PLA29-17, trip log, Falkland Islands – South Georgia – South Orkney Islands – Antarctic...
07.03.2017 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego. During the summer this rapidly growing town bustles with adventurous travellers. Ushuaia also boasts a sizeable crab fishing and small electronics industry. Ushuaia, (lit. “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue) clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting. The rugged spine of the South American Andes ends here, but for many of us it signified the beginning of an incredible journey.
At 1600 we embarked the MV PLANCIUS, which would be our home for the next 19 days. After we checked into our cabins expedition leader David welcomed us on board. Then Chief Officer Artur led us through the details of the required SOLAS (Safety of Life At Sea) training. Suddenly the journey began, PLANCIUS cast off from the pier and started to sail down the Beagle Channel, cameras clicked, and smiles spread. Finally we were underway. However, the ship’s alarm soon brought us back to reality, it was time for the lifeboat drill. We donned our big orange life jackets, assembled in the lounge and inspected one after the other the lifeboats. Let’s hope we will never have to use them, they looked awfully uncomfortable.
Later we enjoyed a welcome drink in the bar and met Captain Evgeny Levakov, doctor Moniek and the rest of the expedition team. Dinner was a delicious affair, prepared by our two chefs Gabor and Ivan. The rest of our first evening on board was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to the movements, wildlife watching from the ship decks and settling into our cabins.
Today was a beautiful day at sea. We met our fellow passengers and got to know each other between tea and coffee breaks and while watching birds on the outside decks. We saw cape petrels as well as different kinds of albatrosses which majestically used the wind to glide up and down between the waves.
The morning commenced with a Zodiac briefing, followed by collecting our boots for the adventures yet to come. Afterwards, Tobias gave an interesting lecture regarding the geological history of the Falkland Islands, followed by Katja’s inspiring photography lecture. Meanwhile, some Peale dolphins swum by to visit PLANCIUS. The weather was sunny and calm until lunchtime. Later in the day the wind picked up and the fog came in. The day was rounded off with an evening in the lounge among nice music and new found friends. Everybody was filled with excitement, thinking about the Falkland Island!
The day dawned dramatically as 50 knot squalls whipped up the wave crests and PLANCIUS plunged and rolled in the swell as we approached the Falkland coast. Passengers lurched about the deck and dining room at breakfast. Would we land in these conditions was the question on all minds.
The vessel entered the narrow confines of the ‘Woolly Gut’ at 7am and immediately conditions improved in the more sheltered waters in the lee of Carcass Island. Zodiacs were launched and despite a little bit of atmospheric nautical splashing, everyone was ferried ashore. Conditions gradually got worse with a thunder storm over us and intense rain.
Inspired by tales of the sumptuous spread awaiting in the farmhouse, passengers were eager to land on the island. You could almost smell the baking! The whole group was ferried in zodiacs past beds of enormous floating fronds of giant kelp to the concrete jetty for the short walk up a track to the house. A number of passengers opted for a walk leading to the far side of a meandering path back to the shore-line to the settlement. What hospitality once everyone reached the house…cakes were consumed en-masse, coffee and tea pots worked overtime as everyone relaxed in this Falkland paradise.
After lunch and a short cruise, we reached Saunders Island. One 4x4 vehicle driven by the welcoming party was parked on the edge of the gently sloping tombola beach. Zodiacs were deployed and everyone landed, excited at the freedom to explore such a beautiful place. Guides distributed themselves to supervise the various areas. King penguin colony with recently hatched chicks, albatross nesting site, Rock-hopper nesting site, mixed species nesting site etc. The scenery and wildlife were superb. Cameras clicked incessantly. What a joy to be so close to so many interesting species. This was the Oceanwide Expeditions experience par excellence.
"Good morning my dear expedition members!" And so the day started with David's gentle wake up call. The night was a tough one for the lot of us, as we sailed towards the Falklands Islands on a rocking and rolling ship. We were following behind a storm and today the weather was not at all as good as we could have hoped for. Regardless, at 9am the first zodiac managed to get onshore but a few minutes later the wind started picking up, making further zodiac transfers impossible. The passengers onshore were called back to the pier. The ship’s horn sounded loudly over the roof tops of Stanley – a signal to the guests in town to return to the pier and to PLANCIUS in order to avoid getting stuck onshore! After a thorough search all passengers made it back safe and sound.
