommended we meet her to supply ourselves with seasickness medication – and then seven short blasts and one long blast on the ship’s horn signaled the start of the lifeboat drill.

We like to do this drill before we sail, so that everyone knows what to do in an emergency. First we returned to our cabins to fetch warm clothes and our bright orange SOLAS life jackets. Then we mustered in the Bar and answered to a roll-call of names. Finally, we were led out to our respective lifeboat-boarding areas on Deck 7, where we lined up. A lifeboat was open, so that we could have a peek inside – cosy!

We set sail towards the end of this drill, at first escorted by tugboat, heading out into challenging wind conditions and heavy seas – all part of the adventure. Watching the New Zealand pilot leave Ortelius after guiding us out of harbour was extremely exciting, as was the severe rolling of his vessel (much worse than ours!). We now had some more free time to settle in, begin to feel at home and start developing our sea legs.

At 7 pm most of us gathered in the Bar to meet Captain Ernesto Barria and toast our Antarctic voyage. Sparkling wine and canapés were consumed (mainly - not too many ended up on the floor considering) and we met the ship’s Expedition Staff - who will be driving our zodiacs, lecturing us on all aspects of Antarctica and accompanying us on land visits.

Dinner was at 7.30 pm prompt and although the dining room was not quite full to capacity, those who came into dinner certainly enjoyed the culinary experience and also getting to know fellow-passengers. Most people decided on an early night after this, since all of us have had a long journey from home to Bluff. Having ‘Southern Ocean-proofed’ our cabins wherever possible (including the ABs closing the shutters over Deck 3 portholes), we headed for bed and a night of surprisingly rhythmic and even pleasant rocking and rolling – we certainly know we are at sea.

Day 2: At sea towards Auckland Islands

At sea towards Auckland Islands
Datum: 17.02.2020
Position: 49°14’S / 167°04’E
Wind: SE8
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +11

Sea conditions were rough when we woke up to our first morning on board Ortelius. Whilst this can be expected in the Southern Ocean, it meant that some passengers did not join us for meals very much today! Those capable of getting around were very careful always to save one hand (or even both) for the ship, especially when manoeuvring through doorways (watch those fingers in the door jamb!) and up and down stairways.

In order to accommodate somewhat uncomfortable seas, mandatory briefings were postponed until the afternoon and instead Simon kicked off our lecture programme with An Introduction to New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands. His talk focused on the birds we would find around Auckland and Campbell Islands, covering the larger sea birds (such as albatross and Giant petrels), rare penguin species (such as crested and Yellow-eyed penguins) and also land birds (such as pipits, teal and snipe).

By lunchtime the Bar was still mostly empty and there was certainly not a queue at the buffet, though those of us feeling up to it certainly did the food justice. For most it was siesta time after this, with Ortelius still rocking and rolling significantly. It was also a good moment to stand on the Bridge (all decks were closed, so windy was it!) or Bridge wing and take photos of the waves crashing onto our bow, as by 3 pm the height of the waves was steadily diminishing. Expedition Leader Rolf therefore decided to summon us for the mandatory IAATO and Zodiac briefings in the Deck 3 Lecture Room at 3.30 pm. This information is essential for safe and legal operations everywhere on this voyage - from the New Zealand sub-Antarctic Islands to the depths of Antarctica itself.

During the next 45 minutes or so we learned how to keep these regions pristine and avoid disturbing the wildlife; as the same rules apply to the New Zealand sub-Antarctic environment as to Antarctica, so IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) regulations cover both areas. Equally important was a session on how to dress for polar conditions and keep safe and dry in zodiacs, whether when shuttling to shore or when cruising the coastline looking for wildlife.

And then the truly thrilling part of the afternoon was upon us: time for a Vacuum Party in the Bar! We all brought up our outdoor clothes to check them for any imported seeds or dirt and expedition staff helped us vacuum any ‘old’ gear – with a special focus on pockets, Velcro, pants cuffs, etc. Having signed the biosecurity declaration forms, we descended to Deck 3 to pick up our rubber boots and zodiac life jackets. Now we are all set for the landing/zodiac adventures to begin tomorrow morning.

Dinner followed at 7 pm and we were in more sheltered waters by then, with outside decks reopened and Enderby Island lying just off the ship. Most people had an appetite by this stage and we enjoyed our venison or fish to the full, very appreciative of having reached a safe harbour after our day of rolling around.

The Bar was quiet after dinner – some of us were still suffering from jet lag, so an early night was again in order. We have activities coming up starting at 8.30 am tomorrow according to Rolf’s briefing, so retiring to bed to be ready for zodiac boarding straight after breakfast was a priority. Sleep well!

Day 3: Auckland Islands, New Zealand

Auckland Islands, New Zealand
Datum: 18.02.2020
Position: Auckland Islands, New Zealand
Wind: E2
Wetter: Drizzle
Lufttemperatur: +12

We awoke at 6.45 am today to Rolf’s gentle tones, letting us know that it was time to get up and take a look outside at Enderby Island. There was still a fair amount of swell as we made our way to breakfast, but it wasn’t cold outside. At 7.45 am a zodiac was lowered into the water and staff zoomed off towards shore in Sandy Bay to have a look at surf conditions on the beach. Unfortunately what we’d seen through binoculars on the Bridge was confirmed – too much swell for a landing on this relatively exposed coast. However we soon moved on to Plan B, which was to reposition the ship within Port Ross and take a zodiac cruise from there.

Plan B worked just fine! 10 zodiacs were lowered as passengers headed for their cabins to put on waterproofs and life-jackets. Both gangways were used for loading, so it didn’t take long for everyone to swipe their cards to ‘off the ship’ and we were on our way. The sea was smooth and we started off in fine weather, shading to drizzle and rain towards the end of our cruise (of about one hour and three-quarters), but there was almost zero wind or swell here – quite a difference from earlier today.

Zodiacs and their drivers took different routes round the island; whichever route we went, we all enjoyed seeing the red-flowering rata forests and densely-growing mega-herbs scattered between tussock clumps. A number of New Zealand sea lions played around our zodiacs with amazing agility and the occasional Fur seal could be spotted – contemplatively scratching on the rocky beaches.

The most commonly spotted seabirds were Auckland Island shags perched on cliff faces above the ocean, and not at all disturbed by our approaching zodiacs – in fact they posed nicely for photos. There were Kelp gulls too, patrolling the beach, and some White-fronted terns perched on boulders, preening. Close in to shore we could see and hear the land birds singing their hearts out – pipits and parakeets flitting through the trees, occasionally pausing on an outlying twig for a look out to sea.

Highlights for two or three lucky zodiacs were a fluffy Light-mantled sooty albatross chick on a nest right at the edge of the island; and a little further on, just emerged from ‘a forest fit for goblins’, a solitary Yellow-eyed penguin was standing sentinel, solemnly observing the scene before turning to waddle calmly back beneath the tree branches.

All too soon (despite the rain) it was time to return to Ortelius for our Moroccan chicken lunch with French fries. For some reason, sitting in zodiacs and clicking camera shutters is hungry work! Fortified by our buffet lunch we took a hot drink and then headed back out on deck to watch as our ship sailed southward along the east coast of Auckland Island, seeking the shelter of Carnley Harbour for more up-close sight-seeing. Soon we entered fog and for a while could no longer see land. It was definitely time for a siesta after an exciting morning!

Around 4 pm Rolf’s voice over the PA system announced that we had emerged into clearer conditions and were now entering Carnley Harbour; Captain Ernesto intended to ship cruise right to the end (taking just over an hour) and we were encouraged to come out on deck to admire Auckland Island in all its glory. Rocky cliffs and bluffs, tumbling slopes of greenery, cascading waterfalls, creatures flying and swimming and pulled out on beaches…Armed with a camera and binoculars, out on deck was the right place to be standing!

To our joy, Rolf decided to launch zodiacs again when we reached the Western Arm of the harbour, and we all took off for our second zodiac cruise of the day. Once again, 10 zodiacs set off in different directions to explore and when we came back were able to report a range of quality sightings, all of them different. It is difficult to pick out the highlights of the cruise, but they included: sea lions – swimming and climbing tussocked slopes; albatross flying and nesting on higher ground – many exhibiting pair-bonding rituals; Auckland Island shags everywhere; pipits and parakeets in twittery flight from tree to tree or along the rocky shoreline; an amazing cavern in Victoria Passage. The list goes on and on...

We got back just in time for dinner, which was far more lively an occasion than last night’s. We have tomorrow morning at sea and so Rolf postponed our regular ‘Recap & Briefing’ session so that we could share drinks at the Bar and talk over our day before recharging camera batteries (with electricity) and bodies (with sleep) for our arrival at Campbell Island late morning tomorrow.

Day 4: Campbell Island, New Zealand

Campbell Island, New Zealand
Datum: 19.02.2020
Position: 52°32’S / 169°10’E
Wind: W3
Wetter: Mist
Lufttemperatur: +12

Today started as every day will for the next month; I’m sure everyone will get used to Rolf waking us each morning with basic information on the day. Because we had left Auckland Island a bit later than expected, we were going to be still on our way to Campbell Island throughout the morning. This allowed for a Recap & Briefing after breakfast, to hear a bit about Yellow-eyed penguins from Valentin, a short review of our day at Auckland Island from Simon and a history lesson on Campbell Island from Victoria. Rolf finished off this busy Recap by briefing us with details on Campbell Island and our specific plans there.

Soon after the briefing, word came from the Bridge that we could see the island and were closing fast. Quickly we turned into Perseverance Harbour on the south end of Campbell Island. Immediately, conditions calmed and we cruised along the deep green of the Tussock grass and Rata forest fringe around the water line. In one direction a porpoising penguin, in another New Zealand Sea lions playing, and in the distance Beeman Cove, our appointed landing site. But first, a pasta lunch…

Shortly after lunch, the staff went ashore with the safety gear and our friendly neighbourhood Department of Conservation representative, Phil.

Everyone shuttled to shore over the next 45 minutes to start a fantastic walk up the boardwalk. On shore we were met with sandflies - the last annoying insects we’ll see until we get to Ushuaia. Phil led the walk up the hill and into the mist. It never quite rained on us on the mountain, but the mist descended heavily a few times so we all ended up drenched. Despite this, in the end it was a fantastic outing. As soon as we had left shore level, the sandflies disappeared and we continued on, relentlessly climbing up the sometimes precariously narrow boardwalk.

For the first 15 minutes we seemed to burrow our way through the grass trees (Dracophyllum longifolium), caprosma and hebe plants. Keen spotters also noted many tiny fungi and a few gentians close to the ground beside the boardwalk. Soon we emerged from the tall vegetation and onto the more open slopes dotted with tussocks and megaherbs. Still mist clouded our distant views as we concentrated on where to put our feet and on the vegetation immediately around us.

Suddenly, as we came over a small rise, there sat, still and regal, a beautiful Southern Royal albatross. We eventually determined that he or she had a tiny chick in the nest, but albatrosses are the zen masters of sitting quietly. In nearly three hours, our first albatross only stirred four or five times to rearrange its position. But even sitting still on the nest, it was close and magnificent. Walking on, we saw another four or five birds also sitting on nests at various distances from the track.

Many passengers turned around at the ridge where the old boardwalk ended in a small square platform. Those who carried on to the top had a newer and slightly wider boardwalk to tread. Next to the boardwalk at one point we could see the remains of a nearly-fledged chick, the skull and even an entire wing skeleton of which were visible beside an eroded old nest mound. Near the top, there was an exquisite field of daisies on the Macquarie Island cabbage, Stilbocarpa polaris. At the overlook, alas, there was nothing but cloud to see, but as we descended, a few of us managed to spot the very rare and endemic Campbell Island snipe. What an exciting addition to the trek!

Those folk who left the heights the latest were treated to considerable clearing of the view as we walked back down the boardwalk. As the mist dissolved, we could see Tucker Cove and eventually the main part of Perseverance Harbour and our good ship Ortelius. Even better, we could see more than a dozen nesting albatross with another dozen flying close overhead. It was a fantastic finish to the afternoon, and we were all back on board just in time for another delicious dinner; then we had some spare time for ourselves in the evening after a tremendous day.

Day 5: At sea towards Balleny Islands

At sea towards Balleny Islands
Datum: 20.02.2020
Position: 55°21’S / 167°42’E
Wind: SW4
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +9

This morning we woke up in the open ocean. Campbell Island was far behind us already and we still have several days to go to reach the Antarctic Circle and a possible stop and zodiac cruise at the remote Balleny Islands - weather conditions permitting - once we arrive.

