PLA23-15 Trip log | Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica
22.12.2015 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going south of south...a long way south. But for today, we ambled about this lovely Patagonian city, savouring the local flavours and enjoying the sights.
Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 55,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Ushuaia (lit. “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue) clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting. The rugged spine of the South American Andes ends here, where two oceans meet. As could be expected from such an exposed setting, the weather has the habit of changing on a whim. However, temperatures during the long days of the austral summer are relatively mild, providing a final blanket of warmth before heading off on our adventures.
It was a very windy day even by Ushuaia standards so it was a challenging walk down the dock to where Plancius was moored at the end of the pier. Most passengers, however were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board our ship MV Plancius, home for the next 19 days. We were greeted at the windswept gangway by members of our Expedition staff who sorted our luggage and sent us on board to meet Hotel and Restaurant Managers, André and Thijs. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of our fabulous Filipino crew.
A little while after boarding we convened in the lounge on deck five to meet our Hotel Manager André who gave us an overview of the hotel side of Plancius explaining about the layout of the ship and about meals etc. After this briefing we had a slight delay to our departure as the port authorities had closed the port during the day due to the very strong winds that had started during the morning. The wind, however had eased by this point and we were soon underway and heading out into the Beagle Channel. Shortly after our departure from the pier, 2nd Officer Matei, led us through the details of the required SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) Safety and Lifeboat Drill, assisted by the crew and staff. On hearing the alarm we reconvened at the ‘muster station’, the lounge, for the mandatory safety briefing and abandon ship drill donning our huge orange life jackets that will keep us safe should the need arise.
Our final gathering was a celebratory one, a chance to meet our Captain, Alexey Nazarov and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco and formally meet the members of the Expedition team who will guide us during our voyage. At 20:00 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chefs Heinz and Sean and their galley staff. This first evening on board was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements, and settling into our cabins. In the early hours of the morning we would be out into the open waters heading towards our first destination on this trip, the Falkland Islands.
A few of the more adventurous of us were up well before the wake up call to watch the fantastic sunrise and enjoy the calm conditions. For those of us who stayed in bed we received a special treat with Sebastians dulcet Latin American tones rousing us from our slumber and into the first full day of our journey.
We could still see land to our port and stern however as the morning progressed these bumps on the horizon slowly disappeared from sight.
After breakfast we met Sebastian quickly in the lounge as he gave a presentation on our Zodiacs and how we are to move around, in and on them. This is quite important as every landing we make on our trip will be by Zodiac and in varying conditions.
After a short break Ali started to announce her scheduled talk on the Falkland Islands however a small pod of Long finned pilot whales were spotted, cutting her announcement short. Captain Alexey quickly slowed the ship and manouvered quietly into a favourable position to allow us a good view of the resting animals. It was with some delight that we observed the pilot whales slowly swim towards and close by Plancius, giving us fantastic views as they travelled just under the water. Not to be out done, several more pods were spotted at varying bearings and distances from the ship, seemingly attracted to this aesthetically pleasing blue floating thing in their midst. For the next hour we lined the decks looking in all directions as the pods of pilot whales quite happily swam around the ship and it was with some delight we also spotted two Risso’s Dolphins, a pod of Peales dolphins and as we were leaving, a pod of Hourglass dophins. What an absolutely fantastic and unheard of start to our journey!!
Ali eventually managed to giver the first installment of her two part talk on the Falkland Islands, practically bringing the place alive with her vivid discriptions and local knowledge.
Lunch was almost served at the new time of 12:45 but as luck would have it several large blows were spotted a short way ahead of the ship. Once again Captain Alexey slowed the ship and once again we received absolutely fantastic views of three large Fin whales as they rested on the surface between feeding dives. To listen to their noisy breathing and observe first hand the dimensions of the second largest animal to ever live on earth was a magical experience and all in all it was an almost unbelieveably eventful morning!
Following a tasty lunch we had a short rest before being called deck by deck to the boot room to collect our rubber boots. The staff skillfully handed out our feets’ new best friends and in short order it was once again time to make our way to the Lounge to listen to Ali’s second installment. She did not disappoint, explaining all about the wildlife of the Falkland Islands and the conservation efforts needed to ensure the longevity of its native inhabitants.
Our first recap was held at 18;30 and Sebastian let us know the weather forecast for tomorrow (looking good) and then the plan for our first landing of the voyage at West Point Island followed by Carcass Island in the afternoon. We listened attentively as Michael gave an informative talk on the fantastic mammals we saw earlier in the day and avoiding any questions we eagerly made our way to dinner, quite happy with how our first day had turned out!
Wake-up call was a bit earlier today, at 07:00, but far from complaining we were all early birds trying to catch the worm, finally, our first day of activities ashore!
After an energetic breakfast we were all ready by the gangway to board the zodiacs, although some of us needed a little help from the staff to untwist them and wear them right, practice makes perfect it’s said…
West Point Island would become the opening scene of this exciting story we were starting to write. This island lies off the most north westerly point of mainland West Falkland and is 3100 acres (1255ha). The island has been owned by the Napier family since 1959, the current owners being Lily and Roddy Napier. However the island is currently managed by Kikki and Thies who gave us the warmest welcome when we came ashore.
We were all aiming at the same target, the Black-browed albatross colony and the Rockhopper rookery, both of which were at Devil’s Nose, a rocky outcrop with dramatic cliffs and a breath taking scenery. To get the desired spot we had to cover a distance of 1.5km across the island. Most of us took a chance to stretch out our legs after a full day at sea, but Kikki and her husband kindly offered a ride on their Land Rover for those of us who didn’t feel like walking. What we found at Devil’s Nose was simply overwhelming, we wanted to point our cameras in every possible direction while we sneaked through the thick Tussac grass that can be up to 2mts high.
Albatrosses flew past right over our heads to land in their pot shaped nests, some of which were already incubating the egg. It was really funny to see these elegant gliders land in such a clumsy way!
