PLA23-16, trip log, Falklands - South Georgia - Antarctic Peninsula
21.12.2016 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 an 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 Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and finally the Great White Continent of Antarctica. Most passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board our ship MV Plancius, home for the next 18 days. We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition staff who sorted our luggage and sent us on board to meet Hotel and Restaurant Managers, Johnny and Katrin. 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 Third Officer John, who led us through the details of the required SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) Safety and Lifeboat Drill, assisted by the crew and staff. On hearing the alarm we reconvened at the ‘muster station’, the lounge, for the mandatory safety briefing and abandon ship drill donning our huge orange life jackets that will keep us safe should the need arise. After this lifeboat drill we returned to the outer decks to watch our departure from the jetty of Ushuaia and the last of city life for a while. We entered the Beagle Channel with an escort of black browed albatross. Once we were on our way into the channel we were invited once again to the lounge to meet our Hotel Manager Johnny who gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next 18 days or so. We then met our Expedition Leader, Andrew Bishop and the rest of the Expedition Team who will guide on this fantastic expedition into the unknown.
This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Evgeny Levakov and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 20:15 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chef Ralf and Sean and their galley staff. This first evening on board was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements, and settling into our cabins. In the early hours of the morning we would be out into the open waters of the Drake Passage and heading East towards the Falkland Islands.
We were now sailing in the open waters towards the Falklands. The sun was shining and the waves treated us well. During the night we had passed through the Beagle Channel and as soon as we came out to the ocean the ship started to move. But our speed was good and many seabirds were sailing along behind the ship. Andrew our Expedition leader gave us a talk in the morning about the zodiacs and how we are going to use them in a safe way. He showed us how to put on the lifejacket and how to enter the boats. After that we all got rubber boots that we are going to use for the wet landings stepping in to the water in rougher conditions. Lunch was served and we enjoyed eating while being able to look outside seeing the waves splashing against the windows and the birds flying by.
In the afternoon Bruce gave a talk about photography. He told us how to use our cameras in the best and most simple way and also that it doesn’t matter if you have a huge camera that is super expensive or just a phone, you can still get great pictures.
All the suddenly we hear a call on the PA system. Whale!! We rush out on deck and now we spot the second largest animal that ever existed the Fin whale. This is a huge mammal over 25 meter long and up to 150 tons. It’s only the blue whale that is bigger. This magnificent giant came up close to the ship and we got some good pictures of the big sprout when the whale was breathing.
The day ended with a daily briefing where Andrew told us about the plans for tomorrow and some of the guides told us about penguins and other things we will encounter during this voyages.
A great dinner was served and then we went to bed getting ready for tomorrows adventures in the Falklands.
The day dawned dramatically as 50 knot squalls whipped up the wave crests and Plancius plunged and rolled in the swell as we approached the Falkland coast. Passengers lurched about the deck and dining room at breakfast. Would we land in these conditions was the question on all minds.
The vessel entered the narrow confines of the ‘wooly gut” at 7am and immediately conditions improved in the more sheltered waters in the lee of Carcass Island. Zodiacs were launched and despite a little bit of atmospheric nautical splashing, everyone was ferried ashore. Conditions gradually improved - the sun shone, the wind abated.
You could almost smell the baking! Inspired by tales of the sumptuous spread awaiting in the farmhouse, passengers were eager to land on the island. One group were ferried in zodiacs past beds of enormous floating fronds of giant kelp to the concrete jetty for the short walk up a track to the house. The majority of passengers opted to be deposited on the far side of the bay for a longer walk following a meandering path along the shore-line to the settlement. As the wind moderated the temperature warmed and it became summer like. What hospitality once everyone reached the house…cakes were consumed en-mass, coffee and tea pots worked overtime as everyone relaxed in this Falkland paradise.
After lunch and a short cruise, we reached Saunders Island. Two 4x4 vehicles driven by the welcoming party were parked on the edge of the gently sloping tombola beach. Zodiacs were deployed and everyone landed, excited at the freedom to explore such a beautiful place.. Guides distributed themselves to supervise the various areas. King penguin colony, albatross nesting site, Rock-hopper nesting site, mixed species nesting site etc. The scenery and wildlife were superb. Cameras clicked incessantly. What a joy to be so close to so many interesting species. This was the Oceanwide Expeditions experience par excellence- looking, seeing, thinking and doing.
