OTL24-17, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetland Islands

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation, Ushuaia

Embarkation, Ushuaia
Date: 06.12.2017
Position: 54°48.6‘S, 068°17‘W
Wind: SW 3 knots
Air Temperature: +6

We gathered from all corners of the globe, arriving in Ushuaia, the Argentine city at The End of the World, ready to begin our adventure. The day, even though it was high summer, was damp, windy and cool, so it was good to board Ortelius, our new home for the next 11 days. We were greeted by DJ and Sava, the Hotel Manager and Assistant Manager, and shown to our cabins by crew we would get to know over the coming days. After a short time to settle in, Sebastian (Seba), our Expedition Leader, invited us to the Lecture Room on deck 3, where we had a mandatory safety briefing given by Luis, the Third Officer. That was immediately followed by seven short and one long blast on the ship's alarm system, and we gathered our big orange lifejackets and practiced our mustering in the Bar, on deck 6. We were all accounted for and lead to the lifeboats on deck 7, then, practice over, we scattered again, to our cabins and the outer decks. We threw the lines and left the dock, sailing down the Beagle Channel with accompanying gulls flying around us. As Ushuaia and the surrounding mountains disappeared into the distance, the rolling hills of Tierra del Fuego spread down either side of the channel, with only occasional small Estancias passing by as we sailed. Bird life increased, with cormorants and Cape Petrels flying by. Once we were under way, we were invited to the bar, where DJ explained how the ship worked, and we learned the practical side of life on the ship. This was followed by a welcome by our Captain, Mika Appel, and a toast or two with champagne and orange juice. Seba and the Expedition Team then fully introduced themselves, and we met our Expedition Doctor, Lauke. Our first dinner was noisy and entertaining, as we introduced ourselves to strangers who would become friends over the course of the journey. After dinner, most of us retired to unpack and catch up on sleep, some hoping that our passing into the Drake Passage would be gentle and uneventful, some hoping for a more eventful Drake crossing. A few more hardy and rested souls went up to the bar, to get to know Rolando, our friendly bartender, and step outside to watch the South American countryside pass by.

Day 2: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 07.12.2017
Position: 56°27S, 065°52W
Wind: W 5 knots
Air Temperature: +6

The first full day onboard Ortelius welcomed passengers and crew with moderate winds – at least in terms of the Drake Passage. Some remaining swell from an earlier low-pressure system (approx. 4m waves) reminded everybody that it might be summer in the region, but that the Drake Passage is one of the most challenging parts of the global oceans a ship can navigate. In short, average to good conditions for the crossing of the Drake Passage allowed us to enjoy breakfast, explore the ship, introduce ourselves to fellow shipmates, and relax from a long trip to reach the Ortelius in Ushuaia. At 11:00 Lynn started the lecture series of the trip with her talk about ‘Seabirds and the Southern Ocean’, which was the most appropriate topic for today’s morning lecture as now the birds following Ortelius were no longer simply large (put in color here..) birds, but became immediately transformed into Giant Petrel, Wandering Albatross, Cape Petrel and the like. Now with the birds having their proper names, watching them from the open decks became even more interesting as the swell decreased substantially and moving along the ship became easier (or do sea-legs grow so quickly?). The Furious Fifties, from 50 to 60 degree south latitude, dreaded by all mariners of the past are presenting themselves today from their good sides, by no means comparable to the conditions the full-rigged ship Susanna had experienced in 1905 when she needed 99 days just to round Cap Horn or the conditions those ships experienced whose master’s finally gave up sailing around the Horn and going all around the globe instead… Lunch was followed by Arjen’s highly informative talk on ‘Nature Photography’ which provided even the most seasoned photographer some tips never thought about before and the best method to make a penguin model for your photo-shoot (simply keep your distance and observe patiently, they will provide a good motive - maybe not the one you were hoping for, but an extremely good one, as they are models by nature…) After another hour or so of bird watching, relaxing, coffee-drinking and chatting with the staff, Expedition Leader Sebastian gave his lecture on the ‘Geography of Antarctica’, successfully introducing a whole continent in less than 60 minutes. Prior to dinner all guests were invited to the first recap session at the Bar for discussing the day’s events with the expedition team and learning about the program for the days to come. Ok, it was a sea day and thus there wasn’t too much on the agenda of today’s recap, but it will become one of the most important formats over the next couple of days. All staff are definitely prepared to handle your questions and if time might be too short, discussions can always be continued after dinner in the Bar. Altogether, a quite calm day onboard Ortelius, but a perfect day to prepare for Antarctica itself.

