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PLA23-18, trip log, Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Antarctic Peninsula

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 03.12.2018
Position: 54°53’S / 067°52’W
Wind: NW-3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +11

Ushuaia! ‘The End of the World; the Beginning of Everything’ as a rather splendid wall-painting proclaims. Most of us had time to explore this dramatically-located settlement before boarding Plancius between 4 and 5 pm. We were shown to our cabins to unpack, and then excitedly checked out our new home for the next 19 days. Locating the whereabouts of the bar and 24/7 coffee/tea station was the most important task. At 5.30 pm we were summoned to the Lounge/Bar by Ali Liddle, our Expedition Leader. She introduced herself, welcomed us on board, then showed us an important safety video about what to do in emergencies at sea. It is important that we keep ourselves and others safe as we sail to remote destinations, with little or no medical help. Chief Officer Miia supplemented this information with a few details specific to Plancius and our voyage. After this we all headed out on deck to watch our sail-away from Ushuaia. It was exciting to see the lines cast off and watch the southernmost town in South America disappear as we headed out into the beautiful Beagle Channel. Magellanic penguins were spotted in the water and soaring birds accompanied us as the local pilot steered us away from civilisation. At about 6.15 pm we heard the seven short and one long blasts alerting us to the all-important life boat drill, which must be held before we reach the open sea. We mustered in the Lounge, a roll-call was taken and then we were all led out to the life boats. Now we know precisely what to do and where to go in the unlikely event of an emergency. Before dinner we met Zsuzsanna, our Hotel Manager, who explained all about life on Plancius. Then Ali introduced Captain Artur Iakovlev to us, the Master of the Vessel and the man responsible for getting us all safely to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica – and back again. We drank to the success of our voyage, waved a quick ‘hello’ to the Expedition Team and then dinner was announced. The Dining Room was buzzing and we enjoyed our first meal on board. Afterwards a few passengers and staff adjourned to the bar, but it was a quiet evening socially. Most of us spent some time on deck admiring the scenery and wildlife and bidding farewell to the Argentine pilot, before heading for bed and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we will wake up in the open ocean, our Plancius Bridge team in sole control, well on our way to the Falkland Islands.

Day 2: At Sea en route to the Falkland Islands

At Sea en route to the Falkland Islands
Date: 04.12.2018
Position: 54°07’S / 064°12’W
Wind: SSE-5
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

Many of us were already up and around when Ali made the first wake-up call of the voyage, but for those of us still being gently rocked in our bunks it was time to get up and see what the sea day would bring. It was a bright morning, with a strong tail wind of about 30 knots which was pushing us along very nicely. After breakfast many of us wrapped up warm and headed out on deck to enjoy the sunshine and gaze at the birds that were flying around the ship. Birds habitually follow ships at sea looking for food brought up to the surface by the wake, but also to enjoy the uplift created by our passing. We found plenty of Cape Petrels skimming the water close at hand, and further afield Giant Petrels and several species of albatross glided, using the air currents to demonstrate their skill at dynamic soaring. Every now and then they would fly right past the deck or bridge window, allowing for some good photographic opportunities. At 11 am there was the first of a two-part presentation about the Falkland Islands, given by Ali, who lived and worked in the Islands for 15 years. The first instalment looked at the history and economy of the islands and gave an insight into island life in this isolated archipelago. It was a great introduction to an area many of us knew little about. Most people headed back outside after lunch to continue enjoying the sunshine we were being blessed with and we were rewarded with our first whale sighting - a Fin Whale. Although it was some way off, you could clearly see its large blow hanging in the air as it came to the surface to breathe. At this time of year, it is not uncommon to see Fin Whales in this stretch of water as they head south to feed in the cold, nutrient-rich waters of Antarctica. At 3 pm we headed back inside for the second part of Ali’s lecture, which this time focused on tourism in the Falklands and some of the flora and fauna we could expect to see over the forthcoming days. She also told us about what took her to the islands in the first place and some of her ‘character-building’ experiences as a travelling teacher on the remote farms of the Falkland Islands. Tea time came and went and also today’s mandatory briefing session - Zodiac safety. Ali told us everything we needed to know about safe Zodiac operations, as we would need to use these newly-acquired skills in the morning to make our first landing of the voyage. After which we headed downstairs to collect our rubber boots ready for wet landings on shore. The staff were on hand to ensure that the system ran with the utmost efficiency, with boots of all sizes being passed along the line to ensure everyone got the correct size ready to go ashore in the morning. The final official event of the day was our first daily Recap & Briefing session. Ali had a lot to tell us about the next couple of days and you could feel the excitement and anticipation growing as she spoke. The Expedition Team also took this opportunity to introduce themselves properly and tell us a little about the role they hope to play in our voyage. There was a lot of enthusiastic chatter as we descended to the Dining Room afterwards, as people shared their hopes and expectations for the forthcoming days with one another. Our first sea day was drawing to an end and we went to bed early, to dream of albatross and penguins……

Day 3: Carcass Island & Saunders Island, Falkland Islands

Carcass Island & Saunders Island, Falkland Islands
Date: 05.12.2018
Position: 51°18’S / 060°33’W
Wind: NE-3
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +8

We awoke to calm seas and sunshine today, and most of us headed on deck to take in the views of the approaching Falkland Islands! We sailed through a narrow gap between West Point Island and West Falkland called The Woolly Gut. This gave us our first opportunity to see penguins as they porpoised through the water around the ship. We also saw ducks, geese and terns as we passed close to the islands. We even got a quick sighting of a Minke Whale. Our first landing of the day, and indeed of the trip, was to be at Carcass Island, owned and operated by Rob and Lorraine McGill. The Island sits to the northwest of the Falkland Islands Archipelago, and with sunny skies and calm seas we left Plancius and headed for the island by Zodiac. Most of us decided to head off on a long hike from Dyke Bay to Leopard Beach and then along to the settlement, while the rest of us were transported straight to the settlement in order to explore on our own and have great photo opportunities. Along the hike we were able to see our first penguins: Magellanics and Gentoos. The Magellanics were burrowing in the ground, incubating their eggs, but we saw many coming up from the beach and standing guard outside their burrows. The Gentoos nest in the open, and we were lucky enough to see some of the new chicks popping their heads out from under their parents’ bellies. We walked down onto the beautiful Leopard Beach, with its gorgeous white sand and turquoise waters, strongly contrasting with the black and white of the penguins coming out of it. On the beach we found many Upland Geese shedding their feathers. As we began to walk towards the settlement rain began to fall, but it wasn’t going to dampen our visit, and we made our way towards the house for cake and tea. Along the way we were delighted by the various bird species that could be found, including Striated Caracaras, Magellanic Snipe, Ruddy-headed Geese, Meadowlarks and many more. As we came to the settlement we headed to the home of Rob and Lorraine, who, along with their Chilean staff, had put on a spread of fantastic fancy scones, cakes and biscuits. We were all delighted to sip tea, sample the variety of cakes, and exchange stories with these Falkland locals. Soon after it was time to head back on the Zodiacs to Plancius for lunch; though some of us were not requiring too much lunch after all those cakes! Throughout the day a large group of Commerson’s Dolphins were spotted around the ship and playing round the Zodiacs; they had escorted us to and from Carcass and lingered around the ship’s stern in large pods, much to the delight of everyone on board. As we ate another fantastic lunch Plancius sailed round to another island for our second landing of the day - Saunders Island. Saunders was chosen as the site of the first British settlement on the Falkland Islands in 1765, and is the second largest island within the Falkland Islands archipelago. It is home to a rich diversity of wildlife, notably large numbers of breeding pairs of Black-browed Albatross, and four different species of penguin: the Gentoo, Magellanic, King and Rock Hopper. As we headed for a part of the island known as ‘The Neck’ to land, the sun came out and, once again, the sea sparkled turquoise and blue. We were greeted on the beach by both King penguins and the Pole-Evans family, the latter of which have lived on the island since the 1980s. A short walk to the other side of the island gave us great views of nesting Gentoos and Kings, with a backdrop of rolling blue surf on the north side of the island. Some of us headed to the beach to watch a variety of penguins make their way in and out of the surf, while others of us headed up the hill to sit by the Black-browed Albatross and Rockhopper Penguin colonies. The views down to the white sandy beaches were incredible on such a clear and sunny day. The wind picked up a little as our time on Saunders came to an end; this made the ride back to the ship a little wet and bumpy but it was all worthwhile after such a beautiful and memorable landing. In fact it had been a beautiful and memorable Falkland Islands Day!