We awoke this morning to fifty knot winds and six to seven meter swells, resulting in the postponement of our scheduled landing at Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. After sailing forward and back for several hours, the winds finally reduced enough for the captain to safely navigate the ship through the narrows into the harbour. After a quick zodiac shuttle to shore, everyone was free to explore Stanley at their leisure. Some passed their time shopping, visiting the museum or enjoying a drink at one of the local pubs. Others explored the outskirts of town, soaking up the atmosphere of this remote English outpost. A few passengers found their way to the beach at Gypsy point and had intimate encounters with fur seals, penguins and nesting Black-backed Night-herons on the cliffs. A small group of birders hired a taxi to seek out Falkland specialties and had great success, finding such gems as Two-banded Plovers and Rufous-chested Dotteral. We were blessed with a bit of sunshine as we departed Stanley and passed back through the narrows setting course for South Georgia.
At 7.45, we woke up by the voice of Andrew and Michelle who told us the date, wind speed and the temperature.
After breakfast, we were called into the lounge where our Expedition Leader Andrew gave us the mandatory IAATO-briefing. He told us that we have to stay away from the wildlife, that we are not allowed to take food ashore, and that we have to make sure not to bring any mud or seeds stuck in our clothes and bags. This can all be dangerous to the native species. Andrew’s talk was followed by a short movie about South Georgia, which showed the beauty impressive nature, but also the danger and how your hand might look after a bite of a fur seal, which can be aggressive.
After all this information we all were called in the lounge to vacuum clean our outer gear and backpacks.
When everyone was done, at 15.15 Beau gave a lecture on baleen whales. He explained the differences between a Blue, Fin, Sei, Minke, Humpback and Right whale.
Right after that, at 16.00 a lecture on Shackleton was given by David. Shackleton started his career with Robert Falcon Scott. His first trip was with the Discovery 1901-1903, they used dogs and a balloon for aerial photos. Shackleton suffered from scurvy and was send away by Scott. But he wanted to go back to the Antarctic, so he bought a ship called Nimrod to go back. At 9 January 1909 he almost reached the South Pole, but decide to live, speaking the words to his wife: “You rather have a living donkey than a dead lion.” The famous Belgium Gerlache used the ship Polaris in the North, Shackleton bought it and renamed it Endurance. With this ship he went down South to the Antarctic continent, where it got stuck and later sunk. David told us the story of how they carried on, by overwintering at Elephant Island, and rowing towards South Georgia in autumn storms. And for those who became curious because of David’s talk, a movie on Shackleton was shown straight after.
Half way the movie Andrew announced that there was a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale next to the ship. We all jumped up and ran to the window, to see this rare sighting. Cuvier’s Beaked whales have a creamy white forehead, are 4.5-7 meters long, and weight 2 – 3.5 tons. They are the species most often stranded in association with the use of sonar, and also known as extreme divers. The deepest dive ever recorded was a Cuvier’s Beaked whale diving 2992 meters deep. The whale continued to swim, and the movie continued to be displayed until it was time for our daily recap. At recap Andrew showed us the sailing plan and asked us to close all curtains at night, not to attract Prions, which otherwise would land on deck.
The day broke windy and rainy, but with relatively calm seas. As passengers stirred in the ships innards, Andrew and Beau’s voices wafted over the PA system reminding everyone of the new day.
As guests filed into the restaurant for their daily serving of chef Ralf’s extra creamy porridge, the rain increased and battered down on the ship from the heavens above. Bill gave a talk about South Georgia, introducing everyone to the wonderful world of statistics. Afterwards Miriam gave her talk in German about Plankton, tiny little things that live in the sea and oceans. At lunch everyone filled their tummies to bursting with more of chef Ralf’s creaminess, always a fan favourite.
After lunch guests filed once again into the lounge, to finish the fantastic film Shackleton, a film of epic proportions detailing the survival and navigation of the Endurance expedition. Shortly thereafter, Miriam gave her talk about Plankton again, this time in English while Josef the Polar News escort continued his photography workshop in the restaurant for the Polar News guests. Slowly the winds increased and howled their might down upon the ship, rain and sleet battering down as if to deter the ship from her destination. Slowly Plancius pushed onwards, ever eastwards towards the fabled island of rock and desolation.
