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OTL21-22, trip log, Falkland Islands - South Georgia - Antarctica

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation - Puerto Madryn, Argentina

Embarkation - Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Date: 25.10.2022
Position: 42°45’.71 S - 065°01’.44 W
Wind: ESE 1
Weather: Sunny, scattered cloud
Air Temperature: +21

Our group descended on Puerto Madryn over the course of several days. A few early arrivals saw our ship, Ortelius arrive on the 23rd after a long repositioning voyage from her home port of Vlissingen in The Netherlands. Come embarkation day, most people had already caught their first glimpse of Ortelius, which was docked at the pier. Everyone enjoyed time to explore Puerto Madryn at their leisure ahead of boarding the ship.

Embarkation was set for 16:00 onwards. A handful of eager guests arrived ahead of time and enjoyed the sun while observing dock life. Once embarkation began, there was a steady flow of excited arrivals. The expedition team were on hand to greet us and assist with the scanning of luggage by the local port authority. Then it was time to climb the gangway and board our home for the next three weeks. While the crew and expedition team delivered luggage to cabins, we made our way to reception with passports at the ready to check-in with Hotel Manager Stephen Bell and his team. Then it was time to find our cabins and start settling in.

The Puerto Madryn harbour pilot boarded the ship at 17:00, and we pulled away from the dock at 17:35. Our adventure had begun! Many of us were up on deck for the departure and to see Puerto Madryn slowly fade away in our wake. The next stop was the Falkland Islands, two days sailing away.

As nice as it was up on deck, there was important business to be done. We were called to the Lecture Hall for important briefings by Expedition Leader Adam, Hotel Manager Stephen and ship’s doctor Veronique. Then there came a mandatory safety and lifeboat drill conducted by the Chief Officer. At the end we were instructed to return to our cabins, put on warm clothes, and stand by for the sounding of the general emergency alarm. Upon hearing the alarm, we reported to our muster stations, either in the Dining Room or Bar, and were taken to our respective lifeboat stations. With the drill complete, many of us remained out on deck catching glimpses of seabirds and distant whale activity.

At 19:00 we were invited to the bar to enjoy a welcome aboard drink, before heading off to dinner at 19:30. There was a great atmosphere during our first meal onboard, created by the prospect of what lay ahead. It was a fantastic feeling to be underway at last. The day ended with a glorious sunset as we made our way towards the Puerto Madryn narrows and the open South Atlantic Ocean. We were about to enter a belt of latitude known as the “Roaring Forties”. We hoped they would be kind to us!!

Day 2: At Sea

At Sea
Date: 26.10.2022
Position: 45’ 44’.4 S - 063°16’.9 W
Wind: W 3
Weather: Partly cloudy & sunny
Air Temperature: +17

Today was our first full day on board Ortelius as we continued our journey towards the Falkland Islands. When we arose from our sleep and headed outside, we saw beautiful, calm seas and sunshine; perfect conditions to begin looking out for wonderful wildlife! Sure enough, even before breakfast we were enjoying views of some amazing animals. In terms of the birds, White-chinned petrels, Giant petrels and our first Black-browed albatrosses were seen. We also saw our first Pintado Petrel. Pintado means ‘painted in Spanish. for the marine mammals, South American sea lions and South American fur seals swam past and a few separate small pods of the strikingly marked Peale’s dolphin acrobatically leaped out of the water towards the ship. Numerous Sei whales were seen too, a sizeable species which grows up to 17m long and weighs up to 38 tonnes. We looked out for the blows of spray as they surfaced to breathe, watching their dark grey backs and curved, pointed dorsal fins curve back beneath the waves. This species is one of the fastest whales, capable of travelling at 25 km/h in short bursts!

Hotel Manager Stephen announced that the restaurant was open at 8am so we went to devour a delicious breakfast buffet. Afterwards, we were called to the lecture room for the introduction of our expedition team who described their roles, experience, and fields of expertise. Then came the mandatory zodiac briefing, giving us the knowledge that we needed to ensure safe operations such as how to use the sailor’s grip, entering and leaving the zodiacs and putting on life jackets. After the briefing we received our muck boots, necessary for wet zodiac landings and walking ashore. We then enjoyed some fresh air back out on deck before lunch time at 12:30.

In the afternoon two lectures were provided in the bar. Marine mammal specialist Hazel spoke about the whales and dolphins we could see during the first part of our trip (including those we had already seen that morning!) and Ornithologist Regis gave his talk called ‘The Fabulous World of Seabirds’ giving us a wealth of information about these magnificent creatures, from the tiny storm petrels to the enormous albatrosses. Speaking of birds, more new species were seen for the trip during the afternoon, including Wandering albatross, Cape petrel (aka Pintado), Soft-plumaged petrel, Great Shearwater, Slender-billed prion and two Rockhopper penguins. Some very active Humpback whales were also observed breaching and slapping their tails on the water in the distance making their presence known with huge splashes!

As the day’s activities drew to a close, we had our first Recap in the bar. Expedition Leader Adam told us the plans for tomorrow, Sara spoke about Falklands culture and Bill encouraged everyone to engage mindfully with the amazing natural world: looking, seeing, thinking, doing! Then it was time for dinner (there was certainly no risk of us going hungry on this trip!) Afterwards we enjoyed some relaxing quiet time or a sociable drink in the bar with fellow guests before heading to bed.

Day 3: At Sea & Grand Jason Island, Falklands

At Sea & Grand Jason Island, Falklands
Date: 27.10.2022
Position: 50°33’.5 S - 061°31’.3 W
Wind: NW 5
Weather: Slightly overcast, bright
Air Temperature: +13

After breakfast Expedition Leader Adam called everyone to a briefing and announced the need for a change of plan. The weather forecast indicated severe weather in the area of the Falklands over the next few days. Winds expected to gust over 60 knots making landings on exposed beaches impossible, and the harbour at Stanley was scheduled to close. Plan B was to remain on course to the northern part of the Falklands but aim for a different island. The hope was that the weather would allow us to land at Steeple Jason Island, home of the largest Albatross colony in the world. From there the intention was to head directly for South Georgia.

The weather continued to remain excellent with good visibility and a relatively calm sea state. Several whales were spotted, and cameras clicked as long lenses followed Petrels, Prions and Albatrosses that flew around the vessel. The lecture program continued with guests attending several informative talks in the morning. AEL Sarah …”How to take photographs you are happy with!’ Himanshuu Seth…’Photo shutter speed for beginners’ and EL Adam …introduction to the Falkland Island …a historical account.

Land came into sight during lunch, and Ortelius soon arrived off the dramatic albatross-lined shores of Steeple Jason. The air was filled with Albatrosses, and countless thousand white dots stretched like a gigantic collar around the island. Unfortunately, the weather conditions deteriorated quickly, and the increasing wind created a heavy 3 metre swell. Two Zodiacs were launched to check the possibility of landing. The result was a disappointing but obvious cancellation.

