PLA28-18, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Fecha: 07.02.2018
Posición: 042°45’S / 065°01’W

So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going south of south... a long way south. But for today, we ambled about this lovely Patagonian city, savouring the local flavours and enjoying the sights. Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 55,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Ushuaia (lit. “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue) clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting. The rugged spine of the South American Andes ends here, where two oceans meet. As could be expected from such an exposed setting, the weather has the habit of changing on a whim. However, temperatures during the long days of the austral summer are relatively mild, providing a final blanket of warmth before heading off on our adventures. For many of us this is the start of a lifelong dream. The excitement comes in different forms for each unique person, but even the most experienced of us feels genuine excitement to depart on a journey to Antarctica. Most passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board our ship MV Plancius, home for the next 10 days. We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition staff who were enjoying the warm sunshine. Our luggage was already on board so after a short wait on the wharf we made our way up the gangway and onto the good ship Plancius. We were met at Reception by Sebastian and Bobbi, our Hotel and Restaurant Managers. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of our fabulous Filipino crew. A little while after boarding we convened in the lounge on deck five to meet First Officer Jaanus, who led us through the details of the required SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) Safety and Lifeboat Drill, assisted by the crew and staff. On hearing the alarm we reconvened at the ‘muster station’, the lounge, for the mandatory safety briefing and abandon ship drill donning our huge orange life jackets that will keep us safe should the need arise. After this lifeboat drill we returned to the outer decks to watch our departure from the jetty of Ushuaia and the last of city life for a while. We entered the Beagle Channel with an escort of Black browed albatross. Once we were on our way into the channel we were invited once again to the lounge to meet our Expedition Leader, Andrew Bishop and Hotel Manager Sebastian who gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next few weeks. We then met the rest of the Expedition Team, an international group who will guide us during our voyage, driving us ashore, giving lectures and ensuring we get the best possible experience during our trip. This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Alexey Nazarov and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chefs Heinz and Sean and their galley team. This first evening on board was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements, and settling into our cabins. In the early hours of the morning we would be out into the open waters of the Drake Passage and heading south eastwards towards Antarctica.

Day 2: At Sea Drake Passage Southward

At Sea Drake Passage Southward
Fecha: 08.02.2018
Posición: 056°21’ S / 064°47’ W
Viento: W 25 knots
Clima: Clear
Temperatura del Aire: +8

This morning was our first wake-up call of the voyage and Andrew woke us up with news of wind and weather. There was around 25 knots of wind blowing but there was clear blue sky and sunshine. For some of us the smell of food was a perfect start to the day but for others it was all a bit too much for the seasick body and escaping back to the cabin was the best option. After breakfast some of us headed out on deck for some fresh air, enjoy the sunshine and enjoy the birds that were flying around the ship and gathering in large numbers behind the ship as we sailed towards Antarctica. The most common species was the giant petrel, both southern and northern but there were also black browed albatross, storm petrels and even some royal albatross. Birds habitually follow ships at sea looking for food brought up to the surface by the wake but also to enjoy the uplift created by our passing. Traditionally they follow fishing vessels for discarded food but that is not on offer from Plancius, of course! Regis gave a fabulous talk after breakfast about seabird biology, fascinating on so many levels. Lunch was served at 12.30 and there were a few more takers in the restaurant than there had been for breakfast and but by this time the wind had increased and there was still some rolling as we headed for lunch. With continued sunshine however many of us enjoyed some more time out on deck trying to photograph the giant petrels that were flying about around the ship. Regis even saw a blow, most likely fin or sei, but too far away and undistinguished to change course. At 3 pm we were invited down to the restaurant where Beau gave a talk about baleen whales and the various species we might have the opportunity to see on our voyage south. Blue whales, fin whales, humpback whales, minke whales….it was all possible! By the time afternoon tea had been consumed in the lounge it was time to go back downstairs to the restaurant for an introduction to Antarctica from Liz. By this time it was early evening and some of us took a pre-dinner drink at the bar while others enjoyed the warm sunshine on deck. At 6.30 pm we were invited to the lounge for the daily briefing where Andrew explained our plans for tomorrow, another day at sea with several mandatory safety briefings about our Zodiac operations etc. The next day would also be when we received our pretty rubber boots! Such excitement in the air as everyone headed down for dinner in the restaurant.

