OTL27-23, trip log, Ross Sea

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation day, Ushuaia

Embarkation day, Ushuaia
Date: 14.01.2023
Position: 54°48.6’S / 68°17.8’W
Wind: Var 1-2
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

The day had finally come: it was time to board Ortelius for our expedition trip to the Ross Sea! It was a beautiful day when we arrived at the port in Ushuaia with the sun shining and a gentle breeze of wind. The Expedition Team and Hotel Staff had helpfully brought our luggage aboard and taken it to our cabins earlier in the day, so all that remained was for us to do was head up the gangway to reception to get our cabin key. We could barely contain our excitement!

We were warmly welcomed by all the crew and staff who assisted us in finding our cabins. We had a little time to explore the ship and get our bearings prior to the mandatory ship safety briefing from expedition Leader Christian and Chief Officer Mikael. We were given all the information we needed such as moving safely around the ship, the things we could and could not do, and how to put on our emergency life jackets. It was then time for an abandon ship drill so after hearing the seven short and one long blast of the ship’s horn we went to our cabins, got our lifejackets, and went to our muster stations (either the restaurant or bar). Then we were led to our lifeboats so we would know where to go in case of a real emergency.

After this Hotel Manager Stephen gave a welcome briefing, helping to explain how life would be on the ship over the coming days.

It was then time to join Captain Mika Appel in the bar to raise a glass in celebration of the voyage ahead. Cheers everyone! Ortelius left the port and got under way, beginning our journey along the Beagle Channel. Then it was time for our first evening meal onboard, with a delicious buffet selection provided by Chef Heinz and his galley team served by our friendly dining room staff. After dinner we were given our Muck boots which we would use for going ashore later in our trip.

Following dinner we had time to head out onto the open decks to enjoy the stunning scenery and look out for wildlife. The light was amazing with sunbeams streaming through the clouds over the mountains on our Starboard side. We saw our first Black-browed Albatrosses, Magellanic Penguins, Giant Petrels, Chilean Skua and South American Terns. After a long day of travel for most of us it was then time for bed to get some rest before the first day of the infamous Drake Passage tomorrow.

Day 2: At sea, Drake Passage

At sea, Drake Passage
Date: 15.01.2023
Position: 56°00.7’S / 65°33.2’W
Wind: W4
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

Waking up after the first night leaving Ushuaia is always a tentative thing. Is it rough? Do I have my sea legs yet? Will I be OK to eat breakfast? Start by lying in bed for a few moments to gauge the rolling of the ship before braving the new experience of walking, or better even, showering in a completely moving environment. Fortunately, despite Expedition Leader (EL) Christian’s warnings yesterday of 4-5 meter swells for us today, the sea was mercifully gentle with us. Those swells were merely 2-3 meter high for the most part and with the angle they hit the ship, they produced a gentle roll with a nice easy-going feel. It’s true that not everyone felt that things were so easy, but breakfast was well attended as the day started cloudy and grey, but bright. Observers on the bridge kept a keen eye out for the seabirds of the Drake Passage and were rewarded with a small but steady parade of Black-browed Albatrosses, Southern Royal Albatrosses, Giant Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. We even spotted a couple groups of Dolphins!

The day started with us just even with Cape Horn, though we were a bit too far to the east for us to see the famous landmark. Nevertheless, that meant we were well and truly on our way into the Drake. Steady but surely, rolling lazily as we ploughed through the swells, we proceeded south by southeast all morning. Later in the morning, Expedition Guide Simon initiated our extensive lecture series by telling us about many of the birds that we could hope to encounter on our voyage south. With lovely photos of most species, he described them and let us in on many of their secrets so we could appreciate their lives out on the open ocean. We had a short time in the early afternoon after lunch when the swell increased and threatened to add a bit too much ‘excitement’ to an otherwise lazy day, but that only lasted for a short while.

As the day rolled on, there were more sightings and the sky opened for a bit of rain. It seemed that the sea got bigger, but it had very little effect on us tucked safely inside on our faithful vessel, Ortelius. In the afternoon, Historian Stephen added to our education with a broad summary of many expeditions for the exploration and discovery of Antarctica. First as expeditions of the mind with the early Greeks reasoning that there must be a southern continent to balance the earth, right up through to the Heroic Age of Discovery. Mostly whetting our appetite for more in depth talks to come later in out voyage. A few lucky individuals spotted a couple of groups of Hourglass Dolphins cruising past before it was time to gather again in the lounge for our recap.

Once he had been through the forecast and expectations of the voyage for the next day or so, EL Christian explained the origin of nautical miles and knots, while Assistant Expedition Leader (AEL) Sara inventively used a piece of string to demonstrate the wingspans of many of the birds we’d learned about and observed earlier in the day (such as the Southern Royal Albatross (pictured right). It was remarkable to see how large they really are when it seems from the bridge that they are just tiny things over the great wide ocean! Finally, Guide Simon enumerated some of the many references available to us in the ship’s bookcase to learn even more about the wildlife of Antarctica before we were called to another wonderful dinner. As we headed off to bed in the evening, many were probably contemplating crossing the Antarctic Convergence in the night. Tomorrow we will wake within the biological boundary of Antarctica!

Day 3: At sea, Drake Passage

At sea, Drake Passage
Date: 16.01.2023
Position: 60°29.6’S / 63°01.2’W
Wind: WNW 6
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

On the open, limitless ocean, where time is meaningless and the horizon is always out of reach, there is nothing to mark one’s progress save the occasional and unexpected cry of a bird, splash of a dolphin, or spout of a whale.” Simon Cook, himself…

Last night we were rocked to sleep by the waves and this morning we were rocked awake! The sea was still as rough as yesterday but at least, early in the morning, there was a cloudless sky. One or two rain showers passed the ship and during one of them there was a beautiful rainbow. There were few birds seen before breakfast though; some Prions and Blue Petrels, a single Black-browed Albatross and our first Black-bellied Storm Petrel.

Expedition Leader Christian’s 7:45am wake-up call was followed by delicious buffet breakfast. After that, at 9:30am, Expedition Guide Hazel talked about the whales and dolphins that we might see during our adventure, telling us what to look out for and how to identify different species. Later that morning there was a combined mandatory briefing regarding how we should conduct ourselves during our time in Antarctica from IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) and Zodiac operations. Then it was time for lunch. In the afternoon it was time for us to go through biosecurity checks to ensure we would not introduce any unwelcome plant or animal matter to Antarctica. We meticulously inspected our pockets, boot treads and velcro with the help of the Expedition Team, armed with vacuum cleaners! After cleaning our gear, we enjoyed Assistant Expedition Leader Sara’s lecture about penguins, perhaps most people’s favourite Antarctic inhabitants.

As the afternoon went on the sea got calmer and more birds appeared; well over 1,000 Blue Petrels, for example! Expedition Guide Simon got very excited when he saw his favourite species, the Light-mantled Albatross (pictured above). In fact, there was not just one but five, including one with a very pale body. They spent at least thirty minutes flying up and down the starboard side of the ship, thus providing us with superb views and photographic opportunities. In the evening Daily Recap gave us information about tomorrow and some short topics of interest, followed by dinner. The day’s action wasn’t over yet though; we needed our helicopters!

In the Boyd Strait we saw the first of several icebergs, Fin Whales, Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins and a distant Deception Island: an active volcano. Turning around the southern end of Snow Island, we saw the Chilean ship, Betanzos, which was waiting with our helicopters. It seemed to take forever for us to get closer but eventually the ‘copters (expertly flown by the pilots and accompanied by their engineers) arrived to much cheering and relief from us all! Two of them were stowed away in the hangar whilst the other was securely strapped down on the heli-deck. Now it really felt as if our Ross Sea adventure was underway! And so to bed (or to the bar…!)

Day 4: Bluff Island/Murray Harbour, Gerlache Strait

Bluff Island/Murray Harbour, Gerlache Strait
Date: 17.01.2023
Position: 63°38.0’S / 61°16.0’W
Wind: WNW6
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

The previous evening, we had had the excitement of approaching our first snow-capped masses of rock in the Antarctic seascape: the South Shetland Islands and, more pertinently, the leeward shelter of Snow Island. Here Ortelius had a rendezvous with Betanzos, mothership to the three helicopters chartered to transform our visit to the South in so many ways. The aircraft, together with six personnel, finally completed manoeuvres just after 02:00hrs. It had been a long night for those involved!

The natural elements decided to go into overdrive during the night. We awoke to a 40-knot wind and a rolling sea. Some of us began to feel the effects of motion, but the vast majority managed to head for the restaurant to enjoy breakfast. Following our first meal of the day, as the ship progressed to the head of the Gerlache Strait, passing Trinity Island (to the east) and Hoseason Island (to the west), we were treated to an excellent illustrated lecture by Expedition Guide Vide in the bar on the trials and tribulations of the Swedish Antarctic Expedition (1901-4). It was good to learn about this lesser-known expedition of the ‘’Heroic Age’ and to discover that the Swedes invented the art of ship crushing, well ahead of the debacle of Shackleton’s Endurance in 1916 when she sank 3008m to the seabed of the north Weddell Sea! That the durable Swedes of Antarctic survived the mission, in all its complexities, is noteworthy.