Day 3: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 08.12.2017
Position: 60°42S, 064°26W
Wind: W 6 knots
Air Temperature: +2

As everybody started to get used to the Drake Passage, the second night on board the Ortelius was less bumpy than expected. Because of this, more people joined for breakfast and the social life on board began to improve. As this day was a full sea day again, the time was used to get all necessities done, before the action part of the adventure begins. We were supposed to receive our life jackets and Muck Boots, but that had to be delayed due to some friends who approached Ortelius to welcome us to these southern waters. Humpback and Fin whales gave a wonderful show and got the attention of all passengers and staff for almost an hour. Unfortunately, the IAATO briefing (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) had to be done, as it is a mandatory briefing. This was followed by a zodiac safety briefing, to keep us safe and happy while on landings and cruises. After a delicious lunch prepared by Khabir and his team, the time for camping preparation arrived. Ben & Jerry (not the ice-cream) were responsible for explaining in detail the longest activity scheduled for those who booked in advance, surprised faces immediately appear when they came up with the bivy bags and the potty toilet. With almost no time in between, Pete the kayak guide then did his part with kayaking, giving a really complete talk and explanation about the activity and all the gear that involves, so he could give suits to the group. After 4 PM we had our first party of the voyage, the vacuum party! Calling deck by deck, Seba the EL, started the party in the bar. Between jokes, laughs and muffins that were brought by Rolando the time for Recap arrived. As every day, the expedition leader started by outlining the plan for the following day (if weather allows), followed by Bill and his demonstration of the snowshoes we will get to wear soon. That was not all for him, because he shared part of his vast knowledge and stories about whales, which was a good introduction for Lynn’s recap who removed all doubts about the whales we saw during the day. As the Drake Passage calmed further down over the day, we enjoyed the evening and gathered with chats in the bar.

Day 4: Danco Island and Brown Station & Skontorp Cove

Danco Island and Brown Station & Skontorp Cove
Date: 09.12.2017
Position: 63°34S, 062°38W
Wind: ENE 7 knots
Air Temperature: +1

Early morning during windy and overcast conditions Ortelius motored towards the planned landing site at Cuverville. Unfortunately an inspection through binoculars from the bridge showed masses of drift ice collected along the shore at the landing site. Given the conditions it was clearly plan B for landing destination…and Ortelius repositioned to Danco Island. Zodiacs were loaded with 120 snowshoes and red marker poles and staff conducted an inspection of the landing zone. Fortunately there were no problems and passengers disembarked to be kitted out with snowshoes and then given the choice to either meander between the Gentoo penguin colonies lower down or follow Bill on a more strenuous hike uphill to the summit of the island. A large group chose the latter and a gaily coloured column of passengers slowly wound their way to the top. Once there, after photographing the superb views and antics of the nest building Gentoos, Bill encouraged the group to sit or lie down and enjoy 10 minutes of absolute polar silence. The was an intensely aesthetic moment enjoyed by all. During and after lunch Ortelius cruised through superb peninsula scenery of bergs, glaciers and looming mountains to anchor off the afternoon destination of Base Brown. Passengers were then split into two groups. One group landed and climbed to a high vantage point behind the station whilst others were given a zodiac cruise through brash ice into the berg and glacier studded Skontorp Cove. A visual feast as lenses trained on the beautiful assorted shapes and stunning backdrop….cameras clicked incessantly. The perfect day continued in the evening with superb conditions for the camping group who were ferried ashore after dinner. Happy passengers laughed and chattered in the bar late into the evening with everyone highly delighted at their first experience of Antarctica.

