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HDS31-20, trip log, Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Elephant Island, Antarctica

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation: Ushuaia

Embarkation: Ushuaia
Date: 24.02.2020
Position: 54°48.6’ S, 68°17.8’ W
Wind: SW 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +7

Ushuaia. The start of a grand adventure. An epic trip through the south Atlantic and the Southern Ocean. We are drawn inexorably forwards by the beckoning great white continent; through some of the last true wilderness on Earth.

Over the last few days, we had been arriving into this beautiful coastal town at the southern tip of South America, the “Fin del Mundo”, the end of the World. Ushuaia is surrounded by a natural amphitheatre of mountains; grey imposing peaks rise thousands of metres out of the sea. These glacier-covered pinnacles are the very end of the Andes, the longest chain of mountains on the planet.

The weather was blustery and bright. Rays of warm sun broke through the clouds but were punctuated by frequent squalls, rushing down from the mountains in ferocious blasts, each raising plumes of dust and threatening to carry off anything not firmly anchored down.

As we made our way down to the port, we caught our first glimpse of Hondius moored alongside the pier; our home for the next three weeks. She looked splendid in the South American sun, a capable and comfortable ship in the deep blue Oceanwide livery.

We boarded in a flurry of excitement and smiles; the sense of anticipation amongst both the passengers and the crew was palpable. DJ, the hotel manager, met us at reception and we were shown to our cabins by the members of the crew. Once we had made ourselves at home there was a little time to check out our surroundings. We grabbed a coffee from the Lounge and wandered the ship, exploring the outer decks in the afternoon sun.

We then gathered in the Lounge for a formal welcome to the ship, here we were introduced to our Expedition Leader, Adam Turner, and our Hotel Manager, DJ Nikolic. Together they explained the plan for our trip and how the ship operates. It was then time for the mandatory safety briefing and drill, delivered by Matei Mocanu, the Chief Mate of Hondius. This was followed promptly by an abandon ship drill; we donned our bright orange lifejackets and gathered at the muster stations before being led to the lifeboats. These sturdy craft can carry up to 100 people each, although perhaps not in the same level of comfort as on Hondius…

After the drill we gathered once more in the Lounge. Here we met Captain Alexey Nazarov, and he welcomed us warmly on board, wished us a safe and happy voyage, and led a toast to the success of the trip. Cheers. Dinner was served in the luxurious Dining Room and we joined our fellow passengers, making new friends, and speculating on what the coming weeks of adventure may hold.

Day 2: At sea: Le Maire Strait and the South Atlantic Ocean

At sea: Le Maire Strait and the South Atlantic Ocean
Date: 25.02.2020
Position: 54°51.4’ S, 65°04.7’ W
Wind: 54°51.4’ S, 65°04.7’ W
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +8

Overnight Hondius made her way out from Ushuaia. As we reached the open ocean in the early hours the pilot clambered down a rope ladder and onto a waiting launch; his job complete, having guiding us safely through the shallows and reefs of the Beagle Channel.

As the first rays of morning light broke over the horizon, we found ourselves in Le Maire Strait, the channel between Isla de los Estados (Staten Island) and the mainland of Tierra del Fuego. The sea conditions were pleasant, just a gentle swell following us on our journey northeast, and a light breeze behind us pushing us ever closer to our first destination, the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas).

After a sumptuous breakfast we had a morning of mandatory activities to get through. First up were the Zodiac safety and IAATO briefings. Adam delivered both, explaining first how we will be using Zodiacs over the coming weeks of adventure. The IAATO briefing was more focussed on guidelines for protecting the pristine environments of Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands. There was a particular emphasis on how to behave around the abundant wildlife we hope to encounter, and we learnt not to approach closer than five metres to any animal, and that some species require more room to remain undisturbed by our presence.

There was also some time for wildlife watching, and for those on the outer-decks there was a chance to see Cape Petrels, White Chinned Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, Giant Petrels, and even Albatrosses; all soaring from crest to crest, using the wind and waves to forage and travel across the open ocean. The action was not confined to the skies, several times during the day there was a call of ‘Dolphins’ on the PA system, and we saw both Peale’s and Commerson’s Dolphins throughout the day.

Before lunch we started on biosecurity; this involved checking and cleaning all our outer layers to ensure we were not bringing any invasive species or diseases to Falkland Islands. The Expedition Team were on hand to help and to inspect, and an army of hoovers was wheeled out for duty; removing sand and dust from pockets, Velcro, and mesh straps alike.

In the afternoon the divers met up with the dive guides and were briefed on diving in high-latitude environments. This was followed by an introduction to photography by our photo and video guides Massimo and Myriam. We learnt about the different shooting modes in our cameras and finding the best settings for taking photos in the harsh bright light of the Polar regions. The afternoon was rounded out by a lecture mini-series from Marcel, Sara, and Martin. They introduced us to the Falkland Islands. This included the history, geography, and wildlife of these unique islands in the South Atlantic, and thoroughly whet our appetites for the following morning.

Dinner was a lavish affair, with four excellent courses; and once restored and having quenched our thirst, we retired to the Lounge for a spot of relaxation. However, the evening was not yet over. Myriam gave a talk in the Lecture Room on the principles of videography; introducing us to the best ways to successfully capture motion, and providing a series of useful hints, tips, and tricks to make videography easy. Finally, it was time to turn in and we slept soundly, rocked by the gentle motion of the ocean as we steamed ever forwards, towards the Falkland Islands.

Day 3: The Falkland Islands: Westpoint Island and Saunders Island

The Falkland Islands: Westpoint Island and Saunders Island
Date: 26.02.2020
Position: 51°20.7’ S, 60°40.7’ W
Wind: Variable 1
Weather: Partially cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

The morning broke to the sight of the green and yellow islands of West Falkland. The Caracaras and Jackie and Alan, the were waiting for us at our first landing of the day, Westpoint Island. Jackie and Alan, the guardians of Westpoint Island, had a small army of Land Rovers to drive us to the Black-browed Albatross colony just across the Island. The ride was rather adventurous as there is no road to drive on. For those who preferred to walk, a very nice route surrounded by sheep and nature was awaiting.

At the colony, the view could not be more spectacular. Countless Albatross chicks a few meters in front of us, Striated Caracaras feeding on a carcass alongside a Turkey Vulture, and Rockhopper Penguins nesting in amongst the melee of larger birds. The Albatross chicks were starting to get some adult feathers and a few practiced opening their wings, giving us a sense of just how big these beautiful birds are. After this unique sighting, Jackie was waiting for us in their charming house, offering a great variety of cakes and coffee; the perfect end to our visit.

Outside the house there were Kelp Geese and Highland Geese, browsing in the grass and down by the water a solitary Night Heron. To top it all off Commerson’s and Peale’s dolphins were waiting around Hondius as we took the Zodiacs back to the ship, a stunning end to our first landing.

In the afternoon the wind started picking up, and there was some doubt about whether we would be able to make a second landing. Fortunately, the weather was kinder than forecast and the white sand beaches of Saunders Island were waiting for us.
The landing beach, The Neck, was a scene of white and turquoise, enclosed between two imposing green hills. It felt a little like the Caribbean, except for the hundreds of penguins all around us.

Walking through the flat grass lands on the island, we encountered Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins. In the middle of the route, we met a small group of King Penguins with very young chicks. The chicks were constantly begging for food and the parents were protecting them from the wind, and feeding them when necessary. In contrast, the Gentoo Penguins were very active; waddling across the beach to their nesting sites.

On the way to the second beach we came across a beautiful whale skeleton from a Minke Whale lying on the grass. Moss and lichens have colonised it, capitalising on the nutrients contained within the bones.

On the second and bigger beach, we encountered thousands of penguins enjoying the sun. At the far end of the beach, we climbed a small hill to view a colony of Blue-Eyed Shags with their very curious chicks and saw some more Rockhopper Penguins perched high on the cliffs.

