OTL28-23, trip log, Ross Sea

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Bluff, New Zealand

Bluff, New Zealand
Fecha: 17.02.2023
Posición: 46°45.0’S / 168°17.2’E
Viento: SE3
Clima: Broken cloud
Temperatura del Aire: +15

The day had finally come, the start of a bold Antarctic adventure. In the early afternoon we congregated in the lobby of the Kelvin Hotel, Invercargill; having made our way here from far-flung parts of the world. A few of us had spent some time exploring the wonderful islands of New Zealand through the preceding days and weeks, but many of us had arrived in Invercargill today. A few of us only just managed to get here in the nick of time, a combination of tropical cyclones, floods, and even earthquakes causing all manner of delays, rerouting, and sleepless nights.

Nevertheless, we had made it, and after checking in with Allan, and having our suitcases labelled, we made our way to the coaches. In short order we were bound for the small port town of Bluff; a twenty-minute drive down the coast. Here we entered the industrial port complex, and were escorted through the working areas of the port; past huge container cranes, endless stacks of aluminium ingots, monstrous piles of wood and milled lumber, and mountains of sand, gravel, and rock. In amongst all the bustle and chaos lay Ortelius, sat serenely alongside the wharf. The deck lined with a row of smiling faces welcoming us onboard. As we walked up the gangway we first cleared customs, formally leaving New Zealand. Then Albert, our hotel manager, checked us in and our stewards and stewardesses showed us to our cabins.

There was time for a cup of tea up in the Lounge and most of us took the opportunity to explore the ship; our home for the next 32 days. We clambered all over the outside decks, admiring the helicopter on the aft deck, and taking the time to soak in the sunshine and gentle breeze of the Antipodean summer.

At the end of the afternoon we were called to the Lecture Room on Deck 3 for the mandatory ship safety drill. This culminated in a practice-run of the evacuation procedure and included mustering, donning the bright-orange life jackets, and being shown to the lifeboat boarding points. With this out of the way we were formally welcomed to the ship by both Albert, our Hotel Manager, and Sara, our Expedition Leader. Together they gave us an introduction to life on board, the plan for our adventure, and what to expect over the coming days and weeks. Meanwhile the crew were preparing for our departure, the harbour pilot came aboard, and we slipped our mooring lines, gathering way as we passed through the breakwaters heading south. As far south as it’s possible to go with a ship. Dinner followed, and we piled our plates high at the buffet; recompense for a long and exciting day.

However, we were not quite done yet. As Sara had outlined earlier, we hoped to cruise Snares Island in the morning, and before we could do so we needed to be briefed on IAATO protocols, and how the Zodiac operations onboard the ship work. With this all checked off we could finally make our way to bed; the gentle rocking of the open ocean soothed us to sleep as Ortelius crept out past Stewart Island under the descending veil of night.

Day 2: Snares Island

Snares Island
Fecha: 18.02.2023
Posición: 48°02.0’S / 166°35.9’E
Viento: NW4
Clima: Broken cloud
Temperatura del Aire: +16

Oh. My. God. What a dawn. After leaving Bluff last night, we sailed toward Snares Island with the hope of being able to see the islands at least and maybe, just maybe, being able to get our Zodiacs out. We woke to a gorgeous dawn as we rounded the southwestern end of the island in search of a calmer anchorage. In the growing orange light we came to see swarms of albatrosses in the air, soaring high over the island. Down low, along the water, were thousands of sooty shearwaters hurrying out to sea for the days foraging. What a bustling place. It wasn’t quite cloudless, but the sky was sunnier than we’ve seen for a while and the sea was calm enough for a Zodiac cruise. The wake-up call came over the tannoy; it was 13°C outside—it hardly seemed to be the subantarctic.

So, after a sumptuous breakfast, we boarded the Zodiacs and our fleet of nine small boats headed out for adventure in the morning. The granites of the island have been eroded by the pounding sea into fabulous cliffs and gullies with many caves. We rounded a few points on the southeast then east side of the island and finally encountered our first group of Snares erect-crested penguins nestled into a small valley just above a clear spot along the rocky coast. We could approach fairly close with the Zodiacs, so we got some great views of the penguins. They looked to be just getting ready to start their annual moult.

Slowly motoring around the kelp-fringed coastline, we continued to encounter swooping and soaring Shy and Buller’s albatrosses with an occasional southern royal just to remind us all how large they really are. The swell surging against the rocks was fantastic as we merrily bobbed around in our boats. In a few spots, the rocks were positioned in a way that focussed the swell and big waves crashed around us, throwing spray into the air and providing quite the spectacle.

Rounding one of the headlands, we finally came into view of the famous ‘penguin slope’; the main access point the Snares crested penguins use to get up to and down from their colonies that are hidden in the vegetation along the tops of the island. Very impressive how those small penguins are able to scale such a large, slippery, and foreboding rock face. Half of the group carried on to poke their noses around the north end of the island and were greeted with more spectacular scenery, but no more wildlife than the rest of us saw on along the east coast. On the way back we dawdled in a few big caves and even explored one drive-through tunnel that extended deep into the rock. Passing lots of New Zealand fur seals snoozing on the rocks, we made our way back toward the ship. Along the way Gary spotted (and photographed) a lone moulting royal penguin in among the Snares crested penguins to add to our species list.

We came round the corner, threading the needle between the islands, and past several flotillas of lovely checkerboarded cape petrels on our way back to the ship where and got back on board. The weather was beautiful and warm for the rest of the morning and most were outside on Deck 7, taking in the sunshine and watching the Snares recede into the distance in our wake.

We were on our way towards Campbell Island for further exploration and adventure tomorrow. After lunch we conducted out first full biosecurity check in preparation for landing at Campbell Island, and then settled into a comfortable afternoon on board.

In the evening, just before dinner, we were welcomed to the bar for a drink with the captain, a toast to the voyage, and an introduction to our Expedition Team.

This evening we had our first plated dinner in the restaurant, and after a couple of hours of great food, flowing conversation, and a glass or two of wine, we retired to our cabins where the gentle motion of the south Pacific lulled us to sleep.

Day 3: Campbell Island

Campbell Island
Fecha: 19.02.2023
Posición: 51°53.0’S / 168°53.9’E
Viento: N7
Clima: Rain
Temperatura del Aire: +13

Overnight, and through the course of the morning, we travelled through rolling swells to the beautiful Campbell Island, around 660 km from our departure in Bluff. The island system lies near the southern margin of the Campbell Plateau and is composed of one large island and several smaller satellite islands. The island is the remains of an ancient shield volcano formed between 6 and 11 million years ago, and is mostly composed of basalt, and other extrusive volcanic rocks. These dark rocks, combined with overcast and wet weather, gave the island a slightly foreboding atmosphere as it loomed out of the mist during the morning.

The seas around the island were completely full of life, we saw hundreds of albatross, including: light-mantled albatross, Campbell albatross, black-browed albatross, grey-headed albatross, and the huge southern royal albatross. There were also thousands of sooty shearwaters, white-chinned petrels, giant petrels, and some very curious Campbell shags who repeatedly flew close to the ship—seemingly intrigued by our presence.

Going into Tucker Cove on the Zodiacs we were mesmerised by even more sea birds around us, with New Zealand sea lions frolicking in the water, although we marvelled less at the driving rain we experienced on the run-in. Ignoring the rain, the team soon had us ashore for a leg stretch up Beeman Hill with a walk up a hill to a stunning, but incredibly windy viewpoint. Beginning at the scientific station on the shore we climbed slowly up the narrow, but very beautiful boardwalk to the summit of the hill at a leisurely pace and took in the amazing sights of the natural harbour beneath us. The vegetation was thick, lush, and green, reflecting the amount of precipitation which falls on this isolated place.

Along the way we were lucky enough to see silvereyes (a blow-in from further north), New Zealand pipits, the elusive and endemic Campbell teal and, as we got further up the path, southern royal albatross settled peacefully in the vegetation and soaring over us in the sky. Subantarctic skua patrolled occasionally, looking for any opportunity for a meal. Some of us heard Campbell snipe in the undergrowth, but only a fortunate few caught sight of one.

Too soon it was time to retrace out steps back to the landing site where the Zodiacs were awaiting us. We returned to the ship for dinner. Then the team took us out once more, for a Zodiac cruise around Perseverance Harbour. The weather had finally cleared up, and weak evening sun peeked through the scudding clouds. Our cruise progressed down the fjord, helped along by the strong westerly winds. It was a treat to explore this place from sea-level, and we trickled along the shore, heading through the dense rafts of kelp to spot a variety of wildlife including Antarctic terns, red-billed gulls, a pair of kelp gull parents guarding their large downy chick, a few solitary moulting erect-crested penguins, and finally, hidden in the undergrowth, we caught sight of the famous and rare yellow-eyed penguin. In the mean-time Ortelius had weighed anchor and came charging down the fjord to meet us; within ten minutes we were all back aboard.

We departed Campbell Island, turning south, into the rolling swells of the South Pacific. A few stayed up until well beyond midnight, and were rewarded with the subtle, ethereal display of the Aurora Australis. We gazed out, adjusting our night vision for the subtle green hues dancing in vertical pillars into the darkness. The display was interrupted by Elon Musk’s infamous Starlink satellite train—a startling reminder that we are changing our planet, even the vast night sky.

Day 4: South Pacific Ocean

South Pacific Ocean
Fecha: 20.02.2023
Posición: 54°19.7’S / 168°18.6’E
Viento: NW11
Clima: Rain
Temperatura del Aire: +12

After gently being rocked to sleep, we awoke to our first proper ‘sea day’. Gary started with lecturing about the seabirds of the Southern Ocean, with a focus on the albatross species we had encountered so far. He taught us how to differentiate between species by looking at their plumage colours, bill shape, and wingspans. He also hinted at his undeniable love for the skua; some of us were very intrigued to hear about this notoriously disliked bird, and we knew we would hear more about it throughout the voyage.

The swell and wind began to rise throughout the course of our day, but nonetheless, the show went on. Laurence introduced us to the interesting world of polar bathymetry and told us how little-explored these areas are. The seabed of the polar regions is shaped by geological processes forming an array of features including fields of exploding gas hydrate craters. The sea floor can also be intensively ploughed by iceberg keels which shape and contour the seabed. He also told us some stories of his time as a PhD student in Greenland, where he studied the history of the Greenland Ice Sheet, sometimes from land, from huge icebreakers, and sometimes from dirty, smelly, and scary fishing boats.

By mid-afternoon, the sea state had progressively worsened. However, this drew quite a crowd of hardy expeditioners who braced themselves up on the bridge; watching 8–9 metre waves roll under (and over!) Ortelius. Windspeeds reached up to 94.4 knots; we had well and truly hit the top end of the Beaufort scale! (12 being the highest). Mother Nature was putting on a show. southern royal albatross gracefully soared above the malevolent washing machine below; spindrift ripped tumultuously from wave crests to troughs, while Ortelius rocked from port to starboard, rolling at a staggering level, almost 30°. You really had to hold on. One hand for the ship–always!

Despite these conditions, we couldn’t get enough of our Antarctic education, so many of us bravely ventured back down (or back up) to the Bar where Sara then gave us a wonderful presentation on the life and quirks of penguins. Witnessing them on the land over the last few days was one thing, but imagining them living, and thriving, at sea in these kinds of conditions was mind blowing! Such little creatures having to cope with swell conditions of over 10 metres! They really are well adapted to life as a seabird.

In the evening recap, Sara updated us on our voyage progress and gave us the wind and swell forecast for Macquarie Island. Unfortunately, the forecast was not on our side, so we made the tough decision to sail directly towards the Balleny Islands and Antarctica.

Dinner was… interesting. The dining room was chaotic—chairs had fallen over, sugar bowls spilled everywhere, and broken crockery littered the floor initially. However, the restaurant staff had done an amazing job not only plating up our meals, but also delivering them deftly to our tables in the most difficult conditions. It looked like such a balancing act.

As night started to fall, most of us hunkered down in our cabins; we were even advised to hold off on showering as the swell did not ease. If anything the wrath of the ocean increased during the night; in the early hours the largest waves recorded reached over 13 metres and the wind exceed 100 knots! It was time to secure all our belongings, turn down our chairs, and hope for some hours of sleep through the turbulent subantarctic night.  