Day 5: Neko Harbour and Orne Harbour

Neko Harbour and Orne Harbour
Date: 10.12.2017
Position: 64°50S, 062°32W
Wind: calm
Air Temperature: +5

It was a cloudy morning, but there was little or no wind, so conditions were good for an excursion. We landed at Neko Harbour, a small indentation in Andvord Bay named after an old whaling vessel which used the little harbour for one season. Once ashore, we all began with the Gentoo penguins nesting down lower on the hillside. Quite a few of us followed Bill, who offered a snowshoe hike up to a high view point for anybody with the strength and energy to climb. There was an amazing view of the landscape from the higher reaches – at least for most of the time, when the fog stayed away. Most of us also got a short zodiac cruise along the coastline of Neko Harbour either before or after landing. People enjoyed viewing this amazing ice- and seascape, as well as the Gentoo penguins from zodiacs. Although some passengers were tired from the camping previous night, they all thought it was worth the effort to push themselves a little, and take in the amazing Antarctic scenery. In the afternoon, we had a zodiac cruise for everyone at Orne Harbour. The weather had gotten a little rougher than in the morning, but the enthusiasm of the passengers had not been cooled down. It was the first time in this voyage that we had seen Chinstrap penguins, hearty little birds that prefer to live on rocky cliffsides and scree slopes, in places inaccessible to us for landing. After cruising the Chinstrap shore, we drove deeper into Orne Harbour, and checked out the icebergs and sea ice which had been trapped at the back of the bay by the wind and current. The icebergs and ice foes were carried to the back of the bay, and the zodiacs also drifted with the ice in this amazing snowy scene.

Day 6: Lemaire Channel and Damoy Point & Dorian Bay

Lemaire Channel and Damoy Point & Dorian Bay
Date: 11.12.2017
Position: 65°04S, 063°57W
Wind: SW 2 knots
Air Temperature: +6

It was an early wake-up call from the Expedition Leader, who was on the Bridge at 06.30, inviting everyone to come up onto the outer decks and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. The ship was positioned at the northern opening of the Lemaire Channel, one of the most photographed places in Antarctica. Guarding the entrance like two sentinels was the twin peaks of Cape Renard and False Cape Renard, and beyond as far as the eye could see was ice chocking the 600m wide channel. With Captain Mika at the helm and the strength of the Ortelius (ice reinforced) hull at his command this was not a day for taking prisoners. The ships cruise through this spectacular glaciated mountain range was truly incredible for many reasons. Firstly, many ships would have merely turned and run at the proposition of such a serious undertaking. Secondly, the glorious sunshine on the decks that warmed us down to single layers of clothing and beyond was, just perfect. The still clear water reflecting blue ice, hauled out Crabeater seals and steep sided glaciated mountains was truly a scene to take your breath away. Pushing the ice aside piece by piece Ortelius continued slowly forward, steadily making her way through the channel until eventually she broke free turning right towards our intended landing for the morning. However, it was soon clear to see from the Bridge that no landing could take place on Pleneau Island because of the vast amount of ice moving north in the strong current, putting us at risk of ice blocking our escape. An alternative ships cruise was possible and with the hotel staff supplying rum, hot chocolate and cookies out on deck, OTL24 was in a great shape. Going even further south in the ice towards our second possible landing site of the day (Petermann Island) was clearly out of the question and by mid-morning Ortelius was making her way back through the Lemaire channel towards Cape Renard. After some quick thinking by the Expedition Leader our plan ‘B’ was to now sail towards Damoy Point and the possibility of a landing and kayaking in the afternoon. Luckily the weather stayed fair and after a good lunch the kayakers went off to do their activity away from the main landing area. Everyone else landed at the historic huts where Ingo was able to recount some of the interesting historic stories surrounding the site. Bill led the long walk with the snow shoe group up to the top of the hill to be greeted by some fantastic views of the surrounding area. The remaining guides managed the Gentoo penguins and Weddell seals that were hauled out on the snow at the landing area and all the time the sun shone brightly down. Pete’s kayakers were enjoying their third stellar kayaking experience a few miles away from the huts towards one of the glaciers. By late afternoon everyone gathered at the landing area for the final part of the (optional) afternoon activities…. ‘The Polar Plunge’. Approximately 60 brave souls stripped down to their swimwear to baptise themselves in the frigid waters of Antarctica. Young and old ran in and ran out, a few lingered for pictures and some even managed a few swimming strokes however, for most it was a brief but rewarding encounter. Fresh towels were made available on the shore for all those crazy enough to jump into water (only low single digit degrees C above freezing) madness, but well done one and all on a truly fantastic end to an incredible day in Antarctica.

