PLA22-15 Trip log | Antarctic Peninsula, Basecamp
20.11.2015 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, André and Thijs. 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 André 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, Jim Mayer 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 Chefs Heinz 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. For the few hardy souls that were up, Katja gave a talk about ice in Antarctica: from snow through to glaciers to ice-bergs and ice-shelves.
During the day the wind speed sometimes reached over 50 knots
(25 metres per second), 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 Ali managed to entice some people to leave their cabins and come to her presentation about penguins in Antarctica. She outlined the main species that we are likely to see in Antarctica, such as gentoo and chinstrap but also talked about some of the sub-Antarctica species such as king penguins. They really are amazing little birds and seeing the photos and hearing about their adaptations to Antarctica really prepared us for our own penguin experiences.
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, a southern royal albatross and a lone, very white wandering albatross. As Ali later explained, they all were interested in our ship as a potential food source, having profited before from fishing vessels that often throw fish offal over board.
After a quiet afternoon when most people were asleep or battling sea-sickness Jim informed us during the re-cap about the weather, the sea-ice conditions at the Antarctic Peninsula and our further plans. Katja talked about the Antarctic convergence where warmer Sub-Antarctic water give way to colder Antarctic water. She told us that we would cross this biological border probably by midnight, so that by next morning we would wake up in Antarctica. 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 promised in last night’s re-cap by Katja, 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 or kayaking, during the morning. While our English speaking passengers came together in the Lounge, our Chinese fellow travellers met in the dining room. Thanks to the improving conditions outside, more and more of us were able to peel ourselves out of bed and conquered 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 meeting left at night – the daily recap. Jim told us the plans for the next day, while Ali explained us how to behave around penguins, remembering the 5 – 10 metre rule and Katja described the physics behind the flight pattern of the albatross.
A long day came slowly to an end. There was only two more things to do after dinner, in order to have all the tools and knowledge for a successful and fun voyage. First, we checked our long awaited schedules for our activities throughout the voyage when coming out of dinner. Then, we were called to the boot room to collect our rubber boots that we would need for all the landings. Now, with everything in hand that we need, 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 started with the fabulous views of the Gerlache Strait, as Plancius was en-route to Cuverville Island, which was discovered by the Belgian expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache. Yesterday we had seen our first iceberg and now were surrounded by them and with tall snowy mountains all around it was a perfect start to our Antarctic expedition. This early morning ships cruise down the channel was very scenic and gave us the first impression of this fascinating “Land of Ice and Snow”. Cuverville, or Gentoo penguin-land is an impressive island with a steep cliffs along one side and lies at the northern entrance of Errera Channel which is a horseshoe-shaped water way that connects on both ends with the Gerlache.
Once we were in position Ali and Jim headed out in scout boats to check the usual landing site but the coastline was blocked by ice, which had washed up along the shore. There were some huge icebergs blocking the channel around the headland as well, making access to another landing site impossible so Plancius repositioned to the other side of the island where conditions looked much better. Our first landing started with a windy and wavy zodiac ride from the ship to the island but the sea got much calmer in front of the beach, where some single Gentoo penguins welcomed us by porpoising in and out of the water. Immediately our noses got filled with an unmistakeable smell, the smell of penguin guano – the colony can’t be far.
Our expedition guides marked a way with red flags to be sure not to disturb the penguins as they were going to and from the colonies and beginning to make their nests on the rocky hilltops. We were able to spend our morning watching those funny birds trumpeting in the air, waddling around, sliding on the belly, carrying little pebbles for the nest, quarrelling with each other and even mating. They seemed to find the red flags very interesting as well and we were entertained as they tried to peck at the flapping flags. The views out over the icebergs that had blocked our landing area on the other side of the island were stunning and with some sunshine at times it really was beautiful! What a successful first contact with Antarctica and their inhabitants!
