OTL26-18, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation, Ushuaia

Embarkation, Ushuaia
Date: 03.01.2018
Position: 54°48.6‘S, 068°18.0‘W
Wind: N 4
Air Temperature: +13

At the end of the world (fin del mundo in Spanish), in colourful Ushuaia, we boarded Ortelius around 4pm. Soon we were checked in by Hotel Manager DJ and his assistant Sava, and the friendly hotel team showed us our cabins. In the free time afterwards, we unpacked and settled in. Lovely to know that we don’t have to change ‘hotel’ again until we’re back in Ushuaia! We then began exploring our new home; perhaps the most important place to find was the Bar on Deck 6, where coffee/tea can be accessed 24/7 and where Barman Rolando can often be found if we fancy something stronger. We also learned how to quickly and efficiently make our way to the outside decks – it’s good to know how to get out there in case whales and other wildlife are around. At 5 pm we were summoned by Expedition Leader Cheryl to a mandatory briefing in the Lecture Room on Deck 3. She welcomed us on board and introduced Third Officer Warren who gave an all-important Safety Briefing and Lifeboat Drill. Now we were aware of what we should do if we see a fire or man overboard, and knew precisely what to grab and where to go in the event of the ship’s general alarm going off. Soon after, we put our newly acquired knowledge to the test: Seven short and one long blast called us (warmly dressed) to the Bar, the muster station. Once we were all there, the ‘abandon ship’ signal was sounded. Filing outside in orderly fashion and gathering next to the lifeboats completed the drill; we were then free to continue our explorations of the ship, or come out on deck to watch Ortelius’ departure from Ushuaia. We waved our goodbyes and headed down the Beagle Channel towards the open ocean. Before dinner we again gathered in the Lounge/Bar on Deck 6 in order to meet key crew/staff and learn about ship routine during our voyage. Hotel Manager DJ imparted useful information about mealtimes, Internet/Webmail access and treating the toilets nicely. He was followed by Expedition Leader Cheryl, who introduced Captain Mika – the person who would get us there and back again safely – and then handed over to her team of staff for self-introductions. We raised a glass of bubbly (or orange juice) to the success of our voyage and then it was time for our first dinner aboard. After dinner Dr. Tom was available in the ship’s hospital to hand out seasickness medication and valuable advice. A stroll on deck, a cup of tea or something stronger, and then most of us fell into bed after a busy and exciting day – hoping to be fast asleep before the rocking and rolling would begin.

Day 2: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Antarctica

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Antarctica
Date: 04.01.2018
Position: 56°41.9’S, 066°26.8’W
Wind: NE 7
Air Temperature: +8

The night passed peacefully, no storm, and we were all well rested when the wake-up call came at 07.30. Some blue sky and a moderate breeze greeted us. Several species of seabirds followed and circled the ship. Breakfast was served at 08.00 followed at 09.30 by a call to the Lecture Room. There we collected our rubber boots, were given a zodiac life vest and shown how to wear it. At 10.30 Wen Haikun gave his presentation about Chinese Antarctic Research and Development. The weather was good and we had a ‘following sea’ which helped to speed up our journey. Lunch was served at 12.30 but there was no time for sleeping afterwards! At 14.00 Zong Tong Chang revealed his techniques for improving our photography in Antarctica. At the same time Sandra gave us her presentation – in English – regarding Antarctic photography skills. There was more to come because we have 30 kayakers on board! Our Kayak instructor Louise gave her instructions regarding the operation of these boats especially in the ice. We saw Storm petrels, Giant petrels, Antarctic prions and, as hoped for, Wandering albatrosses appeared close to the ship. They circled around, passed us by and moved from port to starboard with hardly a wingbeat. They are supreme gliders, easily able to circumnavigate the globe using only the wind and updraft from the waves. Mick invited us to his lecture at 17.00; Seabirds of the Drake Passage and Antarctica. How quickly the day passed with all of these activities! At 18.30 we had our first briefing and recap in the Bar. This covered the next day’s activities, and Kurtis explained how the Antarctic Convergence would change our experiences in the next 24 hours. After dinner we could choose to see the BBC film ‘Frozen Planet’ or have an early night. Following this long and interesting day many folks choose an early night!

