PLA21-15 Trip log | Falkands & South Georgia
20.11.2015 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
Puerto Madryn is a small coastal town wedged between the South Atlantic Ocean and the Patagonian desert. Traditionally this town was based on fishing and whaling but in recent years the whales have brought revenue into the town in the form of tourists. As the main access point to the Valdez Peninsula the town attracts visitors from all over the world to see the Southern right whales that calve and raise their young in the bay during the mild summer months, penguins and seals. Many of us had spent a few days in the area prior to joining Plancius in order to see some of the wildlife along the coast.
At 15:00 members of the Expedition team met us at the start of the pier to begin to assist with our luggage and ensure we were able to get the bus along to the end of the pier. Although the weather conditions were bright, sunny and warm the strong winds blowing across the bay were making conditions quite unpleasant with sand and dust blowing around. The pier itself was very exposed and it was a windy walk for some along to the ship. Once our luggage was scanned we embarked our ship the MV Plancius which would be our home for the next 20 days where we met hotel managers, Natasha and Thijs and were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of the Filipino crew. A little while after boarding we convened in the lounge on Deck five to meet Expedition Leader Jim Mayer, who welcomed us on board the ship.
The first briefing in the lounge was a familiarisation of the ship as our floating hotel from Natasha our hotel manager which was then followed by the SOLAS (Safety of Life At Sea) presentation and Lifeboat Drill, given to us by Chief Officer Hannes who was assisted by the crew and staff. On hearing the alarm we reconvened for the mandatory safety briefing and abandon ship drill, donning our huge orange life jackets and after a muster call we were taken to see the lifeboats.
Once the official briefings were finished we had plenty of time to explore the ship, have some afternoon tea, unpack our bags and enjoy some time out on deck. The deck crew and bridge officers worked extremely well together to ensure a safe departure from the pier where the wind was blowing us back onto the pier as we edged away. It was a successful manoeuvre and before too long we were turned around and heading in the right direction. There was plenty to see from the decks with Southern giant petrels flying close by the bridge wings and cormorants flying close to the surface of the water but the stars of the show were the Southern right whales which could be seen blowing and even breaching just in front of the ship. What a fantastic way to start the trip!
By 20:00 the sun was beginning to set and the light was beginning to fade and dinner was served in the dining room. It was a chance to meet some of our fellow passengers and share stories of previous travels and hopes for this expedition to the Falklands and South Georgia. It should be a great adventure!
Many of us were already up and around when Jim and Katja made the first wake-up call of the trip but for those of us still being rocked in our bunks it was time to be up and see what the sea day would bring.
It was a bright sunny morning with a gentle breeze so a perfect start to our voyage. After breakfast there was plenty of time to head out on deck and enjoy the sunshine and enjoy the birds that were flying around the ship and gathering in large numbers behind the ship as we sailed south. The most common species was the Giant petrel, both Southern and Northern but there were also Black browed albatross, Cape petrels and Kelp gulls. Birds habitually follow ships at sea looking for food brought up to the surface by our wake but also to enjoy the uplift created by our passing. Traditionally they would follow fishing vessels for food discard but that is not on offer from Plancius of course!
At 10:15 Katja gave a photographic presentation to our German speaking guests to enable them to get more out of their cameras and take better photos during this trip
This was followed by the first of two presentations about the Falkland Islands given by Ali, who lived and worked in the islands for 15 years. This first part looked at the history and economy of the islands and gave an insight into island life on this isolated archipelago. It was a great introduction for us.
Shortly afterwards, lunch was served but by this time the weather conditions were beginning to make life a little uncomfortable on board for some so there were a few spare seats in the dining room!
There was time for a post lunch snooze and some time on deck before Ali gave the second part of her Falkland Island story, this time looking at the wildlife of the islands and the future economy in the form of oil exploration. She also spoke a little bit about her life on the islands as a travelling teacher, living and working with families on the remote sheep farms around the islands, and her work with Falklands Conservation. Her love of the islands is very plain to see and it certainly got us even more excited about our visit.
There was time for afternoon tea before Katja repeated her photo presentation to our English speaking guests and then there was time to relax a while before we were invited back to the lounge for Captain’s Cocktails; a chance to meet our Captain, Alexey Nazarov and meet the Expedition team, find out about our plans for our voyage and toast the trip with a glass of bubbles. Cheers! Salut! Prost!
Dinner was served at 19:30 and it was a lively affair for those that had successfully found their sea legs but for many it was too much to face and a cracker and banana dinner was taken in a horizontal position in their cabin! Better luck tomorrow!
The final offering for the evening was a post-dinner story given by Katja which looked at the psychological effects of over wintering in Antarctica. There are not many of us that will ever experience such a thing so it was interesting to hear her thoughts on the effects of the Polar Night.
After being rocked all night long, Jim woke us up at 07:30. The weather was quite similar to yesterday with some sunshine, but with a bit more wind which made the motion of the ship a little uncomfortable for some. Our friendly Doctor, Veronique was on hand to ease our nausea with pills and patches! As we were still sailing towards Falkland Islands, we continued our educational programme. In the morning, Ali gave us a lecture on Black-browed albatross. After a short introduction about the Albatross family, she explained the life cycle of those large birds. With 65% of the world’s population breeding on the Falkland Islands, around 530,000 breeding pairs the islands are vital for these beautiful birds. She also gave us information on the threats posed by the fisheries, particularly longline fisheries which have been responsible for the decline of albatross and petrels over recent years. Finishing on a positive note she explained about some of the work done by Falklands Conservation over the last few years to develop mitigation methods to avoid incidental mortality of seabirds and the research and monitoring of the populations. It seems that the work is paying off and numbers of Black browed albatross in the Falkland Islands are increasing.
In the afternoon the outside decks were closed due to the rocking and rolling conditions on board so we were only able to access the deck behind the Bridge to get a little fresh air and, with more motion many of us took a short nap after lunch. Later in the afternoon it was Tobias' turn to give a presentation about the Falkland Islands. The subject of his lecture was Falkland geology. He described the plate tectonics so we could understand where the Falkland archipelago was 400 million years ago and what happened during this long geological history with thousands of metres of sediments building up. After the breakdown of Gondwana around 200 million years ago, the Falklands drifted with South America and turned upside down. He also explained the effects of ice ages on the relief and the soil.
Soon after, it was time to get our rubber boots. Staff moved them to the dining room which had less pitch and roll than the boot room. We were quickly all equipped, ready for the first landing tomorrow. The only thing left to do was find out about the small boat operations, from ship to shore and back again so Jim gave a presentation in the lounge, explaining us the procedure to board the Zodiac, to land and to come back in a safe way.
During the re-cap, we had a few more information by Elke on the Southern Right Whales we saw two days ago and Ali spoke about some of the local projects undertaken by herself and members of the Falklands Conservation staff, including an anti-plastic bag campaign photographed on location at the town dump! Jim gave us the detailed plan of tomorrow’s activities, our first landing on the Falkland Islands at Steeple Jason, weather permitting…….
The first day of landings started very early, with the wake-up call at 05:45! And thanks to the effort of our excellent crew and restaurant team, when we got up Plancius was anchoring just off the northeast coast of Steeple Jason Island and breakfast was ready. With wonderful conditions at 06:15 the zodiacs were dropped and before too long we were making our way into one of the most northwestern islands of the Falklands Islands group.