Ortelius repositioned to Grand Jason Island, a place that none of the expedition team had ever been to….. including Allan, the Falkland Islander. Conditions were much more favorable, and Zodiacs were launched to scout for a landing site. Four Zodiacs ran shuttles, transferring all guests to a rocky inlet where a scramble over some rocks was required. We followed a pole-marked trail through the massive clumps of Tussock Grass to an enormous colony of Black-browed Albatrosses and Rockhopper Penguins. Cameras click incessantly…wildlife photo opportunities everywhere… guests were delighted.

A call from the ship prompted everyone to return to the landing site and Zodiacs. Conditions had once again changed, and the wind was gusting strongly at Force 7 from NNW and the swell increased to 4 metres, a menacing height alongside the gangway. The next hour provided serious excitement for all as the Zodiacs transferred the returning guests. It was dark when the last boats were lifted onboard and plan B implemented due to the forecast of worsening weather…Ortelius set course for South Georgia.

Another memorable adventure filled Oceanwide Expeditions day!!!

Day 4: At Sea

At Sea
Date: 28.10.2022
Position: 51°19’.8 S - 057°48’.6 W
Wind: W 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +9

We started the day just off the north-east corner of the Falkland Islands. Overnight the weather had deteriorated slightly, and the ship was rolling quite a lot. Following the usual great breakfast, Allan gave a memorable and emotional talk about living on one of the remotest islands in the Falklands. Allan is a fifth generation Falkland Islander and a direct descendant of one of the original British settlers in 1840. His photographs of the landscape, wildlife and his adorable Labrador Bosun were enjoyed by everyone.

The weather steadily worsened throughout the morning which meant that getting around was more of a challenge. Regular announcements reminded us to take good care while moving about the ship, and to ensure that we always had at least one hand free for safety. There were also reminders to ensure all items in our cabins were secure, and to keep fingers out of door frames. The weather was forecasted to deteriorate further still.

At 11:00 Jami Tarris of the Wild Focus photography group gave a fantastic presentation about Wildlife Photography. Jami’s photos from all around the world were nothing less than breath-taking. Outside it was overcast and the visibility was reducing all the time. But that didn’t stop us seeing Peales Dolphins, Pintado Petrels, Diving Petrels, Sooty Shearwater and Giant Petrels in good numbers. And, of course there was the ever-present and by now familiar, Black-browed Albatross.

Following another delicious buffet lunch, Expedition Leader Adam gave a series of short mandatory briefings in the bar. These were the IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) Visitor Guidelines, Bio Security requirements, and a memorable video covering the South Georgia Visitor Guidelines with the familiar voice of Sir David Attenborough.

There was a dramatic worsening of the weather in the early afternoon. The impending storm that drove us out of the Falklands had caught up with us! More announcements were made reminding us to take extreme care while moving around the ship. Restrictions were placed on the outer decks, which were very wet and slippery. The heavy rolling made it very dangerous outside. By 15:00 the wind was blowing steadily at 50-60 knots, gusting to over 70 knots. The wind speed indicator on the bridge showed this numerous times. The swell was a mesmerizing 5-6 meters. Reports from the Falklands about horrendous conditions there confirmed that we were right to make a run for it.

Later in the afternoon Hella gave a very informative talk on Pinnipeds while trying to remain upright. This was a fantastic introduction to the various seal species that we hoped to encounter on our expedition. The motion of the ship was getting to Hella, but she soldiered on and pulled off a superb presentation despite feeling unwell.

After a short recap in the bar, dinner was served by some very well-balanced waiters, as the sea state continued to roll the ship. The Captain changed course slightly to reduce the heavy rolling during dinner service. This allowed most people to keep their dinner on the plate!

Day 5: At Sea - Scotia Sea

At Sea - Scotia Sea
Date: 29.10.2022
Position: 52°30’.1 S - 050°33’.2 W
Wind: WSW 8
Weather: Partly cloudy, sunny
Air Temperature: +7

As a new dawn broke on Ortelius, a multitude of sea birds gracefully rode the high winds around our vessel, blissfully unaware of the many people onboard who had struggled through the night, unable to sleep due to the rolling and pitching in the rough seas. The dining room slowly and only partly filled up for breakfast, and for everyone’s safety hotel manager Stephen decided that all meals today would be served by the hotel staff to avoid guests walking about and falling over.

On the bridge, the Captain mentioned that the wave height peaked at around 10 metres during the night! But the good news was that throughout the day the wind speed was expected to decrease, and with that the swell and waves should ease. We were informed that until further notice all decks apart from deck 6 were closed for safety reasons.

During the morning Theo Allofs from the Wild Focus Photography Group gave a wonderful presentation on ‘Landscape and Composition’. Beautiful photographs of some of the most incredible places on our planet were presented by Theo, which was another reminder of the task we have as humans to protect, respect, and reconnect with Mother Earth.

To protect the biodiversity in South Georgia and to avoid the introduction of any invasive plants or animals, the biosecurity guidelines which allow us to set foot on land are very strict. In preparation some time was reserved this morning for the initial cleaning and inspection of all our equipment. Armed with brushes and paperclips we searched for the tiniest pieces of mud, grass, or seeds. For those with little patience it can be a frustrating task. But as a team we all helped each other to reduce time on a very scrutinous inspection.

For those of us who were up and about, the bridge and deck 6 were a wonderful place to be. The seas had calmed down a little, the sun was peeking through the clouds and many seabirds were following us. Some of the highlights were Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross and Wandering Albatross.

Following another beautiful lunch served by the hotel and expedition staff, Hazel gave a very interesting lecture entitled ‘Humans and Whales; from Whaling to Worship’, which covered the relationship between humans and cetaceans throughout history and different cultures. She also talked about the history of whaling and when we turned to cetacean conservation.

Later in the afternoon Bill gave a beautiful perspective on the meaning of the sea in paintings in his lecture. His words always gave us food for thought.

After an informative recap in the bar, where Sarah showed us the different wingspans of birds, and Hella and Bill talked about respectively ‘knots’ and the ‘stability and endurance’ of the Ortelius, we all enjoyed dinner in the calming seas. Many of us were happy at the prospect of catching up on some sleep, while South Georgia is slowly approaching. One more day at sea…!

Day 6: At Sea - Scotia Sea

At Sea - Scotia Sea
Date: 30.10.2022
Position: 53°18’.1 S - 043°19’.5 W
Wind: W 6
Weather: Scattered cloud, sunny
Air Temperature: +6

After a couple of days of rough seas, we were all happy to wake up to calmer conditions today. Word quickly spread around the ship that we had crossed the Antarctic Convergence (the biological boundary of Antarctica) during the night. With the outside decks reopened we were able to head outdoors to enjoy the amazing seabirds which were still accompanying Ortelius as we continued our journey. These included five different species of albatross; Grey-headed, Black-browed, Light-mantled sooty, Southern Royal and Wandering. These large, impressive birds gave fantastic views, gliding by at eye level and giving great opportunities for capturing some photographs. Additional birds for the morning included Blue and Kerguelen petrels.