After a few hours ashore the wind picked up significantly and we scrambled back to the landing site. The sea was now pretty choppy and as we returned to Hondius the wind was gusting up to 50 knots. We were prepared for a wet journey back home – but this one was very wet; the Zodiacs were doused with sea spray as they bounced over every wave. Everyone was returned to the ship safely and now with an idea of just how conditions can change in these wild places.

Day 4: The Falkland Islands: Stanley and the South Atlantic Ocean

The Falkland Islands: Stanley and the South Atlantic Ocean
Date: 27.02.2020
Position: 51°41.7’ S, 57°51.2’ W
Wind: W 4
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +8

We arrived to Stanley shortly before the wakeup call 0745; Hondius made her way in through The Narrows and into the inner harbour where we anchored for the morning. After breakfast a short Zodiac ride took us to the town of Stanley, the seat of government for the Falkland Islands. On our way in several curious Commerson’s Dolphins surfaced around the bows of the Zodiacs, riding the wake, and playing in the bubbles from the outboard engines.

During the morning each one of us went our own way, visiting the many sites of this small town, including the excellent museum, the cathedral with its spectacular whale bone arch, and sampling the local cuisine and beverages in the many cafes and pubs close to the waterfront. Many of us also took this opportunity to do some shopping, taking the time to find the perfect gifts for loved ones back home.

We returned to Hondius just in time for lunch and, as we tucked into another hearty buffet, we left Stanley Harbour and set a course for South Georgia. The return journey to the open sea gave another opportunity to see the spectacular landscapes of the entrance to Stanley Harbour, replete with hundreds of seabirds lining the sandy beaches at the mouth of the channel.

As we entered the open ocean Hondius started to roll a bit, but the Captain soon deployed the stabilizers and the ship settled into a gentle rhythm and we had a smooth and comfortable ride. Once underway, Martin gave an interesting lecture about seabirds and how they survive out at sea. After the evening recap and dinner Michael entertained us with a humorous and informative account of his personal part in the 1982 conflict in his talk “General Gualtieri, my part in his downfall”.

As we are back “on holiday” we will get a sleep-in tomorrow – so the Lounge was filled with happy conversation and laughter late into the evening.

Day 5: At sea: The South Atlantic Ocean

At sea: The South Atlantic Ocean
Date: 28.02.2020
Position: 52°17.5’ S, 52°22.1’ W
Wind: WSW 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +11

We woke to the bright sunny skies of the South Atlantic; with a westerly wind and swell that was providing Hondius with a push in the direction towards our next destination, South Georgia.

The bird life was abundant around the ship throughout the day and it did not take long before our first Wandering Albatross of the expedition was sighted. These ocean giants circled Hondius effortlessly throughout much of the day which provided some keen photographers with some memorable close-up images from the back-deck viewing area. There was also an abundance of smaller seabirds that challenged many of the keen birders, these included; Soft-Plumaged Petrels, Grey-Petrels, and a number of Prion species.

At 09:30 it was time for our compulsory safety and environmental briefing on South Georgia. This briefing outlined all of the rules and regulations that must be followed both before and during our time visiting this pristine environment. The regulations are designed to protect the wildlife and landscapes of South Georgia that we all are hoping to spend time amongst over the coming days.
Following this compulsory briefing expedition guides Lee and Sara provided a fascinating insight into the acoustic research that they are undertaking during our expedition and how this important data will be used to further scientific knowledge and to inform policy decisions such as designating protected areas for wildlife.

Our leisurely sea day continued with calming winds, a flattening swell, and even some sunshine as the day progressed. In the afternoon Laura gave a very informative lecture on the geology of South Georgia; she explained how the rocks that form the island used to be linked to both South America and South Africa before the Atlantic Ocean was formed. The small plate which hosts South Georgia has been torn from these continents and thrust into the centre of the South Atlantic Ocean by violent tectonic activity over the last 130 million years.

Following our daily recap and another wonderful dinner there was a final lecture of the day from our onboard photographer and videographer, Massimo and Miriam. They explained how to get the best out of our smartphones for taking both photographs and videos in Polar environments where cold temperatures and harsh, bright light can make it very challenging to capture images successfully.

Day 6: At sea: The South Atlantic Ocean

At sea: The South Atlantic Ocean
Date: 29.02.2020
Position: 53°12.0’ S, 44°33.0’ W
Wind: S 4
Weather: Partially cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

Today was all about preparing for our imminent landing on South Georgia. After another sumptuous breakfast we started the day with a briefing from Adam and a mandatory video provided by the South Georgia government. These underlined the importance of preventing the introduction of non-native species to this special island. This is especially pressing given the recent success in eradicating rats and mice from the island; a process which took many years and millions of pounds to complete.

The rest of the morning was devoted to more light-hearted activities. Laurence, one of our glaciologists, presented a talk about the bathymetry of the high latitude areas in response to requests made by a few passengers. Very little is known about the sea floor in general, and this is especially true in the Arctic and Antarctic where huge swathes of the ocean remain entirely unexplored. We learnt that the maps of the surface of Mars are three orders of magnitude more detailed than the best maps we have of the Southern Ocean and Antarctic coastal waters. There are some fascinating features beneath the waves, including huge craters from underwater methane ‘explosions’, and scour-marks left as icebergs have been dragged through the soft sediments of the sea floor. Even as we sail, the data collected on the Bridge of Hondius will eventually be analysed by scientists and will help us to better understand the bottom of the ocean in these remote places. In idle moments, and particularly during sea days, perhaps we will pause for a second to wonder what uncharted curiosities may be beneath our feet as we sail on this adventure.

Sea days are by no means boring, in fact these are the days that we can relax and recharge our batteries. We eat heartily, drink, and gently work our way through the logistics that are required in order to get ready for the real action of the landings. In the afternoon we went through the biosecurity cleaning process again; this time it was extremely thorough, and the Expedition Team set up specific checks to make sure the regulations adhered to and our presence in South Georgia will have little or no impact. We were all striving for a 100% mark from the upcoming inspection by the South Georgia authorities, and the CEO of Oceanwide had the great idea to offer free drinks for everyone if we were able to achieve this… would it be possible? Tomorrow we will find out.

The day was not yet over and after an afternoon of vacuuming, scrubbing, and inspection we headed for a well-deserved dinner. In the evening Adam gave a lecture about the year he spent at King Edward Point working for the British Antarctic Survey, detailing all the work he did around the station, helping with biological research, and assisting with the eradication of introduced species.

Day 7: South Georgia: Grytviken and Jason Harbour

South Georgia: Grytviken and Jason Harbour
Date: 01.03.2020
Position: 54°17.1’ S, 36°28.7’ W
Wind: N 4
Weather: Partially cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

When we opened the curtains, we found ourselves in the midst of stunning South Georgia, at the entrance of East Cumberland Bay. The bay was bathed in glorious early morning sunshine and there was fresh snow on the mountains opposite Grytviken.

We all spent as much time as possible time on the outer-decks, dashing in for a quick breakfast, before returning once more to soak in the incredible landscapes surrounding us.

Three members of the South Georgia Heritage Trust boarded Hondius and welcomed us to the Lounge. Here they introduced the excellent work that the Trust does for conservation, education, and the elimination of invasive species. Whilst we were being entertained several officials from King Edward Point also came aboard and proceeded to clear the ship for landing. They performed a thorough inspection of the ship, and once clear, they also inspected our clothes as we headed for the Zodiacs. Our thorough efforts during the biosecurity in the previous days paid off and we received a 100% mark from the KEP officials.

Once ashore we were free to explore the whaling station and museum – with guided tours to help us get the most out of the experience. There was also time to see the replica of Shackleton’s boat, the James Caird, to do a bit of shopping, and visit Shackleton’s grave for a whiskey-toast to “The Boss”. We had our first contact with the challenging Fur Seals and thoroughly enjoyed the sunny morning.

