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PLA21-18, trip log, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation – Puerto Madryn, Argentina

Embarkation – Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Date: 03.11.2018
Position: 042°45’S / 065°01’W
Wind: NW 5
Weather: clear
Air Temperature: +15

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 penguins, seals and Southern right whales that calve and raise their young in the bay during the mild summer months. 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 1600 members of the Expedition team met us on the pier to assist with our luggage and embarkation. The weather conditions were lovely with warm sunshine and an easterly breeze. It was hard to believe that we would be freezing cold in the Antarctic in the coming days! Once our luggage was scanned we embarked our ship; the MV Plancius, which would be our home for the next 20 days. As we boarded the ship we met hotel managers, Zsuzsanna and Bobby and were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of the Filipino crew.

Shortly after boarding, the deck crew and shore workers released the ropes, and we departed Puerto Madryn harbour. Many of us stood on deck, watching the proceedings, and eager to spot birds and wildlife from the very startof the voyage. Within minutes of departing, we spotted many Southern Right Whales close to the vessel and in the distance; many of them were breaching or ‘sailing’ with their tail flukes.

The first briefing in the lounge was the SOLAS (Safety of Life At Sea) presentation, given to us by Chief Officer Miia who was assisted by the crew and staff. The safety briefing was followed by a familiarisation of the ship from Zsuzsanna our Hotel Manager which was a useful chance to get our bearings of our home for the coming weeks. We then made our way back to our cabins to prepare for the abandon ship drill. Upon hearing the alarm, we reconvened in the lounge, donning our huge orange life jackets and after a muster call we were taken to see the lifeboats.

As the sun set on the horizon, we were welcomed on board by Captain Artur Iakovlev with a glass of fizz and canapes. By this time the wind had started to increase a little making the motion of the ocean a little uncomfortable for some of us. A chat with the ships doctor, Lieselotte Ras, to get some pills or patches and everyone began to feel a little more comfortable. By 2000, 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 and Antarctica. It should be a great adventure!

Day 2: At Sea Sailing to the Falkland Islands

At Sea Sailing to the Falkland Islands
Date: 04.11.2018
Position: 044°35’ S / 063°35’ W
Wind: NNW 5
Weather: clear
Air Temperature: +14

Many of us were already up and around when Ali made the first wakeup call of the trip but for those of us still being gently 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 even some Royal albatross. Birds habitually follow ships at sea looking for food brought up to the surface by the wake but also to enjoy the uplift created by our passing. Traditionally they would follow fishing vessels for discarded food but that is not on offer from Plancius of course!

At 1100 the lecture programme for the day began with Pierre giving a talk about Albatrosses of the Southern Ocean to our English-speaking guests, simultaneously translated into German by Andreas. By the time the talks were finished there was some time for fresh air on deck where conditions were still breezy but sunny.

After lunch there was some siesta time built into the daily programme and at 1500 a presentation on the Falkland Islands was 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.

As well as the incredible soaring birds we were joined by bowriding Peale’s Dolphins for most of the afternoon. Peale’s dolphins are a small, dark, robust dolphin with a dark head and pale flank patches. They travel in small pods and are one of the very few dolphins that do not whistle. In the afternoon we began to see flocks of many Prions, appearing like clouds on the ocean surface.

The daily briefing before dinner was a chance for us all to get together to look back on the day and look ahead to plans for tomorrow. On this occasion it was an opportunity for the staff to introduce themselves properly and for Ali to outline some of the personal safety procedures on board once again. A stunning sunset followed shortly after dinner, with the clouds a bright orange.

Clear, dark skies, and no moon, meant we had the opportunity to view the Southern night sky. Some of us huddled on the Bridge deck to listen to Eduardo’s explanation and tales of the sky’s stars and planets.

Day 3: At Sea Sailing to the Falkland Islands

At Sea Sailing to the Falkland Islands
Date: 05.11.2018
Position: 048°54’ S / 061°57’ W
Wind: WNW 5
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +8

Another day at sea towards the Falklands! Wakeup call's done in Ali's (Daniels in German!) voice from the speakers of our cabins are starting to feel less alien now and we rise with it to yet another full day of steaming. The day is partly cloudy, and the wind is picking up a bit during the day.

After breakfast Ali gathers us all for yet another mandatory briefing, this time about how to get in and out of our small boats aka the Zodiac´s. Then there is a bit of down time before lunch and most of us spend time outside in the sun on deck bird watching or just enjoying the sun.

After lunch Daniel takes us through photography in the Antarctic seen from his keen eyes and Ali does the second part of her talk about the Falkland Islands.

During the afternoon the weather takes a turn for the worse, with wind speeds of about 30 knots and this puts an efficient stopper for most of our outdoor activity’s, since the bow is closed by the captain, for safety reasons, but the view is still great from indoors and it is easier to enjoy a coffee in the lounge than outside in the wind anyway.

Before dinner the expedition team has the daily recap where Ali goes through the plans for our first day in the Falklands and Eduardo tells us a little about the ocean floor geography of the area…and then it is time to eat again as the sun sets on the southern oceans.