Day 3: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Antarctica

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Antarctica
Date: 05.01.2018
Position: 61°22.5’S, 066°59.9’W
Wind: SSE 8
Air Temperature: +2

Today, the Drake Passage had once again been very kind to us; the swell was small and the winds fair, as an added bonus the sun came out for most of the afternoon putting some warmth into the gentle breeze. The day started out for some of us outside behind the bar testing out the fit of the kayaks getting ever more prepared to dip a paddle in the icy Antarctic waters. Everyone was in the lounge, on the bridge or outside most of the morning enjoying the wheeling wandering albatross passing close to the ship. We tore ourselves away to join Peter downstairs and Sandra upstairs with their introduction to Antarctica talks to get prepared for the sights and sounds we were going to get. After a delicious lunch, Cheryl and Jerry gave us our marching orders, an IAATO briefing to help us make sure we are taking as good of care as possible of this place we were about to visit. For those who stepped out on deck or up to the bridge after the briefing, they would have glimpsed our two first icebergs on the horizon, great castles of ice towering over the waves, glistening in the sunshine. These bergs were just in time to head downstairs to the lecture room to meet with Kurtis to find out where these icy giants come from, how glaciers are formed and what happens to the ocean around Antarctica every year. All in all, a busy day getting ourselves prepared for our visit to the white continent, not entirely sure of what to expect…

Day 4: Antarctic Circle & Crystal Sound

Antarctic Circle & Crystal Sound
Date: 06.01.2018
Position: 66°01.5’S, 067°24.9’W
Wind: SW 8
Air Temperature: +1

The day began in Antarctica! Suddenly we were in the ice; icebergs, sea ice, and the snow-covered mountains rising out of the sea like the Himalayas. Bright sunshine, clear blue skies and a stiff breeze also greeted us. Humpback whales, Crabeater seals, one Leopard seal, Snow petrels and other species of Antarctic wildlife were seen. Tabular bergs along with smaller bergs were in our path so the navigation required total concentration and constant changes of course. Our Captain Mika and his officers steered Ortelius through the icefield with great skill and determination. All over the ship we positioned ourselves and then changed position to get better views. The ship’s speed was reduced because of the ice but this was to be expected and it was a great experience to go where few ships would dare to go! Following lunch and exactly on time we crossed the Antarctic Circle at 13.30. Neptune paid us a visit and joined in the celebrations on deck. Many photographs were taken as we marked this special geographic boundary in glorious sunshine. Giant icebergs surrounded Ortelius and the atmosphere was electric, exciting and very humorous. By 15.30 our great Captain Mika had us close to shore and our zodiacs were in the water. We were split into two groups, one cruising and the other landing at the Detaille base. On shore we were able to see the British Antarctic Survey building which was abandoned in 1959. It was in effect a museum. We saw how life was here 60 years ago; not very comfortable! The zodiac cruise took us around the massive icebergs and around the island itself. We saw Adelie penguins leaving and arriving at the shore. Crabeater seals were also present on the ice. The kayakers enjoyed the good weather and they too had a chance to get onshore. Dinner was delayed but, as always, the hotel staff were there for us ever smiling and helpful. A wonderful day spent below the Antarctic circle, a very special day indeed.