With the distant coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula ever to our port/ east side a magnificent vista tempted the keenest photographers to brave the razor-sharp wind and lumpy sea to record the scene al fresco.

And then came the afternoon, and what a wonderful afternoon it was! The wind dropped, the sun shone, and the Zodiacs were cruising kings. Ortelius dropped anchor in the stunning surrounds of Murray Harbour. Ten eager groups of guests took to their Zodiacs and off we went. Keeping in close contact (as this was virgin territory for us) we headed for the icy shoreline and were rewarded with two hours of pure Mother Nature magic. The icebergs glistened in beautiful bluey hues; the Kelp Gulls screeched their warnings: ‘stay away from our nesting sites’! Gentoo Penguins porpoised playfully in the wake of at least one of the lucky zodiacs, a pair of Chinstrap Penguins struggled up a steep snowy slope, Weddell Seals slumbered on their pebbly beds and Antarctic Shags darted through the skies, missile-like, on a mission to return to their nests to feed their hungry chicks. Two hours in this Antarctic paradise just flew by. Everyone was buzzing; it was good to be out in the fresh air and active after three days at sea. As we headed for the warmth and safety of Ortelius, we were in awe. The ship looked resplendent, anchored and content in her icy surroundings. It was time for a hot drink and a hot shower to nurture our bodies back into life.

In the evening, as if the day’s events hadn’t been wonderful enough, just after the evening recap we were all treated to the marvelous spectacle of Humpback Whales bubble-net feeding right next to the ship! We were grateful that the hotel department delayed dinner by half an hour to enable us to take in this unbelievable encounter with these hungry ocean giants. It was such a privilege to witness these beautiful creatures and hear their powerful, loud exhalations as they surfaced! A great finale to a truly fantastic day.

Day 5: Crossing the Antarctic Circle

Crossing the Antarctic Circle
Date: 18.01.2023
Position: 65°10.4’S / 65°44.7’W
Wind: N6
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

After last night’s ‘Windy’ briefing we were all prepared for a rough night; hatches were battened, port holes shut tight, and gear lashed. Upon exiting the Gerlache Strait we did encounter stronger winds and larger swells but coming from astern, so the morning arrived with relatively comfortable conditions for most. Christian kicked off the day with the 0745 wake-up call. This was a sea-day en route from the Antarctic Peninsula towards Peter I Øy, some two to three days sail and a crossing of the Bellingshausen Sea.

We were kept thoroughly entertained by a sighting of Light-mantled and Grey-headed Albatross, a detailed account of the British Graham Land Expedition of 1934-37 from Stephen, Gary telling ‘The Truth about Skuas’ and Simon sharing Vintage Antarctic Ships he has known and loved along with some nice photos of his wedding location on another expedition cruise ship!

The wind backed towards the west during the day causing the swell to build on the beam. The resulting rolling of the ship made some of our crewmembers relieved for the small plaster behind their ear.

Fascinating recaps were given on the bubble-net feeding of Humpback Whales by Hazel and soaring techniques of Antarctic seabirds by Gary.

Day 6: Bellinghausen Sea

Bellinghausen Sea
Date: 19.01.2023
Position: 62°32.2’S / 72°48.8’W
Wind: NW10
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

Expedition Leader Christian had warned us that we might experience rough seas today and his predictions came true; strong North Westerly winds were blowing and even our reliable, steadfast Ortelius was rolling at the mercy of the Southern Ocean. Along with the strong winds and swell, we also had heavy rain and some snow!

Leisurely breakfast was followed by a lecture from Expedition Guide and glaciologist Peter who gave us a 101 in his area of expertise. We thoroughly enjoyed listening as he shared his knowledge with such evident passion and interest. He made a complex topic accessible and enjoyable and we left with a new understanding and appreciation for these immense, impressive rivers of ice.

This was followed at 11:15am by a photography presentation excellently delivered by Expedition Leader Christian in which he gave tips for all levels of photographers and highlighted the differences between photographs taken to provide a historical documentary of the voyage and those composed for purely creative aesthetic reasons. He enthused about his preference for photographs with a simplistic and uncluttered appearance, sharing fantastic images he had taken to illustrate his points, to great effect. Soon afterwards the announcement of buffet lunch had people eagerly queueing again to experience the dining delights conjured up by Head Chef Heinz and his galley team in the kitchen. Meals are a much talked about highlight of the Oceanwide Expeditions experience!

In the afternoon Expedition Guide Hazel gave a presentation in the bar about the cornerstone species of the Antarctic food web: Antarctic Krill. She did a great job at enthusing us about these creatures, explaining that they are not as small as many people think and why this is important in the context of trying to inspire people to care about and conserve them. She told us the story of a captive krill named Alan that lived for ten years before being lost down a drain and persuaded many of us to champion krill on our return to our own homes.

Wildlife highlights throughout the course of the day included Cape Petrel, Southern Fulmar, Blue Petrel, Giant Petrel and Black-browed Albatross. At 18:15 it was time to review the day and talk about plans for tomorrow, joining our Expedition Team in the bar for the recap. Assistant Expedition Leader Sara added entertainment with her short talk about superstitions at sea, such as not whistling or having bananas on board! Guide Vide brought things to a close by giving us details about wind scales at sea before we headed to the restaurant to enjoy our evening dining pleasures. Afterwards we headed to the bar to socialise with our fellow guests or retired to our cabins to get an early night.

Day 7: Bellinghausen Sea

Bellinghausen Sea
Date: 20.01.2023
Position: 69°09.8’S / 80°22.1’W
Wind: NW5
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: 0

After a somewhat roly-poly night we woke to quickly calming seas; not calm, but not rough either. The clocks changed last night so we enjoyed an extra hour in bed this morning. After another delicious breakfast at 08:00am we headed to the lecture room for our mandatory helicopter briefing. This took the form of an informative presentation from Expedition Leader Christian accompanied by a video from the DAP company, who provided us with the helicopters for this special voyage and, vitally, the incredibly skilled pilots and engineers! Everyone was comfortably able to attend, which was a testament to the fact we were progressing as sturdy Southern Ocean seafarers and finding our sea legs.

With our newfound knowledge about how to safely behave around the helicopters it was time to put our newfound training to use with a ‘dry run’ for the helicopter operations. There was plenty of time so that everyone, in their allotted groups, could assemble in the bar area (aka the departure lounge!) Guided by the Expedition Team and DAP helicopter pilots and engineers everything ran smoothly for this practice exercise as we went through the motions that we hoped to perform for real once we reached Peter 1 Island. From adjusting our life jackets to safely approaching and getting into the helicopters and fastening our seatbelts once we had taken our seats and then returning to the bar (also functioning then as the arrivals lounge), we went through everything and felt reassured about what we would have to do. You could definitely feel the excitement building in anticipation for the following day when we would get to do it all for real!

In the afternoon, whilst historian guest lecturer Steve gave an excellent lecture on his favourite Antarctic Explorer, Shackleton, the Expedition Team were busy readying the equipment and plan for the following day; lots to do.

The waters around us continued to deliver with many Albatross sightings and more than a few magnificent icebergs streaming by. Another enjoyable day at sea and another clock change meaning we’d get an extra hour in bed tomorrow morning! Yippee!

Day 8: Peter I Island

Peter I Island
Date: 21.01.2023
Position: 68°45.6’S / 90°25.2’W
Wind: SE3-4
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -2

The Bellingshausen Sea let us know that we were in a part of the world where the seabirds and marine mammals are the kings and queens. As we woke this morning after our calmest sleep since leaving the Antarctic Peninsula there was an air of excitement and expectation clearly reverberating around our trusty ship about what the day would bring. Would we add to the one thousand or so people that have ever landed on this most remote of Islands Peter I.

Hours before our breakfast call the decks were well attended as Peter I Island loomed in front of us all glaciers, ice and sheer cliffs. Lars Christensen peak (an extinct volcano rising to 1755m) was ringed with low clouds and the occasional light snow fall added to the dramatic landscape awaiting exploration. It is 202 years to the day that the great Russian explorer Bellingshausen discovered this island and named it after Czar Peter I although it was over one hundred years later that anyone made a landing along its inhospitable coastline.

With conditions favourable the first scout helicopter headed off with the mountain team of Tim, Peter and Chris who along with Christian our Expedition leader were out to survey the land searching for landing options in this ever-changing icy landscape. Excitement hit fever pitch when the call came through that we were to attempt operations. As we lined up to board the helicopters it seemed like the wildlife around this rarely visited area was as interested in the ship as we were in it. Weddell, Crabeater and a Leopard Seal were spotted next to the ship over the course of the morning all visibly interested to what this huge piece of steel with funny looking penguins aboard was.

Humpback Whales fed and dived showing their flukes all morning as helicopter operation went into full swing and some Chinstrap Penguins porpoised briefly past in the distance. Our amazing Chilean pilots (Marcelo, Federico and Hugo) expertly manoeuvred their craft along ice cliffs and glaciers with surrounding icebergs and rock stacks also getting a flyby. The cherry on top was the landing along a smooth part of a glacier on the northside of Peter I Island. Knowing that we were standing on an island so rarely visited, even in this modern age, brought home what Christian our Expedition Leader has been saying all along: this trip would be a true expedition in every sense of the word.