After lunch three different activities were offered on Cuverville Island, a hike for the mountaineers, snowshoeing and a photo work shop for the keen photographers. Everyone else was welcome to enjoy the penguins once again and we were able to walk further round the coast to the other little colonies near the cliffs. All groups enjoyed the fantastic scenery and a taste of sports, moving a bit was the perfect cure after several days of navigation in the Drake Passage. Walking on snowshoes makes one feel like a duck (or a penguin….), but people looked more like if they were recreating the march of the penguins! Before dinner we met in the bar to find out more about our special evening event, camping on Kerr Point…… and tomorrows plans.
Our first mountaineering adventure from Basecamp Plancius was over to Kerr Point on Ronge Island just across from Cuverville Island. Despite snowy and windy conditions the two teams ascended 350 metres to small summit overlooking the glacier. Great views of icebergs and the ship in the channel below. Not a place to hang about as it was pretty cold in the wind and snow. So it was down and back to the ship.
So the first camping group collected their camping kits from the boot room shortly after dinner and headed to the gangway ready for their night ashore in Antarctica. Members of the expedition team were already ashore putting up the tents and by the time the happy campers were arriving at the landing site the tents were up and the campsite was looking very colourful in the snow. Tobias had constructed a toilet of epic proportions; the best toilet in Antarctica for one night only! The camping site itself was backed by a huge ice wall, the end of a glacier that was coming down from the mountains above. It made for some great photographs.
Once everyone had been allocated a sleeping spot, including four brave people in bivi bags in the snow there was time to explore the area to visit a sleeping Weddell seal at the end of the point and enjoy some Antarctic solitude away from it all. There was a snowman building competition going on for a while but by 11pm most people were beginning to feel cold from the wind and snow and retreated to their tents and sleeping bags. It was a windy night with heavy snow throughout but most people managed some sleep. Ali and Katja woke us at 5am ready to pack our bags, take down the tents and head back to the ship for a hot shower, coffee and breakfast. It had been fun!
It was a breezy, snowy morning as Jim made the wake-up call this morning and it was a true Antarctic scene as we looked out of our windows and portholes.
The campers had already returned to the ship with tales of a cold, snowy, windy night on shore but they all seemed to have enjoyed it despite the cold and once they were all on board the Captain began the re-positioning of Plancius into the beautiful Paradise Harbour.
The weather conditions weren’t ‘holiday brochure perfect’ but it was very atmospheric to sail into the bay with mist across the mountain tops and snow blowing all around. On the far point we could see the red buildings of the Argentinean Base, Almirante Brown which was to be our base for the morning. Our first landing on the Antarctic Continent itself.
Plancius Basecamp swung into action once again and the mountaineers were first off to head up the snowfields and the kayakers took to the water in the shelter of the bay to paddle around the icebergs and along the shore. For the rest of us it was a split landing and cruise with the first group going ashore for a walk to the base and the Gentoo penguins that breed around the buildings or, using snowshoes take a hike up to the viewpoint while the others went on a Zodiac cruise around into Skontorp Cove around the corner from the base where the views of the glacier were stunning, even in the snow. By mid-morning the two groups swapped so that everyone got to see everything during the course of the morning. It was a great ‘Continental’ morning with the weather to suit this frozen continent.
We were back on board for a warming lunch while the ship re-positioned up to Stony Point but, unfortunately there was too much ice around for us to make our way up the channel so we turned out of Paradise Bay and went to Plan B, Waterboat Point with the Chilean Base, Gonzalez Videla. At this point the mountaineers went across the bay to Lemaire Island for their ascent of Mt Molina and the kayak group took to the water for a paddle around the icebergs that were washed up in the small cove behind the station. This location is only small, being backed by a steep glacier but it is home to hundreds of penguins so it was an opportunity to spend time watching them busily nest building and mating, a stark contrast to the sleeping Weddell seal!