Before we even stepped on the island a group of Southern sea lions welcomed us swimming around the boats and we could hear them roaring in the tussac grass on shore.
After some challenging landings maneuvers among rocks and kelp, everybody was on shore and enjoying a pleasant walk along this island which is owned and protected by the Wildlife Conservation Society, based in New York. It really is an island that is worth protecting because, in less than 3 hours we were able to see many different species of animals, including the largest Black-browed albatross colony in the world (about 190,000 breeding pairs). As we walked from the landing around to the other side of the island we passed by a large Gentoo penguin colony, where most of the birds were incubating their two eggs. There were penguins coming and going from the colony and we enjoyed watching their antics as they collected pebbles for their nests and the males and females swapped over to share the incubation duties. All along the grassy slopes there were Upland geese and Ruddy headed geese feeding on the short grass and we were approached by Striated caracara, curious to see what us colourful creatures were doing on their island at this time in the morning.
As we made our way to the other side of the island the view around the coastline was spectacular with the albatross colony stretching all the way around the island backed by a fringe of tall tussac grass. Ali led the way down to the colony and found an easy route through the tussac to enable us to get a closer view of the birds in their colony. Like the Gentoo penguins they were incubating their eggs, a single egg this time on the top of their mud ‘pot’ nests. There were many birds flying around the colony and they would often land and make their way to their nest to take over the incubation duties. As they arrived we were able to watch the courtship and preening of the two birds together.
Before leaving the island we encountered a group of people from the Falklands Conservation who were doing some research on the Black browed albatross colonies. It was hard to leave this lovely island, but by 11:00 we were all back on Plancius and heading towards the next stop, Saunders Island, which is about 44 miles east of Steeple Jason.
Almost 4 hours of sailing gave us the time to enjoy an episode of the BBC documentary, Frozen Planet, which included footage of Southern sea lions catching Gentoo penguins on a beach in the Falkland Islands, have lunch and a well-deserved nap in order to recover the energies for the afternoon.
By 15:00 we were all ready to go ashore again, this time to Saunders Island. This island is property of David and Susan Pole-Evans who, along with Biffo and Anthony were by the landing site to receive us. This island holds five species of breeding penguins and we were pleased to hear from David that the breeding Macaroni penguins had established their nest quite close to the edge of the colony, which would enable us to view them quite easily. Katja led the hike along the hillside, past the large Gentoo colonies scattered across the ‘Neck’ of the island, past the King penguins and up the hill towards the Rockhopper penguin colony. The King penguins were demonstrating courtship behavior while the brown chicks from last summer were waiting around for their parents to return from sea with food. So in very few hours, we walked among colonies of Gentoo, Magellanic, Rockhopper, King and Macaroni penguins! The end point to the hike was at the edge of the Black browed albatross colony and from there we could stroll back along the hillside and down onto the beautiful white sandy beach on the north side of the island where we could watch penguins coming and going in the surf and Brown Skuas, Striated caracara and Turkey vultures feeding on eggs and some penguin carcasses. What an amazing place to spend an afternoon and we were all a little envious the owners of this beautiful island.
By 19:15 the Plancius was starting to sail again we were all onboard, listening very carefully all the information that Jim was giving us for our next day in the capital of the Falkland Islands, Port Stanley!
This morning Jim woke us up bright and early to make sure we were up and around to enjoy the approach to Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. We sailed past Cape Pembroke with its distinctive black and white lighthouse marking the dangers of the off shore Billy Rocks. As we sailed into Port William we could see the narrow entrance to Stanley harbour imaginatively known as The Narrows. There was a number of other ships in the vicinity including the British Antarctic Survey ship, the James Clarke Ross, Pharos, which is the fisheries patrol vessel for South Georgia and Sea Spirit, another cruise ship. We were quickly followed by Fram, yet another cruise ship on their way to South Georgia via the Falklands.
We could see the brightly coloured buildings of Stanley stretched out along the hillside as we came into our anchorage position in front of the town and as we did so the sun came out, the mountains of the Two Sisters, Mt Longdon and Tumbledown were revealed as the clouds disappeared and we found ourselves under a big, blue Falklands sky.
As soon as we were at anchor staff and crew lowered the Zodiacs and as soon as we finished our breakfast we were able to go ashore and enjoy the delights that Stanley has to offer. We landed at the floating pontoon in front of the jetty centre which was the perfect place to begin our explorations and, armed with maps and details of Wi-fi we all headed off in different directions to make the most of the morning.
Most people headed for the shops to buy some postcards and penguin souvenirs at some of the many gift shops around town while others found coffee shops and enjoyed a drink and Wi-fi connection. The museum was also a popular destination to take a trip through Falkland history in its new surroundings near the Post Office. Some people took a taxi out of town to see some bird life on some freshwater ponds near the town beach of Surf Bay while others were content to take a stroll round town and just enjoy the view (and the odd beer or two in the local pub….)
For a small town with a population of around 2,500 people Stanley is a busy, vibrant little place with something for everyone and a real cheery atmosphere on this warm sunny morning. What a privilege to be here.
All too soon (especially for Ali!) it was time to make our way down to the jetty to board the Zodiacs and head back to Plancius ready to begin the next leg of our voyage towards South Georgia. There were some concerns that we’d left someone behind on shore (no it wasn’t Ali!) but we got everyone and our local provisions on board and made our way back out of the narrows and off on our way.
It was a beautiful afternoon as we sailed out of Port William, past Gypsy Cove, with its yellow gorse and Yorke Bay, with its stunning white sand and made our way out into open water once again.
Many people spent the afternoon out on deck before Nicolas invited us down to the Dining room for a presentation entitled ‘Malvinas, the Lost Daughters’ which gave the Argentinean point of view on the conflict in the islands in 1982 and subsequent political issues which are still on-going between Britain and Argentina.
As the sun began to sink towards the horizon we were invited to join the staff in the lounge for Happy Hour and a Falklands re-cap. Elke spoke about some of the early explorers that discovered and settled the islands, Jim spoke about the role of the Governor, Rex Hunt on evening of the Argentine invasion in 1982, including a recording from the radio station on the fateful night and Ali talked about the importance of horses in the Falklands, even now in the days of 4x4 vehicles with photos of some of her ‘jockey’ moments while she was living there. Dinner was a lively affair with so much to talk about after 2 fabulous Falkland days. Very special islands indeed.
After a quiet start to our voyage from the Falkland Islands in terms of sea conditions we also had a calm night, without too much swell which allowed everyone to enjoy a good night of sleep after the busy Falkland days. At wake-up time, the weather was not sunny like yesterday but the visibility was good and although there weren’t too many birds around the ship the keen bird watchers with their binoculars were enjoying some new species as we headed east.
Today's programme started with a lecture from Ali on South Georgia. She gave us an overview of different topics about the island including the first discovery by the French explorer, Anton de la Roche and the claiming of the island for Great Britain by Captain James Cook, almost 100 years later. The first human history began with the sealers and whalers, with the relics of their brutal industry still scattered around the island in the form of abandoned whaling stations. The current economy is based on Fisheries for Toothfish, Icefish and Krill as well as tourism. Ali did a great job of preparing us for the wildlife spectacle that we will encounter on our voyage; huge King penguin colonies, Elephant seals and Fur seals.
