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PLA22-17, trip log, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation – Puerto Madryn, Argentina

Embarkation – Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Date: 09.11.2017
Position: 042°45’S / 065°01’W
Wind: WSW 5
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +18

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 at the start of the pier to begin to assist with our luggage and ensure we were able to get the bus along to the end of the pier. The weather conditions were lovely with warm sunshine and a gentle 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 and met hotel managers, Zsuzsanna and Bobby and were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of the Filipino crew. A little while after boarding we convened in the lounge on Deck five to meet Expedition Leader Andrew Bishop, who welcomed us on board the ship. The first briefing in the lounge was 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. By this time the deck crew and shore workers were ready to take the ropes off the pier and we were on our way south in reverse! Many of us stood on deck watching proceedings and also watched the Southern sea lion that had been happily sleeping on the ship fender take a dive into the water as we released the ropes. It could then be heard under the wharf, shouting its annoyance! Just as we were leaving the jetty we found ourselves surrounded in thick sea fog that had drifted in towards the shore. It had been visible on the horizon for most of the day but waited till we were leaving before closing in on the town of Puerto Madryn. Departure was then followed by the SOLAS (Safety of Life At Sea) presentation and Lifeboat Drill, given to us by Chief Officer Jaanus who was assisted by the crew and staff. On hearing the alarm we reconvened for the mandatory abandon ship drill, donning our huge orange life jackets and after a muster call we were taken to see the lifeboats. By 2000 the sun was beginning to set and the light was beginning to fade and dinner was served in the dining room. It was a chance to meet some of our fellow passengers and share stories of previous travels and hopes for this expedition to the Falklands and South Georgia 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: 10.11.2017
Position: 044°35’ S / 063°35’ W
Wind: SW 6
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +15

Many of us were already up and around when Andrew and Katja made the first wake-up 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! 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 Doctor to get some pills or patches and everyone began to feel a little more comfortable. At 1030 the lecture programme for the day began with Marijke giving a talk about whales of the southern ocean to our English speaking guests and Beau presenting the same subject in German. At this time of year many of the baleen whales are making their way south to Antarctica for the summer season to feed on the rich bonanza of krill and other zooplankton that blooms in the cold waters during the summer months. We hope to see Humpback, Fin and maybe even a Blue whale on our voyage. 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 Katja gave a photographic presentation to our German speaking guests to enable them to get more out of their cameras and take better photos during this trip and beau did his version of this topic in English. Over the coming weeks we will all fill SIM cards with hundreds of photos of our voyage. This was followed by the first of two presentations about the Falkland Islands given by Ali, who lived and worked in the islands for 15 years. This first part looked at the history and economy of the islands and gave an insight into island life on this isolated archipelago. It was a great introduction for us. The final gathering of the day was the daily briefing in the lounge before dinner. This is 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 Andrew to outline some of the personal safety procedures on board once again. Marijke then told us more about the Peale’s dolphins we had seen very briefly today and Ali told us a bit more about the ‘Stinkers’, the Giant petrels that had been following the ship for most of the day. Dinner was served at 7pm and for many it was a celebration of the first day at sea survived!

Day 3: At Sea Sailing to the Falkland Islands

At Sea Sailing to the Falkland Islands
Date: 11.11.2017
Position: 048°29’ S / 062°06’ W
Wind: N 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +10

Our second day at sea dawned a bit cloudier and less windy than yesterday which meant fewer birds around the ship, but even still we were accompanied by what feels like now to be our “old standbys” Black-browed albatross, cape petrels, and giant petrels—with the addition of many more adults displaying their more mottled plumage as opposed to the uniform chocolate brown of juveniles. A few more additions to the bird sightings included Wilson’s storm petrels, as well as more sightings of sooty shearwater, slender-billed prion, and wandering and royal albatross. We didn’t have too long to relax with simple birdwatching from deck, however, as we began the real business of preparing for our first landings of the voyage—getting our muck boots, life jackets, and attending the mandatory zodiac safety briefing. Once we got down to the boot room it was clear why the language groups alternated between the gear issuing and the lounge… it’s quite a small space down there! It all seemed to go quite well, everyone finding suitable sizes in pretty quick order. The zodiac briefing was a great introduction to how we will get off the ship and get to shore… the photos and demonstrations of how to do the sailor’s grip and how to put on the life jackets definitely helped to heighten the anticipation of our first chances to land tomorrow! After lunch perhaps some people took a snooze, or maybe a few laps around the ship, when suddenly there was a call over the loudspeaker—dolphins off the bow! As people gathered around the open bow deck 4 and even the sides of deck 5 most people seemed to catch at least a brief glimpse of the small group (at least four!) of Peale’s dolphins playing off the front and zig and zagging from side to side off the bow. They were small and graceful and having fun, leaping and side-splashing and just generally looking like a pack of kids out playing after lunch. What a treat that they stuck around for long enough that many guests could add a tick to their “seen in person” personal wildlife list. The afternoon continued with two great presentations— first a review of the common albatross species we can expect to see during our voyage (in English by Beau and German by Katja), then later Ali presented part two of her introduction to the Falklands series, covering wildlife we may see and insights about oil exploration and the economic future of the Falklands. As the day waned, the cloud cover increased and a bit of rain began to fall but this was accompanied by a relaxed and calmer sea—which is exactly what we are hoping for tomorrow morning. As we found out from Andrew at the evening’s daily briefing, our planned objective is Steeple Jason island-- but the landing is only possible in calm conditions. So, those of us who are keen to get up at 5am to go ashore and see the 200,000 breeding pairs of black-browed albatross there will be crossing their fingers for good early-morning weather. Those who would prefer a later start may not work so hard to cross their digits, and hope for the Plan B option… which is ok… B often stands for Better! We will only know what the weather gods have in store for us tomorrow so until then, we will fall asleep dreaming of the amazing array of possible sights and experiences we have in store for us—wherever and whenever we are able to successfully get ashore!

Day 4: Carcass Island & Saunders Island

Carcass Island & Saunders Island
Date: 12.11.2017
Position: 051°19’ S / 063°07’ W
Wind: SW 5
Weather: Rain Showers
Air Temperature: +7

