||60°47.5’ S / 044°23.6’ W
||wind from SW, Force 5
After another very calm night, we woke up to a stunning sight: On our starboard, jagged peaks made of dark rocks and white glaciers were rising out of the sea – Ortelius had made very good progress, which meant we had already reached the South Orkney Islands! There were many tabular icebergs in front of the islands, which consisted mostly of pointed mountains. A huge flock of Cape Petrels maintained exactly ship speed, gliding low over darkish waters.
It seemed impossible to find a suitable landing spot anywhere in this sawtooth chain rising up from the sea. Penguins were resting on big icebergs to both sides of the ship, Chinstraps as well as Adelies – which meant we spotted our first Adelie Penguins! A handful of Snow Petrels made their appearance, and as Ortelius slowly approached Laurie Island, we could see orange buildings at about the only flat spot available: Orcadas, the Argentine scientific
station! By now, we had crossed 60 degrees south and were sailing in true Antarctic waters. The jagged peaks with their snowy tops and heavily glaciated areas gave us the feeling of truly having reached the remote Terra Australis Incognita, and to celebrate this special moment, we all gathered at the bow for a group photo. Soon, the Captain had Ortelius anchored in Scotia Bay named after the famous Scottish expedition of William S. Bruce in 1903.
Once ashore, we stepped up a small snow staircase chiseled out by the station team. They were welcoming us in their bright yellow parkas, happy to take us on a "tour de base“. In small groups led by one of the scientists and one Staff member each, we set off towards Omond House, the remains of a small hut erected by Bruce’s expedition.
We then proceeded towards the flags, greeted by a couple of curious Adelie Penguins – it was a very funny experience since the little fellows seemed incapable of making their minds up regarding the visitors: coming closer, staying, or running away? In the end, they accompanied us towards the museum, our next stop. Here we were able to get a glimpse of daily expedition life way back when, before we continued to the northern side where on another pebble beach a Fur Seal lay sleeping, and more penguins were resting. Nearby there was the cemetery, and from there we made our way towards the modern living quarters of the 17 men stationed at Orcadas this season. In the main building, we were welcomed with tea and delicious cookies, and immediately took to the cozy atmosphere. It was a tough task to leave but a nice little zodiac ride back to the ship was waiting for us, as were some Chinstrap Penguins on the way to the landing site. It was still magically calm as we sailed within a monochrome painting of sea, ice, rocks, and clouds, dotted by the odd bird.
By the time we were all back on board the ship, it was lunchtime – and hungry we were after our adventures on shore! Afterwards most of us settled for a little nap, or to sort photos. In mid-afternoon, Victoria invited us to the Ortelius movie cinema in the lecture room for a documentary on the rat eradication programme on South Georgia. At the same time, a table with items for auction had been set up in front of reception – there would be pins and first day covers, T-shirts and books up for auction later on, and we made sure we got a good look at the items to figure out which one we’d like to take home as a souvenir.
The auction itself proved to be a huge success, raising more than 1,200 GBP, and actually it was much more than just a charity evening accompanied by a Happy Hour at the bar – it was hilariously funny, thanks to the contributions of everyone, thanks to the presenting fairies JB, Arjen, and Bill, but especially thanks to “Queen Victoria” presiding over the event with unperturbed dignity. Laughter roared and ceased only to reignite again, and in the end even those who had not been successful in placing a winning bid looked quite cheerful (which might as well have been due to the fact that Bill publicly and quite impressively answered the question about what Scotsmen wear under their kilt).
After the auction it was dinner time, and later we discovered to our surprise that the landscape outside looked strangely familiar. Indeed, due to a great amount of ice on our intended route, the Captain had decided rather to take the ship around the South Orkneys. So here we were, sailing in beautifully calm conditions with huge tabular icebergs in soft evening light, and penguins posing on smaller floes – what a finish to this incredible day …