Day 4: Stanley, Falkland Islands

Stanley, Falkland Islands
Date: 06.12.2018
Position: 51°41’S / 057°50’W
Wind: NW-6
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +9

Overnight, we passed across the top of West Falkland and then East Falkland Islands, made our way south past Berkeley Sound and then entered Port Williams, the large outer harbour leading to Port Stanley. We woke to a sunny morning, with Ali letting us know when we were coming through the Narrows into the capital of the Falkland Islands. During breakfast, the authorities came on board and cleared us through Falklands Customs, so that we were free to land in Stanley. Warned that the breeze might make things a bit splashy, we were not surprised to get a little spray on us during the ride into the dock, where a couple of female Sea Lions were resting. Their dry coats glowed golden, and there was very little movement from them for the duration of our visit. Most of us made a quick stop in the Tourist Office before setting off to explore town. The museum was the furthest from the dock some of us got, and was definitely worthwhile. Full of information about how the local population has lived in both recent and long past times, often told in very intimate first person stories, it really gave us a feel for life on these little islands out in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. The wind increased during the morning, and we spent more time indoors, exploring shops and writing postcards, or walking quickly along the waterfront to warm up a bit – not forgetting to view the stained glass windows in Christchurch Cathedral and the mizzen mast of SS Great Britain (to please Victoria). Many of us bought little snacks and treats from the West Store before returning to the dock to don our lifejackets and hop in a Zodiac for a slightly wet and bumpy ride back to the ship. Wind continued to build and we watched as white lines of foam developed across the surface of the water. Back on board it was time for lunch, followed by a little rest, as we passed from Port Williams to the open ocean, heading towards South Georgia. We could feel the ship begin a very gentle movement, as the waves pushed us along, speeding our progress. After a short afternoon rest, Victoria encouraged us up into the Lounge, where she gave us some of the history of the Falklands. Starting back as early as the 1600s, these little windy islands have had a surprising number of European visitors, all looking to exploit the Southern Ocean. What with Spanish, British, French and others coming and going, the islands have a rich history, well prior to the British - Argentinian conflict which brought the islands to the attention of the modern world. During the afternoon, the seas increased, and we started truly rocking and rolling our way to South Georgia. We also started to get some great bird action around the ship, with both Falklands species and some more cold-water South Georgia species flying around us, enjoying the strong winds. We had a long Recap before dinner, which included a great presentation by fellow passenger Susie Jolly, who was a surgeon on the Canberra, one of the vessels involved in the Falklands Conflict. Her story was fascinating, and we were all very grateful to hear her first-hand tale.

Day 5: At sea en route to South Georgia

At sea en route to South Georgia
Date: 07.12.2018
Position: 52°18’S / 051°05’W
Wind: W-7
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +9

It’s the first day at sea between the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. The ship was affected by swell and rolled a bit. Surprisingly, however, many passengers came to meals on time. The morning wake-up call was made by Expedition Leader Ali at 7.45 am. After breakfast, Fritz gave a lecture on the penguins we saw on the Falkland Islands and the penguins we will see in South Georgia. Fritz thinks that today is proving a very productive day in terms of bird-watching. There have been Wandering Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Giant Petrels, Cape Petrels, prions and several other species of sea birds flying around the ship all day. Pippa gave a lecture about the whales we hope to see on this trip, with Jerry lecturing at the same time and on the same topic to our Chinese passengers in the Dining Room. Many questions were asked and answered, which proved a great opportunity for interaction between staff and guests. In the afternoon the lecture programme continued, with Sara giving a lecture on seals – both eared and true; and in order to help us understand the polar regions better, an episode of the BBC documentary Frozen Planet was shown in the Lounge, shortly after Sara’s lecture. Final activity of the day was Recap & Briefing, with contributions from Adam (on fisheries), Ali (on plans for tomorrow), Victoria (on SS Great Britain) and Fritz (on Falkland birds). In the evening the rolling of the ship got stronger, though the Bridge Officers claimed they were doing their best to keep us on an even keel! Many of the passengers found themselves having fun with sliding chairs and sea-water splashing on the Deck 3 windows during dinner. Most of us went to bed early (but only after enjoying a spectacular sunset) as we lost an hour tonight, in order to change to South Georgia time.

Day 6: At sea en route to South Georgia

At sea en route to South Georgia
Date: 08.12.2018
Position: 52°42’S / 044°39’W
Wind: WSW-5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

At 7.30 am everyone on the ship heard a familiar voice issuing forth from the speakers. It was Ali our Expedition Leader, calling us from Plancius’ Reception Desk, informing us of the date, time and weather/sea conditions. It was our second day of sailing since the ship left Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, heading towards South Georgia. Shortly afterwards breakfast was announced, served from 8 to 9 am. After breakfast at 9.30 am, Ali delivered her presentation about South Georgia. She covered many topics - mentioning Capitan James Cook who first discovered South Georgia, talking of the history of sealing (hunted for their fur and blubber), then the first whaling in the area, which was started by the Norwegian whaler Carl Anton Larsen in 1904. About 170 whales were caught in the first season. After that South Georgia became known for its many whaling stations, though the last of these closed in the early 1960s. Operation Paraquat in 1982 was mentioned, which was the actual beginning of the Falklands War on South Georgia. Ali also delivered a lot of information about the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the studies being done for a more sustainable technique of long-line fishing for Patagonian tooth fish, and mentioned the biggest Marine Reserve so far created on the planet - around South Georgia. Ali finished off her presentation by talking about the recently-completed rat and reindeer eradication programmes, and then gave us a briefing about the wildlife on South Georgia, finally indicating the areas which we could potentially visit. Next up was Biosecurity Vacuuming in the Lounge - the cleaning of our outer-wear and personal back-packs was a mandatory activity before arrival in South Georgia, in order to prevent the transmission of invasive species from other regions of the world. Lunch was served at 12.30 pm and then cleaning our gear continued afterwards, with all guests successfully finished by 2.45.pm. During the afternoon Humpback Whales were sighted by at least three individuals on the starboard side of the ship, with a number of blows observed. Then, at 4 pm (which was also tea-time) Adam, one of our guides, delivered his presentation about his job as a Boating Officer on South Georgia. It was full of interesting anecdotes and captured the spirit of his time there. At 6.15 pm Ali kicked off our Recap & Briefing with some final details on how we need to behave whilst on South Georgia. She talked about the South Georgia environment, its historical heritage and our personal safety while in the Zodiacs and on shore. Dinner was served at 7.30 pm, which finished the day’s formal programme. Afterwards some passengers and staff met up at the bar for a more informal chat before bed. However, not many people stayed up late since we all wanted to be fresh and prepared for our first South Georgia landing tomorrow.