In the bar, Assistant Expedition Leader Sara gave her brilliant lecture regarding penguins, giving us a wealth of information about these iconic animals accompanied by her beautiful photographs. Speaking of photography, Theo Allofs from Wild Focus gave his inspiring presentation entitled ‘Light and Landscapes’. Throughout the morning we travelled across waters which were uniformly deep and flat, reaching over 2000m. Deep, open ocean is the habitat of beaked whale species which primarily feed on squid and so it is likely a whale which quickly appeared near the bow was a member of this group of marine mammals. It surfaced just once and then vanished, meaning identification was impossible.

After buffet lunch served by our friendly dining room crew it was time for a biosecurity session. Hoovers and paperclips at the ready, we vacuumed our pockets and de-fluffed our Velcro to ensure no sneaky seeds or other biohazards were hiding in the outdoor gear we would be wearing ashore tomorrow. By the time we had finished this important process, Ortelius was travelling through waters where the depth was varying, generally a good place to look for large whales as cold, nutrient rich waters from the deep is driven upwards to the surface. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the blows of large whales were spotted, and we enjoyed good views of Fin whale and Humpback whale feeding in the same vicinity. A pod of Pilot whales, including females with calves, were seen briefly and our first iceberg was spotted in the distance directly ahead! At 16:00pm we passed by Shag Rocks, marvelling at the ragged peaks and considerable number of birds within this area (mainly tricky to identify Prion species!) Having enjoyed these wonderful wildlife sightings guests went to the lecture room for the final talk of the day, provided by Expedition Leader Adam, regarding South Georgia.

As ever, a delicious dinner awaited us this evening and, just when we thought the day couldn’t get better, dessert was tiramisu! Expedition and deck crew made sure the windows were blacked out and curtains drawn to minimise the risk of birds being disorientated by the lights of the ship. It was soon time to head to bed to ensure we were well rested for tomorrow’s exciting plans: we would finally be arriving at South Georgia!

Day 7: Grytviken & Jason Harbour, South Georgia

Grytviken & Jason Harbour, South Georgia
Date: 31.10.2022
Position: 54°17’.2 S - 036°28’.9 W
Wind: W 5
Weather: Overcast, snow showers
Air Temperature: +3

There was early morning excitement as guests lined the rails for their first sight of South Georgia. It was a wild and windy scene that greeted us. By 09:30 we were off King Edward Point, the administrative center for South Georgia. A Zodiac was launched to collect the Government Officer, who came onboard to conduct the necessary bio-security inspections. When disembarkation was announced, we queued up for the final inspection. Great news! Ortelius passed with flying colors and was credited for being the best ship of the season so far.

The Zodiacs took us ashore to the remains of Grytviken, a whaling station established by Carl Anton Larsen in 1904. The word Grytviken is Norwegian for ‘Pot Cove’ and was named after sealers trypots found at the site. Guests were delighted, having seen lots of photographs in presentations onboard, that the reality did not disappoint. The rusting ruins of the station was surrounded by magnificent snow-covered rugged mountains dominated by Mt Duse and Mt Hodges.

An assortment of photogenic convoluted metal shapes, strange complex structures and massive oil tanks lined the shore. Inherently interesting wreckage, fur seals and elephant seals were everywhere. Photographers snapped Kelp gulls at the harbor area and a few captured shots of the South Georgia pintail. The tiny South Georgia pipit delighted birdwatchers. It was a magical place, and the gently falling snow only added to the wonderful atmosphere.

The most striking feature of the whaling station was 3 decaying whale catchers rammed dramatically onto the beach in front of the factory. One with harpoon gun in the bow and crows nest on the foremast. These are named Petrel (standing alone), and Dias and Albatross (side-by-side). In a far worse state was the sad remains of the Louise, one of the first vessels to bring construction materials for Grytviken, which lay poking from the water at the other side of the bay.

First stop for many was the beautifully kept Whalers Cemetery containing Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave. To the right of the ‘The Boss’ lies a commemorative plaque and the ashes of Shackleton’s loyal Lieutenant Frank Wild. Staff poured out glasses of Whisky and Bill reminded everyone of the astonishing Shackleton story, prior to proposing a toast. One of the 64 graves contains the remains of Felix Artuso, an Argentinian submariner accidentally shot during the conflict in 1982.

Guests then wandered freely through the station and enjoyed the magnificent displays in the South Georgia Museum, once the Managers Villa. The full-sized model of the James Caird used by Shackleton on his epic voyage from the Weddell Sea to Point Wild on Elephant Island, and onwards to South Georgia was a highlight. This drove home the superb accomplishment of navigating safely across such perilous seas.

After an excellent morning Ortelius left the anchorage at 1.30 and sailed to Jason Harbour for an afternoon landing. Guests negotiated a dense concentration of seals as they explored the beach and tussock grass behind the shore. A small and interesting hut erected in 1909 stood just a short distance from the Zodiac landing site. The hut retained the original corrugated iron roof and wooden planked table, complete with carved names and dates of ships and people who had visited the bay. The super days activities ended with a Halloween BBQ, scheduled for the helideck, but held in the dining room as the weather outside was cold and damp, with wind gusting ferociously.

Day 8: Fortuna Bay & Stromness

Fortuna Bay & Stromness
Date: 01.11.2022
Position: 54°08’.9 S - 036°48’.4 W
Wind: NW 6
Weather: Variable
Air Temperature: +6

We awoke to find that Ortelius had moved a short distance along South Georgia’s rugged coastline and was approaching Fortuna Bay. Outside it was windy and the sea was rough, but conditions improved dramatically the further we went into the bay. At 07:30 the expedition staff took two Zodiacs and went off to scout the long beach for a landing site. At first, the swell breaking on the beach looked like it might prevent us landing. But a sheltered spot was found tucked in behind a very small rocky promontory near the west end of the beach, and the landing was a go! After a hearty breakfast, we donned our outdoor gear and awaited the 8:30 announcement that disembarkation could begin. Outside we were greeted by sleet showers and cold gusts coming off the mountains, which frenzied the surface of the water. The Zodiac drivers advised us to “batten down the hatches” for the ride ashore.

A fantastic morning was spent at Fortuna Bay, home to a sizeable King penguin colony which sits at the foot of the mountains a kilometer or so inland from the beach. The showers subsided, allowing the sun to peep through from time to time. The colours of the Kings on the green vegetation, and the contrast of fresh snow on the black mountains made for stunning photos. Around the landing site were hundreds of Elephant and Fur seals, and King penguins at every turn. All living in tolerance of each other. The morning passed very quickly, and before we knew it the time had come to return to the ship for lunch.

As we departed Fortuna Bay, the clouds parted to reveal South Georgia in all its glory. As we headed around the coast towards Stromness Bay, we marveled at the towering mountain peaks and vast glacial terrain before us. With the open sea came strong offshore winds and a gentle swell, reminding us that the mighty Southern Ocean is always present. Turning in to Stromness Bay Ortelius once again found shelter and quieter waters off an abandoned whaling support station. The rustic collection of buildings and stunning backdrop of mountains was a sight to behold.

