OTL27-18, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation, Ushuaia

Embarkation, Ushuaia
Datum: 13.01.2018
Positie: 54°48.6‘S, 068°18.0‘W
Wind: N 4
Luchttemperatuur: +13

So finally, the much-awaited departure day was upon us! We woke up in Ushuaia to blue skies and sunshine, full of excitement and anticipation at the thought of boarding the Ortelius Plancius for our forthcoming adventure - for many of us today signified the culmination of a lifelong dream! We spent the morning exploring this lovely Patagonian city, soaking up 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 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 which stands for “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue, clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting. It was a sunny but breezy afternoon as we made our way along the pier to the boat at 16:00, ready to board our new floating home for the next 11 days. We were greeted by members of our expedition staff who directed us to the reception where we were checked in by Hotel Manager DJ and his assistant Sava, and the friendly hotel team showed us our cabins. There we found our luggage and in no time at all we settled in and started to explore our new surroundings. At 17:00 we convened in the lecture room on deck three to meet expedition leader Cheryl, who welcomed us on board the ship. Third Officer, Warren then acquainted us with the safety features of the vessel and with the essential do’s and don’ts on board. Soon afterwards it was time for the mandatory safety drill and we gathered in the bar, donned our big orange lifejackets and went through the roll call to make sure everybody was there. We were then escorted outside to take a look at the lifeboats, but were left confident that we would have no reason to do this again in the next 11days! Many of us then headed out on deck with cameras in hand as we pulled away from the pier and started to navigate the Beagle Channel. At 18:30 we met in the lounge/Bar on Deck 6 in order to meet key crew/staff and learn about ship routine during our voyage. Hotel Manager DJ imparted useful information about mealtimes, Internet/Webmail access and treating the toilets nicely. He was followed by Expedition Leader Cheryl, who introduced Captain Mika – the person who would get us there and back again safely. He spoke a few words and explained that we were welcome on the bridge during daylight hours, which is a great viewing platform for bird-watching and also the place to find out from officers on watch what life is like at sea. We raised a glass of bubbly (or orange juice) to the success of our voyage and then Cheryl told us a little about the forthcoming voyage before handing a over to her team of guides and the Grande Espace team for a little self-introduction. Shortly afterwards we were invited to the dining room to enjoy the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by head chef Khabir and his team. There was a real buzz in the dining room, as we got to know each other and talked about our hopes and aspirations for this voyage. Our first evening was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements and settling into our cabins before retiring for the night.

Day 2: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Antarctica

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Antarctica
Datum: 14.01.2018
Positie: 56°41.9’S, 066°26.8’W
Wind: NE 7
Luchttemperatuur: +8

Overnight the Drake Passage put on its usual show. With lots of movement caused by a 3m swell. We were woken gently at 8.00am with a call over the tannoy. First job of the day was breakfast before starting our busy day of mandatory lectures. These started with the IAATO lecture where we found how to interact with the wildlife without causing the animals distress. The excitement built as we all realised what we are going to do and see. Then onto another great lunch at sea. Then we enjoyed cleaning our personal kit, the room was full of the sounds of vacuuming and laughter as we cleaned and check our kit to ensure we had no seeds on the Velcro and zips. Once we had cleaned we acknowledged doing so with a signature. This took up most of the afternoon but ensures Antarctica stays pristine. We must be far from land as the seabirds were very sparse. However, a few Albatross circled the ship flying without flapping their wings at all. These birds are very beautiful and ever so graceful. Recap came too soon, the topics covered were the Antarctic Convergence we learnt some great facts about the water around Antarctica Curtis gave a great lecture. We should cross the Convergence [Polar Front] this evening so we were told to expect fog. Martin gave a brief introduction on the seabirds we will hopefully see. He showed some great photos he had taken and told us some great facts about each type of bird. Then off to dinner for more of the great food onboard Ortellius. The day seems to have just flown by and we are all ready to begin our adventure proper very soon.

