OTL24-23, trip log, Antarctica - Basecamp

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Ushuaia - Embarkation Day

Ushuaia - Embarkation Day
Date: 30.11.2023
Position: 54°48.561’S / 068 18.070’W
Wind: NW 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +14

Today the weather started with beautiful sunshine followed by hail, snow, and rain, but towards the end of the day the sun shone again for us. This matched the mood as we embarked on the beautiful M/V Ortelius. Ninety-two guests boarded the ship at 4pm. We didn’t know what to expect on this 12-day Antarctic Basecamp adventure, but we were welcomed by a smiling crew and staff. It was already off to a great start. We immediately had a mandatory safety briefing from Sara and Mikael, which was followed by the practice abandon-ship drill. The ship finally came away from the port at 19:00, and we were off!

The evening was beautiful and made the Beagle Channel look even more spectacular. The sky was bright pink, and a lot of people were out on deck enjoying the scenery. The first night was a buffet dinner, followed by the last order of the day, a mandatory Zodiac briefing. We went to sleep early, though we were all immensely excited for the voyage.

Day 2: At Sea towards Antarctica

At Sea towards Antarctica
Date: 01.12.2023
Position: 56°54.8’S / 066°39.0’W
Wind: W 2/3
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

Our first day at sea began with Sara’s wakeup call at 7:45, and people woke to the rocking and rolling of the ship. For many this would be the first time they had felt this feeling of the world around us moving from side to side, and the number of people at breakfast was less than for dinner the night before. Sea sickness had begun! The conditions during the day slowly got better, however, and out on deck and in the bridge we spotted many sea birds soaring their way across the ocean surface. We even saw a few Humpback Whales throughout the day, and the conditions into the evening were really sunny and warm, quite unusual for the furious fifties.

The goal for the day was to finish off the mandatory briefings before heading out for our Basecamp activities in the following days. First it was Mal and Andy at 10am with the mountaineering briefing, Zet with kayaking, and Chris with camping just after lunch. Then at 4pm, Martin gave the first lecture of the trip about photography and tips for taking great pictures on the trip. After a sleepy rest of the afternoon, we gathered in the bar for the daily recap. Sara showed us a bird string, as a visual guide of how large the sea birds outside actually are. The largest albatross is 3.5m across the back of the wings! After recap the gala dinner was called, and to celebrate 30 years of Oceanwide there was champagne on the way to dinner and a huge cake. As the evening drew to a close, the sun set below the horizon. The bar hummed with the sound of excited voices, guests waiting with anticipation for what would come.

Day 3: At Sea towards Antarctica

At Sea towards Antarctica
Date: 02.12.2023
Position: 61°25.4’S / 064°36.0’W
Wind: W 2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

In the morning, Sara woke us up at 7.45 AM. We found ourselves still in an unusually quiet Drake passage. The morning started with a few fin whales surfacing close to the ship. Surprisingly, a small school of strap-tooth beaked whales appeared next to the ship and were surfing the waves of the ship. What a perfect introduction to the lecture of Charlotte about the whales of Antarctica! The groups were preparing themselves for the activities they chose to do, and after lunch the mandatory bio security check had to be made. By the afternoon, there were already plenty of whale blows visible, most of them Fin Whales and Humpback Whales. The density grew as we crossed the Antarctic Convergence, where the colder waters of Antarctica meet the warmer waters of the South Atlantic.

A little bit later we found our first huge iceberg on the horizon, and another one appeared shortly after. A short time later, the whole scene was surrounded by whale blows, and the closer we approached the iceberg, the more sea birds were flying around the ship. We passed that enormous and spectacular iceberg, massive in size and in all tones of blue and turquoise. We were constantly surrounded by a bunch of gliders: the Light Mantled Sooty Albatross, which uses the upwind from the waves. We also saw Antarctic Petrel, Cape Petrel, and Grey-Browed Albatross following us. But the highlight was to see the breaches of a humpback whale, which was around 250m away from the ship. The recaps followed: first Sarah told us her plans for the next day, our first day to set foot on the continent. Then Pierre told us interesting facts about the beaked whales, and after that Mel and Andy prepared the group of mountaineers. A plated dinner followed, and Sara said it was the best travel day through the Drake Passage ever, regarding the amount of wildlife we spotted. A few more hours till we would arrive at the White Continent!