Day 5: South Pacific Ocean

South Pacific Ocean
Fecha: 21.02.2023
Posición: 57°06.9’S / 169°09.1’E
Viento: WNW12
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +3

Quote of the day “It doesn’t matter how rich and how famous we are, when we are sea sick, we are all on the same level”. Rodney Russ.

After a very rough day yesterday everyone hunkered down in anticipation of a worsening forecast. Later yesterday evening those brave souls who made it up to the bridge were rewarded with quite a spectacle and this morning was much the same. The maximum swell forecast was meant to be around 9 metres. However, there were moments on the bridge, 14 metres above sea level, when the horizon was completely obscured by towering, angry walls of water. The bow would pitch up violently, throwing any of us unsuspecting seafarers flat to the floor. The ship would then lumber up and over the crest of the wave before crashing down the back side of the swell causing a huge wave of spray to engulf the ship. This continued for much of the day and many of us were down with a terrible case of sea sickness.

For breakfast, lunch, and dinner the expedition staff helped the Dining Room team to deliver all meals to the tables from the buffet. And all passengers had to sit on the solid bench seating, as people were prone to falling off the chairs since the movement of the ship was so violent.

The lecture program continued despite the swell for those hardy seafarers who could make it to The Bar and we were entertained first by Chloe, who talked about Pinnipeds. Then it was Chris with a short presentation on Macquarie Island, followed by the first part in a four-part documentary about Carsten Borchgrevink’s expedition to Cape Adare, and finally Vide told some stories in the Bar after dinner.

Due to the horrific swells our course today was very much towards the east as it was not safe for us to head on our desired southerly bearing. Therefore, through all the pain and discomfort of the pitching and rolling of the ship, very little progress towards Antarctica was actually made today.

Day 6: South Pacific Ocean and the Southern Ocean

South Pacific Ocean and the Southern Ocean
Fecha: 22.02.2023
Posición: 58°49.7’S / 166°57.9’E
Viento: WSW7
Clima: Rain
Temperatura del Aire: +3

After a night of mighty seas, we raise on the morning 22nd February to a calmer ocean. We are bound for the Antarctic Convergence, the boundary between the frigid waters of the Southern Ocean and the warmer South Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. Now we begin to feel the cold grasp of ‘terra Incognita’ as air temperatures have dropped to around 1°C.

We began the day’s activities with Chris’s tremendous lecture on crested penguins and the research his sister has conducted on the spectacular and wild coasts of New Zealand and the Subantarctic Islands. We cast our minds back to our time on Campbell Island; our last contact with terra firma before making the passage south. Refreshed with knowledge, we enjoy excellent seabird sighting of cape petrels and southern royal albatross that gracefully orbit the ship in winds approaching 50 knots.

Midmorning, we muster down in the Lecture Room for our second round of biosecurity. Having checked and double-checked Velcro, pockets, hidden compartments, and forgotten crevices with vacuum cleaners, brushes, and trusty paper clips, we are now ready to explore the Antarctic without risk of contaminating this pristine environment.

After lunch many gather on the Bridge to scan the horizon for birds, whales, and icebergs. We are graced with much welcome sunshine as the high seas of the previous days seem now just intrepid memories. With the watch officers we marvel at the distance still to cover to the famed coast of Cape Adare.

Later in the afternoon we watched the second part of documentary about often forgotten polar explorer, Carsten Borchgrevink. We learnt about the incredible efforts of the Antarctic Heritage Trust to preserve Borchgrevink’s hut at Cape Adare; the first human dwelling on the 7th Continent.

After dinner we are joined by Allan in the Bar, who transports us to the other side of the Southern Ocean; to the windswept isles of The Falklands. He regales us with impressions of his time living, sometimes solitary, on Westpoint Island and of sharing lunch with the legendary Sir David Attenborough.

Day 7: Southern Ocean

Southern Ocean
Fecha: 23.02.2023
Posición: 62°34.4’S / 168°17.5’E
Viento: W7
Clima: Cloudy
Temperatura del Aire: +2

We had made great progress overnight. Ortelius had averaged over 10 knots, helped along by a wind of 40 knots from slightly astern. Outside was quite cold for those keen expeditioners out on deck—a mere 2°C, with the ocean temperature only just above, at 4°C. It made us appreciate how seabirds endure life in such cold temperatures.

Our trusty Bridge team notified us of that the first iceberg had been spotted on the radar; Ortelius had passed it during the small hours of the night, so unfortunately it was obscured by darkness. Nonetheless, more were sure to come and we would be as ready as ever to spot them.

While the swell had eased a little, Sara made the call to use our weather window wisely (she seems to be a great window spotter!) to brief us on important, and mandatory, IAATO (The International Association of Antarctic Tourism Operators) guidelines for visiting Antarctica. This was then followed by the helicopter operations briefing, which got us very excited about the prospects of boarding a helicopter in the near future. Flying over Antarctica was a big draw for many of us on this trip. We were also introduced to the excellent helicopter team from DAP—Marcelo, Javier, and Julio the pilots, and Mario, Louis, and José the engineers. They seemed just as excited as us!

However, before we could board these helicopters, we had to undertake some practice to understand how the operation runs. We dressed up in all our Antarctic weather gear; layers and all, as if it was the real deal. The Bar suddenly transformed into a departure lounge, with the Expedition Team ushering us out onto the Helicopter Deck in groups of 5. We were assigned individual numbers which represented the group we would be in. We were also given ear defenders, crucial for protecting our ears during noisy operations.

The weather was brisk; cold and windy, and the decks were quite slippery, which made some of us cautious about flying in this sort of environment. However, we were reassured that in the real operations to come, we will only operate when conditions are safe and stable; this was just a practice. And because this was just a practice the helicopters were still secured inside. We boarded them in the warm shelter of the Helicopter Hangar. We got a good sense of how to get in and out of the helicopter, how much room we would have inside, and whether we would need to bring our backpacks or not.

Back on the Bridge, we heard news that another iceberg had been spotted. We eagerly got our cameras out and raced out on deck, and at 16:45, there it was! For some of us, our first ever iceberg. This truly symbolised our presence in Antarctic waters. We were nearly there!

Martin, the third officer, was curious, like many of us, about how tall this iceberg was. So next minute, he had pulled out a sextant (a navigation device used for measuring the angle of celestial bodies) and concluded that it was approximately 35 metres high! Slightly less than 10% of an iceberg sits above water, so the keel of this monster may extend more than 300 metres below the surface of the ocean—a stark, frigid behemoth.

After another wonderful dinner from Chef Heinz’s kitchen we retired to the Bar for some story telling with Dan. He had got himself in some pretty hairy situations on a 32-foot yacht in southern parts of New Zealand; including storm conditions off the forbidding coast of Stewart Island and the windswept fjords of southwest New Zealand. We wondered what Dan thought of experiencing the 10+ metre swells just a couple of days ago, and whether this brought back some of those challenging memories.

Day 8: Southern Ocean

Southern Ocean
Fecha: 24.02.2023
Posición: 66°43.2’S / 170°02.4’E
Viento: NW7
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +1

Today started a little bit early for some as we hit another ‘landmark’ in our journey to the Ross Sea. We crossed the Antarctic Circle this morning before breakfast. At 66˚33’ south latitude we passed officially into the land of the midnight sun. We’re too late in the season to experience a proper midnight sun, but for much of the next week, until we start north again, it won’t get completely dark through the night.

Ahead of us is another day at sea. At least there’s a bit of relief as the swell has reduced from the past couple days. Running through 10–12 metre swells, with an occasional 15 metre brute, gets old quickly, but we had pretty good seas today. The visibility was variable through the day. So instead of having much to see outside, we had an excellent program of talks from the Expedition Team. First up was Tennessee to finally introduce us properly to his number one explorer, James Clark Ross. He regaled us with the remarkable achievements of Ross on his 1839–1843 voyage to discover the Ross Sea, among many other things. It was an astounding voyage in the age of sail and Tennessee told the story with drama and enthusiasm.

Later in the morning, Sara gave us a lesson in how to make the most of our cameras and succeed in taking the sort of photos we are hoping for. She is clearly skilled and gave us many great examples of her own images to illustrate different techniques. Hopefully in the days to come, and armed with this new knowledge, we can be more successful with our cameras.

After lunch, we had a nice break to relax, catch up with diaries, have a nap, or watch out to sea in the hopes of spotting whales or seals as we continue south. We saw plenty of seabirds, including the wonderfully aerodynamic light-mantled albatross, and a few of us caught sight of a humpback whale, and even saw it present its fluke to us as it dived. The afternoon finished off with the final episode of the Borchgrevink documentary. It’s sad to think that it took many years before his achievements were recognised. Despite many difficulties, and controversies, they still managed to overwinter on the Antarctic continent for the first time ever.

The day ended in the usual way with a recap. The weather looked good for the Cape Adare region tomorrow; perhaps we will finally get up in the helicopters around Duke of York Island—and fingers crossed for landing at Cape Adare.

The evening entertainment was Gary talking about living on Maatsuyker Island with his partner; volunteering as caretakers of a historic lighthouse. Six months on a tiny island with no people, no phone reception, no internet, and no heating. Despite the apparent hardships, he expressed huge enthusiasm for their time there. Afterwards, we retired to our cabins, dreaming of flying…

Day 9: Robertson Bay

Robertson Bay
Fecha: 25.02.2023
Posición: 70°38.0’S / 170°00.5’E
Viento: SE8
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: -4

We woke this morning with an incredible sense of anticipation. Might today be our first day in the helicopters? Through the course of the morning Ortelius passed along the coast of Victoria Land, past the dark and foreboding ridge of Cape Adare, and up into Robertson Bay. We spent the morning admiring the land and seascapes. The first bands of sea ice wound around the coastline and among an array of tabular icebergs, each seemingly more beautiful than the last. We spent as much time as possible on the outer decks, soaking in the breath-taking Antarctic scenery and revelling in our proximity to land, at last. Those on deck had to dress up warm and make the best use of the sheltered areas of the decks, shifting from port to starboard and back again as Ortelius navigated through the maze of ice. Winds were strong, at times more than 50 knots, but there seemed to be a little more shelter towards the head of Robertson Bay.

After a meeting between the Pilots, Captain, and Expedition Leader a decision was reached; conditions were good enough! Our helicopter adventures began with a scenic flight around and over the Sir John Murray Glacier and above the sublime Duke of York Island. We split into our flight teams and the guides soon had us organised and aboard the helicopter for our first flight.

Our excitement was tangible, and as we strapped into the helicopter seats, many of us could barely contain ourselves. Hearing the turbine power-up, feeling the vibrations of the rotors above us, and then being grabbed by the sudden soaring as the helicopter lifted off from the deck and up into the blustery sky was almost overwhelming. Within a few moments the ship looked tiny as we glanced back down the bay. The incredible pilots use all their skill to give us an exhilarating experience, first swooping low over the water, heading up towards the end of Robertson Bay.

We then climbed up towards the mountain in the middle of the glacier. The geology was truly spectacular; the hundreds of delicate sedimentary layers have been squeezed and heated by tectonic activity through the last 300 million years. The folds and faults are testament to the pressure these rocks have experienced, and a slight green tinge hints at the rich copper deposits within.

The helicopters took us higher still, climbing up to the top of the glacier, way over this magnificent river of ice. From this high viewpoint we suddenly dropped; it was like the scene in Star Wars as we dived down among, and even under, the rugged pinnacles of the glacier and plunged over the icefall. We whooped with exhilaration; marvelling at the skill and daring of the pilots, who were also clearly enjoying themselves!

As we made our way down the glacier it became flatter and less chaotic; the crevasses and seracs giving way to a large floating ice tongue which protrudes several miles out into Robertson Bay. We circled over the terminus of the glacier, soaking in the wonderful blue hues of the glacial ice, peering into the vast chasms between the rifting blocks of ice, and even spotting some wildlife from our vantage point in the sky. Most of us saw a crabeater seal, ensconced within a pool of aquamarine water between two gargantuan blocks of ice. A lucky few also saw the incredibly rare Arnoux’s beaked whales; these elusive and largely unstudied animals have only been spotted in Antarctica a handful of times.

The flight lasted about twenty minutes but the time flew by, we were having such fun. We returned to the ship which looked tiny, even as we made our final approach. The skill of the pilots was evident as we made a gentle touch down on the flight deck, despite the strong and buffeting winds. Many of us returned to the ship with tears in our eyes, a surreal and wonderful experience.

