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PLA25-18, trip log, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Datum: 09.01.2019
Positie: 54°48’S / 068°18’W
Wind: N 5-6
Weer: Partly Cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +10

So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going 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 the Great White Continent of Antarctica. Most passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board our ship MV Plancius, home for our Antarctic adventure! We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition staff who sent us on board to meet Hotel and Restaurant Managers, Zsuzsanna and Alex. 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 Francois, 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 general 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. We were invited once again to the lounge to meet our Hotel Manager Zsuzsanna who gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next 10 days or so. We then met our Expedition Leader, Katja Riedel and the rest of the Expedition Team who will guide us in Antarctica. After the many briefings and introductions, we departed from the jetty of Ushuaia, a little later than planned due to strong winds at the port, and entered the Beagle Channel with an escort of black browed albatross. This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Artur Iakovlev and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chef Ralf and his galley staff. 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!

Day 2: At sea to the Falkland Islands

At sea to the Falkland Islands
Datum: 10.01.2019
Positie: 54°26’ S / 064°34’ W
Wind: NW 6
Weer: Overcast/rain
Luchttemperatuur: +8

Many of us were already up and around when Katja made the first wake-up call of the voyage, but for those of us still being gently rocked in our bunks it was time to get up and see what the sea day would bring. It was a bright and breezy morning, but with a bit of a tail wind we were making good progress. After breakfast many of us wrapped up warm and headed out on deck to enjoy the sunshine and gaze at the birds that were flying around the ship. 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. We found plenty of Cape Petrels skimming the water close at hand, and further afield Giant Petrels and several species of albatross glided, using the air currents to demonstrate their skill at dynamic soaring. Every now and then they would fly right past the deck or bridge window, allowing for some good photographic opportunities. At 10:30am Adam gathered the English speakers in the lounge for the mandatory IAATO briefing, whilst Katja offered the German equivalent in the dining room. The briefing explained how we should behaviour whilst in Antarctica to ensure the protection and conservation of this incredible, but very fragile environment. It is important that we follow certain protocol to ensure that we leave no trace of our visit and only take away nothing more than memories. Most people headed back outside after the briefing to continue enjoying the favourable conditions we were being blessed with. At 3pm, Sara gave a lecture in English about Photography, in the hope it would help us to take pictures that we would be happy with over the forthcoming days. She spoke mainly about looking after your camera equipment, composition, learning to critique your own photos and for those who wanted to learn a little more technical stuff, she encouraged us to approach her on a one to one basis. Sandra being a very accomplished photographer in her own right did the German equivalent downstairs in the dining room. After the obligatory tea and cake, it was time for the mandatory zodiac safety briefing, as earlier in the day Katja did the German one and Adam the English version. They told us everything we needed to know about safe Zodiac operations, as we would need to use these newly-acquired skills in the morning to make our first landing of the voyage. After which we headed downstairs to collect our rubber boots ready for wet landings on shore. The staff were on hand to ensure that the system ran with the utmost efficiency, with boots of all sizes being passed along the line to ensure everyone got the correct size ready to go ashore in the morning. The final official event of the day was our first daily recap and briefing session. Katja had a lot to tell us about the next couple of days and you could feel the excitement and anticipation growing as she spoke. Adam then gave a short summary of the history of the Falkland Islands, in fact he was able to condense 500 years of history into 15 mins. Sara then followed this with some fun facts and trivia about the 778 little islands that make up the Falkland’s Archipelago. There was a lot of enthusiastic chatter as we descended to the Dining Room afterwards, as people shared their hopes and expectations for the forthcoming days with one another.

Day 3: Carcass Island & West Point Island – Falkland Islands

Carcass Island & West Point Island – Falkland Islands
Datum: 11.01.2019
Positie: 51°26’ S / 60°46’ W
Wind: NNW 5
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +15