Day 3: At Sea Drake Passage Southward

At Sea Drake Passage Southward
Fecha: 09.02.2018
Posición: 059°59’ S / 060°02’ W
Viento: W 15 knots
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +9

Many were up bright and early as Andrew’s dulcet tones wafted through the ships PA system. Another day at sea, today would be full of mandatory briefings and other excitement - in the form of rubber boot handout and even a vacuum party! Unfortunately not the kind of party with party hats, clowns, or birthday cakes, but the kind of party where you had to clean and vacuum your expedition gear. Let down as it was, such a thing is mandatory for all ships and guests heading down to Antarctica to make landings, as a minimal impact on nature is required so as to least affect the environment so as not to introduce foreign species of plants and fungi. Hard effort notwithstanding, due to the rolling nature of the ship and the fact that several people in general were not feeling so well, the rubber boot handout was postponed until further notice in the afternoon. Hopefully when the swell calmed down! At 10:00 am Andrew lectured us all on how to behave down around the peninsula of Antarctica, as well as how to properly board and exit our Zodiac watercraft. Afterwards we started the vacuum party! With great fanfare six vacuum cleaners were brought up to the lounge and strategically placed for us all to clean every last little bit of grass, seeds, and cow manure from our outerwear. After a scrumptious lunchtime meal from head chef Heinz the Hacker, the campers were called back up to the lounge for a briefing on what to expect while overnight camping in Antarctica. Ben and Nina graciously answered a variety of questions, ranging from correct size of pee bottles to the appropriateness of using the loo for number 2. Then it was on to more vacuuming! The last of us who had not yet cleaned our gear headed up and signed off on the declaration sheet to declare the validity of our cleanliness. An afternoon lecture from Regis was then held, all about penguins, those curious little birds with the inability to fly through the air. Another lecture was planned, this time from Andrew about ice, however it was decided to better use that time to hand out the rubber boots! At long last everyone was called down deck by deck, and received their boots according to size requirements. As the evening rolled in, our daily briefing was held informing us all of the expected activities for our first day down around the peninsula, while sailing through the English Strait in the South Shetlands with the sun setting behind the mountains, providing the perfect backdrop as night closed in and everyone headed down for their dinner.

Day 4: Wilhelmina Bay & Peltier Channel & BBQ

Wilhelmina Bay & Peltier Channel & BBQ
Fecha: 19.06.2024
Posición: 064°13’ S / 061°29’ W
Viento: SW 25 knots
Clima: Partly cloudy