David then gathered the passengers for a briefing and offered everyone to wait for a few hours in order to see if the weather was getting better and whether another attempt would be possible. We then spent the afternoon hoping for the wind to decrease, but unfortunately, we recorded an average wind speed of 35 knots with 50 knots gusting! Such wind speeds are far beyond safe zodiac transfers. So close yet so far from Stanley….. At 3pm the wind was still screaming and we decided to leave the area and set course for South Georgia.
In the end of the afternoon, Nacho our Argentinian expedition guide offered a juggling show in the lounge: "How to keep once balance while the ship is moving". This could be very useful on our way to South Georgia! At 6:30pm, David was back to do a daily briefing, and Lydie was helped by Nacho during her recap on bird wingspans in the Southern Ocean.
David’s voice called us back from the dream world at around 7:30 in the morning and we went to the restaurant for our breakfast to gain strength for the day ahead.
The passage between the Falkland Islands and South Georgia was a little bit wavy, but despite of this the weather was enjoyable enough to spend some time outside on the upper deck behind the bridge to watch the waves pass and the occasional seabird soar near the ship.
After breakfast, we joined David in the lounge, where he introduced us to the IAATO guidelines we would have to follow in South Georgia and Antarctica. In other words, we learned how to behave around wildlife, and how to cope with the challenging environment. Equipped with a lot of new information, we soon proceeded to the next necessary step towards visiting South Georgia and Antarctica: the vacuum-cleaning of our outer garments in order to prevent the introduction of non-native species. So the big vacuuming party in the bar started, and we carefully checked and cleaned jackets, pants, gloves, hats and backpacks.
As a treat after all that work, we enjoyed another delicious lunch prepared by our chef Gabor and his team. After lunch, we had a bit of time to enjoy the sailing on the outside decks before Rosalie called us for her lecture about the legendary Shackleton, who lived for exploration of the Polar Regions. She guided us through his life and the path, which took him into the world of Polar Exploration. She also explained his odyssey throughout the Weddell Sea and South Georgia.
After a bit of a break to digest the story of Shackleton, Cecilia called us for her lecture about the large marine mammals that we can find throughout the waters of South Georgia and Antarctica, giving an introduction in how to distinguish them and explaining a few details about some individual species.
After this long and exiting day, there was only one more thing awaiting us – the daily briefing. David explained the plans for the upcoming day, followed by some more in depth explanations about waves by Rosalie and the upcoming Antarctic Convergence by Tobias. With all this new information and new memories in our head, it was time to enjoy another delicious dinner in the restaurant.
Yet another day of rolling along, ploughing through the swells towards the south east and towards South Georgia! Out on deck we spent the day taking in the fresh air and looking for marine mammals and birdlife, which was getting more and more abundant the closer we got to South Georgia.
After breakfast we had the possibility to listen to Tobias and his fascinating talk about the “Geology of South Georgia”. Loaded up with geology information about this piece of rock in the middle of the Southern Oceans we then proceeded to a hearty lunch. In the afternoon there was more preparation for our visit to the heavily protected South Georgia, this time with a mandatory 45 minute movie made by the Government of South Georgia and The South Sandwich Islands. The movie outlined every aspect of correct behaviour on the islands and was a great way to fire up our expectations as well, as the film was filled with magnificent shots from all around South Georgia.
Later in the afternoon our guest Jennifer, who came on board in Stanley, gave a talk about some of the restoration projects that she worked on. As Environmental Officer with the South Georgia government, she had in-depth knowledge about the island and the biodiversity that is found here. Her talk was about introduced species, reindeer, rats and plants, which were all introduced by humans to the island. Some intentionally, but most unintentionally. In the evening David and the Expedition team gave us the daily briefing, telling us about the plans for tomorrow, our first day in South Georgia. Then dinner was served and most of us headed early to bed, to be ready for Salisbury Plain tomorrow morning!
