PLA21-16, trip log | Basecamp Antarctica
28.11.2016 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going south of south...a long way south. But for today, we ambled about this lovely Patagonian city, savouring the local flavours and enjoying the sights.
Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 55,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Ushuaia (lit. “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue) clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting. The rugged spine of the South American Andes ends here, where two oceans meet. As could be expected from such an exposed setting, the weather has the habit of changing on a whim. However, temperatures during the long days of the austral summer are relatively mild, providing a final blanket of warmth before heading off on our adventures.
For many of us this is the start of a lifelong dream. The excitement comes in different forms for each unique person, but even the most experienced of us feels genuine excitement to depart on a journey to the Great White Continent of Antarctica. Most passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board our ship MV Plancius, home for the next 10 days.
We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition staff who sorted our luggage and sent us on board to meet Hotel and Restaurant Managers, Johnny and Katrin. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of our fabulous Filipino crew.
A little while after boarding we convened in the lounge on deck five to meet First Officer Jaanus, who led us through the details of the required SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) Safety and Lifeboat Drill, assisted by the crew and staff. On hearing the alarm we reconvened at the ‘muster station’, the lounge, for the mandatory safety briefing and abandon ship drill donning our huge orange life jackets that will keep us safe should the need arise. After this lifeboat drill we returned to the outer decks to watch our departure from the jetty of Ushuaia and the last of city life for a while. We entered the Beagle Channel with an escort of black browed albatross. Once we were on our way into the channel we were invited once again to the lounge to meet our Hotel Manager Johnny who gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next 10 days or so. We then met our Expedition Leader, Troels Jacobsen and the rest of the Expedition Team who will guide us in Antarctica in order for us to enjoy the various Basecamp activities that are on offer: kayaking, mountaineering and camping amongst others.
This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Alexey Nazarov and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chef Ralf and Sean and their galley staff. This first evening on board was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements, and settling into our cabins. In the early hours of the morning we would be out into the open waters of the Drake Passage and heading South towards Antarctica.
The ship started rolling in the early hours of the morning, a clear sign that we were in the open sea of the Drake Passage. While some of us managed to cope with these conditions, most were feeling pretty sea-sick and the dining room was nearly empty at breakfast time. The decision was made to cancel Beau’s talk about Baleen Whales; time enough another day.
During the day the wind speed sometimes reached over 30 knots, and big waves from the west on our port side made the ship shudder and roll up to 30 degrees. In the lounge, a rope was put up so that people had something to hold on to. For those of us confined to our bunks it was a long and very uncomfortable day spent holding on to the side of their bunks and eating crackers. Again a trip to the dining room for lunch was to prove too much for most and it was a select few with seasoned sea legs that made it there for food.
In the afternoon Michael managed to entice some people to leave their cabins and come to his presentation about adaptations of animals in the cold Polar Regions. Whoever was up and about could watch different sea birds following the ship. There were, for example the black and white speckled Cape petrels, brown giant petrels, black-browed albatrosses, light-mantled sooty albatrosses, and the largest of them all, a few prehistoric-looking wandering albatrosses. As Troels later explained, the wandering albatross was the largest flying bird in the world, having a wingspan of over 3 meters.
After a quiet afternoon when most people were asleep or battling sea-sickness Troels informed us during the re-cap about our further plans. Bill regaled us with a talk about paintings of the sea and the fall of Icarus, and finally David recited poetic gallantry from an old Norwegian sailors love letter to his wife. We hoped the seas would be kinder to us as we headed further south….. as the dining room, once again was low on numbers for dinner.
As mentioned the day before by several expedition staff, we had crossed the biological border of the Antarctic Convergence at night. Some may have felt a slight bump while sleeping! The sea conditions started to improve step by step, which made everyone feel much better after such a rough day before so we were able to start with some informative briefings about the Basecamp activities, such as camping, mountaineering and kayaking, during the morning. Thanks to the improving conditions outside, more and more of us were able to peel ourselves out of bed and conquered the sea-sickness. It was great to see the number of people steadily increasing and colours and smiles returning to the faces. After stuffing our brains with all this Basecamp information, it was time to stuff our bellies with food in the dining room. For some of us, it was the first proper meal in some time!