Day 4: West Point Island & Grave Cove - Falkland Islands

West Point Island & Grave Cove - Falkland Islands
Date: 06.11.2018
Position: 051° 17’ S / 060° 47’ W
Wind: SW
Weather: partially cloudy
Air Temperature: +7

After a grim early start at Steeple Jason this morning, where it was decided at 5am that conditions were too windy to land, the day opened before with borderline opportunities to land at both West Point Island and Grave Cove. By the time we arrived in the relative shelter east of West Point Island at 8.30am, the wind was up to ~ 30kts, but Ali had got the good oil from Allen and Jackie that conditions by the jetty were ideal for landing. Operations started at 9am, with Kasper & Daniel getting the zodiacs wet for the first time this trip. Ali, Andreas, Pierre, Eduardo Pippa and Mick were sent out on the first boats to scout the conditions They couldn’t have been better. After receiving instructions from Allen about where to head, the first of the guests began to step foot on the jetty armed with fancy cameras and plenty of excitement about the prospect of getting a glimpse of the penguins and albatross that reside close to the Devil’s Nose on the west side of the island.

After negotiating the “Falklands Mile” to the Devil’s Nose, the gang were treated to a spectacular view of south Atlantic crashing at the base of the sunlit cliffs in winds gusting up to 35kts. The guests were then led to the mixed colony shared by Black-browed Albatross and Rockhopper Penguins. The banter between the contrasting seabird species was at times a little strained as they fought over access rights and mud clumps to secure their nests for the breeding season that lay ahead. As the birds had recently laid their brood, the guests were asked to be respectful of our feathery friends and all complied. After two hours of observing and snapping, we paid our dues and headed back to the jetty to be shipped back to Plancius for a spot of lunch.

Another tough call was made by Ali and bridge staff to go ahead with Plan B for the day and sail the click or two to Grave Cove, where a colony of 6800 Gentoo Penguins awaited. In trying conditions, where the wind strengthened in regular gusts, Kasper & Daniel once more braved the chop and splash to transport crew and guests to the pristine beach ahead, accompanied by four Commerson’s Dolphins – a local marine beastie that happens to be the world’s smallest dolphin species. We were met by the lovely Marie Paul, a local resident/sheep farmer. Marie Paul accompanied us to the southern beach where the waves were crashing in spectacular turquoise as the gentoos began to return from their day’s feeding on krill and fish. She gave us great tips on where to go to get the best photo opportunities. The wind once again howled in gusts, whipping up the sand and sending all, penguin and person running for cover now and then. Dolphin gulls also sat on the surf’s edge, almost unnoticed as they picked at stranded kelp and the odd jellyfish. Back to the ship then for warm showers, an entertaining recap and some dinner. The day ended in a drink to recognize Zsuzannah’s birthday, and some wellearned sleep.

Day 5: Stanley, Falkland Islands

Stanley, Falkland Islands
Date: 07.11.2018
Position: 051°41’ S / 057°50’ W
Wind: WNW 6
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +8

After a night of sailing across the northern coast of the Falklands, we came to Port Stanley today around 08:00. The entrance to Port Stanley requires precise navigational skills, these are shallow waters and narrow passages. Early in the morning we entered Port William and then we crossed the entrance to Stanley Harbour, named "The Narrows", a passage that honours its name.

We dropped anchor and after assessing the weather situation, we commenced our operations shortly after 08:30. Sharing Stanley Harbour with us was another expedition vessel, The National Geographic Explorer. We launched the first zodiacs in the water and despite the gusts of wind, we proceeded with our disembarkation smoothly. The zodiac ride took only a few minutes and as we approached the jetty, we could see clearly the "Welcome to the Falklands" sign that greets every visitor.

At the jetty the security staff greeted us and soon, all our guests were dashing out in town, trying to squeeze every minute of their visit. The port of Stanley offered us a group of well stocked souvenir shops, the supermarket, the museum, the post office, the church and a few other attractions. Some of our guests spent time doing shopping while others spend their time walking around the pier doing pictures of the wildlife.

Wildlife was not shy and we had a very close encounter with a couple of seals who were having a nap at the jetty. We had the chance to see a couple of Steamer Ducks swimming peacefully at the shore as well as many geese walking at the shore. Among the most "exotic" encounters we had was probably a street cat who was demanding a stroke.

All our guest were back in the ship at 13:00 and on the way back we had calmer winds so the ride back was less wet (mostly!). Soon as everything was readied in the ship, we hove anchor around 13:20 and we started to carefully sail away from Stanley Harbour.

Soon after lunch we sail away from the protection of the Falklands and we encountered the first heavy swells which made the ship roll a bit more than we had felt before during this trip. As we sail to the East- South-East, we left the continental platform and we entered into the deep waters of the South Atlantic Ocean.

At 15:00 hours, Pierre our vet and marine mammal specialist, gave a graphic presentation about Penguins which enriched our guests with basic knowledge about these lovely creatures. After this presentation, our German guests lively celebrated a birthday at the lounge with some drinks.

At the end of the day, we steamed across the South Atlantic into a dark, overcast night.

Day 6: At Sea Sailing to South Georgia

At Sea Sailing to South Georgia
Date: 08.11.2018
Position: 052°18’ S / 051°46’ W
Wind: NW 6-7
Weather: partially cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

Most of us awoke from a disturbed sleep; the weather Ali had warned us about yesterday made for a rocky night on the Southern ocean. As we begin our first of two days at sea, we are joined by more varieties of birds; Light mantled Sooty Albatross, Antarctic Petrels, Wandering Albatross and more diving petrels. The rolling seas made for a beautiful setting to watch the birds soar and bank over them.

In the morning Ali gave us a fantastic introduction to South Georgia, our next destination! South Georgia is a cresent shaped island with no permanent inhabitants, it is about 170km long and 2 to 40km wide. We will travel the 1450km from the Falklands to this pristine wilderness to witness history, wildlife and incredible scenery – the place Captain Cook mistook for the ‘Great white continent.’

