OTL22-19, trip log, Weddell Sea

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation, Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation, Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 14.11.2019
Position: 54°49‘S 68°17‘W
Wind: Var F1
Air Temperature: +9

It was late afternoon on a windy but sunny and beautiful day in Ushuaia. The first passengers to arrive to Ortelius at 2pm were a group of young (or young at heart!) adventurers. All the expedition staff greeted the guests as they climbed the gangway for the first time and hotel manager Sigi quickly had all the guests assigned and shown to their cabins where they will be staying for our trip. After every passenger was onboard and had a cabin we had our mandatory safety drill, everyone seemed to enjoy wearing orange!

We soon left the pier and then waited in the bay for the two helicopters to arrive, what a sight!

We are hoping that the conditions co-operate for us to have this fantastic adventure.

Before dinner all the guides introduced themselves and Claudia, our EL gave us a little introduction about what we are hoping to do on our trip. Our ships doctor (Linda) had a ‘patch and pills party ’after dinner to try and keep everyone free from feeling too sea sick, the weather forecast looked reasonably good so hopefully not too many of us would feel motion sickness!

Day 2: At Sea, Drake Passage towards Antarctica

At Sea, Drake Passage towards Antarctica
Date: 15.11.2019
Position: 56°45’5 S 64°53’9 W
Wind: W F3
Air Temperature: +10

As we pushed on ahead through the Drake passage under nearly ideal conditions, we started to notice the incredible sea birds following the ship. Black-browed Albatross made their presence known in abundance. Cape and Giant Petrels were also neighbouring the ship.

We started our day with the necessary mandatory briefings and bio-security of our gear, this was to ensure we all did our part to keep Antarctica pristine. After lunch Lucas gave an interesting lecture on ‘’an introduction to Antarctica.” Which was an amazing eye opener and informative prelude to the loneliest of all the continents.

Pippa then in the late afternoon amazed us with a boat load of astonishing facts about our marine mammal friends and how big these baleen whales really are. As we headed further south the anticipation of getting to our destination was palpable.

Day 3: At Sea, Drake Passage towards Antarctica

At Sea, Drake Passage towards Antarctica
Date: 16.11.2019
Position: 61°10’7 S 60°31‘9 W
Wind: NW F4
Air Temperature: +3

For our second night onboard Ortelius we experienced a little bit more movement than the first, but all the passengers could probably not imagine experiencing a more comfortable Drake passage! This new sea day will be busy again!

In the morning we all joined the expedition team for our mandatory and necessary helicopter briefing. During which all the operations, from embarkation and disembarkation to the safety procedures were described in order for us to be ready for tomorrow. After a quick break allowing us to have a cup of tea or coffee, we were pleased to hear Ian give us an interesting lecture about the seals of the Antarctic.

After lunch it was time to get dressed for a practical helicopter session, to learn how the helicopter operations on-board will run for Snow Hill. It was also an opportunity for us to take some pictures of the helicopter and the team. We all have our fingers crossed for a good day tomorrow but of course, we never know how the ice and the weather conditions are going to evolve, and how far from the landing site the Ortelius will be able to approach.

Finally, we finished this second day by joining Eduardo at the bar for listening him speaking on his speciality: astronomy!

Day 4: Zodiac cruise around the ice

Zodiac cruise around the ice
Date: 17.11.2019
Position: 64°06’4 S 56°54’1 W
Wind: E F3
Air Temperature: 0

Claudia woke us up and told us that we were only 28.5 nautical miles from our Emperor penguins. We are all excited and waiting to hear more. After a short briefing in the morning it is clear to us all that the weather is not on our side today. There was a steady strong wind and far too much fog for the pilots to fly. Obviously, we are disappointed, especially the pilots! They are keen to get us to the penguins.

In the morning we ship cruised the in the pack ice with all eyes looking for wildlife. A few Adelies are spotted on the ice and then suddenly we see what we all are here to see. Our first Emperor Penguin in the water. We slow down the ship and get a good half an hour with the emperor on ice and in the water.