Our plan was to land at Steeple Jason this morning. However, during the early watch this morning it soon became apparent that the swell was simply too high which made a landing impossible. While most of us continued sleeping the Plancius sailed towards Carcass Island. After a gentle wake-up call we were already approaching Carcass Island. The Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins escorted us into the bay and after breakfast we soon made our first landing. The Cobb’s wrens were already waiting along the strandline of the beach – a true Falkland endemic bird! From the white sand beach we walked across the dunes towards the first Gentoo Penguins. Most of them were covered with mud as it has been unusually wet during the winter months. We then continued along and found some more Gentoos and there were also some King penguins! What a surprise to see those here too. Ali commented that she had never seen King penguins here so we were lucky to see them at this location. Some Magellanic penguins were peeping out of their burrows whilst overhead the Striated Caracaras were making close passes. The Oystercatchers and many ducks and geese were simply gorgeous to see whilst the sun was coming out. From the penguins and the freshwater ponds we continued our walk along the edge of the tussock grass and along the coastline. We were heading towards the main settlement at the head of the bay where we were welcomed by the islanders. There were not only tea and coffee available but an overdose of cakes. The whole table was laid with all kinds of various cakes, scones and biscuits and the best thing to do was circling around table and otherwise make frequent visits to sample the variety on offer! The walk towards the jetty was along a colourful scenery with a variety of flowering plants, particularly the yellow Gorse. Back onboard we enjoyed a good lunch (despite having just eaten morning Falklands ‘smoko’) and soon it was time to get prepared for the next landing. With winds picking up, this landing was a bit more challenging but we were kept entertained by Commerson’s dolphins bow-riding the zodiacs and they then continued foraging in the shallow waters of the bay. A sheltered rocky area on the far side of the beach of Saunders Island luckily offered a good landing spot. After a short walk along the beach the first colonies of Gentoo penguins were reached. They were either busy stealing little pebbles or were otherwise snoozing in the few rays of sunshine. After walking across the island towards the other side we passed several more small colonies of Gentoos and then the first King penguins were spotted. They stood high and proudly, showing off their orange neck-patches to each other and many photographs were taken. And there was much more to come! A colony of noisy Rockhopper penguins were next in line and there was indeed a great deal of rock-hopping going on. They were coming over to a little stream to drink some water and on their way back they were stealing (more) pebbles from neighbouring Rockhoppers. A bit further on we found our first colony of Black-browed albatrosses! We were now able to appreciate their size and wing-spans. A lot of bill-clapping and other pair-bonding activities were on display and it was quite overwhelming to see these huge birds take off or trying to land. It was not until we reached the last colony of albatrosses that the winds started to pick up. This colony was rather mixed and included many Rockhopper penguins and also Dolphin gulls and Blue-eyed Shags. Each bird was busy with either finding nest material (more pebbles) or pieces of vegetation (collected by the shags) whilst the albatrosses continued with their pair-bonding displays. It was difficult to decide where to watch and what to photograph. With wind gusts starting to increase and gusting down the mountain even the heaviest of camera bags started to shift. It was clearly time to go and following ‘Captain’s Orders’ we had to make a swift retreat back to the landing site. There we could admire the now rather high surf and the Commerson’s dolphins were still playing right in it. We all got properly soaked on the way back but the smiles on our faces were not washed off – a biological overdose in true Falklandic style! Well done to the crew drivers and Ali and Katja for their safe driving in difficult conditions.

Day 5: Stanley, Falkland Islands

Stanley, Falkland Islands
Date: 13.11.2017
Position: 051°41’S / 057°50’W
Wind: W 6
Weather: Part Cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

As Andrew and Katja made the wake up call this morning we found ourselves entering the outer harbour of Port William on our way towards Stanley. We could see the black and white lighthouse on the end of Cape Pembroke to our port side and the long white sandy beaches of Yorke Bay, beaches that were sadly turned into mine fields by the Argentinean military during the Falklands war in 1982. Before too long we found ourselves approaching The Narrows, the narrow entrance to the inner harbour and we could see the brightly coloured roofs of Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands ahead of us. Shortly after breakfast, the Zodiacs were lowered and we were soon heading ashore to land on the floating pontoons at the Jetty Centre and to explore the town. The ride was a little windy and damp but nothing compared to the rough, wet conditions experienced at Saunders Island yesterday evening! Many of us headed to the museum to take a look back in time at life in the Falkland Islands while the attraction of tea, cake and Wi-Fi was irresistible for some. Whatever the choice it was lovely to be on shore and to have the time to take a walk around the main part of town as well as some of the back roads amongst the older part of the town. Gift shops were visited and penguins souvenirs purchased, postcards and greetings cards were sent around the world. Before too long it was time to make our way back to the jetty for the ride back to Plancius and get ready to set sail on the next part of our voyage towards South Georgia. After lunch there was some time to relax, edit photo collections and enjoy the views from the outer decks as the sun shone out of a clear blue sky. At 1500, a little earlier than scheduled, Ali and her translating partner Katja invited us to the dining room where she gave a presentation about the black-browed albatross of the Falkland Islands and the conservation efforts in place around the world to try and save albatross populations from further decline at the hands of fishing fleets. She talked about the work of Falklands Conservation and the research that dedicated staff are doing in the islands to monitor the breeding success of these iconic ocean wanderers. After afternoon tea, many people found a sheltered place on the sunny decks to enjoy some fresh air and spring sunshine as we made our way eastwards while other enjoyed the comforts of the lounge. As is now the usual routine, the expedition staff invited us for a briefing in the lounge to look back on our Falkland days and look ahead to plans for tomorrow. Andrew had only just finished his briefing when whale blows were spotted not too far from the ship. The curtains were opened and cameras were collected in readiness for some more whales. We weren’t disappointed! Captain Alexey did a great job of manoeuvring Plancius into a good position near to the whales and we were treated to a wonderful sight of a female Fin whale and her juvenile calf. They seemed quite curious about the ship and approached the ship on a number of occasions. We could hear their blows as the exhaled at the surface and the blows sent rainbow clouds into the air as the sun shone through them. It really was a very special encounter. We stayed with the whales long enough for everyone on deck to get cold and refill their camera memory cards and by then it was time for dinner and although chef Ralf is flexible he wasn’t going to allow his roast lamb to dry out for any whales! So two days around the Falkland Islands had been fantastic and windy at times, but the wildlife was there in huge numbers and we all have some wonderful memories of penguins, albatross, Carcass Island hospitality and wet zodiac rides! Next stop, South Georgia!

Day 6: At Sea Sailing to South Georgia

At Sea Sailing to South Georgia
Date: 14.11.2017
Position: 052°20’ S / 052°07’ W
Wind: WNW 3/4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

Our first night at sea after the Falklands was perhaps not the most soothing as the large swell continued for most of the night, serving as an overenthusiastic nursemaid rocking us to and fro (but hopefully not out of!) our beds. Morning broke a bit grey, but with enough wind still to keep a healthy compliment of seabirds with us. The ever faithful Cape petrels and Black-browed albatross were joined by prions, a few Royal albatross, at least one Wandering albatross—looking quite the part of the awkward juvenile with a scruffy mottled head-cap of darker feathers—and guest appearances by a few White-chinned petrels, a Light-mantled sooty albatross, and even a sooty shearwater. Also interesting were the few Grey-headed albatross, with their lovely-coloured yellow beaks and notably darker-shaded heads. The morning on-board scheduled activities began in earnest with learning about how to be a responsible visitor to South Georgia and Antarctica. The non-profit group IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) developed the briefing so that everyone wanting to experience this special place will understand how to do their part to keep it as special and pristine as we can—including how to behave around the animals we will see, and that we should follow the old maxim: “take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”… and even those we should fill in if our boot prints end up being too deep—so that penguins don’t get trapped in the hole by accident! Then the real fun began—the vacuum party. We need to make sure we do not unwittingly transfer non-native material between places we visit, as new introductions could lead to invasive plants changing the native ecosystem-- or even spreading a virus between animal colonies. The first step was to go through all of our outer clothing and vacuum the velcro, cuffs, backpacks—any areas that could trap seeds. Everyone was very diligent in their cleaning activities, one gentleman vacuumed so thoroughly he sucked his glove up into the machine! After lunch and the final decks had come through the lounge to clean their outerwear, Jon presented a talk about island geology and plate tectonics, helping us to understand what exactly is an island and how the isolated islands that we have and will be visiting actually came to be where they are today. It is incredible to imagine how the earth’s crust is divided into plates that are essentially constantly in motion… a great conveyor belt of land spreading apart in the middle of the oceans and then colliding together or diving deep one below another creating volcanos and mountains… it was fascinating to see these processes brought to life by Jon’s explanations. Then Marijke continued our educational adventure with highlights about the different penguin species we will encounter on our voyage. Her talks are always punctuated with vocalizations of the animals she is describing; it was entertaining to hear the slight differences in the “braying” sounds made by the different penguins. We had a few lovely wildlife encounters as well— with the strap-toothed beaked whales and even hourglass dolphins paying us a visit! You don’t get to see much at sea if you’re not out on deck looking, so those folks who were out and about observing were sure lucky to experience these special creatures as we crossed paths out here in the middle of the Scotia Sea.