There were gentle winds and a bit of swell, but we were still making decent speeds all day, without the ship pitching or rolling too much. Seabirds love these windy conditions. The whole day there was a constant stream of different tubenoses around the ship: Shy, Campbell, Southern Royal, Light-mantled and Black-browed albatrosses were seen, plus a great variety of petrels - Cape, White-chinned, Soft-plumaged, Grey-backed and Subtropical Diving. We even spotted an occasional prion!

In the morning, Gary presented his lecture on Seals and Sea lions of the world.

After a delicious buffet lunch, Victoria presented Ernest Shackleton and the Nimrod Expedition at Cape Royds, the famous British explorer’s first expedition to Antarctica as leader and his failed attempt to reach the South Pole. This was followed by Valentin shedding some light on the wonderful world of penguins with What do we really know about Penguins?

Before dinner we converged in the Bar for our daily Recap & Briefing, at which Rolf delivered the bad news that McMurdo Base has shut its doors to any outside visitors over fears of the Coronavirus. Disappointing indeed, but there is hope that New Zealand’s Scott Base around the corner will offer us a visit.

Then the expedition staff presented several different Recap stories, kicking off with Gary on our visit to Campbell Island, followed by an overview of mega-herbs from our New Zealand Department of Conservation representative, Phil. The Campbell Island snipe by Val and Mark’s presentation on “weed” - seaweed and kelp that is – followed.

The recap ended with Clouds sharing some photos she took of two adorable rain-soaked silvereyes, huddling together on a tree branch near the landing site.

Day 6: At sea towards Balleny Islands

At sea towards Balleny Islands
Datum: 21.02.2020
Position: 59°45’S / 166°48’E
Wind: NNW3/4
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +8

Another day at sea, but still a relatively calm day of travel, which has got us much closer to our goals. In fact it was a big day today. First, we crossed over the Antarctic Convergence and saw the sea surface temperature drop from a balmy 9˚ C that we have had since the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic islands, to a bit cooler at 4˚ C. It means we have moved into the biological province of Antarctic waters, which is also an area of great productivity. A bit later in the day, we crossed south of the 60˚ south latitude—the political boundary of Antarctica. This boundary was chosen so that it encompasses most of the waters south of the convergence, but not much outside of that. So we entered Antarctica both politically and biologically today. We’re truly there!

First thing this morning in our ongoing lecture series, Victoria related to us the history of Robert Falcon Scott in Antarctica (Captain Robert Falcon Scott: HERO? or BUNGLER?). There was a bit about his early history, but then a lot more about the Discovery Expedition and his fateful Terra Nova Expedition. There was lots of food for thought about the men on the expedition and their various personality traits. Interestingly, Victoria pointed out many instances where different men wrote differing opinions in their diaries about Scott and his decisions. But the outcome remains the same after every telling. Scott and four others died on their return from the South Pole, after discovering that Amundsen had preceded them there.

Our wildlife watch during the day was not as fruitful as we may have hoped, but we still had several White-headed petrels (with a few albatrosses too among others) and at least two sightings of Pilot whales. Just before lunch, the expedition team erected our emergency tent on the heli-deck, to check that it was in good condition and that everyone knew how to set it up. That’s a good sign that we are getting closer to big operations in the next few days.

After lunch, Simon told us about the albatrosses of the world, paying special attention to the ones we are seeing in the Southern Ocean now. And a little later we had our first talk from Clouds, to give everyone some general tips on photography. So there was plenty to keep everyone busy and entertained.

Our Recap & Briefing today started with Simon telling a tale, but also announcing that at least five dead penguins floated by this afternoon – which was surprising news. Then Phil showed us a video about New Zealand’s plan to remove the pigs, cats, and rats from Auckland Island and their even more ambitious plan to remove most of the pests from mainland New Zealand by 2050. Gary explained the Antarctic Convergence - that place where the north-running cold Antarctic surface waters collide with the south-running Sub-Antarctic surface waters. They fold down against each other at their ‘convergence’, to return to where they came from as mid-water currents. Because there is so little mixing of the two bodies of water, Antarctica is very isolated from the rest of the world’s oceans. It’s one reason Antarctica is as cold as it is.

Rolf finished up with his usual briefing about our voyage. We have now passed the 1000 nautical mile mark on our trip so far, and we expect to get to the Balleny Islands on Sunday morning. We’re making good time and to celebrate our crossing into Antarctica, Michael called a Happy Hour in the Bar during recap. To top off the day, just as we were being summoned to dinner, the call went out—‘iceberg’! Our first of this voyage! We really are nearly there.

Day 7: At sea towards Balleny Islands

At sea towards Balleny Islands
Datum: 22.02.2020
Position: 64°14’S / 166°16’E
Wind: NW4
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +3

Sea conditions were sufficiently stable when we awoke this morning at 7.45 am for those of us living on Deck 3 to experience a whole day on the Southern Ocean with full daylight instead of closed shutters! An overcast day improved generally as it progressed, despite Rolf’s threats of a falling barometer in the morning.

There was a small flurry of excitement at 10 am when Hotel Manager Michael announced the grand opening of the Ortelius shop in reception. A number of Antarctic-themed items are on offer in our floating hotel and when we fancy treating ourselves to a postcard, patch, sweatshirt, book, etc. there is a list on which to record the purchase. The day of reckoning is still nearly four weeks away!

After this gentle start, we gathered in the Lecture Room at 10.30 am to hear Victoria’s talk on The First Antarctic Winter – at Cape Adare (Borchgrevink, 1898 – 1900). Unusually for this particularly well-informed group of passengers, Carsten Borchgrevink was not well-known to most. He built the very first hut on the Antarctic Continent and was the first to spend a winter here; as we hope to approach his Cape Adare base in a few days’ time, the moment seemed right to learn more about his ‘British Antarctic Expedition’ (funded by a British newspaper magnate, but consisting mainly of Norwegians). This expedition succeeded in its mission to prove that it WAS possible to survive a whole year in Antarctica, and also did some good basic science; but "In many respects, Borchgrevink was not a good leader", as scientist Bernacchi wrote in his diary in a number of different ways! Still, he paved the way for future Antarctic exploration and can be said to have kick-started the race to the South Pole…

Conveniently, just as Victoria was dealing with a few questions at the end of her lecture, Ortelius passed a fair-sized, interestingly-weathered iceberg (around 11.40 am). So we must be going in the right direction!

The next eagerly-awaited event was of course lunch; at 12.30 pm we again heard Michael’s dulcet tones and hastened to the buffet for our veal, herb roesti and green beans. Not having to cook or wash the dishes allows us to gain maximum pleasure from each meal.

After a short siesta we gathered in the Lecture Room again to hear Shaun talk about his weeks at Cape Adare back in the mid-1970s. At the end of his season as Assistant Base Commander at Scott Base, he enjoyed the enviable experience of camping here and helping to repair the Borchgrevink Hut, which was not then in very good condition and seemed to have had artefacts plundered over the decades. Even more exciting, he got to climb the bluff and repair Hanson’s grave, whilst admiring stunning views of the beach and ice below. As this is an Antarctic Specially Protected Area now, few other people have enjoyed this privilege and it was great to hear his tales and see his photos.

Another case of convenient timing was the 4 pm call from Simon on the Bridge to head out on deck with binoculars and camera to admire some Humpback whales in front of the ship. These proved very good value, waving flippers and fluking quite a few times as well as steadily revealing their progress through the ocean by their characteristic blows.

Poor Phil. Our New Zealand Observer was just about to embark on the first lecture of our ‘Story-time series’ in the bar after tea and cake…when Simon did it again! This time he was tremendously excited as he had caught sight of a BLUE WHALE. Everyone abandoned Phil (who was just warming to his theme - describing his time as a ranger in the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands); instead, we all rushed to catch a glimpse of the biggest animal ever to live on earth. Captain Ernesto kindly slowed down and turned the ship so we had a chance to catch sight of that exceptionally long, blue-grey back and small fin. Well, some of us saw it and some of us didn’t, but then we caught sight of a couple of (only slightly smaller) Fin whales too. Apparently there were some Pilot whales sighted this morning, and so it has definitely been a Whale of a day…

Phil will have to speak another day since now we were heading for Recap & Briefing time once again, at which the atmosphere was most convivial. Simon (unsurprisingly) talked about whales, Gary (views from Zodiacs) and Victoria (history) about the upcoming Balleny Islands and Valentin the whys and wherefores of seabirds flying around ships. Then Rolf rounded up with a briefing on tomorrow’s potential Sturge/Buckle Island activities at the Ballenys, and we happily adjourned to dinner, followed maybe by a nightcap in the bar to celebrate our approach to the Antarctic Circle.

Day 8: Balleny Islands, Antarctica

Balleny Islands, Antarctica
Datum: 23.02.2020
Position: 67°10’S / 164°10’E
Wind: NNE5
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: -1

Excitement mounted this morning as we approached the rarely-seen and rarely-visited Balleny Islands. It was still snowing, so the decks and fittings were covered with it; visibility was greatly reduced too. It was after breakfast when we approached Sturge Island, and on the way we had already logged Cape, Antarctic and Mottled petrels – plus a Light-mantled albatross. Once in position near the island a couple of scout boats went off into the snow to see what opportunities were on offer. A zodiac cruise had initially been decided on, but only three boats had been loaded when the operation was aborted. Conditions at the gangway had worsened and loading boats was no longer deemed safe. So once all of us and all the boats were back on board the Ortelius, we set off in a northerly direction for Buckle Island to see if conditions were better there.

During the end of lunch the ship sailed through a large patch of brash ice and on it were numerous Crabeater seals; a Light-mantled albatross flying over the ice was an especially incongruous sight! The sea was flat calm, so this time all of us were able to get into the boats for a zodiac cruise around Sabrina Island and Chinstrap Islet. There was a surprise waiting for us on the beach by the giant rock stack, which was estimated to be nearly 80 metres high. The surprise was in the form of an immature King penguin (white rather than orange ear patches) and it had probably come ashore to moult – a long way from home.

Other inhabitants of the beach included almost 20 fat weddell Seals, some of which looked curiously at us as we drifted past them. Occasionally one would look up or lazily stretch a flipper. There was one on an ice floe close to the beach too and, since s/he was fast asleep, we were able to make a close approach. Most of the penguins that we saw were Adelies, but there were also small numbers of Chinstraps – both species were the first for the trip. A lot of them were adults in moult, but others could be seen walking up or down the narrow trails on the icy slope between the beach and the nesting areas. The cliffs at the northern end of the beach had Cape and Greater Snow petrels flying in front of them, so we lingered long in order to enjoy everything that was going on.

Several boats were led towards Chinstrap Islet by two large, rotund, Humpback whales. Rather than feeding however, they seemed to be on their way to somewhere, swimming steadily. It was very exciting to be so close to such large creatures! Just off the islet there were brief views of a large Leopard seal in the water, no doubt waiting for an unwary penguin to swim by. Care had to be taken by us too, due to the, at times, large swell and waves on the exposed corner of the islet. However, all too soon our time was up and we were on our way back to the ship. Shortly after setting sail another expedition ship passed us in the ice. No time for us to linger though – there was soon a delicious buffet dinner to enjoy; and the wine was on the house, which put us in a convivial mood for the rest of the evening too.

Day 9: At sea towards Cape Adare

At sea towards Cape Adare
Datum: 24.02.2020
Position: 68°59’S / 167°51’E
Wind: SE2/3
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: 0

Once again, the decks were covered with snow this morning. After breakfast there was a mandatory helicopter briefing, which was introduced by our Chilean pilot friends. We were planning to have a “practice run’’ in the afternoon, but during lunch the wind increased and so too did the height of the waves. There was more snow as well! The outside stuff was postponed, so instead we stayed inside and listened to Phil talking about his life as a Ranger in Kiwiland. Simon was secured in his cabin so that he couldn’t interrupt again (with a whale sighting) and empty the room. Pesky naturalists!

Yesterday evening’s Humpback show was described by one person as an ‘ocean explosion’. Whilst there were many fewer whales today, there were six different species. They were: Antarctic Minke, Humpback, Sei, Fin, Sperm and Killer! The last two were the most interesting and exciting but, frustratingly, all six species were only seen briefly and only by a few people. The Sperm Whale was a solitary animal and, judging by its size, was probably a male. Spotted by the watchman on the Bridge, it was some way off and was resting at the surface, re-oxygenating. This ‘logging’ process can take up to 30 minutes and, if seen well, the forward-angled spout from the left side of the head is distinctive. Unless one is looking at a Northern Bottlenose whale in the North Atlantic, that is!