Day 7: Salisbury Plain & Fortuna Bay, South Georgia

Salisbury Plain & Fortuna Bay, South Georgia
Date: 09.12.2018
Position: 54°03’S / 037°19’W
Wind: WNW-6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

The day of our arrival in South Georgia is here; after a bumpy crossing from the Falkland Islands we were all eager to get off the ship and experience the wildlife and landscape that we have been keenly anticipating. Our first landing was to be near the King penguin colony at Salisbury Plain. Ali (our Expedition Leader) made the wake-up call over the tannoy system and gave us the latest weather information. Shortly after, Zsuzsanna invited us to breakfast. We went ashore in the Zodiacs, landing at the beach and were greeted by hundreds of Antarctic Fur Seals (some of whom were friendlier than others!). We followed a flagged route along the beach to an area laced with small streams and ponds; Salisbury Plain was created by the glacial outwash from the retreating Grace glacier and takes its name from Salisbury Plain in the U.K. It is one of two ‘plains’ on South Georgia, the other being Hestesletten (Horse Plain in Norwegian) near Grytviken. Estimates indicate that there are 60,000 pairs of King Penguins breeding here, and during the moult a total of 250,000 could be present. We stayed along the edge of the colony and were able to absorb the scale, beauty and wonder of our first landing. As we looked above the tussac grass we could see the ‘oakum-like’ chicks and hear them whistling for their parents’ attention. We could see the elegant carriage and poise of the adults preening themselves and just standing amongst their kind, but we also saw that somehow they manage to maintain their elegance while wading through the sloppy mud and guano that forms part of the intricate network of paths across the plain (some of us were not so lucky when we went off the main route!). As our eyes travelled to the furthest extent of the colony, inland we saw the scree-covered slopes giving way to snow-covered mountains, reaching into the cloud with rugged charm - helping us appreciate how truly unique South Georgia is. After we had made significant reductions to the size of our cameras’ memory cards, it was time to head back to the landing site. We again went through the tussac and ran the Fur Seal gauntlet with the ever-watchful expedition team ready to intervene. A short Zodiac ride back to our floating home, base and refuge the Plancius followed, and it was then time to have a clean of our boots and outerwear and enjoy a well-earned lunch. Plancius repositioned to Cook Bay, from where we had hoped to see Elephant Lagoon and the old whaling station at Prince Olav harbour but, as we came to recognise, the weather changes very quickly on South Georgia and the wind had increased to over 30 knots - making it unsafe to do this. Fortunately our Expedition Leader Ali had a back-up plan and this was in the form of a landing at Fortuna Bay, which lies to the east of the Bay of Isles and Salisbury Plain. This is the bay from which Sir Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean began the final stage of their overland crossing to Stromness whaling station, to seek help following the entrapment in ice and sinking of their ship the Endurance during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Consequently all other members of the expedition were rescued with no loss of life. We were taken ashore in Zodiacs and walked along the beach. There was an abundance of Fur Seals, albeit on a slightly lesser scale than at Salisbury Plain, but there were more visible harems with the bull seals and females and their pups forming small territories; most problematic were the single adult seals, that kept us rather alert and watching our backs. And we were delighted to see more Elephant Seals on the beach at Fortuna than this morning – albeit not the most enormous ones. But there were a number of Weaners and Moulters lying around looking cute and pathetic respectively. As we walked down the beach we could see pups ranging from less than a day to several weeks old. We also saw Giant Petrels and Skuas waiting for an unguarded pup or placenta to become available for them. Towards the end of the walk we saw some King Penguins that had come from the colony at the end of the bay, where there are an estimated 7,000 pairs. Fortuna Bay takes its name from a whale catcher called Fortuna. Built in Sandefjord, Norway in 1904, she weighed 164 gross tonnes and was 30.3 metres long - one of the three original ships brought to South Georgia by Carl Anton Larsen, who started whaling at Grytviken. At 6 am on 14th May 1916 she ran aground at Hope Point, near Grytviken and sank. The helmsman had just received two letters and was reading them at the time; wreckage can still be seen on the beach. We hiked back along the beach and were then taken back to Plancius, all a bit tired, but happy after our first day on South Georgia. After a most enjoyable dinner, Ali gave us the plans for the following day and we all went to bed to dream of King Penguins and seals, mountains and glaciers…

Day 8: St Andrew’s Bay & Grytviken, South Georgia

St Andrew’s Bay & Grytviken, South Georgia
Date: 10.12.2018
Position: 54°26’S / 036°10’W
Wind: ENE-3
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

After a lovely breakfast we immediately started disembarking towards the beach at St. Andrew’s Bay. As we Zodiac-ed towards the shore, sunshine broke through the cloud to reveal testosterone-fueled juvenile Elephant Seals jousting amongst thousands of penguins. Before we knew it, we were making our first surf landing with help from a couple of the Expedition Staff in waders. The entire mass of passenger humanity slowly worked its way through the crowded throngs of penguins, Elephant Seals and Fur Seals, gradually moving upwards on steep, rocky terrain which finally turned into former reindeer pathways to the top of a small peak. Before reaching the peak, however, we had to cross a fast-flowing river, bringing the melt-water down from the nearby glacier to the sea. Bill showed us how to do it safely and so we formed chains of six or more people by linking arms and crossing the river together - which stabilized us. Thanks to the support of our Expedition Team nobody fell into the freezing water and we all made it to the other side. Coming around the bend of a small knoll we were stunned to see the full population of some 150,000 pairs of King Penguins spread out before us - the largest rookery in South Georgia. Add to these numbers the several tens of thousands of fat, brown and woolly chicks, and you have an unimaginably huge gathering of these striking birds, set against a background of immense mountains covered in glaciers. Fortunately several were standing quite nearby, so we could record their various behaviors, including trumpeting, courtship displays and even mating. Predators and scavengers such as Brown Skuas, Kelp Gulls, Giant Petrels and Snowy Sheathbillls were of course also present in the vicinity of the rookery. What a spectacle! Some were so taken by the lively, chaotic scene that they simply sat and gazed. We were in no hurry and as there was room for all we could spend as much time as we wanted peering down upon the scene. Just before lunch we were driven by our guides back to Plancius, where a decent lunch buffet awaited us. Meanwhile Plancius set sail and headed towards our next landing site of Grytviken. In the afternoon we were invited to the Lounge for a presentation by Dani from the South Georgia Heritage Trust, who gave an overview of the Habitat Restoration project to eradicate the rats from the island over the last seven years. The project was successful and South Georgia has recently been declared free of rodents. She explained what we could do to help by sponsoring a hectare of the island or purchasing items at the gift shop in the museum. After the presentation Zodiacs were ready to take us ashore in good weather conditions. Mount Hodges at the back of the whaling station, and Mount Duse near King Edward Point create a natural sheltered bay and the warm sunshine and lack of wind meant that conditions ashore were perfect. We made our way up to the cemetery where Victoria was ready to propose a short whisky toast to ‘The Boss’, Sir Ernest Shackleton, who died here on board Quest in 1922. His wife Emily requested for him to be buried with the whalers and sailors here on South Georgia. This was followed by a conducted walking tour of Grytviken whaling station. Afterwards, we had time to roam freely about the area, to go shopping and to send some postcards home to our loved ones. We also visited the church, museum and the replica of the James Caird. Reboarding the Zodiacs at the end of this landing was perhaps the easiest one on South Georgia so far as it didn’t involve huge, heavy swells; so we made it back to the ship without getting wet. Finally, we enjoyed a tasty BBQ (with free drinks!) on the back deck, which rounded out the evening perfectly. Many of us danced as if there was no tomorrow. Meanwhile, Ali was busy working on plans for the next day. This wonderful day will long be remembered by guests and staff alike.