We awoke to a bright sunny day but there was a strong breeze blowing. Nonetheless most of headed on deck to take in the views of the approaching Falkland Islands, some early risers even got a quick sighting of some distant fin whales. Just before breakfast was served Captain carefully navigated through a narrow gap between West Point Island and West Falkland called The Woolly Gut. This gave us our first opportunity to see penguins as they porpoised through the water, there was also plenty of other birdlife to enjoy as we passed closed to the islands including ducks, geese, cormorants, albatross and terns. Our first landing of the day, and indeed of the trip, was to be at Carcass Island, owned and operated by Rob and Lorraine McGill. The Island sits to the northwest of the Falkland Islands Archipelago, and with sunny skies we left Plancius and headed for the island by Zodiac, it was a little bumpy and wet but nothing too untoward. A lucky few also saw a small pod of Commerson’s Dolphins who were intrigued by our presence and milled around the gangway for some time while people boarded the zodiacs. Most of us decided to head off on a long hike from Dyke Bay to Leopard Beach and then along to the settlement, while a small group chose to be ferried straight to the settlement in order to explore on our own and have great photo opportunities. Along the hike we were able to see our first penguins: Magellanics and Gentoos. The Magellanics were burrowing in the ground, but we saw many coming up from the beach and standing guard outside their burrows. The Gentoos nest in the open, and we were lucky enough to see lots of quite large chick which were quite curious and troublesome to their parents. We walked down onto the beautiful Leopard Beach, with its gorgeous white sand and turquoise waters, strongly contrasting with the black and white of the penguins coming out of it. On the beach we found many Upland Geese shedding their feathers. As we began to walk towards the settlement rain began to fall, but it wasn’t going to dampen our visit, and we made our way towards the house for cake and tea. Along the way we were delighted by the various bird species that could be found, including Striated Caracaras, Magellanic Snipe, Ruddy-headed Geese, Meadowlarks and the much sought-after endemic Cobb’s Wren. As we came to the settlement we headed to the home of Rob and Lorraine, who, along with their Chilean staff, had put on a spread of fantastic fancy scones, cakes and biscuits. We were all delighted to sip tea, sample the variety of cakes, and exchange stories with these Falkland locals. Soon after it was time to head back on the Zodiacs to Plancius for lunch; though some of us were not requiring too much lunch after all those cakes! It was no time at all before we were in position for our afternoon landing at West Point Island, as it less than 10 nautical miles from our morning location. On arrival, the conditions looked good so zodiacs were quickly lowered and we were shuttled ashore once more. West Point Island is managed by a lovely couple, named Allen and Jackie, who were at the jetty to greet us. Armed with binoculars and cameras we made our way up the hillside to the ‘Devil’s Nose’, a rocky promontory which juts out into the sea in dramatic fashion from a spectacular coastline of steep cliffs which is home to over almost 3,000 breeding pairs of Black-browed Albatross and 500 pairs of Rockhopper Penguins. Both species had quite large chicks and the place was a hive of activity with parents continually coming and going and feeding their offspring so guests were asked to stay a respectfully distance and relatively quiet so as to avoid any unnecessary disturbance. The imposing landscape and the abundance of wildlife was a sight for sore eyes, many guests stayed over two hours observing and snapping at the colony. It was most enjoyable watching the funny antics of these feisty penguins whilst the enormous and majestic albatrosses soared above us, sometime only missing our heads my a few inches! The last zodiac back to the ship was 6pm, so just in time for our daily recap where Katja explained the plans for tomorrow. This was followed by short explanation about the dynamics of how sea birds fly by Eduardo and a little history about Carcass Island by Sandra before dinner. For those who still had the energy, the evening was spent in the bar reminiscing about our first true, and very successful expedition day and editing photos.

Day 4: Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

Port Stanley, Falkland Islands
Datum: 12.01.2019
Positie: 51°41’ S / 057°57’ W
Wind: Light
Weer: Drizzle
Luchttemperatuur: +14

After we left West Point Island we sailed overnight across the north coast of the Falkland Islands until reaching the eastern tip when, after midnight, we headed South, aiming to enter Port Stanley in the early hours of the 12th. We crossed the "Narrows", a place that adequately describes the passage before entering the bay of Port Stanley. Once our ship was positioned inside the bay, We dropped anchor and commenced our landing operations. Sadly, the weather was not cooperating too much and a persistent rain moisten everything regarding how well equipped you were. Our guests have made some plans to visit this singular port. As soon as we disembark our guests dispersed along the main street making the respective stops at the different monuments and significant buildings. Hence, pictures were made of the Governor's House, the Monument to the Falkland's War and the iconic monument to Margaret Tatcher, as well to the monuments commemorating the Battle of the Falklands in 1914. There were guests who also visited the two main Churches in town, both places showing nice memorabilia regarding the history of the islands. Another place that had a lot of visits was the Post Office, a place where people bought rare post stamps from the Falklands as well sent postcards to their beloved ones. At 9:30 the Falkland Museum opened its doors and many of our guests decided to enjoy a guided tour given by our historian on board, Ingo. This visit lasted more than an hour. Afterwards our guests decided either to go back to the ship or to spend the remaining time walking around and also shopping at the different souvenir shops. Shortly before 12:00, all our guests were back at ship, and by 12:00 the last zodiac was returning to the ship. We hove anchor soon after 12, and by lunch time we were underway, heading for South Georgia. Onboard we had a very quiet afternoon, and most of our guests enjoyed the views of the multiple black browed albatrosses, the multiple skuas and petrels and the blues of the ocean around us.

Day 5: At Sea to South Georgia

At Sea to South Georgia
Datum: 13.01.2019
Positie: 52°24’ S / 051°32’ W
Wind: WSW 6
Weer: Drizzle
Luchttemperatuur: +5

The number of passengers going outside slightly decreased compared to the days before. We have to say it wasn't a usual quiet Sunday. After a breakfast, the morning began by a mandatory briefing to prepare for our visit in South Georgia. The non-profit group IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) developed the briefing so that everyone wanting to experience this special place will understand how to do their part to keep it as special and pristine as we can—including how to behave around the animals we will see. Then the real fun began—the vacuum party. We need to make sure we do not transfer non-native material between places we visit, as new introductions could lead to invasive plants changing the native ecosystem-- or even spreading a virus between animal colonies. The first step was to go through all of our outer clothing and vacuum the Velcro©, cuffs, backpacks—any areas that could trap seeds. Everyone was very diligent in their cleaning activities and most people had completed the task by lunch time! Still in the morning, from the bridge, while watching birds, a quite impressive flock of Prions, Albatrosses, Giant Petrels and some other species let us think there could be some sea mammals just under the sea surface. Half a minute later, dark fins were seen between the waves. Orcas! Once the announcement was done, they suddenly disappeared. And what we saw then was Pilot Whales heading their way. After we thought we were mistaken, we realised both species were actually running along the ship. The afternoon was busy with Pippa presenting The History of Antarctic whaling while Adam made a really interesting introduction to South Georgia later on. Pippa told us more about Orcas and Pilot Whales we had the chance to meet earlier. And Katja detailed tomorrow plans as we will soon land on South Georgia.