During lunch the weather changed, in the afternoon we headed towards a sheltered landing at Jason Harbour. On the beach we found two routes flagged by red poles. One of the walks was through swampy land and gave some beautiful views over Jason Harbour and a lake. The other route led to a viewpoint over the Little Jason Lagoon. For those who preferred a more leisurely afternoon there was a lot to see on the beach. King and Gentoo Penguins stood in huddles, and Fur Seals roiled in the water, frolicking in the gentle swell. It was so beautiful that we forgot that it was raining heavily for most of the landing.

At recap Sara Ortiz taught us about the different sounds that male and female King Penguins produce. Next time we encounter them we should be able to discern if it is the father or the mother returning to the chick with food. Sara Jenner produced a piece of rope for her recap about the size of whales and seals and we had a good visual comparison against the interior of Hondius. The Lounge was too small for the Blue Whale and ended all the way at the back of the Lecture Room.

Because of the inclement weather, the planned barbecue evening became an inside barbecue buffet in the Dining Room. Nonetheless, we were very happy to have made two incredible landings today and a free bar alongside dinner gave ample opportunity to celebrate.

Day 8: South Georgia: Stromness, Leith, Husvik, and Fortuna Bay

South Georgia: Stromness, Leith, Husvik, and Fortuna Bay
Date: 02.03.2020
Position: 54°07.0’ S, 36°31.2’ W
Wind: W 8
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

The wind was howling around the ship the whole night as the crew repositioned Hondius further north along the coast of South Georgia for today’s activities. We were roused for breakfast by Adam’s daily wakeup call. Plan A for the morning was to visit Salisbury Plain. But even from a distance we could see that it was way too windy to even try a landing; the wind was gusting in excess of 60 knots. It was simply too risky lower the Zodiacs and attempt a landing.

Adam and the team decided to try another spot for a possible landing with the hope of finding more shelter inside a sheltered bay a little further to the south. After around an hour on the open sea we arrived at Stromness; an old whaling station that has been abandoned since the 1960s.

Stromness is located on the north coast of South Georgia and was a key point in Ernest Shackleton’s rescue voyage in 1916. Stromness started in 1907 with a floating whaling factory and was working until 1931. After that Stromness became a whaling ship repair facility. It was abandoned in 1961 and since then the buildings have been reduced to ruins in the wild weather conditions of South Georgia.

As the weather outside was so wild we were not in a particular hurry to finish breakfast. But as we entered the bay at Stromness, we ventured onto the outside decks carefully to have a look around. Even here inside the bay it was too windy to attempt a landing. Wind speeds were consistently between 40 and 50 knots (75 km/h to 93 km/h) and this made it impossible to lower the Zodiacs. Instead Captain Alexey kept the ship in position to give us a good view of Stromness and the valley that Shackleton descended into once he had walked across the mountains and glaciers of South Georgia.

After a while the ship turned around and passed by another whaling station. Leith. The station here was established in 1909 and remained in service until 1965. It was the biggest whaling station in the area and was named after the harbour near Edinburgh in Scotland. During the Second World War the whaling stations here were abandoned and most of the ships were called back to Europe to serve with the Allied Forces. In 1982 some Argentine troops briefly occupied the station, but surrendered without a fight, returning the station to the Royal Navy on the 26th of April 1982.

Later in the morning Ross gave his lecture about whaling history, this contained numbers of whales caught that not many of us could even comprehend, the scale of the slaughter was absolutely vast.

After a little while braving the blustery outer decks once more it was time for a feast at the lunch buffet and to think about what we might be able to do in the afternoon. Behind the scenes Adam, the Captain, and the Expedition Team were thinking and searching. South Georgia is a very exposed and windy place at this time of year and we could all feel that winter is closing in.

After lunch Adam announced that we would attempt to land at Fortuna Bay. We rushed to get ready, jumping into our waterproofs and then heading to the shell doors while the Expedition Team scouted the beach. Fortuna Bay is a famous bay on the north coast of South Georgia. It is named after a ship called Fortuna. It was a whaling ship of the Norwegian-Argentine expedition led by Carl Anton Larsen. Larsen also participated in the establishment of the first permanent whaling station at Grytviken in 1904-1905. The bay at Fortuna is about 5 km long and almost 2 km wide and is presided over by the looming presence of König Glacier, a large land-terminating glacier which has carved the valley and fjord of Fortuna Bay.

We had a good long walk from the beach to the King Penguin colony at the back of the valley. During the afternoon the sky cleared and the wind dropped. It was a wonderful afternoon and an opportunity for good leg-stretch for all of us.

At recap the Expedition Team gave us some short presentations and Adam talked about the plans for the following day. But again, everything in South Georgia is very weather dependent and nobody can guarantee that Plan A would be possible the next day. Most of us snuck off to our cabins after another delicious dinner, drifting off to sleep reminiscing on the day’s activities and dreaming about what may be in store over the coming days.

Day 9: South Georgia: Gold Harbour and Cooper Bay

South Georgia: Gold Harbour and Cooper Bay
Date: 03.03.2020
Position: 54°37.4’ S, 35°56.3’ W
Wind: Variable 4
Weather: Partially cloudy
Air Temperature: +9

The morning greeted us with blue skies, beaming sunshine, calm weather, and gentle seas. The wonderful weather gave us a good chance to make a landing at Gold Harbour, one of the true gems of South Georgia, and a firm favourite amongst the Expedition Team. The beach and natural amphitheatre of Gold Harbour is situated on the reasonably exposed southeast side of the island, and is very often out of bounds for landings due to high swells. It is also regularly not possible to land here due to the sheer concentration of wildlife on the shoreline. Making the absolute most of the glorious conditions, the Expedition Team dropped scout Zodiacs in the water in the early hours of the morning. In the mean time we enjoyed a hearty breakfast with incredible views over the beach, backed by the snow-capped mountains and huge glaciers, plunging into the ocean below.

The Expedition Team found a relatively sheltered landing spot on the northern end of the beach where they could safely welcome the first guests onshore shortly after breakfast. The remainder of us started the morning with a scenic Zodiac cruise along the shores, which were teeming with King Penguins, Elephant Seals, playful and incredibly curious juvenile Fur Seals, as well as a smaller concentration of Gentoo Penguins. The whole scene was patrolled by a squadron of ever-watchful Giant Petrels soaring above our heads. Cruising with the Zodiacs not only gave us the opportunity to observe the penguins in the water but also gave us a rare chance to explore the beautiful and sheltered lagoon, situated at the southern end of the beach, nestled under the majestic hanging ice fall of the Bertrab Glacier, gleaming in the early morning sun.

Although Gold Harbour is not the largest King Penguin colony on South Georgia, the beach is still home to approximately 25,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins which, for many of us and the Expedition Staff alike, was an emotional experience to encounter this morning. Many of the keen photographers snapped away to their hearts content; leaving with full memory cards, empty batteries and big grins all round. Others of us simply found a spot on the beach and sat still for several hours, just taking in the true natural wonder that is Gold Harbour. A true wildlife paradise with vast numbers and diversity of wildlife, all co-existing in perfect harmony.

Making the most of the incredible morning, everybody stayed on the beach or Zodiac cruising until the very last minute, only returning to Hondius when lunch was starting to be served. We returned overwhelmed, at the limit of our emotional capability to absorb any more beauty for the time being.

As we were enjoying lunch, Hondius re-positioned a few miles down the coast to Cooper Bay, in search for the elusive Macaroni Penguin, or the ‘pasta penguins’ as sometimes referred to by the Expedition Team. The calm sea state, winds, and sunshine that we had enjoyed in the morning gave way to increasing winds and swell against a back drop of darkening skies and clouds scudding over the peaks. The deteriorating conditions proved no match for the Expedition Team who once again dropped the Zodiacs and welcomed us on an afternoon cruise in Cooper Bay.