After a short break, Jim told us the principle rules to observe ashore according the IAATO organisation. He explained how it is important to follow biosecurity measures to ensure than the wildlife will not be threatened. Just after his talk, we started to inspect and vacuum clean our gear in order to remove any seed and biological matter coming from elsewhere. These Bio-security measures are taken very seriously by South Georgia Government and we had to sign a declaration form to say that we had cleaned our gear thoroughly. The sound of vacuuming could be heard in the lounge until mid-afternoon!
As we were approaching the Polar Front, or Antarctic Convergence, as it is also known we entered in the mist during the course of the day. There were a few birds spotted outside such as Antarctic prions, Black browed albatross and the tiny Storm petrels but the visibility did not allow us to have good chances to spot some marine mammals such as whales.
By late afternoon as the vacuuming was finished we were offered two opportunities to watch a documentary produced by the Government of South Georgia giving more information about this remote island. Some of the information was common sense on how to behave on this pristine, remote island but it also gave some useful information for us as responsible tourists. This, along with Ali’s presentation in the morning, the bio-security measures and the fabulous book we were given has fully prepared us for our visit.
Then, it was Elke's turn to give a lecture about King Penguins of which there are many breeding on the beaches of South Georgia. We will become very familiar with their sight, sound and smell over the coming days. After giving the characteristics of those strange birds, she explained the life cycle with this unique breeding cycle of 15 months over two consecutive years.
It was time for the re-cap, where Gérard described what the Antarctic Convergence actually is and Ali showed the wingspan of the most common birds we have already seen of we should see during the next days. With no sense of scale out at sea it is hard to really appreciate how big these birds are, from the Wilson’s Storm petrel with a wingspan of 45cm to the huge Wandering albatross with a 3.5 metre wingspan. She also reminded us of the 5 metre rule when approaching penguin colonies. It is further than you think!
After another fabulous dinner from our galley team it was time for an evening story from Tobias who spoke about some of his caving adventures. Very different to life on board Plancius!
The second and last full day of sea en-route to South Georgia started with renewed fresh and colder air, because during the night between 3am and 6 am we crossed the Antarctic Convergence. This meant that we were now properly into the Southern Ocean properly and the temperature of the sea dropped from 5°C to 1°C during those hours. So we started the day feeling us much closer from our objective and it was certainly colder out on deck, although this didn’t deter the birders from spending the day out on deck!
After another delightful breakfast that started at 08:00, our guest Revered Keith Gilbert offered a Sunday church service in the dining room where everybody, from every faith was invited to join. It was a lovely service and very much appreciated by those attending, especially members of the crew who took the opportunity to attend the service.
Just before lunch, Tobias gave us an introduction to the South Georgia geological history. Most of the island is made up of sandstone, which built up as sedimentary rock behind the granite Drygalski Fiord complex, which is a remnant of Gondwanaland. This is the same complex which makes up South America and South Africa. The highest peak is Mt Paget, which is part of the Allerdyce Range and is 2,934 metres above sea level. As a result of his talk we began to have a better understanding of how this island was created so far out in the Scotia Sea.
By the time we had finished our geological lesson it was almost time for lunch and we all enjoyed a feast of pasta and salad, especially the ski party getting some carbohydrates into their bodies ready for their hike in the coming days!
After lunch, around 14:30 our first iceberg of this voyage was spotted from the Bridge. As we got nearer we realised it had a beautiful shape, very similar to a swan with a tower above the rest of the iceberg. At 15:00 Gerard was on hand in the lounge to talk about the Southern Ocean including descriptions of the weather, the ocean currents and the food web of the marine life in this freezing waters. Krill is the basis of all life here in the Southern Ocean and its presence is affected by currents and water temperature. Without it, the seas here would be empty.
After tea time, at 17:00 in the dining room, our guest lecturer Annie, one of the ski crossing guides told us the fascinating story of Shackleton´s Endurance Expedition in 1915/16. This was the Imperial Tran-Antarctic expedition and, after losing the ship in the ice in the Weddell Sea Shackleton got his men as far as Elephant Island in the lifeboats before sailing in the James Caird across to South Georgia and crossing the island to raise the alarm and mount a rescue of his men. It really is an incredible story.
Once again the afternoon passed easily and another evening of re-cap was on. This time with more expectation because our Expedition Leader Jim was talking about the next days of action and landings in South Georgia, and also Annie told us about the historical crossing of the Island from Peggotty Bluff (King Haakon Bay) to Stromness Harbour, that the expeditionary group of skiers from Polar Explorers were due to start the next morning.
By 19:30 pm dinner was served, and everybody was ready to enjoy it. After dinner Gerard told us a delightful story about his solo experiences skiing in Svalbard, enjoying the sound of the silence. It was an excellent end to the day and we were ready and prepared for what was coming the next day: South Georgia!
It had been a bit of an uncomfortable night on board Plancius with plenty of rocking and rolling and creaks and bangs to keep a lot of people awake for much of the night. As Jim made the wake-up call many of us were in our first deep sleep of the night! It was, however worth getting up for as South Georgia came into view and we made our way into King Haakon Bay.
This bay was where Shackleton arrived after his journey from Elephant Island and sailed the James Caird into Cave Cove on Cape Rosa. We had a glimpse of the narrow cove entrance as we made our way further into the bay and our anchorage off Peggotty Bluff.
After breakfast the ski crossing party gathered their equipment on the aft deck and staff and crew were on hand to shuttle them ashore to their departure point on the beach close to Shackleton Gap. Once they were ashore with all their kit, skis and pulks it was then time for the rest of us to wrap up warm and head to the gangway ready for the bouncy ride ashore.
Our drivers got us ashore safely and we stepped foot on dry land to be welcomed by members of the Expedition team and some large Southern elephant seals. The seals have been here since late Sept/early Oct and we could see the male ‘Beach Master’, the dominant male, some ‘Satellite Bulls’, those males not quite strong enough or mature enough to take a harem, some females and lots of pups, some already weaned but others still with their mother.
The staff had flagged a route through the tussac and past the ponds where South Georgia pintail ducks could be seen feeding and paddling around and in the tussac grass the sound of the endemic South Georgia pipit, the world’s most southerly songbird could be heard. The habitat restoration project to eradicate the rats in this areas took place a couple of years ago and has clearly been successful as pipits were coming and going to their nests in the tussac with beaks full of insects. A lovely sight to see and a wonderful sound hear.
Many people spent time by the ponds and at the beach while others headed around in the direction of the bluff itself. It is believed that it was in the shelter of this rocky outcrop that Shackleton turned the James Caird over and made camp before setting off over the mountains with Worsley and Crean. Some people scrambled up to the top of the bluff for views of the surrounding area and then Ali found a ‘seal-free’ route through the tussac grass to the far beach where there was some Fur seals and another breeding colony of Elephant seals. It was lovely just to stand and watch the females and pups as well as try and take some photos of these sleeping, blubbery beasts.
While some people concentrated their cameras on the seals, others found a small group of King penguins that were posing quite nicely in the tussac. This is not a breeding colony but mainly a moulting location for these birds but it was great to see our first South Georgia kings. Other keen birders had their cameras trained on the tussac to capture images of Pipits entering and leaving their nests. All in all it was a lovely morning here at this remote and seldom visited site and as we made our way back to the landing site with thoughts of hot coffee and soup we spared a thought for our ski party heading up over the Shackleton Gap.