Day 9: Cobblers’ Cove & Godthul, South Georgia

Cobblers’ Cove & Godthul, South Georgia
Date: 11.12.2018
Position: 54°17’S / 036°17’W
Wind: Variable
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +9

We travelled south and east overnight, aiming for Godthul, a small, very sheltered bay tucked into the outer coast of the peninsula flanking Cumberland Bay East. We woke to beautifully calm waters, with the sea around us still and flat, no wind, and spectacular views. A few Antarctic Fulmars coasted on the still air beside the ship, but the big birds had gone where the wind was. Before breakfast, the staff took two scout Zodiacs out to explore, testing the conditions and investigating locales for activities. Back on board and following breakfast, Ali held a briefing for passengers with some surprise options for the morning. As conditions were excellent, we were going to take advantage of the situation and aim for Cobblers’ Cove, a tiny indentation just north of Godthul. This miniscule bay was to be the drop-off point for a long, steep walk to see Macaroni Penguins, which were up and over the ridge and further along the coast, at a place called Rookery Point. Those who were too sensible to do the steep climb took the option of a Zodiac cruise around to Cobblers’ Cove, then Rookery Point. The walkers were first onto the boats, out into open water and around the corner into Cobblers’ Cove. Passing through the tiny entrance of the bay, we could immediately hear the Fur and Elephant Seals calling, as well as a few Gentoo Penguins. Landing on a small fur--seal-infested beach, we immediately headed straight up the steepest part of the walk, including some slightly tricky scree surfaces. Ali led us on a zig-zag path uphill, stopping briefly when we reached the summit before heading down the other side of the hill toward the long-awaited Macaronis. Meanwhile, the rest of us cruised in the Zodiacs around to Cobblers’ Cove. Here, we watched the action on the beaches, with mum and pup Fur Seals calling, big males rushing each other, whimpering and occasionally barking and growling, and everything and everybody seemingly shuffling around in constant motion. Giant Petrels had got hold of the remains of something in the shallow waters, ripping and shredding to get at the good bits. The Elephant Seals, while quieter and slower, were just as smelly as the Fur Seals, and equally entertaining. Heading out to sea again, we continued away from the ship towards Rookery Point, where the Macaronis have a very large colony high on the steep slopes of the point. While the Zodiacs surged back and forth in the big swell along the shoreline, we admired how far up the hill the Macaronis climbed, impressed that the stubby legs of a penguin could manage SO much better than us! We were back for a late lunch, which everybody on the strenuous walk enjoyed more for having had the exercise, and then Ali briefed us on the afternoon’s plan, which was to head for the morning's originally intended landing place of Godthul. There were to be three levels of walks, all starting from a very small beach covered in whale bones and near to a rusting camp of metal left from whaling days. There was a short pass through flat tussac, containing a large number of cranky male Fur Seals, then a short (but steep) climb up a narrow tussac-filled gully, where we pulled ourselves uphill using the tall clumps of grass, occasionally falling through between tussacs into invisible mud patches between. Gradually opening out, the hill climb then eased off to an open, gentle and grassy slope. Here we found a Gentoo Penguin colony, with several discrete patches of penguins all sitting on nests made out of bits of grass collected, carried and carefully arranged - everybody exactly beak-poking distance apart. All groups stopped to watch the penguins for a while, but then headed off on independent adventures. The first group (of long hikers, led by Adam and Sara) aimed to summit Edda Hill. The weather started good, with interesting clouds, but then fog rolled over the hill and the summit ascent had to be abandoned for safety reasons. The middle group, led by Ali, Pippa, Fritz and Laura, went past the penguins to a small lake, then on past a number of well-camouflaged Giant Petrels’ nests, followed by a short slope and more Gentoos, then descended back down to the shoreline. FInally, the ‘gentle’ hiking group made their way more gradually towards the Gentoo colony, then sat and took in the views and penguin activity, while listening to the calling of the Pipits in the tussac and the seals on the beaches. A wind came in from out to sea with fog, and our calm flat waters became choppy with some flying spray, so by the time we were going back to the ship, some of us got a bit damp. All experienced South Georgia hands by now, we didn't mind at all. So it was back to Plancius for a relaxing evening of editing photos…and early to bed, as we have a VERY early start planned tomorrow morning, to make the most of our final day on South Georgia.

Day 10: Gold Harbour & Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia

Gold Harbour & Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia
Date: 12.12.2018
Position: 54°37’S / 035°55’W
Wind: NW-4
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +9

Ali woke up the whole ship at 5 AM! There was, of course, a very good reason. This was our last day in South Georgia and we very much needed to seize the moment. The light was wonderful, wind speed tolerable and it was the PERFECT opportunity to spend a few blissful hours on the beach at Gold Harbour – nearly everyone’s favourite place on the whole island – with King Penguins and Elephant Seals of all sizes. Our luck held. We grabbed a pastry from the Lounge/Bar (thank you to Zsuzsanna and her Hotel Team) and were soon lined up at the gangway, quivering with eagerness to board a Zodiac to shore. When Ali and her Shore Party gave the Go Ahead it was just a short (and slightly splashy) ride in. And what a sight greeted our eyes… Unlike at Salisbury Plain and especially at St Andrew’s Bay (where you have to hike out to the King Penguin colony), all the delights of Gold Harbour are right there in front of you as you step out of the Zodiac. Near the landing site was a huge Elephant Seal wallow of moulting giants – skin peeling off, noses dripping white snot, belchy, smelly…and absolutely magical! Although there were only a few Fur Seals on the beach and in the tussac, there were Elephant Seal Weaners (this season’s growing pups – so the hungriest, most curious beasts on the beach) absolutely everywhere. Everyone on that beach before breakfast - passengers, staff and crew alike - had big, foolish grins on their faces. That is the effect the Weaners have. They are rapidly abandoned by their mothers, who having provided as much fatty milk as they are able, urgently need to return to the sea for food. The pups are left hungry…very hungry and prepared to beg for food from the most unlikely sources – such as backpacks, lifejacket bags, emergency supplies and PEOPLE; standing passengers had Weaners lying on their feet gumming their rubber boots to death; seated passengers had Weaners on their laps, sneezing (disgustingly) in their faces and biting at their outer layers. It was utterly enchanting, but totally unproductive for these growing seals. Eventually of course, they will learn to turn to the ocean and fish for themselves. Meanwhile, we were able to enjoy their company at a perfect moment in their ‘childhood’. The sun shone, the sea foamed up the beach and an attraction as popular as watching the Weaners was taking photographs on the edge of the King Penguin colony of course. Wet penguins, dry penguins, sleeping penguins, squabbling penguins, trumpeting penguins, nosy penguins…and then there were the fluffy brown chicks, some grotesquely emerging from baby fur to sleek adult plumage, cheeping to be fed and running around in circles, wings flapping as if trying to take off (though probably just developing the swimming muscles in their flippers). This was a microcosm of the best South Georgia has to offer. And there was more to Gold Harbour than wildlife. It is dominated by mountains and several glaciers, providing a superb backdrop for our photographs. It is worth visiting for the scenery alone, with skuas soaring high in the air over the penguins, Giant Petrels lurching along the beach searching for dead animals in the foreground and even a giant of an Elephant Seal skeleton with skull still attached to admire. We were back on board shortly before 8 am, very hungry now ourselves for breakfast. Meanwhile, Plancius was repositioning the relatively short distance to Cooper Bay, where we were planning to Zodiac cruise later in the morning. However, the wind was rising and although the passing scenery was magnificent, it was clear that the weather was NOT improving as the day progressed. Well, it was lucky we’d seen those Macaronis at Rookery Point yesterday. We couldn’t have lowered our Zodiacs in the prevailing sea conditions, so no chance to get close to them here. So Ali and Captain Artur activated Plan B and we sailed on to the entrance of Drygalski Fjord. Despite steady, strong winds and even stronger occasional gusts, we were able to enter the Fjord and spend about an hour enjoying spectacular views. These are the oldest rocks in South Georgia and some of its most magnificent glaciers. The sun glittered off the ice as Plancius reluctantly spun around and headed out of Drygalski Fjord once again. Time to set our sails (or engines at least) for the Antarctic proper. It had been a long morning and the early part of the afternoon at least was devoted to snoozing for many of us. A number of especially keen souls decided to hear a bit more about the History of South Georgia from Victoria later in the afternoon, which filled in some of the gaps in terms of discovery and British control of the island, sealing, an introduction to whaling and many expeditions both scientific and sovereignty-related, from the 17th century and up to (and beyond) the Falklands conflict of 1982. After that it was soon time for Recap, which focused especially on South Georgia as it dwindled into the distance behind Plancius. Ali told us what it was like to be postmistress there, and trainee Jochem explained how the ice we had seen in Drygalski Fjord was formed and why some of it looked blue. Finally Fritz filled us in with information on South Georgia birds, not forgetting the South Georgia Pintail and South Georgia’s only passerine – the South Georgia Pipit, who has sung to us so sweetly from the tussac over the last four days. And so, in rather good sea conditions, we proceeded on our way to the most remote destination of our trip – Antarctica itself.