The afternoon was reserved for mandatory briefings and activities. First, we learned about IAATO and its rules and how we use the zodiacs safely to get ashore. Thereafter, we brought our gear to the lounge to vacuum all the critical parts like Velcros and pockets in order to remove any seeds or biological material so that we will not accidentally introduce an alien species to the majestic nature of Antarctica. After all those meetings, there was only one left to attend – the ritual handing out of the holy rubber boots. At re-cap Troels told us the plans for the next day. A long day came slowly to an end. There was only one more thing to do after dinner, in order to have all the tools and knowledge for a successful and fun voyage. We checked our long awaited schedules for our activities throughout the voyage when coming out of dinner. Now, with everything in hand that we needed, we were eagerly awaiting the start of the activities the next day while have a drink at the bar or going to bed early in order to be ready the next day.
The day dawned misty eyed and bushy tailed. A fantastically sunny morning it was, so much so that our intrepid expedition leader Troels decided to wake everyone up early to head out on deck and enjoy the beautiful views that abounded. Sailing through the Gerlache Strait, we headed south west along the peninsula coast as ice capped and snowy frosted mountains danced before our eyes. Bits of ice, some large enough to be called growlers, an absolute favourite of the 3rd officer John. A growler a day keeps a sailor in dismay! Or some such fanciful notion.
After a fantastical breakfast served up piping hot and fresh by our burly chef Ralph, everyone scattered about the outer decks to enjoy the views sailing down along the most remote and coldest continent in the world. The days plan? An absurdly long landing at Danco Island, a cute little island with a rather active Gentoo penguin colony. The Mountaineers would head off towards Kerr Point on Rongé Island, not too far off from Danco Island. As luck would have it, the same place the campers would camp out that very night. As passengers piled at the gangway, eager to head out in the rubbery zodiacs for an afternoon of adventure, the intrepid mountaineers were chauffeured off to their pre-prepped landing site. Soon after the penguin passengers and snowshoe wearers were brought out to Danco, as the kayakers prepared their gear to shortly thereafter head off to the great unknown. Great fun had by all! As the penguiner’s slowly headed back to the ship after they were all penguined out, the second round of kayakers set off for their turn of fun, the mountaineers slowly headed back down the mountainside for their little bit of penguin excitement. As the day slowly came to an end, excitedly chattering guests piled into the restaurant for the wonderful dinner of creamy goodness soup that chef Ralph is never on short supply of. But wait! The day was not over yet. Shortly past 8 O’clock, Troels put out a call for the campers to gear back up and head to the gangway. Camping! Indeed! What jolly fun! And so it was that the campers headed out for their night of misery, or rather awesome super fun time ashore, the rest of the ship settled down for a relaxed evening by the campfire, roasting marshmallows and hotdogs while others made the infamous S’more. As night settled in, everyone tucked into their little floh kisten, or flea boxes as beds are affectionately as in Germany, drifting off into a sleep filled with dreams of penguins, seals, and other unknown beasts of the polar latitudes…
18 guests donned harnesses, snow shoes and roped up as a mountaineering team! They then ascended the broad spur/ridge amongst wild glacial scenery and towering seracs before a safe descent and return to Plancius.
Danco Island – 11th November 2016 - Team H
With a degree of intrepidation, Team H – our novice kayakers entered their zodiac and headed to a safe location away from the ship and the many icebergs. Two by two, they lowered themselves from the zodiac into their kayaks, realising very quickly just how stable they were, as long as they didn’t make any sudden movements. Once all of us were on the water, we gathered together in a raft for some top tips and handy hints, after which we headed to Danco Island to catch up with the many Gentoo penguins and the two Crabeater Seals. All appeared to have relaxed into the activity and were able to take a few photos as well. From here, it was off to explore amongst the many icebergs that lay off Danco. The team managed to negotiate a challenging route through the bergs before making our way back to a safe location, where our zodiac was waiting to pick us up and take us back to the ship for a swap over with Team E.
