PLA24-15 Trip log | Antarctic Peninsula
29.12.2015 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going south of south...a long way south. But for today, we ambled about this lovely Patagonian city, savouring the local flavours and enjoying the sights.
Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 70,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Ushuaia (lit. “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue) clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting. The rugged spine of the South American Andes ends here, where two oceans meet. As could be expected from such an exposed setting, the weather has the habit of changing on a whim. However, temperatures during the long days of the austral summer are relatively mild, providing a final blanket of warmth before heading off on our adventures.
For many of us this is the start of a lifelong dream. The excitement comes in different forms for each unique person, but even the most experienced of us feels genuine excitement to depart on a journey to the Great White Continent of Antarctica. Most passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board our ship MV Plancius, home for the next 10 days.
We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition staff who sorted our luggage and sent us on board to meet the Hotel and Restaurant Managers, André and Robert. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of our fabulous Filipino crew.
A little while after boarding we convened in the lounge on deck five to meet First Officer Jaanus, 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. Once we were on our way into the Beagle Channel we were invited once again to the lounge to meet our Hotel Manager André who gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next 10 days or so. We then met our Expedition Leader, Sebastian Arrebola and the rest of the Expedition Team who will guide us in Antarctica.
We toasted to our voyage with a glass of Prosecco, unfortunately our Captain, Alexey Nazarov, was busy up on the bridge since the wind had picked up and prevented us from leaving the pier. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chefs 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 South towards Antarctica.
As we woke up this morning it was a nice day, some snowflakes were falling and sea conditions were being kind to us for our first day on board. Not all the people made it down for breakfast, the first day at sea is always the worst, as the body needs to get used to the movements! Our first lecture of the day was given by our expedition leader Sebastian, he introduced us to the Antarctic Geography. He talked about the Antarctic treaty and the famous polar front, which we hoped to cross soon. After that, many of us went to the outer decks to have some fresh air.
Thankfully the weather stayed favourable with only a slight swell and enough wind to allow the seabirds to follow the ship. Not only the keen birders had their fun seeing the largest albatross, the wandering albatross, flying around Plancius. We were also able to see southern giant petrels, cape petrels, black browed albatross and many more. All our questions about birds were answered by Christophe, our ornithologist on board, later this morning during his talk about “Birds of the South Atlantic and Antarctic”. He showed us all the feathered animals that we might encounter during our journey and gave us some good tips on how to identify them.
Secretly, some Christmas elves decorated the ship during this morning, now Plancius is ready for the celebration! After a great first lunch in the dining room most of us had a nap in the cabin, the rolling of the ship makes you feel tired. For those of us who signed up for camping, there was a meeting with our camping guide, Mariela, at 3 o`clock in the afternoon. We got informed about the procedure of camping in Antarctica and are happy to try it out soon. Another mandatory meeting took place with our kayaking guide Shelli, she informed us about the timing of our kayak adventures. Our second lecture of the day was about sea ice by our Assistant Expedition Leader, Andrew. He had only spoken a few words when, suddenly, all people in the bar were running to the window shouting “whale, whale!” The announcement came right after, a Fin whale was close to the ship. After a while of observing the blows and fin of this gigantic marine mammal, Andrew continued with his talk. He explained to us how sea ice is formed and talked about the organisms that grew underneath.
In the early evening, before dinner, Sebastian invited everyone to the lounge for a recap. He gave us a short briefing about tomorrow’s plans, it seemed that we would have some important meetings (IAATO & zodiac briefing, vacuum cleaning...). Valerie talked about the Antarctic Convergence, where the relatively warm waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans meet the colder and denser waters of the Southern Ocean. We would cross this special zone, which acts as a biological border, that night. Barbara talked about sea birds and their special adaptation to the life at sea, the avian salt gland.
There was a definite buzz as everyone made their way down to the dining room for dinner; exciting days ahead!
It was 7:30 am when we heard the wakeup call. We looked outside and everything we saw was fog, a good indication we were crossing the convergence zone. We knew we had a busy day ahead of us, so we headed to the Observation Lounge for the first meeting of the day: IAATO and Zodiac Safety briefings.
When we opened the curtains again, snow was slowly falling down showing us beautiful and huge crystal snowflakes. Most of us went towards the outside decks to take pictures and set up time lapses at the bow. We were able to see some Cape Petrels, Southern Fulmars and a Royal Albatross.