These tough conditions are what South Georgia is truly about and these are also the conditions that Macaroni Penguins thrive in. They are renowned for being hard to spot due to their love of rough and rugged coast lines, which meant challenging cruising conditions for us. We were rewarded with some beautiful displays of behaviour on the rocky shores and bays that we navigated with the sturdy Zodiacs; fearless guides and adventure embracing guests alike. We also spotted a few Chinstrap Penguins in between the rocks, sheltering from the crashing waves and wind. We all got wet and endured the cold conditions, but we were more than happy to endure small discomfort to get the chance to witness and photograph these rare and beautiful species of penguin.

Wanting to maximise our time and experiences in South Georgia, our Expedition Leader Adam and Captain Alexey decided to give us the chance to explore further in the evening. Just before dinner we did a ship cruise into the depths of the beautiful Drygalski Fjord complex at the very southern tip of the island. This fjord complex is known for having some of the oldest and most complex geology of the island and truly remarkable and awe-inspiring scenery. The drama of the landscape was further intensified by the low stormy skies hugging the top of the mountains in the narrow fjord, the white capped waves on the water, and the imposing blue glacier fronts tumbling down into the ocean from all sides. A landscape so stark and hostile that one can’t help but wonder, was man ever meant to be here?

As the skies turned from grey to black and the silhouettes of the mountains slowly disappeared into the night, so did all of us, settling into our cabins for a good night’s sleep.

Day 10: South Georgia: St. Andrews Bay

South Georgia: St. Andrews Bay
Date: 04.03.2020
Position: 54°25.8’ S, 36°10.3’ W
Wind: SW 6
Weather: Snowing
Air Temperature: +1

We began our final day in South Georgia with the familiar refrains of Adam’s wake-up call. He let us know that we were approaching the site of our morning landing, St. Andrews Bay, and that conditions looked challenging, but workable. A gusty wind of 15-25 knots was blowing off the land, frequent snow showers obscured our view of the bay, and temperatures were hovering around zero degrees Celsius. As we breakfasted Hondius pulled closer in, and tucked in the lee of some small cliffs. From here Zodiacs were launched and the Expedition Team set off to scout conditions on the beach. Before long we had the answer – things looked good, and before long we were getting bundled up against the cold, donning our life jackets, and stepping into the Zodiacs on our way to the shore.

As we reached the shore we were greeted by the sights, sounds, and smells of one of nature’s greatest spectacles; the largest colony of King Penguins on South Georgia. The beach was packed with animals, for the most part by thousands of very curious King Penguins, but amongst the sea of black, white and gold there were also a few Gentoo Penguins, the occasional juvenile Fur Seal, and even a few Elephant Seals. The large male Elephant Seals were jousting; albeit half-heartedly, seemingly out of a general bad-temper rather than the life or death battles of the peak breeding season.

We picked our way carefully through the morass of wildlife to the back of the beach and followed the red poles up towards the river. At this point things got a little more challenging; the river is fed by a large glacier and meltwater from this was coursing over the rocks in a veritable torrent. Those willing to brave wet feet took the plunge, assisted through the river by members of the dive team, still kitted out in their dry suits.

Once safely across the river we picked our way through hummocky terrain, avoiding the scattered Fur Seals and moulting King Penguins. Finally, we scrambled up the back of a small hillock to be greeted by the most incredible scene; hundreds of thousands of King Penguins closely packed together and spilling out across the valley bottom. The sight alone is incredible, but the sound of thousands of penguins calling to find their chicks, arguing with neighbours, and locating lost partners, adds an extra dimension to this stunning place.

Conditions on the look-out point above the colony were a little stark; through the morning a strong breeze picked up, finding the gaps between our warm layers, and regular snow showers washed over the scene. After soaking in as much of the colony as we could we reluctantly turned and made our way back towards the beach, stopping all the way to take photos.

Back on the beach most of us took the offer of a short Zodiac cruise before heading back to Hondius, observing the colony up close, and from a unique perspective. The beach in front of the colony was absolutely packed with animals, and as we pulled in closer, we were assaulted by the visceral smell of the colony.

As lunchtime approached conditions on the beach deteriorated and gusts of more than 40 knots came roaring down the valley, picking up sand and blasting the hardy few still left among the penguins on the shore. Eventually the conditions forced us off the beach and we scrambled back to the warmth and comfort of the ship, a little ahead of schedule, but safe and sound.

Given the worsening conditions along the coast Adam and Captain Alexey took the decision to head out to sea, setting a course for The South Orkney Islands. The first few hours were rather lively as Hondius battered into a strong headwind, gusts of more than 50 knots, and a short sea closed the outer decks. We hunkered down in our cabins or spent time in the Lounge, relishing the chance to digest all the incredible experiences of the last few days in South Georgia.

Day 11: At sea: The Southern Ocean

At sea: The Southern Ocean
Date: 05.03.2020
Position: 57°09.5’ S, 38°57.5’ W
Wind: WNW 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

We woke at the luxurious time of 08:00, roused from our slumber by the dulcet tones of DJ. He informed us that the doors to the Dining Room were open and breakfast was already being served. From breakfast we made our way to the Lounge where the morning was set aside for lectures.

Marcel and Gaby took centre stage first in a double-header about weather. Marcel talked about the history of weather forecasting, including some of the weather-related catastrophes which spurred the development of reliable weather forecasts. Gaby had a lecture about clouds; describing how clouds form, the different types of clouds and how to identify them, and what these clouds can tell you what the weather will do.

After a short pause, and a cup of coffee, Miriam gave a lecture on Whales. Again, a very informative presentation with details on the different species, sizes, food sources, and some of the little that is known about their reproduction. Miriam also provided a series of tips and tricks for easy and rapid identification of the different whale species; it is possible to discriminate between the different species using their behaviour, colour, size, fin shape, and blow characteristics to identify each.

Lunch followed and then we were treated to a lecture from the man responsible for all the delicious food served onboard. Chef Ralph gave us information about the quantities of food we consume on a long voyage like this; 10,000 eggs and 850 litres of milk for example. Ralph also talked about the supply, planning, and waste management. There were also plenty of questions from the audience about the work in the kitchen, how the galley team manage to cook in bad weather and rough seas, the number of people in his team in the kitchen, and many other topics.

The last event of the afternoon was another biosecurity session. We had left South Georgia and were now bound for Antarctica, once again we cleaned and inspected all our outer layers; boots, lifejackets, jackets, and even hats, we don’t want to bring any non-native species to Antarctica. As we are all now veterans in performing biosecurity checks we cleaned as much as possible in our rooms beforehand and the whole session was very quick, we were finished after just over an hour.

The daily recap was followed by dinner, as normal. However, the evening was reserved for something special. The Expedition Team ran an auction for the South Georgia Heritage Trust in the Lounge. Various items had been donated by the museum in Grytviken and were auctioned by auctioneer Adam. Alongside the beautiful pieces from the museum, there were also several special items to bid on including; a session steering Hondius, under the tutelage of Captain Alexey, and a private dinner with Jochem - complete with a mealtime serenade by Ruben Hein, a musician onboard. Additionally, the flag of the voyage was also auctioned, this is the Oceanwide flag which has been flying from the foremast since our departure in Ushuaia, and which has weather some pretty extreme weather. In total over 2200 Euros were raised for the trust, a very successful, and highly entertaining evening.

Day 12: The South Orkney Islands: Orcadas Research Station

The South Orkney Islands: Orcadas Research Station
Date: 06.03.2020
Position: 60°40.0’ S, 44°42.4’ W
Wind: NW 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

Yes! Waking up surrounded by icebergs, that’s the Antarctic experience we were all waiting for. This morning we find ourselves off the coast of Base Orcadas, an Argentinian research station on the South Orkney Islands - one with a long and interesting history.

On the 25th of March 1903, the ship Scotia of the Scottish Antarctic Expedition, commanded by Dr William S. Bruce, got trapped in the ice close to the coast here and had to remain there until it’s eventual release in the Spring. During their captivity, the men from the expedition started with the construction of a scientific station, which they named ‘Omond House’. The remains of this, next to the current Base Orcadas, can still be observed today. In 1904, the research station was transferred to the Argentinian government. It holds the joint honours of being both the first, and longest running permanently inhabited research station in Antarctica.

