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OTL32-18, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula: Polar Circle, Deep South Discovery & Whale Watching

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation, Ushuaia

Embarkation, Ushuaia
Date: 14.03.2018
Position: 54°48.6‘S, 068°17‘W
Wind: SW 4
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +7

On this fine afternoon at the end of the world (Fin del Mundo), on a very typical day for Ushuaia with the weather changing every five minutes from sunshine to drizzle, from cloudy skies to clear patches, we had made our way to the pier. From around 4pm, boarding Ortelius started, and we were soon checked in by our Hotel Manager and his assistant, Sebastian and Sava. Our luggage had already found its way into our cabins, so we had some free time to get unpacked and settle in. Soon after, we began exploring our new home; perhaps the most important place to find was the Bar on Deck 6, where coffee/tea can be accessed 24/7, and the way to the outside decks for the view of wildlife and landscape.

At 5pm we gathered in the Lecture Room on Deck 3 for a mandatory briefing by Expedition Leader Lynn. She welcomed us on board and introduced Third Officer Warren, who gave an all-important Safety Briefing and explained the procedures of the Lifeboat Drill. Now we were aware of what we should do if we see a fire or a man overboard, and knew precisely what to grab and where to go in the event of the ship’s general alarm going off. Seven short and one long blast called us (warmly dressed and equipped with our big orange lifejackets) to the Bar, which doubles as our muster station. Once we were all there and accounted for, the ‘abandon ship’ signal was sounded, and we filed outside in orderly fashion and gathered next to the lifeboats to complete the drill. Afterwards we were free to continue our explorations of the ship, or come out on deck with our cameras to watch Ortelius’ departure from Ushuaia. We waved our goodbyes to this charming city and headed down the Beagle Channel towards the open ocean.

Before dinner we once more gathered in the Lounge/Bar on Deck 6 in order to meet key crew/staff and learn about ship routine during our voyage. Hotel Manager Sebastian shared useful information about mealtimes, Internet/Webmail access and treating the toilets nicely. He was followed by Expedition Leader Lynn who introduced Captain Ernesto – the person who will get us there and back again safely – and then handed over to her team of staff for self-introductions. We raised a glass of bubbly (or orange juice) to the success of our voyage and then it was time for our first dinner aboard.

After dinner, ship’s doctor Jacco was available in the hospital to hand out seasickness medication and valuable advice. The forecast for crossing the Drake did not look too bad, yet we were wary. A stroll on deck, a cup of tea or something stronger, one last look at the wonderful starry sky above the ship, and then most of us fell into bed after a busy and exciting day – hoping to be fast asleep before we reached open seas.

Day 2: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Antarctica

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Antarctica
Date: 15.03.2018
Position: 56°29.3’S, 065°38.8’W
Wind: SW 3
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

Gently rocked to sleep by the ship’s movements, most of us had had a good first night on board Ortelius. This morning, the Drake Passage resembled the rare Drake Lake much more than the infamous – yet much more frequent – Drake Shake. A gentle old swell made Ortelius move slightly every now and then, the sun was out, but there was hardly any wind. It seemed we were very lucky!

After our first breakfast on board we gathered in the Lecture Room to listen to Arjen’s introduction to the seabirds of those regions, some of which we had already seen. The big Albatrosses – both Royal and Wandering – were around in the morning despite the lack of wind, there were Black-browed Albatrosses and Giant Petrels, White-chinned Petrels gliding along and the small Wilson’s Storm-Petrels tiptoeing over the water surface. After the lecture, many of us took to the outside decks or to the Bridge to enjoy the views and bask in the sunshine.

Lunch was followed by a nap or more time spent outside as the conditions were still beautifully calm and sunny. In addition to the birdlife, a pod of Beaked Whales showed up briefly; those out and about were the lucky few to see them. At 3pm, Sandra provided us with inspiration and ideas regarding photography in the days to come. When we returned to the Bar afterwards, a tea-time treat was waiting for us.