By 18:00 everyone, except the mountaineers was back on board and it was a chance to relax, download some photos and enjoy a drink at Cecille’s bar before re-cap. There was disappointing news for the campers as the night ashore had been cancelled due to concerns from the Captain that the ice conditions were unsuitable in the area around Leith Cove which could have meant passengers being stranded ashore if the ice moved any further into the bay. Instead they got a warm cosy evening in the comfort of their bunk!
AM It was snowing and visibility wasn’t the best as the first mountaineering group put a trail in to the viewpoint above Almirante Brown. Great views overlooking Skontorp Cove. The visibility didn’t improve and it was near white out conditions as the two groups descended to the col between the two bays. We then retraced our steps back across the glacier and descended back down to base where the group where able to go and visit the Gentoo colony.
PM The afternoon presented us with much better weather and the mountaineering group landed at Molina Point and ascended the east ridge of an unnamed peak above the point (Mt. Molina) to about 450m. They used snowshoes on the first part then switched to using crampons for the upper part. Spectacular views looking back down the ridge to the icebergs in the channel below. We then retraced our steps back down the ridge to the landing site.
AM Paradise Bay presented the kayakers with calm conditions and light winds. After disembarking the ship and entering our kayaks from the zodiac we headed behind Base Brown and into the bay behind. The air was still as we ventured around the bay, weaving in and out of the icebergs before arriving back at the Base to watch the busy Gentoos. The wind picked up slightly, although this didn’t deter us from heading into Skontorp Cove where we were picked up by our zodiac and returned safely to the ship.
PM We moved our location for the afternoon, taking in the Gentoo penguins at Waterboat Point as well as venturing amongst the many grounded icebergs in the bay behind. The conditions out in the channel were a little bumpy out so we made the most of our time where we were before returning to the ship.
As Jim made the wake-up call this morning we finally had some fine sunny weather for our landing. The mountain tops were standing out clearly and the sea was glassy calm making for some wonderful photo opportunities as we sailed into the bay near Goudier Island.
Our first briefing of the morning came from Rachel, one of the Museum staff from the old British base at Port Lockroy where we were due to visit in the morning. The first Zodiacs took the mountaineers for their visit before they went on their morning expedition to Jabet Peak and then the rest of us split into two groups for the morning. The first passengers went straight to Port Lockroy, a historic British base with a wonderful museum, gift shop, and gentoo penguin colony where snowy sheathbills were seen wandering around in between the nesting penguins. In the meantime, all others visited the nearby island Jougla Point where they immersed themselves in the sights, sounds, and smells of a huge gentoo penguin colony, watched the blue-eyed shags, and smiled at the funny movements of lazy Weddell seals napping in the snow, scratching themselves every now and then, and once in a while shifting position, one being more awkward than the previous. A young male crabeater seal joined the Weddell seals on the sea-ice, being as lazy as them.
After some time we swapped so the Jougla group could do some shopping at Port Lockroy, get their passports stamped and their postcards mailed, and the Port Lockroy group set out to explore Jougla Point. With blue sky, sunshine and the impressive peaks of the Seven Brothers standing out clear it was a beautiful morning.
In the afternoon the ship relocated to Damoy Point. Since the snow here was deep and soft, most people opted to put on snowshoes and either visit the Gentoo penguin colonies or to follow Barbara on a snowshoe round trip. We climbed steeply up the slope from the beach, traversed along the edge of the ice cliffs to the top of the ‘ ski-way’ which used to be used for landing planes between the 1950’s and 1980’s. There were great views onto Port Lockroy. Since the wind was blowing hard, snow started to drift and gave us the feeling of being real Antarctic explorers. Coming down we walked past penguins, Weddell seals and the turquoise historic hut that was once used for scientific personal waiting to fly out from the ice runway at Damoy. The Port Lockroy team had opened up the little hut so that we could look in and take a step back in time while Jim played hut warden managing the traffic.
Back on board Plancius, a delicious surprise awaited us – the Antarctic Dinner turned out to be a barbeque buffet! Due to the wind we had to eat inside, but good tunes and Thijs in his penguin suit created a great mood and lots of laughter.