At the evening’s daily briefing, Andrew informed every one of the following days plan, zodiac cruising being the first order of the day. Beau regaled with information about King Penguins, always a fan favourite, while Michael described in more detail the Antarctic Convergence. As Katie called everyone down into the restaurant for dinner, passengers excitedly chattered amongst themselves about whether or not chef Ralf’s famous creamy goodness would be available yet again.
And so everyone slowly made their way to their Flohkisten, or flea boxes as beds are affectionately known as in Germany, each one wondering if they might have the gumption that Shackleton did to survive against all odds in such a harsh yet incredibly beautiful landscape.
Now we finally could see the mysterious land in the distance. South Georgia appeared in front of the ship early in the morning. During the night the wind and the waves had been strong and that continued during the day, thus our plans had to be changed. The ship was moving a lot and the wind blew over 40 knots when we sailed pass Right whale and Elsehul Bay where we had planned to start our landings in South Georgia. Instead we sailed down to the Bay of Isles. During the morning our Scotsman Bill gave us a lecture about the whaling history that has happened here. Many large whaling factories that are still standing nowadays.
These buildings are a reminder on what happened here and the massive slaughter that took place in the beginning of the 1900:s. Thousands and thousands of whales was massacred in these waters to give the western world what they needed for their modern development.
The wind was still strong after lunch but when we came closer to the Bay of Isles we got more protection from the waves. The surroundings were amazing and the abundance of wildlife in the water was stunning. Penguins, Fur seals and Elephant seals were appearing all over and birds were flying around in the air following the ship. In the afternoon we managed to get the zodiacs in the water despite the strong wind and the cold temperatures. We did a zodiac cruise in Rosita Bay and had close ups with the animals in the water. We also saw several new-born Fur seal pups onshore and some big bulls protecting their harem of females. The wind and the cold forced us to return to the ship after about hour and there we had a briefing about the plans for tomorrow. Plancius took us on a cruise in the Bay of Isles and we passed by Salisbury Plain where you can find one of the biggest King penguin rookeries in the world. The view and the smell of all these penguins was a fantastic experience that you can only understand if you have seen it yourself.
The evening ended with a nice dinner and we all fell asleep while the ship was moving towards new destinations and new experiences in the land of the Fur seals!
Everyone was up for an early morning start for what promised to be an action packed day. A large group had opted for the ‘Shackleton walk’ over the mountain to Stromness led by Andrew. As they landed on the beach they immediately encountered a number of aggressive fur seals who were ably fended off by a stick waving Beau. The remaining passengers boarded Zodiacs for a kelp dodging animal observing cruise around the bay.
After breakfast, Plancius weighed anchor and in brilliant weather, sailed out into the open sea bound for the abandoned whaling station at Stromness. Fur seal fun continued as the landing was delayed as Bill, David and Beau on the ‘scout’ boat struggled to clear a safe passage off the seal congested beach for passengers. Eventually a narrow corridor was established and everyone dodged the aggressive creatures to gain the safety of the grass-land beyond. After a briefing to remind passengers not to enter the restricted area, passengers were free to roam or to join the group walking several kilometres to the ‘Shackleton Waterfall’. The sun shone as cameras clicked incessantly in response to the visual stimulation of countless seals, penguins, rusty buildings, abandoned propellers and stunning scenery. The long walkers returned ecstatic after their hike over the historic col.
Next stop mid-afternoon…Grytviken. All landed on the beach at the cemetery where Bill distributed glasses of whisky and gave a moving speech in honour of Shackleton the inspirational hero.
A staff member from the museum then met the group and conducted a guided tour for those who opted for it through the whaling station site. Others roamed freely, investigating the dramatic rusty ruins of the buildings and marvelling at the scale of long abandoned machinery. Seals lay everywhere, in the most unexpected places mostly, and all oblivious to the wandering visitors.
The museum was delightful and extremely educational as it was full of interesting items including a beautifully constructed replica of the ‘James Caird’ The little post office issued stamps for postcards and provided evidence of this South Georgia landing by stamping passports. Rusting hulks of redundant whale catchers reared red and dramatically skywards along the edge of the shore.
