OTL23-22, trip log, Weddell Sea, In search of the Emperor penguin

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation - Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation - Ushuaia, Argentina
Fecha: 24.11.2022
Posición: 54°48’.6 S - 068°17’.8 W
Viento: NW force 8
Clima: Broken cloud, sunny
Temperatura del Aire: +11.5

The day had finally come: it was time to board the good ship Ortelius for our expedition to the Weddell Sea in Antarctica to search for Emperor Penguins! Some of us had booked the trip years ago and had plans cancelled due to a certain pandemic (which we will not mention again!) so it was incredibly exciting that the wait was over. It was a blustery day when we arrived at the port in Ushuaia with white capped waves visible which foretold that we might be in for some rough seas on leaving the Beagle Channel. The Expedition Team and Hotel Staff had helpfully brought our luggage aboard and taken it to our cabins earlier in the day, so all that remained was for us to do was head up the gangway to reception to get our cabin key! 

We were warmly welcomed by all the crew and staff who assisted us in finding our cabins. We had a little time to explore the ship and get our bearings prior to the mandatory ship safety briefing from expedition Leader Adam, Chief Officer Sven. We were given all the information we needed such as moving safely around the ship, the things we could and could not do, and how to put on our emergency life jackets.

After this we headed back to the lecture room where Hotel Manager Stephen and Assistant Hotel Manager Thijs gave a welcome briefing, helping to explain how life would be on the ship over the coming days. It was then time for an abandon ship drill so after hearing the seven short and one long blast of the ship’s horn we went to our cabins, got our lifejackets, and went to our muster stations (either the restaurant or bar). Then we were led to our lifeboats so we would know where to go in case of a real emergency.

It was then time to join Captain Ernesto Barria in the bar to raise a glass in celebration of the voyage ahead. Cheers everyone! The Captain had to excuse himself from the celebration, as it was time to get Ortelius under way. We departed Ushuaia at 18:20 and headed down a windy but sunny Beagle Channel. Then it was time for our first evening meal onboard, with a delicious buffet selection provided by Chef Heinz and his galley team served by our friendly dining room staff. After dinner we were given our Muck boots which we would use for going ashore; comfortable but also, very importantly, waterproof for our wet Zodiac landings!

Following dinner we attended the last mandatory briefing of the day, this time the IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) visitor guidelines. We were informed of the protocols put in place to protect the Antarctic environment, wildlife and historical heritage. After a long day of travel for most of us it was time for bed to get some rest before the first day of the infamous Drake Passage tomorrow.  We left the shelter of the Beagle Channel at around midnight, hoping the seas and winds would be kind to us…

Day 2: At Sea - Drake Passage

At Sea - Drake Passage
Fecha: 25.11.2022
Posición: 57° 13’.3 S - 064°23’.0 W
Viento: WNW force 8
Clima: Overcast, showers
Temperatura del Aire: +5.3

As a new dawn broke on Ortelius, a multitude of sea birds, including the largest of them all, the Wandering Albatross, gracefully rode the high winds around our vessel, blissfully unaware of the many people onboard who had struggled through the night, unable to sleep due to the heavily rolling seas. The dining room slowly and only partly filled up for breakfast.

Although we had been warned that the Drake Passage would live up to its’ name for our crossing South and we had taken precautionary preparations, any items in our cabins not stowed away properly, were falling over, and getting around was more of a challenge. Regular announcements reminded us to take good care while moving about the ship, and to ensure that we always had at least one hand free for safety and to keep fingers out of door frames. Restrictions were also placed on the outer decks, which were very wet and slippery. The heavy rolling made it dangerous to be outside. The wind speed indicator on the bridge showed that the wind was blowing steadily at 50-60 knots, with the swell being a mesmerizing 5-6 meters which hit Ortelius squarely on the starboard side. The heaviest roll of the vessel recorded on the bridge was 24 degrees!

Later in the morning ornithologist Regis gave his talk called ‘The Fabulous World of Seabirds’ giving us a wealth of information about these magnificent creatures, from the tiny storm petrels to the enormous albatrosses.