A beautiful morning as the mountaineering group visited Port Lockroy before heading round to a landing site at Damoy Bay and heading along and up towards Jabet Peak. Great views looking over the spectacular mountains of Wienke Island and over the Neumayer Channel to Anvers Island. Quite a bit of fresh snow underfoot but the group made it up to a height of about 300m on the south side of Jabet peak before descending back to our pick up point. By the afternoon the weather had deteriorated a bit but both groups made it to the col on Jabet Peak overlooking the Neumayer Channel where in true Antarctic style the visibility was a reduced, the cloud has started to move in and the snow was blowing – very atmospheric! Time for retreat back to lower altitudes and the shelter of the bay below.
AM Almost perfect conditions awaited us at Damoy and as soon as we were able, we were on the water in our kayaks exploring in and arouynd Goudier Island. The sea ice was still in the back of the bay so we weren’t able to pass behind the island so once we had explored the one side, we moved around to Jougla Point to check out the Weddall and Crabeater seals. There still enough time to head to the Post Office and museum before returning to the ship with lots of goodies!
The camping location was back around near Port Lockroy on Doumer Island so, once everyone was back on board after the landing the ship re-positioned around to the bay ready for campers to go ashore after the special dinner on board; the Antarctic BBQ. Once again members of the expedition team were already ashore putting up the tents in heavy snow and by the time the campers were arriving at the landing site the tents were up and the campsite was looking very Antarctic with the tents already covered in snow.
The site was in a valley with some shelter from the wind and with open views across the bay it was a lovely location for a night ashore. Five members of the group decided to sleep in their bivi bags under a rock outcrop and it was a cosy little spot in the wind blown snow hollow. Once everyone had taken photos and set up their sleeping kits there was time for a walk across to the other bay with great views onto an ice wall and across the bay to Port Lockroy where the Gentoo penguins could still be heard.
By 23:30 most people were getting settled in their tents and by this time the wind and snow had eased and it was a quiet night. Ali and Johnny made the wake-up call at 05:00 which gave everyone time to wake up, get up, pack up and start taking down the tents. At 06:00 Tobias and Jim arrived at the landing site to take us back to Plancius for a hot shower, coffee and breakfast. It had been a memorable night ashore here in Antarctica.
Once the campers were all back on board after their snowy night ashore the ship began its re-positioning cruise up to Neko Harbour. It was a bit of a breezy, snowy morning but the views as we sailed through the channels were beautiful and calmer conditions awaited us today at our new location Neko Harbour. Neko Harbour derives its name from a floating whaling factory ship, which operated in the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula area between 1911 and 1924. It often used to visit this bay on its journeys.
Once the ship was in position just off the glacier at Neko members of the Expedition team and crew lowered the Zodiacs to allow the Basecamp activities to begin once again. Paul got his kayak group on the water and headed off around the icebergs, the mountaineers went ashore at the point to climb up onto the glacier and the rest of us got wrapped up ready to head out cruising in the Zodiacs.
We started off in the morning with a Zodiac cruise along the majestic glacier fronts and between the icebergs where we had a chance to witness the occasional calving or fall of a serac. There were some Gentoo penguins both in the water and on the ice floes and some seals were playing in between the icebergs. There were hundreds (or as Jim said Krillions!) of krill swimming around near the surface of the water which would be easy food for the Gentoo penguins in the colonies at Neko Harbour. We had a great time exploring the area in some snow fall and occasional sunny patches for two hours before heading back to the ship to warm up.
In the afternoon, we explored the same location from land and the first groups ashore were lucky enough to get a glimpse of an Adélie penguin on the shore before it got a little nervous of the noisy, colourful intruders on the beach and headed off into the water. We had the chance to view more Gentoo penguins in their colony or go on a small snowshoe hike up to a nearby viewpoint to get a nice overview of the entire area, including down to the glacier face. The glaciers on the opposite side of the fjord were put into spotlight by the sun that was breaking through the thick cloud cover once in a while. To finish off a great continental landing, the bravest of us jumped into the cold Antarctic waters for a very short polar plunge. With water temperatures of around +1°C it was definitely cold and left us even more in awe of the animals that spend so much of their time in the seas around Antarctica.