Day 6: At sea to South Georgia

At sea to South Georgia
Datum: 14.01.2019
Positie: 53°13’ S / 044°36’ W
Wind: W 6
Weer: Cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +5

After crossing the Antarctic Convergence overnight, we maintained our course to South Georgia in a confused swell and amongst breaking waves of up to 3m. During the day we have a full schedule of lectures to keep us entertained on an otherwise quiet day. Sara kicked things off with a talk on the Pinnipeds of the Southern Ocean; including detailed information on the types of seals we can expect to see on our trip. Sara played us some of the sounds some of the seals make and they are quite extraordinary. Adam then gave us an in depth look at the Life of Ernest Shackleton, while Ingo gave his talk on Shackleton in the dining room for our German guests. We learned of this explorer’s life; from his upbringing, his home life and of course his expeditions. At the end of Adam’s presentation, we made a toast to ‘the boss’ with Mackinlay’s Shackleton replica whiskey. Sara rounded off the guides’ contribution in the afternoon with an overview of Penguins which we expect to see throughout our voyage. From Gentoos to Kings, she covered everything about these feathery beauties. As we sailed past the Shag Rocks, an area renowned for great whale sightings and feeding areas for large numbers of seabirds, we sighted many blows. Soon we had a beautiful encounter with a group of feeding humpbacks. These large leviathans are a wonder to see, and we managed to see them very close to Plancius. Snow petrels, white-bellied storm petrels and numerous prions were seen darting amongst the breaking waves in search of their planktonic prey, in addition to the odd Antarctic fur seal bobbing about the surface watching the Plancius pass at a safe distance. After a recap on our plans for our first day in South Georgia tomorrow, we headed to the dinning room for another delicious meal. After dinner Ingo gives a bar talk to our German guests on ‘Prototourism; do we destroy what we discover?’

Day 7: Grytviken & Fortuna Bay, South Georgia

Grytviken & Fortuna Bay, South Georgia
Datum: 15.01.2019
Positie: 54°03’ S / 036°43’ W
Wind: W 5
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +3

The day began with views to the mountains of ‘frightful aspect’ that were described by Captain James Cook after his discovering of South Georgia, (albeit it had been thought that it was found previously). We headed along the coastline and entered Cumberland Bay, a small cove nestles in this large split bay; this was to be our first landing and first chance to set foot on South Georgia. Grytviken is an old whaling station positioned in one of the best natural harbours on the whole island and it is here that the museum, government and British Antarctic Survey have a presence both at Grytviken and the research station at King Edward Point. We were invited to the Lounge for a presentation by Dani from the South Georgia Heritage Trust, who gave an overview of the Habitat Restoration project to eradicate the rats from the island over the last seven years. The project was successful and South Georgia has recently been declared free of rodents. She explained what we could do to help by sponsoring a hectare of the island or purchasing items at the gift shop in the museum. After the presentation Zodiacs were ready to take us ashore in decent weather conditions. We were dropped near to the museum next to the old whale catchers and had the opportunity to join a guided tour. Afterwards, we had time to roam freely about the area, to go shopping and to send some postcards home to our loved ones. We also visited the church, museum and the replica of the James Caird. Reboarding the Zodiacs at the end of this landing was typical for South Georgia so far as it involved strong winds; so some of us got wet. We enjoyed lunch onboard the Plancius as we repositioned to Fortuna Bay for our next activity. This is the bay where Sir Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean began the final stage of their overland crossing to Stromness whaling station to seek help following the entrapment and sinking of their ship the ‘Endurance’ during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Consequently, all other members of the expedition were rescued with no loss of life. We were taken ashore in zodiacs and walked from the beach towards the King penguin colony, the route led us to a small hill formed by the moraine that gave us an amazing view across the colony and towards the glacier in the background. The weather was nothing other than great and most of us sat at the view point for a short time to enjoy the tranquility and splendor of the site. The colony of King penguins is thought to be home to an estimated 7,000 pairs and it was great to see the creches formed by the chicks. Also, we saw the Giant Petrels and Skua’s waiting for an unguarded egg or placenta to become available for them. Towards the end of the walk we saw some King penguins that had come from the colony. Fortuna Bay takes its name from a whale catcher called ‘Fortuna,’ built in Sandefjord, Norway in 1904. She weighed 164 gross tonnes and was 30.3 meters long. She was one of the 3 original ships brought to South Georgia by Carl Anton Larsen who started whaling at Grytviken. At 6:00 am on the 14th of May 1916 she ran aground at Hope Point, near Grytviken and sank. The helmsman had just received 2 letters and was reading them at the time, wreckage can still be seen on the beach. After this amazing afternoon, we were taken back to the Plancius, all a bit tired after our first day on South Georgia. Katja gave us the plans for the following day and we were then called to dinner before enjoying some more spectacular scenery as we headed along the coast. “For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” Sir Raymond Priestly, Antarctic Explorer and Geologist

Day 8: At Sea to Stanley

At Sea to Stanley
Datum: 16.01.2019
Positie: 53°51’ S / 038°28’ W
Wind: NW 7
Weer: Fog
Luchttemperatuur: +6