Just before dinner we were invited to our first recap of the voyage where Expedition Leader Lynn shared the wind forecast for tomorrow with us (still looking very good although getting slightly more windy). Arjen talked about some of the birds we had seen during the day, and what to look for when attempting to identify birds, and Misha told us more about the Antarctic Convergence which we were to reach during the night. While we were having dinner, night fell, and while some of us gathered in the Bar afterwards, most tried to get another good night’s sleep out of the calm conditions.

Day 3: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Antarctica

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Antarctica
Date: 16.03.2018
Position: 60°36.6’S, 063°19.5’W
Wind: SW 7
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +2

Our Expedition Leader Lynn’s gentle voice woke us at 7:45am, just in time to get ready to get breakfast, at least for those of us who could stomach it. As this was our second day at sea, some of us had adapted and were finding their sea legs (also with the help of Jacco, our ship’s doctor, and his magic medicine), whereas others were continuing to struggle a bit. But this was all part of the unique experience that is Antarctica, and we took it in our stride!

For those of us who made our way outside in the course of the morning, there were Wandering Albatrosses to be spotted soaring around the ship. The Drake moving was a bit more than yesterday, and the weather kept us on our toes – at one point, there was even some spiky hail that felt like fine needles on the face! Sometime during the previous night, Ortelius had passed the Antarctic Convergence, where warm waters meet cold waters, and the water temperature had dropped to about one degree Celsius whereas 24 hours before it had been 6 degrees.

At 10am, Sandra gave us an introduction to Antarctica, the only continent that doubles its size in winter. We learned about Antarctic fauna (and the little flora there is) as well as geography and history, interspersed with more eye-catching photos and the odd graphic.

Afterwards, we were called to the Lecture Room again, floor by floor, to receive our sturdy gum boots and lifejackets, prerequisites for the (wet) landings we anticipate for the days to come. For some of us, it was straight back to the cabin after this, while others gathered in the bar, watched the (rolling) horizon, chatted with fellow passengers, or made use of the onboard Antarctic library, before we headed to lunch.

In the afternoon, Misha gave a presentation about adaptations to the cold in polar animals, in which featured for example the lovely Blob Fish, aptly named for its somewhat unstructured appearance and tendency to melt when in warmer temperatures outside the water. Misha covered both Arctic and Antarctic animals and gave us a brief insight into his previous scientific work.

At 4pm we were, once again deck by deck, called to the Bar to hoover our outer jackets, pants, camera bags, and backpacks according to IAATO regulations. This was to ensure that we carry no foreign plant or other material to Antarctica, a continent vulnerable to introduced species, especially in the warming Peninsula region that we visit.

In the early evening, amidst snowflakes lashing the windows, some of us saw a couple of Humpback Whales in close proximity to the ship. The first giveaway is often the tell-tale blow that appears just above the surface – not easy to spot in moving waters, but we managed to do so on a couple of occasions.

Just before dinner, Lynn and her team gave us our daily recap. Lynn demonstrated to us how to correctly don the lifejackets that we will be using for every landing, and explained the expected proceedings for tomorrow. Iain then told us about sun dogs, a phenomenon that consists of a refraction of the sunlight filtered through ice crystals in the atmosphere which causes a halo around the sun, and which Iain had spotted the afternoon before. We finished just in time for dinner, after which we had the opportunity to socialise in the bar, reflecting on the joys of the Drake Passage and the adventures waiting for us tomorrow.

Day 4: Cuverville Island & Paradise Harbour: Brown Station

Cuverville Island & Paradise Harbour: Brown Station
Date: 17.03.2018
Position: 64°38.1’S, 062°36.9’W
Wind: E 5
Weather: cloudy, snow
Air Temperature: 0

Having finally crossed the Drake Passage (for now!), Lynn woke us early at 7:30am, for an 8:00am breakfast: Today we would have our first landing, and on the Antarctic Continent no less!