In the afternoon we plan for a zodiac cruise in the fog. All guides take the position of the ship with their GPS to find the way back, but thankfully just as we are getting into the zodiacs the weather clears a bit and we get are rewarded with a magical time among the pack ice with Adelie Penguins.

Huge flocks of blue-eyed Antarctic shags fly around all the zodiacs, truly spectacular to see. During the evenings daily briefing we get the information that we don’t want, bad weather tomorrow. Instead we will head to the Antarctic Sound for the best chance of some good weather.

Day 5: Antarctic Sound & Brown Bluff

Antarctic Sound & Brown Bluff
Date: 18.11.2019
Position: 63°22’9 S 56°55’9 W
Wind: SW F3-F8
Air Temperature: -2

Overnight we managed to enter the Antarctic Sound, approaching from the South. Our captain and EL had made the decision to sail north in the hope that we could do some sort of activity today. This was instead of waiting at Snow Hill Island, an area where the weather deteriorated quickly the afternoon before and showed no signs of improvement for the next 24 hours in the weather forecast.

The Antarctic Sound, is a body of water of about 30 nm long and around 7-12 nm wide, separating the Joinville Island group from the North East end of the Antarctic Peninsula. The sound was named by the Swedish Antarctic Expedition under command of Otto Nordenskjöld for the expedition ship Antarctic in which in 1902, under command of Carl Larsen was the first vessel to navigate it.

The area is well known for accumulating pack ice and large tabular icebergs however, our transit was not hampered by these significant obstacles. Our plan for the day was to visit Hope Bay in the morning. Conditions for landing were not ideal since the wind was blowing with force 5-8 in the Beaufort scale during the morning, rendering any plan to use our zodiacs impossible. Hence our expedition leader and Captain decided we would have a ship's cruise inside Hope Bay, aiming to have a glance of the scientific station built there, the landscape and some potential wildlife.

As we entered Hope Bay early in the morning, we had the view of a large collection of red-orange buildings which makes up "Esperanza Scientific Station" (Hope Scientific Station), built by the Argentinian government in the early 50's, the station houses 55 inhabitants with their families and children. The station has about 43 buildings and occupies a space of about 3800 square meters. Among the buildings there is a school for the children who come with the families. Research is done here across different fields of science such as glaciology, seismology, oceanography, biology and limnology. The base is the place where the first human was born in Antarctica, Mr. Emilio Marcos Palma. The station is managed by the Argentine Antarctic Institute.

After passing the station, we had a good sight of a large colony of Adèlie Penguins which were nesting by the thousands. As we entered deeper into the bay, we were able to identify a tall peak flanking Esperanza Station named Mount Flora (1705 metres high) to forward port, the Depot Glacier forward from the ship, the Whitten Peak (1462 metres high) to forward starboard side and the Arena Glacier, to starboard.

The wind chill was quite strong on the decks of our ship but despite this a lot of brave passengers spent their time taking photos of the fantastic landscape lying ahead of us. As the ship turned to exit the bay, we had the chance to witness a pod of Type B Orcas swimming around the ship. Pippa our marine biologist on board identified them after careful inspection of her pictures.

Before lunch time, we headed towards Brown Bluff a very scenic place located 9 miles south of Hope Bay. Brown Bluff is an ice capped flat-topped mountain 745 metres high with a prominent cliff of reddish-brown volcanic rock on the North side of the Tabarin Peninsula. The name was given by the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey made from 1943 to 1962. The area is important since it hosts many different breeding species, such as the Adélie Penguin, Cape Petrel, Gentoo Penguin, Kelp Gull, Skuas, Snow Petrels, Wedell Seals, Leopard Seals and Giant Petrels.

We arrived after lunch and sadly, the landing area was completely covered by brash ice making landing virtually impossible and dangerous. A zodiac cruise was the only safe way to enjoy this site, the decision paid off very well, since as soon as our cruise started, we were able to see many Adélie Penguins either swimming around the ice or perching on top of icebergs. Later we were able to observe a Crabeater Seal, a Leopard Seal and a very secluded Weddell Seal, all of them resting on icebergs, under the sunny sky.