Day 11: At sea en route to South Orkney Islands

At sea en route to South Orkney Islands
Date: 13.12.2018
Position: 57°46’S / 039°50’W
Wind: NW-6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

Another beautiful night of sleep in the rocking womb of mother Plancius ended with the, by now, typical morning vocals of EL Ali at 7.45 am. An easy start to a full day at sea, with the activity programme only kicking in at 9.30 am. Today was to prove a memorable day, not only because we had officially reached the Antarctic region by crossing the 60 degrees south line of latitude; today was also a Happy Hour day at the bar… Lynn was up for lecturing first. She introduced us to the polar regions and outlined the differences between the Arctic and Antarctic ends of our small, but hugely diverse, planet. Whereas the similarities between the two polar regions may be obvious, it was very interesting to hear about the incredible complexity of the Arctic ecosystem versus the relatively simple relations of the Antarctic flora and fauna. For example: Greenland hosts over 500 different flowering plants, but Antarctica only two. That is, at the moment. Climate warming in and around Antarctica has created a potential for more species to flourish and this is exactly why today was another day for vacuuming our outer garments and back-packs. No South Georgia seeds, Fur Seal hairs, etc. should be given the chance to reach Antarctic territory! Before all passengers, crew and staff entered the Battle of the Hoover however, we first had a bit of a break for morning coffee and relaxation, then received our International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) briefing from Ali. The rules and regulations presented aim to minimize human impact on Antarctic wildlife and prevent the introduction of intruder species. With all our pockets clean and our stomachs filled by Ralf, it was up to Laura to energize the passengers through their after-lunch dip in concentration. A very comprehensive lecture about Antarctic ice and the potential impact of climate change on the continent did the job marvellously, and at around 4.45 pm it was, once again, Ali’s turn to present the plans for tomorrow. Victoria took over the rocking stage and immediately tried to reassure our slightly saturated brains that they would cope: “My recap should last no longer than 6.5 minutes”… In non-Victorian timings this meant a little over double that length of time. Nonetheless, the crowd was, naturally, very interested to hear the relatively unknown story of a man called William Speirs Bruce. Since he was Scottish, found his own sponsors and therefore refused to join Scott’s team in order to launch his own expedition, the British newspapers largely ignored him. What’s more, they did not really have anything to report on him in any case, because nothing went wrong. For the Scotia Expedition’s over-wintering Bruce built a hut on the South Orkney Islands, where nowadays we find Orcadas Research Station. After his year of research in the area, Bruce kindly offered his base to the British government, who didn’t want it. This is how Laurie Island on the South Orkneys came to be inhabited by the Argentines, who, right up to the present day, man the research station there year round. However, all land south of 60 degrees south cannot BELONG to any country – as it is deemed to be terra nullius – held in trust by the Antarctic Treaty countries for the benefit of all. No matter how exciting, no lecture can cause the passengers as much joy as the announcement of the Plancius’ Happy Hour, followed by an auction (proceeds to the South Georgia Heritage Trust) with amazing and totally unique items – even penguin key-rings, kilt-flashes and artwork generously provided by passengers and staff alike... In fact it was primarily the auctioning of two of Bill’s fabulous drawings, which took the total raised to over 1400 euros for the SGHT - an organization aiming to preserve the history and the cultural heritage of the South Georgia Archipelago. A wonderful day at sea came to an end after a delicious dinner and for the writer, after deliberately losing a ‘friendly’ poker game by going all-in or nothing. This was a desperate act of rashness; but being a trainee on Plancius is a magical experience and Antarctica is a very all-or-nothing place. Sweet dreams everyone.

Day 12: Orcadas Base, Laurie Island, South Orkney Islands

Orcadas Base, Laurie Island, South Orkney Islands
Date: 14.12.2018
Position: 60°44’S / 044°43’W
Wind: S-5
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

This morning we anchored at Laurie Island, South Orkney Islands around 8.30 am, from where we had a beautiful view of the bay with many cliffs and icebergs. After breakfast, around 9 am, the first group went ashore to visit Orcadas Station, the Argentine base, located between Scotia Bay and Uruguay Bay. The tour was led by the station staff. There were 18 of them, including just four women, with five of them civilians and the rest military. This station is the oldest in Antarctica, with first settlement in 1903 by the Scottish. In 1904, because the British were not interested in the station, the Scottish decided to sell it to Argentina. First we visited the ruins of the original settlement and then we went to the museum, located in the first Argentine building, constructed in 1905. In the museum it was possible to learn more about the history of the area and its geology and biology; it also contained rooms reconstructed from the base’s early 20th century days. After we had finished in the museum, we went over to the other side of the island, to Uruguay Bay to get a nice view of icebergs, cliffs and glaciers. Finally we reached the cemetery, where there were ten graves. However, only three bodies are buried on the island, as four men were taken back to their home countries and the last three Argentinean memorials from 1998 are for three men who were lost at sea. Our visit ended in the principal building of the station, where we had tea and coffee with the really friendly base personnel. Orcadas has long carried out scientific survey work such as meteorology, magnetic studies, seismology, biology, etc. and it was interesting to hear its science and logistics team talking about their daily lives and research. We were told that Orcadas is located in an area that is sensitive to bad weather. They have storms from time to time throughout the year. Also, if there is an earthquake, they are susceptible to tsunamis, the most recent of which happened in the winter of 2009. This was fortunate timing as the sea ice in the bay acted as a barrier, protecting the station from flooding. During lunch, we left the bay and headed out into open sea in the direction of the Antarctic Peninsula. Between 1pm and 3 pm we had wonderful sightings of some massive icebergs (tabular and many other shapes) floating around the South Orkney Islands, beneath a beautiful blue sky. In the afternoon Victoria gave us a passionate talk about the life of Shackleton, from his childhood to the horrifying Endurance expedition, which spent more than a year trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea before reaching Elephant Island. From there, Shackleton and five colleagues sailed the lifeboat James Caird nearly 800 miles to South Georgia at the beginning of winter. All the crew members were saved, though despite this success story, the expedition overall had failed in its attempt to cross the Antarctic Continent from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea via the South Pole. After that, around 4.30 pm, we had a viewing of another episode of the amazing BBC documentary Frozen Planet, with its impressive footage of both Antarctica and the Arctic. Then it was time for our daily Recap & Briefing, featuring Lynn on the Antarctic Convergence and Bill with a virtual tour of Plancius’ engine room, which took us up to dinner time. Bon appétit.

