OTL22-15 Trip log | Antarctic Peninsula, Basecamp
20.11.2015 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
It was a sunny and breezy day in Ushuaia as we boarded the Ortelius and started to explore our new ‘home’ for the next 10 days.
As soon as everybody was aboard, we gathered in the lecture theatre on deck 3 for the first of many meetings with Hotel Team and Expedition Staff. Michael, the Hotel Manager told us all about the ship and how to find the places we needed on each deck. Our Third Officer, Warren, then took the microphone and gave a safety briefing explaining precisely how to act in the event of an emergency. This was followed by the lifeboat drill. Seven short and one long blast were sounded and we mustered in the bar, wearing warm clothes and our bright orange life jackets. When all our names were checked, we followed the Hotel Managers to our lifeboats and had a look inside.
Soon we set sail. It was an exciting moment when the gangway was raised, the last rope had been cast off and we were on our way up the Beagle Channel.
After a little time to finish unpacking or spend some time on deck we gathered in the lecture room again for a welcome drink with our Captain, Tuomo Leskinen, before Michael called us to the dining room the first of many delicious meals on board Ortelius.
We retired to bed, expecting the helicopters to arrive during the night and to wake up in the Drake Passage.
After we were woken by Delphine we found ourselves in the Drake Passage. The Drake was nice for us and almost everybody showed up for breakfast. The day was spent with several briefings about the activities we planned to do. Delphine informed us about the different guidelines we had to follow according to IAATO, explained a bit about the plan for this basecamp expedition and introduced the expedition staff. After this we got the chance to clean our boots, trousers, jackets and other outer gear, to make sure we would not introduce any alien species to Antarctica. In the afternoon, Shelli explained what Antarctic kayaking is all about, while Massimo and Ignacio did the same with the mountaineering activity.
In between those briefings a lot of us had a look outside to enjoy the birdlife. Several species of albatross were seen. Black-browed albatross were the most common, but we also saw several grey-headed and light-mantled albatross and even some of the big guys: wandering and royal albatross. Aside from these really big birds, we also saw several of the smaller petrels and prions. All in all, enough to keep us busy for a day.
In the evening we were called to the bar for a recap, where Delphine explained the plans for the next day and warned us about an upcoming storm. There after Arjen spoke a little about the different birds we had seen today. After dinner was served and people either went to bed or had a drink in the bar.
We awoke to a heaving and rolling ship, 10 meter waves were pounding the sides of the Ortelius as we transited the beginning of the Drake Passage. The night before spawned a storm, making sleep difficult but manageable for most. Birdlife sparse, we ploughed through the waves maintaining a slow but steady pace towards Antarctica. As the afternoon came, the waves slowly subsided, and the sun started to poke its way through the cloud cover. The birds came to life, snow petrels & light-mantled albatross soared alongside the ship displaying their beautiful colors.
In the afternoon we continued to increase speed, climbing to a steady 6 knots as we narrowed the gap between us and the Antarctic Peninsula. Beau gave his talk about the snowshoe program, regaling the passengers with tales of his prowess. Afterwards Bismarck and Arjen explained the camping program, showing how to properly prepare little bivy sack and sleeping bag mummy rolls. As the day came to a close, we ended off with a recap about geology and how seabirds cope with sea salt. The sun glowing low in the distant horizon, Ortelius headed ever southward, nearing its end destination with each passing hour.
With a beautiful morning in the Drake Passage, we finally reach Antarctica, with a calm sea and icebergs all around us!
During the morning we have the last camping briefing up in the bar, while in the meantime the kayakers were doing the same in the lecture room, followed by the mountaineers and their final briefing before we put our feet on the white continent.
After a delicious lunch, a lecture about photography in Antarctica was given by Hugh and the last of us got the chance to fulfill the Antarctic pre-arrival biosecurity declaration.
As we keep heading south through the South Shetlands, we have an amazing encounter with the famous great predator of the seas, the Orcas.
Very close to dinner time, Christophe gave us a brief introduction on the breeding ecology of the Gentoo Penguin, followed by Delphine's guidelines on how we run the Zodiac operation.
Passing through the Bransfield Strait, we had our evening meal as the bridge officers pushed the ship further south to find the best landing site for the morning. As the evening light glowed many of the passengers were out on deck shooting pictures of the surroundings, and a good crowd was gathered at the bar.