What proved to be another great Oceanwide Expeditions day ended in happy style with a BBQ followed by energetic dancing on the after-deck.
We were again blessed this morning as we awoke to good weather in Godthul (meaning “good cove” in Norwegian). The expedition staff went ashore early to clear a path through the minefield of aggressive Fur seals along the beach and in the nearby tussock grass. There were a few ridiculously cute Fur seal pups were on the beach near the landing site, and several South Georgia Pipits were observed foraging on the beach and in the tussock grass. A Gentoo Penguin rookery was located on the ridge above the beach. The walkers had a chance to explore the alpine meadows around a lake. Several wildflowers and ferns were enjoyed as well as nesting giant petrels. The long walkers hiked up to the top of a rocky hill and were rewarded with spectacular views of the bay and the rugged coastline.
Those that opted for the zodiac cruise had a great time with Michelle and Michael and were lucky enough to have the chance to hang out with a leopard seal.
The weather in the afternoon continued to cooperate and we were able to land at the spectacular St. Andrews Bay. Upon arrival on the beach we were greeted with the smell and bizarre sounds of thousands of Elephant seals. The highlight for most was our first opportunity to be amidst the majestic and curious King Penguins. St. Andrews is home to well over half a million King Penguins and the sight, sound and smell of this impressive natural spectacle will not ever be forgotten by anyone on shore this afternoon!
It was a very early morning. Very early!
As we woke up in Gold Harbour by the voice of Andrew, with one eye still closed, but the other looking out of our port hole we could see already zodiacs on the water. And it was only 5 o’ clock in the morning.
Time to open the other eye and get dressed, to join a pre-breakfast landing. At the beach we were surrounded by most adorable, curious Elephant seal-babies that found pleasure in investigating the unknown and/or strange. On the spot they created a new sport. ‘Who can put down most of the flag-poles?’
Many pictures were taken of Elephant seals pushing against legs, crawling through a tripod, trying to grab a glove, nibbling a swim vest or just laying on top of anything that did not move out of their way.
But besides the seal pups, the beach was crowded by King penguins. Adults, chicks, and some in between, losing their down. They were the funniest looking creatures. Some would do very well in a penguin Punk band. And because of the rain, we also came to the conclusion, that a wet King penguin chick, looks very miserable (…no wonder they don’t go for a swim...). After all the fun, it was breakfast time, while the ship repositioned. Our next destination was meant to be Cooper Bay.
The captain did the best he can, to bring in the ship as far as possible, but unfortunately there was still too much swell to make it happen. Fortunately the captain knew that there was also a Macaroni penguin colony on Cooper Island, which seemed a bit more sheltered. It worked! We saw Macaroni, Chinstrap, King and Gentoo penguins, pale -faced Sheathbills, South Georgian Shags, Cape and Wilson Storm Petrels.
All on and around a scenic backdrop of steep cliffs, big rocks and a lot of spray water because of the high swell.
The weather was wet and miserable, the precipitation could not choose between rain and snow, but it was worth going out. We drove around an ice berg which lit up blue. A sculpture by nature, teeth on one side and a waterfall on the other side. Wilson Storm Petrels flew around and seem even to walk on water.
Coming back, we were all soaked, but who cares when you can come back to a warm ship where soon lunch would be served.
After lunch, it was time to say goodbye to South Georgia. As a last goodbye, we sailed into Drygalski Fjord. Steep mountains of 2000 meter high, covered with snow and glaciers. Around 240 million years old on the North side, as they were a part of Gondwana. The mountains on the South side are a bit younger, ‘only’ 180 million years old.
Even 11 km deep in this narrow fjord, you could still see the swell. The fjord ends at the Risting Glacier, so we turned around to head for Antarctica.
Because it was still early, Beau gave a talk on seals. It is very interesting to hear what they eat, and how they get it. The size of a male Elephant seal can be 6.5 meter with a weight of 3700 kg!
The cute little wieners of this morning have to eat a lot.