As planned, Katja woke us at 5:45am, unfortunately this was to let us know that the morning landing had been cancelled at Prion Island and that we could enjoy a little more sleep if we wished. Just before our breakfast at 8am we gathered in the lounge for a briefing to inform us of a situation that developed overnight. Katja had the task of informing us that a medical emergency had occurred on board and that we had no choice but to leave South Georgia and return to Stanley in order to facilitate the medical evacuation of the passenger in question. Obviously, this was a real shock and of great disappointment for all involved, but there was no other option, personal safety and well-being has to be of foremost importance in all good expeditions. As we headed downstairs to breakfast, trying to absorb this news, the Plancius had already rerouted and was making good speed towards its new destination of Stanley. Understandable the atmosphere around the ship was a little subdued, but Adam and Ingo were on hand to entertain guests with tales of two great Polar Explorers, Scott and Amundsen. With recent events we were beginning to appreciate the true nature of Polar Exploration and could really appreciate the trials and tribulations these iconic men faced on their travels. Just as Adam was concluding his presentation a couple of humpback whales were spotted from the windows of the lounge, which was a lovely reminder that although our plans had somewhat been thwarted, there was still plenty to see and enjoy on our forthcoming days at sea. After lunch Katja gathered us in the lounge for an update on our sailing plan. She read the official statement from Oceanwide and shared with us her own and the Captains hopes to still try and get us to Antarctica and have a few action packed, memorable days in the Great White Continent. It was clear that Katja and her trusty team wanted to make the very best of this situation, and they were on hand to answer any questions or concerns we might have. At 15:30pm Regis gave a very interesting lecture on King Penguins, which Sandra translated for the German speaking guests on board. It was fascinating to learn a little more about these charismatic creatures that we had encountered the day before in South Georgia and to hear about some of the field work research he did with them. At 18:30pm we gathered once more in the lounge for the daily recap, as usually it began with Katja explaining the plans for the next couple of days. She explained that the wheels were in motion behind the scenes with regards to logistics of the medical evacuation and the rescheduling of our days in Antarctica, which was very reassuring. Regis followed on with some Sea Bird Identification which will prove useful over the forthcoming days at sea. The briefing concluded with an interesting talk from Sandra about the history and definition of knots and nautical miles. After dinner many of us went upstairs to the bridge wings to enjoy the beautiful sunset, the sky was a kaleidoscope of yellow, orange and pink shades. Although the day has not unfolded as we originally hoped and planned, we went to bed looking forward to a quick and safe arrival into Stanley and the possibility that we may still have a few amazing days in the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands.

Day 9: At Sea to Stanley

At Sea to Stanley
Datum: 17.01.2019
Positie: 53°05’ S / 045°13’ W
Wind: WSW 6
Weer: Partly Cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +7

The day broke among heavy grey clouds and a breeze gusting up to 40 knots, the state of the sea was moderate, with a heavy swell rocking the ship. The mood on board was generally low since the news of yesterday, however we strived to make the best of the situation. Our staff did their best to provide us with top quality entertainment and a few activities were organized for today. The first one of these activities, was a talk given by Pippa Low, our marine mammal expert, with the title "Whales of the Southern Ocean". Here Pippa described various aspects of these animals. Starting with an introduction providing the general characteristics of whales, she dove further into the different species of cetaceans that populate Antarctic waters; describing their most relevant facts and behaviours. The mood also was affected by the expectation create of the upcoming medical evacuation. As the hours pass, we approach slowly to the rendezvous point and the crew started to prepare for it. Different teams were assembled in order to rehearse the operation. Namely, we organize the navigation team which will manoeuvre the ship under the direction of the air crew of the rescue helicopter. We also had the fire team which will be on standby, ready to react in case the helicopter suffers an emergency. Then we had the stretcher team which will be in charge of carrying the casualty to the designated outside deck for evacuation. Finally we had the medical assistance team which was in charge of the patient. All these groups had to practice a sequence of precise movements through the ship to ensure a swift operation. After a hearty meal the guests were invited to a lecture given by Ralph our cook. Here, Ralph described the daily efforts of him and his team, required to feed our 110 guests and our 40 crew. He described a few interesting facts such that for a trip such as this, we consume 4500 eggs, 6000 white bread buns, 6000 integral bread buns, and a few tons of vegetables for example. His lecture was given with bits of the dry humour that characterises him. The lecture was refreshing, since it was a topic suited for everybody's taste. Later in the afternoon, we offered a movie and the one chosen to be shown was the 2015 film about Shackleton. This movie shows very well the life of this famous explorer, and manages to recreate the difficulties and problems he had to surmount to assemble and organize the Imperial Transantarctic Expedition. The movie shows a realistic Shackleton, as an explorer, as a gentleman, as a captain, but also as the man who he was, with strengths and weaknesses such as his habit to smoke, drink and fondness for female companions. The hotel team treated us to delicious hot chocolate and popcorn to accompany the movie. In the evening Pippa gave a bar talk on her involvement in marine animal rescue; how she grew up with a love of the sea and how this has led to becoming a guide, and working with marine animal rescue charities.

Day 10: At sea to Stanley & Medivac

At sea to Stanley & Medivac
Datum: 18.01.2019
Positie: 52°20’ S / 051°56’ W
Wind: W 7
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +8

