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PLA22-18, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula with South Shetland Islands

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Disembarkation from Ushuaia

Disembarkation from Ushuaia
Date: 23.11.2018
Wind: NNW 5-6
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +9

So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going 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 our Antarctic adventure! We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition staff who sent us on board to meet Hotel and Restaurant Managers, Zsuzsanna and Bobby. 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 Miia, 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. After the Safety briefing we departed from the jetty of Ushuaia and entered the Beagle Channel with an escort of black browed albatross. On hearing the general 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. Once we were on our way into the channel we were invited once again to the lounge to meet our Hotel Manager Zsuzsanna 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, Ali Liddle and the rest of the Expedition Team who will guide us in Antarctica. This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Artur Iakovlev and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chef Ralf and his 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!

Day 2: The Drake Passage!

The Drake Passage!
Date: 24.11.2018
Position: 56°27’ S / 065°16’ W
Wind: NW 5-6
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

Following a rough night travelling through the Drake, most of us are a little weary from a disturbed nights sleep, but as the day goes on the sea becomes a little kinder and less rough. A morning lecture from Ali gives a wealth of information about Penguins, and the ones we will hopefully see on the Peninsula. At this time of year, most of the penguins we will see will be getting ready for breeding and nesting season. We learned about penguin highways and the importance of avoiding walking over these as they are important routes for the penguins to reach their nesting sites from the water. Those of us going kayaking on the expedition met with Zet in the library where we were briefed on the operations involved with kayaking in Antarctica. After lunch Andreas gave a very informative talk on all things ice; how glaciers and ice caps form, where icebergs come from and the difference between glacial ice and sea ice. A demonstration using tomato ketchup gave a useful and intriguing insight into the flow of glacial ice. The adventurous campers on board met in the dinning room for a briefing about going camping in Antarctica; what to bring, how to wrap up warm and what to expect on a night on the ice! It is noticed there are a lot of lycra clad people on the ship, with matching jackets; these are a group from Racing The Planet (RTP), a running expedition company which organises ultra-marathons (250km) all over the World; specifically in the four deserts. There are 49 runners onboard who have already completed the other deserts, Antarctica will be the last in this four deserts running series. Throughout the day we see more and more birds soaring through the air above the waves, the Albatross in particular are incredible to watch; today we saw Southern Royal, Black browed and Wandering Albatross’. Before dinner Ali briefed us in the lounge about the plans for the coming days; including how to read the weather maps, and to watch out for purple monsters on them! We expect some calmer weather tomorrow as we continue to head south, but will still be encountering swell unfortunately for those of us feeling sea sick. The expedition staff introduced themselves and told us all a little about themselves and their backgrounds. Those of us feeling up to it head to the dinning room for another lovely meal before some card games in the lounge or retiring to our beds for some more rocky sleep.

Day 3: The Drake Passage!

The Drake Passage!
Date: 25.11.2018
Position: 59°47’ S / 059°51’ W
Wind: NNW 4
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

The Drake passage gave us more rolls in our bed during the night, and we awake a little sleepy. However shortly before breakfast whales are spotted in the distance, some of us head to the bridge and catch glimpses of large black backs and tall blows – they were Fin whales; the second largest of the whales. After breakfast we attended the mandatory briefing about Zodiac operations so that we can be familiar with all the safety measures in place to get off the ship, on shore and back on the ship safely. Following this, Ali briefed us on IAATO biosecurity, so that we will have minimal impact on the pristine environment of Antarctica. Firstly, we had to vacuum all our outerwear to ensure we were not carrying any plant material on to the continent, we will also have to ensure all our footwear is cleaned thoroughly, especially the international runners running shoes! The beautiful light mantled sooty albatross is spotted in the morning also – these are the smaller of the albatrosses, however they are strikingly coloured, with a white crescent above the eye. After lunch we collect our muck boots, big sturdy, waterproof boots to wear on our landings on Antarctica. In the afternoon, Pippa gave us a talk on the whales of the Southern Ocean; including information on the whales we had seen already, and the ones we hope to see as we continue our voyage south. The talk was interrupted by our first piece of ice; evidence of our travels south! It was a small iceberg, but many photos were taken in the anticipation of more. Just before dinner we have recap; Ali gives us a run down of the plans for tomorrow, and our first landing. Just as Bill began his recap we get a call from the bridge; whales! A large group of Fin whales were feeding ahead of us; we all head to the decks for a better view, and we were treated to quite a show. Over 20 Fin whales within close range, and more towards the horizon, were feeding on large patches of krill; lunging through the water at incredible speed, every now and again we saw their large heads come out of the water as they burst through the waves. Seeing this many Fin whales feeding together is an incredible, and rare sight to see – needless to say dinner was postponed!