At 9am, the Expedition Staff were ready for us at the gangway in the Zodiacs, and our first stop brought us to Cuverville Island. This is the biggest Gentoo Penguin colony on the continent, with some 5000 pairs and counting. Upon landing, in which we practised our newly acquired Zodiac disembarkation skills (slide – face the driver – swing legs over – disembark), we were immediately surrounded by curious teenage Gentoos that took a lively interest in us, our backpacks, and our clothes. Most of them showed tufts of grey fluff on their bodies – the chicks were in the process of losing the last of their down to make themselves waterproof and be able to hunt for food in the water. The occasional moulting adult was also spotted, but mostly we were captured by the cheeky and adorable offspring. The staff had marked two paths for us which we were able to follow in either direction from the landing site, and which gave us beautiful views of a glacier on the one side, and a hauled-out Fur Seal and a passing yacht on the other side. There were Leopard Seals in the water that followed the Zodiacs, and we were even able to watch a seal catch a penguin and fling it around – nature may seem cruel but Leopard Seals need to eat, too…

After some three hours, we shuttled back to Ortelius for lunch and a snooze (for those of us exhausted from the cold) or a bit of relaxation before we got ready for our second landing of the day. On the way to Paradise Harbour, we passed the Chilean station González Videla and the Arctic Sunrise, the ice-strengthened ship operated by Greenpeace. The Argentine station Brown, made up of several orange structures, greeted us shortly afterwards.

At 2:30pm, we were at the gangway again and divided into two groups, with one going for a fascinating Zodiac cruise through the floating ice, getting a closer look at the calving glaciers, seals hauled out on ice floes, and Humpback Whales surfacing in front of the Zodiacs, while the other half shuttled over to Brown. The landing site was slippery rocks, but we managed to land safely and followed the paths that the Expedition Staff had marked for us. There were several options, one leading all the way up to the top of the hill behind the station, the other leading to the station itself. The scientists had left the base only a few days before, closing up operations for the season. Both spots provided stunning views over the harbour, the ice, the Zodiacs, and towards Ortelius. At 4pm, we switched groups so that everybody was able to enjoy each activity.

After a long day, we arrived back at the ship in time for our daily recap, in which Lynn outlined the anticipated process for tomorrow, and Arjen taught us how to distinguish and identify whales by their fins, flukes, beaks, colourings, behaviour, and blows. It was then time for dinner, which we had worked hard for today! After dinner, some of us kicked back in the bar, toasting to a beautiful day of landings and wildlife, while others retreated to their cabins to relax and prepare for the next day of our Antarctic adventure.

Day 5: Neko Harbour & Orne Harbour

Neko Harbour & Orne Harbour
Date: 18.03.2018
Position: 64°50.5’S, 062°34.7’W
Wind: S 5
Weather: partly cloudy
Air Temperature: -2

A crisp, chilly morning saw Ortelius approaching Neko Harbour. Those who were up bright and early were rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding mountains glowing in pink and purple colours.

Neko Harbour itself comprises of a rocky beach right next to an impressive glacier (which has a tendency to calve frequently which again is why we were briefed not to linger directly on the shoreline) and surrounded by towering mountains. In addition to the stunning location, we got our second fix of continental Antarctica – it was already the second time we were able to land on the continent. The Gentoo Penguins seemed to be busy moulting and getting ready for the winter which would set in very soon.

While most of us enjoyed the penguin rush hour along the beach, Iain had scouted and prepared a path up the slope to a viewpoint. The scenery was simply breathtaking. Photogenic cloud bands were creeping in over the higher mountain ridges, with the sun climbing above the summits lighting the icy landscape.

After lunch, when we were making our way through the Errera Channel, suddenly there were whales everywhere. Whales in front of the ship! Whales on portside! Whales dead ahead! More whales at 2 o’clock! And did we mention the whales? It must have been hundreds of Humpback Whales, resting, feeding and enjoying themselves. What had already been a spectacular afternoon turned into magic when the team lowered the Zodiacs and invited us for a cruise. Ortelius sat right off the entrance of Orne Harbour, and we started our scenic ride at the Chinstrap Penguin colony situated on a cliff. As the whales seemed to be playful and willing to show their flukes and pectoral fins, we left the penguins and drove the Zodiacs into the open bay where we could wait for the whales to pass by without disturbing them. Not knowing on which whale to focus, the photographers filled their memory cards quite fast and for sure absorbed way better impressions than any photo possibly could display.