After an awesome lunch by our very talented chefs, we continued our exploration of Peter I Island from the comfort of Ortelius with a ship’s cruise in the surrounding waters passing icebergs of all shapes and sizes, spotting more Humpback Whales and our first sighting of Snow Petrels for this trip. Our parting gift from Peter I Island as set sail east was an iceberg with six Chinstrap Penguins.

Just as we thought our day was concluding with us all relaxing in the dining room finishing dessert the call came from the bridge: Killer Whales on the Port side bow! The restaurant cleared very quickly as everyone donned their warm gear and headed out on the open decks. With the sun low on the horizon creating beautiful evening light and the pod of Killer Whales (Orcas) travelling alongside the ship, we had to pinch ourselves that we had fitted so much into only one incredible day!

Day 9: Southern Ocean (heading towards the Amundsen Sea)

Southern Ocean (heading towards the Amundsen Sea)
Date: 22.01.2023
Position: 68°56.6’S / 98°24.4’W
Wind: W4
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -2

What a beautiful morning to wake up to with the sun streaming in through the porthole. The sea was calm and looking out we were surrounded by a swarm of massive icebergs, shining like beacons with the morning sun reflecting off them. A quick run up to the bridge and through the early part of the morning we basked in the bright sun and spotted two Antarctic Minke Whales and a Fin Whale, as well as a squadron of Southern Fulmars wheeling around the ship. As the morning progressed, we went from blinding sun to cloudy to horizontal blowing snow flurries and back again several times, but it seemed that the sun kept returning as well.

Eventually in mid-morning, Vide gave us a run down on the origin and intent of the Antarctic treaty. He gave a great account of the treaty itself and several of its articles, perhaps the most important for us being the Madrid Environmental protocols that enumerate how we should act around wildlife, puts in place regulations against spoiling the environment and sets out regulations regarding mining for minerals, coal, oil, and gas. Everything seems to be safe, at least until 2041 when the consultative parties must renegotiate the treaty.

After Vide’s talk, it was back out on the decks again. The parade of icebergs never abated for the entire day; one guest counted the ones in view at one point and logged over one-hundred and fifty-five bergs in view at once! As the day went on, it just seemed to get better. We had our lovely lunch, of course, but with so many and such varied icebergs, most were spending lots of time on the bridge or the bow or the top deck just to marvel at the scenery gliding past…oh and to take a few hundred photos!

The afternoon talk was given by Sara on photography tips. She entertained us with scores of her beautiful photos whilst also informing us of the best strategies for getting the most from our cameras; good advice that everyone can use to improve their photos on the trip. Evening seemed to come quickly after this fantastic talk as we gathered for our evening recap. Questions from the question box included where the name penguin comes from and why the French use ‘manchot’ for these birds and the name penguin for another bird entirely in the north? The name penguin probably came into use by Northern sailors to describe species in the arctic. Perhaps it came from the Welsh words ‘Pen’ meaning white and ‘Gwyn’ meaning head. None of the Antarctic penguins have white faces, but the Great Auk in the North (long extinct) did, so perhaps that is true? Others suggest that the word ‘pinquinis’ is essentially Latin for fat, which penguins have a lot of! Regardless of actual origin, it’s clear that the sailors that came South and were the first Europeans to see a penguin, mistook them for similar (but unrelated) birds they were familiar with from the North. Eventually the term penguin came to mean only the ones we are familiar with in the Southern hemisphere.

Hazel reminded us of the differences among the different orca ecotypes and concluded that the group we saw last night was a pod of at least five Type A orcas. They seemed to be a group consisting of two large males, one juvenile/immature and one adult female. The fifth member of the group may have been an immature male or a female, it was difficult to say for sure. Gary then introduced us to a bit about icebergs, to be finished tomorrow.

Dinner was called and once again we made our way to the dining room for another fine meal. Afterwards, we retired to the bar to get drinks and have our first ‘Story time’. Gary told a few tales of leopard seal observations and encounters; we discovered that they are large, impressive and potentially dangerous! A few hardy passengers remained, hard-core to the end, and returned outside to get just a few more photos. You never know what might happen; out on the deck you might just get the opportunity to take that perfect shot before heading to bed!

Day 10: Antarctic Sea Ice

Antarctic Sea Ice
Date: 23.01.2023
Position: 69°49.8’S / 107°24.2’W
Wind: SW1
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -1

“WAKE UP! WAKE UP! IT’S A LOVELY DAY!” or words to that effect when the ‘bing-bong’ went off at 05.15am. Yawnnn…

Once outside, we were greeted by a dream-like scene: the sea was like a glassy mirror, there was ice around, the sky was blue and sunny and there wasn’t a breath of wind in the air. The captain slowed the ship as we approached the open drift ice, which gave us a chance to take in the beauty of our surroundings. Soon we were spotting Crabeater Seals on some of the larger pieces of ice, much of which was obviously melting fast so was quite rotten. Here and there large icebergs stood above the sea ice, glistening in the sunshine. The best place to be was out on deck and in the sunshine it was very warn, unlike the areas in shade, which were noticeably colder. There were not many birds to be seen but the most numerous species was Snow Petrel; a few terns, which may have been Arctic Terns, were just too far away to identify.

Christian announced surprise number two on the PA – there would be a zodiac cruise amongst the ice at just after 09.00! Conditions were perfect for an outing and there was just time for a quick breakfast before we were in the boats and away! Seals had already been spotted from the ship and they remained on the ice for the duration of our outing. The majority were the mis-named Crabeater Seal, which don’t eat crabs at all but krill. Like most ‘crabbies’, these animals were not bothered by seeing people, perhaps for the first time ever! Some had noticeable scars, often said to be the result of attacks by Leopard Seals. Lots of time was spent admiring and photographing these seals, the commonest large mammal on the planet. On one of the seal floes was a single Adèlie Penguin. Not far away there was a solitary, reptilian-like Leopard Seal. It too allowed very close views, which revealed the differences between the two species. There were two other species of note too, besides the ‘common’ Snow Petrels, a krill or two and our Ice Pilot. He had abandoned his post on the bridge to go for his first-ever zodiac cruise in the Amundsen Sea!

After lunch there was a presentation by Simon about baleen whales. Luckily, it was shorter than normal so when Vide announced Killer Whales (orcas) those people who weren’t still sleeping in their seats were already out on deck! The sea was flat calm again and was studded with ice floes and icebergs. The whales were intent on travelling so while they didn’t approach the ship, as some do, we nevertheless had very good views. They were type ‘A’s’ again and the group of thirteen included at least one calf, which stayed very close to its mother. One of the staff tried to point out Snow Petrels and a Giant-Petrel visible at the same time as the orcas, but no-one seemed to notice them… In all, this encounter with the largest member of the dolphin family lasted for just over one hour. Extraordinary! Then it was time for another presentation, a fascinating one from Sara and Chief Engineer Guntis about our ship, Ortelius. The information meeting was followed by dinner, which in turn was followed by the first part of a filum about the Borchgrevink expedition.

Day 11: Amundsen Sea

Amundsen Sea
Date: 24.01.2023
Position: 68°02.5’S / 113°37.9’W
Wind: N1
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: 0

After the Zodiacal fun of yesterday today was bound to be more ‘grounded’ - and so it was. A day at sea was our fare, spiced up a little with a gentle swell and a full “Abandon ship’’ drill.

A peek into the lifeboats proved enlightening if not a tad frightening. The thought of having to bob about like a cork in the middle of the Southern Ocean with 50 other folks crammed inside a giant hollow plastic jellybean is not a great prospect!

Three lectures delivered during the day demonstrated the breadth and variety of expertise onboard M/V Ortelius. It’s one of the key features of this tour. Ice formation, Shackleton’s Endurance expedition and Antarctic seals were all covered and those who attended appeared to appreciate the information imparted by the experts.

Given our position well out to sea, Simon (our permanent wildlife lookout fixture on the Bridge) predicted that sightings might be limited and so it proved. However, that didn’t stop the occasional sighting of distant Antarctic Minke Whale and regular darting displays of Snow Petrels, Antarctic Petrels and molting blue petrels. The Snow Petrels were a sure sign that the Ross Sea cannot be too far away.

During the evening the Staff gathered in the bar for a round of drinks courtesy of our esteemed Expedition Leader Christian and Chris showed everyone gathered (including the guests) one of his videos made whilst serving at Scott Base (NZ) for two austral seasons. We were shown the shenanigans of seasoned divers carrying out research under the ice sheet at Cape Evans; they were researching the effects of marine life under variable seasonal snow and ice cover conditions. It was all fascinating stuff!

One thing is for sure, even long sea days can be busy onboard with lectures, chatter and regular, excellent, meals. As for the snow showers and grey skyscape outside, it’s nothing to be anxious about: we have our cozy expedition ship!

