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HDS24-19, trip log, Antarctica - Discovery and Learning Voyage

by Oceanwide Expeditions

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Day 1: Embarkation, Ushuaia

Embarkation, Ushuaia
Datum: 11.12.2019
Positie: 54°48’.6 S, 68°17’.9 W
Wind: W5
Weer: overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +7

The start of our expedition was slightly delayed but once aboard we quickly made up for lost time. We were very pleased to get checked in and explore the beautiful ship that will be our floating home – M.V Hondius.
Once we had moved into our cabins, and met a few fellow expeditioners, the first order of business was dinner. The buffet prepared by Head Chef Ralf as well-stocked with delicious food, a good omen for the voyage.
We soon pulled away from the dock and set our course down the Beagle Channel, and then to the open sea, and the south.

Once underway and well-fed, we met in the lounge for our introduction to life onboard and of the mandatory safety briefing. We learned from Expedition Leader (EL) Adam, and Hotel Manager DJ how to find what we need, and what to expect. The emergency alarm of seven short and one long blast sent us to our cabins to collect our life jackets and move to the muster stations and eventually the lifeboats. With that drill completed we had some time to relax in the lounge before testing our beds.

Day 2: Drake Passage

Drake Passage
Datum: 12.12.2019
Positie: 56°21’.7 S, 65°14’.9 W
Wind: W4
Weer: overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +4

When we looked out after the morning wake-up call we saw that the feared Drake Passage was not so fearsome after all – at least so far. A few were queasy, or worse, but the turnout for breakfast was large.

Today was full of briefings and logistical activities to give us the knowledge and equipment that we needed during the expedition. We got fitted for the boots for landings, and learned how we will use them during Zodiac operations. The instructions for behaviour ashore were explained – including the 5-meter rule for wildlife, and how we can best preserve the natural environment. As part of this effort we did a thorough clean of our clothing and had them checked by an Expedition Team member for biosecurity. We needed to ensure that we didn’t carry any invasive species or diseases to this pristine wilderness. It is our responsibility.

In addition, we were introduced to the Expedition Team and learned who to ask when we have questions. The kayakers got together to get fitted for their gear and prepared to go paddling.

Throughout the day we were drawn to the outer decks to keep watch for seabirds and enjoy the wide-open views across the water. The seas were calm enough that passengers were spotted playing the wooden block balancing game Jenga in the library. Remarkable.

Before the Briefing and Recap we toasted with Captain Alexey to the success of our voyage. Then EL Adam gave us Plan A for tomorrow and the rest of the expedition. As expeditioners we understood that Plan A might turn into Plan B, C, D or E as the weather and conditions change. We were ready to respond to any changes.

Part of being an expeditioner is to make sure that we have enough energy to perform when called upon. This was our excuse for the large helping at dinner.
Some of this energy was spent in the lounge because we are all ready to get going. Are we there yet?

Day 3: Drake Passage

Drake Passage
Datum: 13.12.2019
Positie: 60°48’.3 S, 60°54’.1 W
Wind: SW3
Weer: overcast
Luchttemperatuur: -1

Overnight we passed through the biological boundary of Antarctica, the Antarctic Convergence. The air was now much colder and we started keeping watch for icebergs and different seabird species. During the morning we also passed the political boundary of 60° South and entered the region governed by the Antarctic Treaty.

The Drake Passage remained gentle so we were all able to attend our first day of lectures to prepare us for what we would see in the next few days.

First up Johnny and Meike gave presentations about the cutest and most charismatic of birds, the penguins. Then Martin continued with the theme as he covered their cousins, the majestic fliers, in his talk Seabirds – Masters of the Sea and Sky.

John told us the most famous and dramatic story in the history of Antarctic exploration in his lecture on Sir Ernest Shackleton and The Imperial Transantarctic Expedition 1914-1917.

During the afternoon we spotted our first iceberg and had two excellent, prolonged close-up encounters with feeding Humpback whales. They were migrating south and feasting on the krill along the way. What superb creatures, what a show, and what a way to get our expedition underway.

Preparations continued as Ben and Vide gathered the campers for their briefing, and Neil and George held their introductory workshop on photography and videography. We were ready to sleep well and capture great images!
At Recap John used maps to tell us how human knowledge of the unknown lands of the south had unfolded, Vide reviewed the whales we had seen so far, and Meike told how we can become citizen scientists by sending our photos to HappyWhale.com.