Day 7: At Sea En-route to South Georgia

At Sea En-route to South Georgia
Date: 15.11.2017
Position: 053°15’ S / 044°16’ W
Wind: SE 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

We all got an hour less sleep as we changed our clocks to the South Georgia time-zone. Despite this, some people got up early to admire the smooth seas. Just before breakfast the first strap-toothed beaked whales were seen including a small pod consisting of females and calves. These unusual deep diving whales are usually rare to see but the calm seas helped us to spot them. The males have strange teeth that curve out of their mouths and over the top of their beak which mean they have to suck in their prey rather than bite them. A snow petrel surprised us all around mid-morning and soon there were more Snow petrels surrounding the ship – with at least 30 petrels circling the Plancius. This little petrel normally is only seen in vicinity of snow or ice – so we were all pleasantly surprised! Maybe there was an iceberg remnant nearby or particularly good feeding somewhere. The keen birders on board were very excited to see so many so close to the ship. During the morning Ali then gave a presentation about South Georgia, an introduction to the island explaining some aspects of history, the current Government management of the island and some of the ongoing projects such as the rat and reindeer eradication. She explained about the sources of income such as fishing as well as giving us a glimpse of some of the wildlife we’re hoping to see on the island. Ali spent 9 months living on the island and her passion for the place was clear to see. Whilst the Snow petrels continued circling the Plancius some tall dorsal fins were spotted in the distance. These turned out to be Killer Whale also known as Orca. Two sub-groups were resting at the surface after been foraging in the deep waters. Two small calves were also in the group and one large male had a ‘floppy fin’ (its fin was folding down). Normally these fast swimming dolphins don’t stay very close to the ship but they seemed very relaxed in our presence allowing everyone some very good view and photo opportunities. A rare treat to see them in this stretch of water. By mid-afternoon some tiny pinnacles of land were seen sticking up out of the sea ahead of us. These were Shag Rocks and they rise straight up from the sea bed looking very strange in the vast expanse of blue ocean. These areas with steep, underwater mountain slopes are often good for marine mammals as there are upwelling of water and nutrients so all the staff were out on deck to see what could be spotted. Sea conditions were still very calm and visibility was great so we all kept our fingers crossed for something. Groups of South Georgia shags kept flying past the vessel and the Snow petrels briefly visited the rocks but soon returned to our ship. Everyone was out on deck to watch as we sailed past and Captain Alexey did a great job of taking us so close to the rocks before we continued on our way to South Georgia. As we set off on our way Joselyn gave a lecture on Plants explaining about how the plants in all the locations that we are visiting are so well adapted to their environment but can also be valuable indicators as to the environment and ecology in which they thrive and survive. With our arrival in South Georgia just a few hours away the Re-cap was a briefing of our plans for the morning landing at Salisbury Plain and the afternoon visit to Prion Island. Just before dinner, as most people had already made their way downstairs to the dining room there was a shout from Ali in the bar “Killer whale!” As two adults swam right up to and under the ship right by the lounge windows! A fantastic view for those of us still there!

Day 8: Salisbury Plain and Prion Island, South Georgia

Salisbury Plain and Prion Island, South Georgia
Date: 16.11.2017
Position: 054°03’ S / 037°19’ W
Wind: S 3
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +2

As the sun came up over South Georgia this morning many people were already up and either out on deck or watching our arrival from the lounge or their cabins. We could see the mountains against the blue sky and it was promising to be a perfect day on South Georgia. We had arrived. When Andrew and Katja made the wake-up call we were already turning into the Bay of Isles where we would be spending the day and we could see the vast glacial plain of Salisbury Plain ahead of us edged by the Lucas and Grace Glaciers and backed by the impressive, Mt Ashley. While we had breakfast the crew dropped the anchor and staff lowered the Zodiacs and by the time we’d finished everything was ready for us to go ashore for the first landing of the day. We could see, hear and smell the 60,000 pairs of King penguins that breed here on the plain and as we approached the shore the musty smell of male Fur seals drifted over the water….ahhh South Georgia Springtime smells! On shore the staff were ready for us in waders as the surf was dumping a little on the steep beach but we all got ashore safely and were met by a welcome committee of King penguins and Fur seals! What a wonderful wildlife spectacle. Many of us would have been happy to spend all day at the landing site but Ali flagged a safe route towards the breeding colony further along the beach and we made our way along the back of the beach to reach it. On the way we passed groups of displaying penguins and resting seals and crossed a number of small meltwater streams and finally reached the tussac grass at the edge of the colony where the noise of whistling chicks and trumpeting adults surrounded us. As we navigated the mud to find a comfortable spot we were approached by the curious brown chicks that came to investigate the brightly coloured tall penguins that were visiting the colony. It was wonderful to just sit and watch the chicks and observe the adults displaying and demonstrating around the colony. Brown skuas were seen flying around the penguin colony and South Georgia pipits, the world’s most southerly songbird, endemic to the island, could be heard singing in the tussac grass. Before too long it was time to slowly make our way back to the landing site where we watched the penguins and Zodiacs surfing onto the beach. The staff did a great job of hauling the boats and making sure we all got back on board Plancius safely in time for lunch. During lunch the ship was re-positioned across the Bay of Isles to Prion Island where we planned to spend the afternoon. It was a logistical operation to ensure the three groups all experienced the same thing during the afternoon but the staff ran the operation brilliantly and we all landed, Zodiac cruised and had time for tea and cake on board the ship. On shore the landing party was made up of Fur seals and Gentoo penguins. The male seals were beginning to select their territory for the breeding season, fighting off other intruders to their patch and herding the females into their small beach harem. It was a noisy place with flights breaking out from time to time. The penguins just walked on through the mayhem, oblivious to it all! On the boardwalk it was an easy climb up to the viewing platforms where we could see a number of Wandering albatross chicks scattered around the summit of the island and a single adult in the distance that was nest building in preparation for the coming season. The views from the top were spectacular with the mountains and glaciers of the island behind us. Out cruising we circumnavigated the island entering into little channels where the kelp was curling in the swell like snakes and all along the rocks Fur seals were lying in the sunshine. We were lucky enough to see a blonde, leucistic seal. They have a genetic flaw which means they lack some pigment in their fur. South Georgia pipits could be seen foraging along the tide line and Light mantled sooty albatross were flying in paired formation overhead. It was a fabulous little cruise around the island. Back on board there was time to get changed before re-cap and briefing for the plans for tomorrow. Andrew explained the planned schedule, Marijke talked about Fur seals and Elephant seals and Jon gave a very informative, serious briefing about the waddling efficiency of King penguins…… Over dinner we all enjoyed sharing our experiences of the day, our first fantastic day here on South Georgia which brought penguins, seals, albatross and sunshine. A great day!!