Day 12: Amundsen Sea

Amundsen Sea
Date: 25.01.2023
Position: 62°12.5’S / 123°50.0’W
Wind: NE7
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: 0

After Expedition Leader Christian’s 07:45am announcement we woke to the return of some slightly friskier wind and sea conditions and an increase in the ship’s motion. We had had many days of moving our clocks back and getting extra hours in bed by now, getting used to twenty-five hour days now and it’s going to be a shock to the system when we stop getting a free lie-in every morning! In the morning Stephen delighted us with his presentation about the Nimrod Expedition of 1907-09 followed by Simon taking a chunk out of the subject of the toothed cetaceans. Buffet lunch was, as usual, an excellent spread which we enjoyed in the main restaurant, as Hotel Manager Stephen would jokingly say, on Deck 4.

In the afternoon Expedition Guide Chris took us on a tour of his time at New Zealand’s Antarctic Scott Base in the afternoon with a super-cool collection of photos and videos. Afternoon cake was perfectly timed to coincide with his fantastic talk. The evening recap followed later with a screening of part two of the Carsten Borchgrevink Expedition series in the lecture room after dinner.

As well as a Fin Whale and a Light Mantled Albatross, the most notable wildlife sighting today was that of a Mottled Petrel, a new addition to our list!

Day 13: Amundsen Sea

Amundsen Sea
Date: 26.01.2023
Position: 69°11.6’S / 133°28.7’W
Wind: NE2
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -1

Our journey towards McMurdo Sound continued today with the rocking and rolling of the ship from yesterday slowly abating. The ice bergs were of noticeably different sizes and shapes today; rather than the tall, pointed bergs, or the high commanding table-topped tabular bergs, today we had much smaller flat bergs with rounded edges, only protruding out of the water by 5-10m. In the morning we learned all about Adèlie Penguins from Expedition Guide Gary, based on his fieldwork researching this species as a behavioral ecologist. Later in the morning glaciologist Pete shared stories and pictures from his time wintering over at Rothera Station with the British Antarctic Survey. In the afternoon the normal lecture program was replaced with a pub style quiz by Sara followed by a very popular happy hour in the bar as we celebrated Australia day with our Australian friends onboard!

Looking outside, the sky was grey for much of the day and the visibility came and went throughout. However, there was excitement all round as the bridge team turned the ship’s bow directly south, aimed at a 40km gap between the sea ice that would allow us to head south towards the Ross Ice Shelf. We had been eyeing this gap for days, keeping up to date with its development courtesy ice reports from EL Christian at our daily recaps. During the afternoon the remains of the broken-up sea ice were drifting past, now just small, hollowed out chunks, spread across the swells. This caused us little resistance and the ship passed through the icy sections at full speed for a couple of hours. As we exited the icy waters the swell dropped away to almost nothing and in the evening the ship slid southwards on an almost perfectly calm sea.

At the end of a very delicious meal, we wished our helicopter pilot Federico Happy Birthday (or should we say Cumpleaños Feliz!) He celebrated with a huge birthday cake, complete with a helicopter expertly drawn in icing by our wonderful baker Joel, that was sheared around the dining room. Then it was back to the bar for story time with Vida followed by a fantastic night of karaoke with the crew, staff and guests with many revealing their hidden singing talents over a diverse playlist of songs!

Day 14: Approaching the Ross Sea

Approaching the Ross Sea
Date: 27.01.2023
Position: 72°50.8’S / 141°32.3’W
Wind: N2
Weather: Clear skies
Air Temperature: 0

When we awoke to a nearly cloudless clear sky and calm seas, Expedition Leader Christian urged us all to head out on deck. We were glad to enjoy some fresh air out on deck first thing this morning to enjoy the glorious conditions. Ice bergs floated as we continued slowly but surely on our journey south and we hoped the day would yield some animal sightings too. As we headed down to breakfast some members of the Expedition Team kept watch from the bridge.

After breakfast, Hazel’s excellent talk on humankind’s relationship with cetaceans (whales and dolphins) entitled ‘From Worship to Whaling’ was postponed for forty-five minutes or so while we sailed past a broken ice flow in anticipation of bird and animal sightings; we were not disappointed! Our first group of Adèlie Penguins were sighted as well as a few distant seals, some of which we could identify as Crabeater Seals. At least one Emperor Penguin was sighted but was difficult to point out as it was well hidden among the lumpy blocks of ice within the flow. As we moved on towards more open waters we headed indoors to warm up with a hot drink while listening to Hazel’s lecture. Brilliant white Snow Petrels, the elegant ‘little doves’ of Antarctica, visited us sparsely through the day as more huge tabular icebergs slowly glided past. Overall though, the ice was sparse, and the waters remained open and calm. In the afternoon Expedition Guide Vide gave a very in-depth lecture on Norwegian Polar Explorer Roald Admundsen’s journey to the South Pole, which had passengers talking well through to tea and cake time.

Expedition Leader Christian led our evening recap at 18:15pm. This was informative as ever, and exciting too, as we were given details concerning our approach the Ross Sea. There was great anticipation of our crossing of the date line which would cause us to ‘lose’ the 28th of January, meaning tomorrow we would jump ahead to the 29th of January. Hot debate ensued regarding the specifics of the location of the date line; close, but not necessarily on, the 180° longitudinal line! After dinner the lecture room filled again as the third part of Carsten Borchgrevink’s Expedition epic adventure was screened.

Day 15: Entering the Ross Sea

Entering the Ross Sea
Date: 29.01.2023
Position: 75°42.8’S / 154°32.3’W
Wind: N2
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: 0

Note: January 28th 2023 is omitted as we crossed the international date line

Once again King Neptune was smiling upon our ship as we woke to calm seas off King Edward VII Land. There was a flurry of bird life pre-breakfast with Antarctic Petrels, Snow Petrels, Giant Petrels and even a Wilson’s Storm Petrel seen from the bridge. As we headed down for breakfast a couple of Antarctic Minke Whales also appeared but disappeared just as fast!

After another awesome breakfast, thanks to Heinz and his team of chefs, a call from the bridge came over the tanoy: “Adèlie Penguins on an ice floe coming up”! Jackets were donned and cameras grabbed as we headed to the outer decks to view our penguin friends. A light snow was falling as Stephen started his talk on the Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition Ross Sea party. We learned that the expedition was plagued by problems from the start and that Shackleton failed in some ways to brief and outfit the men in the Ross Sea properly. It was interesting to hear about what was happening in the Ross Sea as we have all heard loads about what was going on in the Weddell Sea with the famous sinking of SY Endurance.

Sara’s lecture on women in Antarctic showed how times have changed down on the southern continent. Before lunch, as our ship crossed over the continental shelf where waters went from over 3km deep to 500m, more Adèlie Penguins started to appear on ice floes.

After lunch our helicopter pilots and engineers gave an eagerly awaited talk and question and answer session about flying in Antarctica and Patagonia. Not only were we left in total awe of their skills, but also excited about more flying opportunities to come! During the evening recap we learned about Sara’s amazing Antarctic marathon then we headed to the restaurant for a buffet dinner it was time to head to the bar to hear about our mountain guide Tim’s ascent of the highest peak in Antarctica, Mt Vinson. Before bed one more walk on deck was in order as the sun dipped a little lower in the sky and the sea became glassy calm.

Day 16: Ross Ice Shelf, Cape Crozier and McMurdo Sound

Ross Ice Shelf, Cape Crozier and McMurdo Sound
Date: 30.01.2023
Position: 77°02.2’S / 172°20.8’W
Wind: W6
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -2

“He who talks only of himself is less interesting, by far, than he who doesn’t.” Simon Cook

This morning we were, at last, in the Ross Sea! The sea itself was very calm but unlike previous days there was no ice at all to be seen. What could be seen were birds. The most unusual were two Mottled Petrels, a very long way south for this New Zealand-breeding species. The most obvious species was Snow Petrel (pictured left) with a maximum of sixty together in the late morning. Our resident ornithologist had never-before seen so many, so well, for so long! Other species seen during the day included Antarctic Petrel, Southern Giant-Petrel, South Polar Skua and two Antarctic Minke Whales.

Late afternoon was eagerly anticipated by many of us as it was when we crossed from the western to the eastern hemisphere! Inside the ship there were some very interesting things happening, including sumptuous meals in the main dining room, ding-a-ling! Gary kicked off with a fascinating talk about the life of Emperor Penguins, Christian surprised us with a fabulous presentation about Hjalmar Johansen and Hazel entertained us with a fantastic wildlife bingo! After dinner the final part of the Borchgrevink mini-saga was shown.

Day 17: Off the Ross Ice Shelf

Off the Ross Ice Shelf
Date: 31.01.2023
Position: 77°23.1’S / 169°55.0’E
Wind: SSW3
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -4

Finally, there was ice to be seen – and lots of it! After so many days ploughing westward through the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas we arrived at the iconic Ross Ice Shelf (or Barrier) in the wee hours of the morning. Our glorious leader woke us from our slumber at 04:00am and suggested we take a peek to our port-side. Through the early morning mist, the unmistakable marbled white cliffs of the largest ice shelf on the continent looked back at us. We heard the unmistakable sound of waves lapping at the foot of the Barrier. We felt the sting of the icy southerly winds on our faces.