Day 4: South Shetland Islands–Bellingshausen, King George Island

South Shetland Islands–Bellingshausen, King George Island
Date: 26.11.2018
Position: 62° 11’ S / 58° 55’ W
Wind: NW 4-5
Weather: Snowing
Air Temperature: 0

After enduring a tough crossing of the Drake Passage over the course of two and a half days, we finally arrived at the relatively calm waters of King George Island in the wee hours of Monday. A 4am start awaited most of the staff as they prepared for the opening leg of the Racing the Planet (RTP) marathon – the last of the four deserts – Antarctica! Three Zodiacs of RTP gear were transported from Plancius to the snowy shores of the Russian research station, Bellingshausen, in wind and sleet. Setting up the outdoor toilet and large tarpaulin proved challenging in the prevailing conditions, but with all hands-on decks it wasn’t too long before all was ready for the 49 competitors, eager to hit the slushy icy-muddy track that ran between the Uruguayan base Artigas and Great Wall the Chinese base 14km further down the coast. Once all the formalities of photographing the RTP team and competitors in front of the colourful display of representative national flags, the race began with excited whoops from all around as the pace was set from the get-go by the Romanian runners Iulian and Andrei. Iulian was the day’s champion as he completed close to 90km! A more civil start to the day awaited our regular guests after kayaking activities were cancelled due to the random changes in wind conditions. A relaxed tour of the base started proceedings, with an unnecessarily steep climb to the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity keeping most amused, before Ann wowed everyone with her spectacular sliding-spinning decent down the same steep, snowy access track – scored 9.4 with a high degree of difficulty. As the runners kept running, the regular guests returned to Plancius for lunch before a Zodiac cruise along King George’s coastline with Kasper and Daniel, or returning to Bellingshausen for a snowshoe walk up to the island’s precipitous volcanic remains. A wonderful panoramic scene awaited the latter group, as Andreas and Eduardo led an educational stroll, highlighting the island’s geological past and botanical present – don’t walk on the moss & lichen! As the winds picked up in the evening, both guests and athletes gathered at the shore and transported back to the ship for a well-deserved dinner. The day ended nicely for those in the bar at around 10pm, as two smallish Humpback Whales surfaced close to the starboard side before saluting with their characteristic fluke up in a choppy sea – Perfect!

Day 5: Danco Island

Danco Island
Date: 27.11.2018
Position: 63°49’ S / 061°11’ W
Wind: SW 5-6
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: 0