In the time we spent cruising, we also were able to see lots of birds in the area: the Antarctic Skua, a couple of Southern Giant Petrels, Kelp Gulls and a Snow Petrel. One of the most exciting sights from a couple of zodiacs was a Wilson's Storm Petrel, which flew around a few zodiacs showing its distinctive black plumage and its great flying skills.

Day 6: Visiting the Emperor penguins

Visiting the Emperor penguins
Date: 19.11.2019
Position: 64°31’11 S 57°27’33 W
Wind: ENE 2
Air Temperature: +3

We awoke in great anticipation this morning. We are positioned just north of the pack ice freezing the Weddell Sea, just off Cockburn Island. Unfortunately, the wind speed measures 40 knots, meaning we are unable to begin any helicopter operations. By noon however, the wind had subsided to below 20 knots and we were given the go ahead from the Captain and the Pilots to begin operations.

And with that the helicopters are readied, and the staff are flown to the colony to set up for our arrival. Very quickly the logistics put in place by the expedition team begin, and in our helicopter groups we commence flying. The helicopter takes off from our dear ship Ortelius, and heads over the frozen Weddell sea. After a stunningly beautiful 20 minute flight from the ship we land on the great expanse of sea ice, and are welcomed by the expedition team and Jose, the helicopter mechanic.

Our walk from the drop zone to the colony is like being on another planet; the vast, flat sea ice is broken only by towering trapped icebergs, pressure ridges and of course, what we came for, the largest penguin alive; Emperor Penguins! We are joined on our walk by graceful gliding Emperors, which speed past us clumsy humans.

We reach the colony to find approximately 2000 Emperor Penguins; the colony is a busy place with many adults gliding in and out with food from the sea, and many of the cutest penguin chicks awaiting them. The chicks huddle in the crèches to keep warm, but on a calm, sunny day like today, they are busy waddling around, pestering the adults for food, and trying to wander away.

Back on the ship, the anticipation grows as each group is called to the bar to prepare for their flight and visit to Snow Hill Emperor colony. We prepare ourselves with warm clothes, lifejackets and cameras at the ready. Meanwhile the incredible hospitality staff and expedition staff onboard keep us well fed, and entertained with documentaries in the lecture room. The heli crew and technicians are kept busy on the heli deck all day long, guiding the helicopters in, refuelling both helicopters and pilots and ensuring we are all kept safe when embarking and disembarking from the helicopters.

As the day goes on, there is anticipation whether we would all manage to go today due to our late start but as the evening comes, the last groups head off for their adventure to the colony, and indeed, those that waited the longest, are rewarded with the most beautiful light as the sun sets behind the frozen mountains of the Eastern peninsula.

As darkness falls on Antarctica, we have all returned to the ship, and after an epic day many celebrate in the bar. The staff, crew and helicopter crew worked tirelessly to complete an incredible day for everyone, and we are sincerely grateful for all their hard work.
We head to bed to dream of Emperors, sea ice and mountainous trapped icebergs, and with the realisation that we landed on a place on Earth where only a very small handful of people manage to visit.

A big thank you to all passengers for the humility, patience and enthusiasm, on such a momentous day!

Day 7: Day at sea

Day at sea
Date: 20.11.2019
Position: 64°05’9 S 56°51’5 W
Wind: NNE F6
Air Temperature: -1

In the morning we were all still buzzing from the incredible day we had had the day before. As we sailed away around 8 am from Snowhill Island our plan was to try a scenic flight at Paulet Island. Frustratingly we were met with high winds through the Terror and Errebus Gulf. Hoping conditions would improve we moved back west through the Sound and experienced incredible icebergs and scenery. The wind didn’t let up, and unable to fly today we took in the beautiful scenery that Antarctica had to offer spending the morning on the outer decks.