The Zodiacs landed us on a shingle beach, near the edge of the 200-metre exclusion zone around the station. This vital safety measure is in place to protect visitors from asbestos and debris lifted off the crumbling buildings by the wind. The ever-present and now familiar Fur seals greeted us on the beach, and the first Snowy Sheathbills of the voyage were spotted. A good leg stretch was on offer this afternoon, and a large group set off inland with Expedition Leader Adam, bound for Shackleton’s Waterfall. Some 2.3km later, they arrived at this famous South Georgia landmark. A powerful and moving reading of Shackleton’s description of how they negotiated the waterfall, was done by fellow guest Mike Davies from England. This brought so much meaning to the spot we had arrived at.

For those not on the hike, the Stromness area offered the rare opportunity to roam freely. The expedition staff reminded us of the hazards associated with Fur seals, and the importance of keeping distance from all wildlife. The need to observe the exclusion zone around the station was also emphasized. Exploring the Stromness plain in our own time with the sun on the landscape was a real treat. A small colony of Gentoo penguins was found on the side of a hill inland from the station, where skuas lingered and harassed the poor penguins. Some of the Gentoos were seen to be incubating eggs, which the skuas were waiting to snatch given half a chance.

We finished our Stromness landing at around 18:00. Captain Ernesto then took Ortelius the short distance around the corner into the next bay to the north, so we could view Leith Harbour whaling station from the ship. In the opposite direction and just around the corner to the south of Stromness was another bay and another whaling station called Husvik. This area was clearly the hub of South Georgia whaling operations. A briefing on tomorrow’s activities followed, then Hotel Manager Stephen’s Irish-accented humor announced that dinner was served.

Day 9: Gold Harbour & Ocean Harbour

Gold Harbour & Ocean Harbour
Date: 02.11.2022
Position: 54°37’.5 S - 035°56’.2 W
Wind: E 1
Weather: Overcast, snow
Air Temperature: +5

What a day!

We started with an early wake up call for the ‘diehard and dedicated’ among us, as our expedition team got prepared for a landing during the first hours of the day. Unfortunately, the landing had to be delayed because of weather conditions. A few hours later, the wind decided to drop and to let us land at Gold Harbour. There, under low clouds and falling snow, we stepped in a perfect concentrate of what South Georgia can offer. This, our guides explained, is the heaviest concentration of wildlife on the island.

The beach was so packed with seals that the first part of the trail away from the Zodiac landing site was up a small, shallow riverbed. This allowed us to avoid disturbing harems of Elephant seals, isolated moulting King penguins and aggressive male fur seals. The latter were holding their territories while waiting for females to arrive. The route opened by our guides led us to the highlight of the morning: an impressive King penguin colony with towering mountains and the hanging Bertrab Glacier as a backdrop. Our senses were alive and tingling as we stood in complete awe, watching and listening and taking in the magical scene before us. At times the continual snow grew heavy, turning the black sand white. Fat adult King Penguins arrived from the sea, calling for their chicks, who heard and answered them. To us, their calls all sound the same. But each one is unique, allowing adults to find their chicks in this vast, noisy crowd.

After lunch, as we cruised the South Georgia coastline towards our next destination, Regis gave us more details about the life of King penguins with his lecture.

Then it was time to “jump” in the zodiacs again for a landing on Ocean Harbour, a tiny, sheltered bay, surrounded by some spectacular folded rock mountains. Landing on a sandy beach, we encountered the usual seals and had to keep our distance from highly sensitive nesting Giant petrels. This beautiful place was home to the New Fortuna Bay whaling station until 1920, when it was dismantled, and the materials used to extend Stromness Station. There were plenty of relics for us to explore, including an old steam locomotive used to transport coal and other goods to the station from the jetty. Those who went further afield found a small collection of whalers graves nestled into a gentle hillside. Those with a birding eye found Antarctic Terns along the small river, and many endemic South Georgia Pintails that ran around the green areas like rabbits.

As the sun disappeared behind the mountains, we took one last chance to admire the beauty of this lovely place, before boarding the Zodiacs and heading back to Ortelius. On the way out the drivers swung by the wreck of the sailing ship Bayard, which had laid at its current position since before the First World War. It was fascinating to see how tussac had reclaimed much of the deck space, and nesting Blue-eyed shags were now the crew!!! Historically and photographically, this was a tremendous thing to see.

Back onboard there was just enough time for a quick briefing on the next day’s activities, before heading off to dinner. There was a distinct buzz in the restaurant, as we chatted excitedly about the unforgettable experiences shared today. What a day!

Day 10: St. Andrew’s Bay & At Sea

St. Andrew’s Bay & At Sea
Date: 03.11.2022
Position: 54°26’.1 S - 036°10’.3 W
Wind: WNW 3
Weather: Broken cloud, sunny
Air Temperature: +9

As the wake-up call came some of us were already outside on deck enjoying the views of the vast colony of King penguins that awaited us at St. Andrew’s Bay. After breakfast we boarded the Zodiacs and headed ashore. We were awestruck by the scale of what met us - 3 glaciers tumbling down from craggy peaks to a vast plain that King penguins, Skuas and Seals call home. The lofty peaks of the Allardyce mountain range, each fringed with clouds added to the dramatic landscape laid before us. St Andrews is home to an estimated 150,000 pairs of King penguins, plus chicks of varying ages.

As we landed the expedition staff briefed us on a few safety and behavior points for our visit. Depositing our lifejackets, we followed the marked route passing large family clusters of Southern Elephant seals. The occasional joust between the large male beach masters and males that entered their territory was a spectacular sight. En-route to the main colony we were helped across a river by staff and ship’s crew - the river flows from the Heaney and Buxton glaciers at the back of the plain. The Cook glacier was at the beach as recent as the 1980’s and has now retreated a large distance inland leaving a lagoon where some of the young penguins huddle in their creches. The glacial retreat has now increased the size of the area available for the King penguins to occupy. The terminus for our walk was a viewpoint where we could appreciate the vast scale of the King penguin colony and see marauding Skuas on the lookout for any opportunity to snatch a meal. The sun came out and lit up the magical scene in front of us. Dramatic lenticular clouds hovered over distant mountains providing a spectacular backdrop for our photos.

Near to the landing site the whistling of South Georgia pipits could be heard, and some South Georgia pintails were seen resting among scattered molting penguins. The Pintails were of particular interest to fellow guest Pieter van der Luit and expedition guide Allan who were on a personal challenge to see the endemic ducks at every landing site. They achieved a 100% strike rate while in South Georgia, which is testimony to the rat eradication program. Southern Giant petrels rested on the sand nearby and a vast amount bobbed around in the calm waters of the bay, suggesting a recent feeding opportunity for these vultures of the sea. As the morning drew to a close, we headed back to Ortelius for our lunchtime dining pleasure. We were able to enjoy a last view of the colony from the water and again appreciate what a special morning we’d had in great weather with blue skies.

We got underway towards our next stop over lunchtime and could feel the ship beginning to move as the wind quickly increased. We could see outside that the sea was becoming rapidly rougher.