Another day, another ocean. As the Plancius glided along towards the South Orkneys, heading towards an Argentinean station called Orcadas, rain pounded down from the heavens above. Wind howled along at a brisk 25+ knots, temperatures holding a steady 4 degrees Centigrade. As Andrew’s and Michelle’s dulcet tones wafted through the airwaves, announcing the arrival of a new day, passengers crawled out of bed and headed for the dining room for a hearty breakfast prepared by Chef Ralf.
At 9 am, it time for another party. Vacuum party! After the many dirty landings at South Georgia, it was time to once again clean and vacuum the outer clothing and Gore-Tex to prepare for the potential landing at Orcadas. As the vacuum orgy grew in size, Michael’s talk about sea ice was pushed to 11:30am. A fantastic talk it was, extoling the virtues of ice and the sea.
And then it was time again for food! Lunchtime it was, Chef Ralf’s ever heartiness present in his cooking. After lunch the vacuuming was resumed, for those too late to finish beforehand. After that it was time for Chef Ralf yet again, but this time with a twist: a talk was to be done, by aforementioned Chef, about how the provisioning and dining challenges are met and handled on such a vessel and voyage. Challenging, to say the least!
At 4pm it was time for a very special treat: happy hour at the bar! All drinks being half price. And at 5pm it was time for another special treat: an auction! Various goodies were picked up by Andrew at Grytviken, in South Georgia, to be auctioned off with proceeds going towards the SGHT rat eradication project. Bill even donated a fine hand drawing for the good cause.
As the day wound to its end, the daily briefing was held which summed up the day and talked about the plans for the next, dinner was enjoyed by all and one by one each guest slowly made their way back to their beds, dreams of ice waiting to haunt their sleeping thoughts.
The wind was hauling as we were approaching the South Orkney Islands. This is one of the most desolate archipelagos in the world. Our plan was to start up as soon as we got close to the Orcadas station located on the Laurie Island. This station was put here by a Scottish expedition led called William Spierce Bruce who in 1902 overwintered in a stone hut on the beach named Omond House. After offering the station to the British who refused it, he gave it to The Argentines. They put up a station just next to the old stone hut and named it Orcadas in 1904. Since then this station has been here and is now the oldest existing working station in Antarctica. The wind was blowing extremely strong and it stopped us for a while. We were waiting until it was calming down a bit but it was still gusting up to 35 knots while we put our zodiacs in the water. The first group of around 60 people took off and visited the base. There we were guided around by the Argentian base personal. This 16 men has been there since January without seeing almost anyone else. Not that strange that they were very eager to see us. After all of us had been on the station we managed to get everyone back onboard and lunch was served. Just as lunch was finished we saw whale blows in the distance and soon we had a great meeting with many Fin whales feeding just close to the ship. It was truly an amazing experience seeing this huge whales, the second largest on the planet, from such a close distance. While we continued our sailing towards the South we watched a movie about the famous Australian Polar Photographer Frank Hurley and just after that David gave us a lecture about Antarctic History. Dinner was served and the Plancius was going southwards while we were eating and enjoying ourselves in the restaurant.
A relaxing day in the open sea after the hectic, back to back activity on South Georgia.
The ‘magic patches’ issued by the doctor appeared to have worked as most on board seemed to have their sea legs at this stage of the voyage.
Passengers either lounged on the deck scanning the horizon or huddled over computers examining the thousands of photographs taken over the last few days. Quality control and careful selection meant that delete buttons worked overtime discarding hundreds of shots. Interesting images were shown off and exchanged with neighbors.
South Georgia had proved to be as wonderful as promised. The sheer quantity of wildlife amazed everyone.
As Plancius ploughed the waves, the ever vigilant ‘birdy’ group scanned the sky and sea for interesting observations. The following list shows that they were not disappointed!
Chinstrap penguins - plus 500 / Wilson’s Storm Petrels plus 50 / Black Billed Storm petrels plus 20
Light Mantled Sooty Albatross 1 / Black Browed Albatross / 3 Southern Giant Petrel 10 / Cape Petrel 50 / Southern Fulmar 250 / Snow Petrel 1 / Antarctic Prion 1 / Brown Skua 1
Lecture programme provided education and entertainment…
Michael - ‘Adaptations to Polar environments’ fascinating explanation of evolution
Michelle – The dutch and arctic plant expert – “Antarctic plants”
David - Otto Nordenskjold and his most famous expedition.