Danco Island – 11th November 2016 - Team E
Team E were waiting at the gangway to exchange a few items of equipment. After a quick change, we were heading back out on the water and were very soon in the kayaks exploring what they could do. Given the wonderful conditions, it was a great opportunity to circumnavigate Danco Island. Permission was granted by the Bridge, so off we went, with our zodiac for back up. The sea was settled and the wind light. Although the sun was lowering in the sky, temperatures were still very reasonable. We made steady progress around the backside of the island and as we turned the corner at the base of the island, the whole Errera Channel opened up to us. What a wonderful view! Our route back towards the ship required a degree of concentration as we negotiated many small bergs. We came across two Crabeater pups basking in the afternoon sunshine so took a few more photos before continuing on around the island to complete our 6km journey. Another great venture in Antarctica!
Just after de dinner we all prepare for a long night in Antarctica whit the first group of 32 passengers, the weather during the day was awesome and we put a lot of energy to keep it in that way for the night.
We arrive to Kerr Point around 20:30 the equipment was waiting for us the only thing that we need to do was cave our own holes (or graves how we call it in a funny way) trying to avoid de surface to stay out of the wind and have a nice night inside of the many layers that we provide to the passengers, Shabel in hand and dig deep enough.
Half of the group stay awake until midnight hanging out taking pictures and enjoying the nice night (whit out darkness) that Antarctica gift to us.
We have the lucky to be visited by an Adélie penguin who decided to spend the night whit us in the middle of the camping area.
At 04:30 it was no necessary to make a wakeup call most of the group didn’t sleep during the night hours so the where ready since time ago to jump to the zodiac and return to our lovely PLANCIUS, where not only a nice breakfast was waiting for us also a nice hot shower and a normal bed, everybody say that was such a wonderful experience and most of them will never do it again.
As the campers return from a night in the elements, the rest of their shipmates begin to stir onboard. Slowly waking from a groggy, satisfied haze which can only be brought about by a full day of penguins, activities, and indescribably beautiful scenery, we pull back the curtains and open the portholes and find we are once again blessed by the weather gods – blue skies and no wind. With a hop in our step and we clamour to the dining room for breakfast rushing to get out for everything the day has to offer. Today will be spent in Paradise Bay, apply named for the stunning beauty which surrounds us – towering mountains covered in snow and cascading glaciers depositing masses of deep blue ice into the water – it is as close to Paradise as one can get on an expedition ship.
This morning we stop at Brown Station – once called Almirante Brown – an Argentine Research Station. Currently the only residents are the Gentoo Penguins, waiting not-so-patiently for their nests to melt from underneath the meters of snow which cover them. While lingering the Gentoo’s provide us with hours of amusement as they squabble, preen, court, and walk to and fro with seemingly incisive purpose. Ahh to be in the mind of a penguin for just a moment, what would we see? As we sit, attempting to take everything in, we see Blue-eyed shags fly by with beak-fulls of algae, a present for their mate sitting on their newly occupied nests; snowy sheathbills run to and fro grabbing anything for a bite to eat; and Weddell seals laze on the ice. As our morning of majestically beauty blends into the afternoon, the warming air causes the mountains and glaciers protest around us, as small avalanches cascade down, and with a crack and boom large pieces of ice escape the glacier faces. What a world we live in where we can still travel to places such as this – and to now say we have truly seen Antarctica is her most magnificent splendour.
A further 17 guests geared up and set off up pristine snow towards the summit beckoning above. Normally an easy track, this early in the season we were climbing wind carved features and a steady nerve was needed!
The summit itself was negotiated with the aid of a fixed rope and in pairs all the mountaineers stood on the lofty summit! We then went for a journey overlooking Skontorp Cove where we sat listening to the calving seracs and spotted the kayakers, far below.