The Killer whale sighting was even briefer, but the two animals were, at least, much closer. Mostly only a bit of the back and the large dorsal fin was seen, but one whale (they are actually the largest member of the dolphin family) did pass very close to the bow. It was not far below the surface and the bold black-and-white pattern could be clearly spotted. As we travel further south, we may see more and, given good views, we may be able to tell what type they are. There is the Type A, which is seen all around Antarctica, the large Type B (Pack Ice Killer whale) and the type C (Ross Sea Killer whale). There may well be lots of Minke whales too.

The number of bird species is now very low, but some of the sightings today were dramatic and exciting: Sooty Shearwaters, Mottled and Cape Petrels and Southern fulmars were all seen in low numbers. Also ‘gracing our table’ was the stupendous, elegant and majestic Light-mantled albatross, of which several were seen. However, the bird that performed the best was the Antarctic petrel. A group of three stuck with the ship from 1 pm until at least 6 pm, providing exceptionally close views and photographic opportunities. Finally on birds, at Recap Simon mentioned that yesterday’s King penguin presumably came from the large colonies on Macquarie Island, 900 nautical miles/1,035 statute miles/1,656 kilometres away. However, he then showed a picture of one on Nightingale Island, in the Tristan da Cunha group and, going south, the nearest source (South Georgia) was 1,400 nm/1,610 sm/2,576 km away!

We ended the day by looking forward to and hoping for fine weather tomorrow at Cape Adare, with its Adelie penguins and Borchgrevink’s hut. The hut is notable for being the only ‘first building on any continent’ that it is possible to visit. And so to dinner and to bed. By tomorrow morning we will be in the Ross Sea.

Day 10: Cape Adare, Robertson Bay, Antarctica

Cape Adare, Robertson Bay, Antarctica
Datum: 25.02.2020
Position: 71°38’S / 170°06’E
Wind: SE1
Wetter: Sunny
Lufttemperatur: +1

A cloudless blue sky, ice-covered mountains, sea like glass, glinting glaciers, broken brash ice and titanic tabular icebergs greeted us this morning when we threw back our curtains! On the western side of Robertson Bay were the Transantarctic Mountains and the highest visible peak was Mount Minto, at 13,655’/4,163m. Nearby was something much smaller - another expedition ship, which, of course, gave way to the mighty and powerful Ortelius! Shortly after the promised 05.45 wake-up call, the staff were out in two zodiacs to see if a landing at Cape Adare was possible. From the ship we could see that the beach was fringed with big blocks of ice; Borchgrevink’s hut was clearly visible and there were many Adelie Penguins on show. These charming creatures were noticeable in another way too – their heady aroma. It was so powerful that it came in through the Bar door and went all the way down the stairs to deck 3! The news from the scouts though was not good – on the western side of the point there were no gaps in the washed-up ice and on the north side a big swell was running.

Plan B was to do the helicopter ‘dry run’ that had been postponed due to yesterday afternoon’s bumpy and windy weather - so that is what we did. We were called by helicopter group to the bar in all of our gear and then checked off at the muster area. Then we were taken out onto the heli deck to one of the two waiting choppers. There was the chance to go first into one of the 5-seaters (2 aircraft) and then into the deliciously lime green ‘India’, the smaller 4-seater. It took a little while to get everyone through this process, but by late morning we had all become familiar with the aircraft and the embarkation/disembarkation process – including the all-important converting of our life jackets from automatic (green) to manual (5 mm+ of red showing). Evidently, we don’t want our life jackets to inflate inside a helicopter!

The weather was still perfect for flying, so instead of waiting until after lunch for our scenic flight, we commenced straightaway. Once all three helicopters were up and running the system ran like clockwork – it was tremendously exciting! Getting in with the rotors turning was just the beginning – after buckling up and after the doors were closed we were cleared for take-off. The flights lasted for 20 minutes or so and the ship was close to shore, so we were soon flying over the first of several glaciers. The ship looked like a toy, but the landscape was immense.

Flying at a fairly low altitude, the jumbled seaward ends of the glaciers disintegrated into a mass of huge crevasses, with towers and walls of ice piled high all around. Deep down in the voids the ice was dark blue. Up and over we went, marvelling at the ice below us. At times we flew through canyons, with cliffs of ice on either side. Nearer the sea it was possible to see huge tongues of glacial ice extending out into the water; icebergs had broken off and were drifting away. From above all we could see of the ice under the water was an intense blue colour. Truly outstanding!

All too soon we had landed back on the ship, but today’s activities weren’t over yet! There was also a chance to go out for a zodiac cruise to the wall of a nearby glacier. From the ship - which was a little way away – the glacier didn’t look very high, but from short range in a zodiac, the ice wall seemed to tower over everything. We were thus able to put the landscape and icescape into perspective. This made us appreciate our flight even more and realize how lucky we were to have been able to get the helicopters airborne in such beautiful conditions. The weather here is not always so benevolent. And then there was evening ship-cruising off Cape Adare and an extraordinary sunset. What a day!

Day 11: At sea towards Terra Nova Bay

At sea towards Terra Nova Bay
Datum: 26.02.2020
Position: 72°22’S / 171°14’E
Wind: SE1
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +0.5

The early birds amongst us had to be really early today to see the dramatic sunrise colours over Moubray Bay. Distant mountains and the clouds above them were a delicate shade of pink. Over to the east the sun was just peeping above the top of a bank of cloud. The ship was surrounded by sea ice so we were going quite slowly. A possible objective had been Cape Hallett, but there was so much ice between us and the land that it was decided to press on instead in the direction of Terra Nova Bay.

During breakfast a supply ship passed us, heading north. For such a small, antiquated vessel the name Beijing Ocean Leader seemed somewhat grandiose and incongruous. China is building a new base to the south and the ship had probably been there to help with the work. As we steamed along all eyes were on the ice in search of wildlife, of which there was little! At one point the captain took the ship over to see a group of Crabeater seals and not far away we got very close views of a Weddell seal. During the morning information meeting Simon pleaded for help in spotting the near-mythical Ross seal (which Gary claims to have seen in the late nineteenth century). As an added incentive, three valuable rewards were offered: a free cruise………….brochure, dinner of choice with Simon or, lastly, two dinners with Simon.

The afternoon was much quieter in terms of both ice and wildlife, with the most numerous species being Adelie penguins and Crabeater seals. A gnarly, old, eroded tabular iceberg looked interesting, so we went over to have a look at it. Clearly visible were layers of ice from deposited snow, huge cracks, icicles and numerous holes, caverns and caves. Some of the latter were blue and they have a very interesting story (here follows one of Simon’s fascinating narratives; it is up to you, dear Reader, to decide as to the factual accuracy of such accounts, Ed).

“Icebergs like this are a recent phenomenon and are linked with increasing numbers of Blue whales, following the cessation of whaling. The whales come down to Antarctica at the beginning of summer and scoop out these caves with their large and powerful pectoral flippers. They then lay their eggs in them, which are blue, of course. It is this reflected colour that makes the ice look blue. In stormy weather the eggs are in danger of being swept away and lost forever, so the females lie across the entrances to the caves to protect the eggs. Then the extra heat from their bodies helps the eggs to hatch much sooner than would otherwise have been the case”.

During the afternoon we were in open water so many of us, including the usual season ticket holders, gathered in the Lecture Room for Victoria’s splendid “Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic Homes”. What none of the attendees knew was that a pod of Killer Whales swam by (see disclaimer above, Ed). Luckily, just after the presentation finished another group appeared ahead of the ship and many of us got the chance to see them. They were even close enough for photographs, which showed that they were the large Type B, or Pack Ice Killer whale. They are found all around Antarctica.

Later on there was the usual Recap & Briefing, with contributions from Gary and Victoria on Inexpressible Island, a place we hope to see tomorrow, where Scott’s Northern Party under Campbell over-wintered in a hastily-dug ice cave for SEVEN MONTHS in 1912; they survived and then WALKED the 200 miles to Cape Evans, crossing the Drygalski Ice Tongue. Ships were definitely made of wood and men of steel in those days.

Finally, an item of late news: down on the bow a hatch cover was opened, revealing a huge, empty, cavernous space. The crew are looking into it.

Day 12: Terra Nova Bay, Ross Sea, Antarctica

Terra Nova Bay, Ross Sea, Antarctica
Datum: 27.02.2020
Position: 74°55’S / 164°06’E
Wind: S4/5
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: -3

Overnight we had smooth sailing south down the Ross Sea coast towards Inexpressible Island in hopes of a landing. However, at sunrise we began to feel a significant increase in swell and the wind picked up to about 25 knots. Visibility dropped to almost nothing and we found ourselves surrounded by a heavy fog, with lots of big snowflakes swirling around the ship. A landing became less and less probable as the weather seemed to close in more and more. So Gary gave us a lecture on the Life History of Adelie penguins – informative and useful as we expect to be having quite a few of them around us for some time.

We entered Terra Nova Bay as a heavy snow continued to fall, all but obscuring Inexpressible Island and the surrounding landscape. We had hoped to make our first landing in Antarctica at the location where Scott’s Northern Party was forced to endure a winter in an ice cave. With the weather so poor and the driving wind biting cold, it was hard for any of us to imagine how they could have survived in these conditions through the long Antarctic winter.

Then, suddenly, like an apparition, a Chinese cargo ship appeared from the fog as we slowly sailed further into the bay.

Captain Ernesto sailed slowly deeper into Terra Nova Bay until we could see land and the bare rocky strip where the Italians had located Mario Zucchelli Base. There was a surprisingly large collection of red and blue buildings and roads, all very neat and tidy and in the process of closing down for winter.

We sailed further north for another half hour to get a look at the German Gondwana base. As we turned around, Rolf announced that we were going back towards Zucchelli Base for a look at the back bay behind it, hoping for calmer weather. We were in luck! As we turned the corner into Tethys Bay, the swells eased and the wind died down.

Rolf announced a zodiac cruise around the bay, where we saw lots of Weddell seals, a large Leopard seal in the water and a few handfuls of moulting Adelie penguins on the shoreline. After one and a half hours and a very pleasant outing, we returned to Ortelius for a late dinner, with big smiles on our faces.

As we sailed out of Terra Nova Bay the skies cleared and Antarctica showed us her sunset in all its glory, with colours from golden, yellow, pink, ochre and violet shading to blue, as large tabular icebergs floated along the horizon.

The day ended early for some while others stayed up late, witnessing this miraculous sight, and hoping for a chance to spy the Drygalski Ice Tongue as we sailed past around 1 am.

Day 13: McMurdo Sound, Ross Sea, Antarctica

McMurdo Sound, Ross Sea, Antarctica
Datum: 28.02.2020
Position: 77°30’S / 166°01’E
Wind: S4/5
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: -9

Well, for once it seemed that when the wake-up call came it was sunny outside and it could be all systems go. Alas, this was not to last. We were just entering the McMurdo Sound area as we got up for breakfast and the conditions were a little rough, but OK. First we sighted Beaufort Island as we headed south. As we got closer in, we then spotted Cape Bird, at the north end of Ross Island. By this time it was clear that we were going to have to play a waiting game and hope for less wind. Antarctica is fickle!

Meanwhile, after breakfast we gathered in the lecture room for a presentation from Victoria on the tragic tale of Shackleton’s Ross Sea party. First though, a little news from Rolf about the conditions and our hopes for the day. The weather forecast indicated the possibility of a small calm area right in the south of McMurdo Sound, though looking out of the windows where we were told a different story: the wind was clearly blowing too hard for us to get into zodiacs. The sea had built up to a substantial froth and with the temperature around -10˚ C, conditions were too difficult to attempt a landing.

Nonetheless, our good Captain Ernesto took the ship in close enough to Cape Royds for us to catch a glimpse of Shackleton’s hut and then past Cape Barnes to Cape Evans, where we had a good look at the lie of the land, in particular Scott’s Terra Nova hut and Windvane Hill. Immediately to the south we could see Inaccessible Island, Tent Island and Big and Little Razorback Islands - all of which were landmarks and welcome sights to the early explorers returning to the warmth and safety of their home at Cape Evans.

Meanwhile the Erebus watchers were keeping a constant watch on the clouds and the higher slopes. Finally we were treated to a brief glimpse of the top of this famous volcano—and was that a wisp of steam emanating from her peak? Indeed.

After a good long lingering look at Cape Evans, we moved on towards Hut Point. In the past four weeks, all the sea ice has blown out of the end of McMurdo Sound so we easily motored in very close to Hut Point to get a good sighting of the Discovery Hut. So near, and yet so far. Conditions never did improve enough for us to be able to see the insides of any of these iconic buildings today.