Day 13: At sea en route to Antarctic Peninsula

At sea en route to Antarctic Peninsula
Date: 15.12.2018
Position: 61°51’S / 050°55’W
Wind: NW-7
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

When we woke up this morning there was a lot to see outside, despite the slightly gloomy weather. There were large groups of Cape Petrels flying around the ship, several albatrosses and a few Southern Fulmars, a species we hadn’t seen a lot so far on this voyage. Every so often we could also spot the odd giant iceberg floating in the distance, most of which were being pushed towards us from the Weddell Sea. After breakfast many of us headed up into the lounge for the first lecture of the day, ‘Whaling in the Southern Ocean’, which was delivered by Pippa. Despite the bleak and sobering nature of the subject it was very interesting to hear how whaling in the early - mid 20th century brought whale populations to the brink of extinction, making us realise how lucky we are to have had relatively frequent whale sightings already on this voyage. As the plan for the following day included a visit to Paulet Island it only seemed appropriate that the next lecture was about the Nordenskjöld Expedition which visited this area. Victoria explained some of the intricacies of this complicated and extraordinary mixture of good science and adventure, led by the Swedish explorer Otto Nordenskjöld, between 1901 and 1904. With this new insight into the history of the Weddell Sea region, we headed off to lunch even more excited about the upcoming days. After lunch we were given a very interesting talk by Ralf, Head Chef on board, about what it is like to cook for a ship full of passengers and crew in the polar regions. Everything was covered from logistics, ordering, recycling, challenges of resupply in remote places, and improvisation on board with menus and different dietary requirements. We learned a lot about how much food was used, including 4,500 eggs, 400 litres of milk - in fact 10,000 kg of food in total for our trip. No wonder we all feel so well fed on this voyage! Everyone who attended was fascinated by what Ralf had to say and he happily answered a lot of quirky questions. It certainly made our weekly shop at the supermarket seem very easy in comparison. At 4 pm Adam invited us to the Lounge for a presentation about a bygone era, when there were sledge dogs in Antarctica. It started with the historic expeditions of Scott and Amundsen, and continued into modern times until 1994, when dogs had to be removed due to the Madrid Protocol, which does not allow “foreign organisms” south of 60 degrees (apart from humans!). The dogs, despite being working animals, provided over-winterers with a ‘best friend’, and were in return showered with affection, especially when there were puppies around. Adam’s talk was much enjoyed over the obligatory afternoon tea and cake. During recap Ali informed us about the plans for the next day and Kasia gave a short presentation about plankton (especially krill), which of course lie at the base of the Southern Ocean food chain. After another excellent meal prepared by our Galley Team, most of us headed back into the Lounge where, Arturo, one of our guests and a professional photographer, gave a very interesting presentation about how to take better photos in the polar regions. He gave us lots of useful tips and techniques which we can try over the next few days – hopefully now we will get even more photos we are happy with. After which most of us headed off to bed, full of anticipation for what was about to come: the Antarctic Peninsula itself! We should be in Antarctic Sound by around 2.30 am tomorrow…

Day 14: Brown Bluff, Antarctic Peninsula

Brown Bluff, Antarctic Peninsula
Date: 16.12.2018
Position: 63°33’S / 055°46’W
Wind: SW-5
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

Early in the morning Plancius sailed into Antarctic Sound. For those who got up at 2.30 am, the sunrise was majestic among the mountains covered in snow and ice. Around 7 am the captain moved the ship into position off Paulet Island, our first destination for this Sunday morning. From the Bridge we could see the Adelie colony and the remains of the hut that was left by the Nordenskjöld Expedition’s Captain Larsen on the island, back in 1903. It was windy and there was ice floating around; for safety Plancius was not anchored, so she could move quickly if needed. While the passengers were having breakfast, Zodiacs were hanging on the crane with waves almost touching them! As the ship was drifting too fast with the wind and current, launching the Zodiacs was impossible despite our best efforts. So the landing at Paulet Island had to be cancelled due to waves, wind and swell – a story many of the early 20th-century explorers would have found familiar! As the sun was now out and everybody was already dressed for outside adventures, we stayed out on the decks and enjoyed the majestic views, with Adelie Penguins swimming and diving amongst the waves on both sides of Plancius. The magical Antarctic experience got even better when Humpback Whales were spotted. Captain Artur stopped the ship and gave us an excellent view of these whales for at least an hour. We saw a total of seven Humpback Whales, showing off their fins, flippers and tail flukes when they dived, making for a memorable whale-watching experience, which was enjoyed by everyone. Our buffet lunch was announced slightly earlier than usual, so that we would be able to have a long afternoon at Brown Bluff with the Adelie Penguin colony there. Conditions looked good as we launched two staff boats to scout the landing site. But katabatic winds coming in from the two glaciers on either side of Brown Bluff did not make for an easy landing, with lots of big, dumpy swells. However, Plancius’ experienced staff found a landing spot that was not too bad and made a safe landing possible. On shore we had a beautiful afternoon with Adelies and Gentoos and many chicks as well. If we waited patiently (despite the strong, cold Antarctic wind and even a brief snow flurry), we could see parents feeding their young, while other parents were busily heading out to sea to get more food. Along the shore many Adelies were busy marching back and forth from their rookery to the ocean and vice versa; they seemed to need an optimum number before daring to plunge into the water, often changing their minds and patrolling further along the beach to find the best spot. For those interested in the glacier, a safe route was found between it and the brash ice on the beach, to gain a beautiful view. Looking out to sea we could see Plancius nicely framed by three icebergs. It was a memorable first day on the continent of Antarctica. On our return Ali briefed us on our activities tomorrow in the South Shetland Islands and we heard from Fritz and Laura about today’s birds and ice respectively. Dinner was buzzing with excited discussion of what we’d seen today and what tomorrow would bring.

Day 15: Half Moon Island & Whalers’ Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands

Half Moon Island & Whalers’ Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands
Date: 17.12.2018
Position: 62°35’S / 059°54’W
Wind: SW-4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