Early in the afternoon as we were on the way to Gold Harbour our Expedition Leader Adam and Captain Ernesto called us to the lecture room for a briefing. They gave us the news that owing to the movement of some severe weather systems that were racing towards South Georgia, the difficult decision had been made to leave the island early. Staying would be a waste of time and would impact our time in Antarctica. The movement of a severe low-pressure system and the presence of a giant tabular iceberg would affect our journey south, so to ensure safe passage and to achieve our intended activities in Antarctica we should get going straight away. We could see how the conditions outside had changed quickly and after Captain Ernesto explained the weather to us, we could see the reasons why the decision was taken. After all, we were visiting some of the most remote places on earth that are known not only for the amazing wildlife and scenery but also because of the severe weather.

We enjoyed a lecture by Hella on seals in the afternoon and the day quickly passed as we reflected on some amazing experiences on South Georgia.

Day 11: At Sea

At Sea
Date: 04.11.2022
Position: 54°58’.8 S - 040°17’.9 W
Wind: NW 8
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

With South Georgia slowly receding in the distance, we awoke to immediately feel the physical indications of what kind of day lay ahead. The lurching and juddering of the ship hinted at the poor weather and sea conditions outside. The wind was quite ferocious, the vessel whipping up dramatic white caps on foaming crests of huge waves.

Those who ventured onto the bridge were treated to the spectacular sight of Ortelius rising over the massive crests and plunging violently into the troughs of the next wave, creating a wall of water which rose to bridge height like an enormous white fan from the bow. Tons of water cascaded in swirling lines across the foredeck and poured out through the scuppers.

The outside decks were closed for the safety of guests, so all entertainment and activities were inside today. The lounge was relatively quiet as many guests chose to stay in their cabins. To be horizontal in bed was the safest option for many. The doctor was busy dispensing seasick patches and giving advice to those who felt unwell in these conditions.

Theo Allofs of the Wild Focus Photography Group started the lecture programme at 09:30 with an educational presentation on Wildlife Composition. Despite the difficulties associated with moving around the ship, Theo’s presentation was well attended and very well received.

At 11:30 Bill delivered his highly informative presentation entitled “Ortelius…the running of the ship and its secret places”. It was interesting to learn about the construction of the vessel, how the bow and stern thrusters operate for maneuvering in harbour, how the stern thruster is used to create a lee in rough conditions for Zodiac operations, to have anchoring techniques explained, and last but not least, an outline of the complexities of the supply, storage and delivery of the much-praised catering operation.

In the afternoon, Adam our highly experienced Expedition Leader, gave a fascinating and superbly illustrated account of his time working on South Georgia, which included over-wintering. It was clear that the year was an endless cycle of memorable adventures, and wildlife encounters in possibly one of the most scenic places on earth.

The many gaps at tables during meals indicated that quite a number of guests were opting to ‘lie low’ during the rough weather, rather than struggle and stumble along the corridors and face the prospect of food. Oceanwide expeditions are dynamic exciting experiences where flexibility is the key… plan A becoming plan B… and often plan B becoming C. With weather dictating things, it is all a matter of luck!

Day 12: At Sea

At Sea
Date: 05.11.2022
Position: 56°14’.1 S - 044°12’.1 W
Wind: W 7
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

After a bumpy night it was no surprise that we awoke to Expedition Leader Adam’s wakeup call at 7:45am and found conditions remained much the same outside as they were yesterday. For our second consecutive day at sea, large swell meant the outer decks were closed again, but we could enjoy looking out for birds from the comfort and safety of the bridge. It was a fantastic place to be in between the day’s varied and interesting lecture programme. The first talk of the day was from Assistant Expedition Leader Sara who gave an insight into her amazing time spent working on board the South Georgia Fishery Patrol Ship, m/v Pharos SG. Expedition Guide Martin followed later in the morning, giving a presentation about his experience monitoring, and ringing albatrosses when he lived in the Falkland Islands.

Blue petrels and Southern fulmars whizzed by the ship like a flurry of snow whilst Cape petrels, with their black and white chessboard plumage across their backs, soared to and fro at the bow. At least they were enjoying these high winds and big waves! Occasionally a White-chinned petrel or Giant petrel would accompany the ship too and we were glad to briefly see a Black-browed albatross and Light-mantled Sooty albatross. The birding highlight of today was arguably Antarctic petrels which gave wonderful views as they were gliding along at eye level as we looked out from the bridge. These birds breed at various locations around the Antarctic coastline but, remarkably, also breed up to 250km inland on snow free areas of rock.

After lunch Hazel gave the second part of her lecture about cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) describing the species we might be lucky enough to see in the Drake Passage and Antarctic Peninsula. Rough conditions unfortunately made it difficult to actually spot any of these animals today, but we hoped to be able to use this new knowledge over the coming days as we continued towards Antarctica. Those who were up and about and not feeling the ill effects of the tumultuous waters enjoyed some quiet time reading or playing card games. The Expedition Team’s recap rounded off the day’s scheduled activities and it was then time to enjoy the dining pleasure of our evening meal in the restaurant. Afterwards, some guests chatted over a few drinks in the bar whilst others headed off to their cabins to get an early night of sleep.

Day 13: At Sea

At Sea
Date: 06.11.2022
Position: 58°31’.9 S - 049°21’.4 W
Wind: WNW 8
Weather: Foggy
Air Temperature: +3

As a new dawn broke, most of us woke up from a slightly calmer nights’ sleep, in comparison to the previous nights. The wind and waves were still causing Ortelius to pitch and roll quite heavily, and the outer decks remained closed, but more people were up and about to face the third consecutive day at sea as we continued the long passage from South Georgia to Antarctica.

After breakfast Hazel started off with the first lecture of the day on Antarctic Krill and its’ importance in the Antarctic ecosystem. Her talk was interrupted near the end because we were approaching a giant tabular iceberg, designated A76. It’s currently the world's largest free-floating iceberg at around 160 km (100 miles) long and 25 km (16 miles) wide. This makes it almost equal in size to the entire island of South Georgia. A76 broke away from the Filchner–Ronne Ice Shelf in Antarctica in mid-May 2021. As it slowly appeared through the dense fog, we were confronted by a seemingly endless ice cliff estimated to be up to 150ft high. The fact that only 10% of an iceberg sits above the water made it impossible for us to appreciate the overall size of this colossal beast. For the best part of an hour we sailed parallel with the iceberg.

A magnificent Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross graced us with its presence, soaring across the bow of the Ortelius, as everyone looked on in complete awe from the temporarily opened outer decks. The big swell crashing against the massive wall of ice was rebounded, causing a very confused sea state for the ship to navigate through. It made the spotting of growlers (small but dangerous chunks of ice) a challenge for the bridge crew. It was hard not to be impressed by the raw power of nature and the ocean. Hardly ever does anyone get the opportunity to witness the biggest iceberg on Earth. Overall, it made for an immensely humbling and spectacular sight. It brought to mind a verse from ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge…..

And then there came both mist and snow, and it grew wonderous cold. And ice mast high came floating by, as green as emerald.