Instead, we devoted ourselves to inspecting McMurdo Station from the ship, then sailed on past Observation Hill to take in Scott Base. Off the very tip of Hut Point Peninsula, we had a full panorama of Scott Base and the western end of the Ross Ice Shelf, with lots of equipment and the ‘Willy’s Field’ landing strip for aircraft in the distance. Farther to the west we could still see White Island and Black Island, but after that everything disappeared into the mist. Between Ross Island and the mainland, the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf is not the huge ice barrier described by Ross. Here, the shelf stands a mere three to four metres high out of the sea. Towards the east it will be taller than the ship, at 30-40 metres. Eventually, as the time for recap and dinner crept closer, it was clear that we would not be going ashore today. We turned aside to meander in the area overnight and prepare for further landing attempts tomorrow.

At Recap & Briefing, after more weather forecasts from Rolf, we heard a short tale of Observation Hill from Simon, an overview of navigating ships in ice from Gary, and a thorough description of the Beaufort Wind Scale from ‘Clouds’. After dinner, as we each settled into our usual evening routine, we had a fascinating display of grease ice forming on the sea as the winds continued to whip the surface into a frenzy. It’s surprising how tiring it can be standing in the cold and wind on deck whilst enjoying Antarctic landscapes (natural and man-made) and hoping for a break in the weather. We all went to bed in the hopes of being able to land in the coming days at some of the sites we had glimpsed and photographed from Ortelius today.

Day 14: Dry Valleys, Ross Sea, Antarctica

Dry Valleys, Ross Sea, Antarctica
Datum: 29.02.2020
Position: 77°33’S / 165°44’E
Wind: SSE 7
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: -11

“Good Morning Everyone!” from the northernmost point of Ross Island - Cape Bird. Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst is a good philosophy to adopt when sailing in such a unique and remote place as the Ross Sea. From when Rolf started our day by announcing that the wind speed was around 20 knots, it appeared later that it had never stopped building up since that moment.

In the meantime, we were planning to give a landing at Cape Evans another go, this time hoping for more than an outside view of Scott’s hut. Unfortunately only the weather (and the ice) decide how things turn out here, and when we arrived back at the Terra Nova hut, there was a wind speed of more than 40 knots displayed on the little bridge screen (with which all of us are now familiar). What better occasion could there be to learn more about “Human survival in the cold” and never to underestimate the effect of wind chill, as explained (together with many other intriguing aspects of the subject) by Chris Johnson during his wise and well-documented presentation.

Rolf and the Captain together decided to look at ‘the bright side of (McMurdo Sound’s) life’ - towards the west coast of the bay, where the TransAntarctic Mountains were spotlighted by sun, as if inviting us to sail closer. And that one decision completely changed the story of our day.

It was as if the Ross Sea had decided to test our perseverance in these past few days and finally to reward us with one of the most spectacular Antarctic days that most of us had ever experienced. For, all of a sudden, we were floating in the middle of an ice-pancake-coated sea.

The scene was lit by rays of sunlight with dark clouds forming a backdrop, to create a perfect contrast of light with dark in these polar waters. By this time we were all outside, to enjoy the present moment and to testify to the beauty of mother nature. And we couldn’t imagine that this was merely the beginning of our amazing journey through today…

We had now fully accepted this invitation to get further into the sea ice and were reaching the first large, dense ice floes. And there, just in front of us were standing the majestic Dry Valleys. When the words ‘Dry Valleys’ came up during a short briefing given by Rolf, a general frenzy grabbed everyone on board ship and the sparkle in passengers’ eyes was as bright as the sparkle of the sunlight on sea ice.

The reconnaissance flight was the first to leave the heli-deck, and as if they had just been waiting for the right moment, three Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) immediately jumped out of the water not so far from Ortelius, to check us out and greet us with their characteristic trumpeting call (though we thought it was Gary at first!). That was what we call ‘a lifer’ for most of our keen birders, definitely needing to be celebrated at some point later on.

We were suddenly in another world! A 15-minute flight up into the Taylor Valley was spectacular – we were, of course, being flown by our amazing and enthusiastic Chilean pilots - and we got to appreciate the many formations and textures of sea ice from above before progressing through the valley itself. And it appeared that these valleys were not so dry after all, but covered by a fresh layer of snow - which was certainly unexpected and another instance of our good fortune.

Our landing was close by the Canada Glacier, with the Commonwealth Glacier not so far away. We were offered the opportunity to walk in a loop starting from the helipad and continuing on to the glacier front - with a partially snow-covered Crabeater seal mummy to marvel at on the way – until we reached a lookout point at the top of a hill. There was no wind at all in one of the coldest places on earth, where we have been given this amazing chance to appreciate our first Antarctic landing to the full, and where we have set foot on the Seventh Continent (maybe the last one missing for some of us). Epic !

You never know what is awaiting you on a real ‘expedition day’. And this day turned out to be ‘a day to die for’ for everyone. And it seemed as if it was meant never to end; we were later all united – on the outer decks as well as in our thoughts - to witness a magnificent ‘golden hour’, during which the setting sun hit the surface of the pancake ice for a glorious hour or so just after dinner.
None of us was really keen on going to bed and we lingered out on deck until late (occasionally dipping into the Bar for a warming hot chocolate), enjoying passing icebergs and the oranges and pinks and purples of the evening until the last rays of light hit the colossal Mount Erebus – around 10 pm – flooding its peak a gorgeous pink. It was well worth waiting up for. AMAZING.

Day 15: McMurdo Sound, Ross Sea, Antarctica

McMurdo Sound, Ross Sea, Antarctica
Datum: 01.03.2020
Position: McMurdo Sound, Ross Sea, Antarctica
Wind: SE 5
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: -8

Another day in Paradise. How many people can actually say that they awoke in front of the legendary Mount Erebus – clearly visible all the way to the top (once again) on a glorious morning? Well WE did. What an excellent start to the day, just before having our breakfast. But of course there is always a balance between pain and pleasure, and this delightful moment didn’t last for too long. An announcement was made by our captain, reminding us to hold on tight as we moved around the ship, since the wind was AGAIN reaching 50 knots (with some gusts at 60 knots) as we once again approached Cape Bird (which is definitely not proving a really welcoming place for us right now).

However, as expedition cruising is always a matter of carefully assessing our options and opportunities, we continued making our way towards the other side of the sound. How could we not succumb to the temptation of at least TRYING after our glorious day yesterday? In the meantime, Shaun was on in the Lecture Room to tell us more stories about the highest offshore mountain of Antarctica – Mount Erebus (3,794m) - and his adventures both whilst climbing it and whilst at the top, helping scientists try to extract liquid lava from the crater!

Well, a certain iconic living being of the area decided to shorten Shaun’s presentation a bit, being announced around 10:30 am by Simon from the bridge - “We have Orca in front of the ship”. A whole pod - between 15 and 20 individuals - was surfacing at the 12:00 and 09:00 o’clock position from the ship. And after a closer examination, these Orca revealed themselves to be the famous ‘Ross Sea Orca’, with a very narrow and recognizable eye-patch (also known as ‘Ecotype C’ or even Orcinus orcas glacialis in Latin). Great to see them, especially when we realize that we can only have the chance to watch this rare marine mammal in this particular part of the world!

As we needed at least four hours of navigation to reach the western side of McMurdo Sound, this provided us with another perfect opportunity - after lunch - to learn more about life in McMurdo Base from one slightly weird summer resident, our dear Mark ‘la moustache’. This turned out to be an interactive presentation, punctuated by relevant facts and scientific tidbits, to be continued with a second part…which was originally planned to start right after a cup of tea and a little cookie; but spectacular views of the TransAntarctic Mountains and a rather massive tabular iceberg – named A43 – led us all outside for a bit of fresh air instead. We continued to appreciate the seemingly endless front of this monumental piece of ice (several kilometers long) for some time, as Captain Ernesto carefully navigated us parallel to it and along its entire face.

And we hit a PANCAKE PARTY again shortly afterwards, as planned by our expedition leader. “Where is my maple syrup?” exclaimed Gary in his best American accent. We were going through many different ice formations – a perfect ice lesson – and some of the small pancakes were piling up to create larger ones and eventually reached as much as five metres in diameter. Ortelius’ purpose was clear as we headed on into more solid, rectangular blocks of sea ice – penguin territory coming up, in which we were looking for the icing on the cake, or should we say for the Emperor penguin on the ice floe?

All eyes and binoculars were scanning the flat horizon to distinguish the first vertical silhouette:- “There are six of them just in front of us!” came the cry and we went closer, trying to make our way through the labyrinth of ice. The Emperors stayed put on the floe, being admired closely by most of us from the bow, occasionally flopping down from their standing positions to toboggan a short distance. We were lucky to spot some more parades of Emperor penguins in the same vicinity, giving us a final score of between 30 and 40 penguins in total. Not bad at all!

And then our day finished just as it had begun, with the Ortelius sailing back towards Mount Erebus, which saluted us with a wisp of smoke (or maybe it was a scrap of cloud?) from its crater.

Day 16: Cape Evans, Ross Island, Antarctica

Cape Evans, Ross Island, Antarctica
Datum: 02.03.2020
Position: 77°38’S / 166°23’E
Wind: ESE 7
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: -17

“Let’s have a look at the inside and not only at the outside of this hut” said Victoria at the beginning of the day. And she was right - seeing the inside of an Antarctic explorer’s hut means you get to know and understand his expedition much better. Standing where Scott and his men had lived, worked and played would really add another dimension to our understanding of the Antarctic history we have heard and read so many stories about. Just as determined as the early polar explorers, we were not ready yet to give up on our chance of visiting the Cape Evans hut.

Today’s 20-knot wind seemed much more promising for a zodiac operation compared to what we’ve had on previous days. However, a little further assessment of conditions was needed from the Bridge between 8 and 9 am; all of us were holding our breaths at this time, but happily our zodiacs were finally launched and passengers did finally get to shore and were able to enter Scott’s Terra Nova hut this morning. Phew…

After getting the green light the expedition staff spun into action. Once the door of the hut had been opened by Phil & Victoria, other staff members donned waders and began to grab the incoming zodiacs and, with all team mates in position, the first group of passengers was able to walk in the footsteps of Sir Robert Falcon Scott. It was actually our second landing by zodiac, though the first one felt as if it had been a month ago. Time to be back on track and remember to face the driver and spin our legs seawards without kicking anyone if possible…

A short briefing was given upon arrival, explaining the amount of time allowed ashore, including the ten or so minutes inside the hut, carefully followed up by Victoria herself chasing away those with a guilty conscience (though she was there to answer questions and point out key areas as well as acting as policewoman!). How fantastic and unreal was the experience of exploring those cubicles and living areas filled with gear and food and furniture - with our own eyes?

“Don’t forget to visit the stables” came the constant refrain as we negotiated our way past oozing seal blubber and Adelie penguin eggs, and took in the pony stalls and their contents – feed boxes, Emperor penguin skins, a wooden wheelbarrow, a bicycle, a dead sledge dog and a stove for warming pony fodder.

What we were now experiencing first-hand, helped by all of those very passionate talks previously given by Victoria, combined to enable us to absorb every single detail and to appreciate fully this opportunity to enter into a very real Antarctic world - from another era, but somehow very homely and immediate as well.

Most of us had the opportunity to climb Windvane Hill and enjoy the scenic outlook from the foot of the cross erected to the memory of the three men who died from Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party (1916). And the remainder of our shore-time was devoted to strolling around the perimeter of the hut and the Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA), enjoying the atmosphere of the piles of equipment still here to remind us vividly of all the early-twentieth-century polar explorers who came here before us.

From the smiles on everyone’s faces as we returned to Ortelius, it was easy to see what an amazing experience visiting Cape Evans had proven; and we were thankful that we could all be safely back on board around 12.45 pm, just in time for lunch and without the increasing wind speed having cut our operation short.

Our day was already made and in some respects we didn’t need anything else; however, we wanted to make the most of the afternoon too, and so set off again for Hut Point, hoping the weather would turn out better than the forecast. But the weather conditions were pretty wild as we arrived back in front of McMurdo Station, and Rolf had to come on the PA system again to say that at this stage in the day and at this place in McMurdo Sound, we did not have any possible options to head out again.

That didn’t prevent us from appreciating a fantastic natural phenomenon from the ship; we found ourselves surrounded by sea smoke that was swept away by the wind, with long, wispy streaks of grease ice shooting over much of the surface of the sea. “Winter is coming!” said Gary wisely, quoting Captain Ernesto (and incidentally, Game of Thrones); indeed, the sea fog indicated that the sea was losing heat significantly and it wouldn’t be long before the first pancakes of ice reappeared here too.