We heard the call of our Expedition Leader to go to the Boot Room and pick up our rubber boots. After trying different sizes and models, we got our gear.
After lunch, we went to the lounge for a “Vacuuming Party”!! Part of the IAATO regulations, in order to prevent introducing foreign species to Antarctica, is to vacuum all the outer gear and bags we are going to take ashore. Antarctica was getting closer and we knew it.
Last meetings included a talk on “Seals of Antarctica” and a final meeting with the Kayak Guide to gear up everybody.
We went to have dinner knowing that the next day would be our first one at the Peninsula and we were ready to enjoy it!
Sebastian’s morning wake-up announcement was almost not required as most of us were already up and marvelling at the passing scenery while we sailed the Gerlache Strait – a stunning introduction to the Antarctic Peninsula.
After breakfast we assembled in the lounge for a pre-landing briefing before donning our waterproofs and boarding the zodiacs. Snowshoes set, we followed Andrew up to the top of Danco Island while a few other of us walked along the shoreline. After a decent amount of time on land to stretch our legs and enjoy gentoo penguins we returned to Plancius for lunch while we re-positioned for our afternoon landing at Cuverville.
Cuverville Island, home to a big gentoo penguin colony, has been named after the "Chevalier de Cuverville" – a viceadmiral from the French navy. Both our landing and the following zodiac cruise allowed us to have great encounters with wildlife and stunning views on the many icebergs in the water.
In the afternoon, as Plancius sailed southwards, we all gathered in the dining room for our daily recap. Sebastian gave us the plan for the following day and Christophe provided us with complementary information about gentoo penguins.
A hot dinner was enjoyed by all after everyone was on board, but the day was not over yet! A group of 28 campers with their guides Mariela and Valeria were quickly assembled after dinner and camping gear was handed out to all. Christophe and Barbara were the taxi drivers taking the expectant group of campers for their night on the frozen continent! A very pleasant slalom run by zodiac for one mile between the myriad shaped icebergs delivered the campers and guides to a small island located in the very protected “Leith Cove”, named for a Norwegian whaling family that operated a shore based factory whaling ship from this cove at the turn of the last century! Campers were left on the island and by 21:30pm the last of the zodiacs returned from their mission to drop off campers. The day finished with excited recounting of stories by all, of their first day on the world’s southern-most continent!
Danco Island was our first excursion opportunity since boarding the Plancius two days prior, and there was much excitement amongst the kayak team. Waking to a land of ice and snow, we also had the good fortune of calm waters. Organizing our gear and launching the kayaks was the first event before we headed down the gang way and into the zodiac. Transiting a short way away from the ship and towards the island, we loaded into the kayaks and started to explore the rocky shoreline. Many Gentoo penguins were observed entering and exiting the waters, bathing and preening before heading up the hill towards the colony. We paddled out to a small rocky island and were rewarded with two different species of seal hauled out. One crab-eater and one Weddell, as we circled around the rocks the Weddell began to “sing”, a rare and beautiful thing to experience. A few thunderous sounds were heard from across the Errera Channel as one small avalanche came down from high up. Looping back towards the landing site we passed several large bergs and took time for photographs as the morning light continually transitioned. A very successful first excursion.
Wake up call was at 7am today but many of us were already up, especially the ones who had spent the night ashore, they were easily identified with their sleepy faces.
After breakfast we started with landing operations. The day was calm and “warmish” and the reflections in Paradise Bay just amazing, no wonder why it’s called so. Brown Base, an Argentinian summer station, is located here. The base caught fire in 1984 and after being closed for a long time in the recent years they have started to slowly clean up the place. However, the summer personnel were not there yet, the only occupants were the gentoo penguins nesting around the base.
For this activity we would divide in two groups, one would go to shore and the other zodiac cruising and then we would swap. We were all pretty excited because this would be a continental landing, and for some of us it was the 7th continent.
Once on land we started a hike to a viewpoint high in the mountain. It was a pretty tough hike since the snow was very deep at the beginning of the track and we kept on sinking up to our knees. The trail started getting steeper and steeper when we finally made it to the top, the view was definitely worth the effort. The scenery, the peacefulness and the reflections in the calm waters of the bay were the exact combination for a perfect morning. We stopped by another lower viewpoint on our way down to the landing site.