Day 4: Danco Island and Orne Harbour

Danco Island and Orne Harbour
Date: 03.12.2023
Position: 64°44.5’S / 062°36.7’W
Wind: SW 2/3
Weather: P.Cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

Our first day in the Antarctic Peninsula! The early birds who were keen and up at 4 am were treated to beautiful soft morning light and humpbacks around Ortelius. By the time all of us were up and finishing breakfast, we were stationed off Danco island, named after one of the crew of the Belgica expedition of Adrien Gerlache. The island is also home to a major colony of Gentoo penguins. Many of us had a chance to wander up and see the highways leading from their rookeries to the ocean. The mountaineers were able to go from the landing on the western shore down to its southern tip, examining the Antarctic snowpack on the way.

Coming back along its eastern coast, they were able to look across at the kayaking team, paddling in a tranquil spot on the opposite side of the island from Ortelius. What a joy to be floating alone in the Antarctic Ocean waters. During lunch we transferred to Orne Harbour, a cove surrounded by spectacular peaks. The mountaineers climbed one of these, the impressive Spigot Peak. Snow conditions were perfect. Meanwhile, the kayakers paddled around in the cove, also visiting a chinstrap penguin colony. Here the chinstraps climb 100m above the sea to nest on a rocky ridge. This doesn’t prevent brown skuas from eating their eggs. In the evening, the campers were shuttled to Kerr Point, where they spent a night under polar skies.

It was a full day!

Day 5: Useful Island and Orne Island

Useful Island and Orne Island
Date: 04.12.2023
Position: 64°44.5’S / 062°51.8’W
Wind: SSE 2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

After picking up our intrepid camping team, we sailed down through the Errara Channel and out towards Useful Island. Useful Island is a small outcrop lying 3.2 km to the west of Ronge Island, which was discovered during the 1987-99 Belgian Antarctic Expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache. The geography of this island is Mesozoic granite, and the island is home to both Gentoo and Chinstrap colonies as well as the occasional Adelie Penguin.

Our planned landing here was thwarted due to the sheer numbers of wildlife present, so we changed to a Zodiac cruise instead. This offered us the chance to see some simply stunning iceberg formations – one of which looked amazingly like a large mushroom! Another incredible sight during this Zodiac cruise was observing an enormous raft of Gentoo Penguins cleaning themselves out in the open water. The seas were quite calm, which allowed our kayaking team to enjoy themselves in and amongst the ice watching the penguins swim by and generally having a fantastic time.

Our mountaineering team travelled over to Kettley Point, a part of Ronge Island where they anchored their Zodiacs and made their way up onto the glacier above. There they had amazing views of the Gerlache Straight and the icebergs slowly drifting out towards more open waters.

Returning to the ship, we had an amazing lunch and began to get ready for out next landing and afternoons adventures on Orne Islands. The largest of the Orne Islands is a moderately sloped low rocky dome rising to around 75m, with a rocky central ridge and permanent snowbanks. The islands here are home to both Gentoo and Chinstrap colonies, and we were able to make a series of circuits of the main island to observe both adorable penguin species. Whilst on the island, we were treated to a spectacular event: a large iceberg began to break up and roll in front of us, a timely reminder of why it's important to keep our distance.

Our kayakers were paddling around the islands at this point – well away from any dangerous waves created by the rolling iceberg, but starting to be affected by the steadily increasing swell that was beginning to form from the freshening northly winds. The mountaineers were once again away on another part of the peninsula – but not too far – they had gone to Georges Point, where they were able to get ashore and off the water to the glacier above. Once roped up, they climbed slowly but surely to their summit of the day: a col between two large rocky outcrops, where they could see the remains of the iceberg. They’d heard it collapse but had been unable to see it. The sound of distant crashing was unmistakable. As the weather began to deteriorate, all our groups once again made for the safety of Ortelius.