Day 3: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Antarctica

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Antarctica
Datum: 15.01.2018
Positie: 61°22.5’S, 066°59.9’W
Wind: SSE 8
Luchttemperatuur: +2

The night passed peacefully, with the winds dropping considerably, so most felt well rested when the wake-up call came at 07.30. Outside, there was a cool breeze, the clouds were hanging low and a thick fog was lingering, which was no surprise as overnight we had crossed the Antarctic Convergence and were now officially in Antarctica, based on the biological boundary. After breakfast, we headed up into the lounge where Sara presented an ‘Introduction to Polar Photography’ where she gave us some useful tips on how to improve our pictures. She explained how it is not just picture taking, but more about picture making, how we can arrange the horizon and where to put our main component of the picture. She also introduced us to some of the technical terms and settings, such as f-stop, shutter speed and ISO and which to use for what kind of picture. On Sara’s recommendation, many people headed out on to deck afterwards to play with their cameras and get acquainted with some of the techniques she spoke about. At 11:00, Michael gave a lecture on polar exploration, with an emphasises on the Mawson expedition. It was most interesting to hear about the heroic, but extremely treacherous lifestyles the early polar explores had to endure, making us realise how lucky we were to have the very comfortable Ortelius as our safe haven. Soon afterwards lunch was being served, but there was no time for mid afternoon nap as we had to reconvene in the lecture room for a mandatory zodiac safety briefing, where Kurtis explained how zodiac operations would work over the forthcoming days. Thereafter, it was the campers meeting with Ben where he explained how the activity would operate and answered any questions the group had. As expected there were a few surprised faces when he appeared with the bivy bags and the potty toilet! At 16:00, Martin invited us to his Penguin lecture in the bar which provided us with an overview of the breeding cycle, habitat and seasonal change effecting several species of penguins. It looked at the challenges and pressures involved in reuniting with a partner from previous years or finding a new one, setting up home with a good nest, finding food and avoiding predators. All of this has to be achieved in the short Austral summer and the penguins do it, not with ease, but with great determination and courage in a very difficult environment. His lecture only served to boost our excitement as to what we might see the next few days.All this was followed by another meeting! This time, the kayakers met with Louise for an introductive briefing into the activity including the distribution of the gear and setting up the kayaks.

Day 4: Cuverville Island and Port Lockroy

Cuverville Island and Port Lockroy
Datum: 16.01.2018
Positie: 64°41.00’S, 062°38.00’W
Wind: SW 8
Luchttemperatuur: +1

We awoke early and had breakfast before getting ready for a full day of adventures. As we approached Cuverville the wind was gusting 40 kts and the sea was a mass of white horses. It didn’t look promising. However, the nearer we got to the island the better the conditions became. We left the ship and headed to the island. Port Lockroy (The Penguin Post Office). We had to split into two teams for this landing as only 60 people are allowed ashore at any one time. Both teams had a similar experience. Seeing lots of Gentoos raising their chicks. Some were even under the Post Office. It was a joy to watch them using their highways to move around. They give you such a nonchalant look as they pass you by. The Skuas were again flying around looking for any opportunity to grab a chick. Sheathbills also scooted around looking for feeding opportunities. We took the opportunity to send postcards home and bought many a souvenir. A surreal experience to be shopping in such a wilderness. Cruising around the ice filled harbour was a wonderful experience. It started with a leopard Seal on the ice. Then further in the harbour we saw a large whale skeleton on the beach. Leaving the harbour, we followed the shore and saw Chinstrap penguin on the rocks. Then a large leopard seal displayed under the boat. This apex predator was huge and showed all onboard its markings as it displayed in the water. The surrounding scenery was stunning the Seven Sisters shrouded in mist were unforgettable. Although we were cold we didn’t want to return to the ship. We went back onboard all hungry and ready for our evening meal after a stunning start to our Antarctic holiday.

Day 5: Peterman Island & Pleneau Island

Peterman Island & Pleneau Island
Datum: 17.01.2018
Positie: 65°14.0’S, 065°40.6’W
Wind: NE 6
Luchttemperatuur: +2