The majority of the day was taken up preparing for the South Georgia Biosecurity measures put in place to protect the island from invasive species. This involved all of us cleaning our outerwear clothing with vacuum cleaners to ensure there was no seed, sand, mud, or invertebrates in our pockets or velcro. This proved time consuming, however everyone did a great job getting their clothing, bags and boots clean.

By late afternoon, the vacuum cleaners were packed away and everyone gathered in the lounge for a compulsory briefing on South Georgia – the video gave us a lot of ‘do’s and don’ts’ for our visit; including behaviour around wildlife and where restricted areas are.

Before dinner Eduardo gave us a short explanation of the Antarctic Convergence zonewhich we will cross this evening. The Antarctic Convergence zone is an area where the cold Antarctic waters meet warmer waters – this circumpolar area of water is highly productive due to the mixing of nutrients and therefore high biomass density. As we cross the convergence, we will officially be in Antarctic waters, and should expect to see a variety of different wildlife; first the birds, and soon, hopefully, the whales!

As evening sets in, a fog begins to surround Plancius – a sure indicator that we are close to the convergence zone.

Day 7: At Sea to South Georgia

At Sea to South Georgia
Date: 09.11.2018
Position: 53°06.0’ S / 044° 33.2’ W
Wind: WNW
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +3

After crossing the Antarctic Convergence overnight, we maintained our course to South Georgia in a confused swell and amongst breaking waves of up to 3m. Mick & Pierre conducted the first Bird Strike search for the trip, and were well-pleased when no birds were found on deck.

Three lectures from the guides; Eduardo, Pippa and Mick, plus a fourth by Michael from Icarus, kept the guests entertained on an otherwise quiet day. Eduardo kicked things off with a lively talk on Ernest Shackleton and his many achievements during the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, culminating in his premature death at the age of 42 in Grytviken – Ernest not Eduardo by the way. Pippa then gave us an in depth look at the history of Antarctic whaling, which brought southern whale populations to their knees, not that whales actually possess knees… Mick rounded off the guide’s contribution with his anecdotal ramblings of his time on Bird Island, concentrating on Base life and how to keep sane in an isolated life. Michael from Icarus saw the guides through to recap with his take on the origin of the universe.

Sightings were few and far between, even as we sailed past the Shag Rocks, an area renowned for great whale sightings and feeding areas for large numbers of seabirds. Snow petrels, white-bellied storm petrels and numerous prions were seen darting amongst the breaking waves in search of their planktonic prey, in addition to the odd Antarctic fur seal bobbing about the surface watching the Plancius pass at a safe distance.

Onwards to Grytviken then….

Day 8: Grytviken, South Georgia

Grytviken, South Georgia
Date: 10.11.2018
Position: 052°18’ S / 037°05’ W
Wind: WSW 7
Weather: rather rough
Air Temperature: 0

Overnight we were woken up by the rocking of the ship which moved relentlessly against the 30-40 knot winds and the heavy swell. The lights of dawn showed us the first sights of South Georgia, that of a mountainous and unforgiving landscape hidden behind the white mist. As the morning went by, we sailed parallel along the North West coast of South Georgia, aiming to enter King Edward Cove, the place where we will find the only settlement in South Georgia.

We entered the cove at 10:30 in the morning, and due to the windy conditions, we could not enter further and consequently we dropped anchor at the entrance, with King Edward Point and Grytviken in sight. Once we were sure that the Anchor was holding we then proceeded to launch a zodiac to pick up the official representatives of South Georgia Government, in order to undertake the customs formalities as well as the biosecurity procedures. The biosecurity procedures are required in order to prevent by all means, the introduction of foreign species of flora as well as to control for the presence of rodents in our ship. All these strict measures are taken in accordance with several programs aiming to eradicate introduced species such as reindeer and rats and it is thanks to these programs that scientists have been able to measure the recovery of several species of birds which are endemic to South Georgia.

We should observe here that our guests did a very nice job cleaning their personal gear, something that was noted by the customs officer who after inspecting the garments of about 20 of our guests, established that we were thoroughly clean. Once all these formalities were cleared we were granted with permission to land.

Our visit to Grytviken started by landing at the beach located below the cemetery. This is the place where a couple of dozen whalers from Norway and several other nationalities are buried, as well as a few other people who died at South Georgia. Perhaps the cemetery would be a less conspicuous place, should it not be the final resting place of Sir Ernest Shackleton, as well as his right hand man, Frank Wild. At this very place, we offered a toast, quoting Shackleton's words "It's in our nature to Explore" to honour these explorers. It is worth to mention that at this very place we find the grave of the Argentinian Machinist, an Argentinian submarine (ARA Santa Fe) that surrendered and was later sunk at Grytviken during the Falkland War in 1982. Sadly this cross stands there as a silent reminder of the political turmoil caused by the War.

Our visit was highlighted by the wildlife at Grytviken. As soon as we landed we had the chance to see a few King Penguins, many Fur Seals, many Sea Elephants, Pintail Ducks and other species of birds. All these within the first 15 minutes ashore!

After the visit to the cemetery, there was an organized tour lead by one of the members of the museum who highlighted the use of the machinery and the use of the whaling installations at Grytviken. All the corroded machinery is a silent witness of the large-scale whaling operation that took place at this place.

The tour ended at the post office where our guests took the opportunity to send postcards or to buy the unique post stamps sold at this remote location. A visit to South Georgia is not complete without visiting the museum which is conveniently located next to the post office. This museum is devoted to the history of South Georgia, touching aspects such as the discovery and exploration of the islands, the whaling period, the science undertook after World War Two, and the more modern times eradicating the foreign species and recovery of birds that nest at the island.