Day 9: Stromness and Grytviken, South Georgia

Stromness and Grytviken, South Georgia
Date: 17.11.2017
Position: 054°05’ S / 036°04’ W
Wind: SW 6/7
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +5

The day dawned blue and bright… an auspicious sign for those who were keen to be up and out, retracing the final leg of Shackleton’s crossing of South Georgia. Hearing Andrew’s wake-up call at 0615 seemed a bit redundant as it seemed most of the hikers were already up and in the lounge eating a few morsels before the morning’s exercise. Once chocolate bars were safely packed, all the hikers gathered with anticipation at the gangway, while those opting for a more relaxing morning were perhaps still in their bunks, turning over for one last snooze. Once ashore, hiking poles were distributed and rubber boots traded for hikers… and we were off! The steep ascent right out of the gate showed that everyone was fit to continue and so we went, uphill into the wind. But, what scenery awaited us! The mountains were clear for us to see, and the bay and lakes below sparkling blue. The wind was insistent, and so ducking the head to avoid the brunt force of it created more time to study the beautiful rocks we walked over. The thin-plated fragments have been sorted into beautiful patterns by innumerable freeze-thaw cycles over thousands of years. And the sun was showing off the variety of colors in the rocks, much of it a rusty red color for the iron oxides becoming exposed. We finally got up and over the highest bit, and were greeted by an expansive view down into Stromness Bay where we could see the Plancius arriving—a perfect greeting from our perch on high. At this final viewpoint, Ali and Katja shared the dramatic highlight of Shackleton’s crossing, explaining that the men had waited to hear the noon whistle—to confirm they were in the right valley. And then they finally viewed the station, the minute figures walking back and forth, inspiring them to share a congratulatory handshake that they had found their way back to humanity. One last descent remained—for them and us! A steep walk down a rocky slope brought us to the bottom of the waterfall… pretty easy for us-- Shackleton’s group actually had to descend with ice axes! We were there to welcome the hikers coming up the braided stream channel from the landing site, and all of us walking on the river plain were greeted by the nesting Antarctic terns, reminding us to keep a move on and not bother them unnecessarily. What a glorious day for a walk in the countryside! Those who didn’t go further inland beyond the landing beach were certainly not at a loss for things to look at and appreciate… the shore and inland plain were covered with fur and elephant seals providing lots of photo opportunities and a bit of excitement around the lake—when those big fur seal males came to land from the water it was quite an auditory experience with all of the males huffing and whining, jockeying for position and territory. Back on board for a bit of food and rest, we then gathered in the lounge to hear a presentation from the South Georgia Heritage team about the rat eradication efforts and their plans for the future. Then we had the chance to go and toast the boss at the Grytviken cemetery before exploring the historic area of Cumberland Bay further. The tour given by the museum curator provided deeper insights into the life and activities of the station when it was active, but of course the museum was open for exploration and of course a bit of shopping. We had plenty of time to explore the ruins of the station, the old boilers and metal works, and hopefully just spend some time sitting quietly listening to the barks and burps and bleats of seals echoing across the bay. The clouds had come in slowly over the afternoon so it felt great to be back on board and warm up a bit. More fun awaited though… we were treated to a back deck BBQ by our hospitality team, complete with mulled wine and festive music. We were joined by a couple of the museum staff as well as personnel from the Kind Edward Point base… perhaps that’s what got Lina and Nina up and dancing! They (and a bit of beer and wine?) were able to persuade a few more folks out on to the floor and then that was it, everyone was dancing and singing and celebrating an amazing day at South Georgia. “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 10: St Andrew’s Bay and Godthul, South Georgia

St Andrew’s Bay and Godthul, South Georgia
Date: 18.11.2017
Position: 054°26’ S / 036°10’ W
Wind: W 3/4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

During the early hours of the morning we found ourselves in position off the coast of St Andrew’s Bay where we hoped to go ashore to visit the largest King penguin colony on South Georgia. 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 this morning we had almost perfect conditions according to the Captain and we anchored in position off the beach. As we made our way ashore we could see hundreds of King penguins on the rocks to the right of the beach and we were met on the black sand beach by staff and a huge welcome committee of penguins and Elephant seals. The scenery was filled with colorful orange-necked king penguins whilst the giant elephant seals were lying on the beach, pretending to be fast asleep. Occasionally the beach master, with his harem of females roared a little, his deep voice echoing off the nearby hillside and then others, the satellite bulls would respond but shuffling away from the dominant male 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 never was unnoticed and one loud roar was usually enough to deter the sub-adult back into the water. Once everyone was ashore and Andrew had given a briefing about our landing for the morning Ali led a route along the back of the beach, out-maneuvering various curious Fur seals until we reached the river. She had been along here earlier to scout a suitable crossing point and, with help from staff in the deeper, fast flowing parts we were all able to cross over, albeit in a long diagonal traverse rather than a direct crossing. 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. Back at the landings site we were able to photograph more King penguins as they swam in the surf and then came ashore and roaring Elephant seals. A white morph giant petrel was also seen flying over the beach and colony. One king penguin returned from foraging at sea had such a big belly that he fell over in the surf and could not get up any more. He had to push himself on his belly further up the beach whilst we and other penguins were finding it rather amusing! Before too long the Zodiacs were shuttling us back to the ship ready to download and edit another few hundred photographs Back onboard lunch was waiting for us and we were able to rest our legs a bit after a longer walk and a busy few days. 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. Although, the wind was still picking up a bit 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 4 to 5m long elephant 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. The plan was to try for the 300m summit 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 here the group walked out to a lower viewpoint before making their way back along the grasslands to the lower slopes once more. On the way back down an unusual coloured Gentoo penguin was detected – it was almost all white – not a true albino but a so-called leucistic animal. Very unusual to see such an odd-coloured animal! Meanwhile out in the bay some of us did a zodiac cruise along the shore where Antarctic terns were seen flying just over our heads. The zodiac glided through the sea kelp where Kelp Gulls were foraging and penguins were seen porpoising close by. It had been a very memorable day here on South Georgia and everyone was feeling a little weary as we made our way to re-cap with the staff in the lounge. Here Andrew briefed us about the Expedition Morning we had ahead of us, Jon talked about the mountains of South Georgia and Katja told the eerie tale of Shackleton and his men feeling the presence of the 4th Man on their crossing across South Georgia...

Day 11: Moltke Harbour and Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia

Moltke Harbour and Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia
Date: 19.11.2017
Position: 054°34’ S / 035°53’ W
Wind: N 5
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +4