Day 7: Port Lockroy and Enterprise Island

Port Lockroy and Enterprise Island
Date: 12.12.2017
Position: 64°49S, 063°30W
Wind: W 5 knots
Air Temperature: +1

We woke early this morning to an early breakfast in order to allow time for meeting an Antarctic local. Seba had arranged for Hannah, from Goudier Island, to come on board and brief us on the history and current status of Port Lockroy base, her home for the summer. She told us of the base's origin during the Second World War as part of Operation Tabarin, an effort designed to ensure Germany did not benefit from the Antarctic region. The base was quickly handed across to scientists, who occupied the buildings until the 1960s, running metrological, biological and geological studies alongside an official Post Office. Abandoned, the buildings were left to deteriorate until 1996, when the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust, the UKAHT, took over, and began to repair and renovate the station. Since then, Port Lockroy has resumed its position as a Post Office, added a shop, and created an impressive museum of life in Antarctica in the 1950s and 60s. Gentoo penguins have moved in to join the people, and the small island is a very busy place. Next door, at Jougla Point, a large colony of Gentoo penguins reside next to a smaller Antarctic Shag colony, and Kelp gulls, Terns, Sheathbills and Skuas all live around the edges, making this little corner of Wiencke Island a treasure-trove of wildlife, with incredible views. The mountains of Wiencke Island, rising above 3,000 feet, made an impressive display behind our landing sites, and if we looked Northwest, Mt Francais, the highest mountain on the peninsula, rising over 9,200 feet, was visible in the distance. After spending the morning watching Gentoos and spending money in the Port Lockroy gift shop, we had a long sail to our next location, Enterprise Island. We took advantage of the opportunity to sneak in a little Polar Nap, then listened to Bill as he explained the background and impacts of whaling in the North and South Polar Regions. Later in the afternoon, we arrived off Enterprise Island, and as the sun began to break through, launched our Zodiacs and began a cruise past the Governoren, an old whaling mothership that caught fire and burned to a shell in 1912. The Captain attempted to run the ship ashore, and she still rests within meters of the end of a narrow bay in Enterprise Island. We cruised past the metal hulk, then took the boats past old wooden waterboats, boxes, and metal stanchions used as iceberg fences in the past. We also found Gentoos, Chinstraps, Shags, Terns, Kelp gulls, and signs of skiers and mountain climbers on both Enterprise and Nansen Island, directly to the South. The light made the area seem possibly the most beautiful we had seen, highlighting the shapes of the snow and ice, and shining through the icebergs. We all had a different trip, exploring little bays and channels, circumnavigating icebergs and small rocks, and generally just enjoying the best Antarctica has to offer. None of us wanted to return to the ship, but eventually Seba convinced all to return, and we gathered in the bar for the now-normal briefing on our plans for tomorrow. As we had dinner and sailed North towards the South Shetland Islands, the sun shone on the Gerlache Strait, and illuminated the snow and glaciers on all the islands around us. We relaxed in the bar - until the first call of "Orcas!", when we all ran outside hoping to catch a quick look at these amazing animals. We got far more than just a quick glimpse! There were about a dozen of them, with one very big male with a huge dorsal fin, several mature females and younger males, and a couple of very young calves. They splashed about together, showing their tails and bellies, spyhopping, and swimming in close lines together. While the Captain slowed the ship, they came to us, diving under the ship and swimming alongside, then heading out a short distance before coming in again and again. It was a spectacular sight in the low light, with white blows as they surfaced, then black fins flashing as they went down again. We all rushed from one side of the ship to another, retreated inside to warm fingers and change cards and batteries, and returned outside, for over an hour. At last, we said farewell, and left the whales to their business in the Gerlache Strait, resuming our transit to the South Shetland Islands. Finally, we all came inside, showed off our photos to each other, then retired, much later than intended, but very happy.