Our guests had the chance to do yet another activity which took them for a walk to King Edward Point and to Hope Point, the place where a memorial cross has been erected to honour Ernest Shackleton and his comrades. This walk was interrupted by a sudden change in the weather, the wind started to pick up with gusts of up to 60-70 knots which made our dash back to the ship wet and challenging. At night, we hove anchor and we sailed to the Bay of Isles, hoping the weather will improve for tomorrow.

“For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”
Sir Raymond Priestly, Antarctic Explorer and Geologist

Day 9: Rosita Harbour and Salisbury Plain, South Georgia

Rosita Harbour and Salisbury Plain, South Georgia
Date: 11.11.2018
Position: 54°01’ S / 037°14’ W
Wind: SSW 6
Weather: snow falls
Air Temperature: -1

Early in the morning after arriving at the intended landing place, Kasper and Ali took a zodiac out to check the conditions on Prion Island. This was still before wakeup call and most of the ship was still quiet and sleepy. Unfortunately, the conditions were not great, swell, wind and a seal crowded beach made for a unacceptable landing place. Ali quickly had a conference with guides and the Captain about possibilities and came up with a good plan B that would give better shelter against the wind; the plan was Rosita Harbour!

Only a short distance away and still in the Bay of Isles, Rosita used to be a sheltered accourage for the whaling ship of the same name. The plan worked and we got shelter from the winds so that we could get off the ship and do a landing before lunch. The landing was a bit windy and there was snow in the air, but the beach certainly made for an exciting experience, with hundreds of angry Fur seal males sitting on the beach. A small hike took us up the valley a little where we found many South Georgia Pipits dancing amongst the tussock grass.

After enjoying a nice leg stretch in the wind among the seals, we headed back to our floating home for lunch. During lunch we relocated down to the southern end of the bay of isles, where one of the most important places on our schedule is located: Salisbury Plains!

This open area of beach and grass lands are home to one of the larger King penguin colony’s in South Georgia, and of course has some more Fur seals and Elephant seals. This landing was a high point so far in the trip, and with good landing conditions on the beach, so we didn’t have to get soaked by saltwater. On land we had more than four hours available, so everyone had time to just sit there, at the edge of the colony and just try and take in all of the impressions there is to be found this close to something as special as a King penguin mega colony. There was a lot of cold feet and fingers but also a lot of broad smiles when we returned to Plancius. The evening was spent with a short recap where Ali told us about the plans for tomorrow and then it is time for yet another meal!

Day 10: St Andrew’s Bay and Godthul, South Georgia

St Andrew’s Bay and Godthul, South Georgia
Date: 12.11.2018
Position: 54°26’ S / 036°10’ W
Wind: Variable 1
Weather: partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

We were woken not long after 4am to be greeted with an incredible sun rise over the incredible mountains of South Georgia. As Plancius dropped anchor off St Andrews Bay, we were all relieved to hear from Ali that the landings would go ahead, with near perfect conditions. The beach can be notoriously difficult to land on as big swells often create huge surf onto the beach and katabatic winds from the glaciers and mountains are common. However, with less than 5 knots of wind, the sea was calm and the weather pristine – the best so far on our voyage.

As we made our way ashore we could hear the wildlife before seeing it; the penguin calls were background noise, with the roar of the Elephant seals projected over the bay. As the great Sir David Attenborough described – St Andrews Bay truly is the ‘Serengeti of the South’; and as we stepped foot on the beach, there were penguins, and Elephant seals spreading as far as the eye could see; over rolling moraines and interspersed with glacier melt rivers – a truly magnificent sight, and we were still to explore it!

We maneuvered our way up the beach past the huge Elephant seals; the dominant males, or beach masters, had their harem of females and occasionally roared a little, his deep voice echoing off the nearby hillside and then others, the satellite bulls would respond but generally it was all was relatively peaceful. It was curious to see how sub-adult males (still quite big) were trying to make them-selves invisible whilst they slowly creeped up towards the females hoping the beach-master would not detect them. This however was never unnoticed and one loud roar was usually enough to deter the sub-adult back into the water. The males can size eachother up easily, so fights usually only happen between the largest, most aggressive males.

Eduardo led a route along the back of the beach, out-maneuvering various curious Fur seals until we reached the river. With help from staff in the deeper, fast flowing parts we were all able to cross the small melt river, which was surrounded by King Penguins molting their feathers. From here we followed a flagged route up to the moraines overlooking the main colony of King penguins. As we made our way up the last slope to the viewpoint the noise of the penguins increased and as we reached the top it was an orchestra of trumpeting adults and whistling chicks that met us along with a view that will stay with many of us for the rest of our lives. Along the beach were thousands of penguins and chicks stretching out as far as the eye could see. Everyone sat down to just take in the view, it was almost too big to photograph!

We all stayed a while to enjoy the view and were then able to take a leisurely walk back to the landing site enjoying views of the penguins along the river banks and the seals on the beach. Before too long the Zodiacs were shuttling us back to the ship ready to download and edit another few hundred photographs! Back onboard breakfast was waiting for us and we were able to rest our legs a bit after a longer walk and a busy few days.

Conditions were so good we were able to visit St Andrews bay a second time, with some of us staying on the ship, the rest either took to the shore for a hike, stayed on the beach to enjoy the wildlife and scenery, or enjoyed a leisurely zodiac cruise along the beach – giving us a different perspective view and we were able to photograph more King penguins as they swam in the surf and roaring Elephant seals. We enjoyed the scenery whilst the Plancius sailed around to Godthul. This translates as Good Cove and with the winds increasing outside of the bay it certainly proved to be a good place to anchor and go ashore. We managed to land and found the beach was littered with old whale bones from the whaling station here. Along the beach from the landing site we could see the relics of the whaling that took place here in the form of two ‘Jollies’ little wooden boats that were used as platforms for flensing the whales at the side of the ship.