116 years later, and we are likely the last visitors of the season. That means that the 16 men and women stationed here will have to occupy themselves until the arrival of the next passenger ships, which may not arrive until November 2020. No wonder they seemed very glad to show us around their buildings, with a full guided tour of the graveyard, museum, and canteen. At the latter there was piping hot coffee and chocolate to warm those of us chilled by the breeze on this otherwise surprisingly warm day.

Orcadas Station is set on a desolate gravel spit between an imposing peak and a large tidewater glacier. The area is tectonically active and there is a risk of earthquake generated tsunamis washing through the research base. Consequently, there is an underground shelter built high into the rocks of the hillside where the base personnel can take refuge in the event of a tsunami. It was a pleasure to explore this remote outpost of scientific endeavour, but we were also glad not to be stuck here and it was a pleasure to return to the comfortable surroundings of Hondius after an interesting morning ashore.

After another hearty lunch we settled into to an afternoon at sea with a lecture program in the Lounge. Myriam and Massimo gave a presentation on video editing. This included the basic ‘ground rules’ for creating successful videos, and a whole load of practical tips and tricks to make video editing quick and easy. Jochem then lectured about the glaciers and glaciology of the frozen, white continent. We would be spending the next week on the most glaciated environment on Earth, surrounded by glaciers and icebergs. Jochem gave us the tools to start to understand these frozen behemoths. He finished with an introduction to Recogn.ice, an association to raise awareness of glaciers, especially how they are changing in a warming world.

After dinner, there was a lecture by Adam covering the famous stories of the race to the South Pole - the interwoven stories of Scott and Amundsen.
These momentous events took place not so far from here, yet in a world that has now disappeared, the Heroic Age of Exploration. Antarctica is absolutely vast, tomorrow we hope to see a little more of it as we push onwards, striving for the deep south.

Day 13: Elephant Island: Point Wild

Elephant Island: Point Wild
Date: 07.03.2020
Position: 60°59.7’ S, 52°17.4’ W
Wind: SE 4
Weather: Foggy
Air Temperature: -2

Today we woke up at sea, and as usual for sea days we were invited to a delicious breakfast by DJ. The ocean outside was calm and a low swell caused only the gentlest of swaying. Unfortunately, the visibility was poor; thick fog draped across the leaden sea in roiling skeins of grey. We were still sailing towards Elephant Island, this brutal, inhospitable island that Shackleton and his 22 men used as an improbably refuge for a few months. We had several hours in the morning before reaching the island Laura invited us to her talk about the geology of Antarctica, which included the complicated tectonic development which has led to the separation of Antarctica from the other continents. Laura also touched on the vast mineral and hydrocarbon potential of the southernmost continent, although for now all mining and even prospecting is forbidden on Antarctica. Marcel followed with presentation about Elephant Island; he described its precipitous, ice-covered topography, the frequent brutal winds screaming out of Antarctica, the exposed coastline and lots of other facts about the island we are heading for this afternoon.

As the day wore on, we headed for lunch, but not before the fog slowly started to lift, first we could see a few hundred metres, but before long we were in brilliant sunshine and found ourselves abreast of Cornwallis Island, a close neighbour of Elephant Island. In the improved visibility we were also able to spot scores of Fin Whales, feeding in the rich waters around this island chain.

At 14:30 we were in position off Point Wild and the Expedition Team launched the first Zodiac to see how conditions were for an afternoon activity. The weather was favourable so the Zodiacs were launched and we all boarded to explore the area around the historic site of Point Wild.

The glacier at the back of the bay, Furness Glacier, is pretty active; we saw a few calving events and also heard several thunderous crashes as vast blocks of ice plummeted into the ocean below. We started the cruise by visiting the bust of Luis Alberto Pardo who was the Captain of the Chilean ship, the Yelcho, that rescued Shackleton’s men from Point Wild. The rock around the statue was inhabited by a colony of charming Chinstrap Penguins.

We slowly made our way to the other side of the island where we found several large and very curious Leopard Seals lurking in the water below the moulting penguins, waiting patiently for their next meal. The seals played around the Zodiacs, rising out of the water, and eyeing us with curiosity, perhaps also sizing us up for as a potential meal.

After some incredible wildlife encounters, and a memorable stop at this iconic place in Antarctic history, we slowly made our way back towards the ship. However, before returning, we paused among the plume of brash ice emanating from the glacier for a few moments of silence; the only sound was the gentle clinking of the ice in the swell and the sharp pops of pressurised air bubbles melting out of their frozen tombs.

By 18:30 we were all back on board, and thoroughly enjoying a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in the Lounge during daily recap. Adam presented the plans for tomorrow; we are aiming for Deception Island in the afternoon after steaming all night and all morning through Bransfield Strait. Marcel then followed with a few corrections to his lecture from the morning; the wonderful conditions we had experienced at Point Wild had changed his mind about how hostile this place is, and he recategorized it to the ‘Banana Belt’ of Antarctica. Finally, Gunilla presented a feature length re-enactment of the Swedish expedition of Nils Otto Nordenskjöld. All the Expedition Team were solicited to be a part of the presentation. However, the story is rather complex and we ran out of time before dinner. We will have to be patient for the concluding act tomorrow evening.

After dinner, we were invited for a movie night. We made ourselves comfortable in the Lounge, a glass in one hand and popcorn in the other, to watch ‘Admundsen’, a film about the life and exploits of the legendary Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. A fitting end to an adventurous day.

Day 14: The South Shetland Islands: Deception Island

The South Shetland Islands: Deception Island
Date: 08.03.2020
Position: 62°43.4’ S, 59°06.9’ W
Wind: NW 2
Weather: Partially cloudy
Air Temperature: +0.5

We started the day with calm seas and clear horizons, heading southwest along Bransfield Strait from Elephant Island, towards our afternoon destination; Deception Island. The calm seas provided excellent viewing conditions for marine mammals and we saw Fin Whales and lots of Humpback Whales. Both species were observed frequently surfacing all around the ship and Hondius slowed to 10 knots to avoid any possibility of striking them.

During the morning Ross and Sara both gave lectures. Ross gave a presentation highlighting the importance of krill within the Southern Ocean, and explaining that krill are the basis of the entire food web in the Antarctic region. All of the incredible birds, whales, and seals that we have seen so far are fundamentally reliant on these tiny crustaceans. The second lecture, delivered by Sara, was about the history and role of women in Antarctica. She described how attitudes to women in Antarctica have slowly changed through the decades. Until relatively recently there was prevalent sexism against women being in Antarctica; this was built on a series of flawed assumptions about the capability and resilience of women in harsh environments. Fortunately, these attitudes are no longer dominant, in large part due to a series of pioneering women who explored, lived, and worked in Antarctica, proving along the way that they are every bit as capable as their male counterparts.

In the afternoon we approached Deception Island. The island is one of the most active volcanoes in Antarctica. Its name derives from the large sheltered harbour inside, Port Foster, which is largely invisible from the outside. The island appears rocky and inhospitable for ships. We entered the flooded caldera of the volcano through Neptune’s Bellows, a channel at the southern end of the island infamous for its strong gusting winds that are funnelled through the 500-metre-wide opening. Once safely through we headed to the northern shores of the volcano and made a landing at Telefon Bay. This provided everyone with a chance to stretch their legs properly and complete a walk along the ridges within the volcano that provided exceptional scenic views over Port Foster, and up into the glaciated hills surrounding the caldera. After everyone had completed their own exploration of the unique geology of the volcano it was time to head back to the beach for the customary polar plunge. This tradition was undertaken by a few of the bravest who took a dip into the cold Antarctic waters in a flurry of splashing and screaming. It’s worth mentioning that the waters inside the caldera are fractionally warmer than the surrounding seas due to the geothermal heat delivered by the active magma chamber which sits just below the surface. However, the cold was still enough to take your breath away, and even the hardiest spent only a few seconds in the ocean.