Mount Banck & Barbaro Point pm
3 rope teams set off up collapsing snow and for some this was almost the crux of the day! Rocio led her rope amongst the crevasses and seracs of Mount Banck and successfully summited this imposing peak (675m) with a strong team.
The remaining teams ‘ran the gauntlet’ of the seracs at mid height and climbed the little known (little climbed?) peaks which run out towards Barbaro Point? Who knows how many have stood there before!
Just like the first team after get de dinner we jump to the zodiacs in the way to Stony Point, another calm day whit out wind and a beautiful quiet night.
Many of the passenger built them holes to be safe from the wind and jump immediately to the sleeping bag, around six of them stay awake a little more enjoying the view and walking around waiting for some ice to fold down from the many glaciers that surround us the weather couldn’t be better.
Like the first night we have a visitor but this time wasn’t a penguin, this time a Weddel seal lie just next to the tends that the staff prepare in case of emergency. At 04:30 most of them make and automatic wake up every one less one who stay in the sleeping bag until the first zodiac arrive to pick us. Again half of the group sleep like rocks and the other half never close their eyes, and also again there where happy to return to the comfort of PLANCIUS.
Wow! It is the third day of sunshine and calm sea in a row and the guides still try to convince everybody how unusual these conditions are. Not convinced at all, we began the day as usual, but today we had not just one landing site to visit but four. The first group visited the Gentoo colony on Georges Point, the second group visited the Chinstrap colony on Rongé Island and the third group went for the Chinstraps on Orne Island. After the mountaineers went out for their climb, the kayaks have been launched and the hikers started for their rendezvous with the penguins. Every group had one and a half hours to observe the clumsy penguins before we switched the landing sites. At Georges Point we have been very lucky to see two Weddell Seals taking a sun bath. After lunch, the second round of activities was started as soon as we arrived at Cuverville Island. We have been awarded with a beautiful scenery of different shaped icebergs in the sunset. Some of us even witnessed one of the icebergs close by flipping over.
The teams were dropped off early and made a rising traverse towards the col, first passing a Gentoo colony and then secondly, the ‘mountaineer’ of penguins, a Chinstrap colony.
The line was obvious and steep snow was followed but discretion over valour won the day as snow turned to ice and a yawning void beckoned below! We turned around some 50 metres from the top pleased with a wild day’s mountaineering.
Tennant’s peak, George’s Point pm
After a quick turnaround a further 3 rope teams headed out past the Gentoo colonies and onto the wild glacier above. It was hot work in the afternoon sun but after an hour or so a pass was reached.
Here Rocio led a rope of 3 up to a satellite peak above, negotiating a steep snow slope. Tim shuttled 5 climbers (in two ropes) along a sinuous snow arête and rocky step to a tiny exposed summit.
Orne Island & Georges Point – Team B
We managed to get away soon after breakfast to enjoy another good weather day! Once on the water we made a b-line for the landing site on Orne Island and the rookery of Gentoo’s. After one or two photos, we made our way along the shoreline of the island, dodging the many bergy bits along the way. We took a look around the backside of the island which looked free of any ice so decided to carry on and circum-navigate Orne Island. Off the backside we saw our first Chinstrap rookeries, which was great. We also came across some large, interestingly shaped icebergs, which were very photogenic. Having completed our journey around the island we headed for Georges Point where many more Gentoo’s awaited us. On the way we encountered yet more interestingly shaped icebergs, with some great light shining through. With yet more photos of Gentoo’s, it was time for us to get back on board ship for yet another nice meal.
Curverville – Team G
After lunch, it was time to head to Curverville with Team G. They left the zodiac in turn and entered the kayaks with a degree of intrepidation but soon relaxed and began to enjoy the experience. The icebergs were just amazing in their architecture, as well as their size and colours. The Gentoo’s seemed to want to interact this afternoon as they ‘porpoised’ amongst the kayaks, displaying their prowess. There was a lot of ice around, big and small, yet we managed to negotiate a passage through to where we wanted to go. Once back out into clear waters, we headed back to the ship passing by yet more rather large icebergs. Noel picked us up for the last part of our journey back.