The professionalism of the helicopter team and deck crew soon had us safely back on the ship where we warmed ourselves with cake and a well-deserved hot chocolate. A perfect start to our flying experience.

Day 10: Ross Sea

Ross Sea
Fecha: 26.02.2023
Posición: 71°17.1’S / 169°51.2’E
Viento: SE10
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: -2

The morning broke with howling winds sweeping violently across Cape Adare. Overnight we had briefly awoken as more anchor chain had been put out; an attempt to stop Ortelius dragging in the ever-strengthening wind. Many of us woke early, and headed to the bridge. We were greeted by a ferocious scene; the sea sprayed its energy angrily along the shores of Ridley Beach, dark skies and menacing clouds tumbled over the ridge line, and lone Adélie penguins sought shelter besides Borchgrevink’s hut as they endured their catastrophic moult. We gazed out at these hurricane-force conditions with the thought of Borchgrevink’s party—how ominous it must have seemed to those men upon first sight, yet how incredibly humbling and joyous it would have been to first set foot on the great southern continent. As Carsten Borchgrevink said; “I was sitting foremost in the boat, and jumped ashore as the boat struck, saying ‘I have then the honour of being the first man who has ever put foot on South Victoria Land’.”

The wind continued to howl, the temperatures dropped, and the anemometer up on the bridge recorded over 99 knots—the device cannot measure beyond this, so we may conclude that the wind exceeded 100 knots for several minutes at a time. Unfortunately, it was abundantly clear that we would not be landing. A thick band of sea ice and icebergs hugged the Borchgrevink Coast, so Ortelius made a wide turn around the cape. Meanwhile, we kept a sharp lookout for wildlife among the shifting morass of ice and were rewarded by spotting a sleepy leopard seal! Perhaps tired from chasing those vulnerable moulting Adélie chicks back at the Cape. Cruising among the huge icebergs seemed very fitting as Laurence invited us to a morning lecture about glaciers and glaciation in the Bar.

Despite not making a landing, we had a very busy day ahead of us. And a long day it would be, as the wind and swell conditions really slowed down our progress. At times Ortelius was only making a few knots of headway into the short, sharp seas, and brutally cold wind.

Activity Group 1 had the opportunity for a tour of the bridge with Third Officer Martin. They learnt about all the equipment, devices, and knowledge required for navigating through the Southern Ocean and beyond.

Gary then gave us an incredible presentation about the life of Adélie penguins, which delved into the years of research he has carried out on this incredible Antarctic species. We sailed past the rugged Possession Islands—notorious for difficult landings and swell-ravaged shores. Tennessee treated us with his dulcet tones on the PA; reimagining the journey James Clark Ross made through this very area more than a century ago. Ross and his party made it to these shores and claimed the islands for Britain—hence the name ‘Possession’. Tennessee didn’t stop there, he then presented us with an amazing talk about the Discovery Expedition of 1901–1904, where Captain Robert Falcon Scott made an attempt on the South Pole.

After a lovely afternoon of polar history and hot chocolate, we headed to dinner where we were welcomed to a BBQ feast and free drinks! Spirits where high, bellies were full of delicious food, and laughter. Morale was great despite the arduous journey it had taken for us to finally reach the icy white continent.

Games after dinner had started to become a routine for some; ‘Monopoly Deal’, ‘Bananagrams’ (a spin on Scrabble), and dice were quickly becoming the crowd favourites. Competition was brewing and friendships were blossoming.

Day 11: Ross Sea

Ross Sea
Fecha: 27.02.2023
Posición: 73°41.5’S / 171°42.5’E
Viento: SW2
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: -6

After the incredibly slow progress made yesterday we were relieved to wake to see Ortelius back on track following our course at speeds of 8–11 knots throughout the day. The ocean still showed some residual swell from yesterday’s hurricane force winds and our ship rocked and rolled gently as the day started with a fascinating lecture from Chloe about whales in the Southern Ocean. That was followed by Vide talking about the Antarctic Treaty and politics of the continent which is partially claimed by many different countries, but which remains a place where military activities and mining are banned, and cooperation and scientific endeavour thrive.

In the afternoon Michael had the entire bar riveted to their seats as he showed 115 never seen before photographs of Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition from the Herbert Ponting collection. As someone who has been lucky enough to spend quite some time in Scott’s Cape Evans hut, these pictures bought to life many of the dimly lit corners of the hut. It turned the cold historic feeling hut, into a warm and cosy setting full of laughter, science, hard work, and comradeship along with detailed images showing the elaborate provisions, equipment, and the sense of heroism that the Scott’s last trip is so well known for. In the evening, after dinner, Chris showed some of his videos from his time working at Scott Base, including a video of the fish and starfish on the sea floor at Cape Evans filmed on his GoPro lowered through a dive hole in the sea ice.

As the day progressed the swell gradually abated and by evening we were all out on deck enjoying a beautiful tabular iceberg; it hung, seemingly suspended, atop the glassy calm ocean. The sun slid towards the horizon and those on deck late in the evening were rewarded with the most spectacular two hour yellow and gold sunset and with our first views of the imposing might of Mount Erebus. Some time after midnight the Ortelius slid gently into the first pancake ice and two orca were spotted heading north. Autumn has a firm grip on Antarctica, and the Ross Sea is rapidly beginning to freeze over. We are almost too excited to sleep. What will the next days in McMurdo Sound hold for us?

Day 12: Cape Evans and Hut Point

Cape Evans and Hut Point
Fecha: 28.02.2023
Posición: 77°20.6’S / 166°12.4’E
Viento: SSW2
Clima: Broken cloud
Temperatura del Aire: -7

The 28th was a day of days. A day we stood together on the shoulders of giants. We ended the 27th with plans to explore Cape Bird, Ross Island. However, an unexcepted break in the weather and ice gave Ortelius a chance to make the famed Cape Evans and McMurdo Sound. In the early hours, with mighty Mount Erebus concealed behind a blanket of cloud, Sara woke us ahead of schedule to witness the crimson morning light illuminating the Admiralty Mountain range. Upon orange-lit sea ice, Weddell seals lounged, we spotted our first emperor penguins, and Type-B orcas spy-hopped as we weaved our way through the ice towards the cape.

As the sun rose higher on the horizon, Cape Evans and the hut of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition (1910–13) came into view. Dwarfed by the black volcanic cliffs, snow, and great icebergs, the Cape Evans hut provided welcomed shelter and winter quarters for Scott’s last expedition. With temperatures approaching -33°C with windchill, our ship dropped anchor and we prepared both physically and emotionally for our first rendezvous with a polar legend. Our intrepid crew drivers took the helm of their Zodiacs and carried us to the jet-black shores of Cape Evans. With extremely low temperatures and ferocious winds, the splashes of seawater instantly froze, creating magnificent suits of frozen armour.

We disembarked the Zodiacs and slowly walked to entrance of the hut. Upon entering we were met by a unique aroma; a smell that can only be experienced and not explained. Before us, preserved in awe-inspiring detail; the living and working quarters of the Terra Nova Expedition. Cans of food, tins of mustard, boxes of flour, bunks, test tubes, papers, and blankets. Storied items that instantly transported us to that Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. For many, including most of the Expedition Team, the sensation was overwhelming, and we stood agog and shed tears. We moved with reverence towards Scott’s bunk, with the visceral images of Herbert Ponting fresh on our minds. We headed to the stables and marvelled at a period collection of Adélie penguin eggs and emperor penguin pelts. We imagined life for Scott’s ponies and the conversations between Oates and Mares over the warming stove.

As the wind ripped up cascades of fresh snow, we walked up to the Ross Sea Party memorial cross, remembering Expedition Leader Aeanas Macintosh, Victor Hayward, and Spencer-Smith of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Finally, we boarded our Zodiacs and headed back to Ortelius, setting course for McMurdo Sound and Hut Point. Over lunch we ventured out on deck and ogled at the mighty Erebus Ice Tongue, extending deep into the bay. Ice conditions were highly favourable, permitting passage towards the United States Antarctic Program McMurdo Station, the largest scientific base on the Antarctic continent. We spotted, on the horizon, Discovery Hut from Commander Robert Falcon Scott’s first Antarctic expedition. Used by all of Britain’s subsequent South Pole attempts, Discovery Hut was often the last human-made structure seen on the way to the Antarctic interior.

After dinner, we took to our Zodiacs and, for the second time in a day, we stepped foot on storied shores. Walking across a slither of fast-ice, with moulting penguins looking-on, we made our way up to the door of the Discovery Hut in the shadow of McMurdo Station. We crossed the threshold into a colder, bleaker hut and again savoured the historic smell. We learnt of the desperate circumstances of the Ross Sea Party of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, trapped in a draughty hut with limited and dwindling supplies. We finished this extraordinary day with a visit from an inquisitive Weddell seal on the shoreline. We then returned to Ortelius to sail toward the famed Dry Valleys of McMurdo Sound.

Day 13: McMurdo Dry Valleys and McMurdo Sound

McMurdo Dry Valleys and McMurdo Sound
Fecha: 01.03.2023
Posición: 77°27.9’S / 164°02.2’E
Viento: S2
Clima: Broken cloud
Temperatura del Aire: -9.5

Once again, we woke early, way before our wake-up call from Sara. Overnight, Ortelius had crunched through the plates of new sea ice covering most of McMurdo Sound and we found ourselves secure among the ice.

We made our way out onto the frozen decks, with bleary eyes, and coffee in hand. The scene outside was bathed in glorious silence. The main engine was off, and there was not a breath of wind. The only sound was the squeaking of the ice as it gently rubbed against the hull and the distant calls of skua and Weddell seals further out on the ice floes all around the ship. As the lazy sun rose over McMurdo Sound it cast a pink glow onto the distant mountains, before lighting them gold with the first direct light of the day.

Conditions were absolutely perfect for flying, and before long the ship was a hive of activity. The helicopter deck was soon swarming with mechanics and able seaman; preparing the machines for a day of exploration. As we sat down to breakfast we heard the first flight leaving; the scouting party of guides flying in with all the emergency equipment.

Then it was our turn, the first group gathered together in the Bar, and then we piled into the helicopters and were soon aloft. Rising elegantly off the stern deck, and over this magical Antarctic seascape. Our ship became just a speck in the ice behind us, and as we gained speed we passed over hundreds of Weddell seals, seemingly unbothered by our fleeting moment far above them. We approached the coastline, surrounded by a thick band of last years ice, and then in a flash we were flying above Taylor Valley, over magnificent patterned ground – a maze of interlocking cracks with just a dusting of snow blown into the recesses. We climbed slightly, lifting to pass low and fast over the mighty Commonwealth Glacier and passed deeper into the broad valley. A series of jagged granite peaks flanked the valley, and these seemed to hem in the valley and become more precipitous the further up we flew.

After an incredible flight, we spotted the yellow and blue emergency shelter erected by our guides, and we were guided in to land by José, the smiling helicopter engineer from DAP. We stepped out under the whirling rotor blades, and as the helicopter took off again in a cloud of dust, we found ourselves in a totally wild environment.

The huge wall of Canada Glacier dominated the landing site. Behind it, a steep wall of granite rose impossibly high into the southern sky, and the whole scene was bathed in the weak light of the Austral Autumn. The cold hit us pretty quickly, it was around minus 12°C, and a gentle breeze cut into any exposed skin. However, we had prepared for this, and were dressed well. We set off to explore the landing site. The first thing we saw was a mummified crabeater seal. Driving snow and sand had stripped some of the flesh away, revealing the skull around the nose and mouth. No one knows exactly why these animals have crawled so far in land, but it is assumed they became disorientated. There may be more than one hundred dead seals in Taylor Valley alone, and some have been found 1000s of feet above sea level and more than 15 kilometres inland.

We explored further, and came face-to-face with the front of Canada Glacier. There is something totally otherworldly about glacial ice. The low sun glistened off every shining facet, and it seemed to emanate a majestic cold power. From here, we scrambled up the ridge, and were rewarded with an excellent view, both of the glacier, but also back down the Taylor Valley, and towards McMurdo Sound. The wind on the ridge was biting, and we didn’t linger here, despite it’s beauty.

After an incredible hour ashore, it was time to reboard the helicopters, and once again we enjoyed a stunning flight back to Ortelius under the midday sun.