As PLANCIUS reached the Northside of South Georgia we could finally feel the long-awaited shelter of the island as we started a scenic cruise along the coastline. Prior to this it had been almost two and a half days of continuous rocking and rolling of the ship and being pushed around in a confused sea with white-crested waves. Four to five-meters high they were whipped up by 30 to 40 knot winds and while such seas can add a sense of true adventure to a journey, after a time it becomes a real challenge to get a good nights’ sleep, a tiring sport to stay upright in the hallways of the ship and to catch cutlery flying across the dinner table.
So, it was to everyone’s great relief that the expedition team found the conditions at Salisbury Plain, our very first landing in South Georgia, to be favorable enough to land all guests. This particular stretch of beach and the areas behind it were filled with fur seal pups, their mothers and incredible numbers of the beautiful King penguins in one of the world’s largest colonies. Scientists believe that up to 400.000 penguins may reside here, the non-breeding ones spread along the water’s edge and the breeding parents and their young taking up a gigantic area spreading to the glacier far in the south. At the edge of the colony we could take full frame photographs filled with nothing but the stunningly colored penguins – literally a sea of black, white and orange plumaged beauty. To see nature’s grand design in this manner is a truely emotional experience and something one never forgets.
We had a very calm night at anchor in Fortuna Bay. However, at 6:15 when the early morning light illuminated the mountains of Fortuna Bay David made his first wake-up call. This was for the hikers. On offer today was the Shackleton walk, the last 5.5 km of Shackleton’s gruelling 36 hour traverse of South Georgia which he did in 1916 with his two companions to reach the whaling station at Stromness in order to save his men on Elephant Island. The staunch hikers were dropped off in Fortuna Bay at 6:45 am after a short snack of pastries and coffee/tea in the bar.
In amazingly calm conditions we climbed up from the beach between large lumps of tussock grass, occasionally being snarled at by a grumpy fur seal. Once we cleared the lower vegetated areas the view opened up and we could see the bay with a miniature PLANCIUS. Some fluffy grey giant petrels were sitting on their nests. Looking across to the Allardyce Range we were in awe of the achievement of Shackleton and his men for crossing these mountains with hardly any gear. Soon we were walking on loose scree slopes towards the 300m high pass. At Crean Lake we stopped for a short snack. From the pass we had a good view into Stromness Harbour with its rusty remains from the old whaling days, houses, boilers, boat sheds and ship wreck. In the far distance we could see a tiny PLANCIUS which had sailed around the peninsula. Small figures were making their way along the river flats, these were our fellow travellers who were enjoying good times at Stromness. The actual whaling station at Stromness is closed off, for safety reasons, but there is plenty to see at the beach, fur seals, king penguins and one and a half kilometre inland the Shackleton waterfall which Shackleton had to abseil down. After a steep descend over scree slopes the hikers joined the walkers at the waterfall. From here, we made our way back along the river flats towards the beach and the ship.
Over lunch PLANCIUS relocated to Grytviken. As we sailed into the bay we saw the rusty buildings of the whaling station. Once the anchor had dropped South Georgia Officials came on board to stamp the passports. Meanwhile in the lounge Sarah from the South Georgia Heritage Trust in Grytviken gave a presentation about the successful rat eradication on the island. Then it was time to go ashore. In 1922 Shackleton died in Grytviken and according to the wishes of his wife he was buried here. We headed to the cemetery to see his grave and to pay our respects. Rosalie made a toast to “the Boss” and we spilled some whisky on his grave, but only a small amount, the rest went down thirsty throats. On the way we dodged several Elephant seals which made the path to the cemetery their home. Some passengers took part in a guided trip through the whaling station while others roamed at their own will, visiting the church and post office which housed an interesting exhibition of Frank Hurley’s photos from Shackleton’s expedition and his time in South Georgia. In the gallery a replica of the James Caird (the wooden boat that Shackleton and his men sailed from Elephant Island to South Georgia) was on display. However, the biggest attraction was the museum with regular guided tours and the small shop. Meanwhile the weather changed to light drizzle. But nevertheless we enjoyed the BBQ on the back deck that the crew had prepared for us. It was very tasty with steaks, chicken and sausages and a selection of sweet desserts. It was a bit surreal, however, to party on the ship with the South Georgia Mountains surrounding us. As it got darker there was dancing and laughter and a few more drinks were raised to the ‘Boss’. What a fantastic way to end this day!