Then it was time to gather in the Bar for the traditional Recap & Briefing before dinner. This was to be our last day in McMurdo Sound and we were now moving on eastward, aiming to sail by Cape Crozier – site of the Emperor penguin rookery made famous by Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s Worst Journey in the World - around midnight.

Day 17: At sea towards Bay of Whales, Ross Sea

At sea towards Bay of Whales, Ross Sea
Datum: 03.03.2020
Position: 77°02’S / 173°19’E
Wind: S7
Wetter: Cloudy, fog
Lufttemperatur: -13

You will of course remember that we were supposed to sail along Cape Crozier late last night, right ? Hopefully, Uncle Gary’s announcement of the poor visibility prevailing outside prevented the night owls from staying awake too long and being disappointed. Well, like every expedition plan A, there was a chance for this one to turn into plan B, even C or D. And it was quite a surprise that at breakfast-time we were STILL in the vicinity of Cape Crozier, as the sea was too rough and the visibility too limited to allow Ortelius to sail away at a good speed (we were in fact reduced to five knots).

We were not sheltered by Ross Island anymore, but were now facing the wide open Southern Ocean and its furious wind - that was reaching more than 60 knots in the morning. Rolf, Michael and the captain respectively had to remind us always to keep TWO hands for the Ortelius whenever possible, to take one plate at a time during meals (as always, there was enough food!) and not to go outside on the open decks. It was that kind of day indeed, when the deck crew had to pass through every cabin to close the porthole covers.

Fortunately, our Expedition Team is full of resources and rough weather provided a perfect opportunity to share our knowledge and our thoughts with each other and passengers – who also know a great deal about, and enjoy discussing, this region of Antarctica; also a series of documentaries was launched, starting with Part I of a four-part saga on Carsten Borchgrevink, in the Bar.

Later in the afternoon, our penguinologist Gary shared his experiences of the Emperor penguin’s life, telling us about the whole cycle of the bird, with photos from various colonies (out of 54 known today in total) that he has been lucky enough to investigate. Not too long after that, La Moustache of Mark appeared again for the second part of his life at McMurdo, and the dude took advantage of tea time to bait the most ‘gourmet’ of us into eating sweet things we didn’t really need…Yummy! The deck crew were also full of resource and energy at this time, being outside on deck to thaw the frozen bow with hammers, shovels, brute force and courage.

We still have a long journey ahead of us, with many nautical miles of sailing to attain our schedule on time. Rolf – who always tells it as it is - had to warn us during our evening briefing that lots of sea days were coming and that the ice conditions were not looking especially favourable for a close navigation of the Ross Ice Shelf:- “Let’s see what tomorrow brings and be optimistic!” In the meantime, we were about to live another kind of adventure anyway, temporally speaking…

Day 18: At sea towards Bay of Whales, Ross Sea

At sea towards Bay of Whales, Ross Sea
Datum: 04.03.2020
Position: 77°44’S / 172°23’W
Wind: SW5
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: -6.5

We awoke in the early morning to find ourselves surrounded by pancake ice as far as the eye could see, and slowly sailing through a thickening, freezing ocean, heading for the Bay of Whales. It was a cold, icy morning and we found the Bridge windows iced over – on the INSIDE. Bridge Officers decided to close outside decks for as long as necessary and the ABs had a tough job of it, chipping ice and snow from all the slippery surfaces. The sun beaming on layers of white crystals produced an impressive sparkle however and we enjoyed the spectacle of Ortelius clad entirely in white in the sunshine!

As it was an ‘expedition day’ we didn’t have any specific landings planned, but Rolf and the expedition team were constantly assessing ice and weather conditions along the way and determining what, if any, activities we might be able to do - weather permitting. It was cold outside at -4°C, with 25 knot winds blowing.

After breakfast we headed to the Bar for a special guest lecture by Julian Dowdeswell, Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute; he presented his informative and fascinating “An Introduction to Ice”.

The wind and the ice conditions hadn’t improved by the afternoon, slowing our sailing speed through the Ross Sea considerably (down to about five knots), as the pancake ice thickened. The captain was concerned that dangerous growlers and multi-year ice might lurk unseen in the midst of the thickening icy surface, so we proceeded cautiously. It was a pleasant and gentle afternoon sailing through the ice - a welcome rest for many, after our cold and busy day at Cape Evans the day before.

At recap, Rolf informed us that we might arrive at the Bay Of Whales late in the evening or in the early morning hours, depending on ice conditions as we proceeded south, with the goal of an early morning helicopter flight over the Ross Ice Shelf, and maybe even a landing, if weather permitted. Dinner was moved up to 6:30 pm as many of us were planning on an early night. However, by 10 pm we could see the Ice Shelf on the horizon with a large, black front looming above it, diminishing our hopes somewhat. The ice continued to thicken and the temperature dropped as we headed off to bed. It was apparent that an Antarctic winter was indeed approaching. Tonight we would cross the International Date Line, and awaken again to a second go at having March 4th tomorrow – a bit weird!

STOP PRESS: We heard once more from Rolf before settling down for the night. After discussion both with pilots and Captain Ernesto, it had been decided that there were two important reasons to turn north immediately rather than hanging around and hoping for the best – increasingly thick ice was slowing us down enormously and a formidably dark, descending cloud layer was moving directly into place over Bay of Whales. Sadly, a heli-flight/landing on the Ross Ice Shelf was not to be. Well, there’s nothing to be done about the weather – Antarctica is a hard task-mistress – and we resignedly ordered a nightcap from Jake in the Bar to cheer ourselves up before retiring for the night.

Day 19: In the Ross Sea, Antarctica

In the Ross Sea, Antarctica
Datum: 04.03.2020
Position: 77°16’S / 164°52’W
Wind: WSW6
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: -12

Breakfast time arrived slightly earlier than usual for a sea day - at 7.30 am on this our second March 4th and Sandra’s birthday AGAIN; at this stage we were waiting for Clouds to reprint our daily programme since today’s activities needed revising to bring them up-to-date.

Rolf took the opportunity of the rearranged timetable to call Recap & Briefing in the Bar at the unusual time of 10 am; it was slightly strange not to be clutching a glass of wine or a beer and eating potato chips, but we adapted quite well. After our Expedition Leader had explained why Ortelius cannot sail any closer to the Ice Shelf, the rest of the team turned to other matters. Gary entertained us with some Adelie penguin calls, whilst also explaining the serious science behind his tantalising line suggesting it’s best to call home first before returning to the nest…And Victoria treated us to a rather mammoth double session on what happened in Antarctica this week during the Heroic Age (rather a lot and not all pleasant), followed by a summary of the juicy parts of James Clark Ross’ life. Reaching the North Magnetic Pole and discovering the Ross Sea must have been significant moments indeed, and perhaps especially the New Year of 1842 - when Captain James Clark Ross dressed as a lady and became the belle of the ball on the sea ice...

The rest of the morning passed peacefully, if somewhat icily; our trusty ship sported icicles, the ocean was crusted with ice pancakes and the sea smoked as it froze – all rather beautiful. The Bridge was a popular place to position oneself, from which to enjoy the seascape in warmth and comfort and although generally cloudy, the sun put some effort into shining occasionally through the gaps.

Michael called us to lunch as usual at 12.30 pm, but (and this is going to become a regular routine) interrupted us again after 30 minutes to announce that the ‘old’ ship’s time was now 1 pm, but then that it had immediately jumped forward to 2 pm! We have quite a few days of this to go before we attain to Argentinean time, though we’re agreed that it’s much better to skip an hour during the day than during the night, when we would really notice the lack of sleep after a while.

After a curtailed siesta, Victoria summoned us to the Lecture Room at 3 pm for the next in her series of talks – ‘Brutally unsubtle’: The life of Roald Amundsen - ‘the Last of the Vikings’. She had so very much to say about this famous Norwegian explorer (please note that this was NOT a British expedition!) that Part II was intentionally postponed until after 4 o’clock teatime (scones were ‘the sweet of the day’). At 4.30 pm we re-assembled and discovered that Roald Amundsen did indeed get to the South Pole first; more surprisingly, it seems that he could have been among the group of men to see the North Pole first too, though whether this prize could have gone to Frederick Cook (1908) or Robert Peary (1909) earlier still remains a controversial subject. But Amundsen was certainly a skilled, well-organized and determined polar explorer, for all his individual quirks.

From 6 – 7 pm a Happy Hour was held, as we had already done enough recapping and briefing this morning. The Bar was buzzing with life and we kept Jake busy right up to dinner time. Clusters of passengers continued to converse with enthusiasm throughout dinner and on into the evening, as ever. And tomorrow breakfast returns to its ‘sea day’ hour of 8 am. Sleep well.

Day 20: In the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica

In the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica
Datum: 05.03.2020
Position: 74°48’S / 155°04’W
Wind: S4
Wetter: Sunny
Lufttemperatur: -4

We had a day at sea today, so this meant that we had a day full of lectures. After breakfast Valentin gave us a fascinating lecture on seabird tracking and research – Southern Seabirds & New Technologies. In his youth, Valentin worked for some time on Crozet Island doing seabird research, so he was absolutely the right person to explain seabird tracking to us, with wonderful animations.

Before long it was time to head back to the restaurant for another great meal - how do the chefs manage to come up with so many different kinds of soup?! As we are travelling in an easterly direction we lost another hour today, so our 1pm became 2pm, right in the middle of lunch - professionally announced as usual by Hotel Manager Michael; this way we can’t lose track. And we did not have to worry that this would cut into our nap-time, as the early afternoon lecture had been pushed back to 3:30pm.

The whales, however, didn’t receive the memo that a lecture was about to begin. A pod of Minke Whales was spotted close to the ship and the call came through the PA system. Our guest lecturer, John Shears, was about to begin his lecture on the Antarctic Treaty, but whales always trump a lecture. Everybody rushed outside to have a look at them (most of us did get a glimpse, but only a lucky few got photos!), resulting in John’s lecture being delayed by 15 minutes. Eventually, once the whales had disappeared into the distance, John began his lecture covering the Antarctic Treaty and some of his experiences conducting Treaty inspections in Antarctica. There were lots of questions from passengers afterwards, all interested to try and understand how this beautiful, remote, unique part of the planet is governed.

A short break followed, allowing guests to get a cup of coffee and enjoy a muffin, before Clouds delivered her lecture on how the problem of Longitude was solved back in the eighteenth century, this time in the Bar. In travelling east, we had crossed the international date line and we have consequently been losing (and will continue to lose) an hour every day for the next few days. Clouds gave a detailed explanation of the time zones and international date line, followed by the story of John Harrison and how he developed the world’s first chronometer to keep time accurately at sea, thus enabling mariners to determine their longitude. James Cook, in fact, used Kendall’s first watch on one of his voyages, which was a replica of Harrison’s original invention.

Half an hour later we had our daily Recap & Briefing, with Gary chatting about the Minke Whales we’ve seen today, Simon telling us one of his (enthralling) recap stories, and Val explaining how the (now extinct) Great auk and the penguin got their names.

Another delicious dinner was served – surf & turf for meat and seafood lovers - before we were free either to go to the Bar for a chat and a bit of relaxation, or head down to the Lecture Room for a documentary - the next episode of the Borchgrevink saga.

Day 21: In the Amundsen Sea & in the Ice, Antarctica

In the Amundsen Sea & in the Ice, Antarctica
Datum: 06.03.2020
Position: 73°25’S / 151°08’W
Wind: SW3
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: -1.5

What a spectacular day, though the way in which it developed was a little unexpected! So much for sailing as quickly as possible in the direction of Peter I Island, our next specific targeted spot for sightseeing. After nearly three weeks on board Ortelius together, I suppose we should no longer be surprised about what Antarctica has up its sleeves for us…

A few days ago, the question “Will we see more ice?” was generally answered by Rolf and the Bridge Officers with a “Most likely yes, but we don’t know where, when or how much”. Well, now we know that on Friday March 6th at around 73° S and 151° W there was a lot of ice! Anyone who happened to wake up in the early morning and take a glance out of a port-hole immediately got out of bed, dressed warmly and headed out on deck (via the coffee machine) because it was absolutely gorgeous outside. At around 5 am there was a beautiful orange glow in the sky and Ortelius had been almost brought to a stop by some impressive ice. It was a great time of day for photographers, but rather a long time still to go until breakfast…

Well, Captain Ernesto and the Bridge Officers had to make some tough decisions rather quickly. The solution they came up with was to turn west for a while in order to get out of the ice and go around it. And that’s what we spent the day doing – sailing through glorious ice at various stages of development and thickness, earnestly seeking an opening. Just like the explorers of old in fact!

