PLA23-19, trip log, Antarctic Explorer's Voyage

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbuch

Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Datum: 20.11.2019
Position: Ushuaia port
Wind: SW 20 knots
Wetter: overcast
Lufttemperatur: +10

This morning we woke up in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. It was a cloudy windy day with a few drizzles of rain, but that didn’t put a damper on our spirits as we boarded the M/V Plancius: our home for the next 11 days. The expedition staff greeted us as we walked up the gangway where hotel manager Zsuzsanna met us at reception to give us our room keys and show us our rooms. Our luggage was already on board, so we took some time to explore the ship before we set sail for Antarctica. We took some great photos of Ushuaia from this vantage point as the houses and buildings got smaller and smaller as we headed out through the Beagle Channel.

After exploring the ship, we met in the lounge where expedition leader Ali Liddle welcomed us on board, gave us an introduction to her team, and Zsuzsanna explained some of the ins and outs of the ship. Our first task was a mandatory safety drill where we donned our bright orange life jackets and mustered in the lounge. Our second task was an abandon ship drill where we were escorted out to the lifeboats. Once we were familiar with these drills, we reconvened in the lounge for a welcome cocktail with our Captain, Evgeny Levakov. He spoke a few words, welcomed us on the bridge and made us laugh a couple of times.

Shortly afterwards we were invited to the dining room to enjoy the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by head chef Heinz Hacker and his team. There was a real buzz in the dining room, as we got to know each other and talked about our hopes and aspirations for this voyage.

In the middle of the night we reached the entrance of the Beagle Channel and headed out into the infamous Drake Passage. Before going to bed we asked ourselves if we’d have a Drake Lake or a Drake Shake. Only time would tell.

Day 2: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Datum: 21.11.2019
Position: 56º 30.9’S / 065º 04.8’ W
Wind: W 25 knots
Wetter: cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +5

Our expedition leader Ali woke us at 0730, but many of us were already outside on deck to see if we could spot any sea birds. The sun was shining and the ship was not rocking and rolling as much as we had anticipated. After breakfast we gathered in the lounge to listen to Maricel talk about sea birds and threats to their habitats. We headed outside to spot some albatross and petrels. Just before lunch, the kayakers gathered in the lounge as well, where Alexis explained some safety features and what to wear.

The gently rocking of the ship allowed some of us to nap after lunch, while others went outside to watch for more birds and stayed inside to listen to Sara’s lecture on penguins. The campers had a briefing of what to expect for their night on the white continent.

At recap Sara showed us the wing span of birds we had seen. When they soar over the sea there’s nothing to compare them to for size, but she held out a rope and it really gave us perspective to see the 7 feet between her and Leanne. Jochem talked to us a little bit about the Drake passage and the continental plates. Rustyn talked to us about seasickness. It was reassuring to know that no one is immune to it. However, we had been quite lucky that the Drake was calm.

As we sat in the lounge after dinner, watching the sunset in the distance behind a cloud, we realized just how fortunate we really were. At times we barely knew we were at sea.

Day 3: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Datum: 22.11.2019
Position: 60º 58.7’ S / 060º 42.0’ W
Wind: NNE 13 knots
Wetter: overcast
Lufttemperatur: +3

As Expedition leader Ali made the morning call, our second day in the Drake Passage had begun. There are more passengers in the lounge enjoying the scenery as the sea conditions got much better. Today is a very busy and important day for all passengers and expedition team, because of the mandatory briefings that Ali gives after breakfast. At 0900, Ali started with Zodiac safety briefing. Zodiacs are our daily transport for landings and cruising. It is very important to learn and follow the instructions of expedition team on how to get in and out of a zodiac safely every time. During the briefing Daniel showed everyone how to put on the zodiac lifejacket, and how to use the sailor’s grip. The IAATO briefing is the other mandatory briefing regarding the environmental protection in order to keep Antarctica as pristine as possible. The IAATO regulates the behaviour that the staff and tourists should undertake when landing and cruising in Antarctica.