We had spent the night in the shelter of Moltke Harbour inside Royal Bay and had all enjoyed a very comfortable night on board after some busy South Georgia days. As Andrew and Katja made the wake-up call the anchor was lifted and we started to re-position across the bay to Will Point. It was here that we were hoping to take a trip ashore or in the Zodiacs to see if we could find some Macaroni penguins. As we made our way across the bay the clouds began to descend onto the mountains and the winds increased and by the time we reached our position off shore it was raining and visibility was reduced to a few hundred metres. The staff set up the telescope on deck to see if we could find the elusive Macaronis but with a moving ship and rain it was almost impossible to focus on the shore. The Captain and Andrew made the decision to return to our original position to try a landing at Moltke Harbour. As the Zodiacs were lowered the light rain turned into heavy rain and by the time we reached the beach we were already wet, on the outside at least! We all had visions of this being a bit of an anti-climax to our fabulous South Georgia days but for some it proved to be the absolute opposite as the Elephant seal pups, or weaners as they are locally known kept us entertained with their antics in the river and their curiosity on shore. The month old pups in the river were sleeping in the fast flowing water and play fighting with each other, thoroughly enjoying their new found playground since the departure of their mothers. As we stood on the side of the river a few pups started to come towards us and before too long we had pups looking into camera lenses, sniffing boots, chewing trousers and generally making mischief, much to the delight of all of us. It was a real privilege to be so close to these young wild animals who have yet to learn their fear of humans. Some people chose to go for a rainy leg stretch up to the waterfall and inland from the beach. It was nice to be out for a bit of a walk before a few days back on board sailing to Antarctica. Before too long it was time to leave our Elephant seal friends and make our soggy way back to the ship. Despite the wet weather this final landing had proved to be a real treat for all of us. There was time to warm up and dry off before lunch and as we enjoyed lunch the ship navigated towards Cooper Bay where we hoped the transit the narrow channel between Cooper Island and the mainland. This was another opportunity to see Macaroni penguins in the water and indeed some people were lucky enough to get a glimpse of them through the rain. Mist and waves. It wasn’t ideal penguin watching weather. From here we continued on down the coast where the weather condition improved and by the time we turned into Drygalski Fjord the rain had stopped and the seas were calm. The Captain took Plancius right up the fjord towards the Reisling Glacier at the head of the bay. On the way we passed jagged black peaks, remnants of the super continent Gondwanaland, hanging glaciers and small icebergs that had calved from the glacier. There were Cape petrels, Snow petrels and even a Leopard seal was seen lying on one of the ice floes. At the end of the fjord the Captain held the ship in position for a while so we could take photos and watch the small ice calvings from the front of the glacier. From here it was time to head out and head west towards Antarctica, the next destination on our voyage. Weather conditions improved in terms of visibility and we were treated to a wonderful rainbow as we left South Georgia. During the late part of the afternoon the first part of the movie about Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition was shown in the lounge. Re-cap was an extended South Georgia affair with Andrew briefing us on the coming days, Ali telling about her time on South Georgia, Jos explaining about lichens, Jon talking about glaciers and Katja telling the story of Shackleton’s whiskey! The final speaker was Hans the Flenser who told us tales of Old Big Blue and his fate at the hands of this mighty whale…

Day 12: At Sea to Antarctica

At Sea to Antarctica
Date: 20.11.2017
Position: 056°30’ S / 040°32’ W
Wind: NW 3/4
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +1

Those of us who were looking forward to a good night’s rest in celebration of our excellent South Georgia experience were likely disappointed... talk about “motion in the ocean”! Remembering we’re going through the circumpolar current—that stretch of ocean which is unencumbered by any landmass so the winds and water freely flow—well, it may not make it feel more comfortable but at least we can understand why we’re having such a lumpy ride. The sea conditions didn’t dissuade the wildlife however, the seabirds were still with us and we also had another beaked whale sighting—a female. These whales are so poorly known as they are deep divers and rarely seen… so to be able to report another data point to researchers interested in these species is an exciting opportunity. Besides keeping one eye to the sea and what we might still come across, today felt like a day of catch up—on photo downloads and editing, on reading, on sleep… and also a bit of prep for our next adventures. We went through the vacuuming process again, to clean South Georgia off of our equipment so we can approach Antarctica with fresh gear and no threat of introducing non-native species to that pristine land. Everyone was well-practiced in this task so it was a quicker affair than last time and lots of good cheer to boot! The afternoon found us learning about ice and glaciers—in English with Jon and in German with Katja. Hearing about glaciers and learning more about the properties of ice is only heightening the feelings of anticipation for our first sights of the icy continent. For more immediate gratification however, judging by the traffic on the stairway, many folks had clearly been anticipating the prospect of half price drinks at happy hour before the onboard auction! The bar at times was stacked three or four people deep as we gathered to chat and perhaps relive some of our memories from our South Georgia landings. After all, the auction proceeds will benefit the rat eradication and monitoring efforts so what better way to get in the mood than to share war stories of fur seals avoided or big-eyed wieners we fell in love with. Ali kicked off the auction with simple instructions, “you keep bidding and I’ll tell you when to stop!” and it rolled on from there. From zodiac keyrings and a crystal clock, to a surprisingly popular packet of penguin-themed facial tissues, the bidding was lively and everyone seemed to be enjoying the spectacle. In the end, over €1,430 was raised in support of South Georgia, well done everyone!

Day 13: At Sea to Antarctica

At Sea to Antarctica
Date: 21.11.2017
Position: 059°00’ S / 040°09’ W
Wind: S 7
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: +1

We had a bit of a stormy start today but at least the sea fog had been blown away throughout the night. A chilly start with -1 degrees Celsius but this did not matter to the frequent whales seen along the way. Many Cape petrels and the occasional Black-browed and Grey headed albatrosses were also keeping us entertained. Katja gave an introduction to Antarctica where we learnt just how cold it can get on the Antarctic continent during the winter months! All decks were closed just before lunch as wind speeds started peaking around 35+ knots and most of us retired to our cabins after lunch. More Fin whales were spotted whilst the search continued to spot our first Antarctic petrel. We also admired our first huge iceberg – a tabular iceberg of spectacular proportions. The officers on the Bridge estimated that the edge of the iceberg was around 10 miles in length. They were kept busy looking for ‘growlers’ and ‘bergy bits’ that had broken off from the main berg, a challenging job in the rough seas. At 3pm we were invited to the Dining Room by Head Chef, Ralf who gave a fascinating insight into the logistics of feeding 112 passengers and 44 crew on these long sea voyages. We were all amazed by the number of eggs we will have eaten by the end of the trip and just how you keep lettuce fresh for 20 days! Shortly after Ralf’s talk, with just enough time to grab some Afternoon Tea we settled ourselves in the lounge to watch the second part of the Shackleton film. It was very atmospheric to be sailing through the exact same waters heading towards Elephant Island in rough conditions but on a comfortable ship. It’s hard to imagine what it was like for Shackleton and his men in the tiny James Caird. Just after the Shackleton documentary finished, we crossed 60 degrees south and officially entered Antarctic waters. Bearing in mind the wind chill factor the temperatures we were now experiencing on the bridge wings were around -10 degrees Celsius – a gentle way of accustoming ourselves to this chilly environment. During recap Andrew informed us about tomorrow’s activities and we all watched the IAATO’s information on how to behave around wildlife in Antarctica. This was followed by a short lecture on ‘Sea Monsters’ by Marijke - featuring albinos, hybrids and Siamese twin whales! After dinner we watched a scenic sun set with ice, icebergs and more fin whales. We gathered like emperor penguins on the back deck whilst trying to shelter from the cold winds that were piercing through our outer clothing. Tomorrow we are due to reach Elephant Island where we hope to see for ourselves where Shackleton and his men prepared themselves for the famous crossing to South Georgia.

Day 14: Point Wild, Elephant Island

Point Wild, Elephant Island
Date: 22.11.2017
Position: 061°03’ S / 054°49’ W
Wind: SW 5/6
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: 0