A day of true expedition cruising, where Plan A becomes Plan B becomes Plan C. And on Plancius, it turns out Plan C is A-OK. We woke up to calmer waters after two days on the Drake Passage, and our first glimpse of the breathtaking Antarctic coastline - it was enough to sweep you off your feet! Or was it the wind that was sweeping us off our feet? In the morning we decided to forgo our first landing due to the windy conditions. Instead we sailed into Wilhelmina Bay in search of wildlife - and boy, did we find it! The Captain kindly steered the ship deep into Wilhelmina Bay where we spotted our first whale, then another, and another, then a pod, then more humpback whales than we knew what to do with. There was a real sense of camaraderie on deck as we all ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’, shutters clicked and we moved from starboard to port, following the whales as they dived and bubble-net fed, gasping in amazement at the sheer number of those grand, majestic sea-mammals. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated seeing so many whales, let alone so many actively feeding, fin slapping and diving. It was truly a gift. After Wilhelmina Bay we sailed towards Port Lockroy to see whether it would be feasible to land there, but the wind conditions were looking pretty ferocious. The Captain tried to find a sheltered anchorage, but the wind was relentless. Sometimes the wind becomes an event in itself - a demonstration of wildness - and today was one of those days. It’s not often you get to experience 50 to 60-knot winds. It was a spectacle, sweeping across the decks and catapulting us into the reality of Antarctica. We have arrived! Unfortunately we didn’t get to arrive at Port Lockroy today, but we were hopeful we might be able to make another attempt later in the voyage. Little did we know that missing Port Lockroy would result in cruising through some of the most striking, spectacular landscapes found on the Peninsula. We travelled through the Peltier Channel and into the Gerlache Strait, each lined with towering peaks and pinnacles, and vast tidewater glaciers. In the afternoon Andrew, our intrepid EL, gave a lecture on glaciers, helping us to understand what we’re looking at as we travel through this otherworldly, ice-covered landscape beyond the ship. Right on schedule, just as Andrew’s lecture finished, the skies cleared and the bay, icebergs, peaks and glaciers were bathed in golden evening sunlight. Shortly thereafter, it was time for our daily briefing… again listening to Andrews’s voice! But after he informed us of the following days plans, and Louise regaled with tales of the gentleman explorer Monsieur Charcot, and after Silke explained about humpback whales in more detail… it was time for a surprise dinner! Out on the back deck, a BBQ dinner with music and picnic tables and free drinks for everyone – and even dancing for the sprightly! Today was a humbling reminder that here in Antarctica, we are visitors in a natural world where we don’t make the rules - we just abide by them. A fitting start to our Antarctic expedition.

Day 5: Lemaire Channel & Pleneau Island & Petermann Island

Lemaire Channel & Pleneau Island & Petermann Island
Fecha: 11.02.2018
Posición: 065°06’S / 064°02’W
Viento: SW 9 knots
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +2

Finally the day arrived when we could finally step off Plancius and step on land, however early it might be. Andrew woke us up at 6:00 am to enjoy sailing through the Lemaire Channel. Even if it was a very early start, it was worth every minute we sacrificed staying in bed. The Lemaire Channel is a wonderful place with amazing views of the mountains around, glaciers and icebergs that are breath taking especially at this time of the morning while having a coffee or hot chocolate. After our amazing transit through this channel, everybody was ready for the delightful breakfast and then started getting ready for what was to be the first landing of the trip. Pleneau Island is a beautiful spot where we were not only able to see Gentoo penguins for the first time, but also able to enjoy one of the best Zodiac cruises we could possibly ask for. The subdued light was fantastic for photography, and nature was on our side because we could appreciate the sculptures made by the erosion of water and wind on the massive icebergs hanging around iceberg alley, some of them with not one but three arches, how cool is that? Plenty of wildlife was also present to welcome us to this extreme continent, crabeater seals resting on ice, one leopard seal very relaxed posing for pictures and a few minke whales approaching the Zodiacs and the kayakers, a very close encounter that made our first day memorable. Spending a few hours outside let us know how cold Antarctica could be, so we were ready for a warm meal and hot drinks back on board Plancius to prepare us for the afternoon activities. Petermann Island is a place with an interesting story, as some of the first expeditions to Antarctica were to this place. But not only could we find history there, but also a new kind of penguin for everyone to see… Adélie! As soon as we arrived, the guano smell of these little fellows made us realize just how many of them were around. Having the chance to walk in two different directions, it was possible to see some of the Gentoo and Adélie penguins moulting feathers with the chicks running around, and at the same time enjoying a walk up the saddle to take in the wonderful views of the bay behind the landing site. A place full of icebergs brought there and grounded there by the wind and currents. Plancius was also becoming part of the landscape, viewable from the top of the viewpoint to better understand the remoteness of our location at that point. Five minutes before our expected arrival time to the ship, all tags were green and Captain Alexey started slowly taking us to the next place for more adventures.