We woke up to real South Georgia weather. It was foggy, cold and snowy. Nevertheless, we were committed to go outside and to enjoy another day in the wild. The morning started with a landing and zodiac cruise in Godthul. Upon arrival to the beach we were greeted by several fur seals and penguins. In addition we saw a few younger elephant seals, which were resting on the beach from long, tiring fishing days out at sea. The surrounding tussock grass was covered in snow, turning the whole scenery into a magical winter wonderland. The zodiac cruise through the swell along the bounds of the bay was mesmerizing. We encountered lone beaches, covered in wildlife. Among more penguins, fur and elephant seals we also encountered the endemic South Georgia pipit and many other birds such as Giant petrels and the Wilson storm petrel. However, we were also happy to be back on the warm, lovely PLANCIUS again, that welcomed us with hot coffee and tea.
Due to increasing wind conditions, together with big swell, the planned landing on St Andrews Bay was cancelled. Thereby, we continued to Moltke Harbour where we carried out the second landing of the day. It was beautiful to hike alongside the riverbed to the two waterfalls in the area. The surrounding vegetation was beautiful and comprised of some of classic South Georgian plants and flowers. Closer to shore we met a resting group of elephant seals. There was a lovely river that flowed into the ocean, forming a kind of Penguin Spa. Lots of Gentoo penguins were bathing in the river. Besides, some of our guests were inspected extremely close by some baby Elephant seals. This day will be remembered by guests and staff alike. What another beautiful day in South Georgia!
Today we waited for an early wakeup call around five in the morning from our expedition leader David. To the luck of the lazy ones it did not happen because of the swell that did not allow us to land on the beach during the early morning. However, the Captain was happy to do a stunning ship cruise in Drygalski Fjord to see the spectacular hanging glaciers from mountains high above. At midday again a lovely lunch was served in the dining room.
After lunch the weather made a turn for the better and so we managed to drop zodiacs in the water to offer a nice zodiac cruise in Larsen Harbour. This rarely visited place is entered in the south side of Drygalski Fjord and is a narrow steep-sided inlet, 4 km long, where ice and rock dominate the alpine landscape, spectacular peaks rise directly out of the sea to over 1.000 m altitude, and magnificent glaciers are still at work carving deep valleys, sharp-pointed glacial horns and arêtes. There is a mix of rocks of igneous and volcanic origin in this region, some of which are the oldest on the island. There are no rats here, so South Georgia pipits and Burrowing petrels are present wherever there is suitable tussock habitat. Also Weddel seals, Fur seals and Elephant seal hauled out all along the shore.
One more time we returned to PLANCIUS but this time to find a nice hot chocolate with rum waiting for us from our hotel department - nothing better than a hot drink after a cold zodiac cruise!
We were awoken by a gentle rolling today as we made our way to the South Orkney Islands. These calm seas were better than expected, especially after our choppy trip to South Georgia. This morning, it seemed like Neptune had taken pity with us. The ship was hardly moving and everyone woke up with refreshed and smiley faces!
After breakfast, we started our lectures about the Antarctica. Katja took the microphone first and gave an introduction to this gigantic continent called Antarctica. We got a good overview over the Southern Ocean, the Ice Sheet, and its ecology.
After lunch with full tummies and a bit of nap time, it was time for Lydie’s fascinating lecture on Antarctic sea ice, the formation of it and the future of the polar sea ice extent. This informative lecture was followed by another one by geologist Tobias who talked about the geology of the Antarctic Peninsula. At the end of the afternoon, Fin whales appeared close to the ship and checked us out! What a show!
Finally we met in the lounge for our daily briefing: David gave us information about tomorrow's program at Orcadas Station, Tobias spoke about the solar eclipse that is supposed to happen tomorrow morning, and Rosalie delivered a recap about the magnetic poles. Then it was dinner time and the end of another day in paradise!
After a sleep-in the previous day, it was time for an earlier wake-up call today as we arrived at the South Orkney Islands. The morning started with dense clouds, wind and some precipitation as we dropped the anchor near Orcadas Station, the Argentinian base, situated on a narrow isthmus in a small bay at Laurie Island.