AM The mountaineering group were the first to land at Neko Point and made their way up the glacier above the point underneath an unnamed peak. The going was pretty soft and it was hot and sweaty work but we managed to gain about 300m in altitude. Great views over the the bay and the huge seracs of the Deville Glacier. A circuitous route brought us back to the beach and the ever present smell of the Gentoo Penguin colony.
PM The track we had made in the morning allowed the afternoon group of mountaineers to gain height quickly and soon we had swapped snowshoes for crampons. The ground got steeper and the snow harder as we gained height. Unfortunately we came across a section of glare ice which would have taken too much to time to negociate. We headed down avoiding the crevasses we had opened on the way up before picking up our snowshoes and heading back down to beach.
AM The calm conditions that awaited us at Neko Harbour enabled two kayaking groups to venture out during the morning. The first group made their way towards the shore where they enjoyed watching the Gentoo penguins on the beach before heading back to the ship to allow a second group the opportunity to take to the water. Calm conditions continued as we ventured through the ice and into open water although before we knew it, we needed to head back for a late lunch.
PM The afternoon group were blessed with the same calm conditions, although the temperature did drop later in the afternoon as we ventured along the ice cliffs in search of Antarctica wildlife, only to find the odd Gentoo penguin and many Antarctic Terns. The polar plunge awaited us back at the beach so we headed back in time for only one of our kayakers to take part.
Today in the morning we woke up very early in order to give Antarctica and their inhabitants a farewell kiss. So Jim and Johnny’s voices came over the PA system at 05:15 to ensure we were up and ready to go ashore at 06:00. Pastries, tea and coffee were waiting for us in the lounge so we wouldn’t have an empty stomach for our last landing of this journey. As we looked out of the lounge windows we could see that, once again the weather conditions were truly Antarctic with snow falling and a breeze blowing across the bay from the glacier.
We started to get into the Zodiacs bang on time at 06:00 and our hard working expedition team was already waiting for us on the D´Hainaut Island. This island is a tiny 1 km2 and situated in Mikkelsen Harbour a 3 km wide bay, lined with ice cliffs, indenting the south side of Trinity Island. Our landing area was next to a small Argentine refuge with a big Argentine flag painted on it. Some shags were welcoming us sitting in the snow, not to confuse with penguins.
We were offered 2 ½ hours on shore to maximise our final Antarctic landing spending time taking our last pictures with the Gentoo penguins and watching their behaviour. We have really taken these funny birds into our hearts and we will never forget them. We waddled around the island with our snowshoes and observed Snowy sheathbills sneaking around the penguin colony, Kelp gulls patrolling in the air and also a sleeping male Weddell seal. On the northeast shore of the island are large piles of whalebones and a whaler’s boat to discover, but the snow cover was quite thick on that day, therefore we only saw the tips of the bones and boats sticking out of the snow. On top of the low lying island there was time to take some group photos and with flags and banners fluttering in the wind it was a colourful group. It was cold and snowy ashore so many people were heading back to the landing after only a short time on the island but there were a few who wanted to stay as long as they could to make the most of their last time ashore. It was truly sad not to have more time in this very unique environment so we enjoyed our last moments to the greatest!
Back on board Plancius started to sail in direction of Ushuaia while we enjoyed a big breakfast after our chilly final landing. We sailed up the end of the Gerlache Strait and out into the Bransfield Strait towards the South Shetland Islands where we sailed through the sheltered Nelson Strait, thus avoiding the ice that was lying to the South West part of the islands. Members of the Expedition staff spent the morning sorting out all the Basecamp equipment, tents, sleeping kits, mountaineering equipment and kayaking kit while, before lunch our hotel team opened the ship shop at Reception and we bought some souvenirs for our friends, family or just for us.