Day 5: Penola Strait & Pleneau Island

Penola Strait & Pleneau Island
Date: 07.01.2018
Position: 65°14.0’S, 065°40.6’W
Wind: NE 6
Air Temperature: +2

All through the night Ortelius had made her way northwards again. The morning dawned grey, with muted colours, cool and serene. Time and again Humpback whales could be seen. Low-lying islands and large icebergs formed the perfect backdrop for whale blows and fluking. At 10.00, our Expedition Leader Cheryl made us familiar with the plans for today; if conditions remained favourable, tonight would be the first opportunity for those daring enough to go camping in Antarctica! Afterwards Kurtis explained in his recap why the Antarctic Circle is located at 66° 33’ South. Mick followed with his lecture on penguins; it was absolutely great to learn more about these equally adorable and fascinating animals. As we turned into French Passage mid-morning and later on reached Penola Strait, we inched ever closer to the icebergs in between which Humpback whales appeared here and there. A myriad of forms; small tabulars, flat floes, a pinnacle, blue ice, ice with holes, beautifully sculpted by the waves … In the background, steep blackish mountains towered over the ice-choked waters. Just before lunch, everyone interested in camping attended the Camping Briefing held by Iggy and Jerry. Curiously we eyed the big waterproof bags with the sleeping kit and listened to the explanations of how this was supposed to happen. During lunch, we mused whether we would be game or rather prefer our comfortable beds and bunks on the ship … Soon it was time to get dressed for action: This time group B was first to board the zodiacs and go ashore at Pleneau Island while group A went cruising the icebergs. It is for a reason that the place is called Iceberg Alley – and what an alley it is! The cameras clicked continuously as we found every berg wonderful to look at and different from its neighbours. On several of the floes Crabeater seals were resting, sometimes in numbers, and penguins were porpoising, sticking their heads out of the water or splashing around cleaning themselves. It was a magical place, one in which even Ortelius was dwarfed by the huge rock walls decorated with hanging glaciers. Halfway through the excursion the groups were swapped; on the landing, there were several colonies of Gentoo penguins delighting us with their sights and sounds. Way too soon it was time to head back to the ship for dinner before the 22 campers set out to experience the Antarctic night. Each equipped with their sleeping kit, they made their way into the zodiacs and were taken to Hovgaard Island where Iggy and Sandra were waiting for them. Those who stayed on board wondered: What stories would the adventurers tell upon their return?

Day 6: Lemaire Channel, Port Lockroy & Neumayer Channel

Lemaire Channel, Port Lockroy & Neumayer Channel
Date: 08.01.2018
Position: 64°55.6’S, 063°40.3’W
Wind: NE 4
Air Temperature: +5

The day started early – very early, and even earlier for some of us: The campers had their wake-up call at 04.30 when it was time for them to – after a night to remember – pack their sleeping gear, to fill in the snow holes they had dug out and to take the first pictures of the day before the zodiacs arrived to take the adventurers back to the ship. On board, the wake-up call sounded at 06.00: Ortelius was about to make her way into famous Lemaire Channel. The meteorological conditions could not have been any better: sunny, absolutely calm without wind, and the snow shining from all over the mountains… Everyone was beaming with happiness! And so, we made our way through the narrow, very photogenic passage between the Antarctic Peninsula and Booth Island towering on starboard and port respectively, feeling very tiny in a landscape too big to grasp. Our journey took us to Port Lockroy where half of us first visited Base “A” located in Goudier Island. The Port Lockroy team had come on board before our landing and introduced the site. The small, low-lying rocky isle is designated as Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty and is operated by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust as a living museum. Additionally, it has a post office and a gift shop – two very important facts! Many postcards were sent, many a souvenir bought, and plenty of photos taken. Group B went to neighbouring Jougla Point first where we found ourselves surrounded by nesting Gentoo penguins. We could see the chicks being fed by their parents, and it was highly entertaining to watch the birds leaving for the sea and birds returning to their colonies via well-trodden penguin highways. Some of the penguins passed just a couple of meters in front of us. There was even a single Chinstrap penguin making new Gentoo friends. The whale bones on shore hinted towards the dimension of the cetaceans, and the magnificent landscape made us feel even smaller: Snow cornices, glaciers and extensive, steep and highly crevassed snowfields surround the harbour – an unforgettable landscape. At halfway point we swapped, a quick zodiac dash brought us to the other side. It was unbelievably lovely just to bask in the sun and take Antarctica all in – difficult to imagine what this place must look like in adverse weather. Speaking of which, we got a glimpse of this in the afternoon. The sun was out but the wind had picked up considerably, and by the time we had come around into Dorian Bay (Damoy Point) the wind was gusting and pushing ice towards the shore. We sat and watched in suspense hoping for the weather to improve. One zodiac was lowered, then a few more, and the guides set out to assess the conditions. Finally, Expedition Leader Cheryl and Captain Mika decided to abandon operations – the wind was too strong, and the ice had blocked the way to the landing site. We continued sailing in beautiful Neumayer Channel with stunning landscape on either side; however, the wind did not calm down so we enjoyed the views from the Bridge and the Lounge. Later in the evening some Humpback whales decided to treat us to their show which much to our delight took place close to Ortelius and involved waving flippers, fluking and general frolicking.