This morning, we were woken from our restful sleep after yesterday’s excitement a little bit early since we were leaving the Southern Gerlache Strait and heading towards the Penola Strait. The rout in between took us through the thousand-meter-deep, hundred and sixty-meter-wide, highly picturesque Lemaire Channel. Only nine Kilometers long this is one leg of our journey that was well worth getting up for. The chief officer, looking through his binoculars, gave his skeptical assessment that it looked packed with ice. None the less, we tentatively pushed ahead weaving in between the icebergs finding a path just wide enough for our ship to glide through and after half an hour, we came out the other end into a large bay, the northern end of the Penola Strait. A quick trip inside for breakfast. Outside, with our bellies full, the ship arrived to the shores of Petermann Island, the farthest southern point of our journey. We went ashore to find some Adelie penguins, one of the true Antarctic penguins, found nowhere else in the world. Along with the Adelies, Gentoos also call Petermann Island home. A walk up the hill and around the corner gave us a much-appreciated leg stretch and fantastic views of a small ice choked bay on the other side of the island. Some of us also went on a Zodiac cruise to find some ice and were treated to clear water beautiful ice, seals and some views of Humpback whales in the distance. Lunch. Back outside, around the corner and on the shores of Pleneau island we were met by towering icebergs, each a sculpture shaped by the wind and waves, blown into this protected harbour by storms and trapped in the shallows. The ship dropped it’s anchor on the south side of Port Charcot, the winter anchorage of the Pourquoi Pas?, the first expedition of the French national hero Jean-Baptiste Charcot. Between the ship and the shores of nearby Pleneau Island we cruised around one particular iceberg shaped like a cathedral, with one square serrac still intact in the centre. Whale blows were seen and heard in the icy stillness as seals lounged lazily after feeding. Onshore Gentoo penguins formed a fabulous foreground to the magnificent backdrop of Booth Island. Dinner. A few brave souls then got dressed once more to head outdoors and re-boarded the zodiacs with sleeping bags in hand to go and spend a night off the ship and on the ice. The rest of us got tucked in bed, a very full day behind us, anxious to see what tomorrow would bring.

Day 6: Orne Harbour And Brown Station.

Orne Harbour And Brown Station.
Datum: 18.01.2018
Positie: 64 38 00 s, 62 33 00 W
Wind: NE 4
Luchttemperatuur: +3

The 6th day of our Antarctic adventure took an early start at 3.30 am when some of us woke up in sleeping bags in rain and under a grey sky on Hovgaard Island. As soon as everyone was back on Ortelius we set course to Orne Harbour to hopefully get to spend some time with the local Chinstrap Penguins breeding on the mountain ridges above the bay. At 10.30 am we set anchor and after some 200m climbing we finally reached the crest of ridge. Snowfall mixed with rain reduced visibility somewhat, but at least a couple of Chinstrap Penguins where around to say hello. On our way through the Gerlache Strait we counted to at least 25 Humpback Whales and a few us were lucky to spot a distant pod of Killer Whales together with Snow Petrels, Southern Fulmars and Wilson’s Storm Petrels. Late in the afternoon we arrived to Brown Station, an Argentina managed research Station. Zodiac cruses offered some close-up views of a group of curious Crabeater Seals and Antarctic Cormorants while those of use that climbed the hill behind the research station had an astonishing view over Skontorp Cove and the enormous glacier behind. For those brave enough, the last event of the day was a refreshing bath in the one degree seawater from the cliffs in front of the research Station.

Day 7: Neko Harbour, Wilhelmina Bay

Neko Harbour, Wilhelmina Bay
Datum: 19.01.2018
Positie: 64°51.00’S, 062°32.5’W
Wind: NNE 7
Luchttemperatuur: +2

This was probably one of the most complete activity days we had on the schedule, combining a landing with zodiac cruise. But the preparation started the day before during recap when we got a few tips about the safety operations due to the presence of a very active glacier very close to the place we had to go at Neko harbor. The landing spot offered a big roaming area for having nice different views of the surroundings and get the chance to see some calvins from a safe and nice perspective, not very demanding walks but good enough to move and exercise and burn some calories after the wonderful meals that Khabir and the galley team prepared on the last days. The first walk in direction to the glacier took us though some Gentoos (and one Adelie) to a plateau section where the remainings of an Argentinean hut was used for some penguins to nest and also a few whale’s bones gave shelter from the wind to these little fellows. To the other side of the place a longer and higher path took us to a panoramic viewpoint, close to some penguins. As it was not allowed to disembark everybody ashore at the same time, the number of passengers had to be divided and half were on land and the other half went cruising for later change and give the chance to everybody to do and visit the same place. The cruise was very entertaining, driving between the ice and seeing crabeater seals resting on the ice and minke whales getting curious and approaching to the zodiacs for a few minutes to give to us a nice welcoming and show. The afternoon arrived and we found ourselves in between glaciers at Wilhelmina bay, but this time just for a cruise between the brush ice. We were lucky to see leopard, Weddel and crabeater seals all around the place and with no wind at all which made it even better. Unfortunately, the day was not full of good news. Checking the forecast and weather predictions, Captain Mika and the crew discovered that on our way back we were going to head straight to a storm with 65 knots of wind and 8 meters waves (sometimes up to 10 meters). Considering safety first and also being in schedule for everybody make it back home in time on the booked flights, the team took the decision of turning around one day before the original plan. When the news were told by recap, some scared faces appeared but also trusting on the Captain experience and choice.