There was only one word for it: majestic! This was not only to be the highlight of our day, it is the stuff of history. In these ice-fringed places our heroes lurked in yesteryear, seeking a landing place to launch their legacy.

Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen all attempted to nestle here but only the Norwegian succeeded. Rupert England, captain of Shackleton’s Nimrod, panicked here, but there was no panic onboard MV Ortelius, quite the opposite. Considered expectation that our skilful pilots would once again produce their magic for us reigned, and they did.

The exploratory team took to the air and landed to establish a safe zone on the ice, followed soon by the whole complement of guests. The scenic flights were every bit as fabulous as those we had enjoyed at Peter 1 Island! The sight of an endless, flat expanse of ice stretching forever southward, spilling around the base of Mount Terror like an incoming tide, was unforgettable.

The richness of the local wildlife was no less exciting with Orcas (Killer Whales) and Antarctic Minke Whales vying for superiority in numbers and seals and penguins aplenty. And to top it all, we all stood on the hallowed polar ‘turf’. We made our own little bit of history. Our footprints will soon be erased by the icy polar winds, but the memory will prevail.

Following a slightly delayed lunch our floating home continued its journey, taking us ever onward to the ‘promised land’ of McMurdo Sound, gateway to the historic huts, Dry Valleys and more besides. As we cruised towards Cape Crozier and then Cape Bird through the afternoon and early evening we were treated to what can only be described as a Jamboree of wildlife - both at sea and in the air. To add to this grand finale was an almost dipping golden sun with its shimmering displays over the increasing icefields. The end to a truly perfect day!

Day 18: The Dry Valleys

The Dry Valleys
Date: 01.02.2023
Position: 77°22.3’S / 164°59.6’E
Wind: N3
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -5

The eagerly awaited Dry Valleys were heralded with an 06:30 wake-up call. The helicopter flight into Taylor Valley was just incredible with extensive sea ice, many seals, two Piedmont glaciers, patterned ground, remote field camps and other-worldly scenery. At the landing site a looping route took in aged mummified Crabeater Seals, the ice front, and a very windy ridge with stunning views over the whole valley and the mountains and glaciers above. The eagle-eyed spotted vulnerable mosses and freshwater algae but nobody could find any Tardigrades.

Having had far too much fun locating micro crevasses on the ice shelf, Tim and Pete were ‘grounded’ on the ship for the morning. At the request of the captain, they amused themselves by tying the Ortelius to an ice floe to allow those still onboard to take a stroll on the ice.

Two groups were able to make the most of the opportunity before the scaffold pole anchors proved to be inadequate for the task. Strolls were temporarily suspended due to the ship and the floe nearly parting ways. Mooring lines were re-set and excursions resumed for the remaining guests and crew.

The abrupt appearance of four Emperor Penguins on our floe caused huge excitement and sea-ice protocols were momentarily flexed to allow people to experience a genuine, once-in-a-lifetime, wildlife encounter. Almost as many photos were taken of the penguins as of Tim and Pete trying not to hit each other with a sledgehammer. A Minke Whale and a Leopard Seal also added to the excitement.

The last helicopter was able to overfly Cape Royds and Cape Evans to scout the sites for tomorrow’s landing opportunities. After casting off the mooring lines Judd, Chris and Pete enjoyed a brief voyage on our well-trodden ice floe before being retrieved by the ship. With so much excitement and a long day of operations there was no time for a recap, but after dinner we assembled for a briefing about how we should behave in and around the historical huts and the ASPAs.

Day 19: Cape Royds and Cape Evans

Cape Royds and Cape Evans
Date: 02.02.2023
Position: 77°32.5’S / 166°04.2’E
Wind: SE2
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -6

McMurdo Sound is a haven for wildlife. Ever since we arrived, there had been sightings of whales, seals, penguins, and birds. This morning was no exception with a large pod of Type C Orcas, aka Ross Sea ecotype (pictured right) were seen close to the ship very early on - a kind of hors d’ oeuvres for the day to come.

For those interested in polar history and Ernest Shackleton’s foray South as leader of the British Antarctic Expedition (1907-9), this morning’s trip to Cape Royds (by helicopter transfer) afforded the remarkable opportunity to visit the small, prefabricated hut built by the Boss’s men. The hut served as a somewhat cosy (58sqm,) expedition base for two austral winters. Shackleton understood the hut was rather small for the fifteen men who would occupy it, but it was easier to keep warm. It was visited by some of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s men in 1911 and by members of the Ross Sea Shore party in 1914 – scavenging for supplies of soap and tobacco. Between 2004-2008 a major programme of conservation and restoration of the building’s fabric (including over 6,000 artefacts) was carried out by the Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ). Cape Royds is home to a moderate-size colony of Adèlie Penguins, about 3000 in full season. Our visit was a little after the main breeding session had finished with, perhaps, about 1000 penguins still resident along with the usual preying flock of Skuas.

Late in the afternoon, despite a freshening wind and early blizzard, the Team headed by Zodiac from Ortelius to Cape Evans to prepare a visit for the guests to Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s base hut (more a house!) erected in just 9 days (January 1911).

From here Scott, eventually, headed for the South Pole with Edward Wilson, ‘Birdie’ Bowers, ‘Titus’ Oates and Edgar Evans. They never returned. In 2016 the Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ) completed a comprehensive scheme of conservation and restoration, continuing the efforts of others in the past – not least a group of visiting American scientists who dug snow out of the hut in 1957 and found the building in ‘remarkably good condition’. Despite its generous size, the seaweed insulation in the man walls and super-efficient stoves appear to have provided adequate heating during the bitter austral winters. Scott stated that they found their accommodation ‘too warm’ sometimes. Given the exposed and glaciated location of the hut this is hard to believe!

The geographical backdrop to Cape Royds and Cape Evans is the magnificent snow-clad (still active) volcano: Mount Erebus. It was on full display today in the sunshine and clear blue skies. This mountain is an iconic landmark and was/is the ‘nearly home’ signpost to many returning expeditions, both ancient and modern.

This was a long but very rewarding day for everyone, guests and staff alike.

Day 20: Heading towards the Borchgrevink Coastline

Heading towards the Borchgrevink Coastline
Date: 03.02.2023
Position: 77°09.1’S / 168°46.9’E
Wind: S12
Weather: Cloudy and snowing
Air Temperature: -5

After such a full day of activities yesterday we took advantage of a more leisurely day at sea with a slightly later wake-up call and breakfast as we left the final sea ice of McMurdo sound behind us and set our bearings North towards Cape Adare. The outer decks were cloaked in a flurry of soft snow which had fallen overnight.

A gentle swell and ice-free seas made for a smooth sailing as we gathered in the bar at 10:30am for a recap of the previous day’s adventures. We all enjoyed photographs, explanations and anecdotes about our time visiting the huts and enjoying the wildlife of Ross Island. Yes, we really had seen and done all that!

Everyone seemed very contented to enjoy the passing seas and the lack of any marine wildlife sightings was almost welcome as it meant Gary’s afternoon lecture with stories of his wintering over at an Australian Antarctic station and his studies of the Emperor penguins there went uninterrupted. As ever, he provided not only fascinating information but also kept us entertained with his brilliant, comical storytelling.

Still buzzing from all our Ross Island adventures, that evening we filled cups with popcorn and headed to the lounge for movie night. A well-received rest day while looking North and admiring the mountainous Borchgrevink coast.

Day 21: Possession Islands

Possession Islands
Date: 04.02.2023
Position: 73°18.4’S / 172°15.9’E
Wind: SW5
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -3

We woke to way less wind and swell then the previous day which suits us well as yesterday was a day at sea. The plan today was to attempt a zodiac cruise at the Possession Islands after an early dinner.

The morning was filled up a lecture about Captain Scott and his teams push to the south pole, as we were still quite a way off the Victoria Land coastline trying to miss the pack ice. Some Antarctic Minke Whales were spotted close to the ship at various times.

As the day continued conditions improved with blue skies over the Borchgrevink Coast on our port side, and even Mount Minto at 4162m was visible in all its glory. Lunch was once again a culinary delight as we keenly watched the sea and wind conditions, wondering if we would be able to get off the ship and into zodiacs after an early dinner.

As we neared the Possession Islands the ice increased and with it the wildlife. Adèlie Penguins shared space with Crabeater Seals on ice floes as the good ship Ortelius pushed her way through past Bull and Foyn Islands towards our goal Possession Island (the most northerly of the Possession Islands).

After an early dinner the zodiac cruise was on! Dressed warmly we headed out, first to explore Kristensen Rocks archways and then on to Dickeson Pillar and the southern coast of Possession Island. The sight, sound and smell of thousands of Adèlie Penguins hit us first followed by good sightings of a Leopard Seal cruising around looking for its next meal. Adèlie Penguins and ice covered the beach while a small swell kept our zodiac drivers on their toes.

The ice was moving in so we made tracks to push through the band coming in between us and the ship. Some zodiacs took longer than others to push through the ice which was moving at around 3 knots to the north. More Leopards Seals were spotted as was a Weddell Seal, which didn’t even wake up as we cruised past. A large iceberg was the final ‘hurrah’ as we headed back to the warmth of the ship for a hot chocolate!