Even though the Southern Ocean is of a beautiful clear blue colour there is no doubt that plastic pollution is a problem not only in tropical waters but also in places like the South Atlantic. Eduardo and Julia told us more about it during their talks after breakfast. At the same time there were a lot of background preparations necessary for the medivac of our fellow passenger. The stretcher team again practiced moving the patient from one location to the other while the bridge coordinated the rendezvous with the SAR helicopter. At 180 nm distance from Stanley, the meeting point was sitting right at the margin of the helicopter range. HMS Clyde, a British patrol boat, was nearby to assist if needed, as was a military aircraft circling overhead. It was quite obvious that medical evacuations in those regions were right on the edge of the technically possible – and risky operations posing a huge challenge both in planning and execution, asking for a choreography of masterpieces by the crews. The evacuation went well and at 2pm Plancius set course to the south. Everyone on board was relieved that the medevac had been fast and successful and that the patient was finally on the way to a hospital on shore. In the afternoon Chief Engineer Daniel took us for a virtual walk through the engine room which in reality can’t be visited due to safety regulations. The diesel-electric propulsion of Plancius is quite special; it makes for silent travels. In the daily recap Adam gave an overview over the details of the helicopter operations; we got to see photos and movies of the action which we had not been able to witness from the Restaurant. We were moved and stunned by how much it had entailed and how it all had panned out, and there was a big round of applause for all those involved in the rescue. Finally, Regis invited us to the Lounge after dinner to ask – and answer – his personal question: Why am I here, in Antarctica?

Day 11: At Sea to Antarctica!

At Sea to Antarctica!
Datum: 19.01.2019
Positie: 55°20’ S / 054°48’ W
Wind: NW 5-6
Weer: Mist
Luchttemperatuur: +8

We awoke this morning with positivity – we were heading South- finally! A few birds of the Southern Ocean flew around the ship and our bird watchers were able to distinguish Cape Petrels, Giant Petrels and Skuas among others. Today was also the day that we entered officially into the geographical region of Antarctica, since we crossed the parallel 60 South. To keep our guests entertained our Staff prepared a full program of activities. The first activity was a lecture titled "Pulling to the Pole" by Adam. In his lecture he described the history of dogs in Antarctica and the various expeditions they were used on. After this lecture, the next activity was the IAATO briefing, a mandatory activity for all those who want to visit the Antarctic Continent. This briefing consisted of describing the rules of conduct that should be observed around wildlife in Antarctica as well as the biosecurity measures required when landing. All these rules aim to minimize the human impact with the wildlife and are also made to prevent the introduction of new species into the Antarctic environment. After this presentation was made, we, once again, vacuumed the pockets and velcros of our outer layers of clothing. In the afternoon, we had another presentation, given by Sandra entitled ‘Antartica 101’, simultaneously Katja delivered her version of the same topic to our German speaking passengers. In there lectures, Katja and Sandra shared with the guests their knowledge about the big white continent. The lectures had many beautiful pictures which made us all excited to finally reach Antarctica soon. During the afternoon Sara offered us a photo editing workshop in the lounge; giving many of us the opportunity to edit our favourite photos of the trip so far. In the late afternoon the staff had organised a quiz for us all. The quiz included questions from our trip so far, including lecture material, places we had visited and animals we had seen so far. It was a very enjoyable quiz, with many taking part, but the final winners were ‘The Swiss Emperor” team, who won a round of drinks from the bar. After dinner, we are delighted by Sara and her bar talk about ‘The importance of her Pink Bicycle’ – the story of how she caught the travel bug young, sold her pink bicycle and saved to travel the World, and how she came to be a guide with Oceanwide Expeditions. As we sail south, we are starting to experience longer periods of light, due to our high latitude south and we could enjoy light until well past 9 in the evening.

Day 12: At sea to Antarctica

At sea to Antarctica
Datum: 20.01.2019
Positie: 59°36’ S / 057°39’ W
Wind: W 8
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +2

As the Plancius steamed South at a good rate of knots we were gently awoken by our wake up and call to breakfast. We were to spend today at sea which gave us the opportunity to rest if we wanted to but also to attend the various lectures and activities on board. More of us were able to get our photos edited with Sara’s assistance, as she ran more editing workshops for everyone. Mean while in the dining room something very arty was happenning; Aiza, Glaiza, Mary-Grace and Sherwin had offered to teach us how to fold towels in to shapes of swans, elephants, monkeys and a birthday cake, lots of us went to this and great fun was had buy all. Tho photo editing continued after lunch and we were able to get practical help from Sara ranging from how to straighten horizons through to using features on post edit software. Eduardo then held a lecture in the lounge on the ‘Science in Antarctica‘ and gave us a good insight to the work of the different scientific disciplines that are undertaken by the various nations in the region South of 60 degrees. As the day drew to an end we had recap and Katja gave us the plans for the following day which would see us visiting Halfmoon Island and Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands; we were full of eager anticipation at reaching Antarctica!

Day 13: Half Moon Island & Deception Island, South Shetland Islands

Half Moon Island & Deception Island, South Shetland Islands
Datum: 21.01.2019
Positie: 62°34’ S / 059°38’ W
Wind: WNW 6
Weer: Cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +5