Soon the hikers made their way through the tussac grass, outmaneuvering various fur seals along the way to reach the Gentoo colony. It was incredible to see the grass nests that the penguins had built ready for the breeding season, impressive constructions using beaks and feet! We all enjoyed watching penguins stealing vegetation from other nests and taking it back to their own nests looking very pleased with themselves! The first group of walkers headed up to the lake and then up the hill to the saddle of the mountains. Some of us headed for the summit of Edda hill and with reasonable conditions, albeit a little windy they made it up the steep scree slopes to the top. The views down the coast of South Georgia were fabulous.

The medium hikers made their way from the lake to the higher colonies of Gentoo penguins that had made the long trek from the sea to almost 200m above sea level. Why they do it is anybody’s guess but we all marveled at their efforts! From some of us walked out to a lower viewpoint before making our way back along the grasslands to the lower slopes once more. Meanwhile out in the bay some of us did a zodiac cruise along the shore where Andreas guided us through the geology of this incredible bay. We spotted many small beaches and caves with lots of fur seals and elephant seals. The zodiac glided through the sea kelp where Kelp Gulls were foraging and penguins were seen porpoising close by.

The wind swung to the east, turning the calm bay of Godthul very choppy – this made for challenging and wet trips back in the zodiacs to the ship, something we have become accustom to on this voyage. We were all glad to get back on board to warm up with dinner and a drink at the bar.

Day 11: Gold Harbour, South Georgia

Gold Harbour, South Georgia
Date: 13.11.2018
Position: 54° 37’ S / 35° 56’ W
Wind: NW 3-4
Weather: partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

The guests were woken to a breath-taking view of Gold Harbour drenched in glorious sunshine and a flat sea. Ali gave them the news they wanted to hear: Landing on Gold Harbour will be taking place directly after an early breakfast. The rapidly retreating Bertrab Glacier at the southern end of the harbour, towered over a beach laden with the regular occupants: King Penguins, Elephant Seals, Gentoo Penguins, Antarctic Fur Seals, Giant Petrels and Brown Skuas.

The routinely accessible tussac at the back of the beach area was deemed inaccessible due to the high numbers of weaners and King Penguins in the stream. As such, the gobsmacked guests were restricted to the beach but were never-the-less treated to a spectacle they’ll never forget. At the north end of the beach, the weaners went into cuteness overdrive as they pulled every noise and face out of their extensive repertoire. In the middle of the harbour, the King Penguin creches kept the majority of the gang amused with their antics. It looks as if it might be a good year for prey oceanic species, from all the fat weaners and tubby chicks gracing the dark sands of Gold Harbour.

Cooper Island was our next destination, however high winds scuppered any chance of a Zodiac cruise. Never-the-less, good sunny sightings of both Macaroni and Chinstrap Penguins were made as we steamed past the island and onto Drygalski Fjord. The guests were treated to lunch with a glacial view at the base of the fjord as the rain began to lash and the winds began to build.

After a hyper-active couple of days, the guests and crew settled into the afternoon with a well-earned rest as the Plancius steamed southwest towards its next port-of-call – the South Shetland Islands!

Day 12: At Sea to South Orkney Islands

At Sea to South Orkney Islands
Date: 14.11.2018
Position: 57°00’ S / 038°46’ W
Wind: W6
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +1

During our first night after we left South Georgia our ship was beaten by very strong winds, with gusts reaching up to 50 knots and high seas, with waves reaching up to 4-6 metres high. This was a difficult night to sleep due to the violent rolling of the ship. The day broke covered with a whitishgreyish fog, and a rough green-greyish sea covered with big splashing waves with large patches of white foam on top.

A few birds of the Southern Ocean flew around the ship and our bird watchers were able to distinguish Cape Petrels, Giant Petrels and Skuas among others. Today was also the day that we entered officially into the geographical region of Antarctica, since we crossed the parallel 60 South.

Today is going to be another full day at sea, and to keep our guests entertained our Staff prepared a full program of activities. The first activity was a lecture titled "Antarctica Discovered" by Kasper. In his lecture he described the first attempts made to explore the edge of the continent made by Adrien de Gerlache and Jean Charcot. Later he described briefly the race and conquest of the south Pole undertaken by Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott in 1911 and 1912 respectively. Finally, he made a few remarks on the inaccessibility of the South Pole, making an interesting comment that this place was not visited again until 1956 by an American plane which brought the first visitors to this place in 45 years, and just 13 years before the missions to the Moon!

After this lecture, the next activity was the IAATO briefing, a mandatory activity for all those who want to visit the Antarctic Continent. This briefing, presented by Ali, consist of describing the rules of conduct that should be observed around wildlife in Antarctica as well as the biosecurity measures required when landing. All these rules aim to minimize the human impact with the wildlife and are also made to prevent the introduction of new species into the Antarctic environment. After this presentation was made we, once again, vacuumed the pockets and velcros of our outer layers of clothing of our guests and staff. Since we have more than 100 guests on board, this activity was made by groups according to the deck and cabin number of our guests.

Late in the afternoon, we had another presentation, given by Ali in the topic of Seals. In her lecture, Ali shared with the guests her knowledge about these animals and as well as her experiences working with them. Her lecture had hundreds of beautiful pictures which enticed her audience.