As we had learned in the IAATO briefing the previous evening, to protect the biodiversity in Antarctica and to avoid the introduction of any invasive plants or animals, the visitor and biosecurity guidelines which allow us to set foot on land are very strict. Therefore, we were required to come to the lecture room right after lunch for the mandatory biosecurity check to have all our outer garments, bags, boots, life jackets etc. that we plan to use in Antarctica inspected by the Expedition Staff. In the late afternoon marine mammal specialist Hazel spoke about the ecology of whales and dolphins and the species we could potentially see during our journey.

As the day’s activities drew to a close, we had our first Recap in the bar. Expedition Leader Adam gave us a quick overview of the schedule for tomorrow, after which Bjarni talked about the history of the Drake Passage and how it got its name. Bill encouraged everyone to engage mindfully with the amazing natural world: looking, seeing, thinking, doing! And Sara used a clever interactive prop to show us the different wingspans of birds. Then it was time for dinner and Hotel Manager Stephen’s distinctive Irish tones were heard inviting us to the restaurant for our “dining pleasure”.

It was a long, tiring day for most of us while we were getting our sea legs working and trying to balance our bodies against the ever-pitching seas. So, after dinner most retreated to their beds hoping for a calmer night of sleep.

Day 3: At Sea - Drake Passage

At Sea - Drake Passage
Fecha: 26.11.2022
Posición: 61°08’.0 S - 058°34’.9 W
Viento: W force 8
Clima: Cloudy, sunny spells
Temperatura del Aire: +1.2

There’s nothing quite like the delicious feeling of waking up after a deep sleep. Those drowsy first few minutes of awareness that you have survived the night and are ALIVE! The rocking of the vessel is bearable whilst lying in a bunk, but the test begins when we stand up and start dressing. It becomes a test of one’s core strength. No rush in the morning, only breakfast, obviously no landing programme today as we were still very much in the open sea of the Drake Passage.

A ripple of excitement spread through-out the ship as word got around that overnight, we had passed two major Antarctic milestones. Firstly, we crossed the Antarctic Convergence, the biological boundary of the South Polar Region. This is a zone where cold Antarctic waters meet more temperate northern waters and is shown on nautical charts as a mean position because it tends to fluctuate back and forth. Then we crossed the 60th parallel of latitude, which marks the geographical boundary of the frozen continent. We were now officially in Antarctica!!! 

Lectures started at 9.30… first off was Hella with a very detailed and excellently illustrated account of sea ice and its ecological importance. This was followed by an important mandatory double briefing on Helicopter and Zodiac operations conducted by Expedition Leader Adam and Assistant Expedition Leader Sara. Between times, our eyes were drawn to the birdlife that accompanied the ship, which included several of the stunning Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses and the ever-present Cape Petrels.

The huge swell and 50 knot winds continued all day. Ortelius rolled heavily from port to starboard as it corkscrewed its way south… not to everyone’s taste as witnessed by the empty seats at tables at lunch. Also, evidence that the doctor had been busy when we saw lots of other passengers sporting little ‘whites spots’ behind their ears.

Lectures resumed after lunch with Sara, very passionately, educating us about those photogenic and endearing creatures, Penguins. At 14.30 the feint outline of snow-covered land appeared ahead of the ship. It was King George Island in the South Shetlands. Over the next couple of hours guests ventured to the outer decks to absorb, enjoy and photograph their first sight of Antarctica.

At 16.30 Bill used a series of photographs to introduce guests to the history, design and construction of Ortelius, and focused on the hidden parts of the vessel such as the engine room and catering department. Explaining the function of various instruments and complex machinery, Bill took us on an informative journey around the lower decks.

There was great excitement at the 6.30 recap when Adam announced that weather permitting early the next day, we were to deploy the helicopters and attempt a landing at Snow Hill Island to see the Emperor Penguins…Whoopee! Dinner was followed by some educational entertainment accompanied by tubs of popcorn, with a showing of Sir David Attenborough’s ‘Saving the Planet’ in the lecture hall.

Fingers crossed for the weather the next day… most guests retired early having checked cameras, long lenses, laid out multi-coloured multiple layers, sunglasses, suntan lotion etc.