Back on board we had a warming chilli lunch as Plancius sailed out of the bay towards Cape Rosa. It soon became clear that a landing at Cave Cove would not be possible due to high winds and, more critically for the narrow entrance, big swell and surf. We sailed on further and the Captain and Jim looked at the maps for alternative options for the afternoon. Undine Harbour was a possibility for a Zodiac cruise but, as we approached the area Captain Alexey informed Jim that due to wind, poor visibility and poorly charted waters it was not going to be possible to do so.
A disappointing end to the afternoon but this was tempered a little by the chance to watch Part 1 of the Shackleton movie in the dining room and get a glimpse into the life of the man and his Endurance expedition.
After the movie it wasn’t long before we were invited to the lounge for the evening’s re-cap where Jim spoke about our plans for tomorrow, a Zodiac cruise in Prince Olav (great moustache Jim!) and a landing at Salisbury Plain. Ali then talked about Elephant seals outlining their life cycle and feeding strategies and interpreting what we had seen today at Peggotty Bluff with the harems, Beach masters and satellite bulls.
Dinner was a lively affair as always but having had a disturbed night of sleep the previous night many of us were early to our beds.
All night long, Plancius sailed slowly along the North-East coast of South Georgia and Captain dropped anchor by the old whaling station of Prince Olav at 07:30. There was some light cloud over the hills but the sun was beginning to break through and it was beginning to look like and lovely morning, despite a little wind in the bay.
The crew prepared and lowered all the Zodiacs quickly so we were able to board them just after breakfast. The doctor Veronique sorted all of us by language so almost all of us were able to receive explanations in our own language as much as possible. We divided the Zodiacs in two groups doing a circumnavigation of the bay in reverse order.
The first boats went inside Elephant Lagoon, passing through a narrow passage known as Karl Passage. On the way in there were plenty of Fur seals hauled out on the rocks and some of these males were fighting with each other to start establishing territories along the shore. The conditions were improving all the time and in the shelter of the lagoon the conditions were almost perfect as the sun came out and the clouds lifted to reveal stunning snow clad mountains. As always in South Georgia the fringe of kelp along the shore was making driving a little tricky at times as the long strands got wrapped around the propellers of the boats but we managed to get quite close to the shore for views of the many Fur seals, all of them being males, that were defending a small territory to establish a harem once the females arrived. Also, we spotted some Antarctic terns, flying at low altitude, looking for some food in the kelp and all along the shore there were groups of South Georgia pintails feeding in the shallow water. Surprisingly, there was only one bull elephant seal with his harem of females and weaners born a few weeks ago. Some South Georgia shags were standing on rocks by the sea, ready to grab some prey passing by.
After doing a full loop of the lagoon the boats then swapped over with the other cruisers that had been viewing the remains of the whaling station of Prince Olav Harbour. As we went deeper in the bay, where the same wildlife was present, the buildings of the whaling station in into view, their rusty orange colour standing out against the snow and then the wreck of the ship the Brutus could be seen against the shore. A lot of snow was still there in the very end of the bay, even at sea level. We were not authorised to approach the former whaling station, for safety reasons but we passed by the wreck of Brutus, which was a former nitrates cargo ship which was used there as a coaling hulk having been towed from Cape Town by 4 whaling ships. The station itself ran from 1911 to 1931 with mainly factory ship processing on the Restitution rather than shore based operations and when the station was closed much of the equipment was relocated to Leith Harbour, a much bigger whaling station down the coast. During the almost two hour cruise the weather improved and we finished at sun shine. On our arrival back on board, hotel manager Natasha and her assistant Thijs served us a hot chocolate to warm us up, although it hadn’t been so cold in the end.
During lunch, Plancius moved further West and, very soon we arrived quickly in the Bay of Isles. For this afternoon, Expedition Leader Jim, prepared a landing to visit the large King penguin colony at Salisbury Plain, which is estimated to have around 70,000 breeding pairs of birds. As soon as we arrived on the beach, there was already a small group of them there to welcome us and parade past us creating photo opportunities from the very beginning. On this large beach, male Fur seals where spread everywhere ready to welcome the females into their harem and there were pockets of Elephant seals along the beach as well. Gerard flagged a route along the top of the beach towards the colony, slaloming carefully between some Elephant seals and groups of moulting King penguins. Again with the penguins standing on the snow the photo opportunities were fantastic and progress was slow but very enjoyable. As we approached the colony the density of King penguins was much higher than expected and we had to leave the beach and to go inland and across the plain and into the tussac. The final hundred metres were certainly not easy due to this difficult terrain made up of black mud and tussac clumps. It was well worth the muddy scramble as here we were able to see many chicks, around 10 months old, calling for their parents to feed them. There was adult courtship display and chick feeding taking place and as a result the sight the sound and the smell of the colony was incredible. We stayed there for a couple of hours before slowly making our way back to the landing spot, with stops along the way to enjoy the penguins in the surf and parading along the beach. What an amazing afternoon!
After a quick change it was soon time for the traditional re-cap where Tobias explained about the geology of the Prince Olav area and Jim gave us his plans for tomorrow. What a great day!
After a calm night, breakfast found us already sailing into the very picturesque Godthul Bay where we were due to spend the day. Godhul translates as ‘Good Cove’ and it was certainly a good harbour to be in this morning with calm blue water in the shelter of the hills around.
During the morning we visited the beach of Godthul in the vicinity of some old whaling shore depots. This had been a very small whaling station. Whaling began in 1908 with a factory ship, the Aviemore being serviced by two whale catchers, Edda and Snore. There were lots of whale bones along the beach as well as some ‘jollies’, the small boats which were used by the whalers when they were flensing the whales. We were welcomed on the beach by big Elephant Seals bulls and their harems Antarctic Fur seals as well as a few Gentoo penguins that were preparing for their long hike up the hill to the colonies.
The first people to go ashore at 09:00 were the group of about 45 hikers who went to reach the summit of Edda Hill, 302m with Tobias, Nicolas and Gerard from where they were able to get great views over Godthul and Horseshoe Bay. On the way up they passed by a number of Gentoo penguin colonies and Giant petrels near the shore of Lake Aviemore and it took them 3 hours of easy and relaxing walking to get to the top and be back on the shore. The hike was definitely worth it as the views from the top were stunning, looking out to sea but also getting a glimpse into the interior of the island.
While the hikers were doing their thing the rest of us were arriving at the beach and had a couple of options available to us; beach time with very active Elephant seals, a walk up to the Gentoo penguins who were busily nest building and some South Georgia solitude by the frozen Lake Aviemore, which lies about 50 m above sea level. There was also a Zodiac cruise option around the bay to the waterfall where we were also able to see Light mantled sooty albatross flying in beautiful paired display along the cliffs and landing at their chosen nesting site. In the meantime Plancius sat at anchor during the whole day, and the crew had the opportunity to do their mandatory safety drills and lifeboats tests. Extremely calm weather, blue skies and temperatures of up to 13°C let us enjoy an awesome morning in this good cove of South Georgia. By 12:30 everybody had returned to Plancius, and were ready for lunch. Members of the Expedition team had a quick bite to eat and were soon off with a scout boat to see what the sea conditions were like around the outside of the bay for our afternoon landing inside the tiny Cobbler’s Cove. There was some swell but it was good enough for Zodiac operations and without much time to rest 14:00 we were heading with the Zodiacs towards Cobblers Cove. This is a very sheltered bay, with a very narrow and dramatic channel of entrance.