After a scrumptious lunch Catherine delighted us with her diving lecture, looking at “What lies beneath”, all the strange and wonderful marine creatures who call Antarctica home. At 6pm we recapped the day with Claudia describing our intentions for Deception Island and Halfmoon island the following day and of course Sigi called us in for dinner. With an early morning in store for us a lot of us aimed for a early night! The weather had other ideas and a lot of us ended up being pitched around in our bunks for a few hours!

Day 8: Deception Island & Half Moon Island

Deception Island & Half Moon Island
Date: 21.11.2019
Position: 62°59’2 S 60°22’8 W
Wind: W F7
Air Temperature: -3

Over night we had sailed in the Bransfield Strait and been met with some rough weather, this had slowed our progress. So instead of arriving early we got to Deception a little later than planned, we headed through Neptune’s Bellows with a few us braving the outside decks. We ship cruised Deception, this still active caldera is a fascinating island to look at, with the last eruption being in 1969. It’s black volcanic sand is a very different kind of beach to the ones we had seen in Antarctica.

Once we had braved the cold we went and then enjoyed our breakfast! Claudia kept us busy by giving us a lecture on Climate Change in the bar before lunch. It was quite poignant to think of this pristine environment we had been visiting, it certainly needs our protection.

After lunch we were treated to excellent weather and our final landing in Antarctica at Half Moon Island. What a spectacular way to finish our trip in Antarctic. The chinstrap penguins seemed pleased to see us, and there were a few gentoo penguins too. At the end of our landing a few of us braved the cold to experience a ‘polar plunge’! Certainly a breath-taking experience. After a short zodiac drive back to our ‘home’, we enjoyed hot showers and another lovely dinner. It had been brilliant to enjoy this last chance of seeing Antarctica.

Day 9: At sea, Drake Passage

At sea, Drake Passage
Date: 22.11.2019
Position: 60°01’2 S 61°44’0 W
Wind: NW F5
Air Temperature: +3

Overnight, we left the waters of the South Shetlands and shortly after dinner we could feel the rolling and pitching of the ship among the deeper waters of the southern tip of the Drake Passage. The weather overnight was foggy and remained like that during the period of darkness. We woke up in the middle of a thick fog. The wind speed did not reduce and it keep on blowing relentlessly with a force 4-6, and gusts blowing up to 35-40 knots. Sadly the movement of the ship and the harsh winds were a reminder that we were leaving behind the white continent of Antarctica.

Sharp at 07:45, Claudia made the wake up call and a few minutes later, Ziggy our hotel manager, announced that the doors of the dining room were open for breakfast. Later at 09:30, the staff collected the rental gear, the zodiac life jackets and the boots that the ship provided to us. This activity was done by calling the cabins per deck and was quickly finished before 11:00.

At 11:30, Claudia gave a very well documented lecture entitled "Sea Birds of the Southern Ocean". The topic of sea birds in this area of the world is vast and there are a couple of dozens of species of birds that can be seen here in the Southern Ocean. Once she clarified this fact, Claudia presented various informative slides about the most representative birds that we can see here, such as the Wondering Albatross, the Light Mantled Albatross and the Black Browed Albatross, the three largest and most conspicuous species we have seen in this trip. Later she addressed the various types of Petrels such as the Snow Petrel, the Cape Petrel and the Wilson's Snow Petrel and the Giant Petrels, again presenting, the most sighted species of petrels so far by us.

In her lecture she showed the vast distances these beautiful birds cover and the perils they face today with all the fishing activities affecting the Southern Ocean as well as with the pollution. Nicely, after the end of her lecture, the skies cleared up a little bit and on the outside decks it was possible to see many of the species she discussed in her presentation.

Also very well timed after the lecture, a Minke whale was spotted swimming close to the ship and all the eyes and attention on board turned onto this large animal. By lunch time, the skies cleared completely and we were able to enjoy the sun and many of us went to the upper decks to sit and relax.