Day 6: Petermann Island and Pléneau Island

Petermann Island and Pléneau Island
Date: 05.12.2023
Position: 65°10.6’S / 064°07.7’W
Wind: SW2 5
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 0

After an early morning wakeup call from Sara, we started our way down the Lemaire Channel. All the passengers were out on deck, enjoying the high mountains on the sides of the narrow passage with stunning reflections.

For our morning activity, we made it to our most southerly position and were ready to land on Peterman Island. On land the guides prepared a little hike passing Gentoo colonies and a small colony of Adelie penguins before the route continued up to a viewpoint. It was here we stood, watching over the southern sea with huge Icebergs floating around. On the way back to the ship, all the Zodiacs were cruising by a small iceberg to see a beautiful leopard seal. Pléneau, with its iceberg graveyard, was our afternoon Zodiac outing. We had a three-hour long cruise amongst the amazing icebergs, followed by a slow cruise deep in the bays. On the fast ice, there were several resting Weddell Seals.

Kayakers were kayaking in both morning and afternoon, and mountaineers had great hikes up the mountains with beautiful views at the top. The Expedition Team and Sara informed us of tomorrow’s plans, and this followed with another fantastic three-course dinner. It was another spectacular day in Antarctica.

Day 7: Port Lockroy and Damoy Point

Port Lockroy and Damoy Point
Date: 06.12.2023
Position: 64°49.8’S / 063°30.4’W
Wind: WSW 6/7
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: 0

Having picked up our campers after a perfect night out, we headed back through the Lemaire and up to area surrounding the British base at Port Lockroy.

Our Zodiac cruisers were delighted with sightings of Antarctic wildlife: Elephant Seals, Weddell Seals, and Crabeater seals as well as all three main species of penguin, Gentoo, Adelie, and Chinstrap all in one place. The Gentoo Penguins at Dorian Bay had nested right underneath the British hut there, so we weren’t able to go inside this historic monument nor the British base at Port Lockroy due to concerns about avian flu transmission. One of our guides, Martin, gave a very informative talk about both huts in the afternoon recap in the bar.

Meanwhile, the mountaineering team summited the stunning Jabet Peak, dominating the bay at over 500m above sea level. The weather closed in with a lowering cloud base and rising winds, but snow conditions were excellent, allowing six technical climbers a special moment on top. They rejoined our team at Damoy Point, where we were getting good views of the gentoo colony. The kayakers paddled around Port Lockroy in a sea state that was described as “sporty”. The weather forecast was due to deteriorate the following day, so with a flexible expedition mindset we set course northwest for the Melchior Islands. Every cloud has a silver lining, as we saw humpback whales close to the ship on this passage. Sara informed us at recap that the weather will be deteriorating tomorrow, so we battened down the hatches and prepared for the wind. This was followed by a very interesting recap from Chris about lenticular clouds. You could tell everyone was in a good mood from the general buzz in the dining room.

Day 8: Melchior Islands / Fournier Bay

Melchior Islands / Fournier Bay
Date: 07.12.2023
Position: 64°19.3’S / 062°59.3’W
Wind: NE 3
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +1

We’d discovered that the forecast had made a turn away from the amazing conditions we had been enjoying. We needed to find safe haven from the gale force southwest winds forecast to batter the Peninsula.

The Melchior Islands are a group of many low, ice-covered islands lying near the centre of Dallmann Bay in the Palmer Archipelago, Antarctica. They were first seen but left unnamed by a German expedition under Eduard Dallmann, 1873–74. The islands were resighted and roughly charted by the Third French Antarctic Expedition under Jean-Baptiste Charcot, 1903–05. The mornings activities were a Zodiac cruise around and amongst these islands with the main group called Gamma, Omega, Zeta, and Kappa creating an area known as Inner Harbour.

From this calm location, we set off to explore, Pierre and Andi found two Humpbacks 1km from ship, both feeding, other Zodiacs joined this spectacle, making sure we didn’t encroach on these gentle giants as they fed on Krill. The Humpbacks needed to dive down to set themselves up to bubble feed, and we were all treated to an amazingly beautiful session of whale fluking as well. We needed to head back to the ship, but we were surprised on the way back by a flag bearing Zodiac with a giant penguin in that served us all a special hot chocolate drink each. Our mountain team spent the morning out in search of useful sites for mountaineering venues and routes for future bad weather days, so despite not getting a days mountaineering activity, the time was well spent by our Mountain Guides.