As we had done earlier, first to go ashore were the energetic group of hikers (about 50), who were going to head up and over the hill for a visit to Rookery Point, where they were hoping to spot some Macaroni penguins nesting. The first part of the hike was an ascent up the snow covered hill but once at the top of the pass it was short grass and tussac all the way down to the penguin colony. It was much windier and colder on the other side of the hill and with clouds building up on the mountains and a fog bank out at sea the time with the colourful little penguins was cut short by about 15 mins to ensure a safe return, not only to the landing site but back around the coast to Plancius. It was about a 3 hour round trip, and on the way back the most enthusiastic were able to do some bum sliding back downhill towards Cobblers Cove!!!
In the meantime, by 15:00, everyone else was ashore and enjoying of the wildlife and the peace of Cobblers Cove beach. Wandering around there were Gentoo penguins, Elephant seals, Fur seals, South Georgia pintails, and a couple of Light mantled albatrosses doing a synchronized courting flying around us. It was fantastic to have a lovely afternoon in a very calm spot! At around 17:00 the sun went down, the wind started to pick up and the shuttling back to ship started. On the crossing from Cobblers to Godhtul we encountered some big swell which reminded us the strength of nature in this remote location.
Back on board there was time for re-cap including plans for the morning which would involve and early morning landing at Prion Island, a real gem of South Georgia.
It was a very early wake-up call this morning at 05:15 but it was to prove to be worth the sleep deprivation as we made our landing at Prion Island. The weather conditions were certainly very marginal with wind blowing at 30 knots as we approached the island so Jim made the sensible decision to cancel the planned Zodiac cruise and just concentrate on the landing on the island. The staff went ashore in a scout boat and, with conditions looking good enough the first group went ashore just after 06:00. The island is home to around 60 pairs of Wandering albatross and it was these birds that we were all very keen to see but we were met by Fur seals, Elephant seals, Gentoo penguins and the sound of South Georgia pipit at the beach before making our way to the board walk to head to the top of the island. The wooden steps made the ascent easy for everyone and before too long we were up on the top platform looking at great big fluffy albatross chicks on their nests. These chicks were hatched in early March and have spent the winter on the island being brooded and fed by both their parents. At this time of year they are beginning to get their adult feathers and practice using their 3.5 metre wings for their first flight in a few months’ time. Once airborne these young birds will spend the next 6 or 7 years out at sea not touching land at all, before returning to the island to begin the process of finding a mate which they will stay with for the rest of their 60 year life.
We were lucky enough to find one chick sitting in the tussac very close to the boardwalk and although it was mostly sleeping it did take a curious look around from time to time and stretch out a wing. Another bird just near the top of the hill was a little more active and was beautifully positioned for photos with a stunning mountain backdrop behind. There were a number of albatross chicks down on the plain and one of those was fed during the morning visit and was quite active in its wing strengthening exercises. Although it was a little crowded at times on the platform and boardwalk we all got a great view of these wonderful birds; an absolute privilege.
With both groups enjoying their time ashore it was time to leave the birds in peace and head back to the ship for breakfast during which Plancius headed down to Fortuna Bay to collect the ski party on their descent from the mountains. Conditions were quite windy on arrival but the staff, as always did a great job of getting skiers and kit back to the ship safely where they were given a fabulous welcome from everyone. It had a been a tough few days in the mountains with challenging weather and snow conditions but with everyone back safe and well it could be deemed a successful expedition.
From Fortuna we sailed around to Cumberland Bay East for our late afternoon visit to Grytviken. The views of Mt Paget, the highest peak on the island at 2,934 metres, and the rest of the Allerdyce Range were absolutely stunning as we entered the bay. The conditions, however were less than perfect with strong winds blowing across the small cove making the anchorage position unsafe. Plancius was taken back out of the bay where the anchor was dropped and shortly afterwards the Government official, Pat Lurcock came on board to clear the ship during which time his wife Sarah gave a presentation about the Rat eradication project on the island.
“For speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen. For exploration and scientific discovery, give me Scott. But when all hope is lost, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton”
As soon as we were cleared to go ashore we began the wet, bouncy process of getting there with staff and crew doing an amazing job in very windy conditions. Once ashore we were invited to the cemetery where Ali gave a short speech and toast to Sir Earnest Shackleton who was buried here in 1922. Warmed with a tot of whiskey we were then free to roam the ruins of Grytviken whaling station, visit the museum and shop and attend the church service given by Reverend Keith Gilbert. Despite some delays to our landing it was a lovely afternoon and as we made our way back to Plancius the wind had decreased and the clouds had lifted and it was a beautiful evening in the bay, just perfect for a South Georgia BBQ. It was a great feast of steak, sausages, ribs and salads and with lights and music it was a proper party atmosphere on the aft deck!
We arrived around 07:00 in front of Gold Harbour with reasonably good sea conditions. As soon as Captain dropped the anchor and Ali was lowered one zodiac, the wind started to pick up to and was gusting at 30 knots. Jim and Captain decided that it was not safe to continue operations and, with the weather forecast predicting increased winds throughout the day they changed their minds to Plan B. The time to lift anchor and leave, the wind picked up even more and became a severe gale with gusts more than 40 knots. The right decision had be taken on time.
As we sailed out of the shelter of Gold Harbour the winds soon increased once more and everyone completely understood the decision to go to Plan B, which was to head south to Cooper Bay. With white water all around the ship and winds peaking at 50 knots it was certainly an impressive sight, from the comfort and safety of the ship. As we arrived in Cooper Bay it was evident that it was not possible to do any activity here either, due to the wind once again so we were now on to Plan C, a ship’s cruise into Drygalski Fjord. We sailed through the narrow channel between the mainland of South Georgia and Cooper Island and as we did so we could, with binoculars see Chinstrap penguins on the beach and on exiting the channel we found an Antarctic scene of icebergs grounded along the coastline. Great photo opportunities for everyone.
As we entered the fjord it was almost like entering a new world as the wind dropped and it was possible again to go to outside decks to enjoy the scenery. We sailed up the fjord in very good conditions with sunshine and without wind. On both sides of this fjord, jagged peaks offered us a magnificent views of the oldest part of the island, a remnant of Gondwanaland. Some glaciers had channelled deep U shaped valleys during the ice ages and remnant of those huge glaciers are visible nowadays as small valley glaciers. We saw a few calvings from a serac fall, making a small swell from the glacier front. After arriving at end of the fjord the Captain positioned the ship for a while so we could soak in the views and also the sunshine as we watched the Antarctic terns flying at the face of the glacier and a lone Gentoo penguin on ice. During lunch the Captain did a short half turn to sail back down the fjord to a position close to the entrance and, as conditions were still bad outside, Jim decided to do a Zodiac cruise in the small and narrow adjacent fjord named Larsen Harbour.