Throughout the night Plancius steamed north to the South Shetland Island archipelago, where we planned to visit Half Moon and Deception Islands. In the early hours of the morning, we approached Half Moon Island under clear blue skies and in calm seas. This small, crescent-shaped island lies in between Livingston and Greenwich Islands, and there is a summer Argentinian Research Base (Camara) here. Half Moon Island is a nesting site for Chinstrap Penguins, which we could see from the ship as we had breakfast and prepared for the landing. On shore we walked round the island to the main Chinstrap colony; on the way we saw a Weddell Seal resting on the beach. At the colony the Chinstraps were busy keeping their eggs warm and maintaining their nests. Amongst the black heads a tuft of yellow was spotted – a single Macaroni Penguin, nesting amongst all the Chinstraps. Known to the guides as ‘Kevin’, this Macaroni has been spotted living amongst the Chinstraps for years during nesting season. After a happy couple of hours we headed back towards the landing site, weaving our way through the incredible, lichen-coated, standing rock formations scattered with nesting penguins and penguin highways. Close to the first, small Chinstrap colony was a magnificent viewpoint, with vistas over both sides of the island, including the ice-filled bay to the west facing Livingston Island. Before heading back to the ship, the brave (or foolish) amongst us stripped off and jumped into the icy Antarctic waters for our polar plunge. A quick dash back to the ship and a warm shower to get some heat back into us before lunch was required after the plunge. During lunch and the early part of the afternoon we sailed south-west to Deception Island. This island is in fact a caldera - the result of a volcanic eruption, whereby the volcano collapsed in on itself and formed a large crater. At Deception Island part of the crater wall subsequently collapsed and let water in, so the centre of the caldera is accessible for vessels to sail into. The body of water inside is called Port Foster. To get us in the mood Adam showed a short film about scientists evacuating their base during an eruption back in the 1960s, followed by Victoria telling us about whaling, science and the first Antarctic flights from this spot, then by Laura on Deception Island’s geology. Access to Deception Island is through a narrow opening in the caldera called Neptune’s Bellows; everyone was out on deck or looking out of the windows as Captain Artur navigated us safely into the caldera, where we intended to land at Whalers’ Bay, just inside the Bellows. This bay was used by Norwegian whalers for shore-based whaling operations as early as 1911. The beach is pitch black and covered with volcanic sand and rock; as we reached the beach, we noticed steam rising from the water- evidence of the warmer-than-average temperatures found here as a result of volcanic activity. We spent the afternoon exploring the remains of the whaling station, including the few remaining whalers’ graves in the cemetery, which was buried by an eruption in 1969. The old buildings are warped and aged, memorials to the way of life down here. Some of us walked the length of the beach past the whaling station towards a notch in the caldera walls called Neptune’s Window. On the way we saw lots of whale bones, remnants of whaling and water boats, as well as piles of wood used to make barrels for whale oil. A short, steep hike up the walls of the caldera gave us a spectacular view ahead through Neptune’s Window towards the peninsula, and back over the entire caldera. Nesting Storm and Cape Petrels were spotted on the cliff faces and a few Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins were taking a break along the shoreline too as we wandered back to the Zodiacs. It is not often you can say you sailed into and hiked inside an active volcano – but that is just what we did today. Now we head back to the Antarctic Peninsula overnight! Ali briefed us about our two anticipated landings tomorrow – another continental landing at Neko Harbour and an afternoon visit to Port Lockroy’s museum, shop and post office. Last Antarctic shopping opportunity coming up tomorrow.

Day 16: Neko Harbour & Port Lockroy, Goudier Island/ Jougla Point, Antarctic Peninsula

Neko Harbour & Port Lockroy, Goudier Island/ Jougla Point, Antarctic Peninsula
Date: 18.12.2018
Position: 64°49’S / 062°36’W
Wind: NW-3
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

Intense early morning excitement even before breakfast…everyone woke to find Plancius sliding gently through a stunning seascape studded with sparkling, drifting ice floes. Pulses quickened as the Bridge reported sightings of Orca and Humpback whales…first dead ahead…then port-side…then more to starboard. Indeed they were all around the ship. Cameras clicked feverishly, long lenses zoomed; delighted passengers uttered cries of joy each time the massive back or flukes of a whale broke surface. One appeared to put on a spectacular performance for a few minutes - first a dramatic breach, then a series of rolls with its enormous flippers held aloft, waving from side to side. Another obviously sleeping Humpback appeared on the starboard side like a huge, partially submerged log bobbing gently on the surface. It did not even stir as Plancius slid past, powered as it was by its amazingly quiet diesel electric engines. At 8.15 am two scout boats were launched when the ship arrived at the dramatic location of Neko Harbour, to anchor amidst more drifting ice and huge bergs. Staff then drove to the lee-shore landing area to check access. Fortunately there were no hazards and as the zone was clear, everyone was able to land and spend time with the Gentoo Penguins – then climb a steep slope to a viewpoint which enabled them to look down on the crumbling glacier front. We witnessed several small snow avalanches tumbling down the steep mountainside. After shuttling passengers, Bill and his trainees in two boats cruised deeper into the fjord for some boat-handling experience in ice. After quite a lengthy repositioning amidst wind and waves, at 4.30 pm Plancius arrived at the historic British Base (now a time-capsule museum and Post Office) of Port Lockroy. The museum had a shop…whoopee…a shop! Much excitement amongst passengers addicted to purchasing everything penguin and getting a stamp in their passports. A representative from the museum boarded the ship and gave a short talk explaining the history of the base and focus of present penguin research. Passengers split into two groups. One landed to view penguins/shags at Jougla point and the other at the fascinating museum and base on Goudier Island. Conditions were windy and cold and for many the ride into the wind and waves back to the ship was a rather wet and numbing experience. But this is an expedition! The busy day ended with a buzzing bar and a beautiful, atmospheric sunset. And a special couple who had experienced a ‘pre-wedding’ event on the ice at Neko Harbour were toasted with champagne – to a happy future!

Day 17: Melchior Islands, Antarctic Peninsula

Melchior Islands, Antarctic Peninsula
Date: 19.12.2018
Position: 64°19’S / 062°58’W
Wind: W-7
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

The day started with the usual wake-up call from Expedition Leader Ali, shortly followed by the call to breakfast by Hotel Manager Zsuzsanna. The Expedition Team were all dressed up ready to go out and launch Zodiacs, but there was a strong wind blowing (about 30 knots) and for a while it looked as if the planned Zodiac cruise might not happen. As it was, with ten boats in the water, Ali and co. assessed weather conditions and it was decided that we could go ahead with a Zodiac cruise amongst the Melchior Islands – our last activity before departing Antarctica. We were all eager to get out and see what there was to see. The Melchior Islands consist of a magical-looking cluster, with their glistening, smooth, snowy tops shining in the occasional burst of sunshine; their sheer cliffs of rock and ice rise dramatically from the ocean and they are separated by narrow channels – a great place to see grounded icebergs. Nestling in Dallman Bay, their waters are relatively sheltered for Zodiac cruising. The Expedition Staff had decided to honour the approach of Christmas today, and were dressed in silly costumes and head gear - some had donned santa hats, but there were also penguin and polar bear drivers respectively. We took in the sights and sounds of the Melchiors as we cruised along at the foot of the ice cliffs and near to large icebergs, admiring their colour, shape and texture. There were plenty of Antarctic Terns and Blue-eyed Shags around (quite low-flying) and at one point some passengers saw a small group of Crabeater Seals in the water. All too soon for most of us, the cruise was at an end; the good thing about getting back on-board Plancius was that we were getting a bit chilly. As we made our way up the gangway we were welcomed back on-board by the Hotel Team with hot chocolate, whipped cream and amaretto. Delicious! And it was still only 10 am… Owing to impending bad weather we had to set sail and the rest of the morning was quiet. The Lounge was empty as people caught up on the sleep they’ve not been able to get with so much going on during the past few days! However, lunch was well attended and in the afternoon Pippa gave a talk on the Killer Whales/Orca we were lucky enough to see yesterday morning. Later on a documentary about Port Lockroy was shown, entitled: ‘Penguin Post Office’. It was fascinating to watch this after having just visited it ourselves. As the evening progressed Plancius began to roll a bit more, but nothing too bad yet…At our Recap & Briefing, Pippa regaled us with more whale tales – Humpbacks this time - and Sara also gave us an amusing summary on Sailors’ Superstitions – no more whistling, crossing of fingers, wearing of black clothes or presence of WOMEN on the ship, please! After dinner the Bar was of course open. We celebrated our entry into the infamous Drake Passage with a nightcap and then headed for bed, wondering what tomorrow’s weather would bring.