After a rough day at sea it seemed we all slept a lot more soundly during the night as the movement of the ship decreased or maybe we were all exhausted from the disturbed nights previously. Long before the wake-up call many of us were already up and enjoying the views as we made our final approach to Elephant Island, and what views they were… The sun was shining out of a clear blue sky, the ocean was blue and Elephant Island was plastered in a fresh covering of snow. It looked spectacular! Despite the beauty we all had thoughts of Shackleton’s men who spent over 4 months living here during the winter while awaiting rescue. It still looked quite forbidding, even in the sunshine. We passed Shackleton’s first landing place at Cape Valentine and slowly made our way along the coast towards Point Wild, our planned location for the morning’s activities. On the way the wind was still quite strong but we hoped to find more shelter closer to the island and with whale blows all around we navigated into position off Point Wild. From the ship we could see thousands of Chinstrap penguins on all the rocky high points around the coast and could also see the small statue or bust of Captain Pardo, the captain of the tug boat the Yelcho that came to rescue Shackleton’s men. Conditions were almost perfect so the staff began to lower the Zodiacs and before too long the first group was stepping into the boats for a cruise around the area. First we visited the Chinstrap penguins on the far shore before making our way past the glacier front to the exact place where Shackleton’s men stayed. All around the low lying area there were penguins standing waiting for the snow to melt ready to lay their eggs and we all commented on the height they climbed to in order to secure a snow free, rocky spot for the season. The rear of the statue of Captain Pardo was encrusted in fresh snow but as we made our way to the other side we could see that he had a clear view out to the open ocean. The sea conditions around the rocks were a little challenging at times; described as a washing machine by a few of the guides so we didn’t get too close but close enough to get a good look at the penguins all along the shore and up at the top of the rock pinnacles. Some of the drivers decided to take a run out to the big iceberg but for the rest we were happy to explore the shore and enjoy the penguins. After around about an hour the Zodiacs headed back to the ship and the second group were able to come out on their cruise, following a similar route and enjoying slightly warmer and less windy conditions. By noon we were all back on board and Plancius was setting sail to cruise around the other side of Elephant Island. Just as we were finishing lunch a call came over the PA system that we had whales, lots of whales in the area. We wrapped up warm, grabbed our cameras and headed out onto the deck. What followed was a wonderful encounter with three Humpback whales that were clearly feeding in the area and were very unconcerned by our presence. They swam towards the ship and gave everyone some fabulous photo opportunities as they swam past the bow and then the stern and then back again. They were shallow diving, turning on their sides, lying near the surface and lifting their long pectoral fins. It was a fantastic experience for everyone, even the long serving guides were taking too many photos! After a while we left the Humpback whales and just as we were getting warmed up with tea and coffee we were called outside again to see some Fin whales. These are the second largest of all the whales and they could be seen clearly under the water as they swam past. Their right hand side lower jaw is white and this could be seen very clearly as they swam along on their sides. They were also seen to poop as they surfaced, leaving clouds of orange, red poop made up mainly of Krill. In amongst the whales were rafts of penguins, mostly Chinstrap but with some Gentoo penguins as well. The feeding was obviously very good in the area. Before too long it was time to continue on our way with views of Elephant Island and Clarence Island under clear blue sky with us for many hours afterwards. Many of us enjoyed the sunshine and views on the outer decks while others relaxed in the lounge, downloading and editing all the hundreds of whale photos taken earlier in the afternoon. Re-cap this evening brought us the plans for Antarctica tomorrow, the story of some of the earliest Photoshop techniques by Frank Hurley, some information about Chinstrap penguins and some scientific insight into whale poo! A wide range of topics for the evening!

Day 15: Brown Bluff and Antarctic Sound, Antarctica

Brown Bluff and Antarctic Sound, Antarctica
Date: 23.11.2017
Position: 063°28’ S / 056°51’ W
Wind: 0
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

Some people had decided to get up and see the sunrise at around 3am as we made our way into Antarctic Sound and they weren’t disappointed by the very early morning light as a red glow began on the horizon and lit the icebergs with a pink glow. It may have been the most perfect way to arrive to the Antarctic continent… through a flat calm sea, surrounded by tabular icebergs, and just the right kind of diffused light that makes everything glow. The impressive brown bluff, remnants of an underwater volcano, towered over the landing site and Adelie and Gentoo penguins made up the welcoming party as they were already assembled on the beach waiting for us. Stepping ashore and then up steps cut into the icy bank was a fitting way to arrive to the seventh, and icy continent. We gathered by the large volcanic rocks and from that point on the Adélies simply charmed us, walking in waves down the beach, constantly assessing where it might be safe to jump in the water. Watching their antics from the edge of the colony to see who was stealing rocks from whom, at one point resulting in a particularly fierce flipper fight—was quite the entertainment. A few Brown skuas were circling the colony and one was seen to take a egg from an Adélie penguin who had been distracted by a pebble stealing neighbour. Those who had a bit more wanderlust in their feet returned to the landing site and continued around the corner, braving the slippery snow slope in order to see the head of the glacier and other interesting geologic features. For some the highlight may have been stopping for a few minutes to just sit and watch and take it all in… and listen to the “silence”: the flock of shags flying then swimming and fishing together, the skuas screeching their joy at stealing an egg, the Adélies discussing whether it’s safe to get in the water, the Gentoo calling to its mate, icicles falling and crashing down the cliffs from high above… all of that and more adding to this ‘Antarctic moment’. It was so peaceful it was hard to believe we had anywhere else to go that could be any better… but who knew what we had in store for us?! Once back on the ship the plan was to cruise the Antarctic Sound, enjoying the sea ice and possibly getting all the way through into the Weddell Sea. The captain skilfully navigated through the icy waters, giving us great views of hauled out Weddell and Crabeater seals plus the odd assemblage of Adélies looking askance at us on our big ship as we sailed past. We were moving slowly, but then we seemed to be moving even slower and then all of a sudden we were in fact parked next to an iceberg! It was amazing to be so close to what was in fact a very small tabular iceberg and we were all in awe of Captain Alexey’s skilful parking. Then we were moving on, nudging through more sea ice, watching as billows of brown algae boiled up in the slush from underneath broken bits and pieces. The sea ice was getting thicker and thicker so we finally turned course and headed for open water and the western side of the peninsula… but not so fast! The Captain had another treat hidden up his sleeve… suddenly engines slowed and we found ourselves coming alongside a large piece of sea ice… everyone was out on deck and on the starboard side taking photos… and there was a rumour that perhaps we were going to go out for a walk?! And then… is it true? That is the sound of the gangway being lowered! Everyone scurried to get their boots and lifejackets on, and then we were down and out, walking away from the ship across the flat surface… with water on all sides. What a feeling of freedom! And then as a welcoming gift, three Adélies hopped up onto the floe to preen and say hello. A few minutes more of posing for pictures and the Captain called us back on board and we were on our way again, into the sunshine and the spectacular scenery of ice and snow covered slopes, craggy nuntataks, and icebergs. At re-cap Andrew outlined plans for tomorrow, Marijke talked about Humpback whales and played some fabulous recordings of their sounds and Katja explained about the brown algae that we had seen under the breaking sea ice as we travelled through it. All of these words are truly not enough to capture the incredible sights, sounds, and emotions of this-- our first day in Antarctica.

Day 16: Half Moon Island and Whaler’s Bay, Antarctica

Half Moon Island and Whaler’s Bay, Antarctica
Date: 24.11.2017
Position: 063°35’ S / 059°54’ W
Wind: ESE 5
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: -1