The Wild Focus Group gathered in the Lecture Room at 10:30 for a photo critique session with their group leaders. The wealth of photographic experience and technical expertise within this group was always something to admire. The morning passed quickly, and before we knew it Hotel Manager Stephen’s comical Irish tones rang out over the PA system, inviting us to lunch. Or as he so eloquently puts it – “The restaurant is open for your dining pleasure”.

After another delicious lunch everyone gathered once again in the lecture hall for a mandatory biosecurity check upon approach of the Antarctic Peninsula. After the scrutinous inspection on arrival in South Georgia, we all knew what was expected of us. Hoovers and paperclips at the ready, our gear quickly passed the test, so that we didn’t have to spend a prolonged amount of time in the pitching and rolling lecturing space in the bow of the vessel. Soon enough after, the Ortelius became a quiet, peaceful space as most retreated to their cabins for an afternoon nap. Only a few remained up and about to enjoy some quiet reading time.

In the afternoon, Adam gave a wonderful account of Shackleton’s incredible leadership on his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition aboard ‘The Endurance’. The expedition managed to survive the loss of their ship in the middle of the Antarctic pack ice at a time when there was no chance of contacting the outside world, let alone of being rescued. This journey would be remembered by generations as the greatest feat of survival in the history of exploration.

During recap, Hazel wound up her ”Absolutely Krill-iant” talk and some more questions from the Q&A box were answered, before enjoying our evening meal.

Day 14: At Sea – passing Elephant Island

At Sea – passing Elephant Island
Date: 07.11.2022
Position: 61°28’.2 S - 055°11’.8 W
Wind: NW 9
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

For those making an early visit to the bridge, there was the exciting news that we had crossed the 60th parallel of latitude during the night. Since this marks the geographical boundary of Antarctica, we had officially arrived in the ‘Great White South’.

At last, land! Immediately after breakfast the vast menacing glaciers and black rock mass of Elephant Island loomed on the distant horizon. Spray flew from the bow as Ortelius smacked into the storm-tossed seas. The wind was as strong as the day before… clearly no letup in conditions on this leg of the voyage. Each day so far had been difficult for those who felt the effects of sea sickness, many had remained in their cabins but today was different as they clambered the stairs excitedly to the bridge and lined the rails photographing the dramatic looking island.

Now we could really visualise what it must have been like for Shackleton’s men who were stranded there. Having just arrived at Elephant Island after a rough crossing in reverse from South Georgia, we were all in awe of the seamanship of those who helmed the tiny James Caird in such conditions. Everyone could visualise how it must have been as every detail of the Endurance story was fresh in our minds from Expedition Leader Adam’s superb lecture the day before. Sara’s lecture ‘Women in Antarctica’ was cancelled as a result of being so close to the island, but at 10.45 the Wild Focus photo group continued with another well attended photo critique session in the lecture theatre.

Crew members kept a sharp look-out for ‘growlers’ from the bridge, with the vessel’s speed reduced, as the sea in the area was dotted with these decaying lumps of hazardous ice. These low chunks of ice were very hard to spot in the heavy swell.

At 14.00 Regis gave a highly entertaining and educational illustrated account of his year working as a research technician on the isolated and beautiful Kerguelen Island in the lower Indian Ocean.

At 16.00 Hella delivered a complex Sea Ice lecture which explained ICE origins in detail and outlined the ecological importance of Sea Ice in the Arctic and Southern Ocean.

At 18.30 Adam presented the plans for the next day, firstly reporting a favorable weather forecast and the welcome news that a landing in snow on the beach beside the glacier at Brown Bluff was planned for the morning. A large colony of Adelie penguins beckoned to be photographed.

Sara and Bill gave light hearted but informative answers to a couple of the questions from the ? box in the bar. Sara…women wearing muck boots and miniskirts in Antarctica. Bill…. responded humorously but seriously to a question from the previous day … ‘What is the Polar Divergence and explain it in detail?’

Bill then gave a Snowshoe briefing for the Brown Bluff landing… explaining in detail the following days operation with stage-by-stage photos illustrating clearly how snowshoes were fitted to boots. Later in the evening a number were laid out on the floor of the lecture room on deck 3 to allow guests to try out boot fitting.

It was early to bed for most as the next day the expedition was back on the programme track and it promised to be rather exciting.

Day 15: Antarctic Sound & Devil Island, Antarctica

Antarctic Sound & Devil Island, Antarctica
Date: 08.11.2022
Position: 63°42’.6 S - 056°50’.5 W
Wind: SW 7
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

Today turned out a true expedition day! We were woken slightly ahead of plan. Hoping to land at Brown Bluff in Antarctic Sound, we eagerly went to breakfast while the expedition team sent their scout boats to check on the landing site. Unfortunately, the Antarctic weather reared its unwelcome head and the weather window we enjoyed for a short period deteriorated. The staff were ashore ready for us, but as the first two Zodiacs made their way to the shore, Captain Ernesto decided the conditions at the gangway were too hazardous to continue. The conditions at the beach also began to deteriorate with a difficult extraction of the team from the beach back to the ship.

Another ship had waited all day yesterday at Brown Bluff waiting for an opportunity to land, but we had no luck. Adam explained to us that we would head for Devil Island and try for plan B there.

As we repositioned to Devil Island, we had a very interesting lecture from Sara on ‘Women in Antarctica’. During our sail through the Antarctic Sound, we encountered a large stretch of sea ice. Following Hella’s earlier presentation on sea ice we were able to see with our own eyes how much life is connected to it. A Fur seal, several Crabeater seals, a Leopard seal, and numerous species of birds in high quantities were observed. After lunch we arrived at Devil Island and began our approach to the site of the intended landing which was nestled within a bay on the northern coast.

As the ship entered the channel to the east of Devil Island the expedition team set off to look for a landing site. The regular landing by the Adelie penguin colony was blocked by ice and the wind was very strong there, so the team went to the opposite side of the island - a small saddle separating two higher peaks indicating the direction to the colony. After cutting some steps in the ice and securing a rope to aid everyone up the steps we were taken ashore. A short walk over the saddle led us to a beautiful view of the Adelie colony and the mountains in the background. Shortly after our arrival we received news that conditions at the ship had deteriorated and after a short time this was followed by the landing site being affected. The captain required our return to the Ortelius, so we made our way back to the landing site and boarded the Zodiacs for a bumpy and wet ride back to the ship.

After drying off we had a short recap and heard of the exciting plans that lay ahead tomorrow, hoping that we would gain the break in the weather we were all hoping for. Hotel Manager Stephen called us to our dining pleasure and many of us got an early night ready for tomorrow.

Day 16: Brown Bluff & Paulet Island

Brown Bluff & Paulet Island
Date: 09.11.2022
Position: 63°34’.1 S - 055°47’.7 W
Wind: W 1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: -4

It was a very early start for us all this morning as we had a pre-breakfast shore excursion. Yesterday, challenging sea conditions with heavy swell had meant it was impossible to go ahead with our planned landing at Brown Bluff. Today we were back at Brown Bluff for a second attempt at going ashore here and with conditions considerably better we were excitedly embarking Zodiacs by 4:30am. Everyone agreed it was well worth getting up for, especially as this was a continental landing. After quickly exiting the vessel in the swell at the shore we got our bearings and walked up the stony beach. We had ventured into a beautiful vision of Antarctic wilderness; thousands of Adèlie penguins were gathered here to breed, along with some Gentoo penguins!