Day 8: At sea in the Drake

At sea in the Drake
Datum: 20.01.2018
Positie: 62°13.1’S, 058°54.0’W
Wind: NW 6
Luchttemperatuur: +3

After getting last night’s news that we needed to leave the peninsula a day early it was with heavy hearts that we woke up this morning back out at sea having left the glaciated shores of the Antarctic Peninsula. Headed north again, we have some time to digest what we have seen, try and understand what we have experienced and appreciate such a wonderful place. The sea was calm, the ship only moved a little, we weren’t due to hit the heavy weather until tomorrow and the expedition team wasted no time in giving a few more informative lectures; from Jean-Baptiste Charcot an explorer of the past to oceanography and geology, the underwater world of diving in Antarctica and seals and Krill the day was packed full of information and interest, our learning not yet done for the voyage. All day long, we had tremendous bird life around the ship, squadrons of Cape petrels kept up with us as we made our way along, the odd Black Browed albatross and one lonely Grey Headed albatross also made appearances as they whizzed by searching for their next meals. A few whale blows were spotted in the distance in the evening time a nice reminder of our experiences the day before in the Gerlache Strait. Our daily recap showed us our progress so far on our crossing, nearly half of the distance we need to cover already behind us. We also cleared up the mystery of why ice is blue and heard some rather long-winded poetry of why the fur side is the best side inside when dealing with the explorer’s Reindeer sleeping bags. After dinner, as a night cap, Daniel told us about some of his time spent in Dumont D’Urville as he narrated a film documenting a year around the station.

Day 9: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia
Datum: 21.01.2018
Positie: 60°32.4’S, 061°09.9’W
Wind: W 9
Luchttemperatuur: +3

In the night the ship had rocked and rolled with the significant swells, bouncing and pitching along. Some of us did not get much sleep and the day was a rather quiet one, starting slow with most people taking to their cabins either to tend to their seasickness or to make up for lost sleep. Few people were at meals. The Bridge was a good place to be to keep an eye on the horizon as well as watch out for the occasional big wave breaking over Ortelius’ bow or the lonely seabird seemingly enjoying the conditions. It was good to experience the full fury of the sea. You could feel its energy beneath your feet with every rise and fall of the ship. It made you feel like one of the old adventurers we have learnt so much about this week. The ship was surrounded by many seabirds big and small the most impressive being the Albatross that circled the ship. After breakfast, Louise lectured about Early Whaling History and some of her family history in Antarctica. While the low ceiling of clouds with intermittent mist and fog banks kept on rolling through, the conditions eased somewhat in the afternoon when Kurtis gave his talk on Southern Oceanography, followed by Mick who shared part two of his penguin lecture (“Penguin Summer”) with us. At Recap, we learned about the Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius – and that we’d probably better have an early night: On our journey north to Ushuaia, according to the forecast, wind and swell were to pick up again during the night.

Day 10: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia
Datum: 22.01.2018
Positie: 56°51.6’S, 064°46.4’W
Wind: W 8
Luchttemperatuur: +7

After a night with less ship’s movement than expected, we woke to grey seas and grey skies. The wind had increased, and every now and then, spray came flying across the bow and up to the Bridge windows. The sea had shown us all her majesty and we were still smiling.

Day 11: Ushuaia

Datum: 23.01.2018
Positie: 54°49.0‘S, 068°17.0‘W

All good things come to an end, they say. Today was our last morning on the Ortelius. After a last night in our cabin, which had come to feel like home, it was time to move on to new adventures. We put our luggage in the corridors this morning as asked, so the crew could take it off the ship for us. After one last breakfast on board, it was time to say goodbye. Goodbye to our ship and its crew and staff, and to our new friends. Arrangements were made to stay in touch and farewells were said. We could look back on an exciting and successful trip all the way to the Antarctic Circle and to some of the most spectacular places of the Antarctic Peninsula, and all of us had many memories (and photos!) of wildlife and stunning scenery during our days at sea, Zodiac-cruising activities and shore landings. Finally, we handed in the keys to our cabins, picked up our luggage from the pier, said goodbye to Ortelius and the team and made our way into Ushuaia or to the airport for our onward journeys. Maybe we’ll meet again somewhere, some day! Thank you all for such a great voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be! Total Distance Sailed: 1.869 Nautical Miles On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Mika Appel, Expedition Leader Cheryl Randall, Hotel Manager Dejan Nikolic and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

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