Hidden in a cloud of snow and with snow-covered decks we woke up in the South Shetland Islands this morning. After breakfast we landed at Half Moon Island which offers a nicely sheltered bay with on one side several Chinstrap colonies whilst the other side has an Argentinian research station – which was closed because it is still relatively early in the season. A Weddell Seal was snoozing on the beach alongside an old Whale Boat – hidden under a layer of snow. After a little climb we arrived at the first Chinstrap Penguin colony where some penguins were already nesting and guarding two eggs. But the majority of the penguins were fighting over suitable nest sites, suitable pebbles or were busy pair bonding. Skuas were watching with great interest from a nearby viewing point, but luckily all eggs were firmly guarded and so the skuas went to look elsewhere. On our way further down we had to cross the penguin highway – dirty penguins were on their way down – still clinging on to lovely pebbles whilst others were eating snow as a refreshment. Clean penguins were on their way up the steep slope with nicely packed bellies with food. Occasionally, they would stop and turn around – were they forgetting where they were going? Was it up or down? From the penguin highway we walked down a small narrow valley to the other side of the island. This route was also a penguin highway and we all enjoyed watching the busy little birds as they made their way back up to their nest sites. Back down at sea level there were plenty of penguins lined up along the shore, both Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins who were preening after their sea trip and preparing themselves for the long climb up the hill. Ali had flagged a route up to the last colony and had been busy scouting the penguins looking for a lone Macaroni penguin, which has been found nesting in the area for many years. We were in luck! The Macaroni penguin was home and although he was tucked away by some rocks he was at least facing in the right direction and we were able to see the bright yellow feathers on his head when he moved. It was probably waiting for his/her partner – these penguins have very tight pair bonds, for life, and we can only hope the partner soon returns. In the bay we could see distant humpback whales and also Minke whales – the smallest of the baleen whales in Antarctic waters. We were back onboard around 10:30 and most of us gathered in the lounge for hot chocolate, tea or coffees whilst the Plancius lifted its anchors and set sail to Deception Island. The visibility along the way wasn’t great with low cloud and snow showers but soon we could see the caldera of Deception Island ahead of us. At around 1400 we reached the island and we all admired the rough scenery as we slipped into the caldera, through the gap known as Neptune’s Bellows. Deception Island is an island of doom where the worst acts of human nature played out on its shores. A land of slaughter and blood situated on an active volcano waiting to erupt. As we made our way into Port Foster we turned into Whaler’s Bay where we could see the buildings of the old whaling station. Giant rusting barrels used to boil whale fat and litter the beach and there is a feel of gloom hanging heavy in the air. When the nearby whale stock started to dwindle in numbers, factory vessels were designed in order to slaughter those whales caught further afield. The whaling station then became a British Research Station but after the famous volcanic eruption all stations on the island had to be abandoned. Soon the anchor was dropped and the Zodiacs were lowered ready to take us ashore. We landed by an old dry dock structure amidst the steam of the thermally heated waters and sulphur - rotten-egg smells all around - and soon stood on the black volcanic sandy beach. All the buildings were covered with a thick layer of snow which made exploring a bit of a challenge. Ali led a walk along the shore line towards Neptune’s Window, passing the old waterboats along the way. We walked up through the deeper snow to reach the viewpoint which allowed us to look across the Bransfield Strait towards Antarctica and with the snow clearing and visibility improving we could see the Antarctic Peninsula over 40 miles away. From here we walked back toward the other side of the bay to walk further uphill to admire the views across the interior of the caldera, the whole of Port Foster. Luckily the sun came out which warmed the cold chilly winds up the slope. Many of us explored the ruined buildings and visited the small graveyard and snowy, smoky and windy atmosphere that surrounded us gave us a little glance into how it must have been to live and work on the stations here. We were all back onboard in the late afternoon and soon gathered for the daily recap about tomorrow’s plans and a chance to watch a short documentary about Deception Island. After dinner we found ourselves at the top end of the Gerlache Strait with Trinity Island on our port side and the Antarctic Peninsula stretching out into the distance and with the evening light on the icebergs it was a beautiful approach.

Day 17: Cuverville Island and Paradise Bay, Antarctica

Cuverville Island and Paradise Bay, Antarctica
Date: 25.11.2017
Position: 064°37’ S / 062°36’ W
Wind: SW 6
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: -2

Many of us had already planned to get up early to see the sunrise at around 3am as we made our way down the Gerlache Strait and they weren’t disappointed with the views as they stepped out on deck. The rest of us were happy to stay in our bunks and sleep that was until Andrew made a very early morning wake-up call to tell us that an Emperor penguin had been spotted on an ice floe in Charlotte Bay. What a treat to see the largest penguin on earth and in an area where they are rarely seen. The staff had received a message from another ship the day before so the Captain had navigated into Charlotte Bay to see if it was still around. Luckily for us it was indeed still standing alone on a large piece of sea ice. It was an immature bird, probably 2 or 3 years old so didn’t have the bright colouration of the adult penguins but it was still fabulous to see and photograph in the early morning light. Long camera lenses were brought out and telescopes were set up around the deck but it turned out that they weren’t really needed as the Captain did an amazing job of navigating Plancius slowly and stealthily towards the penguin. We were all able to see and hear it clearly. After some time watching it as it preened, watched us and then lay down we began to reverse away from it and just as we did so it raised a wing and gave a call, almost as if it was saying goodbye! What a wonderful start to the day! Many of us warmed up with tea and coffee and made our way back to bed for a few more hours of sleep before the next wake-up call at 7am. After breakfast the staff went ashore to prepare the landing area on Cuverville Island. This island in the Errera Channel is home to one of the largest Gentoo penguin colonies on the peninsula. It was a bit of a cold, windy and grey morning but perfect Antarctic conditions for watching penguins as they went about their early season business. We walked along the lower slopes past a few of the smaller colonies and all enjoyed just stopping and watching the penguins coming and going, nest building, courting and mating. Some of the penguins on the higher rock outcrops already had their nests built but in some areas the penguins were just waiting for the snow to melt. From the lower slopes some of us took a walk up hill for a view of the bay and the stranded icebergs before sliding back down again to sea level. From here there was an opportunity to take a short Zodiac cruise through the icebergs and back to the ship. In the sunshine the icebergs looked spectacular with icicles hanging off their edges and turquoise water around the base of them. What a great Antarctic morning! Back on board we navigated through the narrow channels, passing a larger cruise ship Le Soleal on the way as we made our way towards our next destination. During lunch there was a change of plans due to the weather and ice in Anvers Bay where Neko Harbour is located and we found ourselves entering Paradise Harbour instead. The plan here was to go ashore and also go for a Zodiac cruise in the area. The landing was a continental landing at Base Brown, an Argentine summer station and we were put ashore near the emergency building and were able to walk along the lower slopes to the station. The only residents so far this summer were lots of Gentoo penguins who were busily next building and mating! From here there was the option to take a walk up the hill a little for views over the bay but conditions were quite icy so it was a lower viewpoint than we’d maybe hoped for but still with impressive views across Paradise Bay. In the Zodiacs it was a story of choppy seas, spray and ice! The drivers tried to find some shelter along the coast near to the station but it was still a bit splashy as we made our way along the high sea cliffs. Here we could see the nests of Antarctic cormorants high up on the cliffs with their guano and seaweed nests. From here we went round into Skontorp Cove where we had impressive views of the glacier ice front and managed to find some sheltered water in a little cove with lots of grounded icebergs. It was a true Antarctic Zodiac cruise and everyone was a little cold and wet at the end of it. Some brave people decided to get even colder and wetter and took a ‘Polar Plunge’ in the icy waters just off the rocky beach. Well done to the ladies for their bravery!! Back on board there was time for hot drinks and hot showers before recap where Andrew outlined plans for our final Antarctic morning, Ali talked about Krill, one of the most important little critters in Antarctica and Marijke told us about Emperor penguins and explained what we had seen this morning. Then it was time to wrap up once again and head out to the back deck for our Antarctic BBQ. The setting was stunning with mountains and glaciers all around and although it was a little cold and breezy on the deck we all enjoyed the food, the drinks and the dancing in a unique location!