Our plan at the Gerlache Strait continued today as we planned, we cruised without problem among the sights of whales and icebergs and the morning went quickly thanks to our activities. The Gerlache Strait is the strait that separates the Palmer Archipelago from Antarctic Peninsula. The Belgica Expedition, under command of Lt. Adrien de Gerlache, who explored the strait in January and February 1898, naming it for the expedition ship Belgica. The name was later changed to honor the commander himself. This strait is characterized by amazing views of the mountains in the peninsula, as well as the spectacular icebergs that cross the strait. In the morning, Eduardo gave a lecture entitled "Science in Antarctica" describing the overall scientific activities carried on in the white continent. In this lecture, Eduardo describes the main current projects related to Astronomy, Biology, Glaciology, Geosciences, Meteorology and Physiology. The lecture was very well welcomed by our guests, it allowed them to have a better understanding about why there are so many countries with research stations in Antarctica. Lunch was served at 12:30 and shortly after, we arrived to our destination. Danco Island. Danco Island is 1 mile long, and lies in the South part of the Errera Channel, of the West coast of Graham Land. It was originally charted by the Belgica Expedition, under command of Gerlache (1897-1899) and named after Emile Danco, a Belgian geophysicist member of the Belgica Expedition who died on on board the Belgica in the Antarctic. Here we drop our two groups of guests, we opened the route for our runners and also we opened a route for our regular guests. It was Mike the one who opened the route for our guests and there were Ali, Eduardo and Nick the ones who opened the route for the runners. Both routes lead the groups to the higher areas of the island, being the one for runers longer and ending up far below the summit of the Island. On the contrary, the path for our regular guests ended at the very summit of the island. From both perspectives we were able to enjoy the views of the various Gentoo penguin colonies here. The plan for our persistent runners was to run from 14:00 until 20:00 hrs and they managed to accomplish their goal. We picked them up later in the afternoon, after their race and it is worth to notice here, that they showed an incredible strength showing an incredible will to endure the long distances they covered every day. We must say that we had the privilege to help an extraordinary group of man and woman who are pushing the limits of what the human body can do. Our long day ended up sending about 15 guests, two trainees Alexis, Stephanie and our ship's doctor Lizzelotte, under the watchful eyes of our guides Mike and Pippa to Ronge Kerr Point, to spend a night camping in the wild. As they departed our ship, they enjoyed of great weather and stunning sights of the mountains and icebergs along the Gerlache Strait.

Day 6: Paradise Bay- Stony Point & Almirante Brown

Paradise Bay- Stony Point & Almirante Brown
Date: 28.11.2018
Position: 64°51’ S / 062°52’ W
Wind: SW 2
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +6

Wow! Wow! that was the reaction of passengers when they awoke and viewed the incredible panorama in front of them. Sun shining brightly in the sky as crystal clear weather enhanced the backdrop of magnificent, snow covered mountains. Dramatic convoluted glaciers sparkling in the sun-light cascading into the sea. Cameras clicked incessantly, as passengers recorded every detail of what was to be a totally memorable day. Plancius cruised to a halt to drift on the flat calm sea and after breakfast the first zodiacs were lowered, loaded with staff and equipment and sped towards Stoney Point the first landing place of the day. The RTP team assisted by Oceanwide Expedition guides set out a course for the runners which led to the top of the dome-shaped hill then zig-zagged back down to the race control point. The views in every direction were spectacular. The remaining passengers landed to explore the island and were issued with snowshoes to facilitate walking in the deep snow. The kayak group led by the guide Zet paddled offshore along the edge of Skonthorp Cove at times edging through brash ice and investigating close-up, large interestingly shaped ‘bergy bits’ whilst seals slept soundly on the ice flows. After lunch in the afternoon Plancius repositioned to lie off Base Brown and passengers were ferried ashore to first explore the location, with incredible panoramic views over Paradise Bay, then participate in a zodiac cruise whilst a kayak group paddled the coastline. The 49 RTP runners ended their epic 11 hour day at 7.00 with the top runner completing an amazing and exhausting (considering the deep snow) 67.2 kms. Wow! Another superb Oceanwide Expeditions day! A truly memorable experience.