As mentioned in the briefing, bio security is essential to the environment of Antarctica, for that reason not long after the briefings the passengers were called by decks to the lounge to vacuum any seeds possibly left in the pockets of their outer gear and back packs. Everyone seemed to appreciate this action to keep Antarctica pristine for the next visitors.

In the afternoon, several expedition guides introduced the citizen science projects that they are working on including penguin watch, bird watch, and glacier observation in the lecture room. This is an important opportunity for all passengers to submit their photos and videos to the websites and help the scientists with as much resources as possible.

As we got closer to the south Shetland islands, the motion on ship got better and better. There were even more people coming out of their cabins and to enjoy the view outside, even though it was quite foggy at the time. The big rubber boots were handed out around 5pm, with this act, we are finally finished the preparation for landings or zodiac cruising in the upcoming days, but the day was not over yet. During recap, Jochem gave more information on the ice we would encounter later in the trip, and Jerry talked about nautical miles and how to converse nautical miles to kilometres which is also relevant to the coming days.

Day 4: Paulet Island

Paulet Island
Datum: 23.11.2019
Position: 63º 25.1’ S / 056º 12.1’ W
Wind: NW 40 knots
Wetter: clear sky
Lufttemperatur: 0

In the early hours Plancius sailed through the Antarctic sound toward Dundee island. The morning started very early for a few of us; we made our way onto the decks before breakfast to take in the approaching scenery of the Antarctic continent.

Soon after breakfast, Ali, our expedition leader announced that the wind was stronger than expected. The 40 knots of wind speed was above the limit in which the expedition team can operate the zodiacs safely. Instead, the Plancius cruised around Dundee island, along the fast ice. Despite the wind, most of the passengers went outside, excited to see the Antarctic landscape for the very first time. The wind was so strong, it was difficult to walk outside. On the fast ice we saw our first penguins and seals. They were quite far away, but through the binoculars, we could clearly see Weddell seals and Adelie penguins. We could hardly believe we were finally in Antarctica!

While we enjoyed our buffet lunch, Ali and the Captain worked hard on the Plan B. The whole area was windy and our second landing, Brown Bluff, wouldn’t be
possible either. They finally decided to try to have a look at Paulet island, a small round volcanic island on the South East of Dundee island.

When the ship arrived in the front of the island, the wind was still going strong. It was at the limit in which the expedition team could work with the zodiacs. A scout Zodiac was launched to assess the conditions which was deemed suitable for landing. Before long we were boarding the zodiacs.

Paulet is home to thousands of Adelie penguins, skua, and a kelp gull. Once ashore, we had to carefully follow the path the team made for us, taking care to avoid the network of penguin highways, and stopping frequently to let the inquisitive birds waddle past us. Adelie penguins are so much fun to watch. They were named after the famous French explorer, Dumont D´Urville’s wife, Adele. After a few last photos it was time for some well-earned rest, and the end to a fantastic first day in Antarctica.

Day 5: Valdivia Point Zodiac cruise and Portal Point

Valdivia Point Zodiac cruise and Portal Point
Datum: 24.11.2019
Position: 63º 47.4’ S / 060º 10.5’ W
Wind: NE 8 knots
Wetter: cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +3

Sailing from Paulet Island to Valdivia Point is a fair bit more than a stone throw’s distance, so it wasn’t before noon that we reached our intended landing site for today. However, a morning spent on board our beloved ship meant a morning spent with the transfer of information: wonderful lectures by Rustyn on the Antarctic Treaty and by Sara on whales served as visual nutrition for many thoughts up until lunch time.

As Valdivia Point came into sight, it became clear that the impressive, vertical ice barrier didn’t exactly allow for a continental landing here. On to plan B: zodiac cruising. It turned out to be fantastic. Mesmerizing bays with huge icebergs, shiny blue colours and a wonderful Weddell seal. Blue eyed shags, a chinstrap and a few gentoo penguins completed the package delivered to us by nature. Choppy seas directed a joyful group of kayakers to stay close to the glacial cliffs, where calmer waters enabled peaceful vistas between icebergs and into the water with remarkable strings of salp.