Day 4: Snow Hill Island, Antarctica

Snow Hill Island, Antarctica
Fecha: 27.11.2022
Posición: 64°15’.5 S - 057°03’.1 W
Viento: NE force 4
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +1.7

We awoke to a calm sunny morning on our approach to Snow Hill Island. Prospects looked good for the day’s planned activities, a helicopter landing at the most northerly Emperor Penguin colony in the World. Following a meeting on the bridge between the Captain, Expedition Leader and helicopter pilots, the first helicopter took off with staff on board to scout for the Emperor colony and a landing site. 

We waited patiently for a report from the scouting team, and soon heard that it was a “green light” for the excursion. The second helicopter was wheeled out and had the blades fitted, then took off with the rest of the expedition team and the safety equipment required. Meanwhile the third helicopter was quickly prepared for flight, and the scout team were busy marking a 1km route to the colony. 

At the landing site the expedition team erected an emergency tent set up the radio equipment for a communication link with the ship. The weather remained excellent as the route to the colony through the snow and ice was finalised. Before not too long the first guests were arriving at the landing site and making their way to the colony. 

Little groups of Emperor penguins moved back and forth on their bellies, keeping us company along the flagged trail, and the final sight of the penguin colony itself was breath-taking. The beautiful, fluffy grey chicks together with their parents, so well-known from photographs, documentaries and movies endeared all of us. It was not long before the first adults came over to the group of observers to take their own look at these strange visitors that had come to see them. Over the next three hours several Penguins came over to the group to investigate, which gave the guests some close-up views of these incredible birds.

After a couple of hours on the ice it was time for the first guests to leave the area and make the dramatic journey back to the ship. The flight over the ice and the sea was an exciting and spectacular experience and would be enough on its own to make anyone’s day, let alone seeing the beautiful Emperor Penguins! Our pilots left us in complete awe with their skill and precision handling of their helicopters, especially with the deck landings.

Once on board we were rewarded with a late, extended, lunch over which the excitement of the day was discussed at length. The last helicopter with staff landed back onboard at around 16:00, and soon after Regis gave an excellent lecture on “The Emperor Penguin” which filled in some of the gaps in our knowledge.

At evening recap, we were given the amazing news that the weather looked stable, and we could possibly do it all again tomorrow. The excitement was palpable. Over another fantastic dinner, where once again the catering staff were praised by guests, we discussed the days adventures at length. 

What a memorable day in the company of the marvellous Emperor Penguins! 

Day 5: Snow Hill Island & Erebus and Terror Gulf

Snow Hill Island & Erebus and Terror Gulf
Fecha: 28.11.2022
Posición: 64°14’.1 S - 057°06’.0 W
Viento: NW force 2
Clima: Broken cloud, bright
Temperatura del Aire: +5

We woke up to another good weather day with minimal clouds and only a slight breeze. Still, we were surrounded by small icebergs and drifting pieces of sea ice. The sun was dampened by some clouds, far away in the distance. Even before we had our breakfast, having coffee or tea poured into our cups, plans for this morning’s activity were being enacted so that a second helicopter landing at Snow Hill Island could become reality. The captain, expedition leader and helicopter pilots met on the bridge to discuss the weather conditions. The weather did indeed look promising for the morning, but there had been some hints in the forecast that in the afternoon the wind would increase. The “DAP Helicopteros” team leapt into action, and our trusty pilots - Julio, Federico and Felipe - were keen to get operations underway as soon as possible.

Like a well-oiled machine the ship’s crew, aircrew and guides made everything ready. Soon the scout helicopter was away, conditions on the ice were good, thus the last environmental conditions had been checked and confirmed safe. The next helicopter brought more guides and more safety equipment and us, the passengers would follow. Announcements rung out throughout the passenger decks informing us that we have a green light for Snow Hill once again. While we got ready for the second visit to the Emperor penguin colony the guides were busy marking out the trail, setting up the “banana tent” and hauling emergency equipment out towards the colony.

In a similar manner as before we waited for our cabin number to be called. Then we put our boots and lifejacket on, ensured our helicopter card was visible, and then proceeded when called into the departure lounge in the bar. Soon it would be time to fly once again! During the night the position of the ship had changed slightly, moving us closer to James Ross Island compared to the day before, this gave us a great view of the island and its basalt-mountains formation. The mountains of James Ross Island that stood out were mostly a type of volcanic mountain formation called Tuyas and are quite rare worldwide. These flat topped and steep hilled basalt mountains only form when volcanic eruptions happen under glaciers. These black basalt mountains were less than 7 million years old, which in geological time is quite young.