In the meantime, those on board the ship had several amazing wildlife encounters. Throughout the morning emperor penguins hopped onto the ice floes around the ship, staying for a few minutes or for an hour. These adults are feeding in preparation for their winter breeding cycle, and use the ice to rest between foraging dives. Then we had something truly special. In the distance a small pod of Orca were spotted, and they were heading through the ice, right for us. They approached the ship, surfacing in the small area of open water just a few tens of metres from the bow. They were so close we could see the individual scratches and scars on their skin. A really beautiful encounter.

In the late afternoon, with all helicopters back on board, we headed back across McMurdo Sound. Captain Per took several small detours to circumnavigate some particularly lovely icebergs, and even positioned the ship bow-on to one to enable us to have a group photo alongside one of these behemoths. A rough calculation established the smaller of these weighed around 4 million tonnes; dwarfing little Ortelius which weighs just over 5000 tonnes.

Another sumptuous dinner followed, and as the light faded, we found ourselves off Cape Royds; our planned destination for the morning. We could just see the chimney of Shackleton’s hut through the mounds of black lava, and turned in hoping we would be able to land there tomorrow.

Day 14: Cape Royds, McMurdo Sound, and Cape Bird

Cape Royds, McMurdo Sound, and Cape Bird
Fecha: 02.03.2023
Posición: 77°30.4’S / 165°48.1’E
Viento: Var 2
Clima: Clear
Temperatura del Aire: -7

After such an active and exciting day yesterday, the early wake-up call felt extra early, but then there was a lot of excitement in the air. Today the plan is to visit Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition hut at Cape Royds. Conditions in the early morning were fantastic. We could see most of Mount Erebus and there was only a light breeze. Still, Sara needed a little bit of time to make the final decision; can we go by Zodiac? Or will we fly in with the helicopters?

While everyone was at breakfast, the decision was made. There was no good landing site available for Zodiacs, so helicopters it is. Staff flew over to prepare the landing site and the hut and starting with Group 8, and working down, we proceeded to Cape Royds.

On the flanks of Mount Erebus, Cape Royds is made up of volcanic rocks, particularly lavas and scoria, so flying in it was a stark but beautiful sight from the helicopters. Just an 8-minute flight this time, but still exciting to see things from the air. Once on the ground, and after a short briefing, we walked over a small rise to see the hut. What a wonderful little site for the hut. It looks cosy and inviting, nestled into the rocks and hillside with a view of a pond and the Adélie penguin colony. One great advantage of the helicopter arrival; there was almost no waiting for our time in the hut.

Shackleton’s hut is quite modest compared to Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, after all, Shackleton had a mere 15 men compared to Scott’s 45 men. What an atmosphere though! There isn’t the overwhelming odour of seal skin and blubber we got at Cape Evans, but still a distinctive mild odour of the years and history embodied by the hut. What a time capsule. The food and boots and sleeping bags. So many tins of familiar brands of food. It looks like you could start a fire in the stove and set about cooking a fine meal. It must have felt crowded during the winter. With 15 men and their bunks, there would be little space to move around. In the little side room that was Mawson’s laboratory, there stands a single wheel—all that remains of the first motorcar brought to Antarctica. So much history.

Outside the area was cluttered with more to see. The latrine was conveniently outside, just around the corner from the entrance door. Then the garage for the motorcar, then the stables—all made with a bit of fencing and stacked boxes of provisions. Farther afield there were more supplies stacked in their boxes and a well-weathered Stevenson’s screen for the weather station. Not to mention the Adélie penguin colony. There weren’t many penguins left at the colony, but plenty to see around the hut and in amongst the boulders, looking in a slightly dishevelled state of moulting. Finally, after a couple hours, it was back to the helicopters and back to the ship for yet more adventures.

After dinner, and after a bit of discussion, it was decided to go for a Zodiac landing at Cape Bird. Getting ashore was nearly as exciting as being on shore. We had to drive through a large band of thick grease ice with some pancakes. The Zodiacs handled it well enough, but still exciting to ride in a little rubber icebreaker. On shore it was a ghost town. There were extensive areas that were obviously nesting colonies, but few penguins left on land. They were scattered around in small groups, hunkered down in out-of-the-wind spots finishing their moult. One highlight were the Weddell seals. Several were napping peacefully on the snow-covered beach when we arrived. It was great to get a close-up view of them. In particular, one male, at the farthest extent of the walk, sang for us a bit. It was a weird collection of trills and gulps as he calmly slept on the shore. Unfortunately, a band of heavier pack ice was spotted bearing down on our location. It would be no trouble for the ship, but Zodiacs struggle to push through it and we could have got stranded ashore. We were called back to the landing site after about 45 minutes to end our last, lovely day on Ross Island.

A day of adventure drew to a close with a hot drink in the Bar after dinner. This was briefly interrupted as the setting sun found a tiny gap in the clouds and cast a small corner of the sky into vivid oranges; hemmed in between a glacier front, the frozen sea, and a big band of approaching snow. Then it was time to retire to our cabins once more, to reflect on another magnificent day, and to ponder what the morning may hold for us.  

Day 15: Cape Crozier, the Ross Ice Shelf, and the Ross Sea

Cape Crozier, the Ross Ice Shelf, and the Ross Sea
Fecha: 03.03.2023
Posición: 77°20.9’S / 169°03.9’E
Viento: SE5
Clima: Broken cloud
Temperatura del Aire: -8

This morning Sara had planned for us to make a scenic flight along the largest glacier front in the world, the magnificent Ross Ice Shelf, or the ‘great ice barrier’. Overnight Ortelius had worked around the corner of Ross Island, into the area of our planned operations. However, for once the weather beat us. As we went to the Bridge to marvel at the vast wall of ice in front of us, we could see conditions were pretty severe. There was more than seventy knots of wind in the gusts and air temperatures were somewhere around minus 50°C when accounting for the effects of wind chill. The captain and pilots decided it was way beyond our safe operating conditions and our best option would be a ships cruise along the calving front. We all agreed with the decision, and were not disappointed as the vista before us was spectacular. The uninterrupted wall of ice stretched as far as the eye could see, and despite it’s obviously vastness, it is almost impossible to comprehend that this mass of ice is approximately the same size as France.

As we cruised along the face of the glacier we had a few wildlife encounters. We marvelled at the tenacity of a solitary Adélie penguin climbing the almost sheer face of ice, we all wondered how and why it was making its way to the top. Captain Per took Ortelius right up to the ice front—less than 100 metres from the wall of ice. From here it was possible to hear the waves crunching the underside of the ice, even despite the howling winds. Most braved the outer decks for at least a few minutes, although the biting cold wind soon drove us back inside. With noses and fingers soon frozen, the only comfort was more hot chocolate inside the ship.

Sailing along the ice front for several hours, and seeing how little progress we had made on the electronic charts on the Bridge, really drove home the scale of the ice front—it stretched away from us for many of hundreds of miles to the east.

On deck we could only hear the click of camera shutters and the wind terrorising the ship, this gave us another small taste of the conditions explorers of old experienced on their expeditions. After spending the whole morning tracking along the ice shelf, we finally turned and headed for open water to begin our navigation towards Peter the First Island. It was sad to see the Ross Sea and McMurdo Sound fall astern of us, but we look forward to many new adventures along the way.

In the afternoon we settled into the routine of our sea days, having a relaxing lunch, perhaps a small nap, and then congregated in the Bar for a great lecture from Allan about the vital and often underappreciated role that sled dogs have played in polar exploration. These magnificent animals are by far the most efficient mode of transport in these inhospitable environments. This was followed by a brief recap, our plans for the morning are relatively simple; we continue to sail to the east! Over dinner the Dining Room was buzzing with all the excitement from the previous days—enjoying a wonderful meal with a glass of wine was a chance to begin to process the impressions of an incredible few days in the heart of the Ross Sea.

Day 16: Ross Sea

Ross Sea
Fecha: 04.03.2023
Posición: 75°42.1’S / 175°21.3’W
Viento: SW4
Clima: Cloudy
Temperatura del Aire: -10

Today started, like all other great days, with a sterling wake-up call from our fearless Expedition Leader Sara—“good morning, good morning, good morning…”. Those familiar words roused us from a deep slumber and we readied ourselves for breakfast where we celebrated crossing the international date line. There were rumours of dancing on The Bridge at 01:30 a.m.; the moment that we actually crossed the 180th degree of longitude, and into the western hemisphere.

After breakfast Gary welcomed us to the Bar for his presentation about ‘The Life of Emperor Penguins’. This is one of the best lectures I personally have ever seen and everyone was fascinated by the life cycle of these hardy birds that call this wild, raw continent their home.

All day the ship was buffeted by strong winds from behind and some patches of the ocean surface were covered in small flows of well-frozen pancake ice. These provide little resistance to the mighty Ortelius, and we managed to maintain an average speed of over 10.5 knots throughout the day. However, it does remind us that we are not out of the Ross Sea yet and these pancakes are a sign that winter is rapidly approaching. It is a relief to know that we are headed back towards slightly warmer waters. No one wants to be stuck down here in winter…

Of course, we are not the first in this area. To help us reminisce on the past we joined Vide for his lecture ‘Roald Amundsen Part 1: The Early Years’. The first part in his two-lecture series about Roald Amundsen’s successful assault on the geographic South Pole.

After lunch the Bridge tours continued for todays’ group and then Chris told us tales from his time ‘Calling Antarctica Home’; his lecture about living and working at New Zealand’s Scott Base.

The day finished with a delicious dinner and some enthralling and hilarious tropical jungle stories from Tennessee in the Bar afterwards.

Day 17: Ross Sea

Ross Sea
Fecha: 04.03.2023
Posición: 73°49.7’S / 160°11.8’W
Viento: NW3
Clima: Cloudy
Temperatura del Aire: -5

We awoke to the sun’s rays beaming down onto both Ortelius and the ocean, with what seemed to be patches of ‘matte’ and ‘glossy’ areas dancing over the water’s surface. What could it be? It was in fact grease ice (one of the first stages of sea ice) forming over the surface, and it often resembled greenish-brown plumes over the water, which led to some interesting questions up on the Bridge. Was this caused by swarms of krill? Whale poo? Phytoplankton blooms? Interestingly, grease ice can often have a subdued greenish-brown colouration as it forms, giving the ocean a somewhat ‘beige slick’ appearance. The colour of the ocean is influenced by many factors, such as the sky, direction of sunlight, the amount of nutrients in the water, and wind and wave chop. These can all play a part in altering the colour of the ice we see at the surface.

It was concluded that after observing this greenish colouration for hours beyond the stage of grease ice, that it was mainly due to algae—perhaps predominantly diatoms (a type of phytoplankton). It is these same diatoms that create a yellowish colouration on white patches of some of the cetaceans we have seen so far in our voyage. This was evident on the saddle and eye patches of the orcas we spotted a few days ago in McMurdo Sound. Speaking of whales, by mid-afternoon a few minke whales were spotted by the keen cetacean lovers as we sailed past multiple icebergs glistening in the austral sun.

Despite another day at sea, the activity list still bustled. We were given an incredible talk about scuba diving in Antarctica by avid diver Michael. We learnt about all the weird and wonderful critters that live below the ice. We saw beautiful photos of sea spiders, nudibranchs, isopods, and even corals that somehow grow down here in the cold Southern Ocean. Michael told us about encounters with leopard seals, and that when they are seen blowing bubbles it’s probably a good time to get out of the water as this is a sign of aggression.

The morning continued with more whale and iceberg spotting from the Bridge, and from the outside decks. We then had the delight of learning all the ins and outs of our ship Ortelius. Sara gave a lecture with photos from behind-the-scenes including the Engine Room, Galley, Helicopter Hangar, and some of the crew areas. We were also entertained by the Chief Engineer Aleksandr who was on hand to answer the more technical questions about Ortelius. There were many fascinating facts and figures, but one of the things that really stood out was that we make all our own water direct from the sea, and that there is an onboard processing facility to clean all the waste water before it is returned to the ocean.

Learning about the ship continued in the afternoon, with tours around the ship in small groups directed by both our Captain Per, and our Hotel Manager Albert.

Tennessee, always oozing with his passion for polar history, entertained and enlightened us with the incredible story of the Nimrod Expedition. After dinner, storytelling was a little different. It was requested that the Expedition Team share their stories of what they got up to during the pandemic. There was such a wide range of experiences, from Sara calling one of the Oceanwide sister ships home, to Allan having a whole island in the Falklands for himself and his wife, to Michael converting a loft into a beautiful photography studio. It was great to hear these stories and to also realise how lucky we were to be sailing the seas with human connections.