The calm seas and watching the whales must have given us an appetite because the dining room was buzzing. Afterward, our Meteorologist Drew gave us an introduction to Antarctic weather. We hoped that he wouldn’t have anything too dramatic to tell us during the voyage.

The lounge was full until late. Only one more sleep.

Day 4: Great Wall Station

Great Wall Station
Datum: 14.12.2019
Positie: 62°13’.6 S, 58°59’.1 W
Wind: variable
Weer: sunny
Luchttemperatuur: +3

It would be hard to imagine a better morning to start of expedition. The sea was flat and the sun shining. After a slight hiccup with time zones we were welcomed by the 40 staff at the Chinese Great Wall Station. It was interesting to see the buildings where they live and work for up to one year. There was the chance to see a bit of Antarctic history with a tour of Building 1 – the first building built when the base was established in 1985. Between the ship and the shore we had our first zodiac cruise. We slid our way through the brash ice and watched the Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins in the water and on the land. For many our first penguins!

The conditions were ideal for kayaking – calm seas, no wind, sunshine with the odd cloud here and there. We hugged the shoreline, sneaking in and out of the shallows and between rocks before arriving at Great Wall. Then out to the small island in the bay and around them. A great first experience of kayaking in Antarctica was had by all!

We had a long distance to travel to the Antarctic Peninsula for our next excursions so the afternoon was spent in a ship cruise. The Expedition Team took the opportunity to continue our education with talks by Jeff in Mandarin about the History of the Great Wall Station, and Steve about the baleen whales of the Southern Ocean in Mysteries of Mysticeti - Majestic Moustached Whales.

During the cruise the opportunity was taken to convene on the bow for a special treat from DJ and his team – hot cocoa and rum to make us as warm and happy on the inside as we were on the outside. We were feeling so good that we had no trouble smiling as various group photos were taken, including one of us all together.

As the cruise continued, we were treated to another surprise. This time it was provided by the Captain and the EL – entry into the caldera of an active volcano at Deception Island. As we explored the sheltered interior, Laura, John, and Johnny told us about the basic geology and history while Laura and Vide gave a more detailed description later that evening.

For dinner we were served at our tables after ordering from the menu instead of from the buffet. The kitchen team upped their game to match the service provided by the dining room team, so we felt very special indeed. Let the good times roll.

And roll they did through a long and entertaining evening in the lounge with a stunning sunset out the window. Antarctic Peninsula tomorrow, can’t wait.

Day 5: Cuverville Island, Orne Harbour

Cuverville Island, Orne Harbour
Datum: 15.12.2019
Positie: 64°40’.2 S, 62°39’.9 W
Wind: N1
Weer: sunny
Luchttemperatuur: 0

The view this morning was a dramatic scene. Rugged Cuverville Island was off the bow surrounded by towering mountains with glaciers falling from the heights. The sea was full of icebergs of every shape and size, and every shade of white and blue imaginable. Indescribable. Welcome to the Antarctic Peninsula.

After a quick bite we were in the zodiacs, or kayaks, for a landing at the Gentoo colony at Cuverville (plus one lost Adelie) or a cruise in the surrounding waters. Both were delightful. The penguins were busy feeding and cleaning in the sea – how quick they are in the water! On shore they are clumsier, but still cute, and determined to get to their nest to share the task of incubating the eggs. The cruise included views of the penguins, crabeater and Weddell seals, Humpback whales, and those magnificent icebergs.

In the kayaks, we circumnavigated the island along the way spending time in the big icebergs and ice cliffs along the shoreline. We turned the corner and went with the flow that pushed us along for a nice visit with a couple of Humpbacks close by.

We didn’t want to leave, and who can blame us.

We were so excited to see the penguins frolicking, that some decided to join them for the Polar Plunge. We were not as graceful, to say the least, nor as well insulated, but we had super fun, and the birds came over to check us out. What a “hoot” for them.

The afternoon landing was on the continent of Antarctica at the spectacular setting of the mountains and glaciers of Orne Harbour. We could have walked to the South Pole from there, but we would have missed dinner. So, we decided to limit our climb to the saddle and a visit to the Chinstrap penguin colony. That made three penguin species in the same day! We had a bonus bit of fun with a bum slide back to the landing site.

The zodiac cruise also featured nesting Chinstrap penguins plus Antarctic Shags with chicks, terns, kelp gulls, and still more cool icebergs. From the water it was possible to get a sense of the vast scale of the scene.

At recap Laura showed us the different types of icebergs. Then dinner was yet another special surprise from the kitchen and hotel teams – a BBQ on the back deck including free beverages! What could be better? How about Killer whales coming in from the starboard bow (did they want some of the BBQ?) And then, how about dancing in the sunset with the crew and staff and our new friends! Too much fun.