We really did experience every kind of sea ice and many hours were spent out on deck, with much blowing on hands and running in for hot drinks in between bouts of drinking in the spectacle. Meanwhile, quite a lot was going on inside too. At 10 am Simon treated us to his talk on Toothed Cetaceans in the Lecture Room; in this he covered many facts about Orca, Sperm whales and Beaked whales, which we may see at any time in the Southern Ocean.

Soon after this it was lunch time (and yes, we did lose another hour!). It was pork and potato wedges today, which slipped down nicely. Since Claudia had had the foresight to put the first afternoon lecture on at 3.30 pm we still got a bit of a siesta before adjourning to the Lecture Room to hear Guest Speaker Kitty Martin talk about Magnetics in Antarctica 1898 – 1988.

Kitty used to run the geophysical survey company responsible for processing the British Antarctic Survey’s aeromagnetic work, so she was in a strong position to tell us about the study of magnetics in Antarctica from the heroic era and on into modern times, with a focus on the long drawn-out search for the South Magnetic Pole. Even when Darrel interrupted her to announce several Blue whales (‘very big mammals’ was how he described them at first…) ahead of the ship and there was a near total rush for the door, Kitty remained calm and collected (indeed, she saw in the desertion a future story to tell people, as who can compete with the largest animal ever to have lived?). After feasting our eyes on whale blows and maybe just the hint of a back and fin from the front deck, we were back in our seats and she picked up from where she had left off. It was quite a tale and there were some rather searching questions from the audience afterwards. Then those of us who had not managed to intercept the coconut cookies earlier (Jake had brought them to the Bar at 4 pm, during the whale-watching) headed upstairs for some refreshment and then out on deck again to examine the thickness of the ice.

The last lecture of the day was held in the Bar at 5 pm, by Gary. This was a heart-warming and personal account of what it was like to live for a whole year at Mawson, an Australian Base on the Mawson Coast of Antarctica. Passengers and staff are strictly divided into those who would love to overwinter in Antarctica and those who wouldn’t…Gary obviously enjoyed it.

And so, time for dinner (duck with red cabbage for the carnivores tonight) and for those who were keen on history, Part 3 of the Borchgrevink documentary in the Lecture Room. Just one more night to go. By the time we went to bed we seemed to have left the sea ice behind and be back on track NE once more. I bet the captain hopes that’s the last we see of it!

Day 22: Amundsen Sea, towards Peter I Island

Amundsen Sea, towards Peter I Island
Datum: 07.03.2020
Position: 72°10’S / 153°55’W
Wind: NW3
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: 0

We awoke to…no sea ice! Or almost no sea ice; there were some streams of loose pack, but the captain managed to dodge round them successfully. And by lunchtime and for the entire day there were icebergs of all shapes and sizes lining the horizon – hundreds upon hundreds of them and very majestic. It was difficult to tear ourselves away and go to lectures as the sun was shining all day too, wow. Only 10,000 photos were taken on Ortelius today…

At 10 am Clouds presented Ice, wind and waves: An introduction to Antarctica and its climate, which left us all much more knowledgeable about this unique part of the world and its weather patterns by 11 am; it’s good to have a climate specialist on board, though Clouds is also a birder and Assistant Expedition Leader of course.

After lunch (well attended) it was time for something a bit different: for a few days now there will be workshop sessions running in the afternoons in tandem – this was just Day One. Dafila Scott was to be found in a corner of the Dining Room (plates etc. had already been cleared away…) offering an art workshop for which passengers have been encouraged to sign up (more details to come when the log writer has had the good fortune to be there!). Meanwhile, in the Bar, Darrel Day was running a Navigation workshop – no GPS required; passengers worked with Darrel to record a position on a chart, then to mark a way-point to plot a course from A to B, whilst taking magnetic variation into account. Not a bad introduction to this useful skill…These two workshops were also well attended and raised a lot of interest.

And for those not able to get a place on the first workshops? Well, plenty of icebergs out there and glorious light on them too. Captain and officers turned the ship in order to visit one particular monster berg, which had a huge arch carved out of it, plus a blue ice cave. Other bergs surrounding us seemed to sculpt out outlines of whole cities (some with crumbling towers) against the sky and then we began to notice how many animal shapes could be spotted, all gleaming white in the sun or shadowy blue on the opposite side. As the afternoon progressed part of the sky turned an ominous black, which made for an even more dramatic backdrop, against which individual bergs were spot-lighted. This was the second day of AMAZING ice (glacier ice as opposed to sea ice this time, which is much better for the Bridge watch provided they keep an eye on their radar and make good use of their binoculars so as to give them a wide berth).

Late afternoon brought a technical presentation from the Scott Polar Research Institute’s (SPRI) Julian Dowdeswell: Beneath the waves: the seafloor signature of past ice sheets. Another well-attended event in the Bar – thank you Julian, for presenting quite complex information in an appealing way.

Talking of well-attended events: the last one of the day was Recap & Briefing in the Bar. Simon showed us images of different kinds of ice; Val talked about diving animals (with his customary charming animations) and Julian/Clouds worked together to depress us about the effect sound pollution in our oceans may have on whales, then amuse us with an irreverent take on this worrying theme enacted by some Australian comedians.

Time for dinner and Part 4 (the final part) of the Borchgrevink documentary – this time WITH POPCORN. Delicious, even if we didn’t NEED it! We remained afterwards quite some time in the Lecture Room, discussing the events of this little-known, late-nineteenth -century expedition and its important (though largely unacknowledged) influence on ensuing Antarctic expeditions. And so to bed…

Day 23: Amundsen Sea, towards Peter I Island

Amundsen Sea, towards Peter I Island
Datum: 08.03.2020
Position: 70°45’S / 141°20’W
Wind: SE 4/5
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: -1.5

Today was another day at sea on our way towards Peter I Island. The morning was clear, but strong winds continued to blow. We passed a few icebergs, but we not on the same scale as the iceberg parade we had yesterday.
Bridge-watchers did not see much wildlife around this morning, although we managed to spot a few Prions and Blue petrels fluttering about.

After breakfast Rolf presented his lecture Plate Tectonics - Part I in the Lecture Room, then offered a short coffee break or a few minutes for a cup of tea before continuing with Part II. Part I dealt with how the theory behind Plate Tectonics evolved over the years, leading to our current understanding of the subject and its spreading and subduction zones. Then Part II moved on to apply this theory to Antarctica, describing its plate boundaries – the Drake Passage being one of the most complex areas of plate boundary on our planet. Strangely, according to our modern understanding, Antarctica is the fifth largest continent (which most of us knew), but the tiny rock group near South Georgia known as Shag Rocks is apparently by the same definition a mini micro-continent in its own right!

At lunch Michael announced that we did NOT have a time change today (after three days of moving our clocks forward) as we’ve temporarily caught up with our longitude. It will all start again tomorrow!
After lunch it was an afternoon of workshops; Dafila Scott once again ran her art workshop in the Dining Room, while Darrel reviewed basic navigation in the Bar.

After tea our resident Antarctic Legend, Shaun, regaled us in the Bar with his experiences of Dog Sledging in Antarctica - and then told us of his surprise to learn years later that he’d had an Antarctic glacier named after him - the Norman Glacier, on Stonington Island!

Recap & Briefing featured Rolf on weather and ship speed, Mark on Ross Sea area place names, and Victoria on the famous Captain Cook, who was the first man ever to cross the Antarctic Circle as well as being one of the very first explorers to understand how to prevent scurvy amongst his men; what a pity his methods were later forgotten…

That night, following dinner, some of us socialized in the bar, while others went to Movie Night in the Lecture Room to watch the documentary Our Rising Oceans - complete with popcorn supplied by Uncle Darrel!
As we headed for bed, we thought that maybe the sea was treating us a touch more gently than earlier in the day, but it was quite a frisky night again.

Day 24: Amundsen Sea, towards Peter I Island

Amundsen Sea, towards Peter I Island
Datum: 09.03.2020
Position: 69°08’S / 130°50’W
Wind: S5/6
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: -2

Today was definitely a closed-port-hole-covers day on Deck 3! It was a rocking and rolling night and there weren’t quite as many people around at breakfast as usual – partly due to seasickness, but also because it seemed a good opportunity to get a bit of extra sleep to compensate for a rather lively night of wave action…

Gary thoughtfully moved his talk on Whales of the Antarctic from the Lecture Room to the Bar, since the back of Ortelius is definitely a better place to be than low down and towards the front on a day like this. He managed to keep us sufficiently absorbed in his tale of cetacean lives largely to discount the ship’s rolling, and by lunchtime we had become quite accustomed to it, with more people out and about than earlier - though the Bridge definitely contained fewer passengers keeping an eye out for Gary’s whales than usual and outside decks remained closed for much of the day (apart from Bridge Wings); which made watching the brave deck crew cleaning outside windows all the more fun!

The lunch buffet offered us Chinese-style pork with rice and we lost an hour whilst eating it, as often seems to happen these days (though to be fair, there was no time change yesterday!). At the new 3.30 pm Dafila Scott and Darrel Day repeated their art and navigation workshops respectively, which was greatly appreciated by those who had signed up to attend. The most enthusiastic of the artists keep on coming and enjoy learning a bit about Antarctic art generally, but also some water-colour painting and drawing techniques which enable us all to produce a most satisfying ‘artwork’ in a relatively short time. Maybe some of us will have gained enough encouragement from these sessions to continue on our own when we get home.

The ship was either moving a bit less by teatime, or we had got more accustomed to the motion. Either way, the turn-out in the Bar for Simon’s SS Discovery talk showed that most folk felt restored by their earlier siestas. We heard a brief account of the former whaling industry in Dundee, followed by a photographic tour of this famous ship – as it had been restored from the era of the ‘Discovery Investigations’ (1925 onwards). Robert Falcon Scott’s famous ship was never very well adapted to scientific work and it was soon superseded, but it was interesting to learn about its second lease of life; almost as fascinating as to be shown the very cabins in which Scott and Shackleton had slept (you can tell this log was written by a Historian). Incidentally, this museum in Dundee (Scotland) has now been completely refitted and the new museum facilities render a visit there even more rewarding than before.

We gathered in the Bar half an hour before dinner as usual, for our daily Recap & Briefing. Rolf kicked it off as ever with information as to how the weather forecast could be affecting our ship’s speed over the next few days. Of course we know that weather predictions in Antarctic regions are notoriously unreliable, but we do seem to have the opportunity of increasing our average speed as we head towards Peter I Island, which will all be for the good. Arrival is expected to be the day after tomorrow in the afternoon – though no guarantees! And just the right topic to take us up to dinner was an in-depth account of the history and medical background to scurvy; thank you Victoria and Lise for your graphic and educational recap…

After a convivial dinner (and Lise had told us exactly what we should order to prevent scurvy!), there was something new on offer in the Bar. The ‘Ortelius Choir’ had put together a programme of choral music and singalong ditties, holding an informal concert for about half an hour from about 8.40 pm. A big thank you to Giles for conducting us so ably and choosing the music. It was good to see so many passengers and staff turning up to encourage this performance of ship-grown talent (and bar-tender Jake was of course a captive audience!); the choir has been practising on alternate evenings for some time and those who had passed by the Lecture Room during rehearsals at the beginning of the voyage were pleasantly surprised by the melodious harmonies produced three weeks later! There were sea shanties and folk songs for the rest of us to join in on too and all in all, singing proved as much of a stimulant as the alcohol that was purchased at the Bar late into the evening – nothing like a cultural event shared by everyone to get us socialising and chatting until late.

Meanwhile, those of us who popped out on deck for fresh air spread the word that there was the most glorious, orange full moon rising at 11 o’clock to the ship’s bow. It seemed huge and its craters were clearly delineated. A mystical experience with which to end the day indeed. Here’s hoping for a few more hours of deep sleep tonight, since sea conditions continue to improve and we still have a few more days of time changes to weather.

Day 25: Amundsen Sea, towards Peter I Island

Amundsen Sea, towards Peter I Island
Datum: 10.03.2020
Position: 68°54’S / 118°54’W
Wind: N2/3
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: -0.5

The weather behaved better today, although still cloudy for much of the time. However, despite some fog during the afternoon, there were also moments when the sun briefly pierced through the cloud cover and there was little swell and a relatively smooth ocean.

This morning’s entertainment, as we sailed on towards Peter I Island, took the form of a two-part lecture by Victoria – Douglas Mawson and the Home of the Blizzard. In this epic tale, we heard about a lesser-known explorer (he SHOULD be more famous!), who was essentially interested in furthering the knowledge of the human race and NOT in being first to achieve something grand. Having gained his Antarctic experience with Shackleton, at 29 years old, Mawson led this expedition to a sector of the Ross Sea opposite Australia which linked two previously-explored areas (by Scott and Drygalski respectively); he established one base on Macquarie Island and two on the Antarctic Continent and devoted two years to survey work and scientific endeavour. Although most of his men came out of their Antarctic experience in one piece, Mawson’s own small party of three encountered an unexpected crevasse and only Mawson himself managed to survive the experience and (literally) crawl back to base alive – barely.