After such a glorious day, Lynn decided to skip the recap as the light was too good to be missed. The outer decks were still full when Sebastian called for dinner, and a fantastic day came to its end.

Day 6: Crystal Sound & Antarctic Circle

Crystal Sound & Antarctic Circle
Date: 19.03.2018
Position: 65°39.9’S, 066°39.5’W
Wind: SW 8
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

After the stunning scenery of the evening before Antarctica showed us its rough face today. We woke up with winds around 40 knots, gusting up to 50 knots eventually. This meant that the outer decks had to be kept closed during most parts of the morning. Sava opened up the ship’s shop in the meantime. But we also enjoyed the views towards the coastline of the heavily glaciated Lavoisier Island and some huge tabular icebergs, and while it had looked rather bleak in the morning, later on the sun came out.

In the prevailing conditions, the original plan – Plan A – of closing in on the Fish Islands and Prospect Point had to be exchanged for Plan B. Around lunchtime the seas in the Pendleton Strait slowly calmed down. We proceeded southbound until we finally crossed the Antarctic Circle later in the afternoon. We gathered in the Lounge and counted down the last “nautical seconds” towards our goal at 66˚33’41.1’’; this was obviously the right moment for a toast with a shot of whiskey!

Iain had just started giving a lecture about his overwintering at the Antarctic British station of Rothera when the Expedition Team announced that we were approaching a patch of sea ice where hundreds of Crabeater Seals were hauled out. The wind calmed down just in time, so we could enjoy tremendous views of the animals and their surroundings with ice-covered mountains in the background and massive icebergs all around. Crystal Sound truly lived up to its name!

In addition, we spotted two groups of Minke Whales and suddenly even a pod of Orcas. The “Type B Killer Whales” were hunting on Crabeater Seals; the seals in turn were desperately trying to hide in the shallow waters covering the foot of a huge iceberg. The Orcas patrolled the area, trying to grab an unlucky seal being washed off the ice foot by the huge swell. What a sighting, and what an expedition day!

At Recap Lynn told us that our plans would mean going even further South the very next day, before Sandra and Christian explained what terms like ‘nautical miles’, ‘knots’ and ‘Polar Circle’ actually mean; in quite an entertaining way!

Day 7: Marguerite Bay: Lagoon Island

Marguerite Bay: Lagoon Island
Date: 20.03.2018
Position: 67°49.6’S, 068°50.6’W
Wind: NNE 9
Weather: snow
Air Temperature: +1

Overnight Ortelius had been battered by winds exceeding 70 knots and these had only calmed to 40 by the morning as we rounded the southern tip of Adelaide Island. Our anticipated landing at Jenny Island was looking doubtful. Therefore, we pushed on northwards into the shelter of Ryder Bay in the lee of the Princess Royal Range. The winds steadily calmed but visibility was reduced by frequent, heavy snowfall. In relatively uncharted Antarctic waters with a reputation for shallow reefs, Captain needed a clear view of the seascape.

Visibility increased sufficiently around noontime so Zodiacs were launched after lunch, and we navigated the narrow channel before encountering a barrier of brash ice guarding the proposed landing site at Lagoon Island. This small island lies off the southern end of Rothera Point, location of the main British Antarctic Survey station on the Peninsula, and is the site for a small hut used occasionally for research but more often for recreation. A series of raised beaches on many aspects of the island are testament to the power of the isostatic rebound of the earth’s crust after the last glacial age. Sunlight broke through the snow-laden clouds giving an atmosphere suitably complimentary to this delightful little island.