Throughout the night Plancius steamed South to the South Shetland Island archipelago, where we planned to visit Half Moon and Deception Island. By the time Katja did the wakeup call, many of us were already on the outside decks enjoying our first Antarctic landscapes and the humpback whales that were spotted close to the ship. The weather was bright, despite quite a lot of cloud cover, but most importantly the sea conditions looked good for a landing so Zodiacs were dropped while we had breakfast. As the name suggests, Half Moon is a small, crescent-shaped island that lies in between Livingston and Greenwich Islands, on which there is a summer Argentinian Research Base named Camara. With so many days at sea, we were very eager to get ashore and be reunited with our penguin friends. In fact, the anticipation was so great many were at the gangway well ahead of schedule, desperate to stand on terra firma once again. The island was a hive of activity with penguins traversing back and forth from the shoreline. We weaved our way through the incredible, lichen-coated, standing rock formations, trying to avoid the penguin highways. Close to the first, small Chinstrap colony was a magnificent viewpoint, with vistas over both sides of the island, including the ice-filled bay to the west facing Livingston Island. With us visiting in late summer the nesting sites were quite mucky and many of the penguins were a shade of reddish/pink from laying in their own guano, but nonetheless, their funny antics kept us entertained. Amongst the Chinstraps there were a few Gentoo penguins to be spotted, it was wonderful to see these different species alongside each other as it accentuated their size difference and contrasting behaviour and vocalisation. We were also very fortunate to see three types of seal ashore; Fur, Elephant and Weddell. The mood ashore was very cheery, with everyone enjoying the abundance of wildlife, good weather, incredible landscapes and the much-needed chance to stretch their legs. The last Zodiac was 11am, as there was almost four hours sailing required to reach our afternoon destination of Deception Island. After lunch Katja explain the plans for tomorrow, this was to avoid having a predinner recap, ensuring we could maximise our time ashore this afternoon. Eduardo then briefly spoke about the pioneering aviation attempts that took place from Deception Island. Deception Island is in fact a caldera, the result of a volcanic eruption, whereby the volcano collapsed in on itself and formed a large crater. At Deception Island part of the crater wall subsequently collapsed and let water in, so the centre of the caldera is accessible for vessels to sail into. Access is through a narrow opening in the caldera called Neptune’s Bellows; everyone was out on deck or looking out of the windows as Captain Artur navigated us safely into the caldera. The hotel team were on hand to serve a warming cup of hot apple cider for those out on deck, which was much appreciated as there was quite a chilling breeze. As we sailed towards Telefon Bay, located at the back of the caldera, we passed Whalers’ Bay on our right-hand side which was used by Norwegian whalers for shore-based whaling operations as early as 1911. In the distance we could see the remains of the whaling station, lots of whale bones, remnants of whaling and water boats, as well as piles of wood used to make barrels for whale oil, it was quite a sobering sight. Shortly after 4pm we were in place at Telefon Bay and were shuttled ashore. For those feeling energetic Adam and Katja lead a hike up to the crater edge, where we could gain spectacular views of this moon like scape. The formation of Telefon Bay has most recently been modified by the 1967 eruption, which significantly broadened the main valley, on either side of the valley we could still see the prominent ash cliffs that were the remnants of an older crater. For those wishing to stay at a lower level, there was a chance to wander along the black volcanic sand beach, where a couple of Weddell seals were resting on a small patch of snow. It is not often you can say you sailed into and hiked inside an active volcano – but that is just what we did today. Back on board it was time for dinner, where there was lots of excited chatter about our day in the South Shetlands. After which most of us headed off to bed, full of anticipation for what was about to come: the Antarctic Peninsula itself!

Day 14: Enterprise Island & Portal Point, Antarctic Peninsula

Enterprise Island & Portal Point, Antarctic Peninsula
Datum: 22.01.2019
Positie: 64°32’ S / 061°58’ W
Wind: Light
Weer: Clear/Partly cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +10

Blue sky, no wind and warm sunshine. Difficult to believe we were waking up on our first real morning on the Antarctic Peninsula as the weather looked so great. After breakfast, we all had the chance to take a look around Enterprise island by zodiac cruising. We saw the wreck of the Guvernøren and other old waterbooats, we also sailed between wonderful icebergs on the top of which were relaxing some crabeater seals. As we cruised to the outer bay, Humpback whales were spotted and we all had great encounters with various pods of resting, travelling or feeding leviathans! In the afternoon, the Expedition team had arranged a split landing and cruise with half of the passengers going ashore first at Portal Point and the other group going out into Charlotte bay for a Zodiac cruise. Portal Point is a small landing area but it is set in a panorama of high cliffs and snow fields, whilst offshore there were lot of grounded icebergs, many of fantastic shapes due to their various phases of melting and erosion. On the cruise we sailed around the majestic arches and caves. Better was yet to come: sightings of feeding humpback whales, magnificent creatures showing their fin, or their tail as they start to dive deeper, or even sleeping on the sea surface. It was difficult to say how many Humpbacks whales we had actually seen. Certainly enough to keep everyone happy. Back at Portal Point, everyone had enjoyed a walk around the summit of the dome with the views out over Charlotte Bay or watched crabeater seals taking a rest in the snow. It was lovely just to stand and take in the beauty of the surroundings by a nearly too warm summer afternoon. Then came the dinner time. But not the usual one. Tonight, everything was prepared for an Antarctic BBQ in Charlotte bay. While enjoying the nice food on the outside back deck, we met the unique Southern Polar Bear- Pippa in a Polar bear suit! After the BBQ, a Humpback whale made a great show in stunning sunset lights while music and dancing began. Such a fine end to an exciting day!