A delicious lunch was served and this time all of the meal options were centred around a mexican fusion kitchen. Fajitas, guacamole and chicken in adobo sauce were among the options for lunch. After lunch, the ship become a quiet place for a while since many of us were enjoying an afternoon nap and only a few remained on the bridge or in the outer decks.

Later in the afternoon we had our ship's quiz with Zet and Tim as our quiz masters. Their quiz was made based on some of the staff's peculiarities, information given in lectures, recaps or general information provided at any moment during our cruise. The idea of the quiz was to have a good laugh together and have a good time while crossing the Drake Passage. In total, we had enough people to make 8 groups who choose the following names:

Group 1, "What does ABCD mean?"
Group 2, "The Type A Killer Whales"
Group 3, "Polar Bears In Antarctica"
Group 4, "The Big Eaters"
Group 5, "Weddell One"
Group 6, "Killer Whales"
Group 7, "Half Moon Bay Humpbacks" and,
Group 8, "Team Finland"

After presenting 30 questions, having fun and having a good laugh, our quiz masters Tim and Zet showed the answers. Then, after some deliberation the quiz masters pronounced the winner team. The winning team was "Type A Killer Whales", who won with 25 points. The team won a bottle of wine of their choice, glory, fame, the blessing of His Majesty King Neptune, ruler of the Seas and the admiration from all the Ortelius team.

At 18:30 we had our daily recap, Claudia showed the plans for tomorrow, our last day at sea, Sigi presented the protocol for disembarkation and Lucas, one of our guides, made a short but interesting presentation about the naming of places in Antarctica. Then, at 19:00 the call for dinner came and everybody went to the dining room. Our ship was still rocking among the waves as we sailed into a foggy night in the middle of the Drake Passage.

Day 10: At sea, Drake Passage

At sea, Drake Passage
Date: 23.11.2019
Position: 56°07’4 S 65°27’8 W
Wind: NW F5
Air Temperature: +9

Our last day in the Drake started at 0745 with our wake up call, breakfast followed soon afterwards and we all settled in for another day at sea. Thankfully the wind had calmed down over night and it was now starting to be a ‘Drake Lake’. Some of us enjoyed the sea birds still flying outside, and in the morning we had a fascinating talk from Eduardo talking about the ‘Anthropocene – surviving the age of humans’. Certainly, a thought-provoking topic.

After another excellent lunch we enjoyed a talk on Ice and Icebergs with Lucas, and we could remember seeing these enormous blocks of ice that had dominated our trip. It was nice to reminisce and think about the shapes of the ice and what caused them to be like that. Later on in the afternoon Tim shared some of his experiences of working and living in Antarctica. Very different to the trip we had just had and certainly interesting to see how everyday challenges were overcome when he was working in the field. A lot of us had been out on deck enjoying what wildlife we could spot, birds and whales!

The time had now come in the evening for us to enjoy our last recap in the bar and a glass of something bubbly to toast our fantastic voyage. Pippa had put together a brilliant slideshow that everyone enjoyed seeing. It was great to see a short synopsis of our trip, and think about how many amazing memories had been made in the last 10 days.

Captain Yuri came down from the bridge to toast us and thank all of the passengers for sailing with Oceanwide.

Sigi made the last call for dinner and we all headed down to enjoy our last spectacular evening meal on board Ortelius.

Day 11: Disembarkation

Disembarkation
Date: 24.11.2019
Position: 54°49‘S, 68°17‘W
Wind: N F2
Air Temperature: +8

We awoke for the last time with a wake up call from our EL, this was sadly our disembarkation day. We had enjoyed our two days at sea watching the sea birds, and it was with mixed emotions we found ourselves in Ushuaia, happy to have had an amazing trip but sad that it was now over. After our breakfast on board we said our goodbyes, and left the good ship Ortelius, although our trip was over it was simply fantastic and all of us have memories to last a lifetime.

Details

Tripcode: OTL22-19
Dates: 14 Nov – 24 Nov, 2019
Duration: 10 nights
Ship: m/v Ortelius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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