A circuit of the island provided us not only with the opportunity to stretch our legs after a day at sea but also with a first sight of the Adelie Penguin. Named by Dumont D’Urville during his voyage in the 1840s after his wife Adéle, these are the iconic penguins many associate with Antarctica. Not quite so cute were the more ill-tempered Antarctic Fur Seals and some adolescent Elephant Seals with personal hygiene issues.

Our guide Iain once had the dubious pleasure of spending three nights at Lagoon hut in the company of these belching, farting beasts. During the winter period, they encroach ever nearer the shelter of the hut and tend to congregate under its floorboards. The well-placed vent in the floor allows their aroma to percolate through the building, and a sufficient quantity of whisky needs consuming before it is overcome!

The landing was followed by a cruise round the other islands in this miniature archipelago including the eponymously named Shag Rock and some spectacular icebergs, artistically striated and hollowed out by the actions of the ocean or grounded, wearing tidelines like skirts round their base. Fur Seals, much more graceful in the water, corkscrewed playfully through the brash as we slowly meandered back to the ship.

The final act of the day was to sail nearer in to Rothera both for a closer view but also to pick up two very grateful members of the Expedition Staff who had been allowed to ‘pop in’ to visit some of their close friends. Many thanks Captain and crew!

Day 8: Marguerite Bay: Horseshoe Island & Stonington Island

Marguerite Bay: Horseshoe Island & Stonington Island
Date: 21.03.2018
Position: 67°48.5’S, 067°24.2’W
Wind: E 5
Weather: cloudy, snow
Air Temperature: +1

In the wee morning hours, the skies were filled with snow once again as Ortelius made her way towards Horseshoe Island. Horseshoe base – or ‘Base Y‘ as it was unimaginatively called by the British Antarctic Survey – was established in 1955 but operated for only six years. It remains in in its original state and serves as a reminder of an Antarctic research base from the late 1950’s. Inside, there is a collection of items dating from this period and later including unopened food tins, dog chains and the remains of the dog sledges. It would be a bleak place indeed to spend a winter. Out of communication for long periods with the outside world and far from family and friends, on a stormy day Base Y would have felt very lonely. However, on a crisp winter’s day when sea ice abounds and blue skies reign supreme, one could easily imagine that same solitude made this a very special place to be.

As we landed by the hut this morning, most of us went there first to have a look at the interior. However, a large contingent of adventurous souls also chose to ascend to a high point overlooking the base and Sally Cove. What started out as a nice wintry wander over terraced screes and copper-stained bedrock slowly deteriorated into not-far-off-blizzard conditions as dense showers of snow swept over this exposed outcrop, continuing into the bay and towards Ortelius. Credit should be given to the Zodiac drivers navigating by GPS back to the ship and to the deck crew dealing with the increasing swell to get all passengers back on board safely!

By the time the final boat left the landing site, the visibility was pretty poor and the afternoon landing at Pourquois Pas Island was understandably in doubt. However, every snow-laden cloud has a silver lining and the extra time allowed us to sail further south to Stonington Island, home of ’Base E’ in keeping with the inspirational British nomenclature, but also home to the historic US ‘East Base’, a similarly unromantic moniker.

These were far more important bases operationally and were located here due to the easy access to the glacier behind. Hard to imagine now, but the steep-sided glacier to the North used to be much more benign and Stonington Island was in fact attached to the Antarctic continent. Dog teams and ski-equipped aircraft allowed access to the Peninsula and further south. Both Byrd’s and Ronne’s expeditions in the 1940s used Base E for reconnaissance flights to the South and over the southern parts of the Weddell Sea. Sadly, the US base suffered irreparable fire damage whilst the British base became untenable due to the glacial recession. By 1975, UK operations had moved to Adelaide Island. An interesting side note is that it was at Stonington that the first two females overwintered in Antarctica between 1947 and 1948.