Day 22: Cape Adare

Cape Adare
Date: 05.02.2023
Position: 77°09.1’S / 168°46.9’E
Wind: S12
Weather: Cloudy and snowing
Air Temperature: -5

After the excitement of last night’s pack ice odyssey, the bar was hopping until very late! So, it was just as well we had a normal wake up time this morning. During breakfast, Christian and Captain were busy conferring over the shoreline of Cape Adare, deciding just how, or even if, we would be going ashore. It was shortly after breakfast that we were called to prepare. First the scout boat, in this case more of a staff boat, headed out to verify what we were able to spot from the ship: there was an opening in the ice fortifications at the beach and the swell, though not insignificant, was easily dealt with. We were on for landing! Hooray!

Shortly after 09:00am, the call was out for everyone to get ready to go to shore. This time there was lots of time and lots of space to roam. The big bonus of the remains of the Borchgrevink expedition drew everyone off the ship and on to shore for a long excursion.

What a day! The Zodiac operation was smooth and steady so, before we knew it, the entire ship’s complement was on shore. For some, the hut was the big draw while others just wanted time with the penguins. The hut was clearly in worse condition than the ones at Cape Royds and Cape Evans, and to top it off it was nearly empty. Most of the remains of objects from the hut had been extracted by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust for restoration. On top of that, they have installed a water tank shelter adjacent to the double Borchgrevink hut. But how wonderful it was that the Adélie Penguins were nesting all around the hut, even inside some of the wooden boxes. Despite the lack of artefacts inside the huts, they were a stark testament to the first wintering on the Antarctic continent. Along with those huts, the collapsed remains of the hut from Scott’s Northern Party was there to add to the heritage clutter.

Spending time with the penguins was a particular privilege. The Adélie Penguin colony at Cape Adare was last counted to contain 340,000 pairs of penguins. It was astonishing to see the size of the area it covers and the amazing height the penguins climb to. The best fun of all was to simply watch the wonderful chicks: they were in all stages of molting, from nearly still covered with their charcoal grey fluffy down, to sporting judges’ wigs or mohawks! They were running around flapping their flippers and begging for food from every adult they saw. Of course, the adults just ran away and so starts the chase! Thousands of the molting juveniles had already made their way to the beach and a good few of those were either learning to swim or standing on small offshore chunks of ice. Alert observers spotted several Leopard Seals cruising the shallows with occasional hunting success with the young, inexperienced penguins.

It was a particular pleasure to see that our Captain, who considers Borchgrevink one of the unsung heroes of Antarctica, came ashore to visit the hut on his last chance to do so. Suffice to say that gigabytes of photos and videos were collected on the day. We even pushed lunch back to 14:00pm to allow us all the time we wanted on shore. As we returned, we had another new experience: loading the Zodiacs form the stern as the swell had increased a little. Nonetheless, without incident we returned to the ship for a late lunch and a quiet afternoon of downloading, editing and napping.

We had a busy recap talking about the huts, the penguins and the place, before a yummy indoor barbecue capped off the day!

Day 23: Robertson Bay

Robertson Bay
Date: 06.02.2023
Position: 71°32.5’S / 170°09.2’E
Wind: S8
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -3

In the exciting but unpredictable world of expedition cruising nothing is certain until it has happened.” Simon Cook, again…

Having spent last night in Robertson Bay, to the south of Cape Adare, we were woken very early by Christian about our hoped-for and now-confirmed helicopter operation. The sky was cloudy there was a fair breeze blowing and the tops of distant mountains glowed in the early morning sunshine; almost beckoning us into the air. There were several icebergs floating around, snowy cliffs and a high ridge were to our west and there were high peaks and large glaciers to the south and west of us.

The first of us to be ready were up in the airport disembarkation lounge (i.e. the bar!) shortly before 06:00am, when we took off for our scenic flight. For the next 6 hours the helicopters came and went and, since there was time, there were fewer people per flight, thus ensuring that those in the back both had window seats. Having empty middle seats was a bonus for some of our hard-working crew friends and for some of them it was their first-ever flight in a helicopter! And it was worth it, for everyone! These flights were totally unlike all others, as our photographs and videos showed.

The route from the ship took us to the west, over and then up a huge, crevassed glacier, then down to the junction with another glacier, up and down that one and then over and around a huge ice tongue, which extended several miles out to sea. It was then a short flight back to the ship and a hearty breakfast, for the early risers.

On the first flight brief views were had of something very special indeed: Arnoux’s Beaked Whale! This rarely seen 9m/30’ species is, according to the books, widespread in the Southern Ocean and around Antarctica but it is, in fact, very rarely seen. Later flights saw twenty or more of these whales in a close-knit pod; their characteristic bushy spouts were seen very clearly. Other wildlife seen from the first flight included Adèlie Penguins and ten South Polar Skuas that were high up on a glacier, perhaps at a pool of water on the ice.

After another splendid ding-a-ling dining experience in the main dining room there was time to relax for a while, before Gary’s superb and outstanding presentation on Emperor Penguins. During the latter part of the helicopter operation the wind speed had increased to over 40 knots and it was because of a forecast for even stronger winds that the ship remained in the Robertson Bay/Cape Adare area until early evening.

During the afternoon and through dinner a watch was kept on the bridge for the beaked whales, but the only sighting was of some distant spouts at just after 18:00. Surprisingly, the most numerous bird seen off Cape Adare was not our little penguin friends but Wilson’s Storm-petrel, of which many were observed. Off to the east was the cape’s penguin colony and the hut on the beach could just be made out. As we sailed away from the coast the distant mountains in the Admiralty Range were bathed in sunshine and silhouetted icebergs added to the beauty of the colours in the sky and the clouds. Wildlife continued to appear, in the form of Giant-Petrels, Crabeater Seals and Ross Sea Killer Whales (eco-type C). When the ship changed course she started to roll a little but our thoughts were more on the exceptional things that we had achieved in Antarctica and the adventures that lie ahead of us. Goodnight!

Day 24: In the Southern Ocean, heading North

In the Southern Ocean, heading North
Date: 07.02.2023
Position: 69°40.7’S / 172°01.1’E
Wind: SE9
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -2

Early this morning the ship quietly slid north, beyond the relative protection of Robertson Bay and into the open sea. This was to be our ‘Farewell to Antarctica’ moment. Many of us, despite the strong and freezing winds, took a last look at Cape Adare and the familiar triangular beach where we ‘played’ the day before. This is a place of important history, where men landed on Antarctic soil in 1899 and where a small team returned in 1911 in a bid to survey Robertson Bay and the coast/mountains westwards from Ridley Beach to Cape North. Both expeditions were thwarted by hurricane winds and uncertain sea ice.

And so, ‘Rock and Roll’ became the order of the day. A strong, gusty, SE wind pushed Ortelius forwards and sidewards. Predictably, there were quite a few empty seats at breakfast, However, attendances gradually improved throughout the day aided and abetted by lectures from Steve (Douglas Mawson and the Australian Antarctic Expedition 1911-14) and Hazel (Where to go Whale-Watching).

As per usual Simon kept almost constant watch from the Bridge with recorded sightings of Humpback Whales, a Crabeater Seal, and numerous birds. He even reported the near- sighting of a blue-ice ‘growler’ (timed to delay Steve’s lecture by a few minutes!).

Despite the challenging motion of the ship and a sea day without major thrills everyone on board seemed happy, still glowing from our stupendous scenic Heli- flights yesterday over the bay and Admiralty Massif.

After the evening meal many of us congregated in the lecture room on Deck 3 (the swell had reduced by then, a little). We watched a rather worrying documentary on the Ross Sea - truly ‘The Last Ocean’. It was reassuring to note the film was made 11 years ago and since then the Ross Sea has been designated a Marine Protected Area (MAP). Whether its fragile ecosystem can be fully safe from illegal activity is another matter, however.

We were on course and time to pass by the majestic Balleny Islands in the morrow – this will be an opportune tonic for the lengthy sea days that lie ahead as we head for Bluff (NZ) via Macquarie Island and Campbell Island…onwards!

Day 25: Balleny Islands

Balleny Islands
Date: 08.02.2023
Position: 62°01.8’S / 164°50.1’E
Wind: SE8
Weather: Snowing
Air Temperature: -3

They’re massive chonks!” Hazel Pittwood describing the dolphins in Wales.

Today was a sea day as we continued to sail north away from Cape Adare. Vide managed to finish his presentation on Lincoln Ellsworth just as the Balleny Islands hove into view. Everyone rushed to the Bridge to take photos through the open door, as the decks were covered in snow and ice. These were our last views of Antarctic Islands before crossing the Polar Circle at around 12:30pm.

Hazel and Sara gave a fascinating joint presentation about the threats facing the marine environment. Happy hour at 5pm in the Bar successfully loosened people up for the extremely lucrative Charity Auction in aid of the Antarctic Heritage Trust. Many items were up for bidding including a Tom Crean jumper, an authentically out of date box of special Captain Scott branded tea bags and the chance to steer the ship.