During all this excitement the campers had been preparing for their night out. They left the ship at about 10 pm – and I think that most were tired enough to actually sleep. The camping location was Paradise – Paradise Bay that is, but we felt like we were in heaven.

Day 6: Lemaire Channel, Vernadsky Base

Lemaire Channel, Vernadsky Base
Datum: 16.12.2019
Positie: 64°27’.6 S, 63°22’.6 W
Wind: WSW3
Weer: overcast
Luchttemperatuur: -2

In the morning we finally got a chance to see Antarctica in more typical Antarctic conditions. The wind remained moderate, but the sky was grey and the sea full of pack ice. This ice slowed our progress so the planned morning landing was not possible – welcome to expedition travel. Nonetheless, the morning was full of interest. The pack ice gives a constantly changing panorama. The Lemaire Channel, with the mountains rising steeply on both sides of the narrow gap, is a wonder of nature in any weather. The Expedition Team filled any non-deck time with more information to keep us thinking. Johnny got us caught up with background on the places and animals that we have seen. Laura taught us about the rocks that make up those mountains in The Geological History and Mineral Potential of Antarctica.

For the afternoon landing and cruise at the Ukrainian Vernadsky Station we were up close and personal with the pack ice as the zodiac drivers had to either weave around it or push through it. At the base we were greeted by the twelve staff members who took us on a tour to see their laboratories and working conditions. We visited their common rooms, including the bar, as well as visit the most southerly souvenir shop and post office in the world. Homemade vodka shots, retail therapy, and postcards home! Outside, the Kelp Gulls, South Polar Skuas and Gentoo penguins welcomed us too. On the cruise we saw crabeater seals and Adelie penguins.

At recap Vide gave us a rundown on all the different Poles of Antarctica – geographic, magnetic, inaccessibility, and more. We had reached the furthest south for our voyage and Captain Alexey turned us for home, then, as yet another special treat, he took us back through the Lemaire Channel over dinner. The mirror calm water matched our reflective mood.

Day 7: Hydrurga Rocks, Mikkelsen Harbour

Hydrurga Rocks, Mikkelsen Harbour
Datum: 17.12.2019
Positie: 64°08’.6 S, 61°36’.6 W
Wind: N2
Weer: overcast
Luchttemperatuur: 0

We made good progress overnight and the wake-up call came early – but then this is an expedition not a holiday. We made our landing, zodiac cruise and kayaking at Hydrurga Rocks in calm conditions with a gentle sea. Our luck continued. On land was a large Chinstrap colony with the occasional vagrant Adelie and Gentoo penguin seen. Weddell seals were hauled out near the landing site. But, this landing was mostly about the snow! It was deep and we had to follow the long paths to various parts of the Rocks. This made it like a fun holiday with photo opportunities at every corner. We laughed and played, then played and laughed some more.

The cruise featured graceful icebergs, Weddell, Crabeater and Elephant seals, and, of course, those delightful birds. The kayakers had a “swell” time, which isn’t always the best in a kayak. We got underway in the channel between the two islands, taking in a few lazy Weddell seals and the odd Chinstrap rookery along the way. The swell stayed with us throughout the morning so it was good to find a few bays here and there with calmer waters to rest a while and take it all in. Yet another great outing complete with a few challenges to overcome – but we are expeditioners and overcame!

D’Hainault Island, set in the heart of Mikkelsen Harbour, was the site for our afternoon landing, cruise, and kayaking. The island is not notable for its own beauty, but is home to a large Gentoo colony. There is whaling history here with bones and old boats along the shore. Some Weddell seals came to visit too. The special character of this place is made by the mountains and glaciers that completely surround the island. These we were able to see up close from the zodiacs and kayaks. Continuing the theme of this expedition, we had another surprise when DJ came to the party with hot cider and whisky afloat. What a splendid final excursion.

At recap Meike told us more about the Skua and Steve explained about the various seal species. Because we had an early start, we had an early finish – which left time for a few beverages before dinner, some with glacial ice to provide the fizz. We fizzed our way through dinner and on into the lounge – for yet another surprise treat, this time provided by nature. We passed through a large group of bubble-net feeding Humpback whales all around the ship with tail flukes showing through the glorious sunset. Wow.