Rockhoppers were nesting among the Albatrosses, also with eggs already. The fact that these tiny penguins made it almost 400m above sea level hopping up a steep cliff to breed, it was mind blowing, chapeux to these little guys!
On the way back to the landing site we kept discovering new bird species such as the Long tailed meadowlark, the Falkland thrush and Upland geese being followed by their chicks, among others.
We waved goodbye and headed back to the ship where, fortunately, lunch was waiting for us and we could begin our navigation around to Carcass Island.
After lunch, Sebastian gathered us at the lounge for a short briefing about the afternoon activities at Carcass Island.
The weather, same as in the morning, was fantastic with some clouds in the sky, not a breath of wind really warm, pleasant temperature.
The crew took us by Zodiac to land, avoiding all the kelp forests and we landed at a white sandy beach known as Dyke Bay. Only a few metres higher up the beach it was full of Tussac grass, where all kind of birds could easily hide, such as the Magellanic Snipe. Even at this early stage of the landing Tussock birds and the endemic Cobb’s wrens could be seen hopping amongst the kelp feeding on the small invertebrates that feed on the rotting seaweed.
Once we were gathered in reasonable sized groups Ali began to lead the walk that would take us over to the other side of the island to Leopard Beach. Along the way we came across Striated caracara's, Falkland’s flightless steamer ducks, Upland geese, Tussock birds, Black throated finch, Magellanic oyster catchers with chicks and last but not least penguins! Magellanic penguin burrows were dotted around the area and then we came to the Gentoo penguin colony where there were already some of the first chicks of the season. Brown skuas were keeping watch around the edge of the colony hoping to take a chick from an unsuspecting penguin.
On Leopard Beach itself, there was a big group of Magellanic and Gentoo penguins and others were coming in from the sea. We chose a spot and enjoyed the show in silence
After enjoying some time by the beach, Ali led once again a walk, this time to the settlement. It was a beautiful walk, but we all found ourselves a little overdressed. The 1hour walk ended the settlement where coffee, tea and a variety of cakes were served in the ‘big’ house where we were cheerfully greeted by Lorraine McGill and her team. Lorraine, and her husband Rob have owned Carcass Island for over 35 years and in recent years have welcomed thousands of tourists into their farmhouse kitchen for traditional Falklands ‘smoko’. We could have thought of a better ending for our first full day of activities at the Falklands.
Back on the ship we met again at the Lounge for our daily recap and briefing about the following day’s activities at Stanley.
Many of us were up before the wake-up call this morning to watch our approach to the capital of the Falkland Islands, Stanley. We sailed in past Cape Pembroke, with its distinctive black and white lighthouse standing guard at the end, past the white sands of Yorke Bay and into Port William before passing through The Narrows into Stanley Harbour.
We could see the brightly coloured buildings of Stanley stretched out along the hillside as we came into our anchorage position in front of the town and as we did the clouds came in from the south but it didn’t spoil the cheery aspect of this little capital city. We could see the mountains of the Two Sisters, Mt Longdon and Tumbledown at the west end of town and the wreck of the Lady Elizabeth to the east.
As soon as we were at anchor staff and crew lowered the Zodiacs and as soon as we finished our breakfast we were able to go ashore and enjoy the delights that Stanley has to offer. As we waited at the gangway we were entertained by a small pod of Commerson’s dolphins that were waiting in anticipation of a fast bow ride by the Zodiacs to get to shore. They didn’t mind the rain which had started as soon as staff started shuttling ashore! We landed at the floating pontoon in front of the jetty centre which was the perfect place to begin our explorations and, armed with maps and details of Wi-fi we all headed off in different directions to make the most of the morning.
Most people headed for the shops to buy some postcards and penguin souvenirs at some of the many gift shops around town while others found coffee shops and enjoyed a drink and Wi-fi connection. The museum was also a popular destination to take a trip through Falkland history in its new surroundings near the Post Office. Some people took a taxi out of town to see some bird life on some freshwater ponds near the town beach of Surf Bay while others were content to take a stroll round town and just enjoy the view (and the odd beer or two in the local pub….)
For a small town with a population of around 2,500 people Stanley is a busy, vibrant little place with something for everyone and a real cheery atmosphere on this warm sunny morning. What a privilege to be here.
All too soon (especially for Ali!) it was time to make our way down to the jetty to board the Zodiacs and head back to Plancius ready to begin the next leg of our voyage towards South Georgia. It was a beautiful afternoon as we sailed back out of Port William, past Gypsy Cove, with its yellow gorse and Yorke Bay, with its stunning white sand and made our way out into open water once again.
After lunch many people enjoyed some time out on deck in the sunshine watching the birds that joined us as soon as we left the shelter of Cape Pembroke. We were lucky enough to see Royal albatross, as well as the usual Cape petrels and Southern fulmars and later in the afternoon we had a glimpse of two Fin whales.
At 15:30 we were invited to the lounge for a presentation from Sebastian, our Expedition Leader entitled ‘Malvinas-Falklands’: A brief history of a long issue, which attempted to explain and unravel some of the long running disputes between Argentina and Britain over the sovereignty of the islands we had all thoroughly enjoyed over the last couple of days. It is a complicated historical dispute which resulted in conflict here in 1982.
Afterwards there was time for afternoon tea and coffee and more deck time before we were invited to the lounge once again for re-cap, Sebastian outlined our plans for tomorrow, Ali talked about albatross conservation and the successful work of Falklands Conservation in the fisheries industry to avoid incidental mortality of these wonderful birds and Alain talked about the Falklands flightless steamer duck, an endemic bird of the Falklands.
It had been a wonderful visit to the islands and Ali in particular had enjoyed her time here once again.
Today was a mixed day of relaxation and preparation. Thankfully the weather stayed favourable with only a slight swell and enough wind to allow the seabirds to follow the ship.
After another filling breakfast we were called to the lounge for a mandatory IAATO briefing which outlined how we were to act around wildlife and also the biosecurity measures that must be employed to safeguard Antarctica and South Georgia’s native biodiversity.
For the rest of the morning, vacuum cleaners could be heard echoing down the corridors as deck by deck we gathered in the lounge to make sure our outer clothes and bags were free from seeds.