After returning to the ship for a well-deserved hot shower and hot chocolate it was time to join Adam and the Expedition Team in the Lounge for the daily recap. Here we learnt what was in store for the next part of our expedition, the Antarctic Peninsula. We would continue to head south through the night and into the next morning. We are eager and excited for the unique landscapes and wildlife of peninsula region.

Day 15: The Antarctic Peninsula: Gerlache Strait and Lemaire Channel

The Antarctic Peninsula: Gerlache Strait and Lemaire Channel
Date: 09.03.2020
Position: 64°54.8’ S, 63°10.5’ W
Wind: W 2
Weather: Partially cloudy
Air Temperature: 0

The day started very early for a few of us; a beautiful sunrise lit the sky in the middle of the Gerlache Strait long before DJ woke us up and announced breakfast. The eager crowded the bows of Hondius in the crisp, frosty air of the early morning. We had finally made it to Antarctica and were greeted by stunning conditions; the soft blues of the glacial ice, the sharp blacks of the jagged volcanic peaks, and a swelling purple sunrise combined into a magical first encounter with the great white continent.

After breakfast the day began in earnest with another excellent lecture program. Marcel and Ross talked about the environmental regulations of our voyage and showed us the people and operations behind the scenes on the Hondius. Miriam and Massimo received a mountain of photos for their learning and critique session about composition and editing, consequently they held a double photo session through the afternoon. And after dinner Gunilla delighted us with her talk about the history of Adrien de Gerlache, the Belgian explorer after whom this area is named.

However, the lectures were largely interrupted. The reasons were various, but each wonderful. First, we had the transit through the Lemaire Strait which stopped Marcel mid-flow. Several times we also saw whales and the lecturers dutifully downed tools and we all crowded the outside decks.

The Lemaire Channel was our first major highlight. The most breath-taking scenery surrounded us; steep mountains and hanging glaciers. Deep waters beneath us, set under azure skies. Humpback Whales were everywhere; slowly Captain Alexey guided Hondius through the narrow channel, and past these gently slumbering giants.

The water was unruffled by even the gentlest of breezes and reflecting the mountains in front of the ship, as if to double their splendour. And if we weren’t already totally overwhelmed by the occasion, DJ and his team began to serve hot chocolate with rum on the forward deck, the perfect accompaniment to our surroundings.

After lunch most of us spent the afternoon outside. Marvelling at tabular icebergs, whales, and the imposing landscapes of the Antarctic Peninsula off our port side. We steamed onwards, ever southwards, and ever towards the heart of this icy continent.

The day slid gently into evening, and we were treated to some more incredible light as the sun dipped towards the horizon, glancing off the leaden waters among the thousands of islands and icebergs surrounding us.

During the daily recap Adam briefed us on the plans for the next day, a trip through The Gullet, and adventures beyond.

Day 16: The Antarctic Peninsula: The Gullet and Horseshoe Island

The Antarctic Peninsula: The Gullet and Horseshoe Island
Date: 10.03.2020
Position: 67°03.5’ S, 67°31.5’ W
Wind: Variable 1
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: 0

This morning was a very early start, and what a morning it was. We ventured out onto the decks half-asleep, and half-dressed at 06:30. We were greeted by an ethereal world of pastel tones. The bright, full moon was gently setting over a horizon bathed pink by Alpenglow. Behind us the first rays of the awakening sun gently grazed the pinnacles and ridges of the snowy mountain ridges. Will our friends believe us when we tell them that amongst this sublime beauty there was a pod of seal-hunting killer whales? Not to mention the dozing Humpback Whales inspecting our ship’s stern? Too much to be true! Let them wonder - at least we all know it was real. Surreal.

We find ourselves staring at the mountains that watch over the entrances to The Gullet; rocky sentinels towering over us. The Gullet is made of two narrow passages allowing circumnavigations of Hansen Island and Day Island. The passages lie between the larger masses of Adelaide Island (to the west) and the Antarctic Peninsula (to the east). As Hondius approaches the entrance to the channel we enter a world full of icebergs and bergy bits that surround us during breakfast. These foretell the unlikelihood of a Zodiac cruise here. Indeed, a post-brekky ship cruise it is. With splendid blue skies, the barest ruffle of wind and most passengers out on deck. The Gullet-baptism for Hondius couldn’t have been any more dazzling.

Heading further south than our ship has ever been before, we passed east of the spectacular mountainous scenery of Adelaide Island. After a few hours we sighted Rothera, the British Antarctic Survey research station in the distance, while Humpback Whales breached in the foreground. The Staff Officer, and second in command, Mikko, gave a lecture on maritime navigation. The absolute highlight of this was a practical sextant workshop, keenly taken up by many of us who patiently queued on one of the higher decks for a chance to use this classic and delicate device.

Our destination for the afternoon? Pourquoi Pas Island; a 27 km long island, discovered during the Fifth French Antarctic Expedition (1908–1910) under command of Jean-Baptiste Charcot. A later British expedition named the island after Charcot’s expedition ship, the Pourquoi Pas.

We did a split-group cruise and landing. This enabled everyone to observe the surrounding glaciers from the water, as well as up close from a moraine. There was even a chance to touch the glacier in a safe area at the centre of the moraine. It was an absolute delight to be out after a day at sea and our joy was shared with a handful of Adelie Penguins. Why? Why not.

With last week’s BBQ getting rained off in South Georgia, the ambitious Galley Team deemed it appropriate to give it another try today. It turned out to be very pleasant, with a fantastic sunset that lasted for hours, and many people throwing caution to the wind and showing their best moves on the dancefloor.

Day 17: The Antarctic Peninsula: Pourquoi Pas Island, Stonington Island, and the Antarctic Continent

The Antarctic Peninsula: Pourquoi Pas Island, Stonington Island, and the Antarctic Continent
Date: 11.03.2020
Position: 67°50.1’ S, 67°20.7’ W
Wind: WNW 5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

We woke again to Adam’s cheerful voice telling us to get ready for another busy day in Antarctica. After a quick glance through the window, we could see the wind blowing outside. The first landing option at Pourquoi Pas Island was not manageable so we sailed round to the other side of the island in search of more shelter. The Expedition Team worked hard to find the perfect landing site. As we were called for breakfast, they already had two Zodiacs in the water scouting.

By around 9 am we were invited to the shell doors to visit Horseshoe Island. The site is very special and overlooks Sally Cove where ‘Base Y’ is located, a historical hut built by the British Antarctic Survey during the late 1950s. Like any historical hut, we were only allowed 12 people in at the same time, so we had the option to explore the surrounds of the hut or stroll out to a viewpoint overlooking the base, the cove, and the distant mountains across the fjord.

Fur Seals and Adelie Penguins welcomed us at the beach and most of us just sat on the rocks, full of bright green copper residues, also called malachite, to observe them. The inside of the hut was very well preserved, despite the ferocious Antarctic winters, and we could find objects left by the British researchers in the ’60s. The most interesting part was to look at all the cans of food and see the old labels of Spam, smoked herring, powdered chocolate milk, and a veritable smorgasbord of other rations.

As the morning progressed the sea was getting more and more choppy and the ride back to Hondius got pretty wet and cold. However, we could see our Zodiac drivers thoroughly enjoying themselves, playing with the waves, and relishing the challenging conditions.

Back on board, we went straight to our cabin to get changed and then on to the Lounge to for a piping hot beverage. Once warm and dry, and having regained the feeling in our fingers again, we followed DJ’s call to our favourite part of the day… Lunch. Everyone was hungry after a morning battling the cold of Antarctica.

In the afternoon we all gathered in the lounge to learn about the plans for the remainder of the day. Adam and the Expedition Team decided to push on, further south, crossing 68°S, and heading for another historical hut located on Stonington Island. It was a great decision as the conditions here were much more favourable than this morning. The water was glassy and there was only the slightest hint of a breeze.