So, shortly after lunch 10 Zodiacs were launched and once loaded we made our way towards the narrow fjord, slowly sailing along the shore looking for some wildlife. This is the only place outside of Antarctica where Weddell seals can be found breeding. It is only a small population with less than 30 females but we were lucky enough to see a female with her pup hauled out on the snow quite close to the shore as well as another couple of seals further back from the beach. The best view was of a single female lying on the snow who was very relaxed as we approached and allowed us some great photo opportunities as we cruised through the kelp. As we sailed up to the end of the fjord, which ended in a dramatic glacier, complete with ice cave there were many Antarctic terns flying around and over the Zodiacs and some of them were smart enough to understand that it was easier to catch small larvaes in the kelp where the propeller had mixed water and they were coming to feed a few metres from the Zodiacs. After over two and half hours of this fabulous cruise in sunshine we went back to Plancius, some Zodiacs under their own power, others being towed as some engines had some trouble and some of us had to wait for another Zodiac to come back to rescue them. We all got back safe and sound. So on a day where it seemed that nothing would be possible due to the wind we managed a beautiful ship’s cruise, a unique Zodiac cruise and were able to view the power of the weather in this part of the world from the safety of the ship.
After the traditional re-cap, where Ali spoke about the Weddell seals we had seen and Jim briefed us about plans for tomorrow, we had our dinner in calm sea in the fjord and, later in the evening we started our navigation northward.
It was a bumpy night on board because while everybody was sleeping Plancius sailed from the southern end of South Georgia, from the entrance of Drygalski Fjord in the south all the way to Fortuna Bay where we had collected our ski party only a few days before. The wake-up call at 07:15 found us setting anchor in Fortuna, with great weather conditions. The sun was shining and there was very little wind so perfect conditions for going ashore. Before 09:00 the Zodiacs were shuttling people ashore to enjoy the magnificent morning.
There was the usual South Georgia welcome party at the beach; Expedition staff, King penguins, Fur seals and Elephant seals! From the landing site Ali had flagged a safe, penguin and seal free route up to the colony so we were able to stroll along the beach, over the grassy plain and reach the main colony. We were able to view the colony from lots of different angles; from the front, from the elevated position on the small hill and to the side where we had great views of the chicks. This was probably the best spot for viewing the fluffy brown chicks and very soon a few of them started to make their way over for a closer look at us to the point where they were pecking flags and boots and staring into camera lenses designed for long distance photography. They weren’t needed here! The colony of Fortuna Bay, has about 7,000 breeding pairs of Kings.
We spent about 3 hours with the penguins, both at the colony and near the shore and with the weather conditions changing from bright sunshine to light rain during the course of the morning it was a lovely morning. The views up the great outwash plain of Konig Glacier and the mountains around were fabulous and the morning passed very fast watching the awesome scenery and the behaviour of the King penguins.
At around 12:30 everybody was back on the ship, and ready to have a quick lunch because the plan for the afternoon was for 29 of us to go ashore on the other side of the bay to begin the Shackleton’s Walk Traverse, re-tracing the last 6km of the route that Shackleton, Crean and Worsley did in 1916. The rest of us stayed on the ship to sail around to Stromness to meet them on the other side.
The Polar Explorers ski group set off first to complete their traverse and as everyone headed up the hillside from Fortuna the weather conditions were much rougher than the morning and the trekkers experienced the crossing with some ‘expedition like’ conditions, including heavy wet snow and high winds. The snow conditions underfoot were also challenging but on reaching the top of the pass it provided an ideal opportunity to have some fun up in the mountains making a snowman, and having snowball fight. The descent down to the waterfall was slippery in places on the wet grass patches and snow but everyone got down safely.
Meanwhile in the harbour at Stomness the non-trekkers were getting ready to come ashore although the weather conditions here, with heavy rain did discourage a few from boarding a Zodiac! For those going ashore there were a couple of options available with a small group bravely heading up to the waterfall with Ali and others staying on the beach to watch the Fur seals in the rain. Due to the 200 metre restrictions around the whaling station we were unable to explore Stromness up close but we could see the rusting old buildings from the edge of the exclusion area. Thankfully the rain eased and stopped during the afternoon and as the waterfall walkers headed towards the interior of the valley to reach the Shackleton’s Waterfall they met up again the group of trekkers on their way down before making their way back through the hills past the Gentoo penguin colonies which are situated over a mile from the sea. Despite the wet weather conditions it had been a very pleasant landing here at Stomness.
Around 18:45 most of us were on board again and by 19:00 we were warmed up, dried out and gathered in the bar for re-cap to hear what was coming on our last days in South Georgia. Gerard also spoke about some of the weather phenomenon that is common here in South Georgia. We were generally very pleased and happy with the weather, which, so far let us do wonderful landings since the arrival to the island.
Many of us might have been awake anticipating the 04:15 wake-up call but it didn’t come due to the fact that we had high winds and difficult swell preventing us from landing at St Andrew’s Bay for our pre-breakfast trip to the King penguins. Jim woke us at 07:45 and with less wind blowing down from the mountains we were going to give it another try after breakfast. It was a beautiful sunny morning as we sailed into the bay and it was to remain that way for the rest of the day.
The staff went ashore in the first Zodiac and Ali and Katja were tasked with flagging a route to the moraines overlooking the main King penguin colony which is home to over 200,000 breeding pairs of these fabulous birds. In order to do so they had to cross the meltwater river running down from the glacial lake up the valley, a task which was to prove impossible due to the deep, fast running water and the density of penguins all along the river banks. Ali marked a route up to the lake which gave great views of the penguins along the river and the stunning mountain range beyond, dominated by the Nordenskjold peak and with penguins on ice on the lake it was a beautiful setting. Back at the beach there was plenty of penguins coming and going from the sea and with the male Elephant seals arguing about territory and females there was plenty to see near the landing site.
Due to not being able to cross the river Jim offered a Zodiac cruise to everyone so they could view the main colony from the sea and what a sight it was; mile after mile of king penguins and Elephant seals all along the beach and inland onto the glaciers themselves. The sunny weather helped, of course and it really was a perfect South Georgia morning.
All too soon it was time to head back to the ship for lunch but with the weather holding and conditions so perfect ashore Jim and the Captain made the decision to stay at St Andrew’s Bay for the rest of the day and much to everyone’s delight we found ourselves going back to the beach after lunch. There were a number of options available for the afternoon with a hike up into the hills, more zodiac cruising, more beach time with penguins and seals or a combination of all three.
The cruisers enjoyed more of the vast expanse of St Andrew’s Bay and even found a couple of Leopard seals catching a King penguin along by the rocks, which was very unusual for South Georgia as these seals are generally found only in Antarctica. The small hiking group had a lovely walk up to the ridge overlooking the bay with great views over the Allerdyce mountain range and down to the sea from the high sea cliffs. The beach party strolled with penguins, sat with penguins, photographed penguins and breathed in the scent of penguins for the whole afternoon, with a few Elephant seals thrown in for extra entertainment. Whatever the choice for the afternoon it was a good one and everyone went back to Plancius with sensory overload as a result of their day here at St Andrew’s Bay.
There was no pre-dinner re-cap but the views were enough of a re-cap allowing time for reflection on the day with lenticular clouds forming over the mountains and the sun casting shadows over the glaciers behind the bay. Beautiful.
After dinner we gathered in the lounge to hear the plans for tomorrow, our last landing day here in South Georgia. It is going to be really difficult to top our experience today.