Lunch was a welcome break, and a good opportunity for an enterprising few to grab a free vacuum cleaner, but soon enough those remaining few were back in the lounge and doing their part to help protect the wilderness of these remote areas. By the end of the day many a passenger could be heard stating their clothing had never been so clean!
After the vacuuming was successfully concluded we had a short break before splitting into two groups as the English speakers joined Ali in the lounge and the German speakers met with Michael in the Dining room where they unravelled the mystery of the that enigmatic little (and not so little) bird, the penguin. We’re hoping to see a number of different species on this trip and it was interesting to hear about their different breeding cycles and their adaptations to the cold.
As the afternoon progressed the weather slowly picked up and Plancius began to roll a bit more than normal, making dinner a bit more interesting to sit down for. The gentle rocking did help most of us fall into a fitful slumber however come the early morning the more violent rolling motion of the ship was not so welcome.
This morning we were all quite sleepy as many of us had endured a rough night with the ship rolling a little from side to side and things falling, sliding and flying all over our cabins, still only a glimpse of what the Southern Ocean can be like and this really wasn’t rough for this stretch of water.
Sebastian woke us up at 07.30, confirming what we were eagerly expecting, we had crossed the Antarctic Convergence during the night and now we were sailing in truly Antarctic waters. A full day at sea still separated us from the longed for South Georgia, but the Expedition Staff had activities planned to prepare us for the days ahead and make the most of the day.
After breakfast we all gathered in the Lounge to listen to Ali’s “Introduction to South Georgia”, a firsthand account of the islands’ wildlife, history and environmental conservation. Listening to her was almost like being there, each rolling got us a bit closer, escorted by albatrosses, petrels and prions as we kept sailing south.
Later in the morning Sebastian invited us to the Lounge to watch the mandatory briefing video on behalf of South Georgia Government.
Fortunately wind conditions improved as the day went on and in the afternoon many of us were out on deck enjoying the fabulous sunny weather south of the Antarctic convergence. It really didn’t feel Antarctic at all as people lazed on deck in the sunshine relaxing, reading and watching the birds fly past Later in the afternoon we were invited to the lounge to listen to Andrew unravel the geological history of South Georgia. A difficult topic for most of us that was decoded into a simple and understandable language and gave us enough tools to try to explore the landscape on the field, we were starting to feel as real explorers!
In the evening the bar announced ‘Happy Hour’, just on time to celebrate the cry of “Land ho!” as the Shag Rocks appeared in the mist, pointy islands that lie northwest of South Georgia. South Georgia is home to many burrowing birds, such as prions, that come out of their nests at night to avoid predation during daylight. Unfortunately the lights of ships disorient them and cause them to strike against the vessel, many of them survive the strike but need to be handled in a special way before being returned to the sea. We didn’t have any prion strikes but we did have a number of South Georgia cormorants landing on the deck to hitch a ride. They were all juvenile birds that were maybe tired or didn’t recognise Plancius as a moving vessel!
After dinner, we relaxed in the Lounge before getting to our bunks for more peaceful rest than the previous night, hopefully.
Seba made the wake-up call at 07:00 this morning but many of us were already up and about long before that in order to watch our navigation past South Georgia – we were here at last! We could see the jagged peaks of the island on our starboard side and there were seals in the water and birds flying all around the ship. We still had our extra passengers on board; the South Georgia cormorants that had hitched a ride last night were still sitting on top of the lifeboats.
During breakfast Plancius approached the anchorage position in the Bay of Isles, off the beach of Salisbury Plain and we had the view of the King penguin colony ahead of us. Very soon the staff were ready for us to go ashore and enjoy our first landing in South Georgia and what a landing it turned out to be.
We were met at the beach by members of the Expedition team, King penguins and Fur seals and quickly made our way to the top of the beach to leave our life jackets and get our cameras out. To begin with it was difficult to know what to photograph first with Fur seal pups, females and big breeding bulls on the beach, King penguins coming and going from the sea and the panoramic views all around. A great start.
From the landing site Ali led the way along the back of the beach making sure we avoided as many of the seals as possible and as much of the mud as possible.
She did a great job of making sure the route was safe and before too long we were at the edge of the colony and experiencing the sight, sound and smell of over 60,000 breeding pairs of King penguins and their chicks, which amounts to nearly 200,00 birds. It was certainly a busy place on a Monday morning! From here Ali flagged another route further round the colony and although the final hundred metres were certainly not easy due to this difficult terrain made up of black mud and tussac clumps it was well worth the muddy scramble as here we were able to see many chicks, around 10 months old, calling for their parents to feed them. The chicks were very curious about the visitors to the colony and many of them came for a closer look at the edge of the tussac grass. There was adult courtship display and chick feeding taking place and as a result the sight the sound and the smell of the colony was incredible. We stayed there for a couple of hours before slowly making our way back to the landing spot, with stops along the way to enjoy the penguins in the surf and parading along the beach. What an amazing morning!
After we were all back on board, Plancius re-positioned along the coast to Prince Olav Harbour where we managed to find some shelter from the wind that was blowing at around 40 knots outside of the bay. We were divided into two groups for the afternoon which would involve a Zodiac cruise into the bay visiting Elephant Lagoon and the whaling station of Prince Olav.
The first boats went inside Elephant Lagoon, passing through a narrow passage known as Karl Passage. On the way in there were plenty of Fur seals hauled out on the rocks and some of these males were fighting with each other to maintain their territories along the shore with their harem of females and their pups. We were lucky enough to see a blonde leucistic pup lying on the rocks with its mother. These white seals have a missing gene which means they don’t have as much pigment in their fur. The conditions were improving all the time and in the shelter of the lagoon the conditions were almost perfect as the sun came out and the clouds lifted to reveal stunning snow clad mountains. As always in South Georgia the fringe of kelp along the shore was making driving a little tricky at times as the long strands got wrapped around the propellers of the boats but we managed to get quite close to the shore for views of the many Fur seals fighting. Also, we spotted some Antarctic terns, flying at low altitude, looking for some food in the kelp and all along the shore there were groups of South Georgia pintails feeding in the shallow water. Some South Georgia shags were standing on rocks by the sea, ready to grab some prey passing by.