While the half of us headed to land at Stonington Island, the other half jumped in the Zodiacs, and headed out into the bay for a cruise. It was a beautiful afternoon and we saw gorgeous reflections of the icebergs and surrounding mountains in the water. A few Crabeater Seals were sleeping on the flatter and more comfortable icebergs, and some of us were lucky enough to see Minke Whales swimming in the distance.

Halfway through the cruise, we met Marcel, he was waiting for us in a pair of waders on a small shingle beach set below an imposing mountain cliff. This small spit of land was the very edge of the mainland, the Antarctic Continent. We all piled ashore for 10 minutes to step on the continent, and to take a few photos. For quite a few this was our seventh continent, and a cause for celebration.

Once back onboard the Zodiacs we headed for the landing where we could visit not one, but two historical huts. The first, ‘Base E’, was built by the British Antarctic Survey and was rather eerie inside. It has not been restored yet, and we felt it had a weird atmosphere whilst wandering around with only the light of our torches. The view behind the hut was outstanding; a large active glacier terminating in the sea in a huge calving front some 30–40 metres tall. We came across a few Weddell Seals lazing on the beach on our way to the American base. These buildings were built in the beginning of the 1940s.

The weather was absolutely perfect and we stayed out for as long as possible, only returning to Hondius when we were at risk of missing dinner. Consequently, recap was cancelled and went more or less directly from the Zodiacs to dinner. The Dining Room was buzzing with stories from the day. It was another amazing day under the Antarctic sun. We felt very privileged to have had such good weather on our southernmost point of the voyage.

Day 18: At sea: The Southern Ocean

At sea: The Southern Ocean
Date: 12.03.2020
Position: 67°04.0’ S, 69°14.1’ W
Wind: NE 8
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

We woke to the pitching and rolling of the ship. Sustained winds of 50 knots, and gusts up to 60 knots had caused a violent, short sea to build through the night. Captain Alexey had seen it coming and took Hondius out to sea, away from land, from icebergs, and into the safe, but uncomfortable open ocean.

Some of us had managed a good night’s sleep, soothed by the motion. The less fortunate among us considered strapping themselves to their beds and skipped breakfast altogether.

The main attraction of the day was on the Bridge. Those who were brave enough, and who could make their way safely upstairs, had the chance to see the bow of Hondius hitting the waves and creating bursts of spray that completely inundated even the windows of the Bridge, seven storeys above sea level.

Not long after breakfast, Michael, the Dive Master, gave a talk about naval slang used at sea, and often in daily life on land too. He talked about the origins of many of the most known sayings. His collection of funny facts and stories was light relief from the heavy motion of the Antarctic storm outside.

Later in the morning there was a trio of mini lectures presented by some of the Expedition Team. Miriam talked in depth about the many and varied species of plants we have encountered along our voyage. This included the only two types of vascular plants in Antarctica; Antarctic Pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis) and Antarctic Hair Grass (Deschampsia antarctica). Gaby then shared her passion for the incredible optical phenomena that you can see in the Polar regions. She introduced us to the complex physics responsible for these natural wonders. Laurence finished off by talking about some glaciology research that is currently happening in the centre of West Antarctica, not so far from the areas we have been visiting. The researchers have used hot water to drill 2 kilometres through an active, fast-flowing glacier. They hope to understand what allows glaciers to flow so fast, and to use this information to better predict what will happen in the future.

The day was passing by and we got the feeling we were witnessing the other face of Antarctica, not just the pristine and friendly place that we have encountered so far. These wild and hostile conditions serve as a good reminder that we are travelling in some of the most remote, windiest, and coldest places on Earth.

After lunch the conditions eased marginally, allowing us to get some fresh air on Deck 5. Adam then presented a lecture on dogs in Antarctica. Although they are now banned from Antarctica, man’s best friend has been pivotal in the success of many expeditions and scientific fieldwork in the early part of the 20th Century.

Before long, it was time for dinner. After another excellent meal we settled in for the evening, relaxing at the Bar, or getting an early night; ready for adventures tomorrow.

Day 19: The Antarctic Peninsula: Vernadsky Station, Wordie House, and the Argentine Islands

The Antarctic Peninsula: Vernadsky Station, Wordie House, and the Argentine Islands
Date: 13.03.2020
Position: 65°07.8’ S, 64°03.1’ W
Wind: NNE 4
Weather: Partially cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

This morning we woke aboard Hondius to surprisingly calm conditions, albeit a little blustery still. Despite the storm’s best efforts to blow us off course, thanks to the skill and expertise of Captain Alexey and the deck officers, Hondius arrived at our morning destination of Port Charcot with only a few hours’ delay.

With a day at sea under their belts, the Expedition Team headed out into the Zodiacs to start the day’s first landing. However, upon arrival, the Expedition Team quickly found that conditions ashore were absolutely treacherous underfoot. A layer of ice coated the rocks and snow and as they were wondering whether to proceed the wind picked up, the final nail, so the team made the decision to abandon the landing and return to the ship.

Once the team recovered the Zodiacs, Hondius sailed towards yet another prospective landing site at Petermann Island, only to find that the conditions there also just were even worse for a landing. Our leisurely morning continued with some whale watching and a short lecture series in the Lounge. Whether you were interested in learning more about the inner-workings of our trusty ship, Hondius, or you wanted to hear more about the many cats (and one pig) that joined the adventurers of the Heroic Age on their many exploits in Antarctica, there was some informative entertainment on hand this morning for all to enjoy.

Lunch came and went, and soon enough it was time to make our afternoon landing. Thankfully, conditions were much more favourable, and we made landfall at the Argentine Islands for what would be our last station visit of the voyage. Here, we were given the opportunity to visit Akademik Vernadsky Station, a Ukrainian research base with a long and storied history.

The base was established as Faraday Station (‘Base F’) by the British during the aftermath of Operation Tabarin and the Second World War. What is now Vernadsky Station was sold to the Ukrainians for just £1 in the 1990s. During the excursion, each of us was allowed to visit Vernadsky and we learned more about the life and work of the researchers at the base. While at Vernadsky, we had the chance to buy souvenirs and – better yet – taste some of the station’s homemade vodka at the famous Faraday Bar.

If all of that wasn’t enough excitement for one afternoon, after visiting the station, we set off on a short Zodiac cruise through the narrow, winding channels of the Argentine Islands in the hopes of seeing some of the area’s plentiful seal population and abundant bird life. Additionally, if you hadn’t yet gotten your fill of historic British bases yet, we also got to stop quickly at Wordie House, one of the original buildings of the old Faraday Station. Wordie House is meticulously maintained by the staff at Vernadsky and the UKAHT, keeping it looking just as it did during its heyday.

By late afternoon it was time to head back to Hondius for a quick recap and another delicious dinner prepared by Chef Ralf and served by our wonderful waiters and waitresses. Afterwards, many of us gathered in the Lounge to listen to a short, but memorable performance our onboard musician, Reuben Hein. He sang some of his original works for us. However, all good things much come to an end and, as the sun set and the skies drew dark over calm seas, many of us tucked into bed to get some rest before our last day of activities on the White Continent.

Day 20: The Antarctic Peninsula: Foyn Harbour and Gerlache Strait

The Antarctic Peninsula: Foyn Harbour and Gerlache Strait
Date: 14.03.2020
Position: 64°35.8’ S, 61°59.9’ W
Wind: NNE 4
Weather: Snowing
Air Temperature: 0

We woke to a grey and wet morning, our last in Antarctica. However, our spirits were not dampened and even before breakfast we had seen some of the many Humpback Whales around the ship. Fed, watered, and dressed up for the cold we boarded the Zodiacs in a small bay east of Foyn Harbour with the aim of hopefully getting a closer look at the Humpback Whales from a sea level perspective.

It took a little while to find whales but Captain Alexey was on the bridge with a pair of sharp eyes and powerful binoculars; he told the guides via the radio that they had seen a Humpback Whale at one o’ clock position from Hondius. We slowly trickled over with the Zodiacs and as we drew close all the engines were switched off. We drifted, was this whale curious about our presence?