A memorable day’s kayaking in the Ererra channel!
Back on board the Plancius, a nice barbeque was set up for dinner on the aft deck. We enjoyed the great food before the camping party left for its night in cold.
This one was a particular night because before go to the camping area we have the surprise to eat a nice barbecue made by our local chef on Plancius whit music nice weather and good meet and vegetables so we start a little bit late this last night of camping.
At 21:00 hs we arrive again to Kerr point this time whit a small group of 21 passengers some of the cancel because of the cold stories of the other two groups (of course the night is cold outside especially in Antarctica).
This time the weather wasn’t so good a little bit of wind blow continues over the camping area reason for why some of the campers dig really deep holes to stay out of the inclemency of wind, also was a cloudy night so the moon doesn’t appear like the other two night, but it wasn’t so bad.
The campers where really tired for the activities of the days before so in the time that they were finishing whit the graves don’t took much time until everyone was inside of the sleeping bag.
That was a quiet night non visitors appear during the night so the all group has a great sleep.
This time we have to make the wakeup call at 04:30 to start to prepare the equipment, every single one was sleeping that was amazing, 05:30 the staff pick up us whit the zodiac like every morning for return to our sweet home the PLANCIUS.
Passengers awoke to a dramatic Antarctic landscape as Plancius motored slowly in to anchor off the intended landing site at Neko Harbour.
Massive menacing overhanging cliffs of ice cascaded from the glaciers on either side of the anchorage site. A cold wind gusted violently across the surface of the sea. The proposed kayaking was judged marginal and therefore cancelled. An advance part of guides selected a landing site and cut out steps in the wall of snow adjacent to the beach. All others were transported ashore in the Zodiacs. The climbing group, kitted out in snowshoes, climbed high across the edge of the glacier towards the rock bands whilst as the snow was firm and in excellent condition, others walked around photographing the penguins and observing the many facets of behaviour.
The location at Neko was stunning.
Plancius recovered anchor and sailed into the narrow ice-choked Errera Channel. Excited passengers lined the rails photographing the banging and grinding of the vessel through this ice covered area. Gradually the ice opened up as Plancius progressed into the more open waters of the Gerlache Strait and into further excitement in the Bransfield. First, it was the discovery of a leopard seal lying on a large ice-flow. Unbelievably, Plancius managed to creep really close to give everyone the opportunity of great photographs of the powerful menacing looking creature. How could the day get better? Well just did thanks to Beau on the bridge. Ever vigilant, he spotted a group of Orca ahead. What a sighting this proved to be! Identified a a family group B Orcas led by a male known as ‘Fat Boy”, the group appeared to be training young Orca in the technique of seal hunting. Constantly patrolling along the edge of ice. Passengers were entranced watching the creatures spy-hopping to check the location of the seals, harassing one unfortunate but lucky seal lying on a small flow and patrolling along the edge of the ice.
Without doubt this was the highlight of the day and indeed judged by most, to be the most memorable experience of the Oceanwide Expedition.
A large team headed up in 3 ropes (again!) and marched into a fierce wind which made communication difficult. All the while a void opened out beneath us to the right and the terrain was challenging for snow shoes at times, with hard snow conditions. The summit below the cliff face was reached and someone dropped a glasses case which we all saw cascade down the hill, never to be seen again! It certainly made everyone tread carefully to ensure we didn’t join it!
Due to upcoming wind and swell the kayaking had to be cancelled today.
The day started as every other day did on this crazy voyage, sunny skies with only wisps of clouds scattered about to be seen. Since this had become the new norm, it was hardly a surprise for anyone despite NO-ONE ever before seeing such an amount of fantastic weather all strung together before. The days plan? Half Moon Island, a small but cute little island with a wide variety of possibilities for everyone, including a great little mountain top for the mountaineers, fantastic glaciers nearby for the kayakers, a long strung out stretch for the snowshoers, and a chinstrap colony for the penguiners. But wait! That’s not all folks! There was also a possibility of seeing a Macaroni pair, nestled amongst the Chinnies. Still being early season, they might not be there but one never knows as they seemed to enjoy spending the summer season holidays among the Chinstraps of Half Moon.