Up the helicopters went, over the sea, past the mountains and across the sea ice. Snow Hill Island came more and more into view as we passed Crabeater and Weddell seals below on the sea ice. Then finally the Emperor penguin colony came into view and shortly thereafter we landed at a place that had become familiar. Next to two gradually sloping big icebergs and our friendly and colorful emergency tent.

The route to see the penguins was the same as the day before, but due to less sunny conditions the path was more comfortable. Occasionally, along the path several penguins approached us out of curiosity. Some laid down not far away from our flagged route and watched us stroll past on our way to the colony viewpoint. Perhaps we are a form of entertainment and peculiarity for them. Perhaps the penguins are pondering the question of just what we are, how these visitors should be categorized. Are they another type of penguin? Or perhaps another type of bird that came flying over to them, or perhaps something completely different. Whatever the penguin philosophers thought of us they did not seem to mind our presence.

At the viewpoint the chicks seemed to have moved slightly closer compared to the day before. Some of the expedition staff also spotted a single Adèlie penguin in the midst of the emperor colony, looking quite confused and unsure which way to go. After taking our fair share of photos of the penguins along the path to the landing site, it was time to head back to the ship enjoying our last airborne view of the sea ice, Snow hill Island, James Ross Island and Seymour Island. We seemed to have timed our helicopter operations perfectly, as the wind started to pick up just as the last two helicopters were landing back on board. Everything had worked out beautifully, thanks to the bridge officers, deck crew, flight operations officer, hotel department, expedition staff, helicopter mechanics, pilots, and last but not least the guests who showed up to the helicopters well prepared, on time, and in an orderly fashion.

During the evening we had our regular recap and the ship made its way counter-clockwise around Vega Island towards Herbert sound, a narrow, scenic channel between Vega Island and the much larger James Ross Island. We hoped to do some activities in this area in the morning if weather would allow. During the evening most of us went out on deck to enjoy the magnificent scenery. If the landscapes alone were not enough, we were graced by the sight of a rainbow before we headed off to bed after a very successful day of activates in Antarctica.

Day 6: Herbert Sound, Duse Bay & Antarctic Sound

Herbert Sound, Duse Bay & Antarctic Sound
Fecha: 29.11.2022
Posición: 63°39’.1 S - 057°40’.9 W
Viento: WNW force 9
Clima: Partly cloudy, sunny
Temperatura del Aire: +1.8

At yesterday evening’s recap Expedition Leader Adam told us to expect high winds today so it came as no surprise when we awoke to rough seas. Plan A, as documented on the daily schedule, had been to visit Camp Hill and Duse Bay as both areas looked to be the least wind battered within our vicinity. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case, the predicted conditions were not true to the actual conditions and neither proposed location afforded us enough shelter to go ashore or zodiac cruise. So, what to do? Of course, the Expedition Team had a backup plan! Initially, we enjoyed some excellent ship cruising as the captain guided Ortelius through the seriously scenic Herbert Channel, and onwards to complete a circumnavigation of Vega Island.

A varied and interesting lecture programme awaited us throughout the day. This began with Sara giving her lecture regarding photography, inspiring guests to get creative and giving lots of fantastic tips for achieving photos which capture those amazing wildlife watching moments, such as the time we spent with the Emperor Penguins at Snow Hill Island. In fact, whilst she was speaking some Adèlie Penguins on icebergs outside provided some photographic interest; Sara was more than happy to be interrupted for this wildlife action, encouraging guests to head outside to enjoy this sighting.

The scenic ship cruising continued, as we made our way into the eastern part of Prince Gustav Channel, weaving our way through a spectacular maze of ice. The geology in this rarely visited area was simply stunning! In the latter part of the morning there was a talk by Hella about pinnipeds (flipper footed animals such as seals and sea lions) which would help us to identify any we saw hauled out on the ice. A few were observed later in the day as we passed through some sizeable pieces of ice during the afternoon but, owing to them being at distance, identification was tricky. One certainly appeared to be a Leopard Seal given its long, slender body whilst another, uniformly sandy coloured seal, was identified as a Crabeater Seal.