While the first five zodiacs went directly to shore to visit the station, the second half of the group went on a small Zodiac cruise around the bay. During this cruise, we spotted many Chinstrap penguins along the rocky shore, but also crawling up some of the icy slopes. The walls of ice were glowing blue and provided a spectacular view. On some of the beaches, we were able to find Fur Seals and some more Elephant Seal weaners. Many of these Fur Seals were males that would have been breeding on the beaches of South Georgia during November and December. After the breeding season was over they made the journey south to feed on the abundance of Krill in the seas around Antarctica.
Once ashore we took a tour guided by staff from the station and translated from Spanish by Rosalie and Nacho. The first stop on the tour were the remains of the historical hut built by a Scottish Expedition in 1902 led by William Spiers Bruce. Six men would have lived in this hut during the expedition and conditions must have been harsh. From here we walked to the flagpole and signpost at the centre of the base, which showed that the base had opened in 1904 and is now the longest continuously manned base in Antarctica.
Next stop was the cemetery near to the other side of the isthmus where graves of Argentineans, a Scott, a Swede and a German could be seen. The first building we went in was the original Argentinean base which is now a little museum with rooms re-constructed to remind us of what life might have been like there in the past. There were also some ‘interesting’ specimens of penguins which had been preserved in a distinctly ghoulish fashion! It was certainly a memorable step back in time! Our final stop was the main base, a warm cosy building where we were offered coffee and cake and had the chance to buy some souvenirs. The staff on the base was very friendly and hospitable and we all thoroughly enjoyed our visit to their home.
As soon as we had returned to PLANCIUS for lunch, we started our navigation towards Antarctica. The horizon was strewed with dozens of icebergs, many of them having a characteristic tabular shape. The wind picked up and we soon felt that we came back out into the open ocean. The outside decks were closed due to the stormy conditions and so watched a movie about Shackleton and his life. After the movie, Kasper invited us to his lecture about the famous Norwegian Amundsen expedition that was the first one to reach the South Pole in a dramatic race with the British Expedition under the leadership of Scott, who perished on his return from the pole after being beaten by Amundsen.
In our daily briefing, David told us about the plans for the following sea day, followed by Katja explaining the red colour of the snow algae that we saw during our zodiac cruise at Orcadas. After that, Nacho introduced us to some fun facts about Antarctica giving us an overview of its size and harsh environmental conditions. Tobias finished off by introducing us to the Ocean Cleanup Project established by a 17 year old Dutchman called Boyan Slat in 2013, targeting the large garbage patches in our oceans. The project is going well and will soon enter in its busiest phase this and the following year with actual cleaning systems being deployed.
This voyage contains many sea days, we know that by now, so to wake up to another sea day is nothing new. The sea is calm, only a slight rolling of the vessel and the visibility is generally good all day. David wakes us up 07:45 with his signature-wake-up-call “Good morning my dear expedition members!” After breakfast, the first lecture on the program is about ice, so whom better to host this than our own on-board Ph.D. in Glaciology? So with the title “Antarctic Glacier Ice” Lydie captivated her audience with knowledge about this fascinating subject.
In the early afternoon, David himself entered the stage, with his talk about the historical Swedish Antarctica expedition with its famous leader: Otto Nordenskjöld. This tale is up there together with the Endurance and Shackleton, when it comes to pure willpower to survive and to return to civilisation. Everyone who attended this talk, could feel David’s passion for the subject and his wish to give an honest picture of the hardship that the men would have encountered in Antarctica 100 years ago.
With the story about Nordenskjöld fresh in our mind, we enjoyed the four o’clock cake treats. After the daily briefing, our hotel manager declared a happy-hour in the bar. This afternoon we held an auction on board, where every cent raised will go to the South Georgia Heritage Fund. The entertaining and professional auctioneer was Kasper. The auction turned out to be a fun way to raise money for a very good cause, Kasper tried to keep up with the raising bids and sold quite a few unique items along the way. Among the most sought after objects is a blueprint version of the famous Hurley photo of the Shackleton’s lifeboat, the James Caird leaving Elephant Island and a Penguin babushka with 5 different species of hand painted penguins (this went to our second officer, Gavin!) and of course the grand finale: The voyage flag! The flag was traveling the whole way with us, sitting out there in the bow of the vessel. It will be signed by all staff and officers before the “lucky” new owner takes possession in Ushuaia. The auction raised a total of 850 GBP – something that the South Georgia Heritage Fund will both appreciate greatly and put to good use.