After a tasty breakfast of extra creamy porridge that Chef Ralph is never on short supply of, everyone headed out into the great unknown for adventures of daring-do. While the mountaineers headed off to summit a peak of astronomical proportions, the kayakers played about in the water tipping kayaks left right and centre. Finally the normal penguiners landed ashore, trying not to disturb a lone male fur seal lying on the beach enjoying some peace and quiet alone before the other males headed south after mating season. Super-Bill and Super-Beau summited their own peak, leading the charge up the small mountainside to lay claim in their own right. Macaroni! Shouted the camping guide Nacho cheese. Indeed, a lone Macaroni penguin was spotted amongst the chinstraps. But alas, only one. Lonely thought it might be, it nevertheless stood amongst its brethren, determined to defend its patch of land against all odds.
Finally it was time to head back to Plancius for a delicious luncheon. Afterwards, Beau regaled all with tales of whales, whiles others felt the imminent rolling and pitching of the ship and decided it was better to lay in their bunks, rather than risking spewing lunch across the lounge. As the day came to an end, everyone headed off to bed, content in the knowledge that this was perhaps the best basecamp voyage the Plancius had ever seen.
After a well oiled start we heard the news, the crane was broken – would we be doomed to be stuck on the ship! Luckily the engineers replaced the motor in super quick time and we were off. It meant a blistering pace was needed in the morning sun but good progress was made through the pristine crevasse fields.
One rope team made a steep snow ridge before calling it a day beneath a huge summit mushroom. The remaining two teams negotiated a rocky col beneath a spire for unsurpassed views of Half Moon Island and the glaciers beyond.
The pressure was on, only one landing left & two teams still to kayak. Then the crane decided to stop working so no zodiacs on the water. After a few hits with the hammer (I’m sure it needed more than that!) we were operational. The clock was ticking. Team C were quick to get on the water having prepared for activities yesterday...
Our trip across the Drake Passage has started in ernest, and whilst this stretch of open ocean was met with much trepidation at the beginning the voyage, it is now almost welcomed- many of us eager to see how our sea-legs have developed over the last week. This passage brings with it a mix of emotions: thankfulness for an amazing five days around the Antarctic Peninsula, blessed with amazing weather and wildlife sightings; sadness in leaving an untouched and unparalleled place; excitement of new friends to continue to share adventures with; happiness in being able to sleep in and catch up on our journals and picture editing; and worry of how will the seas of the southern ocean treat us as we sail towards South America.
Today was a wonderfully relaxed day onboard Plancius, a gentle roll to our ship any sailor would be happy with, and a stunning display of birds whizzing around. As the day progressed and we moved closer to the convergence, the birds also changed in kind, moving from true Antarctic species like the Antarctic Petrel to Sub-Antarctic species like the Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross. These seabirds, who spend most of their lives on an ocean wing, flew elegantly next to us, escorting us as we left the Antarctic behind in our wake, reminding us of this incredible journey we have been on and of adventures to come.
Another full day in the Drake. After a shaky night, the sea calmed down while coming closer to South America. Most of us were busy packing up in between lectures. Lisa gave a presentation about her polar diving experience. In the afternoon we watched the documentary “Around Cape Horn” before the official farewell and captain´s cocktail started. After Dinner the lounge turned in to a nice party full of contacts and photo exchanges.
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 10 days, and had one last look at the Plancius, the ship that took us safely on such an incredible voyage from Ushuaia, across the infamous Drake Passage to Antarctica. We have camped, kayaked, mountaineered and simply enjoyed the wildlife and scenery of this very special continent and are privileged that we were able to do so. 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: 1665 nm, Kilometres: 3083km
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Nazarov, Expedition Leader Troels Jacobsen and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.