With all passengers back on board, our Captain and expedition leader Ali came up with a tricky little itinerary by the name of Graham’s Passage: a sheer impenetrable opening in what looked to be a solid wall of ice. As guests stood on the bow wondering where the ship would pass through the mountains and icebergs, a minke whale and multiple humpbacks joined in on our excitement and guided us on the way through.

Time for dinner. However, a morning on board also meant time for an evening program! And not just any program - a continental landing on Portal Point! A true first step on the seventh continent for many passengers. With half of the passengers ashore, the other half went for a zodiac cruise. Two teams, working perfectly together resulted in a whale sighting. With directions from the higher viewpoint on land, this enabled the kayakers and half of our passengers to have a superb encounter with a gentle humpback feeding in shallow waters.

The cheerful atmosphere in the launch later that evening perfectly reflected the satisfied souls of all aboard MV Plancius. What a great day in the Antarctic!

Day 6: Paradise Harbour and Brown Station

Paradise Harbour and Brown Station
Datum: 25.11.2019
Position: 64º 47.4’ S / 062º 35.7’ W
Wind: 18 knots
Wetter: overcast
Lufttemperatur: 0

Overnight we had sailed further south down the Gerlache Strait towards Ronge Island, to be in position for our morning landing at Danco Island. As breakfast was being served the Expedition Team prepared themselves to drop zodiacs and go ashore, however the weather took a sudden turn for the worse. It had been a foggy, snowy start to the day but the wind was steadily increasing and was now gusting at well over 30 knots, which is beyond the level for safe zodiac operations, so unfortunately Ali had to make the announcement that we would not be landing at Danco as originally planned. As with the true nature of expedition cruising, it was time to find a Plan B!

Ali asked for our patience while she and the Captain considered different options. They wanted to find a new location which might offer a little shelter from the ever-increasing winds. While we waited for news, many of us headed out on deck to enjoy the magnificent scenery, for those in any doubt as to why operations had been cancelled this was a firm reminder: there was a biting northerly wind that whipped across our bare faces.

By mid-morning, a Plan B was in motion: we were heading to Stony Point in Paradise Harbour in the hope this would provide such much-needed shelter. The Captain worked hard to find a suitable anchorage point and before too long zodiacs were being lowered and for those brave souls who were not afraid of some snow and wind, we headed out for an exploration cruise of this beautiful ice filled channel. There were several enormous tabular icebergs that we cruised around; the dark foreboding skies made the blue of the ice even more prominent. As we headed towards Stony Point we found a small rocky island that had been colonised by Gentoo Penguins, their funny antics never failing to entertain us.

There was a real sense of accomplishment as we headed back to the ship for lunch, the expedition team had managed to pull off a good morning activity despite the rather challenging weather.

Whilst lunch was being served, we sailed just around the corner to ‘Almirante Brown’, the location for our afternoon’s activity. ‘Almirante Brown’, or Brown Station as it is more commonly known, is an Argentinian research station. Following a very severe fire in 1984 it is now only occupied by scientists and researchers for a few months over the summer. Unfortunately, there was no one at ‘home’ for our visit. The area surrounding the station is home to a small Gentoo penguin colony. It was here that we saw several Brown Skuas hovering, in hopes of an easy meal in the form of a penguin egg.

For those feeling energetic the expedition team had flagged a route up to the peak above the station and it was necessary for us to don the snow shoes they had brought ashore for us. From this high vantage point we were able to get superb views over Paradise Harbour and down into Skontorp Cove. One happy couple even got engaged at the peak. However, the most enjoyable part of the climb for most, was being allowed to slide down afterwards. This definitely brought out the child in us all! For those who had not had enough adventure for one afternoon, there was the chance to take a polar plunge before heading back to the ship for a hot shower.