Day 8: Whalers Bay, Deception Island

Whalers Bay, Deception Island
Date: 13.12.2017
Position: 62°59S, 060°33W
Wind: light air
Air Temperature: +5

Sailing into an active volcano - what seems to be an absolute crazy idea and at the same time simply impossible was precisely what Ortelius did this morning. At 6:45 the ship sailed through the only 600m wide ‘Neptune’s Bellows’ passage into Port Foster or in other words into the center of the caldera of the Deception Island volcano. The caldera of the still active volcano is directly connected to the ocean and most definitely one of the best natural harbours in the whole Southern Ocean. Perfectly sheltered against winds and waves once passing the challenging entrance into the caldera Port Foster was an obvious choice for whalers seeking sheltered waters for processing their catch as well as for Antarctic flight pioneers and researchers from a variety of nations. After anchoring in Whaler’s Bay (a small bay within Port Foster) there were rich opportunities ashore. If interested in some exercise there was the option of walking up Roland Hill for a perfect overview or as an alternative to ‘Neptune’s Window’ or even to both places. Less interested in exercise but more into history, the first stop was the remains of the southernmost whaling shore station on the globe. Between 1911 and 1931 the Norwegian company Hektor A.S. operated a complete whale processing plant on Deception Island. Today the general layout of the plant with its storage tanks, steam boilers, blubber-, meat- and bone cookers oriented around a central flensing plan is still easily recognizable, but looks like a bizarre industrial monument / scenery as if taken directly from a movie. Easy explanation for this: a minor volcanic activity in 1968 that resulted in a mud-slide / glacier-run like event that buried most of the plant. The same happened to the buildings of the British research station that was originally established in 1944 as ‘Base B’ of ‘Operation Tabarin’ the secret British Antarctic operation during World War II. Afraid of Nazi-Germany developing any kind of military activities in Antarctica a group of British officers and polar scientists plotted in the Bar Tabarin the plan to establish a British war-time presence in Antarctica – it might be questioned if they were mainly concerned with the Nazis occupying Antarctica or with continuing their research and not being sent to any high-risk deployment in other theatres of war. Regardless what might be the answer to this question, ‘Base B’ became a reality in 1944 and continued to be used by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) up to the end of the 1960s when it was finally given up due to the increased volcanic activities. Today, with the majority of the whaling station covered by mud and volcanic materials, the buildings of the research station slowly collapsing, and a black volcanic beach with sulphur-smelly steam escaping from the fumaroles instead of clean Antarctic white snow the place isn’t only very special, but in the end maybe something like an ‘Antarctic Industrial Pompeii’. It is definitely a registered Antarctic historic monument and the management plan for the site calls for controlled decay as a monument to volcanic activities and more importantly the relation between humans and the powers of nature. Consequently nature is taking over again and the Kelp gulls are not only nesting upon the remains of the blubber-cookers but also already had three chicks: some cute grey fluffy feather balls just on top of a rusty boiler, which will simply make you humble. Around noon it was back to the ship and this time not only back to the ship for some hours, but for all the distance across the Drake Passage back to Ushuaia. Some Humpback whales finally waved us a great goodbye with showing their flukes and fins. In the afternoon a lecture about ‘Fishing Activities in the Southern Ocean Past and Today’ by Ingo not only opened the lecture series for the next two days, but also helped to get over the somewhat sad feeling that it’s already time to sail back. OK, it was probably the ‘Happy Hour’ in the Bar prior to dinner that really helped…