Day 18: At sea, Drake Passage en route to Ushuaia, Argentina

At sea, Drake Passage en route to Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 20.12.2018
Position: 60°08’S / 064°25’W
Wind: NNW-6
Weather: Rain & fog
Air Temperature: +2

Something was missing this morning. Right, it was Ali’s lovely voice doing the wake-up call! Instead, at 8 am we were kindly informed by Zsuzsanna that a breakfast buffet was awaiting us in the Dining Room. Unusually, after breakfast, due to foggy outside weather conditions the birders amongst us mostly stayed inside the ship, so the lectures (see below) were well attended, especially as the wind had calmed down a bit, rendering the shaking of Plancius bearable. Dr. Annemarie had also dosed us up with pills and patches, so seasickness is no longer a problem. At 9.30 am our Expedition Leader Ali gave a presentation about women in Antarctica - some of the women behind the famous explorers and women who have made their mark on the continent in their own right. Luckily, at present women in Antarctica are represented pretty much 50:50 in most National Antarctic Programmes. After a relaxing tea break, Victoria presented her lecture ‘Shackleton’s Forgotten Men’ in the Lounge. Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition was only half of the story as, at the same time, he sent another ship (Aurora) to the Ross Sea. His men were tasked to lay supply depots towards the South Pole. It is truly a story of both success and tragedy. After a lovely lunch at about 12.30 pm we were ready for some more information input. So in the afternoon Laura presented her lecture about Antarctic Geology and Minerals. As we have been fortunate enough to step foot on the continent of Antarctica at both Brown Bluff and Neko Harbour, we were keen to find out more about the rocks that lay beneath our feet. Soon after this there was a quick briefing by Ali and Captain Artur about the progress we are making on our way through the Drake Passage (trying to avoid the purple patches on the chart!) and we were given an updated arrival time in Ushuaia. At 5 pm, Zsuzsanna and Bobby sounded the bell for another Happy Hour at the bar. Shortly after, Sara was the ‘Quiz Mistress’ presenting the Plancius Pub Quiz, ably supported by Ali. Several teams with funny names were hastily formed. Each team had to give their best while answering questions about the voyage and the destinations we have travelled to. This is how we test passengers’ concentration in the lectures! It was simultaneously competitive (cries of ‘I TOLD you it was ‘C’’) and great fun and the winning team were finally rewarded with a round of free drinks at the Bar. Because visibility did not improve during the day, just a few birds showed up around the ship. Fortunately, two Blue Petrels appeared in the afternoon, which made the birders’ day! Now it was Zsuszsanna’s turn to explain how we would settle our bills at the end of the trip…We didn’t let this spoil our lovely dinner however and on this penultimate evening, we had the opportunity to meet and greet the Galley Team, which we very much appreciated. The Bar was busy straight after dinner, but people tended to fade away as Plancius began to move more with the deteriorating weather. It was just as Ali and Captain Artur had promised! Still, it’s not really a problem during the night. The rolling of the ship merely lulls us to sleep like babies and by the time we wake up tomorrow morning, we will be approaching the shelter of the South American mainland.

Day 19: At sea, Drake Passage en route to Ushuaia, Argentina

At sea, Drake Passage en route to Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 21.12.2018
Position: 55°52’S / 065°27’W
Wind: W-8
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +9

During the night the forecast winds arrived and by 1 am it was blowing a steady 40 knots with gusts of over 60 knots, which caused quite a rolling motion in our bunks. After a somewhat disturbed night’s sleep many of us chose to wake a little later and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. With the outside decks still closed for safety, most of us headed up to the Lounge for the first lecture of the day, which was given by Fritz. His chosen subject was ‘Protection of Antarctic’, a subject now very close to our hearts after spending these past wonderful days down on the Antarctic Peninsula and being inspired to protect this incredible environment and its wildlife for future generations to enjoy. His lecture prompted a lot of interested debate amongst the guests about the future of Antarctica, the effects of tourism, and possible conservation schemes. In fact many of us were left wondering how we might be able to help by making some different life-style choices when we return home. We just about had time for a quick coffee break and a stretch of the legs – and maybe a quick trip to the Bridge to examine the weather (though it was rather empty this morning as we rocked and rolled) before it was time for our last lecture of the trip - ‘Art and the Sea’ given by Bill, again very thought-provoking and well-presented. The lecture programme during our voyage has certainly encompassed a whole host of interesting and informative subjects and has really added to the overall enjoyment and understanding of what we have experienced over the past 19 days. Birders were in for a last-minute treat, with much more to see around the ship than yesterday, including the Great-winged Petrel, Royal Albatross and Wandering Albatross. After lunch the Hotel Team decorated Plancius for Christmas, whilst the Expedition Staff collected our good old, faithful ‘Muck Boots’; my goodness, we would have been lost without them at times, (remember the river crossing at St Andrew’s Bay and the cold at Port Lockroy and Jougla Point?). The final household chore of the day, apart from settling our accounts (after dinner) was to start the dreaded packing process. Many of us were left questioning why we had bought all those souvenirs in Stanley, Grytviken and Port Lockroy - suitcases are now bursting at the seams! At 4 pm we headed back in to the Lounge once more, not only to savour our final afternoon tea treat, but to see the results of the on-board Photo Competition. To see the 150 entries (subdivided into three categories - landscape, wildlife and people) was a fantastic reminder of our incredible trip and all the wonderful memories we will be able to take home with us. While the all-important judging took place, there was time for Arturo (our professional photographer-passenger on board) to share with us a short slideshow he has made of this voyage, again adding to the positive vibe in the lounge. It really has been a superb trip, with countless photographic opportunities. Ever since mid-morning we had been seeing land and in the early evening we started up the Beagle Channel with our pilot to guide us into Ushuaia. After a bumpy couple of days at sea it was lovely to be allowed out on deck again to enjoy the views, though this time not of ice, but of the dramatic landscape of Tierra del Fuego. At 6pm we were invited to the Lounge for Captain’s Farewell Cocktails. It was great to meet with Captain Artur a final time, to toast a successful and exciting voyage, and a few formal farewells were said. The staff had also contributed photos for a final slide show which Pippa put together with some appropriate music. It was a fitting end to the day to have a last look back over our Plancius voyage and to remember the places we have visited and the wonderful things we have seen. The night was spent alongside in the port of Ushuaia where we had come early to avoid the storms in the area. This allowed for a very comfortable night’s rest, which was much appreciated as many of us will be starting long journeys home in the morning.

Day 20: Disembarkation in Ushuaia, Argentina

Disembarkation in Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 22.12.2018
Position: 54°53’S / 067°52’W

We awoke this morning in Ushuaia, Argentina. We have survived the Drake Passage! As we disembarked it seemed strange not to be getting into Zodiacs, not to be wearing life jackets, not to be turning our tags and to be heading for our first dry landing in weeks… We are back in the real world; back from our remarkable journey to the Falkland Islands, to South Georgia and to Antarctica. Our glimpse into life in these remote (and sometimes inhospitable) places is something we will treasure for the rest of our lives as we meander through our photos and revisit memories of penguins, seals, whales and shipboard friends from Plancius. So, breakfasted and clutching our passports, we descended the gangway and headed our several ways – into Ushuaia for final Christmas shopping, to hotels or straight to the airport. May our journey home go smoothly. A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2019 to one and all. Total distance sailed on our voyage: 3641 Nautical Miles On behalf of everyone on board we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.

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