There were also various bird highlights today including Greater Snow, White-headed and Mottled Petrel and albatrosses; Black-browed, Light-mantled, Southern Royal, our first Campbell and our first Antipodean. At the Balleny Seamount the most obvious bird species was Sooty Shearwater, of which there were well over 1,000 birds. Tucked away amongst them was a slightly smaller relative, which only breeds in the mountains behind Kaikoura, NZ and is not known to come this far south: it was a vagrant Hutton’s Shearwater!

Day 26: Heading North

Heading North
Date: 09.02.2023
Position: 63°39.4’S / 160°29.8’E
Wind: E2
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: 0

For academic integrity, give me Steve, for scientific rigour, give me Gary but when all hope is gone get down on your knees and pray for Simon’s stories.” Anon… (aka Simon Cook)

Our course took us further North today. The swell increased slightly to 3-4 metres and the ship was rocking and rolling, reminding us that we are indeed in the Southern Ocean. However, for this part of the world we were lucky to have relatively settled weather throughout our voyage so far!

It is always comforting to know that the vessel is captained by an experienced captain especially while navigating the Antarctic and it has been an honour for us all to be a part of Captain Mika’s final voyage to this part of the world. Of course, we all had burning questions to ask him as well and Mika was kind enough to join us in the bar this morning to answer our queries about his incredible career. With our incredible run of successful landings there is no doubt that his final voyage to the south has been a huge success. He is very excited about returning to Finland and when asked what the first thing he would do when returning home, he replied simply… ‘Sauna’.

After a delicious buffet lunch, we joined Chris in the bar for a presentation about his unique upbringing growing up as a part of New Zealand’s remotest family. This was extremely well received, and many guests had lots of questions for Chris regarding, including everything from his schooling routine during his childhood in the wilderness to his dad’s incredible paintings and jade carvings.

Before we knew it, it was time for daily recap and dinner! What would tomorrow bring us?

Day 27: Following the Macquarie coastline

Following the Macquarie coastline
Date: 10.02.2023
Position: 58°39.8’S / 159°11.8’E
Wind: W7
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -3

Waking early, a lot of people saw their first sunrise in many weeks and could enjoy it out on deck in the mild temperatures we were experiencing. Another sea day heading north but lots to prepare for our next destination in the sub-Antarctic islands, Macquarie Island. Judd gave an excellent talk on the island’s history, flora and fauna which got everyone excited and reminded all to rest whilst we could before an exciting day at ‘Macca’ tomorrow!

Shortly after we, deck by deck, convened in the lounge for a deep-cleaning bio security session. Brushes, vacuum cleaners, paper clips and toothpicks were employed to get our gear spotless to ensure we were not transporting any non-native/potentially invasive plant matter or small furry animals!

In the afternoon Chris introduced us to Tawaki (aka Fiordland Crested), Erect Crested and Eastern Rockhopper penguins and the research his sister has done on these species, giving us yet more information in anticipation for wildlife sightings in the days to come.

After dinner, with the sun now setting and actual darkness happening outside, the whole ship prepared itself by covering all the windows and turning off all outside deck lights to try and mitigate bird strikes during the night. Some seabirds are drawn to the lights of ships, sometimes with fatal consequences, so this is an important measure to take to protect them.

Day 28: Macquarie Island

Macquarie Island
Date: 11.02.2023
Position: 54°41.8’S / 158°53.3’E
Wind: NNE2
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

Hurd Point (the southern point of Macquarie Island) loomed into view out of the early morning light before it was gobbled up by the fog. There was excitement in air as we approached offshore of Lusitania Bay, the site of our morning zodiac cruise. As we grabbed a quick breakfast the King Penguins found us. They were all around the ship in their hundreds, diving, porpoising and preening themselves, a truly incredible sight!

The zodiac cruise was in dense fog making us question if Macquarie Island (‘Macca’ as it’s known in Australia) had disappeared altogether! The moment we entered the zodiacs the King Penguins surrounded us! These curious penguins dived and played next to us making us wonder who was watching who in this magical encounter. Those with underwater cameras were able to get beautiful footage of these birds zooming around beneath the waves around us. Once all zodiacs had loaded, we all headed towards the shore full of expectations that an awesome morning was in store. We were right! As Macquarie Island reappeared so did the wildlife, and we even had some sunshine. Northern and Southern Giant Petrels both on the water and in the air watched on as we cruised down the coastline going from Elephant Seal haul out to groups of King Penguins to Royal Penguin rookeries.

As we came around Raine Point the sheer size of the King Penguin colony at Lusitania Bay took our breath away. Around 57,000 chicks were born last year in the colony with a conservative number of overall King Penguins being around 200,000. An amazing zodiac cruise ended with sights of some Eastern Rockhoppers and even a lone Gentoo Penguin.

After lunch we were on again to zodiac cruise from The Nuggets down to Brothers Point. The Royal Penguin colony at the Nuggets was vast, and watching these charismatic penguins brave the swell on the beach was a highlight. As we continued south we passed by more Elephant Seals as well as some Fur Seals, Kelp Gulls, and the endemic Macquarie Island Shag. The next Royal Penguin colony at Sandy Bay was just as impressive with Kings and Royals on the beach while Light Mantled Albatross cruised the cliff lines above us. At Brothers Point our cruise was finished off with the best Eastern Rockhopper views to date and as the fog once again dropped visibility to around 200m we headed back to the ship with memory cards full and smiles on our faces!

Recap set the scene for the next few days as we turned our attention to Campbell Island. After dinner there was a karaoke session in the bar to top off a truly fantastic day on this priceless subantarctic island.

Day 29: On route to Campbell Island

On route to Campbell Island
Date: 12.02.2023
Position: 53°50.5’S / 162°51.0’E
Wind: SE7
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +9

This morning the wake-up call came at the usual time for a sea day, but it was a bit different today. Guest Jenn had bought the privilege in the charity auction last week so some were expecting something quite different, at least different form the usual Good Morning form Christian! Well reports were there was a quiet noise on the PA then a bit of a giggle, then a very soft hardly audible. Good morning. Unfortunately, some technical gremlins got in the way! Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before breakfast and the start of the day. Meanwhile, Simon was already on the bridge for nearly an hour before any of that, and he’d already spotted a few Shearwaters (even one we hadn’t seen yet on our voyage; a Subantarctic shearwater) several White-headed Petrels, a Campbell Albatross and a few Prions.

After the late showing at Karaoke last night, there were a few bleary-eyed people with hoarse voices making use of the coffee in the bar this morning. All in all, a relaxed morning, but there was important business: Judd gave us a comprehensive description on Campbell Island, our target for tomorrow, and described some of the places we hoped go. Later, according to New Zealand biosecurity requirements, we vacuumed and cleaned all our gear…AGAIN!

Lunch was another highlight, after which Stephen ran a workshop to delve a bit more deeply into some Polar history topics. Meanwhile, we had a calm, lazy sea as we continued to make our progress toward Campbell Island. So lazy was the sea that we organized hot chocolate on the bow (with a little high-octane rum additive if you so desired!) It was a beautiful mild day out on the bow so we had our full group photo taken. A pod of around eight Hourglass Dolphins passed by, adding some marine mammal excitement to the afternoon! While everyone milled at the bow, guest Max was busy on the heli-deck getting his helicopter lesson from Hugo: another great auction purchase!

We then enjoyed a fun quiz led by Sara, followed by the evening recap. Christian briefed us on the weather and sea conditions and gave instructions for our activities tomorrow. Plan A would be to Zodiac cruise along the northern half of the east coast in the morning, then to take the ship into Perseverance Harbour for a nice long walk up to Mount Lyell Col to see nesting Royal Albatross. Gary added some information on the Yellow-eyed Penguin which we might see, and Simon talked about unusual penguin feather patterns and a particular unusual penguin from Macquarie Island yesterday. Christian also ended up with the first real discussion of the end of the trip. Just to make sure that everyone will be ready in a timely manner, he brought up the need for an Electronic Tourist Authority to enter New Zealand. So many things to take in, it was down to dinner we went and then back to cabins for some to prepare for a busy day tomorrow before an early night, or back up to the bar for a night cap before retiring, dreaming of fine weather and the rarest of all things for Campbell, blue sky.

Day 30: Campbell Island

Campbell Island
Date: 13.02.2023
Position: 52°32.3’S / 169°12.1’E
Wind: NE3
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +9

What a remarkable day it was! Thick fog at the north-east corner of the island prevented us from seeing the large colony of the endemic Campbell Albatross so the ship turned south, towards the entrance to Perseverance Harbour. Things didn’t look very auspicious here either, with visibility that was no better than before. However, after a hearty breakfast we set off in the zodiacs in search of the island! The first birds to be seen were Campbell Albatrosses, followed by Light-mantled Albatrosses and the first of many Sooty Shearwaters.