Day 6: Neko Harbour & Port Lockroy

Neko Harbour & Port Lockroy
Fecha: 12.02.2018
Posición: 064°49’ S / 062°36’ W
Viento: SE 4 knots
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +1

Today we finally touched down on the Antarctic Peninsula, the actual continent. The soft voice of Andrew with his wake-up call had already become normality, and the weather was clear and beautiful. At 8:30 am we lowered our Zodiacs for a short transfer to Neko Harbour. Just after a rocky landing we found ourselves again in the middle of Gentoo penguins, this time with penguin superhighways, surrounded by white snowy hills and a beautiful impressive glacier on the other side of the bay. The water was completely calm which created an almost perfect reflection of the glacier. Everybody was hoping that a large piece of the glacier would break off and calve, but at the same time realized the magnitude of the wave that a calving of that size could produce. A short hike brought us first to the penguin highways and further up to a magnificent viewpoint over said glacier and the entire bay. The highlight of this landing was the polar plunge. Around 15 guests, man and woman alike, jumped into the clear and icy water, supported by the cheering audience and surrounded by the penguins. In the afternoon we tried our second attempt to land at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island and this time we succeeded. One of the current inhabitants of Port Lockroy came on board to give us a short briefing about the history of Port Lockroy. Dividing the landing into 2 parts, half of us visited Jougla Point with Gentoo penguins and the Antarctic Shags and the other half visited the museum, swapping after roughly 1.5 hours. And this time the penguins decided to check us out. The cute little creatures didn´t have any fear and even sat on our shoe brush outside of the museum. In the most southerly post office in the world, everyone diligently wrote their postcards home, stamping them with the special Antarctic penguin stamp, and sending them on a six week journey to their destinations around the world. Everyone also had the opportunity to have their passports beautified with said stamp, and plenty of Antarctic souvenirs were bought for loved ones back home. A somewhat late but fully earned evening meal rounded out the day. At 20:50 pm sharp, Nina and Ben rounded up all 26 campers for that evening and Andrew and Beau drove them off into the distance for a special if somewhat sleepless night out under the Antarctic stars. Everybody tucked into their sleeping bags and with a few penguins as snow mates, what more could one ask for?

Day 7: Damoy Point & Brown Station/Skontorp Cove

Damoy Point & Brown Station/Skontorp Cove
Fecha: 13.02.2018
Posición: 064°48’ S / 063°30’ W
Viento: Calm
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +4

For a few, the day broke extra early. Andrew and Liz headed out in Zodiacs bright and early, ready to pick up the campers who had a short but fantastic night under clouded stars. After a quick shower back on board, breakfast was announced. The ship headed over just around the corner, to a place called Dorian Bay, for a morning landing at Damoy Point. Two huts were on display there on shore, the mandatory Argentinian building replete with their national flag, and the British building festooned in bright turquoise blue. A hike was on offer, for those who wanted to stretch their legs. Around the penguin colonies led by Ben, we worked our way up the slope to Tombstone Hill, stopping halfway to watch a relaxing fur seal. We then headed back down through a gully and up another hill on top of the ‘landing strip’, where planes used to take off and land to resupply the research stations in the southern Antarctic area. A beautiful view it was, of Port Lockroy just on the other side, with muted tones offering fantastic hues of blue throughout the ice in the surrounding glaciers. Back on board for lunch! Exquisitely delicious, Plancius sailed back through the Neumayer Channel towards Paradise Bay, the location of our earlier BBQ. A split landing/Zodiac cruise was the idea, with half of us landing at Base Brown to enjoy (more!) Gentoo penguins, while the rest of us cruised with the Zodiacs around the corner in Skontorp Cove. Ice, cormorants, even a lazy or perhaps tired crabeater seal were all on display as the afternoon wore on. Kayakers kayaked, hikers hiked, cruisers cruised, and penguin peepers peeped. As everyone shuffled back on board the ship, reflecting perhaps on the events of the past days, our wonderful hotel manager Sebastian greeted us at the gangway with hot cups of hot chocolate, spiked with perhaps a little bit of rum! A cheery end to an engaging afternoon. At promptly 18:30 pm, Andrew greeted us in the lounge for the daily briefing, after which he regaled us with facts pertaining to penguin anal pressure. Louise supplied us with sufficient information about krill and the circle of life that it entails down here in the southern hemisphere, before we were all called down to the restaurant for dinner. With full bellies we all crawled into our beds, dreaming of what could possibly top the previous activities for the following day….