Finally, today we sailed to our furthest point south! The weather was suitably chilly on deck as we reached 68°14.240’ South following some expert navigation from Captain Ernesto and his bridge team before turning westwards and then north again for more Antarctic adventures…

Day 9: Bellingshausen Sea

Bellingshausen Sea
Date: 22.03.2018
Position: 66°34.1’S, 068°17.8’W
Wind: NE 6
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +2

Having reached our furthest south the day before, the Captain had set course north. The morning begun later than usual, as we would have to spend the full day at sea. The wind picked up and Ortelius gave us a demonstration of how stable she is in swell and wind. After breakfast, most of us gathered in the Lounge to hear Michael’s lecture about sea ice and discuss our observations on the trip.

As most of us had already trained their sea legs properly, the Restaurant was very busy during lunchtime even though the swell had picked up. After lunch, Christian gave a lecture about whales and explained different behaviour and species. So it was no wonder why the bridge was full with people after the lecture as everybody wanted to apply the new knowledge and spot and identify whales.

In the afternoon, we were called to the third lecture of the day. Iain gave us an insight of how he supported science in Antarctica during his overwintering at Rothera Base and explained why the logistics for scientific work are as important as the research itself.

Day 10: Pléneau Island, Lemaire Channel & Neumayer Channel

Pléneau Island, Lemaire Channel & Neumayer Channel
Date: 23.03.2018
Position: 65°09.2’S, 064°25.6’W
Wind: N 6
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

This morning, after a rock-and-roll night in open waters, we woke to Lynn’s voice at 7:15am updating us on wind, waves, snow, water and outside temperature and, as important, breakfast timings. After breakfast, Lynn told us that there was a chance of having a morning excursion, probably a landing, on Pléneau Island. However, this was not going to happen until the vessel was in position and a scouting party in a Zodiac had had a good look at the landing site and the conditions.

Around 9 o’clock, Ortelius was in position. The scout Zodiac was sent to Pléneau Island, and a little bit later we received the OK for what would be the most epic landing of the whole trip so far: The excursion started with hardly 20 knots of wind and a fairly challenging wet landing on slippery rocks, where the staff helped. They had also marked an uphill route with red poles. On shore we found some groups of mostly moulting Gentoo Penguins, lichens, lots of ice and snow, and absolutely stunning views from the top of the hill, all bathed in the morning sun.

One hour later, as winds grew stronger (up to 45 knots), we had no choice but to return to Ortelius. The ride back and the gangway was quite different to what we were used to, due to the waves and the swell. However, the sailors and drivers did an excellent job and managed to keep us happy at all times. It took a little while but finally everyone was back on board to enjoy the delicious lunch prepared by our chef Khabir and his galley team.

As conditions deteriorated further with the wind picking up even more and visibility vanishing, it was obvious that our only option for the afternoon would be a ship cruise, as the weather was not good enough to go out. Nevertheless, it was an amazing sail through the Lemaire Channel and later on through the Neumayer Channel. We spotted and watched Humpback Whales, Albatrosses, Petrels and a few Penguins. With the navigation being challenging even under ideal circumstances, Captain Ernesto and his bridge crew once again did an absolutely great job!

At Recap Lynn looked back onto today’s events and told us what will – hopefully – happen tomorrow. Sadly, it was also time for the first disembarkation instructions for Ushuaia. Michael introduced us to the photographic equipment Frank Hurley had used when sailing with Mawson and Shackleton in the early 1900s, Sandra told us more about lichens, and Arjen showed his video of our Humpback Whale encounters in the Gerlache Strait a few days ago, enriched with beautiful landscape shots.

Dinner was, again, so good. Couldn’t have asked for any better turkey on this trip!

Day 11: Danco Island & Gerlache Strait

Danco Island & Gerlache Strait
Date: 24.03.2018
Position: 64°45.0‘S, 062°39.8‘W
Wind: SE 4
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +2

We awoke to smooth seas this morning, and slight morning fog formed a layer on top of the landscape; quite a surreal view! Our beloved Ortelius was sailing into the Errera Channel, and soon we could see our morning landing site at Danco Island. The wind increased when we started our landing operation, but still we all reached the shore relatively dry.