Day 18: Amundsen Sea

Amundsen Sea
Fecha: 05.03.2023
Posición: 71°34.7’S / 147°09.0’W
Viento: NW3
Clima: Broken cloud
Temperatura del Aire: -4

Sun breaks on another day upon the tantalising, remote Amundsen Sea. We have navigated through the seemingly endless fields of pancake ice and now head into clearer water. Today was the day of the long-anticipated charity auction.

There is no better way to pay our respect to the namesake of this great sea than the second part of Vide’s 3-part lecture epic—‘The Life of Roald Amundsen’. We listened in wonder at Amundsen “speed and efficiency of travel” and of his successful conquest of the South Pole. Afterwards, we head out on deck and spot a minke whale charging ahead of Ortelius. We breathe in the cold crisp air and think of both the human and dogs’ great journey to 90° south.

We reconvened in the Bar to learn from Chloe about Antarctic sea ice and it’s great ecological importance to the continent. During the winter Antarctica roughly doubles in size with sea ice that has besieged many an explorer’s ship. This impenetrable belt is a vital habitat for phytoplankton and is part of what makes the seas around Antarctica so rich in wildlife. We break for lunch; perhaps musing on the contrast between the bounty we are served and the rations of Shackleton, Scott, and Amundsen on their sledding journeys.

After lunch, Sara exercised her power to claim time back, and, at 2 p.m. we effortlessly travelled to 3 p.m., which was immediately marked by a frenzy of ship tours. The 3rd Officer Martin performed his highly-coveted Bridge tour, Captain Per and Hotel Manager Albert gave an extensive tour of Ortelius, talking about all the people, spaces, and systems that keep the ship functioning efficiently. Michael also gave a fascinating tour of the impressive polar diving facilities that cold-water divers use to explore the lowermost reaches of these frigid waters.

At 16:55 we gathered in The Bar to watch an inspiring film showcasing the extraordinary work the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZAHT) undertake to preserve and restore Shackleton’s, Scott’s, and Borchgrevink’s huts from the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. To help support this important work, the Expedition Team put on charity auction offering a series of unique items including stunning framed prints of the Terra Nova Expedition, magnets crafted onboard Ortelius by the engineering team, a copy of Chris’s very own biography, hand illustrated maps, and the much-coveted ship’s flag. The bar opened with Happy Hour and as the drinks were flowing, we opened. Frenetic bidding wars ensued, with the Expedition Team and guests alike battling it out. The most sort after lot was the ship’s flag; battered and torn by 100 knot plus winds, a physical reminder of the high seas we navigated to reach the Ross Sea. As the night drew to a close, we had raised more than $5,000 US for the NZAHT; true cause for celebration.

After dinner, we returned to the bar one last time for ‘passenger storytime’. Four guests would take to the stage to entertain crew, guides, and fellow passengers alike. We began with a tremendous timelapse from Gregor of Ortelius powering through Greenlandic ice. This was followed by John discussing his flight to the geographic South Pole. Roger took to the microphone to share the true meaning of happiness from a conversation he had in Alaska with a former prisoner of war from Second World War. Michael closed the evening out with tales of a long-postponed navigation challenge in the wilds of the Australian outback! We turn in for the night, edging closer to the famed Peter I Island.

Day 19: Amundsen Sea

Amundsen Sea
Fecha: 06.03.2023
Posición: 70°00.5’S / 137°42.7’W
Viento: W7
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: -2

Overnight we had made excellent progress again, Ortelius was helped along by both a gentle tail wind, and a little extra nudge from the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Our tough little ship had averaged over 11 knots through the small hours.

We woke to another stunning day. A few early birds were up on the Bridge to see the sun rise; they saw from our progress on the electronic chart display that we had now properly left the Ross Sea in our wake and were well into the Amundsen Sea sector of Antarctica. The rest of us woke to the soft autumn sunlight pouring in through our portholes and cabin windows.

After another luxurious breakfast we headed either to the Bridge or to the outside decks. We seemed to have entered a world of icebergs. From horizon to horizon the sea was littered with absolutely vast pieces of ice; some brash ice and bergy bits, but many were the size of apartment blocks, and a few were several kilometres long, easily the largest icebergs we have seen so far, and amongst the largest floating pieces of ice on the planet. The majority of these icebergs have likely come from the massive glaciers of the Amundsen Sea sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The largest of these, Pine Island Glacier, and Thwaites Glacier, have sometimes been called the ‘doomsday glaciers’ as they drain a huge area of West Antarctica, and are considered to be very unstable. Some glaciologists assert that a catastrophic retreat of these glaciers is already underway, and that this may lead to the disintegration of the majority of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet; a vast body of ice which contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by around 5 metres.

We spent the entire day traversing through a veritable highway of icebergs. At times it was possible to see more than 100 separate icebergs, and they came in all manner of shapes, sizes, and even colours. Most were square and tabular, and looked much like the ice shelves and glacier tongues which they have rifted away from. However, there were also an endless array of icebergs which had rolled over, exposing faces which had been carved into wonderful patterns and shapes by the waves and by the gentle melting of the sea.

As usual we had a schedule packed with interesting lectures from the Expedition Team. Sara started proceedings with a lecture about Antarctic krill. This examined their life cycle and underlined their importance as the keystone species around the icy continent. Krill are the primary food source for the vast majority of the animals here; from penguins and seals, to the largest of the whales. And right on cue, Vide cut across Sara’s lecture to announce over the PA system that fin whales had been spotted close to the ship. We rushed onto the Bridge and were rewarded with sightings of the second largest animal on the planet—a gentle giant of the sea.

A little later in the morning Tennessee took to the stage and talked about the incredible exploits of Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition. This included a look at ‘the worst journey in the world’ the story of a heroic, brutal, and not particularly successful mini-expedition by members of Scott’s party to walk to Cape Crozier—a desolate and utterly windswept peninsula on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf.

After lunch many of us settled in our cabins for a brief afternoon nap; although this was curtailed sightly by the loss of another hour, we are making rapid progress to the east, and marching through the time zones.

In the afternoon Alan gave a fascinating presentation and collection of anecdotes about the use of helicopters in Expedition Cruising. He has been involved in some of the earliest and most daring expeditions in the polar regions, including flying from huge Russian icebreakers on a fleet of ageing Soviet helicopters.

As usual we had our daily recap with Sara and her team, and there was not a huge amount to report; our progress continues to be excellent, and the weather for the coming days looks great. This was immediately followed by dinner, yet another wonderful meal—it is continuing source of amazement that we have not had the same dish twice, and that there is still a plethora of fresh fruit, vegetables, and even salad leaves! Chapeau Chef Heinz.

Day 20: Amundsen Sea

Amundsen Sea
Fecha: 07.03.2023
Posición: 68°25.0’S / 127°30.8’W
Viento: SSW3
Clima: Broken cloud
Temperatura del Aire: -3

“Good morning; good morning; good morning”. Ah that familiar refrain, every morning at 07:45. Despite having several days at sea, we are keeping busy. Sea conditions remain easy going for us. From the Bridge before breakfast we had a seemingly constant squadron of Antarctic petrels keeping us company circling the ship. They have become a regular and comforting sight each day as we make our way toward Peter I Island. By 09:00, the call went out that Michael would be presenting some analysis on ‘What Killed Scott’. By looking in detail at the conditions reported in the diaries, it appears that Scott and his pole party were very unlucky in choosing an exceptionally cold year for their expedition. Michael then explained some of the many different factors that contributed to Scott and his men perishing on their return trip from the South Pole.

Soon after Michael finished, Laurence took the podium to give us a fascinating talk on the hazards posed by glaciers in a changing climate. These ranged from quite local effects, such as avalanches and rockfalls, to the global effects on sea level, and problems with water management. A tremendous collection of facts and figures to illustrate some of the issues we will be facing as glaciers continue to shrink around the world. While speaking, one minke whale was spotted from the Bridge—the only whale recorded today and a meagre showing it was.

After lunch we had our, now usual, jump of one hour. It’s great not to lose an hour of sleep in the night, but still, it makes the day shoot past very quickly. As soon as the clock shifted, we had our various tours again. One group to the Bridge to hear of the workings of the control centre. We have X-band and S-band radars constantly scanning the horizon to indicate the distance and size of the many icebergs, bergy bits, and growlers out there that could bring some grief to the ship. Everyone should be able to find the course, speed, wind speed, and location of the ship from the paper charts or electronic charts by now. Some of those not visiting the Bridge today joined the divers tour with Michael or the ship’s tour with the Captain and Hotel Manager to get an understanding of how Ortelius functions as a polar passenger ship.

By 16:00 the call went out for Gary’s talk on skuas. From his research over many years he had thrilling tales of sex, predation, cannibalism, siblicide, and adoptions—all seen in these large and interesting birds. They are much maligned, but only deserving for part of that rapacious repute. Gary told us that the penguins destroy the eggs and sometimes even kill the chicks of the skuas. What goes around comes around.

Finally, after our usual recap and dinner, we had some light entertainment with the film, Happy Feet. Gary worked as a consultant on the film so he gave us a short introduction about a bit of the process and the role he played in creating the film. So, despite being ‘another day at sea’, we seemed to be busy from breakfast until well after dinner. Whew.

Day 21: Amundsen Sea

Amundsen Sea
Fecha: 08.03.2023
Posición: 68°44.4’S / 116°35.4’W
Viento: SW2
Clima: Broken cloud
Temperatura del Aire: -4

So far, the Amundsen Sea has been a treat. Gentle swells, favourable winds, and calm seas have made waking up easy, and most of us are eager to head out on deck as the sun rises.

To start our morning of Tennessee graced us with an incredible account of The Ross Sea Party of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. He described it as the ‘forgotten side’. We learnt about the hardships and misfortunes of Mackintosh, Joyce, and the sledding party; marooned after a fierce storm which set their ship, Aurora, adrift. Faced with a seemingly impossible task, The Ross Sea Party would undertake a long arduous march with very limited supplies to lay depots along the Ross Ice Shelf in preparation for Shackleton’s Continental crossing. A crossing which, in fact, never came.

Chris then gave us an insightful and relevant talk about weather patterns and forecasting in the Southern Ocean and around Antarctica; this provided us a great overview of the weather and synoptic systems we’ve experienced in our trip so far. This also set us thinking about how Sara, the Captain, and the Bridge Team make their decisions for our operations down here in this wild environment. However, Chris’ talk got interrupted by none other than a pod of orcas!

We raced outside, jumpers and gloves only half on, cameras and binoculars ready, and there they were, a pod of Type-A orcas cruising between Ortelius and some icebergs—a photographer’s dream.

We have so far managed to see three different ecotypes of orcas on our voyage. We encountered Type-B and Type-C orca deep in the Ross Sea. These primarily feed on seals and fish respectively. However, Type-A’s mostly prey on minke whales and elephant seals, although their diet can be quite diverse. The Type-A's also have a prominent white eye patch and generally lack a dorsal ‘cape’, making them relatively easy to identify. It was such an incredible sight; orcas, icebergs, blue skies and hardly a breath of wind—a dream scene for anyone who loves the Antarctic.

As the orcas continued to cruise in the opposite direction, we headed back inside to hear the end of Chris’ weather talk. Which was then immediately interrupted again! Another pod of orcas were spotted! How rude of them to distract us from our meteorological education. Chris decided he would continue the last few slides of his lecture in the evening’s recap instead.

We were also blessed with some humpback whale sightings today too. It was a whale highway!

Michael’s fascinating dive tours continued after lunch, with some of us eager to try diving in the Antarctic one day. The rest of us were completely horrified at the idea of plunging our bodies into sub-zero temperatures for hours on end.

It was only fitting that Sara changed her afternoon lecture to a subject more relevant—killer whales/orca. We learnt more about the ecotypes found in both the Southern and Northern hemispheres and that the term ‘killer whale’ was derived from the term ‘whale killer’ which was originally used by Basque whalers, and it has been misconstrued over time.

After an incredible, iceberg-dotted sunset, we headed off to dinner. Storytelling tonight was given by our wonderful helicopter pilots and engineers who told us some amazing and sometimes nerve-racking stories from their time both up in the air and on terra firma.