After her presentation, we had a couple of social activities, a happy hour at the bar, followed by an auction. The auction was done aiming to raise funds for the South Georgia Heritage Trust, an organization aiming to preserve the history and the cultural heritage of the South Georgia Archipelago. This organization also undertook the effort to eradicate the rats and other foreign species and with the funds raised from the auction, we help them to continue their preservation efforts. In total, we managed to sell 13 items and to rise about 1000,00 EUR for the trust.

As we sail south, we are starting to experience longer periods of light, due to our high latitude south and we could enjoy light until well past 9 in the evening. As we sail south, we enter the northern limit of the Scotia Sea, one of the most violent seas in the world.

Day 13: Orcadas Station, Laurie Island, South Orkney Islands

Orcadas Station, Laurie Island, South Orkney Islands
Date: 15.11.2018
Position: 060°40’ S / 044°08’ W
Wind: W5-6
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: -1

Waking up today we found ourselves within sight of the South Orkney islands, a small group of islands halfway between South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula. It is a bit wet and grey with winds of around 30 knots and rain in the air, but we brave the weather and anchor up in the bay just south of the Argentinian Naval and research station called “Orcadas station”.

Due to space limitations, the station personnel asked us to separate into two groups so that we only has about 50 people on shore at a time, this is nice since the personnel invites us all on a guided tour of the station, ending up with coffee and tea inside the station itself. While the first group is ashore, Ali planned for the second part to do a cruise with the zodiacs, but due to the weather this plan is abandoned and changed with an hour onboard in the lounge instead. During the visit we get to meet the personnel and to have a chat with them either via Eduardo or Pieres translation or directly if our Spanish was good enough.

Meeting the people that spends a full year isolated here at the station and seeing how they live is an interesting experience for many and seeing how happy they are to see us is heartwarming (we are only the second group of visitors since February, so maybe they would have been happy to see anyone?) As thanks for having us, the hotel department puts together a “care package” containing fresh fruits and vegetables, something the personnel was very pleased about! Well back onboard, a bit wet after another wet zodiac ride, we continue our voyage towards Antarctica.

Day 14: At sea to South Shetland Islands

At sea to South Shetland Islands
Date: 16.11.2018
Position: 061°21’ S / 050°00’ W
Wind: NW 5
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: 0

Leaving the Orkney Islands behind us, we head south; next stop Antarctica! We are accompanied by many birds along the way, some have been with us already; cape petrels and albatross, some are new – we get our first glimpses of the Southern Fulmar.

A relatively chilled day on the Plancius, the days schedule consisted of lectures and the Shackleton Movie. In the morning Eduardo gave us a fantastic lecture on science in Antarctica, from the depths of the ice to the depths of space!

Before lunch we watched the first half of the Shackleton Movie, the story of Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Expedition across the Antarctic continent. After lunch, we were given a very interesting talk from Ralf, the chef on board, about what it is like to cook for a ship full of passengers and crew in the Polar regions. Everything was covered from logisitics, ordering, challenges in remote places, and improvisation onboard with menus and meals. We learned a lot about how much food was used ; including, 5000 eggs, 600 litres of milk, infact 10000kg of food in total! No wonder we all feel so well fed on this voyage!

A lazy afternoon followed with the remainder of the Shackleton movie played in the lounge, whilst some of us rested, spotted for more wildlife, or edited some more photos!

Day 15: Penguin Island & Maxwell Bay, South Shetland Islands

Penguin Island & Maxwell Bay, South Shetland Islands
Date: 17.11.2018
Position: 62° 05’ S / 57° 54’ W
Wind: W 5-6
Weather: partly cloudy
Air Temperature: -2

After an overnight crossing from the South Orkneys, we awoke to gorgeous clear blue skies and a relatively flat sea at a point between Turret Point and Penguin Island in the South Shetlands. After Kasper scouted both locations, the decision was made to have a morning landing at Penguin Island, where the swell was a little kinder. To mark Pippa’s 31st birthday, we were treated to a Leopard Seal encounter as we negotiated the landing site’s slippery rocks. The curious juvenile followed Pippa’s Zodiac as it approached the island, and watched from a safe distance as the guests disembarked. A perfect way to start a landing!

We all made our way up to the Chinstrap Penguin colony, where some of the passengers remained get the perfect snap, or to just relax and watch the antics of these endearing beasties. The climbers amongst us pushed on further to the island’s peak, which was a volcano in a former life. Magnificent views were to be had to all points of the compass. On reaching the summit, most guests accepted the challenge to continue along the crater’s rim, taking in the oceanic view that included Humpback and Fin Whales surfacing in two separate locations. Giant Petrels were also observed on their nests incubating the recently laid egg.

The only downside to a perfect landing was the sighting of a subadult Antarctic Fur Seal entangled in a plastic packing band, a sight all too often seen on any coast in the modern world. Without the proper equipment, we were unable the debris.

As winds reached forty knots in the open ocean south of King George Island, it was decided to seek some shelter in Maxwell Bay and a comfortable landing at one of the many international scientific bases in the region. The Russian Bellingshausen Base was identified as our next stop. Undoubtedly the highlight of this unorthodox landing was a tour of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity. The tiny ornate church was constructed of Siberian Cedar wood 15 years ago, and provides the local believers a service every Sunday. Eduardo translated as one of the two resident priests provided us with the church’s history and significance to the base. All guests were offered ceremonial candles to light for their own private dedications.

After such a busy day and a star-studded recap boasting the talents of Ali, Eduardo, Mick and Andreas, a birthday cake prepared by Roger was presented to Pippa and all were left with icing on their faces – Yum!!