Another great day!
After breakfast we had the opportunity to set foot on the continent of Antarctica for the first time at Brown Bluff. The weather was beautiful with little wind and blue skies. Upon landing we were greeted by a pair of Pale-faced Sheathbills and nesting Kelp gulls. Snow Petrels could be seen flying to their nests in caves high up in the brown cliffs above us. This was our first chance to spend time up close and personal with nesting Adelie penguins. Many already had small chicks as did the nearby Gentoo penguins. We had time to sit and watch the antics of the penguins and enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Antarctic Peninsula. Some of us hiked up to the glacier and enjoyed panoramic views over the Antarctic Sound.
The weather in the afternoon continued to be calm and clear so it was decided to take advantage of the moment and do a ships cruise south to the edge of the Weddell Sea. The captain negotiated the ship through the minefield of ever-changing icebergs and sea ice. From the decks of the ship, the vast scale and infinite beauty of Antarctica was revealed to us. Along the way, we sighted Crabeater seals floating on ice flows and Minke and Humpback whales. On the top deck, Johnny and Katie treated everyone to hot chocolate with a shot of rum served with a smile and penguin costumes. The visibility today was incredible and at the southern limit of our cruise we could spot Snow Hill and Paulet Island miles in the distance. A magic day in a magic spot!
Although the wakeup call was scheduled for 7.15, Andrew’s voice sounded already at 7 o’ clock, telling us to wake up early, because of the beautiful weather, and great views.
After breakfast, we got dressed for a landing at D’Hainaut Island. Because the rocks were so slippery, the guides had covered them with bed sheets. Once we were safe upon the ice, we could follow the flag poles to the other side of the Island. On our way, we could see four rookeries of Gentoo penguins. It was nice, just to sit down and watch them stealing each others pebbles and bringing them to their partner, which then took it and used it to improve their own nest.
At the beach there were also some Weddell seals resting. You have to stay 20 meters away from them, but that is still a good distance to observe them. Also the old whale bones and whaler boats made this place of interest.
Unfortunately, the wind picked up, so the zodiac cruise that was scheduled for the afternoon, was not possible. As a ‘Plan B’, we sailed to Christiania Island. A scout boat was send but came back with the message, that also there, it was not a good idea to land.
So, the next ‘Plan B’ came into force: Sailing to Deception Island, for an after-dinner-landing in Whalers Bay.
On our way, we saw many Humpback whales around the ship, and Andrew gave a lecture on the Geology of Antarctica.
Dinner was served somewhat earlier, to make the evening landing possible.
This evening landing was happening at Whalers Bay. We anchored in the caldera of Deception Island, a volcano that erupted last time in 1972. At this site we got to see the remains of the Norwegian whaling station Hector, and the British research station ‘Base B’.
The buildings and structures were damaged by mud flows, caused by the last two eruptions.
All these factors created an interesting spooky atmosphere. Kelp gulls were breeding on top of rusty remains. And apparently one Gentoo penguin was also interested, as it lay resting between the old buildings.
We ended our outing with a Polar Plunge, but only 10 people were brave enough to run into the cold Antarctic water.
The day started early, grey, and misty-eyed. Cloud covered the sky as the innards of the ship stirred, Andrew’s & Beau’s voices wafting through the airwaves like the smell of fresh waffles covered in maple syrup. Mhhh, maple syrup. A Canadian lumberjack’s best friend alongside bacon. As sleepy and half-awake passengers stumbled through their cabins, pulling on their thermals and fleeces, the first zodiacs were lowered and prepared at the gangway.
An early morning landing it was to be, at Half Moon Island. A beautiful spot it was, crescent shaped with a reasonable sized colony of Chinstrap penguins, with the odd Gentoo here and there of course. An old Argentinean station used to operate there, the remains of Camara left behind sporting the proud Argentinean flag for all to see.
Afterwards it was time to head back to the ship for proper breakfast, as the Plancius then sailed further along to another island, Robert Island for another morning landing at Robert Point. Fantastic it was, Elephant seals all over the place as all the young males practiced fighting and jousting with one another while Skuas and Gulls patrolled overhead, Chinstraps and Gentoo’s waddled up the slopes, Giant Petrels nested on the hillsides and Cormorant’s collected seaweed for their ever growing nests. A mini South Georgia it was, replete with most of the wildlife found on the infamous isle. At some point however it was time to pack up and say goodbye, as this was the final landing and expedition activity for this voyage. Time to head off northwards towards Ushuaia and awaiting civilization.