Day 22: Bellingshausen Sea

Bellingshausen Sea
Fecha: 09.03.2023
Posición: 68°49.7’S / 105°20.8’W
Viento: SSE4
Clima: Clear
Temperatura del Aire: -2

We have made good progress even though the sea overnight has been choppy. The ship is still making ten knots, we have now entered the Bellingshausen Sea, and Peter the First Island is getting closer by the hour. Today we had a full lecture programme. Michael took a group for the dive tour in the afternoon.

After Vide talked about Amundsen, this story is full of intrigue and the great man had many adventures just like we are doing.

Sea days are a good time to digest the adventures we have just enjoyed; many people were in the Bar excitedly discussing the huts and ice we had enjoyed, and the ice that is still around the ship. So far we have sailed for three days through majestic icebergs, it is a beautiful sight around the ship.

At 18.15 it was time for the daily recap and Sara discussed our plans for tomorrow, another day at sea. Then it was time for dinner and, following another delicious meal, Helena gave her story about her experiences of Kayaking in Alaska, an intriguing end to the day.

So good night and here is to another day tomorrow.

Day 23: Peter I Island

Peter I Island
Fecha: 10.03.2023
Posición: 68°42.3’S / 094°25.4’W
Viento: SE9
Clima: Snow
Temperatura del Aire: 0

There was excitement in the air as we woke this morning, and one question hangs above us as we rock and roll our way to the east… Are we going to land at Peter I Island today? It wasn’t long before we calculated that our slow progress over the previous 12 hours, bashing into swell, would have pushed our estimated time of arrival to the island until later in the afternoon. In turn this might make an actual landing less likely. But you never know exactly what can happen, so we crossed our fingers and continued east.

After a delicious breakfast we joined Chloe in the bar for her lecture about the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Douglas Mawson. It has been fascinating learning about different heroic expeditions originating in Britain and Norway from Tennessee and Vide, and it was great to hear from our Australian guide Chloe about her countries’ heroic explorer, Mawson.

After another buffet lunch we headed back up to the Bar for Laurence’s lecture about Antarctic icebergs. For the last few days we have been iceberg watching, and it was fascinating to learn more about where they come from, the sizing and naming conventions, and some very interesting facts about them too. For me, the most incredible fact is that the ice inside a large iceberg is still roughly the same temperature as the surrounding air at the time that particular layer of ice was formed. If an iceberg was formed in the centre of Antarctica the interior temperature may be -30°C, or even lower. This temperature can be measured by a thermometer lowered through a hole drilled in an iceberg or ice shelf.

As the afternoon wore on there was excitement on the Bridge as Peter I Island was finally spotted ahead in the gloom. We closed in and the swell abated just a little as we approached the NW corner of this rugged, ice-capped mountain. With motion on the ship, and a very strong wind blowing it was immediately obvious that we would not be doing a landing today. And looking ahead at the forecast for the following two days we could see that weather was meant to deteriorate further. Therefore, the decision was made to continue on, towards the Antarctic Peninsula, where we can use our time more wisely, and finally set foot on dry land again.

First however, we enjoyed a ships cruise along and around the northern end of the island. Here, a large group of seals could be seen sleeping on the snowy shoreline just above the huge breaking waves that constantly pound this rocky, icy coastline. One elephant seal was even spotted and there were numerous Antarctic fur seals, and even some humpback whale sightings around the ship. Much of the island was obscured by cloud, but what we could see was almost entirely covered in an ice cap. What a desolate place this island is. There is no wonder that only around 20 Adélie penguins and few colonies of sea birds call this island home.

As we went below for dinner, we turned our bow to the east again and, as night closed in, so too did our view of Peter I Island.

Day 24: Bellingshausen Sea

Bellingshausen Sea
Fecha: 11.03.2023
Posición: 68°33.6’S / 085°59.7’W
Viento: S7
Clima: Cloudy
Temperatura del Aire: -2

Day breaks on the morning of the 11th March as the venerable Ortelius heaves her way through the mighty and powerful Bellingshausen Sea. We have been navigating the Southern Ocean for the best part of ten days and with elusive and wild shores of Peter I Island now behind us, the Antarctic Peninsula beckons. Before we heed the call of land there is one great tradition to uphold, Karaoke…

We begin our day with an intimate and enlightening Q&A session with our very own master and commander, Captain Per. The head of a family of 140 crew, passengers, and staff, our Captain, supported by the Ortelius’s officers and engineers, is ultimately responsible for all aspect of our ship operations. Captain Per shared the secrets of the effortless ballet of bridge watch rotation and of being our ship’s master.

Roused by Captain Per’s session, many of us descended on the Bridge; joining the officers and crew and scouring the horizon, for ice, wildlife or for any sign of the mighty continent we have very nearly semi-circumnavigated. The patient and committed are treated to stirring views of mesmerising light-mantled and black-browed albatross, flying mere meters from the Bridge.

Throughout the day we were also treated to distant and close breaches, blows, and tail fluke sightings of humpback whales. Known affectionately as ‘the showman of the sea’, these gentle leviathans are perhaps the whale watchers most obliging and considerate cetation; spy-hopping, and pectoral slapping throughout the day.

Mid-morning we had a presentation from Gary about sea ice; investigating its formation, dynamics, and means of navigating through and around it. We have seen sea ice in its many forms during our voyage so far, from grease ice, to pancakes, floes, and fast-ice. Our ship is not an icebreaker; it does not use its weight or displacement to break through sea ice. Instead, Ortelius uses its ice-strengthened hull to push ice out of the way, enabling us to explore in ice-choked waters. Unlike the explorers of old, who used techniques such as ‘ice blink’ and ‘sea sky’, effectively using clouds as mirrors to reflect the sea conditions beyond the horizon, our Bridge Officers and Expedition Team use the latest in satellite imagery to see where the ice lies.

After lunch, Sara once again takes an hour away as we retire to our cabins for an afternoon nap. The Bellingshausen Sea lives up to its infamous reputation and the weather conditions close in; as a consequence Michael’s coveted diving tour is postponed. We once again fill the Bridge as we marvel at the majestic and endless Southern Ocean.

At 16:00 tea and cake are served in time for a lecture befitting of the tempestuous condition we have come to know so well. We muster in the Bar, to join my own lecture on “the greatest survival story ever told”—Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Weddell Sea Party and the infamous open boat journey that seems utterly unthinkable on a day like today. Having learnt already of the intense suffering and tragedy of the often-forgotten Ross Sea Party, we plunged straight into tale of Endurance and her crew. We follow Endurance into the Weddell Sea with aspirations of making the first continental crossing and we feel the vice-like grip as Shackleton and his men become beset in ice. With their ship destroyed by churning currents forcing the sea ice together, Shackleton is forced to make a dash towards land and later to the remote Elephant Island. His only hope is to reach the whaling outpost of South Georgia to raise the alarm and dispatch a relief expedition. Salvation lies 800 nautical miles away and their only means of transport was a keelless open lifeboat; the James Caird. Against all odds Shackleton and five of his men, including Endurance’s Captain, Frank Worlsey, would make it to the island, traverse it uncharted, and reach the whaling station of Stromness. He was then able to finally rescue the remainder of his men on Elephant Island three months later with the help of Chilean Navy Officer Luis Pardo aboard the tug Yelcho.

After dinner, we are invited back to the Bar for Happy Hour and to embark on one of Ortelius’ greatest traditions—Karaoke. Gary and Chloe broke the silence in style and commenced a night of festivities. The Expedition Team, guests, and crew alike would join in stirring renditions of Tom Jones, Elvis Presley, disco classics, and a very David Attenborough(ish) rendition of All Night Long. The shy-turned-bold queued at the Karaoke machine, helmed by Hotel Manager Albert, carefully selecting their next track. The crew stole the evening, showing up the Expedition Team and guests with their pitch perfect ballads. For those who chose to steer clear of the microphone, an improvised dance floor, replete with disco lights, made the perfect venue to boogie the night away.

Day 25: Bellingshausen Sea

Bellingshausen Sea
Fecha: 12.03.2023
Posición: 68°09.4’S / 076°19.2’W
Viento: E8
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: -2

This morning we woke to some slightly bumpier seas and perhaps a few sore heads from last night. The wind had been variable, and the sea was confused, with several swells running in different directions creating an awkward pitching motion that was not very predictable. Nonetheless, we all got on with our days, for the most part we have earned our sea legs.

Breakfast was another luxuriant affair, and we revelled in having plenty of time for conversation and coffee, the last day without landings for a while hopefully! With food still on the mind, we headed up to the Bar to hear Michael talk about the role of food in Antarctic expeditions, and particularly the trials and litany of errors during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. In some cases, inadequate and insufficient food was the primary reason for failure, injury, and unfortunately also for death.

After a break, a cup of coffee, and a quick visit to the Bridge, we returned to the Bar to hear Vide talk about the Swedish Antarctic Expedition. It was led by Otto Nordenskjöld and Carl Anton Larsen aboard the ship Antarctic. The expedition involved some heroic successes; notably it’s scientific and surveying work. But it also involved great hardships, including two winters spent in Antarctica, in small, ill-equipped huts. The latter winter was unplanned after their ship was crushed in the pack ice of the northern Weddell Sea. The food and fuel supplies were very limited and the crew survived by killing thousands of penguins and hundreds of seals; eating the meat, and burning the fat and feathers in crude stoves. Eventually, the remaining crew, dogs, and cat, were rescued by the Argentinian Navy aboard the ship Uruguay. The exploits of the Swedish Expedition earned Nordenskjöld lasting fame at home, but ultimately left him massively in debt.

A little after lunch the seas became much calmer, and by mid-afternoon the banks of fog had lifted. Perhaps the influence of the Antarctic continent on the weather? By now it was just 80 miles ahead of us. We watched our progress from the Bridge and many saw some quite large gatherings of both fin whales and humpback whales. Over several hours we probably encountered more than 40 whales; most just distant blows, but a few surfaced close to the ship.

Most then retired to their cabins for a nap, and revelled that it was extra-long; this was the first sea day in a long time without a time change. We are now in the same time zone as Argentina.

Sara was finally able to give her presentation on women in Antarctica; having been cancelled several times previously due to swell and wildlife sightings. Up until surprisingly recently there has been institutional and personal discrimination against women in Antarctica, and undoubtedly it will take time for these problems to be completely addressed and rectified. We learnt that it was not until 1931 that a woman even set eyes on the Antarctic continent, and Ingrid Christensen again went on to make history by being the first woman to fly over Antarctica in 1937. The first women to overwinter in Antarctica did so between 1946 and 1948; American women Jackie Ronne and Jennie Darlington helped establish the US research station on Stonington Island, not far from our current position in the Bellingshausen Sea. Recently, Antarctica has become somewhere that equality can thrive and there has been gradual progression to more inclusion of under-represented groups. However, there is a lot more that can still be done.

Day 26: Horseshoe Island and Pourqouis Pas Island

Horseshoe Island and Pourqouis Pas Island
Fecha: 13.03.2023
Posición: 67°47.4’S / 067°17.1’W
Viento: NE4
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: 0

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, it became apparent that we had finally left behind the swell of our open ocean transit from Ross Island. As we heard the wake-up call, it was eerily still and quiet around the cabin. We were just coming into position at Horseshoe Island in the northern end of Marguerite Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Just around 08:00 we boarded the Zodiacs for the short and bumpy ride to shore. It was a beautiful day, with clouds roiling round the peaks, but also glorious patches of sun. Horseshoe Island was the site of a British Antarctic Survey year-round station for 5 to 10 men from 1955 to 1960, with another single year of activity in 1969. Similar to the huts on Ross Island, the hut was a veritable time capsule, albeit from a slightly more modern time. Coming in the door, we immediately saw the sledging workshop with pieces of a dismantled sledge up on the bench. Most of the summer activity of the men at the station consisted of long dog sledging expeditions for mapping, surveying, and geological investigations along the spine of the peninsula. Going farther into the hut was the main bedroom; lined with bunks and with a large table in the centre of the room. All the spare space was filled with wooden crates full of 65-year-old food stuffs in tins and jars. Further into the hut, there was a generator room to the right, with a solid concrete floor to minimise the vibration the big diesel generators would have caused. Next, on the left, was the radio room, with much of the old radio equipment still in place. Then another bunk room. This one had the library which was mostly full of pulp novels, but had several classic titles too.

Not to mention the 1950s magazines and news items. Towards the far end of the hut was the kitchen with a dining table, storage closets of food stores, the met room for the weather observations, and just behind the back door—the loo. It was fascinating to have a chance to wander through this little corner of history. Outside, the hut featured large in the landscape, but there were also a couple of outbuildings to used to compose our photos.