Day 15: Danco Island & Almirante Brown Station/Skontorp Cove, Antarctic Peninsula

Danco Island & Almirante Brown Station/Skontorp Cove, Antarctic Peninsula
Datum: 23.01.2019
Positie: 64°43’ S / 062°35’ W
Wind: Light
Weer: Partly Cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +11

We started our day under clear and blue skies, with beautiful cirrus clouds high above the sky. To our surprise, very early during the day, we spotted a pod of Killer Whales; the pod swam around the ship and we were able to film and enjoy a very close encounter with these beautiful cetaceans. Towards the end of the encounter we watched as the Killer Whales hunted Gentoo penguins for breakfast! An incredible sight! As we left this encounter, many Humpbacks were seen around the ship on our way to the first landing. Taking advantage of the beautiful weather, we started operations early. Zodiacs were launched at 7:45, and by 8:00 the first guests were landed at Danco Island. This small island lies in a narrow channel named Errera Channel, where it is possible to see massive icebergs passing by. The island is populated with three small colonies of Gentoo Penguins, which are scattered in the island, two parallel to the beach and one lying near the top of the island. The island was named after Emile Danco (1869-1898), a Belgian geophysicist who was a member onboard the Belgica, the ship under command of Adrien de Gerlache who sailed these waters for the first time. This island was part of the Tabarin Operation undertaken by the British during World War II, and here the base "O" was installed. The staff landed in the northwest shore of the island, and here, the team split into a few groups; one group assisting at the landing site, at the beach; other group standing at the Gentoo colonies and a third group who stood at the summit of the hill. The summit of this hill stands 153 meters above sea level, and offers a spectacular view of the Errera Channel as well as the mountains around. On our way to the landing site, we encountered a Leopard Seal resting on an ice flow; these incredible predators are as beautiful as they are ferocious, this one however was very subdued, having a nice sleep on the ice. The colonies of penguins at Danco Island have moderate numbers of individuals. Since we are in the middle of the season, here we were able to see some young Gentoo chicks and we had first hand experience to see how the parents take care of them, feeding them and offering warmth under their bodies. We could also see the penguin either, walking down hill towards the sea or up hill coming back with food for the chicks. They normally walk in specific paths that biologist call "penguin highways"; routes of birds cutting through the snow, leading them in or out of the colony. Once our visit to the hill and the colonies was completed, we were offered the possibility of swimming in the cold waters at the shores of Danco Island and therefore, achieving the "Polar Plunge". A few brave souls took to the water! Shortly after the brief plunge, we were quickly shuttled back to the ship and we all enjoyed a good lunch. The weather changed and the wind started to increase with gray clouds rolling in as we approached our next destination; Brown Station. This station is situated at the Coughtrey Peninsula at the north side of the entrance of Skontrop Cove, next to Paradise Harbor. This small peninsula was thought to be an island when mapped by David Ferguson between 1913 and 1914. Here at the end of the small peninsula, the Argentinian Government established the base Almirante Brown Station in 1949-1950. Here, we were offered parallel activities; a small hike and a zodiac cruise. At the landing we were greeted by the station's Doctor who explain the nature of the research being undertaken at the station. In short, the Argentinians undertake scientific research, with biologists studying fish, the quality of water and botany. Those who landed were given the option of a hike to the top of the hill behind the base, a nice vintage point from where it is possible to see the fantastic landscape of Paradise Harbour and the distant mountains of Graham Land. The other activity we undertook was a zodiac cruise, which took our guests to nice view points of the glacier fronts of Paradise Bay. Here we could see a wonderful display of different colors of blues in the ice, icebergs and a few Antarctic Terns and Snow Petrels. We encountered a couple more humpback whales as well as some resting leopard seals too! Once we were back in the ship, we had our daily recap, mainly with info about the plans for the next day. Pippa spoke about Orcas and Eduardo explained the colors of the ice. Shortly after we sailed through the Ferguson Channel and we had a quick rendezvous with the ship Ushuaia, who delivered us our medical resupply for our hospital.

Day 16: Neko Harbour & Port Lockroy, Antarctic Peninsula

Neko Harbour & Port Lockroy, Antarctic Peninsula
Datum: 24.01.2019
Positie: 64°46’ S / 062°51’ W
Wind: E 6
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +1

We awoke to find Plancius sliding gently through a stunning seascape studded with sparkling, drifting ice floes. The ship was unable to anchor amidst drifting ice and huge bergs, however we disembarked onto the zodiacs shortly after breakfast. We landed at Neko harbour, a Gentoo colony with a stunning icescape backdrop, including the Neko glacier, known for being a very active calving glacier. We spent the morning watching the Gentoo penguins and their chicks keep busy on the colony and highways. Over lunch Plancius was repositioned towards Port Lockroy- home of the ‘Pengiuin Post office’. As we arrived the conditions were challenging and Pippa went to collect a member of staff from the museum. We were given a talk from them about the history of Port Lockroy and the work of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust that maintains the post office and operates it during the summer season. The wind was very strong and after a bumpy ride to Goudier Island we were able to visit the famous ‘Penguin Post Office’ which is known as Port Lockroy. In the early evening we enjoyed a ships cruise in part of the ‘Le Maire Channel’ – a famously beautiful channel with towering peaks dropping straight into the icy waters of the Peninsula- an incredible sight for us all after out dinner.

Day 17: Cierva Cove. Antarctic Peninsula

Cierva Cove. Antarctic Peninsula
Datum: 25.01.2019
Positie: 64°07’ S / 060°58’ W
Wind: Variable 1-2
Weer: Partly Cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +6