Day 7: Damoy Point and Port Lockroy

Damoy Point and Port Lockroy
Date: 29.11.2018
Position: 64°49’ S / 063°31’ W
Wind: NE – 5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

Yet again today is planned to be a early morning for the staff and the runners onboard, we have arrived to Damoy and our intended landing for the morning, but as the Expedition Staff gets up and starts to prepare themselves for launching the zodiacs at 0430, it is very clear that the fantastic weather from yesterday isn’t with us today. This morning the visibility is down to less than 100m, the wind is up to 30knots and its snowing heavily. Our Expedition Leader decides to wait it out for a few hours and then access the situation again later, it is simply not safe for anyone to start operations in this weather. It is also decided to go around the corner to see conditions at Port Lockroy, our intended landing for the afternoon and gladly there is a bit more protection here and the weather improves after breakfast and we can start operation with our regular guests to Port Lockroy. Here we get the chance to visit a proper old-fashioned Antarctic base complex and even the only working post office and souvenir shop in the Antarctic. Many post cards later we have a short visit to the penguin colony of Juglar point just around the bend from Port Lockroy, but the weather isn’t great so the visit is short and then its back home for lunch. During this outing for the regulars guests the other half of the expedition team has been working with the runners and set up another stage for them at Damoy Point, so the runners go ashore around 11 to run yet another stage of the race. The weather keeps on improving and after lunch we all go ashore at the same place as the runners to have a nice snow shoe hike at Damoy point. The views are great even with a bit of snow and wind. We wrap it all up at 7pm and return to the ship for a special Antarctic BBQ, but due to the weather we have to do it indoors, but that doesn’t dampen the spirits and the good moods and the bar is full much longer than usually in the late evening.

Day 8: D’Hainaut Island in Mikkelsen Harbour

D’Hainaut Island in Mikkelsen Harbour
Date: 30.11.2018
Position: 63°54.3’ S / 060°46.1’ W
Wind: W-6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

The final day of our Antarctic experience arrived to overcast, foggy conditions as we approached the final landing site, D’Hainaut Island in Mikkelsen Harbour. Landings started just after 7am, where the staff were greeted to the wonderful stench of Gentoo Penguins nesting amongst the muddy, rocky patches that dotted the snowy landscape like freckles on a sun-kissed redhead. A few penguin couples had also found luxury accommodation under the abandoned Argentine base, which afforded them great shelter from stiff offshore breezes and blizzards. A circuit walk had been set up around the tiny island for the regular guests, which was punctuated by small groups of brooding Gentoos bickering about the rightful ownership of the small, muck-covered pebbles that form the foundations of their nests. As the guests slowly made their way about the circuit, the Racing The Planet (RTP) team gathered the desert distance runners to hand out the well-deserved medals to all 49 competitors. The loudest cheers and whoops were saved for Chung, Iulian, Isabelle and Andrei, who lead the team throughout the grueling four-day event. As the final medal was awarded, the thunderous roar of a distant and dramatic avalanche momentarily silenced the honks and hollers of the island’s local stone-stealing residents. A mighty buffet was prepared and presented by Plancius’ magnificent kitchen staff, who often go unnoticed on life-changing trips such as these. With full bellies and seasickness patches attached, many of the ship’s complement retired for a siesta to recharge the batteries drained by a testing four-day slog. Eduardo continued his rich vein of lecturing form in the afternoon with an educational look at the development of deep-sea exploration, from Alexander the Great to Jacque Cousteau, Auguste Piccard, Don Walsh and Titanic’s James Cameron. The oceans of the world are broken up in to different regions, from shallow waters of the continental shelf to the deep offshore waters of the basins, plains, trenches and seamounts, where life abounds and the secrets of the earth’s geological past lurk amongst the chemosynthetic tubeworm communities associated with the tectonically active vents in areas such as the Mid-Atlantic Trench. Oceanwide’s trio of trainees, Stephanie, Monika & Alexis, all presented at the recap after Ali gave us the weather forecast for the next day or two – grim to start with, easing as we approach Ushuaia on Sunday. Heading northwards across the Bransfield Strait in the company of Black-browed Albatross, Southern Fulmars and Cape Petrels, we’re reminded that the Antarctic leg of our journey is drawing to a close, and the daunting prospect of crossing a bouncy Drake Passage lies ahead of us like a visit to the dentist.

Day 9: Drake Passage!