More importantly, outside was the unbelievable scenery and some wonderful wildlife. We had our first encounter with a small group of male Antarctic fur seals, as well as a few small groups of Adélie penguins wandering around the beaches and hills. Most of us took a long walk that included either a little detour inland towards the shore of a freshwater lake and back to the shore to the far end of the beach, and/or a short hike to the top of our part of the island for an exquisite view of the surrounding mountains of Adelaide Island in the distance, and Pourquoi Pas Island just across a small channel. With so much to see and do most of us spent nearly 4 hours on shore, enjoying our first good walk on solid land in 11 days.

After our usual scrumptious lunch, we were in position at Pourquoi Pas Island. No special history here, but a few small Adélie penguin colonies were still occupied by a small number of moulting penguins, lots of south polar skuas with their large chicks, a couple dozen Antarctic fur seal bulls lounging on shore, and a fantastic glacier with an associated lateral moraine to investigate. As expected, Laurence was positioned up at the glacier to help interpret its glaciology, and Gary was out roaming around the penguin colonies. We had free rein on this uncrowded beach so everyone revelled in the ability to take a long walk and have a personal experience of Antarctica.

One of the hidden gems of the landing was the extent of lichens, mosses, and algae—and even Antarctic hairgrass in the environment. Unlike the seemingly lifeless Dry Valleys that we visited a couple of weeks before, this spot was positively teeming with life. Conditions were still very mild, so another 3 and ½ hours on shore was the go for most. As a little final treat, we all had a Zodiac cruise among some nearby icebergs and brash ice to view the front of the glacier, as well as an Antarctic shag colony and a resting crabeater seal on a small iceberg. What a day. What a day. But not entirely over yet.

After dinner (which was just a bit later than usual) we were starting our navigation through The Gullet. It’s a fairly narrow navigation, winding through a passage studded with small islands and, on this particular night, lots of small to medium-sized icebergs. It wasn’t long before it was completely dark, so many of us watch the magical navigation lit by the two bright spotlights shining out over the bow as we dodged the larger icebergs and pushed through lots of smaller ice. The Bridge even called Gary up after 01:00 to collect a poor southern fulmar from the front of Deck 6, who had become dazzled in the lights and landed on the deck. It made for a short night, because according to our recap, we would be flying in the morning. Those who did not stay up late to watch the dazzling ice show undoubtedly spent the night dreaming of flying.

Day 27: Lallemand Fjord and Crystal Sound

Lallemand Fjord and Crystal Sound
Fecha: 14.03.2023
Posición: 67°53.6’S / 066°49.9’W
Viento: NE5
Clima: Cloudy
Temperatura del Aire: -0.5

We woke to the excellent news that we had made it through The Gullet overnight; this is the narrow passage leading between Marguerite Bay and Crystal Sound, and is hemmed in against smaller islands by the bulk of Adelaide Island. Overnight the Bridge Team had passed through a maze of icebergs, growlers, and bergy bits, and we woke at the entrance to Lallemand Fjord. This difficult and daring feat of navigation had allowed us to take the short-cut up the coast and gave us an extra day of activities.

As dawn broke many of us were up already, on the Bridge, and on the outer decks, taking in the soft early morning light as it draped over the magnificent range of mountains spread out around us. The scenery was very different to anywhere we have been so far; every pinnacle, every piece of land was completely inundated with glacier ice. It had snowed heavily overnight, and the decks were temporarily closed as they were treacherously slippery until they had been cleared. This blanket of snow had also coated the surrounding mountains; creating the most delicate flutes and pillows as the snowflakes had tumbled down the cliff faces.

Sara had clearly made an inspired choice for today’s operation; the weather was fantastic. A high ceiling of broken cloud made for amazing light, just a few wisps of lower cloud clung to the peaks, and there was not a breath of wind. The plan for today was to make a scenic helicopter flight over the fjord, and among and around the ice-covered mountains.

After breakfast we watched the hustle and bustle of the pilots, engineers, and ship’s crew as they readied the helicopters and flight deck for action. Before long we heard the whine of the turbine on Quebec, and the exciting sound of the engine spooling up and the blades beginning to turn. The scout flight took off to assess conditions and to find an interesting and safe route to fly. In no time at all they were back with positive news; conditions were as perfect as they looked and we would start with flights immediately. Even better, as this was a scenic flight, we would only fill the co-pilot and window seats, so everyone would have both incredible views, and opportunities to take amazing photos and video too!

Whilst we waited for our turn most of us were on the outside decks, particularly Deck 7, which afforded great views of all the helicopter activity, as well as far-reaching vistas down the fjord. When our groups were called, we dressed and headed to the makeshift departure lounge (The Bar), and then, with a gulp of excitement, we were handed ear defenders and on our way to the helicopter pad. Boarding the idling helicopters, buffeted by the downdraught from the rotors spinning just feet above our heads, we were helped into our seats, and then the moment of lift-off!

The flight was absolutely stunning; first we headed up and out of the fjord, gaining height, and really getting a sense of how big this landscape is. Then, suddenly, we dived, circling lower and lower around a huge iceberg, cleaved apart by the deep blue chasms of crevasses and the newly-forming rifts. From our aerial viewpoint, we could see the enormous foot of the iceberg underwater; the bright white fading to blue as it disappeared out of sight into the depths of the fjord. We then veered and flew low and fast through a maze of icebergs, then lifted a little to fly right along a glacier front. Hundreds of crabeater seals were resting on the plates of sea ice along the front of the glacier, unfazed by our fleeting presence above them. Next we headed inland, and began a huge loop over the one of the calving glaciers at the back of the fjord. From here we could see the distant sunny peaks of the spine of the Antarctic Peninsula, and it was even possible to see the blue skies over the Weddell Sea beyond the peaks. The pilots had saved the best until last, and after a few more circuits, swoops, and dives, we found ourselves hovering over a mid-sized tabular iceberg, slowly descending over a patch of snow maybe 50 metres from the edge. Before we really had time to realise, we had touched down! And there we remained for 30 seconds, marvelling at the ability of both the pilots and these awesome machines in getting us to places which few could even imagine. A landing on an iceberg!

Then, after roughly 20 minutes aloft, it was back to Ortelius, and we stepped out onto the deck, full of joy, and with wide grins plastered on our faces. The enthusiasm was infectious and we looked for it on the faces of our fellow passengers as they returned.

By mid-afternoon the flying had finished and the ship headed north, aiming for a landing at Port Charcot. As we headed out into Crystal Sound the weather abruptly deteriorated into snow, cloud, and 45 knots of northeasterly wind. Clearly Sara had made some excellent decisions for our operations today!

Day 28: Port Charcot, the Lemaire Channel, and the Peltier Channel

Port Charcot, the Lemaire Channel, and the Peltier Channel
Fecha: 15.03.2023
Posición: 65°06.5’S / 064°02.1’W
Viento: Calm
Clima: Broken cloud
Temperatura del Aire: 0

We awoke in the blissfully calm waters just near Booth Island, where grounded icebergs sat peacefully, and snow-capped mountain peaks towered over us. We could see why this place was referred to as the ‘iceberg graveyard’ – there were a myriad of icebergs dotted all throughout the bays. There, in the distance, we also spotted our sister ship, Plancius, and we waved from afar as she cruised southward. The morning’s activities comprised of a Zodiac cruise around the beautiful bergs and a landing at Port Charcot—named after the French Antarctic explorer Jean Baptiste Charcot, a French polar scientist and medical doctor who led the French Antarctic Expedition from 1903 until 1905. This tiny, sheltered harbour was used as their overwintering base and their ship, the Français, was frozen in the ice, but safe from being crushed. From here the team of sailors and scientists explored and surveyed the area around them.

The Zodiac cruises perhaps saw an average of 100 photos of icebergs per person, for we were utterly amazed at the scope, shape, texture, and hues of these majestic chunks of ice. Laurence was in his element, beaming from the beauty of magnificent ice archways, golf ball-like indentations and jagged ice teeth resulting from submarine melt processes. Nearing our memory card capacities, we spotted some wildlife. A lone male Antarctic fur seal hauled out on a boulder, happily snoozing, a crabeater seal also snoozing on a small chunk of ice, and numerous gentoo penguins porpoising through the water. Kelp gulls, skuas and Antarctic terns soared above, and we often heard sounds from the glaciers cracking and calving off.

Ashore at Port Charcot was an equally incredible scene. We were first greeted by gentoo penguins right at our landing site, curious and cute as they scrambled up and down the slippery rocks. Further up the slopes were remnants of their colony—some had fledged, some were still moulting, and the chicks were starting to gain their independence. We also spotted some very young chicks, some still being brooded by their parents, and some still quite small and vulnerable. We wondered about the time of season, about winter soon approaching, sea ice reforming, and whether these chicks would fledge in time. Nature is harsh, and timing is everything down here.

We were lucky enough to spot a new species of penguin for our list—the funny-walking chinstrap penguin! It was an entertaining sight, watching the gentoos and chinstraps fumble around on the ice, and head down the icy slopes back into the water, treading very carefully so as not to fall over. We also spotted some southern giant petrels which included a white morph variety, and some snowy sheathbills—a white bird that somewhat resembles a polar ‘chicken’.

The history lovers got a glimpse of the remnants of the magnetic hut from the Charcot expedition, and a cairn at the peak of the snow slope which made for a great leg stretch and an amazing view over the iceberg graveyard and the mountains in the distance.

About halfway through our voyage, we had received some good news—we had run out of hot chocolate a few days prior. We had become so reliant on the warm milky goodness after cold days out on deck, or after activities, that we had managed to guzzle our entire supply. However, little did we know that during our landing a Zodiac from Plancius had come to our rescue and delivered us a restock! The news soon spread, and we were ecstatic.

Back on board and after lunch, we prepared for our scenic navigation through the incredible Lemaire Channel—a narrow passage 11 kilometres long and just 1600 metres wide at its narrowest point that cuts between towering peaks of mesmeric beauty. This channel has been nicknamed ‘Kodak Gap’ due to its sheer photogenic beauty and we could sure see why. We were welcome by 4 logging humpback whales at it’s entrance, peacefully snoozing at the surface, and we also spotted crabeater seals on ice floes and swimming through the water. It truly was a dream scene for both photographers and wildlife spotters alike. Nearing the closure of the passage were two famous basaltic towers reaching an elevation of 747 metres above sea level. The mountains are named ‘Una’s Peaks’ after Una Spivey, a secretary in the Governor's Office in Stanley, on the Falkland Islands during the 1950's.

We continued cruising through the gorgeous Peltier Channel to our destination of overnight anchor off Port Lockroy, where dinner was served, but with a twist… Tonight, was an outdoor BBQ out on deck, full of scrumptious food made by the amazing kitchen team and with free drinks from the Bar! We braved the weather as snow started to fall, and the festivities continued as some of us started a dancefloor. Soon, we had almost half the ship dancing into the night to disco tunes under the Antarctic night sky. It was utter bliss, and a wonderful way to finish off an amazing day on the Antarctic Peninsula. I mean how often can you dance to disco in the snow in Antarctica?!

Day 29: Damoy Point, the Neumayer Channel, and the Gerlache Strait

Damoy Point, the Neumayer Channel, and the Gerlache Strait
Fecha: 16.03.2023
Posición: 64°49.5’S / 063°32.0’W
Viento: Var 2
Clima: Broken cloud
Temperatura del Aire: 0

Day broke on the 16th March, and Sara’s dawn chorus at 06:30 roused Ortelius from its slumber. The early risers were treated to a magnificent first light, softly illuminating the freshly snow coated black volcanic peaks that surround our next landing site, Damoy Point. This would be the first act in a day of mesmerising geological wonder…

As breakfast was served, the Expedition Team ventured ashore to prepare an extensive circular walk. Between 1975 and 1994 Damoy Point was a vital air-link between the outside world and Rothera Research Station, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) main base on the Antarctic Peninsula. To facilitate this a small hut was constructed in November 1975, perhaps the world’s most remote airport arrival and departure lounge, but sadly no duty free… Today the hut is preserved and maintained by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and has recently been repainted its original colour; 1970s orange.