Just before lunch the Expedition Team hurriedly assembled to evaluate the possibility of an Antarctic continental landing at the comically named area of Bald Head. Shortly after they went ashore the conditions worsened owing to high gusting winds making it impossible to proceed, and the captain called the whole operation off. Later in the afternoon the maximum wind speed recorded on the bridge was 99.9 knots (hurricane force is anything from 63 upwards)! However, that’s as high as the wind speed indicator can go, so in reality the wind was in excess of 100 knots.

From the safety of Ortelius we enjoyed travelling through Fridtjof Sound between the Tabarin Peninsula and Andersson and Jonassen Islands. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful: enormous tabular icebergs and a thick carpet of shimmering ice cloaking the mountains. The highly skilled and experienced bridge team, led by Captain Ernesto, were entirely focused on guiding our ship through this shallow passage, masterfully dealing with not only the strong currents but also the very high winds. We marveled at the way the water moved as it pushed up against the icebergs grounded in the Sound and at a small group of Gentoo Penguins, we spotted swimming along in these rough seas!

Allan brought the day’s lecture programme to a close, telling us the story of the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901-03 led by Otto Nordenskjold which took place near to the area through which we were travelling. After the evening recap it was time for our BBQ buffet dinner! Although we couldn’t have this outdoors due to the weather, everyone was in good spirits and enjoyed chatting with fellow guests with a glass of free wine, beer or soft drink.

Day 7: King George Island - “Hurricane Ortelius”

King George Island - “Hurricane Ortelius”
Fecha: 30.11.2022
Posición: 62°13’.4 S - 056°49’.1 W
Viento: W force 12
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: 0

Overnight we traversed the choppy Bransfield Strait towards the South Shetland Islands, as the weather at the Peninsula was expected to deteriorate even further and the chances to disembark from the ship for any outdoor activity were minimal. Looking at the weather forecast for the next couple of days in the South Shetlands, it was decided by Expedition Leader Adam and Captain Ernesto to dedicate the worst weather day trying to send off the DAP helicopters, pilots, and engineers at the Chilean Antarctic base “Eduardo Frei Station” on King George Island. This would hopefully allow us to use the better following day for some final, off the ship operations.

The day turned out one that would test our patience and perseverance. While the helicopters themselves are able to take off and fly in stronger winds, at a maximum of 60-70 knots, much lower wind speeds were needed to assemble the helicopter blades of the helicopters that were parked in the hangar. From very early in the morning, upon arrival at King George Island, the wind speed however was up in the 50’s with continuous gusts up to 60, 70 and 80+ knots. Together with a few other vessels trying to seek shelter from the hurricane force winds, Ortelius remained under way within Maxwell Bay for the majority of the day, hoping for a weather window that would allow for the assembly of the helicopters in preparation of their flight. The outside decks and bridge were off limits for safety reasons and to allow the bridge officers to work in silence under challenging conditions.

Meanwhile, members of the expedition team provided another interesting lecture program throughout the day. With such varied backgrounds and expertise areas amongst the expedition team members, there was no shortage of diversity in the lecture program that was offered. Martin started off in the morning with a very entertaining account about his experience ringing Albatross and other birds in the Falkland Islands.

After another delicious lunch buffet, Adam gave a wonderful lecture of Shackleton’s incredible leadership on his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition aboard Endurance. The expedition managed to survive the loss of their ship in the middle of the Antarctic pack ice at a time when there was no chance of contacting the outside world, let alone of being rescued. This journey would be remembered by generations as the greatest feat of survival in the history of exploration.

Adam’s talk was followed by a presentation given by Bjarni about the Discovery of the South Shetlands and the commercial history of Deception Island, which we would hopefully visit the following day.

While everyone remained warm and comfortable inside with cups of hot coffee and tea, the storm around the vessel kept whipping up the seas in white flurries of foam. At some stage the wind speed indicator on the bridge flattened out, indicating a wind speed of more than 100 knots! Being reminded of newspaper headlines warning of hurricanes approaching coastal areas, it was almost impossible to imagine we found ourselves in continuous hurricane force winds of such extreme power.