Drake Passage!
Date: 01.12.2018
Position: 60°43’ S / 063°21’ W
Wind: NW-6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

Our day started sailing in heavy seas under a white-grey overcasted sky. The rolling of the ship affected the daily life on board and early in the morning, less than half of our guests had breakfast. The rolling was gentler in the morning, and increased during the afternoon and evening, to the point of being uncomfortable. At moments, we were listing up to 20 degrees, and consequently, glasses and a few other items flew over. In the morning, we had one lecture given by Mick, under the title, ‘900 Days at Bird Island.’ In his lecture, he described his experiences as a marine biologist living on this tiny island of South Georgia, counting seals and taking samples of them. His lecture was complemented with a great show of pictures that were taken by him during this time there. The morning passed quickly and most of our guests retreated to their bunks after Mick's lecture. Lunch was brief, and many of our guests had a long nap after it. At 15:00 Eduardo presented his lecture about the life of Ernest Shackleton, presenting stories related to his different expeditions to the Antarctic, namely, the one of the Discovery in 1902, the Nimrod Expedition, the famous and ill-fated Imperial Transantarctic Expedition and the Quest expedition. Later on, in the afternoon, Kasper gave another presentation with the title, "Modern Expeditions" describing the modern challenges that expeditioners have to face, the new challenges like the 7 summits, the 3 poles, the prominences and who climbs the fastest and the highest. His lecture is a refreshing review of the latest adventures undertaken by modern adventurers. The state of the sea could be described as confused and the rolling and pitching of the ship increased and became more violent during the evening. This is due to the fact that the Drake passage is a place where oceanic currents converge as well as wind currents of different temperature. The mixing of these currents and the mixing of the wind can produce thunderous waves and a heavy swell such as the one we witnessed during our crossing of the Drake Passage.

Day 10: Drake Passage!

Drake Passage!
Date: 02.12.2018
Position: 56°26’ S / 065°17’ W
Wind: N – 6
Weather: Rainy
Air Temperature: +16

After a rocky night thanks to the Drake Passage it’s a late start for most of us. The expedition team hosts the day with lectures and documentaries in the lounge. Mick starts off the entertainment with the second part of his stories about ‘Life on Bird Island’, with information on disentanglements, leopard seals and the birds of Bird Island. Shortly after, our onboard artist/guide Bill presented his lecture on Art and the Sea; an insightful look into the world of paintings of the sea. The sun shone in the afternoon as we came in sight of Tierra Del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. We begin to see familiar faces throughout the day as we head North; the black browed albatross, sooty shearwaters, Wandering albatross and white chin petrels. One last lunch is prepared for us by the galley team, and after we laze in the lounge watching an episode of Frozen Planet. As we come closer to the coast, we begin to see more coastal marine species; Southern Sea lions porpoising through the water and a pod of Dusky Dolphins riding the waves. Far off blows from larger whales, likely Sei whales, are seen regularly throughout the day. As we cruise into the Beagle Channel, the rolls of the ship become less and the sight of snow capped mountains tells us it will be soon time to leave dear Plancius. We are joined by Captain Artur in the lounge to toast the incredible expedition we have been on, and thanks are given from Ali and her team. After our last dinner on board, the Racing the Planet team present the trophies and medals to the runners who managed to complete the desert races. Afterwards the media team put on an incredible display of the footage and pictures of the runner’s efforts. The sun sets over Argentina and Chile as we have some final farewell drinks, exchange contacts and stories of our unforgettable trip.

Day 11: Disembarkation in Ushuaia

Disembarkation in Ushuaia
Date: 03.12.2018

At 5am we approached the port of Ushauia ready to disembark for the final time, no zodiac ride ashore and a dry landing. The last 10 days have taken us on a remarkable journey to Antarctica and allowed us a glimpse of life in this remote and sometimes inhospitable place. We will all have different memories of our trip but whatever the memories, whether it was the Gentoo penguins at Danco or the sight of icebergs for the first time they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. 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: 1773 nm On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Artur Iakovlev, Expedition Leader Ali Liddle and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

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