For the energetic, seeking to blow away the cobwebs, there was a steep ice walk up to the former runway. It is here the legendary red Twin Otters of BAS, a twin engine aircraft that still provides the logistical backbone for Antarctic Operations, would land on a glacier runway overlooking the natural harbour. As the first people ashore began the ascent, the weather dramatically changed, and soon fluffy, over-sized snowflakes descended upon us. As visibility diminished, many would join me in the hut before heading off to meet with Gary overlooking the busy gentoo penguin colony. As the morning progressed the weather began to lift, offering the patient and hardy an inspiring view of the surrounding mountains which form an amphitheatre around our landing site.

Back onboard, lunch ready and waiting, we begin our passage to the whale spotting paradise of the Gerlache Strait. To get there we must first navigate through the breath-taking majesty of the Neumayer Channel. Although less well known than the Lemaire Channel, it is its equal in splendour. As the mighty Ortelius turn northeast, the clouds parted, and we stood together, agog at a place where the sea met with rock and ice that together reached for the heavens on both port and starboard sides. Icebergs of every conceivable form and size were present. All of us dazzled by the iridescent sheens of blue. The channel, first named Roosen Channel by Eduard Dallmann’s German Expedition in 1873–74, was later explored by Adrien De Gerlache onboard Belgica during his 1897–99 expedition. The channel is named in honour of the famed scientist Georg Von Neumayer.

Still dazed by the wonders of the Neumayer Channel, we effortlessly pass into the Gerlache Strait and are immediately treated to commanding view of the Antarctic Continent stretching off to the horizon. Then suddenly, Gary spots a leopard seal lounging on an iceberg close to the ship, dozens of us peered over the portside to view it as we passed by quietly. The leopard seal raised its head and disinterestedly returned to its slumber. Shortly after we were treated to a frenzy of humpback whale activity. Blows were seen in every direction, as were tail flukes, and pectoral fins. Some surfaced a close distance to the ship. The ‘show man of the sea’ had not disappointed as the warm austral sun beat down on the deck of Ortelius.

As we stood basking in the afternoon sun, news suddenly broke of a rescue mission. Two unfortunate passengers onboard another ship, the Roald Amundsen, needed to return to the port of Ushuaia after breaking their shoulder having just left South America a few days earlier. Ortelius would ride to the rescue and promised to deliver them safely back to Ushuaia on our scheduled arrival date, the 20th of March. Excitement reached fever pitch, many flocked onto the outside decks to get a closer inception of this ‘other ship’, the 499 passenger Roald Amundsen. After collecting our Dr Eugene with one of their Zodiacs, the two latest additions to the Ortelius compliment walked up the gangway and were onboard. Setting course for Deception Island we watched the sun set on the Gerlache Strait; setting the horizon ablaze with oranges, golds, and of course, the deep blue of the ice and the Antarctic sea.

Day 30: Telefon Bay, Deception Island and the South Shetlands

Telefon Bay, Deception Island and the South Shetlands
Fecha: 17.03.2023
Posición: 62°57.3’S / 060°37.8’W
Viento: SW2
Clima: Clear
Temperatura del Aire: +1

We awoke to a clear sky and light winds and the Ortelius carefully slid in through Neptune’s Bellows, avoiding the treacherous Ravn Rock (Raven Rock), and into the sheltered harbour that sits within the Deception Island caldera. The sun rose on the volcanic cliffs that surround the island and the two stations, one from Spain, and one from Argentina came into view. We headed for the northwest corner and anchored off Telefon Bay. This would be the site for this morning’s landing.

After breakfast the announcement was made and the first Zodiacs headed ashore. A few minutes later we landed on the black sandy beach. The contrast in scenery from our recent voyage through the ice- and snow-covered Antarctic was crazy. Here, on Deception Island the landscape is mostly black, mostly from the lava sand, whilst higher up there is some snow remaining from winter, and a couple of small glaciers.

We set off to stretch our legs inland along the marked trail. After about 1 km we came across a huge crater-like rim that was the eroded remnant of an ash cone formed during the most recent eruption. This cone has been eaten away over the years by the action of the nearby glacier and the meltwater stream it produces. We could walk almost up to the glacier face, stopping just a few metres short of the cliff in case of ice fall. If we listened carefully, we could even hear the sound of running water, falling pebbles, cracking ice crystals, and a tiny trickle of water which flowed down into the valley below.

The hike continued up a ridge line above the glacier and along another wide gravel ridge all the way back to the beach near where we landed. On the beach was one lone Weddell seal, completely relaxed and basking in the sunshine. Every now and then it would be joined by one or two gentoo penguins that would stand on the beach for a short time before heading back to sea.

Did someone say polar plunge???

Yes, that’s right! Off came our clothes, and it was time to celebrate our amazing trip with a good old swim in the frigid 1 degree waters of the Antarctic. Around 30 of us jumped in with screams and shouts of terror and enjoyment. Needless to say, much fun was had by all regardless, if that individual actually swam, or just enjoyed the spectacle from the warmth and safety of shore.

Back on the ship we had a long hot shower and some lunch and then it was straight back out on deck for a ships cruise of Whalers Bay. Here we looked on in awe at the size of the whale blubber tanks and rendering boilers. They tell the story of the horrific slaughter of thousands upon thousands of whales in the early 1900s. After a turn to port the captain lined the ship up with the narrow Neptune’s Bellows, and we slid, once again, back out into the open ocean. Our course was now set for Ushuaia and slowly the last sight of Antarctica slid out of view below the southern horizon behind us. It’s finally time to move to warmer lands!

Day 31: The Drake Passage

The Drake Passage
Fecha: 18.03.2023
Posición: 60°16.0’S / 063°53.4’W
Viento: NW6
Clima: Fog
Temperatura del Aire: +3

We awoke in a familiar world; the ship rocking mildly from the swells, although this time it was from the open ocean of the Drake Passage, the final ocean crossing in this epic trip. The weather was benign; a light breeze from the west, and broken cloud with some sun.

After breakfast, Gary gave his lecture ‘Fur, Fat, Feathers, and Friendliness: Coping with a Freezing Environment’. He talked about all the different adaptations that penguins and pinnipeds have developed to live in the extreme cold of Antarctica. Most animals have a healthy layer of insulating fat which keeps them warm when in the water, but there are also a number of behavioural strategies, such as huddling together, which allow animals to share warmth and get protection from the worst of the wind. The animal life of Antarctica is spectacularly well-adapted to the cold; these adaptations allow life on the fringes of the great white continent not only to survive, but to thrive.

Next up was Chris, talking about his extraordinary childhood growing up as part of the remotest family in New Zealand. His family of four live in a small bay on the coast of Fiordland, two days walk from the nearest road, and completely isolated from the outside world. Chris talked us through the practicalities of living totally off-grid, but also, more deeply about the incredible and unique experiences he and his family have had over the years and how that has resulted in a strong connection to the natural environment.

As soon as Chris finished, Sara called us down to the Lecture Room on Deck 3 to return our trusty rubber boots and helicopter cards; it’s sad to think that we won’t need these again, and it really feels like the end of the trip is just around the corner.

After lunch Sara gave a great presentation on ‘Marine Threats’. She talked about different ways that the marine environment around Antarctica, and further afield, is being impacted by the activities of humans. This ranged from fishing, to pollution, and of course, climate change. She highlighted some of the work that is being done to both identify and understand these threats, but also talked about the initiatives which are being developed to mitigate them.

Just before dinner was the daily recap. Sara presented the program for tomorrow, and showed that the weather looks like it will deteriorate as we approach the coast of South America. Albert ran through all the logistics of disembarkation, then we had the much-anticipated results from the photo competition. The submitted photos had been playing on the screens in the Bar for much of the last two days, and we had all had an opportunity to vote for our favourites. There were 9 finalists in each of the three categories. Antonio’s photo of Mt. Erebus and pancake ice in soft morning light won the ‘landscape’ category. Karen’s excellent photo of Martin, our Third Officer, checking the radar screen won the ‘people’ category. Claire won the ‘wildlife’ category with a stunning image of a snow petrel in flight, underlit by the setting Antarctic sun. And finally, Antonio won again, taking the overall prize with his beautiful photo of a gentoo penguin parent and chick. The latter also took the overall prize; a beautifully illustrated t-shirt from DAP, complete with Quebec on the back.

Day 32: The Drake Passage

The Drake Passage
Fecha: 19.03.2023
Posición: 55°55.3’S / 065°19.1’W
Viento: WNW8
Clima: Rain
Temperatura del Aire: +2

This morning sea conditions were a little bumpy, but not at all bad compared to some of the storms we have sailed through. Sara woke us up, and, bleary-eyed, we headed for the Bridge to see how we were getting on. Overnight, Ortelius had again made great progress, and we were well over halfway across the Drake Passage; it looked like we might just be able to outrun the worst of the weather bearing down on Cape Horn later today.

Our day progressed much like other sea days, packed full of activities. Straight after breakfast Chloe gave a really interesting presentation about the ‘gateway cities’ that lead to Antarctica, and how these places are shaped by their relative proximity to the last great continent. Each of the main cities (Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Cape Town, Hobart, and Christchurch) are very different from each other, and each serves a slightly different function. Some are primarily logistics hubs, whilst others, like Ushuaia, are tourist destinations in their own right.

Gary then gave a fascinating presentation about his time overwintering at Mawson Station. He spoke of the practicalities of living in one of the remotest places on earth, and enduring extreme cold, but we also got a sense of how much Gary had enjoyed it. The darkness, cold, and incredible winter light are part of what makes overwintering so special, an experience few on this Earth have had.

After lunch we could feel the motion of the ship starting to change, and hour-by-hour, it got calmer—we were now in the lee of the land, and before long we could see the first islands of the southernmost point of South America. The seas were absolutely full of life; black-browed albatross, sooty shearwaters, giant petrels, and imperial shags could be spotted on all quarters, and as we entered the mouth of the Beagle Channel we could also start to see South American sea lions, Magellanic penguins, and even some distant dusky dolphins, all frolicking in the wake of Ortelius as we plowed into a solid 40 knot headwind.

The land around us was an assault on the senses, here, after 30 days without, were verdant green forests, draped across the surrounding hillsides. The distant peaks had a dusting of fresh snow, and everywhere was the pervasive and delightful smell of land, and of rich and varied life.

As we got further into the channel, a solemn moment approached, the helicopter pilots and engineers had packed their bags and were ready to fly back to their home bases. We all crowded into the Bar to say the fondest of farewells to the people who have helped make this the trip of a lifetime. Shortly after, we heard the turbine on Quebec spooling up, and within a few moments she lifted off the aft of Ortelius, and up into the gusty skies. Within just half an hour, all three machines were airborne, and as Quebec, Victor, and Sierra each took off, they dipped their rotors in farewell, and did one last low-level fly-by of the Bridge—the pilots and mechanics clearly enjoying themselves right to the end.

This evening we had a special recap; a toast to our incredible voyage. Both Sara and Captain Per gave heartfelt and emotion-laden speeches—we could sense that this has not been an ordinary trip; even these veterans of Antarctica have been deeply-touched by our experiences.

The final event of the day was the viewing of the much anticipated slideshow, put together by Vide. It was magnificent; there were so many moments of awe, of wonder, and of beauty. But Vide had not just captured the moments, but also the essence of this trip; the emotional journey we have all been through, and the lasting impressions it has left on all of us.

Day 33: Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia, Argentina
Fecha: 20.03.2023
Posición: 54°51.4’S / 068°02.9’W
Viento: WSW7
Clima: Broken cloud
Temperatura del Aire: +10

This morning we woke with more than a tinge of sadness; it’s time to leave Ortelius and her crew and staff behind—this rugged little ship, and the people on her have been our home and our family for the last 32 days. Despite the bustle of disembarkation, we took a moment among the activity to reflect on the incredible things we have seen, the amazing places we have been, and the wonderful people we have met along the way.

We headed to the Dining Room for one last breakfast, and a chance to say a final goodbye to the lovely waiters and waitresses. Pretty soon Sara announced that the buses to town and the airport had arrived, and we made our way to the gangway for the final time.

We stepped onto the blustery quayside, and back into the real world. Some of us are homeward bound, but many will continue on, for further adventures. Regardless, the experiences and connections that we have found on this, the most epic of expeditions, will remain with us for the rest of our lives.

Thank you all for travelling with us on this voyage, for your enthusiasm, support, and good company. We very much hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!


Código del viaje: OTL28-23
Fechas: 17 feb. - 20 mar., 2023
Duración: 31 noches
Barco: El Ortelius
Embarque: Bluff/Nueva Zelanda
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.

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