Day 8: Portal Point

Portal Point
Fecha: 14.02.2018
Posición: 064°28’ S / 061°41’ W
Viento: Calm
Clima: Overcast, snowing
Temperatura del Aire: 0

Our final hurrah in Antarctica did not disappoint. As we motored into our anchorage position just off Portal Point, the low cloud lifted to reveal our pristine snowy playground for the morning. Our final landing – our third continental landing – allowed us time to hike up to a spectacular vantage point overlooking the iceberg-filled Gerlache Strait and nearby Charlotte Bay. With not a breath of wind and a light dusting of fluffy snow, many of us took time to find a place to sit and reflect quietly on our own special Antarctic experience. Others admired the Antarctic fur seals that lolled about the rocks near the shoreline, snoozing soundly whilst doing impressive impersonations of the rocks they lay upon. The morning also allowed us time for a final Zodiac cruise. Mother Nature’s watery “sculpture park” of icebergs sparked our imaginations and provided myriad photo opportunities. Various members of Antarctica’s cast came out to farewell us – with fur seals cavorting in the waters, cormorants bobbing about on the surface, and storm petrels and terns flitting over our heads. The star attraction however appeared to be the small groups of humpback whales that, although they were slowly making their way down the Gerlache Strait, obliged us with some good viewings of their characteristic “humped” dorsal fins and enormous tail flukes. For those hardy (or foolhardy) folks amongst us, the opportunity for a final plunge into the frigid waters at the landing site proved too tempting. Squeals and gasps accompanied the mass movement of bodies – appearing not unlike our penguin friends – a gathering together and trepidation before entering, followed by swift gymnastic leaps and scurrying to exit. Soon after our final washing of boots and turning of tags we upped anchor and our floating “home away from home” set sail northwards up the Bransfield Strait. The final curtain of cloud parted in the afternoon and we were treated to more spectacular vistas around the ship – jagged, snow-covered peaks of the continent shining in the distance and the water sparkling like a sea of jewels all around us. As the afternoon progressed, some of us started to review our many, many photographs taken on our expedition. Yet we are now part of a privileged group that know that Antarctica is a place that is so much more than can ever be captured in a simple image. And although words are also often inadequate in describing one’s experience of this icy continent, these ones may just resonate in some way: If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it. — Andrew Denton

Day 9: At Sea Drake Passage Northward

At Sea Drake Passage Northward
Fecha: 15.02.2018
Posición: 060°46’ S / 063°23’ W
Viento: WNW 18 knots
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +5

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…for many, a rather sleepless night. And although the weather was of no consequence, the continuous rolling motion of the ship began to bear on a few too many nerves. Andrew gave us all a reprieve from his dulcet tones, as Sebastian announcing breakfast at 8:00 am was the first thing anyone heard over the PA system. While a few braved the stairs and smells of food, most were content to snooze a couple more hours until the first lecture of the day was announced. Beau talked about seals, the furry and curious creatures seen on the days down in the Antarctic proper. After that it was time for more food, more fantastic things to stuff down our gullets only to be later regurgitated in a rather hurried manner, in no polite fashion. In the afternoon, Nina gave a talk about Antarctic politics, no small feat itself. And again later on Louise made an appearance in the dining room to discuss the early days of whaling, and how it affected culture and populations for many years to come. Happy Hour! Shouted Sebastian over the PA system. What a great idea! Half price drinks at the bar is never a bad thought. At 6:30 pm, Sebastian and Andrew briefed us all once again the lounge, preparing us for the following days to come, as upon arrival in Ushuaia the dreaded culture shock would surely await some of us, exchanging penguins with talking monkeys, Zodiacs with taxis, and gangway sailors with the sometimes not so gentle airport security detail. Silke informed us all about the Southern & Northern lights, fantastic displays of light dancing about the skies like ever so delicate yet beautiful butterflies.