The much-anticipated Antarctic dinner turned out to be a barbeque on the back deck! While some opted to eat inside, the hardy ones of us ate in the open air, enjoying dinner in the most beautiful Antarctic setting, the perfect end to a true expedition day!

Camping
After a few days in Antarctica there was a lot of anticipation for our first night camping at Stony Point. The weather was a bit grey, but there was no wind to worry about, so camping was to go through as planned. We arrived at around 20:30 and immediately had a briefing regarding our location, our camp set up, and what to expect during the night. It started to snow lightly, but we had the right equipment and we had confidence that it would be a good night out. Everyone teamed up into small groups, helping to dig our protective walls, transforming this remote camp spot into our home for the night. The ship sailed out of site and left us in complete silence.

After digging out our camping areas, we hiked with the guides up the snowy peak behind the camp site to gain the 360º views of the mountains as glaciers that hung around us. We walked back to camp at midnight, all crawled into our bivys for the short night and tried to get some sleep. We tried to get some sleep before our 05:30 zodiac pick up. The temperature dropped low that night and we could hear the snow falling on our bivy sacks all night long. We were woken up by Rustyn and Blacky at 05:00, although most of us were already awake enjoying the great morning light. By 05:15 the zodiacs were there to pick us up and bring us back to the ship. It was true cold and snowy Antarctic night.

Day 7: Neko Harbour and Useful Island

Neko Harbour and Useful Island
Datum: 26.11.2019
Position: 64º 49.9’ S/ 062º 36.8’ W
Wind: 1 knot
Wetter: overcast
Lufttemperatur: +2

This morning we woke up to humpbacks in front of the ship. It was a gorgeous clear morning and we were excited to see the whales join us before breakfast.

Our first landing of the day was at Neko Harbour. The expedition staff advised us that once we got off the zodiacs we’d be able to visit the various penguin colonies and enjoy a hike to the peak, but we were told not to stay at the beach. Neko Harbour is a gorgeous bay of massive glaciers, which means the possibility of calving, creating large waves, making the beach an unsafe area.

We were all happy to watch the penguins trek up and down the well-established penguin highways, gathering rocks for their nests. Along our walk we saw some empty broken penguin eggs, which were the victims of the skuas that surrounded the nesting areas. Those who chose to hike to the peak were rewarded with stunning views of the glaciers, icebergs, and penguins that looked like little ants. It was hard to believe we had hiked so high, but it was worth it. The sun was shining and we sat and watched three Weddell seals soak it up, exactly the same way we were soaking it all in. We had plenty of time to admire the vastness of this stunning place. It was truly an A+ morning!

After a delicious lunch, we headed to Useful Island, in the Gerlache Strait. The island has a 360 degree view of the surrounding area which made it a perfect viewpoint for whalers in the past. As we approached the island excited to see some chinstraps and gentoos, our expedition guides told us that there was a leopard seal on one of the icebergs. This was an exciting wildlife spotting for everyone. Antarctica is the only place on the planet inhabited by leopard seals.

Camping
For the camping night on Leith Cove we could not have asked for better weather. The sky only had some highlight clouds and there was no wind. After all zodiacs delivered the campers ashore at 20:30 Rustyn briefed us about our equipment and the area. The campsite was amazing - a small island directly surrounded by high glacier walls on three sides and a view of the bay directly in front.

Half of us started putting together our bivy bags and sleeping kits, while the other half used the shovels to start digging our sleeping areas out for the night. After the work was done everyone stayed awake for quite awhile and absorbed the grandeur and breathtaking views that surrounded us. As everyone settled into their bivys we could hear the blow of whales near by but could not spot them, but it was nice to know they were out there with us.

In the morning the entire team was in good spirits and broke down camp quickly and efficiently and got back to the ship for some hot coffee by 05:00. It was a cold and clear night that one would never forget.