Day 18: Melchior Islands, Antarctica

Melchior Islands, Antarctica
Date: 26.11.2017
Position: 064°19’S / 062°58’W
Wind: SSW 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: -2

Relatively good weather seemed to still be with us this morning, waking to a sky of sunny clouds. The wind was brisk so those who went out for the zodiac cruise dressed up warmly… or wish they had once they got into the boats! 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 small spit hosted a hauled out Weddell seal, but due to the unstable overhang the boats were not able to get a very close look. For the moment we had to be content with the Kelp gulls and terns circling overhead. 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 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. The insistent cries of Antarctic terns made us look up in time to see several of them mobbing a skua—likely trying to swoop in for a quick meal of tern egg. The tops of the rocks where their nests were looked distinctly furry. Focusing in you could just see the innumerable fronds and stalks of fruticose Usena lichen covering the granite surfaces. Then around the next corner was a small channel we squirted through, aided by the surging water. There were others we could try, but blocked by ice or is that a rock just breaking the surface when the swell goes down? Maybe it’s time to try a different area. Heading across the bay, we went in search of seals that had been called in over the radio. Head for a beacon, around the corner, behind a big iceberg. Got that? Off we went. The zodiac slid over the rising waves, promising a rougher ride on the way back home. But we found ourselves eventually in a quiet bay surrounded by gentle snow slopes and one iceberg with a few Gentoo penguins posing for pictures. In the distance we could a few dark shapes on flat white surface… is this what we were looking for? Moving closer we went through a narrow channel and an amazing sight opens before us… about twenty Weddell seals in small groups resting on fast ice, surrounded by craggy icy walls and a backdrop of glowing, cloudy Antarctic sky. A few raised their heads, curious at this new sight of moving black and coloured blobs on the water, but then returned peacefully to their restful state. After a few minutes of appreciating the gifts that Antarctica decides to give from time to time, we made our way back towards the ship just as we heard the Bridge calling all zodiac drivers back to the ship as the winds were rising even more. From the relative peace of the hidden bay we could see the waves and whitecaps ahead. Stow the cameras, put up your hoods, and hunker down! It wasn’t the wettest ride we could have said the driver, but it certainly wasn’t the smoothest. But slowly, bit by bit, wave by wave we finally arrived at 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 and we found ourselves in turquoise water with streaks of white across the surface that was dotted with icebergs. It was challenging navigation for the Captain in order to safely avoid the ice but before too long we were out into safer water with just some large icebergs on the horizon. Most of us took an afternoon sleep after the busy Antarctic day but at 4pm we were invited to the lounge to watch a film called Around Cape Horn which was filmed in the 1920’s by Irvin Johnson. It was an entertaining narration of some incredible footage of the days of sailing in these southern waters.

Day 19: Drake Passage!

Drake Passage!
Date: 27.11.2017
Position: 060°19’S / 063°31’W
Wind: W 8
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +1

It was a bit of a bumpy start of the day when breakfast was announced at 8am and many people had endured an uncomfortable night rocking and rolling in their bunks, especially those in the cabins higher up in the ship.. Consequently, it was a bit of a challenge for all of us to walk in a straight line as we made our way along the corridors with a bit of a lean! With all outer decks closed, it was still possible to get some fresh air on the bridge wing. This was also a good place to admire how well adapted some of the seabirds are to this challenging climate. Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses were roaring past the bow whilst the more delicate and pretty Cape Petrels frequently sat down alongside us in those sheltered areas created by the Plancius. Soon the first dorsal fins were seen breaking the surface – a small group of at least ten Hourglass dolphins! These robust dolphins have a rather curved and back-swept dorsal fin and also have a striking black and white pattern on their flanks in the shape of an hourglass. They are also the only type of dolphin venturing this far south! At 10:30 Joselyn gave a presentation on how it is to live on an Antarctic Station – she has spent a few years working at the McMurdo Station (Ross Sea) and also at the South Pole Station. We were all fascinated by stories of life at the Pole with Jos showing great footage of her hydroponic gardens, growing greens for consumption through the winter. There were also entertaining stories of the busy social life on base with creative and imaginative ways of helping the long winter night pass by. In the afternoon, Ali entertained us with a lecture on Ice Maidens – all about the women who travelled to Antarctica and who influenced polar explorers. She told us the stories of Emily Shackleton and Kathleen Scott, comparing their personalities and their approach to life as wives of polar explorers. 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 Wandering Albatross. With the Convergence now in full swing, Andrew invited us to the Restaurant for a lecture on the geological history of Antarctica. This was followed by a recap in the lounge where Zsuzanna briefed us all about our de-embarkation plans in Ushuaia and Marijke explained about marine mammal acoustics, finishing with a sound quiz of some of the animals we had encountered on our voyage. It was perhaps a little tricky to correctly identify all those sounds but we did well nevertheless! Another dinner was then waiting for us in the Restaurant and after dinner, well the swell picked up again! And therefore most of us retreated for an early night during this rather bumpy Drake Passage.

Day 20: At Sea to Ushuaia

At Sea to Ushuaia
Date: 28.11.2017
Position: 056°23’S / 065°49’W
Wind: W 7
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +8

It had been another uncomfortable night for many of us but knowing that it was the last one in the Drake Passage brought some comfort as we rocked and rolled in our bunks once again. As a result many of us had been up for a long time when breakfast was announced but with good sea legs and excellent drugs we all made it to the dining room for the first meal of the day. Up on the Bridge the wind was still shown to be blowing at 30 knots and there were still big ocean swells but as the morning went by and we got closer to the continent of South America the motion of the ocean began to very slowly decrease. The decks were declared open and we all emerged like zoo animals from a cage to enjoy some fresh air. At 10.30 we were invited to the dining room to meet our Chief Engineer Sebastian Alexandru who gave us a great presentation about the mechanics of Plancius with a video tour of the engine room, the very heart of the ship with the three diesel generators providing power for the quiet electric engine. As Sebi’s talk came to an end we heard over the PA system that land could be seen ahead of the ship, with Cape Horn off to our starboard side. We had survived the notorious Drake Passage!! It was lovely to step out on deck and look at the mountains rising ahead of us and even begin to smell the Southern beech forests that cover the lower hills of Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. Just before lunch another call came telling us the some Long-finned pilot whales and Hourglass dolphins had been seen by the ship. The next half hour was an absolute joy with family groups of pilot whales coming close to the ship, the youngsters staying close to their mothers but cheekily spy hopping to get a closer look at the big blue monster parked beside them! The dolphins were much faster but could be seen in the water with their distinctive white sides showing up really well beneath the waves. There were around 30 to 40 pilot whales in the group and about 15 or so dolphins so a really good marine mammal encounter here at the entrance to the Beagle Channel. Lunch was called and the ship was turned around and we continued on our way up the channel, enjoying a relaxed lunch without having to hold on to our plates and glasses! After lunch there was time to catch up on some much needed sleep after some disturbed Drake Passage nights while many of us packed bags and other enjoyed some time out on deck after the incarceration of the last few days. At 3.30 we were called to return our rubber boots to the boot room. These sturdy ‘Muck Boots’ had kept our feet warm and dry during the voyage and we were grateful to have had them, especially in the cold of Antarctica. The rest of the afternoon was at leisure with some people taking a walk around the decks, while others relaxed in the lounge enjoying the views of land all around. At 6pm we were invited to the lounge for Captain’s Cocktails where we met with Captain Alexey once again to toast the wonderful voyage. He did some amazing navigation with Plancius, taking us close to whales, icebergs and Emperor penguins for unforgettable experiences. Ruedi, from Polar News had put together a beautiful short movie of our trip and the staff had contributed photos for a slide show. It was lovely to look back over the last 21 days on board Plancius and remember the places we had visited and the wonderful things we had seen. Cheers everyone!

Day 21: Disembarkation in Ushuaia

Disembarkation in Ushuaia
Date: 29.11.2017

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. Total distance sailed on our voyage: Nautical miles: 3712 nm | Kilometres: 6874.6 km On behalf of everyone on board we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.