After doing a full loop of the lagoon the boats then went to view the remains of the whaling station of Prince Olav Harbour. As we went deeper in the bay, where the same wildlife was present, the buildings of the whaling station in into view the wreck of the ship the Brutus could be seen against the shore. A lot of snow was still there in the very end of the bay, even at sea level. We were not authorised to approach the former whaling station, for safety reasons but we passed by the wreck of Brutus, which was a former nitrates cargo ship which was used there as a coaling hulk having been towed from Cape Town by 4 whaling ships. The station itself ran from 1911 to 1931 with mainly factory ship processing on the Restitution rather than shore based operations and when the station was closed much of the equipment was relocated to Leith Harbour, a much bigger whaling station down the coast.
After an hour and a quarter or so the Zodiacs returned to Plancius to swap groups and go out and do the same things again for the German speaking group. It was a great afternoon to be messing about in boats!
By the time the second group had returned to the ship there was enough time to get a drink at the bar ready for re-cap at 19:00 where Seba explained the plans for our long day tomorrow, Ali talked about the Fur seals and what we were seeing on shore today and Alain explained how the King penguins can vocalise using two sounds, thus allowing them to call and be heard in a busy noisy colony.
Dinner was a lively affair with so much to talk about from our first day here in South Georgia but an early night was required in preparation for our planned early morning landing.
Just after sunrise Plancius pulled into St Andrew’s Bay with the wind blowing offshore at 40 knots, too much for Zodiac operations. Luckily, Captain went exploring and found an anchorage out of the wind and close to the landing site. Sebastian made a slightly delayed wakeup and in short order we were lined up at the gangway ready to go ashore. Even from the ship we could see the huge King penguin colony on the beach ahead of us and the sound and smell of 250,000 breeding pairs of penguins came across the bay. We could see King penguins in the water as they made their way back to the colony.
The staff went ashore first to find a suitable landing site and Ali headed off to the river to see if we were going to be able to cross it and head to the main colony beyond the glacial moraines. Before too long we were going ashore ourselves. It was a unique experience to set foot onshore amidst such an abundance of wildlife, wildlife that had no concept of the ‘five metre rule’. We were not so upset by this though as inquisitive penguins and seals made taking great photos very easy indeed and some passengers were even lucky enough to become baby Elephant seal pillows.
Sadly, due to the deep fast flowing river we couldn’t make it across to view the main King penguin colony of St Andrew’s but the friendliness of the wildlife on the beach more than made up for this. We were able to walk alongside the river to see the hundreds of moulting penguins all lined up along the shores and just spending time on the beach with the Elephant seal pups and penguins was rewarding enough. By the river mouth there was a penguin carcass that was proving to be a good breakfast for the Giant petrels and Skuas.
Unfortunately it was soon time to head back to Plancius for our next morning landing at Godthul, about 2 hours sailing away. Godthul translates as Good Cove and indeed it was a good place to be this morning as we entered the mirror calm waters of the bay.
The sun continued to shine from a clear blue sky and shortly after breakfast we boarded the Zodiacs for our trip ashore. We were met by the usual welcome party of Fur seals and penguins (and Expedition staff) and we split into several groups with Ali leading the long hikers up through the tussac and Sebastian looking after the rest of us. The remaining few went on a Zodiac cruise around the bay to look at the seals and penguins as they played in the shallow waters.
Above the tussac line there was the first of a series of Gentoo penguin colonies which had made the walk up hill to their nesting sites. In the warm summer sunshine the penguins could be seen panting, their black backs absorbing the heat and causing them to overheat a little. There were some very young chicks in the colony as well which couldn’t have been more than a few days old. From here Ali led the hiking group over the grassy plain by the lake and up to the next Gentoo colony high up on the hillside. It was a long walk for penguin legs! Ali’s group then continued upwards to the saddle of the hill and then up onto the 350m summit for spectacular views down the coast while the other groups amused themselves at the Gentoo rookery and viewed the nesting Giant petrels from a respectable distance.
After a few hours onshore it was once again time to head back to Plancius for food and a rest while we sailed on to our final destination of the day at Grytviken. The views as we sailed around the coast and into Cumberland Bay were spectacular with the highest peak, Mt Paget standing out clearly and the pyramid peak of Mt Sugartop also clear of clouds.
While we were sailing into Cumberland bay Sebastian called us to the lounge for a quick briefing, a passenger had hurt seriously herself and we needed to sail back to Stanley to evacuate her. Understandably people were upset but after having time to process the initial announcement most of us realised this was the only course of action to be taken.
We still had time to go ashore in Grytviken and after a visit to the cemetery to visit Shackleton’s grave many of us took the opportunity to wander the historic whaling station, send some postcards and have a look through the fantastic museum and gift shop.
Once back on board and underway again we had another quick meeting where Sebastian told us the plan for the coming days and after a short while we made our way to the dining room for our ‘surprise’ meal, an inside BBQ. Beer and wine flowed as we enjoyed another fantastic meal on Plancius and it was not too long before we retired to our cabins to get a bit of sleep as the ship started rolling again.
At 07.30 we heard Sebastian’s wake up call. It was hard to believe that we were already in open waters since the ship was barely moving. Some of us went to have a look outside and found ourselves sailing through a foggy and misty ocean, smooth as the Southern ocean can be.
After breakfast we joined Valeria in the Lounge to listen to her lecture on Shackleton’s Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition. Most of us were already familiar with the story and some were truly fans, still we couldn’t help being attracted over and over again to this extraordinary story of survival. South Georgia was the beginning and end of this epic expedition, and we were lucky enough to visit ‘The Boss’ at Grytviken, were he rests in peace.