Heading towards Fournier Bay, we were first treated to a lecture by Chloe about her most passionate subject; Plankton. As we sailed deeper into the bay, we began to become aware that we were literally surrounded by Humpback Whales – literally in every direction we looked. As we marveled at this spectacle, we noticed that the ship’s crew were busy setting up the outside grills. That night was BBQ night on the helideck! Good food, a few drinks, and fun dancing was the order of the night.

Day 9: Brown Station and Neko Harbour

Brown Station and Neko Harbour
Date: 08.12.2023
Position: 64°50.3’S / 062°52.4’W
Wind: VAR 1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

Waking up to a calm morning in Paradise Bay, we slowly approached Brown Station, where we had the first landing of the day. We did a combined landing at the station, with a walk to the peak and a Zodiac cruise into the ice in paradise bay. The mountaineers had left at 0600 this morning to climb Molina Point. Andy and Mal had scoped out this peak the day before, and now it was a go ahead with six guests. It was 330 metres above sea level.

The bay was absolutely stunning with incredible icebergs, mountains and glaciers reflecting into the water, a perfect mirror of what we were seeing above the water was reflecting below. After a walk at Brown Station, Sara offered us a short Zodiac cruise in the bay, and our Zodiac drivers slowly took us into the bay to observe the beauty.

The kayakers cruised slowly by the cliffs where the Antarctic Shags were breeding and then deeper into the ice. Towards the very end of the morning, we were graced with the presence of three Weddell Seals lying on small pieces of glacier ice. They were very calm and allowed us to approach gently and slowly to a five-metre distance. Back on the ship, we heard the soothing voice of Vova announcing that it was lunchtime.

Neko Harbour in the afternoon made the third continental landing of the trip and second of today. We hiked up to the penguins and looked out toward the glacier, where some of us were standing for a long time to see a calving. Unfortunately, there was no calving, no matter how much we all wanted it, but we did see two impressive avalanches thunder down the mountains. The mountaineers had already left earlier up past the Gentoo colony and came back to the landing towards the end. They seemed happy after their hike up the hill. The fog and snow started to roll in, and at 17:00 everyone had made it back to the landing site for the last Zodiac.

Back on Ortelius, we all started to warm up with tea, hot chocolate, and even a few of us with an alcoholic beverage. Sara gave us the plans for our last shore landing, and she had a very impressive rope she used to show us the sizes of the biggest whales in the world.

Day 10: Whalers Bay, Deception Island

Whalers Bay, Deception Island
Date: 09.12.2023
Position: 62°58.9’S / 060°33.6’W
Wind: WNW 7
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

Sara woke us up to a beautiful sunny day as we were arriving at Deception Island. The sea was quite calm with moderate wind. The coastline of this active volcano looked very dramatic, and we couldn't wait to enter the caldera. After a delicious breakfast, we all went outside on the outer decks as there were whales being sighted around the ship. We spent the morning whale watching and there were several icebergs around the island. Pierre gave a lecture about Humpback Whales, which had to be postponed because of Humpback Whale sightings. Just before lunch, we entered the volcano through Neptune’s bellows, the very narrow passage leading into the caldera. Sara launched a Zodiac to do a scouting round to see if we could land at Whaler’s Bay. The decision was made to drop the anchor, and we all went for a quick lunch.