At the end of the afternoon, the lovely Hazel brought some entertainment to our day with her self-made wildlife bingo. The winners were all rewarded with a free drink from the bar. At 5 o’clock the bar became busier, as happy hour was announced with all drinks at half price. Despite having to stay inside all day, with even the bridge off-limits, the atmosphere was relaxed, and people were happy to chat, read a book or edit some pictures.

When recap came and the tentative plans for our final day in the South Shetland Islands were announced, members of the expedition team were called away to assist with the assembly of the helicopters. As was hoped for the entire day, a slight drop in the windspeed allowed for a window in which the helicopters and the fabulous DAP crew managed to take off. It was a bittersweet sight, specifically for the expedition team who had worked so closely with the pilots and engineers for almost 3 weeks. It was sad to enter the dining room and see their table standing empty. An indication also of the near end of a challenging, but successful trip to see the Emperor penguins.

As the planned wake-up call for tomorrow could potentially come around 3-3:30 am, everyone decided to get an early night. By 9pm Ortelius was a bit of a ghost ship.

Day 8: Deception Island, South Shetland Islands

Deception Island, South Shetland Islands
Fecha: 01.12.2022
Posición: 62°58’.9 S - 060°28’.2 W
Viento: W force 6
Clima: Cloudy, sunny spells
Temperatura del Aire: +0.3

The day started very early for the expedition team as they awaited a call from Adam to confirm a landing at Half Moon Island.  It was not to be however, as even a glance out of a porthole at the wind-swept white-capped sea clearly illustrated the impossibility of Zodiac operations. The wind had risen [as was becoming usual] to an unsafe hurricane force, well in excess of 65 knots at times.

Guests slept on… oblivious to and undisturbed by the stand-by / stand-down of the expedition team. Ortelius set a new course for the plan B destination, the unique and historically interesting Deception Island. We had breakfast, then great timing in terms of passage planning, passed slowly through the dramatic entrance of Neptune’s Bellows to swing right to a position just off the ‘rusty metal’ strewn shore of Whalers Bay.

Tilted oil tanks and the crumbling evidence of an extensive whaling operation in the form of abandoned buildings lined the beach. The sun was shining, the light creating sharp shadows. The hills behind were a startling mixture of undulating lava dust and gravel and receding snow fields. Four Zodiacs were launched and deployed to position guides amongst the buildings. The bitterly cold wind was still strong but the sea state within the dramatic, mountain-ringed caldera remained relatively flat.

After landing, guests were delighted to encounter some Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, and to spot a young Elephant seal, a Weddell seal plus a few lucky individuals saw a Leopard seal cruising not far from the beach. Bleached whale bones lay everywhere mixed with staves from broken wooden barrels. Krill lay in thin strips along the tide line providing feed for rafts of hundreds of bobbing black and white Cape petrels. Opportunistic skuas strutted about or wheeled over-head.

Bill guarded the crumbling edge of Neptune’s Window, keeping those guests who had hiked up the hill a safe distance away from the dangerously under-cut rubble-strewn cliff. The hike was worth the effort as the view across the bay was stunning. The panorama included Ortelius in the foreground and a DAP helicopter vessel just beyond. Zodiacs tracked backwards and forwards, etching white lines in the grey sea, and the small dots that were guests scattered everywhere along the shore. 

Despite the freezing wind, 20 to 30 hardy souls dared to experience a polar plunge. Splashing dramatically with shocked shrieks into the hardly inviting dark waters. This was a proud highlight for them all… rewarded for their stoic effort when they got back to the warmth of the ship by being presented with one of Bill’s specially drawn Deception Island polar plunge cartoon certificates.

The decision was made to set course back to Half Moon Island to attempt another landing. A brief lull in the wind filled us with optimism, as we sailed along the coast of Livingston Island. A few sharp-eyed observers picked out the distant blows of whales. Bill entertained / educated by delivering a lecture on the design of Whaling ships in the Arctic and some sobering stories of adventures in the ice and how experiential learning resulted in the construction of the research vessel Discovery… at the time the strongest vessel ever constructed.