Later in the morning, Ali gave us a deep insight of the Reindeer and Rat eradication programs. Reindeer had been introduced purposely by the whalers to have a source of meat available, while rats were stowaways on sealing and whaling ships that arrived on the island uninvited. The Program that South Georgia Heritage Trust and SGSSIG have carried out is unique in terms of the geography, weather conditions and massive budget needed to accomplish it successfully. Nowadays South Georgia has had its habitat restored almost completely.
After lunch the staff offered a BBC documentary, Frozen Planet in the Lounge area and also Life in the Freezer, which we were able to watch comfortably from our bunks.
Later in the afternoon, Michel invited us to the Lounge and explained us how whales evolved from land to marine mammals, and all the physical adaptations they had to undergo to become such fantastic creatures.
At recap time, Ali told us about her life at South Georgia, the facilities they had, the way in which they entertained themselves, how they managed to cook. Extreme but pleasant, life at South Georgia can be personally rewarding.
In the evening, after lunch, some of us hung around in the lounge but as the wind started picking up most of decided to get to our cabins and try to rest.
During the night there had been much more movement around the ship and a few people had struggled to sleep for much of the night. As the wake-up call came most of us were awake anyway and made our way to breakfast.
The slightly rougher conditions actually brought more people out onto the bridge and outer bridge wings to try and capture some of the waves splashing over the bow. The fresh air was good too and boosted spirits a bit.
First on the lecture programme for the day was Alain talking about some of the birds of this area and how they have adapted to life in the polar regions. We have been lucky enough to see lots of different species on this voyage so far from the small Wilson’s storm petrel to the huge Wandering albatross.
After coffee time we had a guest speaker in the form of Sebi Alexandru, our Chief Engineer who gave a fascinating talk and virtual tour of the engine room on Plancius. It is almost impossible to believe that there is a huge engine room space below our feet and a team of 7 crew keeping everything running from the ship itself to the water, lighting and sewerage. They are to be admired and thanked for their efforts.
During the morning there had been some heavy squalls passing us by with snow and increased winds but it didn’t stop many from having deck time and they were rewarded by albatross, some Hourglass dolphins and even a few Minke whales. It is always worth looking out.
After lunch and maybe a snooze for some Ali played the next episode of the BBC series Frozen Planet which showed some great images from South Georgia; wildlife and places we are now familiar with as well as some extreme penguin filming with Adélie penguins.
Shortly after this Ali and Andrew, with the help of Michael translating invited us back to the lounge for a Polar Pub Quiz. It was a closely contested affair with teams doing really well to answer questions about the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and about our ship and ending with a picture round of some of the species of wildlife we have seen on our voyage so far.
After the 5 rounds of questions had been completed there was only half a point in it but it was the Puffins that won with 35 points and enjoyed a bottle of wine as their prize. The Stugeron Junkies won a prize for the best team name – free dinner on board Plancius that evening!
After another bumpy night and not much sleep we arose to the soothing tones Sebastian’s wake-up call and Michael’s enhanced interpretation.
To start the morning’s proceedings our resident bird specialist Alain gave a presentation in the lounge on adaptations birds have undergone to survive in this harsh oceanic environment. It is amazing to see how even the small Wilson’s storm petrels survive in the harsh Southern Ocean.
Valeria soon followed as she gave a very informative talk on the historic whaling that occurred in these waters at the turn of the last century. In these days of wildlife conservation and whale sanctuaries set up around South Georgia and Antarctica it is hard to believe that less than 50 years ago these animals were still being commercially hunted for their meat and blubber. Some nations do of course but this is strongly opposed by many.
The weather as we sailed onwards to the Falklands didn’t feel very summery at all with snow showers blowing in from time to time, bringing with them increased winds and almost white out conditions. Different to a week ago when we enjoyed the warm summer weather on West Point Island and Carcass Island
Lunch was a welcome interruption to our day of contemplation and sleep and after allowing enough time for a short siesta we reconvened in the Lounge to watch another episode of the BBCs Frozen Planet, a stunningly filmed look at life in the world’s Polar regions.
Michael had a tough act to follow as he was next up in the afternoon’s presentations with a talk on the ecosystem of the southern ocean. He was successful though with a lot of information and knowledge being presented to us as he unravelled this complex food web. Krill is the basis of all life down here in the Southern Oceans and everything in the food web relies on it as either a primary of secondary food source.
Re-cap was not long afterwards and with the Falklands again in sight it we made our way to dinner.
Just after dinner our injured passenger was disembarked onto a local harbour vessel and as soon as the paperwork and formalities were over we said our goodbyes and wished her well before we continued on our journey. Next stop, the Antarctic Peninsula!!
Sebastian woke us up at 07.30 and his morning words confirmed what we were all expecting to hear… we were heading south! The ship was pitching and rolling, rolling and pitching a bit as 35 knot winds hit our little blue ship from the South West but such is the fee that has to be paid to get to Antarctica! We’ve certainly paid our fee!
As the morning went on, Andrew invited us to the Lounge to start getting familiar with some icy words that would come in handy in a couple of days when we’d find ourselves surrounded by mountains ,crevassed glaciers and icebergs of the most capricious shapes. As he unveiled part of this frozen continent our excitement grew with each nautical mile that brought us closer to it. Some of the icebergs we will be seeing will have started as snow hundreds of years ago and over time would have been compressed into ice and flowed slowly down the mountains as glaciers to eventually calve as icebergs
At around noon some excitement was felt in the Lounge as a group of Peale’s dolphins showed up, what a great surprise! These dolphins are often found around the coast of the Falkland Islands but will forage further offshore as well so it was great to be able to see them on our journey.
In the afternoon we were all set for another episode of Frozen Planet, we were starting to become a bit addicted to its overwhelming landscapes and unique shots. This time it was, autumn. The summer season for all wildlife, both in the Arctic and Antarctic is short and seabirds, penguins and seals have to breed and raise their young before the autumn and winter weather arrives. The exception is the Emperor penguins who make their way to the colonies at the end of summer to begin their winter in the south, the males incubating the egg through the freezing, dark winter enduring temperatures of -60°C.