Land was finally sighted near the entrance to the harbour; cliffs, rocks, swirling kelp and breaking waves. There were one or two of the endemic Campbell Shags down near the water, whilst others were on ledges further along the cliffs. There were other large black-and-white birds on the rocks as well: penguins! Rather than the expected species (rockhopper & yellow-eyed) they turned out to be rare visitors from New Zealand’s Bounty and Antipodes islands: Erect-crested Penguins! There were others along the shoreline, about 10 in all and they had the look of birds that had come ashore to moult their feathers. A group of Eastern Rockhopper Penguins also put in an appearance.

The cliffs above us were very high and looked volcanic in origin, judging by the different strata and colours. The vegetation was wonderful and lush too, with some of the mega-herb plant species growing on the nearby slopes. Nearer the water there were two species of marine mammal, New Zealand Fur Seal and New Zealand (Hooker’s) Sea Lion. The latter were easier to see so most boats got very good views of females, a few massive males and some very cute pups.

Clumsy on land, they were in their element in the water, as some of us saw as they swirled around the boats. The fog did lift slightly while we were out and provided a chance to see chicks of guide Simon’s favourite bird, Light-mantled Albatross. With the visibility increasing we realised that there were lots of them flying along the cliffs and four chicks were spotted, one of which watched a parent land, got a big meal from it and then watched the adult leave. What a sight! Out on the open water just offshore there were more birds to be seen; Wilson’s Storm-petrel and hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters. Many of the shearwaters were on the water and, with a cautious approach, could be seen very well. Perhaps the bird highlight for us was the New Zealand Pipit, a very common bird on Campbell Island.

Lunch was eaten very quickly because we were out in the boats again to land on the island in the early afternoon. It was a short ride to the boat ‘slipway’, which had certainly seen much better days. Sara welcomed us ashore and after depositing our lifejackets we set off up the hill on a quest to see nesting Southern Royal Albatrosses. Those of us in the first few boats were lucky enough to see another endemic species, the flightless Campbell Teal. This small duck was exactly the same colour as the rocks and seaweed so was not easy to spot when it was still. After dropping off our lifejackets we set off up the hill in search of albatrosses, something that would take a good hour at a steady pace with no stops. The higher we went, the wetter we got because the fog/cloud was billowing up the slopes from down below. Our route took us up through the tatty station buildings and very tall bushes, some of which almost blocked the narrow pathway. The boardwalk was not very wide, but it was nice and solid; without it any progress upwards would have been nearly impossible.

Not many birds were seen apart from a single Silvereye, a few Redpolls and numerous ridiculously tame pipits. The very very lucky few managed a real ornithological scoop by seeing the virtually unknown Campbell Snipe! They are cryptically camouflaged and creep about (normally!) in dense vegetation so are easily missed. A lot further on and much higher up, we finally arrived at the nesting albatrosses, scattered amongst the tussock grass. In addition to at least four that were sitting on nests there were four others on the ground and many more in the air above us. They were a fantastic sight and made the long walk well worthwhile. By late afternoon the cloud had lifted so we finally got good views of the surrounding countryside. All too soon it was time to descend the hill, return to the landing place and get back home. Ortelius left Perseverance harbour in the hope that the albatross colony on the north-east corner would be visible but it was not. However, to end the day, many birds were seen from the ship as we headed towards Auckland Island.

Day 31: Off Enderby Island (Auckland Islands, New Zealand)

Off Enderby Island (Auckland Islands, New Zealand)
Date: 14.02.2023
Position: 50°52.9’S / 167°00.8’E
Wind: N5
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +12

Yesterday had been a day of action on Campbell Island, not least the 7km hike for most of us to the high point along the narrow boardwalk, cloaked in mist, in the afternoon. This was our first exercise for many weeks apart from some of our more athletic passengers who had somehow maintained a regime of daily deck-walking since Ushuaia or aerobics in the lecture room. Many of us slept well last night and, feeling rested, excitedly anticipated what today might bring.

The new day (which happened to be Valentine’s Day) started with a leisurely breakfast followed by an extended recap, looking back at the events of Campbell Island yesterday and very much looking forward to zodiac cruising off Enderby Island (one of the Auckland Islands) after Judd’s fantastic summary of the history, flora and fauna of this beautiful place.

Before lunch, Sara and Christian presented a lecture regarding Oceanwide Expedition’s other itineraries offered in the South (Antarctica, South Georgia, The Falklands) the Atlantic Odyssey and the North (Svalbard, Greenland and more) giving us much to ponder and dream about for future travels!

Straight after lunch it was ‘action stations’: time to take to the zodiacs for a fabulous, almost balmy, cruise off the south (leeward) coast of Enderby Island, boasting beautiful Sandy Bay which was host to a large group of New Zealand (Hooker) Sea Lions. The rare and endemic Auckland Teal duck was present but not obliging; they were within caves, remaining well hidden from view, and as a result not everyone succeeded in sighing one. A small raft of Rockhopper Penguins were seen offshore but the highlight of the day was surely seeing half a dozen much sought after Yellow-eyed Penguin (another rare and endemic species). One even curiously walked over to have a look at us in the zodiacs, watching us as we watched him/her before going into the water, giving us both fantastic viewing and photographic opportunity. After a couple of hours venturing into caves and along the kelp-covered rocky shoreline it was time to return to Ortelius, just as the wind was beginning to pick up.

Back on board it was time for the evening recap and dinner, complete with red paper hearts adorning the tables and dining room staff decorated with hearts too! Love was certainly in the air…for the New Zealand sub-Antarctic Islands and their amazing wildlife!

Day 32: Snares Islands

Snares Islands
Date: 15.02.2023
Position: 48°13.3’S / 166°36.9’E
Wind: S6
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +13

This morning we awoke nearing the Snares Islands. These rugged masses of rock lie 200km off the Southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island and belong to the country’s group of outlying, remote islands. Long before we could see a more detailed, close-up view of these landmasses, the wildlife made itself known to us; both prior to and after breakfast guests filed out onto the open decks to delight in watching Shy, Buller’s, Royal and Salvin’s Albatrosses soaring past close by the ship and following behind too. BirdLife International recognises The Snares as Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and it was easy to see why. Along with the albatrosses, Sooty Shearwater, Diving Petrels, Cape Petrels, Giant Petrels and distant Snares Penguins were observed. New Zealand (Hooker’s) Sea Lions were visible hauled out on the land and New Zealand Fur Seals were seen in the water.

We were due to give back our muck boots and helicopter landing cards before heading to lunch, but a sighting of Orca (Killer Whales) interrupted this schedule! These apex ocean predators were patrolling along the coastline, foraging for food. Initially they were difficult to see as they were surfacing in turbulent waters, but eventually as we rounded a corner to try and get a better look we ended up with a great view of them!

Then it really was time for our lunchtime dining pleasures, dutifully followed by returning our boots and heli-cards. After this, lecturer and historian Stephen led an informal workshop rounding-up what we had learned and experienced during our history rich voyage. Following some free time to pack our bags, and perhaps have an afternoon nap, we headed to the bar for the Captain’s farewell cocktail gathering. This was made ever-so poignant by the fact it was Captain Mika Appel’s final ever voyage; a truly special trip to mark the end of a truly special career. After many ‘thank yous’ all round from Captain and Expedition Leader Christian, we relived our once a lifetime trip with a viewing of the end of trip slideshow, expertly put together by Vide. At dinner the mood was warm and jubilant; we had been very fortunate with fair winds and calm seas, achieving so much that we had hoped to do on this itinerary, from historic huts to helicopter rides to wonderful wildlife encounters. This was cause for huge celebration! We also welcomed the opportunity to applaud the crew members behind the scenes, from hotel, housekeeping and galley departments. We whooped and clapped to show our appreciation, rounding off our evening mealtime before heading back to our cabins to continue packing or to the bar for a few last drinks together on our final night aboard.

Day 33: Bluff, New Zealand

Bluff, New Zealand
Date: 16.02.2023
Position: 46°45.0’S / 168°17.2’W
Wind: W1
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +13

We arrived in Bluff in the small hours of this morning, bringing our incredible Ross Sea trip to a close. As we headed to the restaurant for our final breakfast on board, the expedition team and crew gathered everyone’s luggage from outside their cabins, carried it down the gangway and set the bags and cases down on the dock. After saying goodbye to the lovely dining room staff who we had come to know and love during our long trip we collected our passports, filled in our arrival cards and went to the bar to go through the necessary documentation for entering New Zealand with the government officials. After all guests and crew had gone through this procedure we disembarked. The Expedition Team were waiting to say farewell to us as we identified our luggage and boarded the coaches to our local hotels or the airport.

It was time to begin the journey home and head back to reality; after this long trip together, we had gotten to know each other well and learned about each other’s lives and families back home. This meant it was a little sad to say goodbye, but we had shared such an awesome, life changing experience together and we left with memories and friendships that will last forever!

Thank you all for travelling with us on this voyage, for your enthusiasm, support, and good company. We very much hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!


Tripcode: OTL27-23
Dates: 14 Jan - 16 Feb, 2023
Duration: 33 nights
Ship: m/v Ortelius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Bluff, New Zealand

Have you been on this voyage?

Aboard m/v Ortelius

The ice-strengthened Ortelius is thoroughly outfitted for polar exploration and, when necessary, helicopter flights.

More about the m/v Ortelius »