Once on shore some of us stayed along the shoreline to get great views of commuting Gentoo Penguins, while others followed the trail that Sandra had marked up to a viewpoint at the top of the island where we reached an elevation of 120m above sea level. On our way we passed several groups of moulting Gentoo Penguins huddling behind some rocks seeking shelter from the wind; meanwhile, we were happy about our Gore-Tex layers as – thanks to the wind – it began snowing horizontally on our way uphill. But as soon as it had started, it stopped again and we had a superb 360˚ panoramic view from the top.

When all of us were safely down again the bravest joined the polar plunge at the landing site. About 15 passengers splashed just about as much as the Gentoo Penguins in the +1˚C “warm” water.

In the early afternoon our Expedition Leader Lynn announced the sad news that we were already steaming full ahead towards the North, and thus Ushuaia. The wind forecast for the Drake Passage was unfortunately so rough that Captain Ernesto Barria had decided that we leave early. But some Humpback Whale sightings on the way out of Gerlache Strait definitely kept us entertained.

Later this afternoon Arjen gave his much-awaited talk about Orcas, fascinating marine mammals with an incredible ability to adapt to a number of different ecosystems and types of prey.
At Recap, and as we were sailing out into Bransfield Strait, Lynn explained in detail why we were already on our way north leaving the Antarctic Peninsula behind. Iain talked about Mount Vinson, the highest mountain of Antarctica, and Arjen explained how to count penguins (not necessarily just the one-two-three thing).

Later in the evening, after we had secured our cabins and taken our seasickness medication, we could feel the ship’s movement increasing as we left the sheltered waters. Still, Ortelius was rather gentle in her rocking most of us to sleep.

Day 12: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia
Date: 25.03.2018
Position: 61°56.1‘S, 062°31.0‘W
Wind: NNW 7
Weather: drizzle/rain
Air Temperature: +4

This morning we had been allowed to sleep in. At 8am, Assistant Hotel Manager Sava invited us to the restaurant where our yummy breakfast was waiting. Quite clearly, even on a sea day like today we needed some energy as there was some going upstairs and downstairs to be done, some holding on and some balancing ourselves against the movement of the vessel.

This was a great day to be at the bridge, for various reasons. Shortly after breakfast, a pod of Orcas showed up and stayed with the vessel for a couple of minutes. There were albatrosses soaring, and the seascape itself was fascinating to watch. With 7-meter waves and winds of up to 45-50 knots, the Drake Passage this time certainly qualified as ‘Drake Shake’. Probably even more stunning was it to observe the impressive navigation work of Captain Ernesto and his bridge team to keep Ortelius as stable as possible even in those rough seas.

During the morning, Andrea gave her lecture about the Antarctic Treaty which included the where and when, what and why, and of course the who plus a lot more information on the political framework for Antarctica. Later on, Christian introduced us to the fascinating world of ice and icebergs, quite some of which we had seen ourselves in the past ten days.

During the day the waves increased a little bit more, and the wind also picked up. As a result, Capitan Ernesto decided in the afternoon that all kind of activity had to be cancelled. This included dinner – but nothing to fear as crew and staff quickly installed the unique and highly efficient Ortelius Room Service in the evening. In teams of four they went around, knocked on every cabin door and offered sandwiches, chocolate bars, a selection of fruits, crackers and different kinds of beverages. It was very special to receive and have dinner in our cabins but somehow it felt just about right as this day had been special indeed! As we were asked to move around the ship as little as possible, there was also no recap so we took to our bunks early (if we hadn’t already had dinner in bed) – safety first. The bar stayed open though for the adventurous souls, but even they took the advice to have at least one hand for the ship very seriously.

Day 13: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia
Date: 26.03.2018
Position: 59°39.4‘S, 063°48.9‘W
Wind: N 8
Weather: cloudy, rain
Air Temperature: +5

After a night of Rock’n’Roll we woke to a familiar sight: the seemingly endless expanse of water called the Drake Passage. Fortunately, the ship’s movements eased somewhat so we could enjoy our breakfast in the Restaurant. There was not much to see outside but some of us had become quite fond of their ‘morning meditation’ watching the waves from the Bridge, and there were even some birds to be seen here and there.