Huge boulders of tumbled ice were strewn along beach giving a beautiful scene for photographing the penguins waddling to and from the sea to the colony. Other birds present included Snowy sheathbills, Antarctic skua and Kelp gull with Snow petrels seen, and heard, flying high above us where they were nesting in crevices in the snow-free areas of rock. The early morning light cast a soft glow over the scene as we admired the penguins, it was truly a wonderful start to the day and a very welcome experience that we surely all deserved after so many rough sea days previously! Shortly before leaving a Leopard seal was even observed patrolling for penguins to prey on! After a few magical hours ashore, it was time to head back to Ortelius for breakfast.

The bridge team then skilfully manoeuvred the ship so we could continue onwards to our next destination: Paulet Island. Along the way we were treated to breath-taking scenery with glossy, calm waters and towering tabular icebergs. We looked out for penguins on the bergs, mainly spotting Adèlies, but we also saw one Chinstrap penguin. The impressive sight of Paulet Island, dusted with a fresh frosting of snow, came into view just before lunch time.

We enjoyed our midday meal whilst the Expedition Team went ashore to prepare the landing site for us. Fuelled for the afternoon, we boarded the Zodiacs and headed off to enjoy the incredible view of the 100,000 pair strong Adèlie penguin colony. Not only this species, but also some Gentoo penguins, Antarctic shag (aka blue-eyed cormorant) and some very relaxed Weddell seals who were peacefully sleeping, waiting for the tide to rise. A few hours and hundreds of photographs later we reluctantly left this stunning location. Thankfully, we still had calm waters, brilliant sunshine and the incredible gauntlet of giant icebergs to traverse along as we made our return journey along Antarctic Sound. Captain Ernesto spotted a lone Antarctic Minke Whale; it was moving quickly but some of us were lucky enough to see it surfacing as it travelled away.

Then it was time to join the Expedition Team in the bar for the daily recap followed by dinner. There was a joyful atmosphere in the dining room, reflecting the wonderful day we had shared in Antarctica; days like this are surely what we all came to the frozen continent hoping to experience!

Day 17: Half Moon Island, Edinburgh Hill & Discovery Bay

Half Moon Island, Edinburgh Hill & Discovery Bay
Date: 10.11.2022
Position: 62°33’.0 S - 059°58’.2 W
Wind: W 6/7
Weather: Broken cloud, bright
Air Temperature: 0

At least today, the breakfast and day’s activities started at a “normal’ time. Guests emerged on to a deck bathed in sunshine illuminating the stunning penguin site of Half Moon Island set against its magnificent backdrop of snow-covered jagged mountains.

Like previous days the wind was gusting strongly – 40 to 50 knots at times and Ortelius motored around to the lee side of the island to seek a degree of shelter. The landing operation started at 8.30 with the usual 2 boats carrying guides to scout the proposed landing site and marking safe routes to the penguins and identifying no-go areas before the guests disembarked the vessel for yet another adventure. Conditions were ideal for photography, long lens cameras clicked incessantly capturing images of the delightfully appealing “chin-strap penguins and a few lounging seals. Guides searched the colony for a glimpse of its most unusual regular resident…a lone Macaroni penguin nick-named “Kevin’, but no luck, he was not to be seen. The wind steadily increased in strength during the landing with the waves dumping hard on the beach and conditions difficult at the gangway. The Captain and Expedition Leader Adam correctly cancelled the operation as the deteriorating weather conditions became a safety concern, and everyone who had landed returned to the water’s edge to board Zodiacs for a wet ride back to Ortelius.

Ortelius headed out in squally conditions towards Edinburgh Hill, an extremely scenic unusual dramatic basalt outcrop of dark rock rising to a great height above the snow-covered landscape.

From there Ortelius voyaged into the enormous expanse of Discovery Bay to enable staff to check out possible landing sites. No luck, as wind and waves were crashing onto the land so the course was set for Greenwich Island. The Captain radioed the Chilean base named Arturo Prat for permission to land on the empty beach, some distance from the buildings. This was approved by the station commander, so staff manned 2 Zodiacs for yet another scouting mission…conditions were marginal but pressure was on and it was decided to try another landing.

Unfortunately, during this operation, the wind increased in strength and the wave action on the steep beach became rather violent. Once again the operation was cancelled and the four boat loads who had managed to land were returned to the vessel.

Recap at 6.30 – was again a totally informative highly educational session. Regis used his brilliant sense of humour to outline the different methods used to count penguin colonies…his description of the ‘pink colour’ method had passengers laughing. Sara provided an interesting perspective and astonished everyone when she used a team of helpers to deploy a length of tagged string through the lounge bar area, corridor and out across the deck to illustrate the length of various species of whale.

It was another very eventful day with perceptive individual guests expressing their appreciation for staff and crew who they observed were working long hours in extremely difficult weather conditions to deliver a stimulating excursion programme. It was clear to all that strong winds every day were responsible for plans being changed so often and that the team of Expedition guides were responding to the task magnificently.

Day 18: Deception Island

Deception Island
Date: 11.11.2022
Position: 62°49’.3 S - 060°03’.8 W
Wind: W 7/8
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: +1

To make the most of our final day in the South Shetlands and trying to get ahead of the strong winds that were once again predicted for later in the day, we were awoken at 04:15 am by Adam. He urged us to come to the bridge and outer decks at 04:30 as we would sail through the very narrow, spectacular passage called ‘Neptune Bellows’, into the flooded caldera of well-known Deception Island. The volcano of the island is still active, and geothermal activity is still present inside the caldera. Sea water temperatures of 70°C (150°F) have been recorded. Around 5 am all expedition staff were ready to receive us at the landing site of Whaler’s Bay, where we were able to spend most part of the early morning. Bleached whale bones, rusted oil tanks, and other artifacts from 20th-century whaling remain on the volcanic, black-sand beach, along with old buildings from a British scientific station evacuated after the 1969 eruption.

A few Chinstrap, Gentoo and even a couple of Adelie penguins were sighted. Along the long stretch of black, volcanic beach we were able to find large patches of krill, which are often seen here in the shallows, fried by the higher water temperature. A Fur seal was seen at the far end of the beach. Everyone was able to go for a long walk and head up to the viewpoint at Neptune’s Window, looking out on the Bransfield Strait. For those hardy souls amongst us, it was possible to do the polar plunge from the beach before heading back to the Ortelius.