After three days at sea in the Southern Oceans and experiencing some of the most exciting conditions the Drake Passage has to offer modern day sailors, we were all relieved to finally arrive at our destination, Paradise Bay on the Antarctic Continent! Our intended landing destination was near the Argentinian Base “Almirante Brown”, but Mother Nature and the fickle weather and ice conditions of this remote location were not done with us yet; as ice blocked our approach path to the intended landing site and wind conditions were too rough for kayaking. This meant Delphine had to quickly change plans and choose an alternate landing site and mountaineering location. After a hurried breakfast we set off with the mountaineers to find a place on the continent where we could physically land Massimo, Ignacio and their intrepid group of mountaineers! After scanning Paradise Bay a piece of shoreline was located that was free of ice with a beautiful snowfield above it, leading to a snow summit roughly 400 meters above the tideline. The mountaineers and their guides were delivered to the base of this most probably never before climbed summit, and the rest of the staff proceeded to our alternative landing site for the remainder of the group, “Waterboat Point”, where the unoccupied Chilean base “Gabrielle Gonzalez Videla” is located.
After a quick scout to find a suitable and safe landing site and flag off areas of high wildlife concentrations, staff proceeded to land almost half the group for a morning of observing and photographing the antics of the roughly 8,000 gentoo penguins that were eagerly awaiting the melting of snow on the rocky outcrops surrounding the base. The gentoos could not start their summer nesting and egg laying until the snow melted off the rocks exposing dry ground, on which they could build their pebble nests. Some penguins were courting and mating while others were already attempting to build piles of stones on the snow surface! A “leucistic” penguin (lacking black pigmentation in its feathers), was discovered soon after landing and it provided a fantastic photo subject next to its black and white neighbors! Meanwhile, zodiac cruisers, including Shelli’s kayakers, were treated to a morning of touring the bay and photographing magnificent icebergs against the backdrop of the spectacular scenery. Soon the happy call from Massimo came over the radio that his group had safely summited their goal and were returning to the shoreline for a pick up and lunch.
The rest of the groups (landers and zodiac cruisers) returned to the ship for a welcome hot lunch, and after a mid-day break a new group of mountaineers set off to follow in the footsteps of their fellow mountaineers from the morning adventure. Wind conditions had decreased to the point where kayaking was possible and Shelli set off with her anxious group “B” of kayakers for a paddle across the iceberg studded waters of Paradise Bay! After delivering mountaineers to the base of their climb, zodiacs began transporting passengers to the landing site, where zodiac cruisers from the morning traded out with people who had landed in the morning. Those who had cruised in the morning were treated to an afternoon of penguin antics, while the people who had been on shore in the morning had an afternoon of cruising amongst icebergs and getting close-up views of both Weddell and crabeater seals. When cruising was over a total of at 12 crabeater seals and at least 2 Weddell seals were observed, including one curious Weddell near the landing site that approached the zodiacs! The call that mountaineers were nearing the end of their descent came as the last of the zodiac cruisers and landers were returning to the ship at 6:30pm and zodiacs were dispatched to retrieve the successful mountaineers!
A hot dinner was enjoyed by all after everyone was on board, but the day was not yet over!
A group of 31 campers with their guides Arjen and Bismarck were quickly assembled after dinner and camping gear was handed out to all. Christophe, Beau and Hugh were the taxi drivers taking the expectant group of campers for their night on the frozen continent! A very pleasant slalom run by zodiac for 2 miles between the myriad shaped icebergs delivered the campers and guides to a small island located in the very protected “Leith Cove”, named for a Norwegian whaling family that operated a shore based factory whaling ship from this cove at the turn of the last century! A light freezing drizzle and snow fell as the last of the campers were left on the island and by 9:30pm the last of the zodiacs returned from their mission to drop off campers. The day finished with excited recounting of stories by all, of their first day on the world’s southern-most continent!
For some of us the day started really early. The happy campers were woken at 4:15. After a nice, but short night at Leith Cove we were brought back to the Ortelius. During breakfast the captain moved our ship around the corner towards Neko Harbour. Here we started a full day of activities again. The morning was spent zodiac cruising, mountaineering and snowshoeing, while others preferred just to sit down and have a look at the local Gentoo Penguin colony. In the afternoon this program was repeated in even better light. The weather had cleared up a little, giving us an even more spectacular view on the surrounding mountains and icebergs. Shelli managed to take two groups out for kayaking and all had a great time in this stunning part of Antarctica.
During dinner the captain brought the ship back to Paradise Bay, where the second group of campers was dropped off at Leith Cove where we had camped just a night before. On our way we saw our first Adelie Penguin on a small ice floe. The weather was a little colder and snowy than previous, but each member of the group was excited to roll out their bivy bags in the snow and have a rest on our little island.