Day 16: Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica

Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica
Date: 18.11.2018
Position: 064°14’ S / 061°28’ W
Wind: NE 4-5
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: -1

Today we planned originally to undertake two landings at places located at Wilhelmina Bay. This 15 mile wide bay, was discovered by the Belgium Antarctic Expedition on board the Belgica, under command of Adrien de Gerlache, and its named after Wilhelmina, the Queen of the Netherlands between 1890 and 1948. These were our plans, however they were of little importance to the continent. As we arrived to the zone, grey skies, fog and winds hampered our attempts. 40 knots of wind posed a formidable challenge for us and our expedition team decided to wait for better weather. As the morning passed by, the winds eased, and we were again able to walk in the outside decks to enjoy the spectacular views of the icebergs floating in the sleek surface of the water. This landscape was very atmospheric and we were able to see thousands of different blues coloring the floating and submerged parts of the icebergs.

From the decks we had the chance to see something special, the forming of sea ice, which consisted in the formation a kind of thin (a few cm) slushy ice which was covered by the falling snow. The whole scene was very serene and the calm conditions allowed us to enjoy the morning despite the low visibility.

To our regret, we found out that we were not able to sail to the exit of Wilhelmina Bay as planned. This was because, as we came closer to the exit, we found out that it was blocked with ice, therefore, it was impossible to continue with our original plan.

After consulting with the captain and evaluating the few possible alternatives, the expedition team decided to organize a zodiac cruise for the afternoon. Hence, after lunch, a total of 7 zodiacs were launched. We cruised among the ice and the snow and despite the low visibility, we enjoyed the cruise, witnessing the deep blue colors of a few icebergs, as well as the grey and silent atmosphere.

Upon return to the ship, we enjoyed a cup a hot chocolate at the top deck with the view of icebergs and ice around. As the day finished, we sailed slowly towards Danco Island, our next destination.

Day 17: Danco island and Neko Harbour, Antarctica

Danco island and Neko Harbour, Antarctica
Date: 17.11.2018
Position: 064°35’ S / 062°43’ W
Wind: Variable 1
Weather: partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

Getting up in the morning and getting the first glimps of the weather can be a though way to wake up for an expedition leader, but this morning Ali could wake the ship up with a smile on her face! BLUE SKIES and no wind greets us as we sail into the Errara channel here in the heart of Antarctica.

The good views mean that the decks are full of people even before breakfast and there is an exited mood in the dining room as breakfast goes on.

We are heading for Danco island and as the expedition team goes ashore to set everything up and everyone else is keen on getting off the ship and onto the snow. On shore we are greeted by Gentoo Penguins and lots of snow, so the expedition team has taken all of the ships snowshoes with them ashore, this means that we can hike up to the top of the island for some spectacular views of the mountains and glaciers of the area. The views surrounding this island in the middle of the channel are truly incredible, and with incredible weather to enjoy it too!

The brave/foolish amongst us take to the water for our Polar plunge!

After a good long landing, ending in a beautiful zodiac ride back home, we set course even further south, to Neko Habour and a chance to set foot directly on the Antarctic continent, nr 7 for several of our fellow travellers! At Neko we are again greeted ashore by a colony of Gentoo Penguins and we even have a few very sleepy Weddell seals on the beach. Once again the expedition team has made it possible to get up high to get a nice view over the area and mainly the massive glacier and icefall just across the bay from our landing spot. In the afternoon snow comes and goes and it all feels very Antarctic, but even with this, the hotel team has set up for a proper Antarctic BBQ this evening, so as dinner is served, it is an outdoor experience with a backdrop that cant be found anywhere else on this planet! A long day today, and many are tired as the music plays on the back deck, but we can all go to sleep with a head full of memories of an incredible day in Antarctica proper!

Day 18: Melchior Islands, Antarctica

Melchior Islands, Antarctica
Date: 20.11.2018
Position: 064°19’S / 062°58’W
Wind: NNW 5
Weather: snowing
Air Temperature: -1

We awoke in Melchior harbour with calm winds, but a lot of snow – making visibility very poor. Ali made the decision to go ahead with our zodiac cruises as planned, but perhaps remaining closer to the ship due to the poor visibility. Luckily for all those who braved the cruise, the weather cleared and we had sunshine and, some, blue skies on the cruise around some very dramatic scenery. The Melchior Islands are home to one small Argentine summer base (staffed only for a week or two of maintenance per year), which today looked small and lonely on its spit of land covered in snow.

Glacier covered hills and peaks surrounded us in all directions… where should we explore first? Cruising along the jagged front of one icy wall, we could see layers in the snow where repeated snowfall had filled in a large crevasse. Then came some icy crags looking like they were just about any minute to calve into the bay. One inlet area was a bit of a graveyard for icebergs, with several big pieces floating around in slow circles. Some were wide and low, making resonant splashes as their corners rose above and dipped below the sea in concert with the swell. Others stood tall and fresh, as if daring the sun to do its worst; the abundance of icicles hanging from icebergs and snow banks lining the shores were a foreboding warning of the sun’s inevitable victory.

We came upon examples of the underlying geology of the island, where low islets and rock outcrops created many nooks and crannies-- small bays and channels offering refuge for bits of ice and curious rubber-boat tourists. After an hour and a half of appreciating the gifts that Antarctica decides to give from time to time, we made our way back towards the ship.