At 16.30, Tobias announced his lectures on Optical Phenomena, it certainly caught our curiosity so we made our way to the lounge. Halo, Sun dogs, Coronas all new and exciting atmospheric phenomena unique to the polar latitudes. Another target on our list, to try to spot some of these occurrences.
At re-cap Sebastian introduced us formally to Sir Francis Drake…. Although most of us felt familiar with him for we had been sailing through his Passage for some hours now. Apparently, Sir Francis would be nicer the following day since we expected the wind to drop considerably. We all hoped so!
After dinner, some of us paid Cecille a visit at the bar before going to our bunks and try to get some sleep in this restless ship.
It was a Sunday morning but there was to be no relaxing lie in for anyone on the ship as the wake-up calls – yep Seba and Michael still woke us at 07:30 for breakfast half an hour later. Many people had been up early anyway and had enjoyed some Light mantled sooty albatross flying close by the bridge wings. These beautiful birds are supremely elegant in their flight and almost seemed to eyeball people as they flew past. Some people chose to turn over and sleep some more but most were up and around by the time the doors to the dining room were opened. The first presentation of the morning was a repeat of Tobias’ Optical Phenomena in German. Again it will be interesting to see if we can spot any of these as we sail further south into the truly polar region of Antarctica.
The weather conditions were much improved so many people were out and about on deck enjoying the birds and some much needed fresh air after a few days stuck inside the ship due to the poor weather. The atmosphere around the ship was definitely more upbeat.
At 11:00 Ali invited us to the lounge for her presentation entitled Ice Maidens; Women in Antarctica and with the sound of James Brown, Man’s World as an introduction it was a lively start. She talked about the wives of Shackleton and Scott and of many of the other women who have left their mark in Antarctica for a variety of reasons. It was nice to hear a different aspect of this frozen continent after science and optical phenomena.
After lunch we were invited to the lounge, deck by deck for round two of our vacuuming prior to going ashore in Antarctica. It was a little quicker this time round and we managed to screen another episode of Frozen Planet later in the afternoon. The images of the wolf and the bison in an epic struggle for survival will stay with many of us for a long time to come.
Sebastian’s presentation on the Geography of Antarctica was put on hold until a later date but we gathered in the lounge for re-cap where he outlined the plans for the next day and Andrew explained about how Deception Island was formed. It will be exciting to sail into an active volcano.
After dinner many of us wrapped up and headed to the outside decks where we enjoyed views of huge numbers of Humpback whales and some more Light mantled sooty albatross. Tomorrow Antarctica!
Sebastian’s wake-up call was earlier than advertised but all was forgiven once we made our way outside into a stunning morning. We had arrived to the South Shetland Islands and were making our way through the English Strait surrounded by snow covered islands, icebergs and penguins. By the time we had finished breakfast the Captain had dropped anchor at our first Antarctic destination, Half Moon Island.
Following a short Zodiac shuttle to shore we dropped off our lifejackets and gladly set off on a walk after our extended stay on board Plancius. First stop was to a small Chinstrap rookery that Alain was presiding over before we turned left and followed the flagged route to where Michael was waiting to guide us past a sleeping Weddell seal and onto a larger Chinstrap rookery. Here we were able to get very nice views of the nesting Chinstraps and watch their antics as birds greeted each other, stole pebbles from each other and slept. It was interesting to note that each nest was exactly far enough away from its neighbour so that only minimal beak pecking would occur. Unfortunately that meant quite a lot of pecking for those poor Chinstraps moving through the rookery filled with grumpy nesting penguins!
On our way back from the rookery we were able to take a small diversion to observe a few more Weddell seals sleeping and then continued along a path flagged out by Vale to another sleeping seal. It was a great feeling, walking through the snow with the mountainous terrain of Livingston Island to our south and the closer peak at the base of which was the Argentinean station ‘Camara’.
Once reaching the end of our walk we sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet before we turned back towards the landing site, ready to board the Zodiacs and head for lunch.
It took us about four hours to sail to our next stop of the day, Deception Island. We spent most of the time out on deck enjoying the sunshine and incredibly flat and iceberg strewn waters of the Bransfield Strait. After the past few days of sailing across a bouncy and wind swept ocean this was luxury!
Deception Island is an active volcano with its last eruption only 43 years ago, something we were all mindful of as Captain navigated his way expertly through Neptune’s Bellows and around the corner to Whalers Bay.
Setting foot on the steaming shoreline was a unique experience and slightly smelly due to the sulphurous smell that accompanies the geothermally heated waters along the shoreline. After a quick briefing from Andrew and Barbara we set off after Ali to Neptune’s Window, the historic site where Nathanial Palmer first saw the distant mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Making our way back along the beach we wandered amongst the derelict buildings of the abandoned whaling station before heading back to the landing site, ready to watch the upcoming antics of the polar plunge. We weren’t disappointed as a larger number of us than expected removed their warm clothes and braved the quite frigid waters of Port Foster. Despite having warm steaming waters in the very shallow areas this didn’t extend out past ankle depth and the looks of shock as people found this out was really quite amusing. Luckily it was sunny and almost warm and drying off and re-donning clothes was not too much of a mad scramble.
Eventually we were shuttled back out to Plancius, the anchor was weighed and we sailed out of Neptune’s Bellows and back into the Bransfield Strait, heading further south and towards the heart of the Antarctic Peninsula.
After a quick briefing it was again time for dinner and follow this we returned to the outer decks or to the lounge to marvel at the passing scenery. Those who stayed up late enough to watch the ‘sunset’ were treated to a stunning show as the setting sun turned everything to a rosy palette of pinks and oranges, Antarctica certainly was putting on her best face.
The early bird catches the worm… Sebastian took that seriously when he woke us up at 04.30 in the morning! Sleepy as we were we made our way to gangway only to be amazed by another perfect day in Antarctica.
The ship was sailing into Charlotte Bay and right in front of Portal Point, a fairly small ice dome where we aimed to make our first continental landing! Portal Point owes its name to the fact that it was used as a gateway to mainland Antarctica by a number of expeditions.