The final event of the day was a quiet service with Keith Gilbert in the dining room, which was a chance to give thanks for our amazing journey and also reflect on the horrific acts of terrorism in Paris on Friday 13th November.
As announced yesterday, Jim told us our destination for the morning while doing the wake-up call. The weather was quite good, so Jim decided that going to Elsehul was worth a chance but this exposed cove can often have quite big swell and wind. During our last re-position into the bay the weather had worsened a little and, although the Captain tried to find a sheltered place to anchor close to the bay there was too much swell coming from North. Visibility was also quite poor as well, with only glimpses of the coastline from time to time so certainly not ideal for a landing. The plus side to being in this little bay was the number of birds around the ship. The tussac covered cliffs in Elsehul are home to large numbers of Grey headed albatross as well as Light mantled sooty albatross and Black browed albatross so we were able to watch them circling round the ship as the Captain made a final assessment of conditions and then decided to turn around and head back on our route to Right Whale Bay. This time, sea conditions were much better for a landing and staff were able to lower the zodiacs without any difficulties but it was pouring with rain for our final landing, so very different to St Andrew’s Bay yesterday.
The usual landing site at the right hand side of the bay was too crowded with Fur seals for a landing so the Expedition staff found a spot nearer the centre of the beach where there was easy access although a little more swell and surf. Stern, reverse landings with the Zodiacs were required which meant staff in waders hauling boats to turn them around with the bow facing the waves. The beach was still crowded with Elephant seals and Fur seals and there were King penguins coming and going all the way along the shore. Seals were dispersed everywhere and so Gerard flagged a safe way between them to access to a small hill of tussac giving a fabulous views on the adjacent King penguin colony.
We were able to access the edge of the colony and had the sight thousands of big brown chicks whistling to be fed. Many of the adults were displaying courtship behaviour, parading and strolling in groups of three or four and flipper slapping as they made their decisions about a mate for the coming season. A few penguins came towards us, curious to see these visitors to their colony on a wet Monday morning and they came at a few metres of us. For our last landing, it was a gift from them and a way for them to tell us Goodbye.
From near the top of the hill we could look down on the colony and also down towards the shore where there was a large lagoon which was filled with Elephant seal pups practising their swimming for the first time. It was like seal soup!
During the landing the wind began to pick up and the decision was made by staff and the Captain on the Bridge to get back to the landing site as quickly as possible. It was incredible how quickly the weather had changed and the winds increased to the point where people were finding it hard to stand up as they walked along the back of the beach. The strong gusts and the swell were making the Zodiacs move a lot more and the sea was almost ‘smoking’ white as the wind lifted the surface. The drivers returning to the shore required an extra crew member for ballast to ensure they weren’t flipped over in the wind. Conditions at the gangway were very wet as waves broke over the bow of the Zodiac but, with the help of crew and staff, we were all able to come back to the ship safely just before the wind picked up more with a gust at 72 knots. The Zodiac drivers had to be very cautious and judge their approach to the crane between the strongest gusts of wind to ensure they weren’t blown backwards as they did so. All the members of the Expedition team, Captain Alexey and 2nd Officer Anika breathed a sigh of relief as the last Zodiac was brought on board. We had made it, but only just. It was almost as if South Georgia was saying to us, you’ve had your fun, now it is time for you to leave.
During lunch, we started to sail in the direction of Ushuaia, passing by the Bird Island and Willis Island. There were many albatrosses, Black-browed and Grey headed flying around with ease. They were born to live in those harsh conditions. The sea was very rough as we left the shelter of the mainland of South Georgia so many people took an afternoon sleep and then enjoyed the 2nd part of Shackleton expedition movie.
As always there was a chance to gather in the lounge for the evening re-cap before dinner and a good night of sleep before the predicted weather system came through in the coming days.
Despite it being a sea day we still had a wake-up call this morning to rouse us from our bunks ready for breakfast at 08:00. After an incredible week of walks and adventures in South Georgia, the first day at sea heading towards east found us sailing through relatively gentle waters, and making good timing.
The talks and lectures of the day started with our French guide, Gerard who refreshed our minds with a talk about the Birds of the Southern Ocean. Many people were out on deck enjoying the birds and the sunshine as we made our way westwards and with some people walking the decks for a bit of exercise it was quite busy outside as people made the most of the good conditions.
There was time for one more cup of tea before, at 11:30 our Expedition Leader Mr. Jim Mayer delighted us with a lecture about his book “Shackleton. A life in Poetry”. During his talk, Jim let us know about the not so well known face of Sir Ernest Shackleton: The poet behind the explorer. Also his poems allowed us to understand a bit more of the personal and spiritual life of this great leader of all times.
So morning went by very quickly but during the morning the winds had started to increase a little, as predicted.
The afternoon activities started again at 15:30, with a very interesting documentary from the South Georgia Heritage Trust about the biggest Rat Eradication Program ever seen and that has been taking place in the island to try to get rid of this plague, in order to restore as much as possible the environment of this very important relict of nesting birds. The documentary was filmed during phase two of the project and of course in 2015 the final phase of baiting was completed and we could have been some of the first people to visit South Georgia as a rat free island.
At 18:00, we gathered once again in the lounge for the auction of exclusive memorabilia items to support the fundraising for the South Georgia Heritage Trust. Ali had collected the items from the museum in Grytviken while we were visiting there and many of the items are not available to buy anywhere else. Ali was our auctioneer for the evening and did a great job of encouraging more bids and entertaining those who just came along to watch. It was very interesting and profitable and, thanks to the interest of everyone and also some extra items donated for the auction from some passengers, the amount raised during the auction was of £500:00. This amount will go towards the monitoring phase of the eradication project to ensure that the baiting has been successful and is the equivalent of clearing rats from 5.5 hectares of South Georgia!
As usual at 19:30, dinner was served and it was an interesting affair as the winds and swell had increased to such an extent that we were all having to hold onto glasses and plates and even our food seemed to have a life of its own as it moved around the plate. The windows on the starboard side of the ship were often like a washing machine and shortly after dinner these were closed as a safety precaution.
Due to the deterioration in the weather story time was postponed and we all had an early night, although it was obvious that it would be a sleepless night for most.
There was little need for the wake-up call this morning as most of us hadn’t managed to sleep much at all during the night! Many of us came to breakfast at 08:00 with tales of our sleepless night, of finding things in the cabin that were making a noise throughout the early hours and of aches and pains from securing ourselves in our bunks through the long dark hours.
The rolling motion was making life on board extremely uncomfortable for most and the safest and most comfortable place to be was in our bunks. Some people spent some time on the portside bridge wing trying to photograph the waves and spray but this spray was making it a bit of a damp salty place to be, despite the sunshine. Due to the motion of the ocean the first talk of the day was postponed in order to limit passenger movement around the ship but at 11:30 Katja very bravely set up in the lounge to talk about Climate Change, one of the big debates of our time. She explained the reasons for the changes in our global climate and the effects this could have on the Antarctic environment and outlined some scientific predictions for the future. Her talk was interrupted a couple of times with dolphin sightings in the boiling surf outside. They were Hourglass dolphins, a common pelagic species in these waters.
Lunch was a seated affair rather than a buffet and once again we were all in awe of the staff, both in the galley producing the food in these conditions and the waitresses bringing our food to us with such big rolling motions. They do an amazing job and always with a smile.