Just as PLANCIUS was about to set anchor near our first landing on the Antarctic continent observant eyes on deck spotted some large dark fins cutting through the waves quite near us. Our Captain cleverly positioned the ship so that we could take a closer look and what an exciting surprise it was to find a pod of Killer whales here! Among the adult females and males in the group we also saw two calves sending blows to the sky right next to their mothers. On closer inspection of the photographs of these majestic creatures we could identify them as Killer whales Large Type B – a whale who has specialized in eating seals and one of five types of Killer whales found in Antarctic waters.
Soon after this exciting encounter, we landed on the beach below the impressive Brown Bluff cliffs actually setting foot for the first time on the Antarctic continent. The minus seven degrees Celsius and occasional the blizzard like winds coloured our cheeks red as we visited the Gentoo penguins (among them a single Adélie penguin), Fur seals and a Weddell seal which was oblivious to our presence due to a very lazy snooze.
With little time before a strong storm would reach the area, PLANCIUS heaved anchor as soon as we returned, in order to make for more sheltered waters further south. To entertain us along the way, the expedition team put on part two of the movie about Ernest Shackleton’s remarkable expedition and rescue of his men from Elephant Island. The hardships that these men experienced and the bravery and camaraderie that got them through is an enduring story that deserves to be told many times over. It certainly reminded us of what comfort we travel in during our own Southern Ocean adventure.
Next time when you are stuck in a traffic jam, or when a work colleague annoys you, or when you had a fight with your spouse, remember this day! It was a perfect day. There won’t be too many like this in your life, so treasure it, keep it in your memory forever. It started with a beautiful sunrise in the Gerlache Strait. The sky was coloured with pastel pinks and blues. Then the top of the peaks started to glow in shades of orange before liquid gold was poured out over all the mountains. Whales, sleeping at the surface, exhaled with large blows that looked white in the low light of the early morning sun.
The dark lump of Cuverville Island came soon into view. After the anchor was dropped Zodiacs sliced the flat surface of the sea and delivered their load to the black cobbled beach. Here Gentoo Penguins and their nearly grown up chicks entertained us with their antics. There were food chases when parents came back from the sea with a glistening belly full of krill and fish, there was a lot of preening and one lone Chinstrap Penguin wandered around the Gentoo colony and picked a few fights. Fur seals played in the water or snarled at us on the beach. The sky was filled with Antarctic Skuas and Kelp Gulls with their eerie cries. Glaciated mountains and fantastically shaped icebergs provided a spectacular backdrop for the show. The sun was shining and in the absence of any wind, it was pleasantly warm.
After some time ashore it was time to get into the boats for a Zodiac cruise. Past serrated blue icebergs we zoomed to the middle of the Errera Channel where we met three inquisitive Humpback Whales. The Latin name for Humpback Whale is Megaptera novaeangliae, the large winged one, and we could truly see their large white pectoral fins shimmering in the blue water below us. The whales came so close that we could make out their eyes, their tubercles (bulbous hair follicles at the jaws) and the Barnacles on their skin. Some of us got even splattered by whale snot, an experience not many Antarctic visitors get. It is it hard not to get emotional when encountering these graceful creatures in the wild. Our reactions ranged from speechless, gasping for air to silly grins spreading from one ear to the other. Only reluctantly did we come back to the PLANCIUS.
During lunch the ship relocated to Paradise Bay. Needless to say; we encountered many more Humpback Whales. Our destination for the afternoon was Base Brown in Skontorp Cove. While half of us went ashore the other half went on a Zodiac cruise past the Skontorp Glacier, where we saw big chunks of ice breaking off. Blue-eyed Shags (also called King Cormorants) nested in the cliffs above Base Brown. On the ice floes in the bay we spotted dozing Crabeater Seals and on snowy patches on land Weddel Seals were hauled out. The icebergs we encountered on our cruise were also mind-bogglingly beautiful, like pieces of art.