Day 7: Orne Harbour, Wilhelmina Bay & Foyn Harbour

Orne Harbour, Wilhelmina Bay & Foyn Harbour
Date: 09.01.2018
Position: 64°37.9’S, 062°32.5’W
Wind: NNE 7
Air Temperature: +2

Yesterday we had learned how quickly the weather can change in Antarctica. Today already in the morning it looked like we might have to add another chapter to our story, weatherwise. We woke up to a grey soup outside our windows: It was foggy yet windy, and apparently there was precipitation of sorts. As Ortelius turned into Orne Harbour, instead of the expected shelter we were greeted by even more wind and very low visibility; in addition, ice had amassed close to shore coincidentally just where we had wanted to land. With winds gusting more than 50 kts, there was no chance to launch the zodiacs anyway. Upon stepping outside into the sleet, we were able to feel the power of the wind and the chill it brought about. Plan B came into play: We left windy Gerlache Strait behind and snuck around the corner into Wilhelmina Bay, favourite feeding grounds of whales. Very slowly the visibility increased, just enough to make out icebergs – and whales! For a while we watched two Humpbacks coming close to the ship, passing just underneath the bow. The smaller of the two whales seemed to be in a playful mood doing artistic manoeuvres ending in quite some splashing. Approaching Foyn Harbour, today’s meteorological rollercoaster ride took yet another turn: into flat calm waters with reduced visibility and snowflakes tumbling from the skies. It was hard to impossible to tell where we were but at least we were an hour ahead of schedule. When the call for a zodiac cruise came, some of us were slightly sceptical but curiosity won. No regrets: Only a few minutes out we met a feeding Humpback whale not at all bothered by our presence. It just kept on doing what it was doing, and we – as well as the kayaking group – got to spend a wonderful time with the huge cetacean and some Kelp gulls trying to take advantage of the whale’s hunt for krill, the latter frantically jumping out of the water only to be picked up by a beak instead of collected by baleen. While it was snowing heavily we continued to the wreck of Governoren, an old factory ship from the whaling era that caught fire and was sunk in 1916. Apart from this wreck, several other remains from the whaling era could be seen, such as some water boats and mooring pins in the rocks. Cold but excited we returned to the ship. At recap, Cheryl laid out tomorrow’s plans and Kurtis lifted the secret of why ice is blue. Dinner was special and perfectly fitting the special day: BBQ with drinks on the house!

Day 8: King George Island: Maxwell Bay

King George Island: Maxwell Bay
Date: 10.01.2018
Position: 62°13.1’S, 058°54.0’W
Wind: NW 6
Air Temperature: +3

Overnight we had made our way across the Bransfield Strait from the Antarctic Peninsula towards the South Shetland Islands. We woke near the shores of Maxwell Bay at King George Island, though we couldn’t see anything for the thick fog reducing our visibility to less than half a mile. The officers on the bridge, straining to see anything around us, moved the ship into position and dropped the anchor. Just ahead of us and out of sight was Great Wall, the Chinese scientific station. We lowered the gangways and took most of our group to shore here; the zodiacs navigating with GPS and help from the radar on the bridge. On shore we received a warm greeting from the Station Commander and were able to have a look around, seeing some of the station’s facilities, many of us posing by the enormous bell. Meanwhile the rest of the group headed over to the next bay and visited the Russian Bellingshausen station. First, we made our way up to the little Orthodox Church, quite an impressive sight in this location. We found it snug but warm and cozy inside and marveled at the golden décor and the colorful icons. Afterwards, there was still time to have a look in the tiny souvenir shop or chat with some of the station personnel before we returned to Ortelius. Back onboard and with our bellies full of lunch, the ship made its way out of the shelter of the south Shetland Islands and we began to feel the movement of the ship once again, this time with a bit more vigour; a sign that our crossing back to South America might not be as calm as our first crossing …