The wind was blowing quite hard again when Ortelius reached Half Moon. The expedition team launched two Zodiacs to check out conditions ashore. But, before they had even departed the ship, Captain Ernesto called off the proposed landing operation. The wind was steadily increasing, making it too dangerous.

As so often is the case, recap was partly used to answer questions from the popular question box. One such question was asking if we could take a vote for naming the hurricane, we had encountered the previous day. Three options were proposed….. Adam, Sara and Ortelius. By a show of hands, it was decided that we would call it ‘Hurricane Ortelius’. Dinner followed, and as the ship headed out for the long voyage across the Drake Passage, most guests retired to the comfort of their cabins to edit photographs and ride out the rhythmical movement of the ship.

The day provided a great end to the activity part of the voyage. Now we looked forward to more lectures and the open sea experience before reaching South America and berthing in Ushuaia. 

Day 9: At Sea - Drake Passage

At Sea - Drake Passage
Fecha: 02.12.2022
Posición: 59°37’.3 S - 062°07’.5 W
Viento: NE force 7
Clima: Overcast, foggy
Temperatura del Aire: +0.2

The morning started with a wake-up call from Expedition Leader Adam. The ship was gently rolling, which had given most of us a good night’s sleep. After breakfast, many headed for the open decks to take in some fresh air. The wind blew at 25-30 knots, and heavy cloud cover produced a little rain and snow. A good selection of seabirds was seen from the bridge, including Wandering, Southern Royal, Grey-headed, Light-mantled and Black-browed Albatrosses to name but a few. Sadly, there were no whales to be seen before lunch, but the bridge crew explained that they had seen at least a dozen whales as we had entered the Drake Passage between midnight and 4 this morning during their watch. 

There were excellent lectures during the morning. Hella informed us how whales could help fight the climate change battle we are currently experiencing globally. Later in the morning there was a joint lecture by some of the expedition staff about Human Impacts in Antarctica. Following another great lunch, Adam gave a thought-provoking lecture about Scott and Amundsen’s race to the South Pole. 

The bridge reported an unidentified penguin species, seen porpoising near the ship. Quite amazing considering the distance from land. At 16:15 the animated movie ‘Happy Feet’ was shown in the bar, for a little light entertainment. Then daily recap and dinner followed, bringing the day to an end.

Day 10: At Sea - Drake Passage

At Sea - Drake Passage
Fecha: 03.12.2022
Posición: 56°18’.9 S - 065°17’.5 W
Viento: NW force 6
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +5.1

We awoke to find that Ortelius was making surprisingly good progress north across a rough Drake Passage. Conditions had deteriorated overnight, and it was every bit a “Drake Shake” with 40-50 knots of wind and a large swell. Having toughed it out through at least two hurricane-force storms in Antarctica, it seemed that the relentless Southern Ocean weather would give us a rough ride until the end. Every now and then the sun shone through the clouds, illuminating an angry Drake Passage. The good morning announcement told us that the outside air temperature had risen considerably from 24 hours prior, confirming that we had re-crossed the Antarctic Convergence and returned to a more temperate region. The great continent of South America beckoned, as thoughts turned to packing and leaving the ship.

For those able to make it, breakfast was a challenge. We were guided directly to the safety of seating at our tables, then the food and drinks were served to us from the buffet by the expedition staff and restaurant team. At 09:30 we were invited to join Hazel in the bar for an excellent lecture entitled “From Worship to Whaling”. For the small and enthusiastic crowd in attendance, Hazel gave a fascinating overview of the high regard in which whales and dolphins have been held throughout the ages. Most notable was Hazel’s love and concern for these remarkable creatures which bring so much joy to so many people. Her enthusiasm for the subject has shone bright throughout the voyage.

Anyone who ventured to the bridge found that the ship was in company with the usual bird life for the region - petrels, prions, shearwaters, and of course a variety of albatrosses. Any albatross gliding over a stormy ocean is a sight to behold, but the masterful and elegant Wandering Albatross with its 3.5 metre wingspan left onlookers completely awestruck. Occasionally an equally magnificent Southern Royal Albatross would show up, presenting observers with the challenge of distinguishing the subtle differences between these true ‘marathon birds’. They are completely at home riding the wild winds of the deep south. The stronger it blows, the happier they seem to be. The love and respect for these incredible birds is hard to put into words, especially when we consider the mariner’s legend that every albatross carries the soul of a sailor lost at sea. It is truly the bird of good omen for all who work upon the oceans of the World. The words of English poet Samuel Taylor-Coleridge (1772-1834), from his epic work ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ were so fitting…

"At length did cross an Albatross, through the fog it came.
As if it had been a Christian soul, we hailed it in God’s name."