The Argentine Base Brown burned down in 1984, but has been used again in the last few years. However, when we arrived, it was deserted, boarded up for winter und handed over to the Gentoo Penguins which nested around the buildings. Fat chicks were panting in the hot sun. The walk to a view point was certainly worthwhile, a tranquil panorama of icebergs in Skontorp Cove enfolded in front of us while we basked in the sun. After dinner another highlight waited for us, a scenic cruise. As PLANCIUS sailed into the sunset an iceberg like a castle came into view. Through a big arch golden sunlight was reflected. Captain Evgeny Levakov, a photographer himself, manoeuvred the ship so that with some luck the sun would set right behind the arch, but it was not to be, another part of the iceberg obscured the arch. So we just watched as the orange sky turned to pastel pink and blue.
We woke up to a clear blue sky and lots of icebergs of all different shapes and sizes. The morning commenced with a split landing at Portal Point. Some playful fur seals greeted us upon arrival. We hiked up to the top of the hill in order to enjoy the stunning view over the bay. The bay was filled with several icebergs which were shining in the morning sun. We felt like we were really out and about in the wild! The panoramic view from the top of the hill also allowed for a great view on the surrounding glaciers.
In addition we cruised with the zodiacs through the bay to gain a better glance on the magical icebergs. Some of us spotted a resting leopard seal on an ice flow. The colours of the scenery were mesmerizing. We felt really small in our zodiacs compared to the big chunks of ice, making us feel humble in the midst of this gigantic landscape full of beauty to appreciate.
In the afternoon we carried out a long zodiac cruise around Enterprise Bay in search of humpback whales. The sea appeared like silk and the sun caused delightful reflections on the surface of the ocean. It was very peaceful and incredible beautiful. We met several whales, some were resting while others were bubble net feeding in close vicinity to our zodiacs. One humpback whale inspected PLANCIUS from all different angles.
Afterwards, we visited Enterprise Island including the Norwegian shipwreck Gouvernøren, which caught fire in 1903 and was deliberately beached close to shore in order for the crew to get rescued. We also observed several fur seals resting on the rocks and playing in the water. Blue eyed shags were also spotted, along with some Wilson Storm Petrel’s.
While leaving the bay on our way to the next destination, we were surrounded by whale blows and large groups of fur seals playfully swimming along in the waters. The day was finished off by a stunning sunset.
Another successful day in Antarctica!
Today was a lovely, sunny day on the South Shetland Islands. We woke up at Half Moon Island, where we landed shortly after breakfast. Besides all the natural beauty of this place, the wildlife on the shoreline caught our attention. We walked along the rocky beach where we encountered a large Chinstrap penguin colony, several Fur seals, and some Gentoo penguin. We also had the impressive encounter with a Leopard seal in action, hunting a few chinstraps penguins and playing with the dead body showing us an absolutely amazing technique to take off the skin to access the meet inside - what a show!!!
During the afternoon we landed at Whalers Bay on Deception Island. After Katja and David briefed us on the dos and don’ts we could fully appreciate our visit to this volcanic caldera. We strolled along the black beaches with steam rising from the water’s edge at low tide giving this place a mysterious atmosphere. Some of us hiked around the fur seals to enjoy the beach or looked through Neptune’s Window to a distant bit of Antarctica, while others walked between the ruins of the old whaling station, studying the history trail left behind by humans and their activity.
The landing ended with a Polar plunge. Some of us swimming in the not-so-warm waters, while others preferred to look and take pictures of the brave ones that dared to jump into the water. Back on the ship, we enjoyed a hot chocolate with rum, courtesy of our lovely hotel department followed by another lovely meal.
And then it was off into the Drake Passage. The Drake Passage, named after Sir Francis Drake who, blown off course in a storm in the 16th century after coming through the Straits of Magellan, concluded that a connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans must exist. The first passage through the strait was made by Dutch Captain Willem Schouten on board the Eendracht in the early 17th century, naming Cape Horn during this voyage for his hometown of Hoorn.