Even though there was not much wildlife around, the 360° view that the dome offered in such a clear and calm morning was worth the early wake up. A couple of Weddell seals were sleeping on the snow; too early for them to be awake and active!
Back on the ship and ready for a rewarding breakfast we stared sailing towards our next destination, Cuverville Island. We encountered a lot of unexpected ice floes that forced us to slow down but that only added beauty to the breath taking scenery of Gerlache Strait. Everybody was out on deck, enjoying the sun when some blows were spotted, humpback whales! Humpbacks were not the only things around, every now and then Crabeater seals were seen sunbathing on the floes and finally we spotted the mysterious Adélie penguins!
We made it to Cuverville at around 11:00, just in time to visit the biggest Gentoo penguin colony in the Gerlache Strait. There were some scientist counting the current breeding pairs on the island, last season they counted 8-9 thousand pairs.... they had a long day ahead!
While the English speaking group came ashore, the German speakers went for a Zodiac cruise. That gave us the opportunity to spread along the island and have some unique and close encounters with the penguins.
After an hour or so we were ready to swap the groups over so that everyone got to enjoy both penguins and ice. Conditions couldn’t be better as we sneaked among the icebergs of the most curious shapes and colours. Every now and then we would spot Weddell and Crabeater seals resting on the floes and Gentoo penguins porpoising all around.
It was lunch time already so we headed back to the ship. After a quick meal some of us were beginning to feel a bit sleepy but there was no time for siesta, we were already at Danco Island ready for the third landing of the day.
As the gangway started getting crowded the staff was busy loading over a hundred pairs of snowshoes for those of us who were planning to do a long hike up to the summit of Danco Island.
Barbara had already explained us on board how to put the snowshoes on so once we were ready we followed Ali on the way up, we looked like an army of ants climbing up a sugar mount.
It was self-rewarding making it to the top, and the effort totally worth it for the panoramic view from up there was just spectacular.
On the way down we couldn’t help stopping to photograph the Gentoos going up one step at a time, apparently effortless, to the colonies way high on the island.
Back on the ship and after a warm shower we gathered as usual in the lounge for a short briefing about the following day’s activities and right after that… barbeque on deck!
The evening was just lovely, no wind and some beams of sunlight appeared every now and then, the atmosphere was very cheerful and got very exciting when humpback whales joined us for dinner blowing all around the ship!
Such a perfect ending closure for a perfect day…
It was our last morning in Antarctica so many people were already awake when the wake-up call came at 05:30 but everyone else was up quickly and after juice and pastries in the bar we were ready at the gangway to go ashore at Neko Harbour, another continental landing. It wasn’t a blue sky morning but the cloud level gave an atmospheric feeling to the cold morning.
The shuttle ashore was short and we were greeted by the Expedition staff and Gentoo penguins before making our way up onto the snow for the hike up to the viewpoint. Ali led the way once more taking us along the lower slope which passed by a couple of penguin highways which gave us a great view of the Gentoos preening before making the climb up the steep slope as well as coming and going from the colonies. We had to wait at times in order to pass but nobody minded as it was lovely to watch them waddling up the slope and sliding down it. We were a little the same as we made our way up the slope as the snow was still frozen solid at this early hour. We passed by some small colonies of penguins on the way and were able to stop and watch them stealing pebbles from each other for their nests. They are sneaky thieves indeed!
Back on the trail we soon reached the viewpoint which gave us stunning views over the whole bay as well as down onto the heavily crevassed glacier. We sat and enjoyed the view and took our turn to pose on the rocky point for final Antarctic continent photos. It turned out to be a very memorable morning for one young couple of board with a marriage proposal and acceptance on the viewpoint! Congratulations to Carla and Sebastian! We wish them all the very best for the future!
All too soon it was time to head back down to sea level where there was still a few minutes to spend time with penguins before getting in the Zodiacs and heading back to the ship for breakfast. Once we were all on board we set sail into the Gerlache Strait once more to navigate to the Melchior Islands.
After breakfast most people headed out onto deck once more to see what could be seen in this vast channel and time on deck paid off as we were rewarded with some great views of a pod of Killer whales, including an adult male with its 2 metre dorsal fin. They were a little elusive at times but we managed to get close enough to see the white saddle markings on their backs as they surfaced and dived once more. After a while we left them to their travels and continued on ours.
We passed huge icebergs and low lying floes, some of which had Crabeater seals on top of them and as we headed further up the strait we came across a pair of sleeping Humpback whales ‘logging’ on the surface. As we slowly approached they woke up and one of them spy hopped for a closer look at this big blue monster closing in on their sleeping position. We were able to see the barnacles on the top of their heads and hear their breathing and blows as they re-surfaced. It was a memorable encounter.
Onwards once more and as we neared the Melchior Islands we were invited by André and Thijs to the top deck for some hot chocolate with a special seafarers tot of rum and a squirt of cream. Just what was needed on this chilly morning! As we sailed out past the island we saw some beautiful icebergs and more Humpback whales before making the last navigation out into the open waters of the Drake Passage once more.
After lunch many people took the opportunity to have a post lunch snooze but by 15:30 we were ready for our Sea Day documentary, the last part of the BBC series, Frozen Planet that looked at the lives of humans in the Polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctica. It has been a fabulous series of programmes.
There was some time before re-cap and we managed to fill that time quite nicely with whale watching. We came across three Humpback whales that were actively feeding, diving and surfacing time and time again and with skillful ship maneuvering we were able to get quite close to the whales that were completely unconcerned by our presence. They are focused on only one thing; krill, travelling to Antarctica during the summer months and feeding up as much as they can during the short season of plenty. The keen birders were delighted to see two Antarctic petrels flying by the ship. A first sighting for many.
At re-cap Sebastian outlined some plans for tomorrow, a day at sea and Vale talked about the Belgica expedition of Adrian de Gerlache. We had sailed through the Gerlache Strait during our voyage and many of the islands around this channel are named after members of his expedition team. Michael then explained a little about the Killer whales we had seen during the morning. These Type B whales are resident in the Gerlache Strait and feed primarily on fish and penguins.