Day 9: At Sea Drake Passage Northward

At Sea Drake Passage Northward
Fecha: 15.02.2018
Posición: 060°46’ S / 063°23’ W
Viento: WNW 18 knots
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +5

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…for many, a rather sleepless night. And although the weather was of no consequence, the continuous rolling motion of the ship began to bear on a few too many nerves. Andrew gave us all a reprieve from his dulcet tones, as Sebastian announcing breakfast at 8:00 am was the first thing anyone heard over the PA system. While a few braved the stairs and smells of food, most were content to snooze a couple more hours until the first lecture of the day was announced. Beau talked about seals, the furry and curious creatures seen on the days down in the Antarctic proper. After that it was time for more food, more fantastic things to stuff down our gullets only to be later regurgitated in a rather hurried manner, in no polite fashion. In the afternoon, Nina gave a talk about Antarctic politics, no small feat itself. And again later on Louise made an appearance in the dining room to discuss the early days of whaling, and how it affected culture and populations for many years to come. Happy Hour! Shouted Sebastian over the PA system. What a great idea! Half price drinks at the bar is never a bad thought.

Day 10: At Sea Drake Passage Northward

At Sea Drake Passage Northward
Fecha: 16.02.2018
Posición: 056°16’ S / 065°56’ W
Viento: WNW 16 knots
Clima: Sunny
Temperatura del Aire: +8

Sunshine, and moderately calm seas. Another day on the Drake Passage, however a rather calm and slightly more enjoyable one. A slight few more of us made it to the dining room for breakfast, albeit a rather short one. Afterwards Liz gave a talk about the blubbery animals we had seen down around the peninsula, and their adaptations to such cold environments, and then it was time for more food in the form of lunch. Although the sun shone, the wind was rather mild, meaning there were simply not so many birds flying out and about the ship. After lunch several exciting activities were planned. First, it was time to return the wonderfully practical rubber boots to the boot room! They had served us well, protecting our feet from penguin guano, rocks, salt water, and various other unwanted things. Alas, all good things must come to an end. After the returning of the boots, Louise gave a talk about the Norwegian explorer Amundsen, and how he conquered the South Pole. Then came the time of reckoning! Sebastian called us all deck by deck down to reception to settle our accounts. Credit card, Maestro, cash, all was accepted for payments other than the dreaded American Express and Argentinian Peso. At promptly 18:00 pm, Andrew called us down the lounge for one more daily briefing. This time there was to be no informative talks, this was to be the Captains farewell cocktail toast, thus ending our voyage on a high note. Cameras flashed like paparazzi, and then it was time for the last dinner on board before entering the beagle channel and sailing up to Ushuaia.

Day 11: Disembarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Disembarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Fecha: 17.02.2018
Posición: 042°45’ S / 065°01’ W
Viento: ESE 5 knots
Clima: Sunny
Temperatura del Aire: +11

We were woken by the last wake-up call from our Expedition Leader Andrew and got ready to disembark for the final time. We didn’t have to turn our tags, there was no Zodiac ride ashore and it was a dry landing. The last ten days have taken us on a remarkable journey from the Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina, across the dreaded Drake Passage to Antarctica and allowed us a glimpse of life in these remote and sometimes inhospitable places. We will all have different memories of our trip but whatever the memories, whether it was the many Gentoo penguins (and humans!) bathing near the glacier at Neko Harbour, the sight of the iceberg graveyard next to Pleneau Island, or stepping on the continent of Antarctica at Base Brown they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Total distance sailed on our voyage: Nautical Miles: 1670 nm Kilometres: 3092 km On behalf of everyone on board we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.

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