Back on board, settling in with a hot cup of something and watching the stark white of Antarctica recede in the distance, with so many images and feelings swirling around… it will be a while before everything we have done and seen really registers. As we headed out into the Drake Passage we immediately felt the motion of the ship change. Most of us took an afternoon sleep after the busy Antarctic day and in the evening, we were invited to the lounge for an extended recap from Ali, Eduardo and Andreas.

Day 19: Drake Passage!

Drake Passage!
Date: 21.11.2018
Position: 60° 40.5’S / 64° 11.7’W
Wind: W 6
Weather: partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

We awoke with some trepidation as we headed northward over the deep waters of the Drake Passage and onwards to Ushauia. Fortunately for us, Neptune was in a good mood and offered us a rolling, gentle swell with moderate winds for the whole day. With limited access to the decks due to slippy conditions, the morning activities were largley cofined to indoor pursuits.

Ali kicked off the morning program with an entertaining lecture on Ice Maidens – all about the women who travelled to Antarctica and who influenced polar explorers. She told us the contrasting stories of Emily Shackleton and Kathleen Scott, comparing their personalities and their approach to life as wives of two of the biggest names during the Heroic Age of polar exploration. Their pioneering efforts and those of others during 1950’s and 60’s paved the way for modern female adventurers who now routinely make a living in the harsh Antarctic environment.

Matei broke up the afternoon, by releasing an Argos buoy from the rear deck. This device will now record many oceanic parameters such as sea temperature and salinity and act as a ground-truthing instrument for data remotely accessed from orbiting satellites.

With the wind calming a little but still experiencing high swells we started to approach the Antarctic Convergence in the afternoon. More albatrosses were seen – including Grey-headed Albatross, Black-browed Albatross and the Lightmantled Sooty Albatross, as well as our regular friends the Cape Petrel and the Southern Fulmar. The distant blows of large whales were also sighted with some frequency throughout the day.

Eduardo continued his rich vein of lecturing form with an educational look at the development of deep-sea exploration, from Alexander the Great to Jacques Piccard, Don Walsh and James Cameron. The oceans of the world are broken up in to different regions, from shallow waters of the continental shelf to the deep offshore waters of the basins, plains, trenches and seamounts, where life abounds. Most interesting of all are the chemosynthetic tubeworm communities associated with the tectonically active vents in areas such as the Mid-Atlantic Trench.

After the bar was opened up to a Happy Hour at 5pm, Ali and the guiding staff exercised everyone’s grey matter with a three-round quiz concentrating on the lectures and activities of the last two and a half weeks. After 35 probing questions, three teams – The Dutchies, The Krispy Krills and the Deep-diving Gentoos were locked on 23, requiring a tie-breaking question! The Krispy Krills, composed of Kerry, Linda, Dave, Sue, Lorraine and Chris, were crowned the Quiz champions as they came scarily close to estimating the deepest recorded dive of the Southern Elephant Seal of 2241m. The SCOTS of the Antarctic were awarded a free dinner for their well-considered team name – SCOTS standing for Smelliest Cabins on the Ship!!

Day 20: At Sea to Ushuaia

At Sea to Ushuaia
Date: 22.11.2018
Position: 056°00’S / 065°58’W
Wind: NW 4-5
Weather: sunny
Air Temperature: +7

Our last day at sea was a good one, with a calm rolling swell, and an unexpectedly calm Drake Passage, we make good progress North to Ushuaia. We were awoken this morning, not by Ali or Daniel, but by one of the ‘Dutchies’ …… who had won the opportunity to do a wake up call in the charity auction. The sun was shining, and the snow on decks all but gone as we came in sight of Tierra Del Fuego at the southern tip of South America.

We begin to see familiar faces throughout the day as we head North; the black browed albatross, sooty shearwaters, Wandering albatross and white chin petrels. Between packing up our belongings ready for the off tomorrow, we are entertained once more by our expedition team; Kasper kicked things off in the morning and told us about Modern Antarctic Expeditions, a really interesting contrast to Eduardo’s stories of old explorers.

As we come closer to the coast, we begin to see more coastal marine species; Southern Sea lions porpoising through the water and a small pod of Dusky Dolphins riding the waves. Far off blows from larger whales, likely Sei whales, are seen regularly throughout the day. Before lunch another episode of Frozen Planet is screened in the lounge, but some of us cannot peel ourselves away from the sunny decks, where spotting conditions are great and the sun keeps us warm.

After lunch, Eduardo tells us tales of Magellan Expeditions; stories of explorers around Southern South America, one last story from this skilled story teller. As we cruise into the Beagle Channel, the rolls of the ship become less and the sight of snow capped mountains tells us it will be soon time to leave dear Plancius. We are joined by Captain Artur in the lounge to toast the incredible expedition we have been on, thanks are given from Ali and her team, along with a fantastic trip slide show from Daniel; showcasing the best of our adventures in the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula.

Day 21: Disembarkation in Ushuaia

Disembarkation in Ushuaia
Date: 23.11.2018

At 6am we approached the port of Ushauia ready to disembark for the final time, no zodiac ride ashore and a dry landing. The last three weeks have taken us on a remarkable journey from the Falkland Islands, to South Georgia and to Antarctica and allowed us a glimpse of life in these remote and sometimes inhospitable places. We will all have different memories of our trip but whatever the memories, whether it was the King penguins at St Andrew’s Bay or the sight of icebergs for the first time they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Details

Tripcode: PLA21-18
Dates: 3 Nov – 23 Nov, 2018
Duration: 20 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Puerto Madryn
Disembark: Ushuaia

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Aboard m/v Plancius

The ice-strengthened vessel Plancius is an ideal vessel for polar expedition cruises in the Arctic and Antarctic.

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