Grateful that, unlike Mawson, WE didn’t need to eat dog liver ourselves (which is toxic to humans), we adjourned for lunch. Today was a red-letter day – NO TIME CHANGE, though we have a few more to go before equalizing with Argentina.

The Bridge is proving a regular ‘office’ for some of us – a place from which we can enjoy to the full the experience of being at sea in the Southern Ocean. A core of about 20 people can be seen staring dreamily through the Bridge windows at various stages of the day, rising and falling with the Ortelius’ motion lost in their own thoughts, or checking out the chart, screens and instruments, exchanging an occasional word with the Bridge Team members on watch.

The two workshops (Art and Navigation) ran again this afternoon – they have proven extremely popular and we owe many thanks to Dafila Scott and Darrel Day for continuing to offer them. There was an additional event at 4 pm and it included everyone on board; there was an Abandon Ship drill like we had upon first boarding Ortelius, though this time all crew as well as passengers participated. It didn’t take too long and Michael soon declared himself satisfied with the super-duper new automatic check-in system and thanked us for our time, after which we were able to take off our huge, sexy, orange life jackets and enjoy tea-time as usual.

The Bar was crowded again at 5 pm, when Valentin presented Overwintering as an Ornithologist at Crozet Island. A fascinating experience (all those birds!), and Val obviously appreciated it and brought it to life again for us. The weather systems on islands around Antarctica can be even more changeable and harsh than on the continent itself it seems; interestingly, many listeners were jealous of Val and wished THEY could go and spend some time there.

Recap & Briefing gave Val the opportunity to speak some more and tell us about Penguin Watch – an Oxford University project in which we can participate in Citizen Science and help count penguins from home! Then Mark demonstrated bird wingspans using a piece of rope. Even Snow petrels (featured by Gary and yes, he CAN do their call!) are bigger than they seem, and as for the albatrosses, well, the biggest of them has a wingspan wider than Mark and Val with outstretched arms combined…

It was a quiet evening in the Bar and round the ship. We are not used to having 24 hours in a day anymore and it seems we needed to go early to bed to compensate!

Day 26: Bellingshausen Sea – towards Peter I Island

Bellingshausen Sea – towards Peter I Island
Datum: 11.03.2020
Position: 68°47’S / 106°57’W
Wind: NW2/3
Wetter: Cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +2

A hearty breakfast was taken by all on this foggy morning, which was heading for some sun, but not quite getting there; and then most of us met in the Bar (since the Lecture Room was rocking and rolling a bit too much) for another lecture by Valentin, entitled Foraging behaviour of Southern Ocean Seabirds. Perhaps the most surprising fact to emerge from this was that the total quantity of fish caught by the world’s sea birds is equal to the total amount of fish consumed by the global fishing industry! No wonder over-fishing affects nature. Food for thought indeed.

Sea conditions neither worsened nor improved as the day wore on, and it wasn’t until the evening and dinner-time that the ocean became much smoother. But first came lunch and several different types of pasta and salad to choose from – accompanied by a time change again today; so 1 pm again became 2 pm and the afternoon really whizzed by! Darrel held yet another Navigation workshop at 3.30 pm; people are still signing up, it would seem. There were so many questions that he was still going long after the planned hour was up.

Decks were partially closed in the afternoon, though there were still areas open where you could walk, get some fresh air and admire the views – the Bridge wings and Deck 7 for one, where there were plenty of Deck walkers out for some laps behind the Bridge. The sea was fairly lumpy, giving rise to some unexpected accelerations and hill-climbs! And of course the Bridge itself had its usual quota of stalwarts helping to keep watch. Not so many birds around again today – it seems some areas of ocean are less productive than others.

There was an impressive turnout in the Bar to hear Dafila Scott make a presentation at 5 pm on Peter Scott – the story of Captain Scott’s son. She spoke of her father in straightforward language, highlighting different areas of his full life, but making especial reference to his love of art (from which he earned his bread and butter) and the environmental work he undertook later in life, such as founding the World Wildlife Fund. She showed a number of images from his wildlife reserve/sanctuary at Slimbridge and really brought the man to life. Robert Falcon Scott had left a last message to his wife asking her to interest their son in nature and this certainly worked out according to plan and more! It was partly Sir Peter Scott’s interest that prevented a Convention for the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities being ratified in 1981, which would have opened the floodgates to exploitation of the planet’s last pristine wilderness.

Soon after this it was Recap & Briefing time. Victoria took us through some of the history of Peter I Island (very rarely seen and even more rarely landed on), followed by Rolf with some up-to-date information. We should be arriving by midnight tomorrow. With current ship speeds, the sea conditions we have been experiencing and the continuing appearance of yellow and red splodges on our weather forecast charts, Rolf explained that the potential to zodiac cruise or land on Peter I Island is simply not there. However, Captain Ernesto will try to hold the ship in the vicinity to have as close a look as possible, though visibility may not be very helpful. And this is certainly closer than Peter the Great got to his eponymous island! Even its discoverer, Bellingshausen, didn’t manage to land there.

Rolf also looked ahead to the last week of our voyage. The news is NOT what we wanted to hear. Because of the afore-mentioned weather conditions and ship speed we have no choice but to set course from Peter I Island straight towards the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia. This is a great shame and disappointment as we were hoping to touch on the Antarctic Peninsula, but it is also a part of the true experience of Antarctica, which is NOT like visiting Disneyland…

We headed down for dinner (sorry if we were a bit late, Michael!) discussing this turn of events. Sad, but not entirely surprising as Rolf has been keeping us up-to-date with our mileage regularly and circumstances have not conspired to deliver us everything we had hoped. Still the adventure is not over yet, even if the landings are; though handing in our passports to Michael and Carlos earlier in the day certainly reminded us that the ‘real world’ (whatever that may mean in these uncertain times) is looming ever closer.

And the evening did indeed offer us one more unusual experience, as well as the opportunity to watch the next part of Life in the Freezer! Around 10 pm some of us became aware that Ortelius’ engine had stopped – it was suddenly much quieter. Captain Ernesto decided to call those interested to the Bar to learn what was happening; it turned out that Engineers needed to carry out some maintenance, which would take about an hour. No need to worry! And so, while the Engineers are hard at work, sweet dreams to all passengers…We should still reach Peter I Island by the end of tomorrow. Sleep well.

Day 27: Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica – Peter I Island

Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica – Peter I Island
Datum: 12.03.2020
Position: 68°43’S / 096°17’W
Wind: NE3
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +2

Today was a day of slightly calmer seas, which was good news and enabled Gary to deliver his talk - The Truth about Skuas - in the Lecture Theatre. It seems that their reputation is much-maligned and their chicks are quite as cute as penguin chicks! Although they can be aggressively opportunistic predators, they are intelligent birds and it was rewarding to learn a bit more about their life-cycle.

The rest of the morning passed swiftly, occupied by getting out on deck for some fresh air or standing in the warmth of the Bridge and ocean-gazing. Apparently at least one Southern Royal albatross was spotted - the reward for those who keep long watches.

The highlight of lunch was DEFINITELY the profiteroles. They are so small and dainty and delicious! Trouble was that we all took two…to help us recover from the shock of the (now usual) lunchtime lurch from 1 pm to 2 pm.

By popular demand, several episodes of Life in the Freezer were shown in the Bar during the afternoon. These kept those of us not wanting to doze before nightfall awake (the time change can be confusing to the body clock) and amused until tea-time with muffins.

Recap & Briefing took place in the middle of a ‘Happy Hour’. Shaun and Mark kept up the ‘edutainment’, with an account of five different poles at each end of the earth (Shaun) and the people behind the place-names in the Amundsen Sea (Mark). Then Rolf told us that we are nearing Peter I Island, though it will be dark when we arrive. Therefore we can expect to receive an early wake–up call tomorrow, so that we can go out on deck and be among the few thousand people who have ever seen the island first-hand…

Day 28: In the Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica

In the Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica
Datum: 13.03.2020
Position: 68°16’S / 089°42’W
Wind: E6/7
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +2

‘Good Morning’ came the call at 6 am. Peter I Island is close! The really keen island-spotters leapt out of bed and were out on deck in a flash, peering through the cloud cover at the horizon ahead of our bow. The more restrained passengers took their time to wake up and emerged more slowly. Certainly, this elusive speck-in-the-ocean could be seen and photographed, with an impressive iceberg blocking one end. The resulting photos may not be of award-winning status, but prove beyond doubt that we were HERE. The weather did not encourage us to linger out on deck – in fact most people took their photos from just outside the Bar and rushed back in again. Thank you to our captain for getting us as close as he could.

And so we turned north-east and set sail for Argentina, our final destination. Seas were sufficiently rough to move all lectures to the Bar and it proved an extremely historical morning. Victoria kept our imaginations busy with a talk on Ernest Shackleton and the greatest expedition of the Antarctic Heroic Age. Although just about everyone on board has heard of this amazing story of adventure and survival in the face of huge challenges, it was good to have it laid out before us as a whole and certainly made us grateful to be on Ortelius in the 21st century rather than Endurance in the early 20th! We were also grateful to be given a coffee break in the middle.

The Southern Ocean was not especially kind to us today and there was considerable movement of the ship from strong waves and ocean swell as time went on. Trouble is, since the rock and rolling prevents us from sleeping at night, we have a tendency to nod off during the day – still, only one more time change to go after Michael had called this one. By afternoon siesta time, no amount of rolling and pitching was going to stop us from getting a bit of shut-eye, though an alert minority turned up enthusiastically to Darrel’s navigation workshop as always.

There was shortbread for tea and most of us were in the Bar to enjoy a cuppa and a chat with fellow passengers, which meant all of the biscuits disappeared in record time. Afterwards, attendance was excellent for the last lecture of the day, which featured Julian Dowdeswell and John Shears (of SPRI) with their joint presentation on The Search for Endurance - The Weddell Sea expedition. As a follow-on from Victoria’s presentation this morning it was an amazing bit of reportage; unsurprisingly, there were many, many volunteers to join them on this epic geographical and scientific venture. John gave us the details of their voyage, with Julian chipping in with details of the science achieved on board and how the results are shaping up since their return. As the automated underwater vehicle (AUV) sent down to film the wreck there will need to be a second trip, using a fully-fledged icebreaker vessel this time. Presumably the AUV couldn’t surface to reveal whatever was filmed because of heavy sea-ice cover. I think we’d ALL like to be there when Endurance finally yields up its secrets; watch this space… and SPRI’s website in a few years’ time.

There were so many questions after this talk that Recap & Briefing had to be delayed a few minutes. But that was okay as the Bar was already open! Gary started us off with a PS on skuas – all about the revenge of the penguin in fact, with a surprising number of incidences when he had observed adult penguins attacking skuas and even deliberately killing their chicks. Wow. Victoria came on with a famous quotation from TS Eliot connected with the Shackleton crossing of South Georgia – it fairly sends shivers down your spine. Then Rolf gave us a short summary of how far we have got since leaving Peter I Island, indicating that we will have to wait and see how much progress we can make in these fairly rough sea conditions (if weather forecasts prove correct).

And so it was dinner time – hare for some and salmon trout for others. And this time the choir refused to be put off by the behaviour of the Bellingshausen Sea and met in the Lecture Room afterwards, despite having trouble standing upright! A very satisfactory recording of some of the songs performed a few days ago was achieved, rounding the day off nicely.

Day 29: In the Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica

In the Bellingshausen Sea, Antarctica
Datum: 14.03.2020
Position: 65°49’S / 083°47’W
Wind: N4/5
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +3

The night may have been short for many of us tucked away on the Ortelius. She did a bit of rolling and rocking through the night, which continued into the morning. Wake-up call came at the usual 7.45 am, with Michael exhorting us to make our way slowly and carefully to breakfast, as the doors were now open. We had a full programme offered for the day ahead, so we all appreciated being fed and watered first.

However, our scheduled lecture by Clouds had to be postponed - she’s lost her voice. The sea conditions also made it prudent to change the lecture venue to the Bar so as to entice more people to join. Gary filled in with a talk: Seasonal prevalence of viral antibodies in Emperor Penguins. It was much more entertaining than it sounded! Gary told us about his year with Emperor penguins and how he was able to capture and get samples from 400 adults and 200 chicks over the winter, in order to determine how many penguins were affected by viruses. The most exciting part was seeing how to catch and handle an Emperor penguin.