Day 9: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia
Date: 11.01.2018
Position: 60°32.4’S, 061°09.9’W
Wind: W 9
Air Temperature: +3

In the night the ship had rocked and rolled with the significant swells, bouncing and pitching along. Some of us did not get much sleep and the day was a rather quiet one, starting slow with most people taking to their cabins either to tend to their seasickness or to make up for lost sleep. Few people were at meals. The Bridge was a good place to be to keep an eye on the horizon as well as watch out for the occasional big wave breaking over Ortelius’ bow or the lonely seabird seemingly enjoying the conditions. After breakfast, Louise lectured about Early Whaling History and some of her family history in Antarctica. While the low ceiling of clouds with intermittent mist and fog banks kept on rolling through, the conditions eased somewhat in the afternoon when Kurtis gave his talk on Southern Oceanography, followed by Mick who shared part two of his penguin lecture (“Penguin Summer”) with us. At Recap, we learned about the Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius – and that we’d probably better have an early night: On our journey north to Ushuaia, according to the forecast, wind and swell were to pick up again during the night.

Day 10: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia
Date: 12.01.2018
Position: 56°51.6’S, 064°46.4’W
Wind: W 8
Air Temperature: +6

After a night with less ship’s movement than expected, we woke to grey seas and grey skies. The wind had increased, and every now and then, spray came flying across the bow and up to the Bridge windows. After breakfast, we gathered in the Lounge to hear Louise tell the incredible story of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. Despite losing their ship to the ice and then living on the ice for almost a year, Shackleton managed to bring back all of his 28 men alive. All during the day, we came closer and closer to infamous Cape Horn. The sun had come out, and it was a beautiful summer day except for the wind sending spray flying from the wavetops. Two Hourglass dolphins paid Ortelius a brief visit, dashing here and there causing much excitement. After lunch, the Expedition Team showed the short movie “Rounding Cape Horn”, an impressive insight to what it felt like rounding the cape in a square-rigged sailing ship of old. This adventure was followed by another one: settling our ship’s accounts. Deck by deck we were called to reception to pay for what we had spent in the bar and the souvenir shop. At the same time, the Expedition Team called for collecting the rubber boots that had served us so well, and the zodiac lifejackets. Hesitatingly, we handed them in – it meant that our journey was now truly coming to an end. But still there was time, and still there was the final farewell by the team and Captain Mika. At Captain’s Cocktails an hour before our final dinner on board, we recalled our voyage all the way down to the Antarctic Circle, then along the Antarctic Peninsula to some of the most stunning places we had ever seen. What an experience it had been!

Day 11: Ushuaia

Date: 13.01.2018
Position: 54°49.0‘S, 068°17.0‘W

All good things come to an end, 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 it off the ship for us. After one last breakfast 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 on an exciting and successful trip all the way to the Antarctic Circle and to some of the most spectacular places of the Antarctic Peninsula, and all of us had many memories (and photos!) of wildlife and stunning scenery during our days at sea, Zodiac-cruising activities and shore landings. Finally, we handed in the keys to our cabins, picked up our luggage from the pier, said goodbye to Ortelius and the team and made our way into Ushuaia or to the airport for our onward journeys. Maybe we’ll meet again somewhere, some day! Thank you all for such a great voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be! Total Distance Sailed: 1.869 Nautical Miles On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Mika Appel, Expedition Leader Cheryl Randall, Hotel Manager Dejan Nikolic and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

Have you been on this voyage?