After lunch there was some ‘down time’ for us all to retire to our cabins to rest but at 15:00 we were invited to the dining room by Ali for her presentation entitled ‘Ice Maidens’, which gave us an insight into the lives of the wives of Shackleton and Scott as well as those women who first ventured to Antarctica and the sub Antarctic island of South Georgia. It was a fascinating talk and interesting to hear a different aspect on life in the south.
This presentation was followed by a repeat of Katja’s Climate Change talk, this time in German. She has done very well to do two talks in such unpleasant sea conditions!
Later on the evening we were invited once again to the lounge where Jim had a few messages about our next few days on board, Ali talked about Krill, the basis for all life here in the Southern Oceans and Gerard explained about ozone and the ozone hole above Antarctica.
Dinner was served but due to the conditions still making life difficult for some, the after dinner poetry slam was postponed until the sea condition improve. It must happen soon!
During the night, the wind dropped a bit and turned to South-West direction which ensured that most of us had a better night of sleep than we had done on the previous night. The low pressure weather system we had been suffering from was gone and conditions at sea were much more pleasant and to everyone’s delight the Bridge officers announced that the outside decks were open again. A chance for some fresh air and sunshine. There were still some big rolls to contend with so we had to take our time walking around the decks as everywhere was still damp, slippery and encrusted in salt.
As for the other days at sea, there was a lecture programme in place for the day and the first lecture was not given by any members of the Expedition team but by Sebastian, the Chief Engineer in charge of all the technical side on board. With plans, photos and movies, he showed us all parts of the engine room with the three generators plus the harbour generator, producing all the electricity needed. Also he explained how the electric main engine connected to the propeller and all auxiliary equipment. It was a fascinating insight into the workings of Plancius and life on board for the Engineering team.
Later on, in the morning, Elke talked about glaciology, giving us a basic knowledge on how to classify the glaciers depending on their topography or behaviour. She also explained how the water being under a glacier had an important effect on the sliding of ice on the glacier bed, with the extreme case of a surge occurring in Svalbard.
During this time, there was plenty of wildlife to observe outside, particularly from the aft deck with lots of Black browed albatross and Wandering albatross. At one point there were four of these graceful birds soaring around the ship and quite often coming close to the portside as they used the uplift from the wind and waves to travel on their way. There was plenty of photo opportunities from the decks to capture these birds so at ease in their natural environment.
After lunch many people returned to the outside decks and during the afternoon the Bridge announced some dolphins had been spotted. It was a small group of Peale’s dolphins swimming quickly and quite close to the ship but the sighting did not last long and only the people in the lounge or outside decks were able to watch them for any length of time. Always nice to see them though and a treat after days of rough seas which prevented any marine mammal spotting.
During the afternoon, we continued our lectures. Paul, one of our fellow passengers, showed us some photos of an expedition he was part of in 1968-69 in Svalbard. The goal of the expedition was to study the Polar bears in the area and they wintered in a cabin they had built on the island of Edgeøya in East Svalbard. The talk was done in Dutch and translated simultaneously in English, French and German and it was a fascinating trip back in time to see the scientific research that was taking place nearly 50 years ago.
The final activity of the afternoon was something completely different: a poetry session. Everyone, passengers and staff had been invited to tell some poems whether their own words of those of published poets and there were enough people overcoming shyness and plucking up the courage to face the audience. The poems ranged from poignant tales of whalers from Ali and provoking words of reflection from member of the ski party as well as little ditties from Jim. It really was an enjoyable session in the lounge and everyone who attended commented on how much they had enjoyed it.
Dinner was another fine meal and at last we were able to enjoy it properly without having to hold onto glasses and plates while we were eating. The swell was progressively reducing, making Plancius roll less and our movements much easier. It was another birthday celebration on board – Happy Birthday Elizabeth!
Story time in the lounge was given this evening by Nicolas who explained about the Argentinean tradition of drinking Mate. It is almost like the Chinese tea ceremony with rules and traditions and we were lucky enough to sample some of this herbal brew.
So our last sea day before we reach Ushuaia tomorrow and it was a lovely calm day at sea as we made our way towards the Beagle Channel. Everyone had enjoyed a good night of sleep and with an extra hour in bed everyone was feeling refreshed and relaxed as they made their way to breakfast.
The first task of the day was to hand in our rubber boots, which we left outside our cabins for the staff to collect. These boots were essential in ensuring dry feet during our landings, both at the Zodiacs and whilst walking around on shore, although on some days our feet were a little hot!
As we went up to the lounge and out on deck we could begin to see land up ahead with Staten Island appearing on our starboard side and the snow topped mountains of Tierra del Fuego in the distance. After 4 days at sea it was nice to see land again. Conditions out on deck were good with calm seas and little wind and there was plenty of birds still flying around the ship so deck time was very pleasant for a change.
The first presentation of the morning was given by Nicolas who spoke about the native inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, the Yamanas. They lived along the coastal regions of this southernmost island in South America living on fish and native guanacos but often suffered greatly in the hands of later settlers and missionaries. It was certainly interesting to find out about the people who originally settled in this remote location.
Later in the morning Jim and Ali were on hand to talk about some of the other trips available with Oceanwide and they took us on a virtual voyage from Antarctica to the Arctic and some very interesting places in between. It certainly gave us all some ideas for future trips. Our local guide Nicolas also gave us a few tips on enjoying our time in Ushuaia with advice on where to shop and eat in this, the city at Fin del Mundo, the end of the world.
After lunch it was time to settle our on board accounts with Natasha and Thijs. Sadly all those drinks from Cecille’s bar and souvenirs from the ‘Ship Shop’ have to be paid for at some point and with this, the last afternoon of our voyage it was time to find credit cards, Euros and Dollars from depths of our cabins and settle up.
During the afternoon we passed a fishing boat which had hundreds of birds following in its wake; Black browed albatross, Cape petrels, Giant petrels. After we had passed by, many of the birds came over to Plancius and for a while we were surrounded by birds which gave photographers on the aft deck some amazing photo opportunities.
During the late afternoon there was an opportunity to watch another episode of the BBC documentary ‘Frozen Planet’ with more stunning footage from the Polar Regions. Re-cap included a Pre-cap from Jim, with information about our disembarkation in Ushuaia in the morning and a chance to look back on our voyage with a short film made by Ruedi and Priska Abbül, our Polar News guides and images from Martin van Lokven. It was so lovely to look back over the last few weeks on board Plancius travelling to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and reflect on some amazing experiences in these very special islands. With Captain’s Cocktails it was a chance to toast our voyage and the many people who have made this trip such a success, from the Captain himself and his deck crew to the Expedition staff, to the members of the hotel department, those in the engine room and even the laundry staff. It has been a team effort and as a result a successful and enjoyable voyage. Cheers everyone!
Today is disembarkation day in Ushuaia. Coming alongside, we were boarded by the Argentine officials who cleared our vessel and allowed us to disembark. On the pier we bade farewell to many of the friends we have come to know over the past 20 days, and had one last look at the Plancius, the ship that took us safely on such an incredible voyage from Puerto Madryn to the Falklands and to South Georgia. This trip will last us 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: 3224 nm
Kilometres: 5971 km
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Nazarov, Expedition Leader Jim Mayer and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.