Around 8 am everybody was back onboard to enjoy a well-deserved breakfast. Ortelius continued with a ship cruise to the far end of the bay to see if a second landing could be managed later in the morning. But strong winds were picking up already and it was decided to move out of Deception Island to try and find more shelter at other locations. Out in the Bransfield Strait we encountered several Fin whales, the second largest animal on the planet, which is not a very common sight this early in the season and in this area. One of the individuals even graced some of us with a very up-close look of the vessel. From the upper deck the animal could be seen turning around underwater from about 10 meters distance, creating a lot of excitement for those of us fortunate enough to be on the bridge.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon turned into expedition mode, as we passed several potential landing sites hoping to get ashore one last time. By now the wind had picked up considerably again however and any of the locations where we had hoped to do a final landing before starting our journey across the Drake Passage, sadly turned out to be too exposed for any activity. So the bow of the Ortelius turned North as we started our journey through the English Strait towards the Drake Passage.

During recap the rolling of the ship started to increase again and many of us retreated to our cabins without dinner once more. The forecast was decreasing winds and waves for the next two days, so hopefully the rest of our journey would be giving us some respite.

Day 19: At Sea – Drake Passage

At Sea – Drake Passage
Date: 12.11.2022
Position: 59°35’.7 S - 062°12’.6 W
Wind: NW 7
Weather: Lightly overcast
Air Temperature: +2

Today was our first full day heading back Northwards across the Drake Passage. This expanse of water between Cape Horn at the tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula is renowned for being rough and having high winds, but we actually got off quite lightly compared to some of the conditions we experienced earlier in this voyage! It wasn’t quite calm enough to be classed as a ‘Drake Lake’ but we were all hardened seafarers now after some very rough days nearer the start of the trip.

With a tinge of sadness at the fact we would not be going ashore again, we returned our muck boots this morning after breakfast. The Expedition Team were grateful that we had done such a good job of cleaning them! Shortly afterwards Assistant Expedition Leader Sara and Guides Regis and Hazel joined forces to present a lecture regarding human impacts on the polar regions and wildlife. The difficult topics of plastic pollution, entanglement, and bycatch of wildlife in fishing nets and other issues gave us pause for thought; we considered things we could do to help when we got home such as reducing our use of plastic and eating only sustainably sourced seafood, if we choose to consume it.

Wildlife sightings were quiet throughout the day despite having good conditions for spotting marine mammals. Some lucky guests who were up and on watch early this morning saw some Humpback whales, but nothing was seen during the rest of the day. There were some birds to be observed though. In particular it was lovely to once again be seeing albatrosses, including Grey-headed, Black-browed and Light-mantled Sooty, two of which flew by together right next to the ship on the starboard side in the late afternoon. Blue petrel and White-chinned petrel were also seen.

At 17:00 it was time for Happy Hour in the bar! We celebrated the voyage with our fellow guests, enjoying half priced drinks and at 17:30 an auction was held to raise money for South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT). The atmosphere in the bar was raucous with excitement as various items were sold including artwork, glassware and homeware and some brooches/badges. In total, over £3,000 was raised in support of SGHT for the benefit of conservation work to protect the natural and historic heritage of this special place. We extend our grateful thanks to everyone who successfully bid on items and to those who chose to donate independently.

Shortly after the auction we headed to the dining room to enjoy our delicious evening meal before heading to the bar or getting an early night. Tomorrow would be our last full day of the trip and we hoped the seas would remain calm so that we might spot some whales or dolphins!

Day 20: At Sea – Drake Passage

At Sea – Drake Passage
Date: 13.11.2022
Position: 56°00’.1 S - 067°05’.7 W
Wind: S 2
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +12

We awoke to find that Ortelius was making rapid progress north across what the crew and staff call a “Drake Lake”. Having toughed it out through at least three hurricane force storms during the voyage, it was astonishing to see the most notorious body of water in the World in such a quiet and gentle mood. The sun shone down from a near cloudless sky, illuminating a very placid Drake Passage. How typical, that as the voyage nears its end, the weather decided to behave!!!!!! The Expedition Leader’s good morning announcement told us that the outside air temperature was already 12° Celsius, confirming that we had crossed the Antarctic Convergence and returned to a more temperate region.

After a relaxed breakfast. We were invited to join Hella in the bar for a short presentation about how whales could help fight the climate change battle we are currently experiencing globally. For some it was hard to drag ourselves away from the open decks and glorious weather, but for those in attendance Hella gave an interesting and thought-provoking lecture. For those out on deck, there was the usual bird life for these latitudes, but sightings were at first sporadic due to the lack of wind.

The feint outline of land appeared on the horizon ahead of the ship. For those crew and staff members familiar with the shape, it was instantly recognisable as Cape Horn. Bird life increased as we closed in on this incredibly wild place. But something was wrong! There we were in the Drake Passage, approaching the one place that struck fear into the hearts of Mariners for centuries, and there was no wind. It was extraordinary to see Cape Horn under such mild and gentle conditions. Captain Barria spoke with the Chilean Navy personnel based at Cape Horn and gained permission to approach within 3 nautical miles.

Ortelius gently rolled on towards “The Horn”, as preparations for disembarkation quietly progressed below decks. At 11:00 in the bar some of the Expedition Team did a joint presentation about the Citizen Science Program, and how we could help. Having visited one of the most pristine environments on Earth, many of us were heading home with thoughts on how we could do our bit to protect it.

As we approached the 3-mile limit off Cape Horn, Expedition Leader Adam called us to the open decks to enjoy this remarkable sight. He gave a brief overview of the topography and history, finishing with a recital of a moving poem dedicated to the lost mariners, which accompanies an albatross-shaped memorial on Cape Horn. All too soon, it was time to eat again, and Hotel Manager Stephen was announcing that the restaurant was open for our lunchtime ‘dining pleasure’.

The afternoon began with Allan inviting us to the bar to hear all about the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901-03, which is often labelled as ‘The Greatest Escape’. Having visited Paulet Island and seen Larsen’s hut, one of the key sites in this remarkable story of fortitude and survival, it was fascinating to get an overview of the whole expedition. Rarely has misfortune and good fortune played such large parts in the same story.

The great weather continued, and many of us enjoyed the warmth of the sun on our faces after the piercing cold of Antarctica. The outer decks were busy all afternoon with guests making the most of the conditions. Land was constantly visible off the port side as we made our way around to the entrance of the Beagle Channel, and the ship had a never-ending escort of seabirds. This airborne parade was simply magical.

At 16:00 there was a pub style quiz in the bar with questions relating to the voyage. Teams varied from 2-6 people, and some were very creative with their team names. Fun was had by all. At 18:15 we congregated in the bar for Captain’s Farewell Cocktails, and a viewing of the expedition slideshow produced by expedition team member Martin Anstee. This exciting reminder of a memorable journey was later available for all to save to mobile devices.

Day 21: Disembarkation, Ushuaia

Disembarkation, Ushuaia
Date: 14.11.2022
Position: 54° 48’.6 S - 068° 17’.9 W
Wind: N 1
Weather: Broken cloud
Air Temperature: +13


Tripcode: OTL21-22
Dates: 25 Oct - 14 Nov, 2022
Duration: 20 nights
Ship: m/v Ortelius
Embark: Puerto Madryn
Disembark: Ushuaia

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Aboard m/v Ortelius

The ice-strengthened Ortelius is thoroughly outfitted for polar exploration and, when necessary, helicopter flights.

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