The day dawned calm and serene, a gentle fog sweeping the bay as the campers were picked up from their cozy camping spot in Leith Cove. Tired but smiling, they piled into the zodiacs for the ride home to Ortelius, weaving their way through the labyrinth of icebergs. A fantastic night camping it had been, brisk temperatures with a slight dusting of snow covering everything.
After a hearty breakfast the time had come to start the expedition day with an attempt to make for Almirante Brown, the Argentinian base located in Paradise Bay. With no one home, we would have the area to ourselves to explore. After a decently long zodiac ride from ship to shore, the sun decided to make an appearance. Temperatures rose, we applied lots of sunscreen, and started having as much fun as possible. The mountaineers had a blast summiting their peak, the kayakers revelled in the beauty of sun-kissed icebergs, and the expedition hikers summited their peak as well with Beau making a temporary claim to the peak with a hiking flag. The zodiac cruisers cruised along the base of the cliffs, and the penguin lovers simply sat down and marvelled at the wonder of it all.
And in the afternoon we did it all again! Albeit with a slightly longer zodiac ride from ship to shore…
However, the afternoon brought a different perspective to the scene, with cloud cover rolling in and the sun taking a reprieve from shining so much as it did in the morning excursion. A wonderful afternoon it still was, with soft light dancing around the snow and mountains making photography a softer and gentler expression.
With the day coming to an end, we celebrated our last official expedition day with an even longer zodiac ride from shore to ship, making it an incredible 7 mile one-way journey from the landing at Almirante Brown to the good ship Ortelius. Even better it would have been, had we been able to get the zodiacs up to plane…
We started our way north back to the South American continent, we attempted to visit and enter the caldera of the famous Deception Islan. As we neared closer to the island conditions proved impossible due to the wind and the fog. The winter sea ice was functioning as a compact ice shield blocking our entrance through Neptunes Bellows.
After this, we sailed through the Nelson Strait heading north right into the Drake Passage. By the end of the afternoon we joined our expedition team for our daily recap followed by another delicious dinner.
Later that night, a little crowd gathered at the bar to share experiences and a couple of drinks.
Another southern ocean storm raged and the Ortelius pitched and rolled as we slowly steamed north across the Drake Passage towards our destination: Ushuaia. We were not destined to have a break with the weather and experience a “Drake Lake” but the relentless rolling of waves under the keel of the Ortelius was not enough to kill the excited buzz of Antarctica stories and exchange of photos from three great days of adventure on the frozen continent!
Viral, Julie and Hugh worked on collecting and organizing photos from the group into a critique and group slide show while Christophe delivered a program on Wandering Albatross and Beau gave a presentation on baleen whales. Rough seas didn’t deter people from coming to the dining room for meals and the bar was full for recap. Story time after dinner, ended our second day at sea on the return from points south!
The night proved sleepless for many of us. 10 meter waves sprouted out of the sea around midnight, tossing the ship around like a rag doll. Clinging on grimly for dear life, we waited out until morning. Morning provided no refuge from the swell, the winds diminishing slightly but never ceased to make life interesting. After a hearty breakfast from Chef Chris, Delphine our intrepid EL showcased different Oceanwide voyages from other parts of the world, such as the Arctic and South Georgia.
In the afternoon the swell raged on, giving us no reprieve from being tossed around the ship like so many tiny helpless ants. Albatrossw made an appearance, black-browed, royal, & wandering hovering around the ship as if to taunt us. Frozen Planet episode 1 played in the bar, giving us a chance to watch something other than endless swell. In the evening Hugh & Arjen showcased the photo finalists, awarded prizes, and the captain made an appearance for a toast. A grand finale to a fantastic voyage, early season Antarctica showed us just how insignificant we really are in the grand scheme of planet earth.
And so our expedition draws to a close. We picked up a nautical pilot and sailed up the Beagle Channel, back to Ushuaia from whence we had set out 10 days earlier. Our memories and memory cards full of visions of Antarctica’s icy wonders.
We enjoyed a final breakfast on board before waiting for customs clearance and disembarking the Ortelius, saying our goodbyes before for our journeys homewards.
Total distance sailed on this voyage:
1,502 nautical miles / 2,782 kilometres
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Tuomo Leskinen and the Officers, all Crew, Expedition Team and Hotel Team, it has been a pleasure travelling with you!