Lunch was as tasty as ever and the seas didn’t let up a bit as the day wore on. We were making progress, inching our way up the map toward the north-east. We won’t enter the Drake Passage proper until tomorrow, but there will be little difference in the state of the sea. The weather forecast suggested that we might get a little easing of the wind as the day wore on, but it wasn’t noticeable. Those standing vigil on the Bridge did at least see more birds than before, gliding round the ship. There were a few of the big albatrosses, such as the Wandering and a Southern Royal, but also several of their smaller cousins - the Black-browed, Grey-headed, and the Light-mantled. The Southern Fulmar, which was so common around Peter I Island a couple of days ago, was less common but still present, as were Cape petrels, Southern Giant petrels and Mottled petrels. The overall numbers are increasing some as we move northward and toward the convergence.

Soon after lunch Darrel gave the final workshop on navigation. Hopefully now, all of us could find our way with a map and a compass (and maybe a GPS!) across the wide open seas. Later in the day Julian gave us an interesting talk on: Ice and Modern Environmental Change; we hope to get the second climate change-themed lecture tomorrow, when Clouds gets her voice back… Julian’s presentation started with what we know about the retreat of glaciers around the world, and then went on to describe how modern techniques of satellites, drones, gravitometers and more can tell us how whole continents are losing ice, by measuring its thickness. Julian showed us how different areas of ice loss will contribute to sea level rise and how thermal expansion also contributes to it. Finally he ended with a series of predictions for the future from models. We were shown both the best case and worst case scenarios; a reasonable prediction is that our fate is likely to fall somewhere between the two. He ended with a clear explanation of some of the challenges to come—and plenty for us to think about.

So another day faded away. The internet started to come back to life and we began to get an inkling of how the world outside our Ortelius bubble has changed over the past month. It seems our challenges are not over – from Antarctic environment to world environment!

The day ended with a screening of The Loneliest Mountain - a lovely film about the first ascent of Mount Minto, the highest mountain in northern Victoria Land. We saw this mountain from Robertson Bay (near Cape Adare) when we spent our first day in the Ross Sea, on the edge of the continent. As we made our way back to our cabins for the night we reflected that tomorrow’s another day; and tomorrow should also be another 300 nautical miles closer to Argentina.

Day 30: Bellingshausen Sea/Drake Passage

Bellingshausen Sea/Drake Passage
Datum: 15.03.2020
Position: Bellingshausen Sea/Drake Passage
Wind: WNW8
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +4.5

Well! That was an interesting night. Quite a few of us got up this morning already thinking about going back to bed for a while when the ocean eased up a bit, though it didn’t really! This is turning into a memorable crossing indeed as we get into the famous Drake Shake at last. At least we have some experience now of heavy swells and strong winds…

Meanwhile, Michael called us to breakfast at 8 am as cheerily as ever. A clear advisory came through from Rolf (and later the captain on the Bridge) to walk around with even more care than usual, always holding on and to stay in our cabins if we felt unsure of our footing. However, Victoria was in the Bar to entertain the more agile history fanatics and to fill us in on some of the lesser-known explorers with A Selected Antarctic History from 1897 – 1937. In this she covered the expeditions of the Belgian Gerlache, Swedish Nordenskjöld, French Charcot and Australian/British Rymill. She also pointed out that one reason these expeditions are not so famous is that nothing went horribly wrong and they (nearly) all got home safely!

People lingered over a coffee for a chit-chat after this, then headed up to the Bridge to have a look for albatross and other specialists in dynamic soaring. Over the day we chalked up a fair number of species – including Grey-headed, but also the great Wandering albatross, mesmerically circling the ship and at times passing astonishingly close to Bridge windows.

For the first time on this voyage, Michael announced that the usual buffet lunch had turned into a plated service, so we all sat down and let the Dining Room staff take the strain of feeding us; as ever they did a good job and the Nasi Goreng went down well. The great news is that we have FINISHED with time changes, so we had a full-length afternoon again (maybe to catch up on sleep). For obvious practical reasons the SPRI auction we have been looking forward to has been postponed for smoother seas, so the afternoon was passed quietly and we look forward to the auction preview, art workshop display and the auction itself tomorrow instead.

Still, Valentin’s lecture remained on the programme, with his talk on The Wandering Albatross delivered in the Bar at 3.30 pm – a good time to be hearing about this noble bird as we hope to be seeing more and more individuals and species riding the winds as we get further into the Drake Passage.

Rolf’s charts at Recap & Briefing were still full of bright reds, oranges and yellows, so although we hope to be racing ahead of the next incoming weather system, it doesn’t look as if it’s going to be a smooth ride for the last couple of days of the voyage. Yet amazingly, we are more or less on schedule; the Bridge officers are doing a great job of turning Ortelius onto a temporarily more stable course during meals, then resuming straight as an arrow for the end of the Beagle Channel. Recaps today were on Drake the Man (Victoria) and another of Simon’s stories…which never seem to run out.

Dinner time and still no sign of a quieter ocean really. There was a decidedly Austrian influence on the menu tonight, so Head Chef Heinz was obviously enjoying himself. And to round off the day, at 9 pm Michael broadcast the Kenneth Branagh Shackleton film on the TVs in our cabins. We lay there in comfort and soaked it all up!

Then turned out the light and settled down for another bumpy night; but if Sir Francis Drake survived it, so can we and at least we have tablets to amuse ourselves with in the wee small hours.

Day 31: In the Drake Passage

In the Drake Passage
Datum: 16.03.2020
Position: 60°13’S / 072°08’W
Wind: NW6
Wetter: Partly cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +7

We are continuing at full speed for Ushuaia and the best that can be said of sea conditions today is that they are not getting any worse! There was no significant change to the rocking and rolling, though maybe a slight easing up at times in the afternoon.

As Clouds’ voice had returned, she treated us to Too hot to handle: the global carbon experiment after breakfast. In this climate change talk she explained how the term ‘global warming’ has become inappropriate in the light of recent observations and scientific analysis: although many places in the world ARE becoming hotter, the centre of Antarctica is cooling! Current and future research needs to focus on how to handle increasing incidences of violent storms, fires, etc. globally. She ended by projecting some extreme scenarios for our planet, and asked if with 1m rises in sea level possible by 2100, we can afford NOT to take action?

As yesterday, Michael and his team were offering a plated lunch, so we sat down and waited to be served in the Dining Room. The extra work this makes for our dining room staff is offset by fewer ‘accidents’.

For those of us who had given up on the hope of a siesta, it was great to hear an announcement that Deck 4 aft was open for us to get fresh air and enjoy the antics of the many albatross and Giant petrels soaring round Ortelius. It was also extremely entertaining to try and film the degree to which the ship was listing and wallowing in the waves – plenty of pillars and fittings to brace ourselves against in order to try and take action shots! This kept a number of us busy through the afternoon.
The other major activity today was provided by the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI). The Dining Room provided the ideal venue for an auction preview; special items with an Antarctic flavour going up for auction at 5 pm were available for viewing from 2.30 – 3.30 pm. It was useful to find out what would be on offer so that we could allocate our budgets accordingly! It was also a great opportunity for those who had been involved in Dafila’s art workshops to display the fruits of their labours if they so chose - and fun for us all to see what they had been up to. What a talented bunch we are.

Later, Shaun offered us a presentation on The South Pole Route in the Bar. This relatively-new road seems to work very well for transporting essential, heavy items to Amundsen-Scott Base on the polar plateau; and we learned the reasons for its success.

Finally, the moment for the SPRI auction arrived, and with it Happy Hour at the unusual, earlier time of 5 pm. The lots on offer were many and varied – from pins and tea-towels and notelets to major publications (many signed by the author), limited edition prints and original artworks. Dafila Scott contributed two water-colour paintings (of the Discovery and Cape Evans huts), which raised pleasing sums to go towards establishing an educational bursary in perpetuity for the study of Antarctic science (social or physical) at SPRI. This was a ‘feel-good’ project for participants and attendees alike and it was great entertainment too (thank you to Darrel, John and Julian).

Recap & Briefing time was upon us once again – with an update from Rolf as to our Ushuaia-ward progress and light recap contributions from Mark (exactly how long does that famous moustache take to freeze?!) and Simon (the stories never run out).

And it was again time for dinner, after which the Ortelius choir held a music practice, followed by the documentary Chasing Ice: the Extreme Ice Survey in the Bar.

Unfortunately, as bed-time approached the motion of the ship got so worse. So lying horizontal has to be the best plan. We are becoming (albeit reluctantly) somewhat expert at ‘Drake-proofing’ our cabins, having got in plenty of practice whilst in the Ross, Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas! And equally good at wedging ourselves into our beds; counting penguins (rather than sheep) is highly recommended to aid nodding off, but make sure you have some soporific reading material to hand just in case you wake in the night.

Day 32: In the Drake Passage

In the Drake Passage
Datum: 17.03.2020
Position: 56°54’S / 066°04’W
Wind: WNW6/7
Wetter: Overcast, rain
Lufttemperatur: +8.5

This morning started differently; not with better seas, sadly, but after his morning greetings over the PA, Rolf summoned us all to a meeting in the Bar in 15 minutes…

It was a somewhat subdued (sleepy and unwashed!) group which awaited Captain Ernesto’s appearance. What will happen next in the crazy real world of spreading Covid 19 (aka: Coronavirus) is beginning to become a matter of reality rather than the mere shifting sands of rumour. This time tomorrow we should be in Ushuaia, where we had hoped to disembark, rebook flights if necessary and somehow make our way(s) home.

The news was rather disheartening, but reflects the new reality of the world back home. Argentina’s decision to close her ports and doors on the outside world means that Ortelius cannot reach Ushuaia before the new deadline - at least as our latest directive reports. What will happen next is yet unknown. We hope that we can refuel and resupply the ship and sail on to try another port. And so the story unfolds.

Guest lecturer Richard Turvey’s 10 am talk on Abraham Ortelius: the Man, his Maps, Mercator and More was postponed (or cancelled – time will tell). Instead, the wonderful and classic documentary Around Cape Horn was shown in the Bar and proved a delightful distraction from the world’s woes. Johnson Irving took the footage as a young sailor on a four-masted schooner, Peking – one of the last sailing ships ever to round Cape Horn. Later he added the commentary and the result is enchanting.

Lunch was plated and served once again and although Captain Ernesto tried, it was difficult to stabilize the ship and rather a lot of soup and water etc. sloshed around. Afterwards many passengers headed for the Bridge to watch Ortelius’ dramatic and splashy progress north. One hand for the ship has now turned into two hands for the ship. Moving around became sufficiently risky that many of us decided, after enjoying the view for a while, that bed was the best place to be. It was certainly the safest. An afternoon siesta eluded most of us though, since we slip and slide head to toe constantly. Never mind – by this evening we should be entering more sheltered waters.

Victoria’s Miscellany of Mermaids talk was also postponed/cancelled (husband and wife in one day!) as it was better not to encourage people to wander around the ship. So the afternoon passed in reading and sudoku and speculation. The only other planned activity to take place was a not-very-informative briefing (though not Rolf’s fault!) before a late buffet dinner, BBQ style (WITH FREE WINE); by then we were nearing the Beagle Channel and were better able to keep our balance.

The Bar was still open in the evening, though most of us have paid our bills now (rather a shock!) and are having to re-learn how to use cash! To pack or not to pack? That was the question. And who knows what tomorrow will bring? Will we set sail together towards unknown adventures? Will some be allowed to disembark and fly home? We have to wait until tomorrow (or tomorrow and tomorrow…) to find out.

With much speculation, the residents of Ortelius - crew, staff and passengers alike - settled down to what should have been our last night of the voyage on board together.

What an interesting trip it has been. Goodnight.

Day 33: Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia, Argentina
Datum: 18.03.2020
Position: 54°48’S / 068°17’W

And so we have come to our final day. We arrived in Ushuaia in the early hours of the morning. Who knows what the future will bring?

Furthest South: 78°13’S/167°12’W (Bay of Whales, Ross Sea)

Total Distance Sailed from Bluff, New Zealand to Ushuaia, Argentina: 6447 Nautical Miles

From all of us here on Ortelius - Captain, Officers, Staff and Crew - thank you for travelling with us and we wish you a safe journey home.

Details

Tripcode: OTL28-20
Daten: 16 Feb - 18 Mär, 2020
Dauer: 31 Nächte
Schiff: MS Ortelius
Einschiffung: Bluff, New zealand
Ausschiffung: Ushuaia

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Die eisverstärkte Ortelius ist ein exzellentes Schiff für polare Expeditionsfahrten in die Arktis und Antarktis.

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