It was calm enough to put on a lecture so Arjen invited everyone to the Bar for his talk on Penguins. We learned about the different species and their life cycle, diet, and behaviour, and it was quite a pleasant distraction to remember our encounters with those charismatic birds – it seemed like weeks ago already.

After lunch, most of us took to their cabins for a snooze. Afterwards, the divers showed images of their underwater ventures. It was a spectacular insight into a world which is inaccessible for most of us, and we marveled at the photos of icebergs, seals, and the surprisingly colourful Antarctic submarine world with starfish, nudibranchs and sea cucumbers.

At 5pm, the Ortelius Movie Theatre aka Bar played another episode of the Frozen Planet documentaries which finished just in time for a drink before Recap. Hotel Manager Sebastian explained the settlement of accounts, and Expedition Leader Lynn showed the up-to-date wind charts (maybe still a bit more colourful than we would have liked to see). Sandra told us more about Abraham Ortelius, and Misha acquainted us with the differences between the Arctic and Antarctica.

Day 14: Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia

Drake Passage: At Sea towards Ushuaia
Date: 27.03.2018
Position: 57°10.0‘S, 065°20.3‘W
Wind: W 9
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

Somewhere in between a rollercoaster ride and a steeplechase run: Ortelius had to work hard during the night, climbing mountains of water and then sliding down on the other side, climbing and sliding, climbing and sliding … We could feel the waves crashing and splashing as we lay in our bunks trying to find sleep. When we woke up in the morning, little had changed – but hang on, the sun was out! The breaking waves exploded into a myriad of crystal drops glistening in the sunlight, and it was again quite entertaining to watch from the Bridge. That is, after we had successfully mastered breakfast which required some careful navigation around the buffet and some clever steering in the Dining Room.

At 10am, we travelled back in time to the Fifties when the British base at Horseshoe Island was built. A lovely little movie, original BAS footage, about establishing the base and its winter life was shown in the Bar. While we drew ever closer to South America, it was time for lunch and later on for Andrea’s talk about Ushuaia, the gateway to Antarctica. Afterwards a tough task was waiting: settling our ship’s accounts at Reception which basically meant that our journey was indeed coming to an end. We returned our sturdy rubber boots that had served us so well, and handed in our Zodiac lifejackets.

At 6:15pm, we gathered in the Bar once again for a final briefing about disembarkation – and for a toast to our successful voyage! Captain Ernesto joined us there, and we could re-live many fascinating moments of the journey watching the surprise slideshow the Expedition Team had compiled. The icing on the cake was the sumptuous Farewell Dinner prepared by our chef Khabir and his team!

Day 15: Ushuaia

Ushuaia
Date: 28.03.2018
Position: 54°48.6‘S, 068°17‘W

They say, all good things come to an end. Our last morning on the Ortelius dawned. After a last night in our cabin, which had come to feel like home, it was time to move on to new adventures. We put our luggage in the corridors this morning as asked, so the crew could take it off the ship for us. After one last wake-up call and one last breakfast on board, it was time to say goodbye. Goodbye to our ship and its crew and staff, and to our new friends. Arrangements were made to stay in touch and farewells were said. We could look back on an extraordinary and successful trip, and all of us had many memories of wildlife and spectacular scenery during our days at sea, Zodiac-cruising activities and shore landings. Finally, we handed in the keys to our cabins, picked up our luggage from the pier and made our way into Ushuaia or to the airport for our onward journeys. May we meet again somewhere, someday!

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: 2359 Nautical Miles

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Ernesto Barria, Expedition Leader Lynn Woodworth, Hotel Manager Sebastian Duma and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

Details

Tripcode: OTL32-18
Dates: 14 Mar – 28 Mar, 2018
Duration: 14 nights
Ship: m/v Ortelius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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Fortified for both poles of the planet, the ice-strengthened Ortelius is thoroughly outfitted to provide you an up-close experience of the Arctic and Antarctic.

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