Day 8: Zodiac cruise: Melchior Islands

Zodiac cruise: Melchior Islands
Datum: 27.11.2019
Position: 64º 50.1’ S / 062º 50.7’ W
Wind: ESE 8 knots
Wetter: overcast
Lufttemperatur: +2

The day started very early in the calm and colourful morning when the campers came back to the ship after the calm overnight at Leith Cove. After breakfast we left the ship and jumped onto the zodiacs for a cruise in a quite choppy sea around the Melchior Islands. In the shelter of the curved shoreline of the islands we got to enjoy lots of fishing kelp gulls, Antarctic terns and cormorants which pointed out the diversity and fertility of the area we were visiting. Crystal clear shallow waters also allowed us to see some sea stars on the bottom of the sea and the fast ice spreading from the shore was a large carpet for Weddell seals to rest. The Melchior Islands gave us the chance to experience the Antarctic wildlife, landscape and weather on our very last Antarctic excursion.

After a Mexican lunch we attended Chloe’s talk about the wonderful life underwater generally hidden and mysterious to most of us. Soon after she opened our eyes to that part of the oceanic life, we were honoured to witness a display of some of the most conspicuous inhabitants of the ocean, but also hard to find in such a vastness. Ali’s voice came over the PA system: we have orcas around the ship! And in fact, there were not just a couple of them. A group of more than twenty orcas in the company of two Minke whales privileged us. We had an incredible time moving around the ship while they showed up from every side and repeatedly appeared and disappeared under our feet, making us accept without complaint the freezing sensation taking over our bodies. This was probably the most exciting and glorious moment of the trip for many of us, and an incredible way to say goodbye to this amazing continent.

Kayaking Trip Log
As every trip begins, many passengers start to ask about timings, clothing, the perfect spot, how many layers do they have to wear, is it cold outside, or is it going to be wet during the kayaking experience…many questions, but nothing better than to put all your gear on and find out by yourself. After a safety briefing from our kayak guide, Alexis, including how everything works and operational procedures, we were divided into six groups of 14 people plus our guide who would venture out during the mornings and afternoons over the next few days.

This Antarctic Explorer´s Voyage was for all of us and this time we visited different areas more exposed to the wind and far north in the Peninsula. The upcoming days will belong to us for ever. We were able to paddle in different places like Valdivia Point, Portal Point, Paradise Harbour and around the Argentinian Brown Station. We were kayaking at Neko Harbour, immersed in an ocean full of growlers of ice that came from the calving glaciers off one of the most beautiful scenarios of the Antarctic landscape. We kayaked to Useful island and circumnavigated it, with a beautiful group of Greeks who paddled in these frozen waters of the southern ocean for the first time in their warm lives.

We saw Antarctic terns, humpback whales, crabeater seals, weddell seals, a leopard seal, cormorants, sheathbills around the huts and penguins colonies; gentoo, adelie and chinstrap penguins from a special spot: our quiet kayak.

Kayaking means freedom of operation, silence, being closer to the water, and the environment. It offers a unique perspective and the opportunity to understand from the bottom of the glaciers and cliffs the real scale of Antarctica´s mountains and surroundings.

It was a pleasure for Alexis, as your guide, to have the chance to introduce you to this part of the world that belongs to all of us and more importantly, depends on our actions and their consequences. For now, think about keeping this pristine continent as it is. That could be the best way to behave knowing that is home to many species. It’s fragile and in need of eco-friendly actions from humans every day.

A few words from Alexis: Enjoy Life. Respect others. Leave no trace. Come back home with a good message for your friends and family. Nature rules the world.

Day 9: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Datum: 28.11.2019
Position: 60º 52.3’ S / 064º 07.7’ W
Wind: E 20 knots
Wetter: overcast
Lufttemperatur: 0

Thanks to Expedition leader Ali’s kindness, there wasn’t a morning wake-up call this morning. The first announcement we heard was the lovely voice of Hotel manager Zsuzsanna calling for breakfast. Although it was the first day in the Drake passage returning to Ushuaia, there were still many passengers not feeling sea sickness.