Within a few minutes Humpback approached and swam right through the boats. As we drifted in loose formation the whale came and checked out each boat in turn, treating us all to close-up displays. The whale frequently rolled onto its back, tail-lobbed, fin-slapped, and spy-hopped among the boats for more than 30 minutes. A truly memorable experience, and something very unusual, even in these whale-rich waters.

After a while it start snowing heavily and, although there were many more Humpbacks around, there were none so close as the magnificent first one. There was also a special Zodiac on the water hosting DJ and Rafa. As we pulled alongside, they served us warm drinks replete with a tot of rum; the perfect antidote to the damp, cold morning air. Finally, it was time to return to the ship, and once warm and dry, we all shared our photos, videos, and experiences while warming up with a cup of coffee. What a morning.

After lunch Lee and Sara gave a lecture about how marine mammals are able to stay under water for such long periods of time. They have many special adaptions which allow them to reach incredible depths in the ocean, largely in the hunt for food. After the lecture there was a possibility to do a practical hearing and diving response test; whilst most took the hearing response test, only a few brave souls were willing to dunk their heads into cold water in the name of science. Later in the afternoon, while we were sailing through Gerlache Strait, Gunilla gave a lecture about the Gerlache Expedition, this gave us a wonderful sense of history to the region we were currently sailing through.

Just before recap the inaugural meeting of the ‘Antarctic Women’s Club’ was held, an association inspired by Sara Jenner’s lecture about women pioneers in Antarctica. We toasted to our amazing voyage with Champagne that we had still from our cabins. At recap Laura showed us her top 3 types of ice and DJ talked about the end of the trip including the practicalities of our disembarkation in Ushuaia.

At dinner there were two birthdays, celebrated in style with two rowdy rounds of sing-along. Afterwards, the Dutch singer Ruben gave another small concert in the Lounge, playing some of his own songs and requests from the audience. A lovely way to finish our last day in Antarctica.

Day 21: At sea: The Drake Passage

At sea: The Drake Passage
Date: 15.03.2020
Position: 60°58.0’ S, 63°14.1’ W
Wind: NW 7
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

After a slightly bumpy night on the Drake Passage we woke to the usual hearty breakfast. Once finished, it was time for another series of mini-lectures. First up was Sara Jenner, she talked about Penguin Watch, a citizen science project for counting penguins in their colonies to monitor population health. We learnt that we can all contribute our time to help this science by logging in to the website and manually counting penguins in images. Next up was Sara Ortiz who shared some of the recordings made on this trip. She presented various penguin calls and demonstrated the different calls made for in association with various behaviours. It’s too early to know definitively, but the first results from the acoustics data indicate that it may be possible to identify the specific calls for parents finding their chicks and the alarm call for a Skua coming too close to the colony. Very exciting, and the first time this sort of research has been carried out during a trip like ours.

Last in the mini-series was Miriam who talked about the Drake Passage. She talked about its discovery and explained why the Drake Passage can be a ‘shake’ with the amount of water flowing through it and the frequent storms, even in the summer months. There was obviously a section reserved for all the wildlife we can encounter on the crossing and she also mentioned the successful crossing at the end of last year by six rowers in an ocean-going rowing boat.

Later in the morning Martin presented a lecture on climate change, he talked mostly about the science of climate change, explaining that the climate has changed substantially in the past, but that human activity, primarily through the emission of greenhouse gases, is causing the Earth to warm at a rate unprecedented in the planets history. He also talked about the future outlining how the Earth may look in a hundred years. However, in spite of all the doom and gloom, Martin managed to finish on a positive note. The future of the planet is in our hands; he described some of the things that we can do ourselves, and collectively as citizens, to mitigate climate change.

Shortly after it was time for lunch. As usual for a sea day this was followed by a couple of lectures. First up was Daniel who talked about tattoos of sailors and their meaning, especially in relation to the sea and he also talked about the safety equipment on board. Lee was the last of the afternoon and he presented an interesting lecture providing insights from the latest scientific research about the acoustic communication of whales and dolphins.

Dinner was served after the daily recap. By this point conditions in the Drake Passage had calmed considerably and the Dining Room was filled with talking, laughter, and passengers again. After dinner Hubert Neufeld showed us some of the amazing footage he has filmed throughout this voyage on behalf of Oceanwide. The final movie will be on the Oceanwide website in a few months, but he made a special version to show us on board. This sneak peek was highly appreciated by all. Hubert also answered all our questions afterwards, and explained how he works and the technicalities of his camera.

A few of us had a final night cap, and others went to bed, rocked to sleep by the gentle motion of the Drake Passage.

Day 22: At sea: The Drake Passage

At sea: The Drake Passage
Date: 16.03.2020
Position: 56°17.1’ S, 65°13.8’ W
Wind: WSW 4
Weather: Partially cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

We woke on our last morning on The Drake Passage to calmer seas and clear skies. The improved weather meant we were able to enjoy a morning of lectures in comfort, and had regained our appetites in time to fully enjoy the delights from the kitchen again. The divers were up first, presenting a beautiful array of photos from the world beneath the waves. They were followed by Ben, who presented a really interesting lecture on the Beagle Channel, including it’s geography, history, and culture; the perfect prelude to our passage through it later in the day.

Hondius reached the approaches to the Beagle Channel in the late afternoon. Gaby presided over a riotous and very entertaining cruise quiz, and among this entertainment we picked up the pilot from a small launch which pulled alongside. We entered the Beagle Channel under beautiful skies. Large orographic clouds towered over us, and they were lit gold by the last rays of the setting sun. The calm waters of the channel were full of wildlife; those watching from the outer decks saw Sooty Shearwaters, Magellanic Penguins, Fur Seals, Cormorants, Dolphin Gulls, and more.

As we pulled into the harbour we were all called to the Lounge at around 23:00. Here Adam briefed us on the latest news from Ushuaia, and how that would affect our travel plans. The town, and wider province of Tierra del Fuego, had just been placed in a phase of lock-down, announced only one hour before our arrival. Consequently, we would only be allowed to leave Hondius to go directly to the airport.

Day 23: Disembarkation: Ushuaia

Disembarkation: Ushuaia
Date: 17.03.2020
Position: 54°48.6’ S, 68°17.8’ W
Wind: W 2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +7

We opened bleary eyes this morning; both from the late-night flight administration, and a few too many farewell drinks. Those of us on the morning flights left our bags outside the cabin door, to be reunited with them on the gangway as we disembark.

Disembarkation day was a little unusual; we left in waves, each making our way to the bus with a few hours to spare before our flights. After waving goodbye to 30 of our fellow passengers in the early morning, we made our way up to the Lounge for a coffee and to stock up on Bastogne, the highly-addictive Dutch biscuits. At 10:00 there was an impromptu lecture by Laurence. Having given all his Antarctic lectures, he talked about Greenland; showing beautiful photos from the largest island on Earth.

For those of us on board with later flights, there was lunch in the Dining Room. This was complete with fresh fruit delivered by crane in the morning, our first fresh produce in 22 days. Some of us will remain on Hondius until tomorrow, held by the regulations in Tierra del Fuego. Those of us who remain settled in to a relaxing afternoon onboard, making the most of the time to rest before the busy days of travel ahead of us.

As it comes time for each of us to leave, we step onto dry land with an air of trepidation. The world has changed immeasurably in the three short weeks that we have been away. However, we stride out in the company of new friends, and forever touched by our experiences in the wildest, most beautiful places on Earth.

Thank you all for a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour, and enthusiasm. We wish you safe travels home, and we hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be.

Total distance sailed on our voyage: 4319 nautical miles.

Furthest south: 68°14.413’ S.

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

Tripcode: HDS31-20
Dates: 24 Feb - 17 Mar, 2020
Duration: 22 nights
Ship: m/v Hondius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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Aboard m/v Hondius

Hondius is the first-registered Polar Class 6 vessel in the world, optimized for the most innovative exploratory voyages throughout the Arctic and Antarctica.

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