For us in the 21st century, the passage remains one of the most notorious stretches of oceans anywhere in the world, with the lack of any significant land mass around the Southern Ocean at this latitude meaning that storms have an infinite fetch to gather strength. Fortunately for us, we had dodged the large storm system passing through the Drake the last couple of days and the prospects for our crossing looked very good.
Good news this morning - no wakeup call and everyone could finally enjoy a relaxing morning! Breakfast was served at 08:00 and later that morning, Katja gave a presentation about the different penguins that we met during the voyage. Seven penguin species were encountered: King penguins of course, the star of the trip, but also Gentoo, Chinstrap, Adelie, Magellanic, Rockhopper and Macaroni penguins!
An unusually calm Drake allowed us to enjoy another quiet lunch. In the early afternoon second officer Gavin launched under our observant eyes an Argo float, an oceanographic instrument to measure remotely water temperatures and salinity. Ultimately this research will help to better understand global ocean currents. The good mood of the afternoon spread through the ship, and as the day went on, we shared pictures and contacts before getting too busy packing our bags.
In the afternoon, Tobias invited us to his lecture about Optical Phenomenon in the Polar Regions. We learned that mirages are not only part of the warm deserts!
After visiting the Seventh continent, why not continue with Kasper’s presentation, "Modern Expeditions in Polar Regions" about the seven summit expeditions, and the new explorers of the 21st century.
And because every good day ended on this voyage with a nice a daily briefing, the expedition team met everyone in the lounge to talk about the day and tomorrow’s program. During the briefing, Nacho showed his filming skills by presenting a little underwater video he made: shags; penguins, fur seals and of course whales found their place in his movie! And as a tradition, David finished the meeting with another one of his polar anecdotes. Today it was about what brings bad luck on ships: whistling, bananas, flat footed sailors and - women. We are happy to say that was not the case on board of PLANCIUS!
A gentle rocking accompanied us through the night and continued through the morning as we reflected on the experiences we had had, sifted through our hundreds of pictures or started to gather our belongings. Land was insight. With the permission of the Chilean authorities, PLANCIUS was allowed to approach Cape Horn as close as 3 nautical miles. At 11:22 PLANCIUS was in position with sight on this mythical cape. Through binoculars we could see the monument at the Cape. While adding some more photographs to our memory cards, the sea became even calmer and all expedition members were able to enjoy the sight of the southernmost point of the Americas on the outer decks.
After lunch, Zsuzsanna and Heidi called us by deck to come to reception and to settle our ship’s accounts. Afterwards the Expedition Team was waiting for us in the boot room to hand back our rubber boots. After having a bit of rest and time to start packing, David invited us to the lounge, where he described his dramatic expedition from 2016, when he crossed the Greenland Icecap.
At around 18:00, we all gathered again in the bar, where David and Zsuzsanna explained the process of disembarkation the following day. This was followed by Lydie announcing the winners of the photo contest. We then welcomed Captain Evgeny Levakov for his farewell speech and clinked glasses to our successful voyage before it was time for Oceanwide Photographer Dietmar to present his photo slideshow of the trip. He put together photos into a fascinating compilation. All the moments and memories kept coming back.
One more dinner on board was ready for us. While PLANCIUS made her way towards the coast and into the Beagle Channel, we celebrated our last evening and prepared ourselves for a return into our busy lives.
Today was disembarkation day in Ushuaia. Coming alongside, PLANCIUS was boarded by Argentine officials who cleared our vessel and allowed us to disembark. On the pier we bade farewell to many of the friends we made over the past weeks, and had one last look at the PLANCIUS, the ship that took us safely on such an incredible voyage from Ushuaia, to the Falklands, South Georgia and then to Antarctica and back again. We did so much, and it was lovely to enjoy the wildlife and scenery of this very special part of our world. It was a privilege to visit. This trip will endure a lifetime – in our memories, our imaginations, and in our dreams.
Thank you all for such a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!
Total distance sailed on our voyage: Nautical miles: 3584 nm | Kilometres: 6637.68 km
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Evgeny Levakov, Expedition Leader David Berg and all the crew and staff: it has been a pleasure traveling with you.