In the afternoon our mountain guide Cube gave a talk about his working experiences in Antarctica in the 1980’s. He was based at Rothera (British Antarctic Survey) for two years, being responsible for the logistics of geological expeditions. He spoke about the living conditions at the base and pointed out all the problems in the field they were facing at that time. Cube camped on sea ice, glacier ice and also on rocks under extreme conditions. Going over crevasses and melting sea ice did not always go smoothly. They were using strong Greenlandic sledge dogs for travelling, as they were still allowed at that time on the continent. All in all these expeditions were an unforgettable experience for him.
Before dinner we gathered in the bar for a recap, Ali informed us about the biology of Gentoo penguins, Barbara talked about the importance of the Antarctic krill and Tobias solved the mystery behind the blue icebergs. Dinner was as usual delicious and perfectly timed as the shaking and rolling started at around 20:30 - Plancius reached the Drake Passage.
Today was our first full day at sea and it started foggy and grey and because of the wind the outside decks were closed but inside there were several lectures on offer. Ali started off in the morning with a talk about women in Antarctica and also the women behind successful men that went to Antarctica, like Emily Shackleton and Kathleen Scott.
From history we went to hard core science when Tobias talked about the geology of Antarctica. On board we sometimes also call him “Rock Star”. From him we learned about continental drift and that Antarctica was not always at the position where it is today.
Over lunchtime the weather cleared up, the wind dropped and a few ventured out on the bridge wings to get some fresh air and to watch Light mantled sooty albatross, Grey headed albatross and Giant petrels fly by.
During our afternoon lecture program we heard from Barbara how animals, and also humans, adept to cold and that fur and blubber are great for insulators. Katja later talked about her time on various Antarctic research bases, how it is to live and work there. She undertook a sledging journey of 20km and came to really appreciate the efforts of the heroic explorers.
At recap Ali told us more about Weddell seals, how deep they can dive and how they slow down their heart rate while diving to use less oxygen. Tobias explained why ice looks blue, (water filters out the red and yellow light) and Jim showed a funny movie of a penguin playing table tennis.
When we went to dinner our starters looked like a painting, so colourful and artistically pleasing were they arranged. After dinner a nice surprise awaited us in our cabins: Certificates had arrived, confirming that we had landed on the Antarctic continent at Base Brown and that a few hardy souls had a polar plunge in icy cold Antarctic waters at Neko Harbour.
A colourful sunset ended our first day at sea and we went to bed knowing that we were now half way across the Drake Passage.
The weather conditions had calmed significantly during the night and with the swells decreasing we all had a very good night of sleep and woke up refreshed this morning and ready for a good breakfast. The winds however did start to increase during the early part of the morning going from 20 knots to 30 knots in the space of an hour or so but with little swell yet the motion of the ship was still quite comfortable and most people were up and around.
The first presentation of the morning was given by Katja who talked 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. It was a very well presented lecture which gave us all ‘food for thought’.
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, and after the success of this Antarctic Basecamp there were certainly a few people planning their holidays and finances for other trips.
Out on the Bridge wings a number of species of seabirds could be seen flying around the ship. We saw our familiar friends the Cape petrels, Giant petrels and Black browed albatross but we also had a Wandering albatross pass by on a number of occasions which are always fantastic to see. With their 3.5 metre wingspans they are big, majestic birds.
After lunch it was time to settle our on board accounts with André 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 the wind increased to nearly 50 knots as we made our way towards the entrance to the Beagle Channel but the shelter of the land meant that the swell hadn’t built up too much yet.
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 photo presentation from our Leica Photo Guide Sigi. It was so lovely to look back over the 10 days on board Plancius travelling to Antarctica and enjoying so many fantastic Basecamp activities and it gave us all time to reflect on some amazing experiences in a very special place.
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 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: 1688 nm
Kilometres: 3126 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.