Right after lunch, we took the Zodiacs to go ashore, where Sara gave us instructions for the landing. We could walk on our own towards the whaling station buildings, where Martin was waiting for us. We couldn’t go all the way to the hangar because there was a moulting Elephant Seal, and we did not want to disturb it. To the other direction, we could see the ruins of huts and motorboats, and a lot of whale bones from the whaling times. We walked all the way to Neptune’s window to have a look at the Bransfield Strait, where the Antarctic Peninsula is supposed to have been viewed for the first time. It was very windy up there, and the wind kept on rising during the landing. This did not discourage about 70 of us to go on with the polar plunge. After about three hours of landing, we all went back to the ship to get warm. The ship then navigated back out through Neptune’s Bellows, and we started our journey towards the Drake passage. The sea was a little more agitated than in the morning and there was a little fog, but we could still see several whales coming up to the surface around the ship. We then assisted with the daily recap, where Sara told us the plans and the conditions for our navigation back to Ushuaia through the Drake Passage for the next two days. It was then time for dinner, where we once more enjoyed a delicious plated dinner. We all went then to the bar to have some drinks and talk about our experiences in Antarctica, while going out to the outer decks to enjoy some whales.

Day 11: Drake Passage

Drake Passage
Date: 10.12.2023
Position: W 6
Wind: 60°28.8’S / 063°50.4’W
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

Today we woke up to the slow rolling motion of the ship rocking from side to side as the ship slowly entered the Drake Passage. The Drake Passage is 620 miles/820km which officially begins at the bottom of Cape Horn and ends at the South Shetland Islands. After a delicious breakfast of everything you could want; sausages and scrambled eggs with a pastry or two we had Andy delivering us a lecture on avalanches, this is always an interesting one particularly for many of us who spend a lot of time in the mountains. Martin followed with a presentation on Photography in conservation, Martin’s photos are enough to inspire anyone to get involved in photography. Before lunch we gave back our stinky muck boots and then filled up on more food just in time for going home!

At 16:00 Charlotte told us the story of Scott and Amundsen and their ‘Race to the South Pole’ a fascinating and heroic story. Sara told us the brief plans for tomorrow, but it was a similar plan as today, a lecture from Sara and Chloe and time to pay our dreaded bar bills! The dining room was full this evening, which showed there couldn’t be too many seasick people thankfully.

Day 12: At sea towards Ushuaia

At sea towards Ushuaia
Date: 12.12.2023
Position: 56°21.4’S / 067°01.8’W
Wind: NW 5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +7

Last night was quite a busy one in the bar, so there were probably a few sore heads that morning. The Drake was still pleasantly smooth, which helped us fill up on breakfast in preparation for the ‘busy’ day ahead. We started off with the fantastic Chloe talking to us about the beautiful underwater world of Antarctica, she is so passionate, and it even makes a sea star seem like the most interesting animal! Sara’s talk on Marine Threats was quite a sad one, but it’s all information which is interesting to hear, because this will only ignite change.

That afternoon we had to pay our bill for the trip, and then it was time to start packing and prepare for disembarkation tomorrow. Claudio inspired us with a talk on climate change at 1600 and shortly afterwards we donned our best evening wear for tonight’s Captains cocktail! Claudio and Martin had made us a beautiful slideshow for the trip, it was absolutely stunning to see the photos the guides had taken of the trip, it brought a tear to our eyes and only made us remember what an incredible trip it had been. We toasted with a glass of bubbly, and we couldn’t help but smile and feel so grateful for what had been. Now time for dinner and a couple more drinks.

Day 13: Disembarkation Day- Ushuaia Port

Disembarkation Day- Ushuaia Port
Date: 12.12.2023
Position: 54°48.6’S / 068°18.0’W
Wind: NW 3
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

As we woke up, we realized we were already docked in Ushuaia. We packed the last of our bags and put them outside the cabins for the staff to heave up the stairs. After breakfast we were called to disembark the ship and went to the gangway to say our final goodbyes. It was sad, but we hope to be back one day very soon!

Thank you for your enthusiasm and support, but most of all for joining us on this adventurous Arctic voyage. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

Total distance sailed: 1780 nautical miles.

Farthest south: 65°10.6’S / 064°07.7’W

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Per Anderson, Expedition Leader Sara Jenner, Hotel Manager Volodymyr Cherednychenko, all the crew, staff, pilots, and engineers of M/V Ortelius, it has been a pleasure travelling with you!


Tripcode: OTL24-23
Dates: 30 Nov - 12 Dec, 2023
Duration: 12 nights
Ship: m/v Ortelius
Embark: Ushuaia
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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