It was then time for dinner and as we went many people were commenting on the fact that it seemed a very long time since the morning landing at Neko Harbour. It had certainly been an interesting day with lots of marine mammals along the way
As the heading says, we had one of the most fantastic encounters with the largest animal ever to live on earth!
The morning started out as we were used to, breakfast and then an informative talk this time given by Michael about whales, the different types and a few other interesting bits of information. No sooner had he finished then Sebastian made the call that some Fin whales had been sighted and we were turning the ship to approach them.
For the first twenty minutes we slowly followed the Fin whales around as they went about their business before Ali spotted one with a very small dorsal fin, could one of them be a Blue whale?? After it came up again for a breath we all could see quite clearly the mottled appearance of its skin and the very diagnostic small dorsal fin way back towards its tail. We stayed with these two feeding giants and as they once again dove beneath the waves 3rd Mate Lewis brought Plancius to a stop to wait for one last viewing before we would continue on our way.
As the whales surfaced all those on the bow swung their cameras to capture another amazing moment and then paused as they realised the whales were swimming right towards them. Their zoom lenses were now useless. After approaching the bow the Fin whale continued on its business but the Blue whale wasn’t quite finished. It turned towards Plancius and for the next 25 minutes decided to have a very close look at us, diving from port to starboard, bow to stern, showing its full length in the clear waters and letting everyone know exactly what whale breath smells like. Perhaps it was interested in the ‘red’ colour of this strange iceberg that was making funny noises?
The lounge was positively buzzing as we eventually turned back on course and rightly so. To think that it was not so long ago these mammals were fleeing ships sent to kill them, what an incredible event.
Unfortunately there was no time for Andrew to give his talk on sea ice before lunch, perhaps tomorrow.
After a bit of retail therapy from the ship shop the afternoons activities commenced with a documentary on a group of Belgians who re-enacted the historic journey of Adrien de Gerlache as he explored the Antarctic continent 110 years ago.
Sebastian then graced us with his presence when he gave a dynamic and information filled account of Antarctica’s geographic highlights. Not only did we learn about the geophysical statistics of this mighty continent we also heard about the Antarctic treaty and how it came into being.
Later in the afternoon we met in the lounge for re-cap and then it was again time for dinner. Drinks in the bar followed for some, others preferred to take some fresh air before turning in for the night.
Well, we had all enjoyed another calm night on board and slept well and André made the call for breakfast at 08:00. As we looked out of the windows we could see the first sign of land ahead of us and our route was taking us directly to Cape Horn. Due to our calm passage over the Drake we had time in hand to make the detour to look at this iconic headland at the tip of South America. Stories of sailing ships and storms passing by here before the opening of the Panama Canal are almost mythical so it was great to be able to take a look ourselves.
During our approach Andrew invited us to the lounge to give his talk about ice that had been cancelled yesterday due to the amazing Blue whale encounter. We saw plenty of ice during the Antarctic part of our voyage and it was interesting to find out more about how many of the different types of ice are formed.
The wind had increased since yesterday but it hadn’t made any big oceanic swells so we were able to go out on deck to take photos of our approach to Cape Horn. As we reached the 12 mile limit Vale spoke to the Chilean Navy on our behalf to ask for permission to go closer to land. A 3 mile limit was granted and we continued onwards towards the cape with Black browed albatross following in our wake. As we reached our 3 mile position we could see the Naval base on the right side of the headland and near to it the Cape Horn monument, a metal sculpture of an albatross, the iconic ocean wanderer at the end of the continent of South America. We stayed a while to take in the view and try to imagine the conditions here in a big storm and the struggle that sailing ships would have had in the past to round the horn against the prevailing winds.
Then we turned around and continued on our way towards the entrance to the Beagle Channel and our final navigation towards Ushuaia. This detour had been well worth it.
Once we were back on our route Tobias announced his presentation about the geology of Antarctica. Given that so much of the frozen continent is covered by ice it is interesting to see what lies beneath the ice and how this remnant of the super continent of Gondwanaland was formed 500 million years ago and drifted to this current position.
By the time he was finished it was time for lunch – our last lunch on board the good ship Plancius. After lunch it was time to settle our on board accounts with André and Thijs. Sadly all those drinks from Cecille’s bar and souvenirs from the ‘Ship Shop’ have to be paid for at some point and with this, the last afternoon of our voyage it was time to find credit cards, Euros and Dollars from depths of our cabins and settle up.
During the last afternoon there was time to pack our bags before a Sea Day documentary with a difference was screened in the lounge. ‘Around Cape Horn’ is a fascinating step back in time to the days of the sailing ships passing by Cape Horn. It was filmed in 1929 by Captain Irving Johnson and the entertaining commentary is certainly different! It made us appreciate the comfort of our own ship as we sailed through the same waters.
Re-cap included a Pre-cap from Seba, with information about our disembarkation in Ushuaia in the morning and a chance to look back on our voyage with a short photo presentation that Ali had put together for us. It was so lovely to look back over the 19 days on board Plancius travelling to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica and it gave us all time to reflect on some amazing experiences in some very special places.
With Captain’s Cocktails it was a chance to toast our voyage and the many people who have made this trip such a success, from the Captain himself and his deck crew to the Expedition staff, to the members of the hotel department, those in the engine room and even the laundry staff. It has been a team effort and as a result a successful and enjoyable voyage. Cheers everyone!
Today is disembarkation day in Ushuaia. Coming alongside, we were boarded by the Argentine officials who cleared our vessel and allowed us to disembark. On the pier we bade farewell to many of the friends we have come to know over the past 19 days, and had one last look at the Plancius, the ship that took us safely on such an incredible voyage from Ushuaia to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. This trip will last us a lifetime – in our memories, our imaginations, and in our dreams.
Thank you all for such a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!
Total distance sailed on our voyage:
Nautical miles: 3838 nm
Kilometres: 7179 km
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Nazarov, Expedition Leader Sebastian Arrebola and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.