Day 9: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 14.12.2017
Position: 60°48S, 063°06W
Wind: SW 4 knots
Air Temperature: +1

This was a leisurely sea-day…no landings, no zodiac cruises so passengers slept that little bit longer and enjoyed an extended breakfast. What made it especially delightful was the gentle motion of Ortelius. The Drake was being kind for once producing only a moderate swell and light winds which enable good progress towards Ushuaia. The morning lecture on Orcas was delivered by Arjen. This was especially interesting following the superb close-up sighting of an energetic pod the previous evening. Everyone managed to capture good shots as they swam past close to the hull. Most passengers either spent the day sharing photo files and editing thousands of photographs of the voyage or having short naps in their cabins to catch up on sleep. Lynn delivered an informative lecture on ‘Ice’ after lunch followed by a showing of the BBC classic ‘Frozen Planet’. Educational entertainment continued during recap as Ingo presented an excellent summary of Amundsen’s expedition to the South Pole and Bill followed with a fact filled ‘Looking, Seeing, Thinking …Secret places of Ortelius’ lecture, this time relating it the ship’s engine room. Lots of patches remained in their boxes as many passengers found they had developed ‘sea-legs’ since their first Drake Passage crossing. The sea remained calm. As passengers shared photographs and discussed their experiences on and Antarctica …over and over again the comment was that this voyage had in every way exceeded expectations…it had been superb in every aspect.

Day 10: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 15.12.2017
Position: 57°03S, 065°06W
Wind: W 3 knots
Air Temperature: +7

Experiencing better weather and with the sun shinning through our portholes, we woke up feeling much better from the seasickness produced by the motion of the Drake Passage. It was good to see some faces that disappeared over the last two days while having breakfast, but there was also a sad touch, because the adventure was getting to the end. The staff still had things for us to do and at midmorning Ingo gave a fantastic lecture about Windjammer and Cape Horn, about sailing vessels in the Drake, wrecks and hulks on the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). As the good weather remained on our side, it was possible to take some last photos before approaching South America. Our last lunch on board was followed by a documentary from BBC, Frozen Planet, that showed some awesome images of the Artic and its fauna. Well, not every story has a completely happy ending, during the afternoon DJ and Sava called once more through the PA system to pay our bills… Ouch!!! But, at least right after that we got rid of the rubber boots and life jackets that were taking space in our cabins and making us feel a little bit sad because there were no more activities to wear them for anymore. Last recap time arrived, and even if we expected no more surprises, suddenly we realized that one of us was not a common passenger. The COO of Oceanwide introduced himself after being incognito during the whole trip. Himself, Seba and the Captain gave a great speech that closed all our feelings about a wonderful trip and experience with the crew and staff at the white continent. That was not it, before the last great dinner, DJ and Sava introduced the some of the heroes behind the scenes, part of the staff who had been making us feel even better than home helped by Bill’s cheerleading. With our last coins and Euros in our pockets, we had to visit once more the bar to have the last chats and memories share of one of the best experiences in our life.

Day 11: Ushuaia

Date: 16.12.2017
Position: 54°48.6‘S, 068°17‘W
Wind: W 3 knots
Air Temperature: +7

All good things come to an end, as they say. Today was our last morning on the Ortelius. After a last night in our cabin, which had come to feel like home, it was time to move on to new adventures. We put our luggage in the corridors this morning as asked, so the crew could take them out and off the ship. After one last wakeup call by Seba, and one last meal on board, it was time to say goodbye. Goodbye to our ship and its crew and staff, and to our new friends. Arrangements were made to stay in touch and farewells were said. We could look back to an excellent and successful trip and all of us marveled at the memories of wildlife and spectacular scenery during all the activities. At 8:30 we handed in the keys to our cabins, picked up our luggage from the pier and walked towards Ushuaia, heading for new adventures and with many great memories in our pocket. Thank you all for such a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be! Furthest South: 65°06‘S 64°00‘W Total Distance Sailed: 1596 nm On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Mika Appel, Expedition Leader Sebastian Arrabola, Hotel Manager Dejan Nikolic and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.