The cruise in Skontorp Cove was absolutely enjoyable. Round the corner of the base we approached a colony of Antarctic cormorants, it was quite easy to spot them since all the rocks had been painted white with guano. We sailed between icebergs of the most capricious shapes, sizes and colours, and as we made our way through this icy labyrinth we came across a Crabeater seal.
At the very back of the cove a stunning glacier was waiting for us. The landscape was now breath-taking and the reflections a true mirror. Another day in Paradise…
After lunch we were ready for our afternoon landing in Useful island, located in the middle of Gerlache Strait. Its name refers to the fact that it’s never totally covered in snow and therefore always visible resulting in a very useful island for navigation. We hiked up almost to the top for an astonishing view and to enjoy the Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins nesting up there. On our way down we made another stop to have a look at the Weddell seals resting peacefully on the floes.
It was getting chilly and it was time to go, so we headed back to the ship. As every evening we gathered before dinner for our daily recap.
The morning came early for many of the kayakers as a majority of them had spent the night out camping. The day proved perfect for paddling, with glassy calm waters and a myriad of icebergs dotting the waters of Paradise Bay. Thus finding a second or third wind, many of them rallied and headed out to the kayaks. Navigating along the coast we visited the Antarctic shag colony beneath the steep rocky headland near Almirante Brown Station. Almost every nest had a pair of chicks hungrily peeping for food. Further on, other nesting sea birds were noted such as Cape petrels and Antarctic terns high along the cliffs. As we rounded into Skontorp cove the scenery was even more dramatic with towering glaciers in the back of the bay, patches of blue sky and aside from the distant hum of a zodiac the deafening silence of Antarctica dominated. To top off the excursion we headed to shore for the opportunity to stand and hike on the true Antarctic continent.
Early in the morning, at 6:00 our expedition leader Sebastian woke us up with the daily “Gooooooooooooood morning, goood morning everyone…….” We were sailing through the Lemaire Channel, a narrow channel in-between spectacular rock walls and hanging ice-cliffs. So far, only a few ships this season were able to navigate through it, the ice conditions can be very tricky sometimes. The Lemaire Channel was discovered in 1898 by a Belgium explorer, Adrien Gerlache de Gomery. He named the channel after the Belgium Charles Lemaire, a scientist specialised in Africa.
This channel separates Booth Island from the Antarctic Peninsula. One elusive Minke whale was seen by many of us, the animal was moving fast and it even seemed to be following the ship. Penguins and seals were resting on bits of ice or swimming fast in the water. After a nice breakfast our expedition leader announced a change of plans, yes this is expedition cruising, ice conditions are good so we are able to land at Petermann Island! This island is only 2 km2 and belongs to the Wilhelm archipelago. The small bay where we landed has its own name “Port Circumcision”. In 1909 the French explorer Jean Baptiste Charcot and his sailing steam ship “Pour quoi-Pas?” spent one winter in this small bay to perform seismic and magnetic measurements. At Petermann Island a new penguin species was waiting for us, the Adélie penguin with cute chicks! Also some blue-eyed shags and gentoo penguins were breeding among them. We were super lucky with the weather, the sun was shining, no wind and hardly any clouds in the sky, it couldn`t be better. After a little hike to the other side of the island and a nice view, we went back on board, and waited for lunch to come! During lunchtime we sailed again through Lemaire Channel, it was even more spectacular than in the morning with the bright sunshine and the reflections in the water. In the early afternoon we headed into Neumayer Channel.