Day 8: Drake Passage

Drake Passage
Datum: 18.12.2019
Positie: 61°22’.5 S, 64°02’.8 W
Wind: E3
Weer: overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +1

A gentle crossing of the Bransfield Strait overnight gave way to a gentle start to our crossing of the Drake Passage as we enjoyed a sleep-in and leisurely breakfast.
Today was time to again take advantage of the knowledge that the Expedition Team shared. Laurence and Johnny got us started by explaining Ice & Glaciers. Later Szymon helped us learn about the largest member of the dolphin family in his talk about Killer Whales, and Steve gave his talk ‘License to Krill’, focussed on Krill, the incredibly abundant and important food source for all of the animals we have enjoyed seeing over the past few days.
Meanwhile we returned those boots that have served us so well and had time for a chat, photo editing or a nice little nap. And napping seemed an especially attractive option as the wind and sea built during the day. We learned that Hondius was our dancing partner for the Passage as we walked the passageways – and she seemed to be in the mood for a bit of Rock and Roll.
By afternoon we had passed back north of 60° and out of Antarctic waters, but waves were breaking over the bow and the lounge was mostly empty. Nonetheless, the dumpling assembly line in the dining room was in full swing.
Outside, the sea birds love wind and they were around the ship in great numbers.
At recap John showed how the annual freeze and thaw of the sea ice around Antarctica is critical to life in the oceans, and Martin gave a graphic demonstration of the wingspans of the seabirds as well as showing how the sea temperature marks the Antarctic Convergence.
For dinner we got a chance to sample all those dumplings that we had worked so hard to put together. Conditions had eased so the dining room was well populated. Yum yum yum.
With the less bumpy ride the lounge was a nice place to hang out for the evening, especially with the next installment of Frozen Planet on the big screen, but our beds were too attractive to resist for very long.

Day 9: Drake Passage

Drake Passage
Datum: 19.12.2019
Positie: 56°39’.1 S, 64°52’.5 W
Wind: NW6
Weer: cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +4

The changing mood of the Drake Passage had changed again - for the better this time as Hondius provided a smooth ride through the night and morning. Our own mood was a bit melancholy and bittersweet as is inevitable for the final travel day of any expedition. We were content, thrilled even, with the experiences that we had shared, but were also aware that our time of sharing was drawing to a close. Today was a day for double checking onward travel arrangements, circulating to make sure that no farewells with special friends were missed, and wistful reflection.

Happily, the expedition activities were not yet over. Drew helped us understand the atmosphere with his presentation on Ozone Holes and the Sun. Then Vide described the political and environmental governance of the south in his lecture The Antarctic Treaty and Madrid Protocol. Later, Ben prepared us for arrival in his home country with his talk about The Beagle Channel.

Now that we had seen it for ourselves, it was appropriate the Expedition Team presented a lecture mini-series about human impacts on the Antarctic environment – which got us thinking about ways that we can all contribute to the changes that will be required.

The final formal event was a chance to toast to our successes over a farewell drink with Captain Alexey Nazarov including introductions of the Hotel Crew by DJ and one last Thank You to all of the people aboard Hondius who worked so hard to made our holiday so wonderful. Then, off to the dining room to enjoy another excellent meal. The noise from chatter was so loud we had to shout to arrange the photos at the tables. Finally, after a few birthday songs, another excellent surprise – Baked Alaska for dessert – with fireworks! The work done by Head Chef Ralf and his team has been outstanding from start to finish.

We knew that we would have an early start in the morning, but it didn’t seem to matter as we got together in the lounge one more time and partied until late (but not quite as late as the Expedition Staff!).

Day 10: Disembarkation, Ushuaia

Disembarkation, Ushuaia
Datum: 20.12.2019
Positie: 54°48’.6 S, 68°18’.1 W
Wind: NE3
Weer: cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +10

A quick breakfast, luggage out, double check the passports, handshakes then down the gangway to whatever adventure awaits. Go well.

Thank you all for such a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

Total distance sailed on our voyage: 1571 nautical miles

Furthest South: 65°15’.0 S, 064°16’.0 W

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Alexey Nazarov, Expedition Leader Adam Turner, Hotel Manager DJ Nikolic and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

Details

Reiscode: HDS24-19
Reisdatum: 11 Dec – 20 Dec, 2019
Duur: 9 nachten
Schip: m/v Hondius
Inscheping: Ushuaia
Ontscheping: Ushuaia

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Aboard m/v Hondius

Hondius is het eerste geregistreerde Polar Class 6-schip ter wereld dat voldoet aan de nieuwste en hoogste Lloyd's Register-normen voor ijsversterkte cruiseschepen.

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