At 11:30 in the bar some of the Expedition Team did a joint presentation about the Citizen Science Program, and how we could help. Having visited one of the most pristine environments on Earth, many of us were heading home with thoughts on how we could do our bit to protect it. Lunch followed soon after, with Hotel Manager Stephen inviting us to join him and his team for our ‘dining pleasure’.

Land Ho! At precisely 14:40 the sharp-eyed watchman on the bridge spied the feint outline of land dead ahead of the ship. It was a welcome sight for weary eyes after two days toughing it out in the Drake Passage. The bridge officers spoke of being in more sheltered waters at the entrance to the Beagle Channel by dinner time. That was sweet music to many ears! At the same time land was spotted, the chart plotter showed that we were abreast of Cape Horn. Surprisingly, the sea state improved, and the sun came out. The bridge announced that decks 6 and 7 had been reopened, and many went out for some very welcome fresh air. It was superb to be out with the birds again. In particular, the Giant petrels were very active.

Ortelius continued to gently pitch and roll her way on towards the more sheltered waters of the Beagle Channel, as preparations for disembarkation quietly progressed below decks. At 16:00 Sara hosted a pub style quiz in the bar with questions relating to the voyage. Teams varied from 2-6 people, and some were very creative with their team names. Great fun was had by all, and the winners received a brilliant hand-drawn certificate by our legendary expedition guide Bill Smith.

At 18:15 we gathered in the bar for Captain’s Farewell Cocktails, and a viewing of the expedition slideshow produced by staff member Regis Perdriat. This exciting reminder of a memorable journey was later available for all to save to mobile devices, once we had enjoyed our final dinner onboard Ortelius. The day closed with the welcome sensation of a motionless deck beneath our feet, as the land on both sides of the Beagle Channel closed in around us. Many went out on deck after dinner to take in the dramatic scenery and enjoy the soft evening light.

Day 11: Disembarkation, Ushuaia

Disembarkation, Ushuaia
Fecha: 04.12.2022
Posición: 54°48’.6 S - 068°17’.9 W
Viento: Calm
Clima: Partly cloudy, bright
Temperatura del Aire: +5

We arrived at the Pilot Station in the Beagle Channel at around 01:00 and we docked in Ushuaia just after 06:00. Ortelius had successfully completed her third Antarctic voyage for the 2022/23 season! We were greeted by a cool, calm, crisp, clear morning in Ushuaia, where a fresh dusting of snow lay on the mountains. Already alongside the dock was Hondius, the newest vessel in the Oceanwide Expeditions fleet. Captain Ernesto gently berthed Ortelius directly in front of her sister. The crew and Expedition Team handled all the luggage on to the dock, and at 08:00 it was time for disembarkation. The voyage was over, and it was time to go our separate ways. Fond farewells were exchanged on the dock, as our band of intrepid adventurers dispersed and began the long journey home.

Thank you all for such a memorable voyage, for your company, good humour, enthusiasm, and patience when the weather decided we should do something different. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

Total distance sailed on our voyage: 1,855.7 nautical miles
Furthest South: 64°30’.9 S - 057°28’.5 W (Snow Hill Island Emperor penguin colony)

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Ernesto Barria, Expedition Leader Adam Turner, Hotel Manager Stephen Bell and all the crew and expedition staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you! We look forward to seeing you again on one of our ships for another adventure.


Código del viaje: OTL23-23
Fechas: 20 nov. - 30 nov., 2023
Duración: 10 noches
Barco: El Ortelius
Embarque: Ushuaia
Desembarque: Ushuaia

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Aboard El Ortelius

El Ortelius, reforzado para navegar en el hielo, está completamente equipado para la exploración polar y, en caso necesario, para vuelos en helicóptero.

More about the El Ortelius »