In the afternoon a film was showed, rounding the Horn showcasing the last of the great-masted sailing cargo ships that used to come down the west coast of North America and back up the Eastern side, after having rounded Cape Horn made infamous for vicious storms and shipwrecks.
At the daily briefing Andrew summed up the day’s events and the plan for the following day, while Miriam fascinated all with a short talk about Terns, beautiful little birds with an attitude.
As the day came to its end, the sun dipping slightly towards the horizon, Plancius sailing northwards, guests slowly made their way into their soft warm beds to dream about the next sea adventure awaiting them.
The Drake Passage was treating us nicely this morning, everyone always says ‘be aware about the drake shake’ but today we had a ‘Drake Lake’ more or less! Breakfast was served as usual and we all got up to have a relaxed day onboard the Plancius. After breakfast our own bird specialist Bruce gave us a talk about the seabirds we have seen. It was great hearing about this magnificent creatures while they were flying by the windows. It was very special seeing these huge birds sailing in the wind!
The ship was slowly rolling forward in this famous or infamous body of water. It has this bad reputation because of all the low pressures that are created out over the Pacific Ocean and then are moving through the narrow Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica into the Atlantic. About every third day there is a low pressure system going passed here and how bad the Drake is depends on the magnitude of the low pressure.
Lunch was served and most of us were there even though Plancius had started moving a little bit more. After our meal there was a documentary in the lounge about the people working on the old sailing ships rounding the Cape Horn. Many ships and the sailors were lost and everyone feared this particular part of the world. But they had to sail through it before the Panama Channel was built. It was very interesting watching this and to learn about how they managed to survive in those days. Later in the afternoon we listened to Julia talking about how plastic is polluting our world and how it effects the nature in a very bad way. Of course it made us more aware of our own doings and actions in this and what we can do to prevent pollution.
On the daily briefing Andrew told us about the schedule for the last day onboard and he also talked about a research article that was focusing on the pressure estimations developed by penguins while they are pooping! Fun and strange research we all agreed on! Dinner was served and the Plancius kept her gentle pace forward towards Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia our final destination.
The last day on sea before we going to reach Ushuaia... The Drake Passage was very kind to us and kept the Plancius calm on the water. Thanks to the calm sea we came much faster to the coast of South America than expected and Andrew and the capitain decided to take a little side-trip to CAPE HORN!
After the breakfast Bill gave a lovely picture show about his trips with Oceanwide Expedition to the Arctic. Beautiful pictures – next trip should go to the North!
After lunch it was time to say goodbye to our best buddies the Muckboots, that was very sad for some of the passengers. On our way to Cape Horn couple of Southamerican sealions and Peales‘ dolphins joined our track. And finally we arrived at Cape Horn – the southernmost point of South America! After many pictures were taken, Johnny and Katie invited to ‘pay your bill‘ at the reception...yes the good times without paying the drinks was over...
Later in the afternoon our viking David invited into the lounge to tell about his adventure this spring when he and couple of friends crosses the Greenlandic icecap. It took them about 27 days, and while he was lucky not to get any blisters on his feet, he instead got a itchy bumb, funny story.
Then time arrived for our last recap. The expedition team had made a slideshow for us with many beautiful and funny pictures. Andrew was thanking his team and the crew and also all of the passengers for this wonderful voyage. He also gave information for the out-shipping day tomorrow before it was time for the last dinner onboard Plancius.
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 18 days, and had one last look at the Plancius, the ship that took us safely on such an incredible voyage from Ushuaia, across the infamous Drake Passage, the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Orkneys to Antarctica. We have enjoyed the wildlife and scenery of this very special continent and are privileged that we were able to do so. This trip will last us a lifetime – in our memories, our imaginations, and in our dreams.
Thank you all for such a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!
Total distance sailed on our voyage: Nautical miles: 3481 nm, kilometres: 6353 km
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Evgeny Levakov, Expedition Leader Andrew Bishop and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.