We had been seeing a lot of ice in Antarctica, and finally we had time to listen to Jochem’s lecture on ice. In our normal life, we usually just use ice to cool things, but from Jochem’s lecture we have learned that ice in Antarctica is one of the most important elements that controls earth’s climate and ocean current. It is very interesting to know how the ice sheet, ice shelf, glaciers and ice bergs are formed and why they appear the blue as we see them.

After we learned about the importance of ice in Antarctica, Jerry brought us back to 120 years ago, in the time of the golden age of Antarctic exploration. The famous polar explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen were in a race to be the first to reach the South Pole. One succeeded and safely returned, and one died during his return, but they both had their reasons to reach the south pole and their way of doing it. Jerry told their stories and his opinions on the difference between the two expeditions.

In the afternoon Maricel and Ali were on the sun deck behind the bridge showing passengers how to do bird survey. The Drake Passage is a great place for the sea birds to fly and feed. There were many species of seabirds flying around the ship, and the sea condition were perfect for us to study and enjoy these beautiful birds flying around us. Some of us were really doing the science bit of surveying the sea birds, and some of us were just enjoying the time being outside looking at them.

We had a great encounter with Orcas, also called Killer whales yesterday afternoon, Sara gave a wonderful lecture on the orcas in the lounge so we would know more about these gentle “killers”. Sara explained the difference between each type of Orca, their hunting techniques and why they are called the wolf of the sea.

Although it was not an outdoor activity day, our time was filled with lecture and science activities on board, and of course many passengers already looking forward to be back on land.

Day 10: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Datum: 29.11.2019
Position: 56º11.8’ S / 067 º 08.9’ W
Wind: SW 20 knots
Wetter: overcast
Lufttemperatur: 0

After a leisurely wakeup call and a wholesome breakfast, the Plancius sailed along Cape Horn. We obtained special permission from the Chilean authorities to approach as close as 3 nautical miles. The foggy weather did not stop us to contemplate the silhouette of the tip of South America.

As we continued with our relaxing day at sea, we were given a lecture titled “Ice maidens, women in Antarctica” by our expedition leader Ali. We learned about Emily Shackelton, Kathleen Scott and the first woman who set foot in Antarctica, the Norwegian Caroline Mikkelsen.

After lunch Daniel gave us a virtual tour of the ship's engine room and interworkings which made many of the passengers sit up with interest and questions. A nice way to have some insight into what happens behind the scenes on Plancius.

As we approached the Beagle channel, Alexis talked about the Yamana, the people of tierra del Fuego. They were the last humans who belonged to this region the last 6000 years: the canoe nomads of the southern oceans.

Before everyone knew it, the day had to passed and the Captain and staff joined us in the lounge for the Captains toast and a few words of thanks from the expedition staff as well as passengers. Sara had put together a wonderful slideshow, bringing us back to our days on the ice. It is hard to believe that it all when by so fast.

Day 11: Disembarkation Ushuaia

Disembarkation Ushuaia
Datum: 30.11.2019
Position: Ushuaia port
Wetter: overcast
Lufttemperatur: +5

Today we were woken by the last wake-up call from our Expedition Leader Ali and got ready to disembark in Ushuaia. The last 11 days have taken us on an eye-opening journey to the frozen continent and allowed us a short glimpse into an environment that most will never see. We all had slightly different experiences but whatever the memories, whether it was our first-time camping, hiking in snowshoes, riding in a zodiac, seeing massive ice cliffs or making new friends, they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Details

Tripcode: PLA23-19
Daten: 20 Nov – 30 Nov, 2019
Dauer: 10 Nächte
Schiff: MS Plancius
Einschiffung: Ushuaia
Ausschiffung: Ushuaia

Aboard MS Plancius

Das eisverstärkte Schiff Plancius ist ein ideales Schiff für polare Expeditionsfahrten in die Arktis und Antarktis.

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