Our good luck with weather continued, we woke to blue skies and sunshine. It was a little windy in the Gerlache Strait but as soon as we turned in to Cierva Cove we found glass calm conditions. While we enjoyed breakfast the expedition team lowered the zodiacs ready for our morning activity, by 9am the first group of passengers were already cruising the ice-strewn cove. The weather was glorious, so it made for fantastic photo opportunities; there was an array of shades of blue to be found in the towering icebergs that were grounded in the cove. We cruised along the glacier front, using open leads to traverse through the brash ice. Every so often our drivers would turn off the Zodiac engines so we could hear the crackling and popping of the melting ice releasing pure air trapped when the glacial ice had formed 1000+ years ago. We spotted several leopard seals resting on small ice floes, some more responsive to our cameras than others, most guests also got a brief glimpse of a Minke whale that was feeding in the nutrient rich waters of the ice filled bay. There was also the odd Chinstrap to be spotted, vagrants from the nearby colony. To the right-hand side of the bay we could see the red building of the Argentinian summer base, Primavera. We really could not have asked for better weather and more picturesque scenery to conclude our days in Antarctica, there was plenty of smiling faces on the gangway as people embarked the Plancuis for the final time. Back on board, just as lunch was called, a breaching humpback was spotted from the bridge. This energetic induvial put on the most spectacular display, hauling its enormous body completely out of the water for all to see numerous times. If this was to be our final goodbye from Antarctica, it was one we would never forget. After lunch many of us headed out on to deck to enjoy our last views of Antarctica as we made our way through Boyd Strait, before hitting the infamous Drake Passage. At 3:30pm Adam gave us a presentation about the British wartime activity in Antarctica that concerned science and sovereignty. Operation Tabarin was the military project that ultimately led to the first sustained use of dogs in Antarctica, the Post Office at Port Lockroy and was the building blocks of what became British Antarctic Survey. At recap Pippa spoke about the wonderful Humpback whale experience we had earlier in the day and gave us some insight as to why we think they breach. Whilst Sara gave us an amusing summary on Sailors’ Superstitions – no more whistling, crossing of fingers, wearing of black clothes or presence of WOMEN on the ship, please! After dinner the bar was of course open. We celebrated our entry into the infamous Drake Passage with a nightcap and then headed for bed, wondering what tomorrow’s weather would bring.

Day 18: At Sea to Ushuaia

At Sea to Ushuaia
Datum: 26.01.2019
Positie: 60°59’ S / 063°09’ W
Wind: N 3
Weer: Overcast
Luchttemperatuur: +8

We made good progress sailing across the Drake under fair weather. The swell was moderate enough to produce a gentle rocking of the ship. The skies were clear most of the morning, and some of us enjoyed the sun on the outer decks. We offered yet another program of lectures and activities, and in the morning, Katja gave a presentation in German, meanwhile, Adam gave his presentation on his experience as a Boating Officer stationed at Grytviken, South Georgia. He spent one year holding this position, working on behalf of the government mainly for the fisheries and for the scientists stationed there. In this lecture, Adam reviewed some of the highlights of his stay such as the skiing in the winter, the mid-winter film festival and the boat competition named "South Georgia Regatta". After lunch, we had another lecture, given by Pippa, our marine mammal specialist, titled "An Ocean of Sound". Here Pippa had the chance to explain the different sounds made by large marine mammals such as whales and dolphins and the scientific interpretation of their vocalizations which are mainly used for communication. It is impressive to know that the vocalizations of some species can be heard across the oceans for thousands of km. Along the same lines, she described how the aquatic environment has been filled up with man-made sounds that disturb the marine environments of whales and other large aquatic mammals causing them to loose their bearings and end up stranded in large numbers. Later in the afternoon, we had our photo competition, an activity organized by Sara. The competition had three categories, ice, wildlife and people, and in total there were 151 pictures submitted. The winners were chosen by the guests and staff. Each one could vote for one of the entries of each category. The winning pictures were awarded with souvenirs from our ship. Curiously the winner of the wildlife category also won the prize for people.

Day 19: At Sea to Ushuaia

At Sea to Ushuaia
Datum: 27.01.2019
Positie: 56°25’ S / 065°37’ W
Wind: SSW 3
Weer: Partly Cloudy
Luchttemperatuur: +12

Our last day at sea was to be a calm one – we awoke to a small gentle rolling swell, clear skies and sunshine. The days activities began with a talk from Eduardo entitled ‘Magellan & Elanco : 1st Circumnavigation of the World ; a fascinating account of the tales from this intrepid expedition. After lunch we had fun making Penguin Origami with Eduardo – now we all have a paper penguin to take home with us! As the afternoon continued, it proved the famous Drake Passage was being kind to us; a ‘Drake lake.’ And with warm sunshine and little wind, many of us spent our time on the decks, admiring the approaching views of South America. Later in the afternoon Katja gave her presentation from yesterday in English; all about her experience as a PhD student in the German Research Station Neumayer. This base is located to the west of the Weddell Sea and it was here where she conducted research in atmospheric sciences. Particularly interesting for her was to find out how the human psyche works under conditions of isolation, sun light deprivation and extreme cold. Her account was a truly first hand experience of life on an Antarctic base. Before dinner we had out final briefing about disembarkation, with a special thanks to our crew and staff from Expedition leader Katja. Captain Artur joined us to give a toast to the voyage. After the Captain’s toast we were all delighted to watch a beautiful slide show of our entire voyage. The slideshow was put together by Sara, including pictures from many of the staff. After reminiscing about your incredible journey we headed to our last dinner aboard the Plancius. In the late evening we headed into the Beagle Channel to meet the pilot boat to escort us to the port in Ushuaia for our disembarkation in the morning.

Day 20: Disembarkation - Ushuaia

Disembarkation - Ushuaia
Datum: 28.01.2019

At 6am we approached the port of Ushauia ready to disembark for the final time, no zodiac ride ashore and a dry landing. The last three weeks have taken us on a remarkable journey from the Falkland Islands, to South Georgia and 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 King Penguins at Fortuna Bay or the sight of icebergs and whales for the first time they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Total distance sailed on our voyage: 3835 Nautical Miles | 7102 Kilometers On behalf of everyone on board we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.