This channel was named after the German geophysicist Georg von Neumayer who initiated the first polar year in 1882/83. It is well known for its magnificent mountain scenery and many people were on the outside decks enjoying the first class Antarctic landscape. Rounding the last corner we could see the dark buildings of Port Lockroy. This historic British Base is now a museum, shop and one of the southernmost post offices in the world. While some had some retail therapy, buying souvenirs, books and maps, others watched the Gentoo penguins and the snowy sheathbills next to the buildings, stamped their passports, or wrote some Christmas-postcards. We also visited Jougla Point where Antarctic cormorants nest, well camouflaged inside a Gentoo Penguin colony. A nice pathway through the compact snow was made by our expedition team, partly on fast ice. We spotted five Weddell seals slumbering on the ice after hunting in the sea. Back on the ship our hotel team had prepared a Christmas dinner with smoked salmon for starters, roasted prime meats as main course or mushroom ravioli with beurre noisette, truffle foam and cherry tomato and various Christmas deserts at the buffet. After dinner we went to the bar to wait for Father Christmas to come. We thought that our day couldn`t get better, when an announcement was made “A pod of Orcas!!!!!” We rushed out on deck, some of us in shorts and Flip Flops with a drink in our hands. For quite a while we enjoyed watching the top predator in the Antarctic marine food web hunting fish. Some females had cute little calves and the alpha male with its big dorsal fin was well visible. Out for a nice evening meal, a humpback whale surfaced just next to the ship. This must have been the best Christmas gift for probably most of us! Back in the bar we were celebrating the day and some “Christmas elves” were handing out Christmas presents.
The day began with a successful passing of the Lemaire Channel. As the ship entered the Penola strait we were met with glassy calm waters, clear skies and a wonderful spectacle of icebergs. The morning plan was to head to Petermann Island to have the opportunity to view an Adelie penguin colony. The entire kayak team headed out in these pristine conditions. We passed by the main colony then continued on past Circumcision cove to the south of the island. Great views of both Adelie, Gentoo, and Antarctic shag were had. Some kayakers headed to shore to view the colony from land, while the rest of us continued to explore the southern islands. Two Weddell seals were found slumbering on the rocks, and as we circled back towards the ship through the sea ice a Minke whale was briefly sighted. A truly amazing start to the day.
It had been a busy morning between passing the Lemaire and the morning excursion at Petermann Island. The kayakers were able to have a little time to rest as the ship transited the Gerlache Straight to Port Lockroy. At one point the wind was blowing up to 35 knots, and it did not look hopeful for kayaking this afternoon. However, once the ship entered the Neumayer Channel the winds calmed and we set out in the boats to explore the waters around Port Lockroy and Wiencke Island. Many Gentoo penguins were observed bathing and preening on the rocks near Jougla point, as we explored the fast ice behind Goudier Island several Weddell seals were also spotted. The sun was shining, the waters were calm; it was a splendid afternoon for paddling.
We woke up at 6:30 am with the always very welcome wakeup call from our Expedition Leader. The Captain was going to steer the ship through Neptune Bellows into Port Foster and towards Whalers Bay, inside Deception Island, and we couldn't miss it. It was hard to get out of bed after Christmas Eve at the bar, but most of us made it.
The view from the outside decks was amazing. The island seemed like a ring from the distance but once we were close enough, we discovered the narrow entrance as Nathaniel Palmer did at the beginning of the 19th century.
We dropped anchor and jumped into the Zodiacs for a ride to the sandy beach. A few Chinstraps were there waiting for us.
We gathered together in a big group and we slowly started a hike towards the summit behind the old hangar. On our way up, we could see the buildings from the former whaling station. We started the ascent and made a stop at the first viewpoint where we were able to see Kroner Lake, a fresh water lake that is also an ASPA, Antarctic Specially Protected Area. It was very exciting to see the steam coming up from the shore of the lake remind us that we were inside an active volcano
We continued our path up to the summit where we had an amazing overview of the island. We decided to make our way back to the landing site for a refreshing bath. Surprisingly and despite of the cold most of us took the Polar Plunge!!
When we came back, lunch was waiting for us while we sailed towards Halfmoon Island, our next and last destination.
We arrived early in the afternoon with perfect weather. The sun was shining and the sea was flat calm. We visited the chinstraps colony and one of them already had a chick!! We walked towards the other side of the island where four Weddell Seals were resting on the snow. We kept on walking up to the tip of the beach and saw Brown Skuas nesting, an Adelie penguin staring at the glaciers and a Humpback Whale traveling towards Livingston Island.
It was our last landing and a perfect good bye to Antarctica.
We set off for our final paddle of the voyage in the South Shetlands. Conditions were pleasant with a light breeze and small ocean swell along the south of the island. We started out with great views of four Weddell seals hauled out on the north side of the landing site, continuing around we observed all three species of brushtail penguin: Gentoo, Chinstrap, and a lone Adelie. With the weather persistently improving to complete blue skies and little to no wind, we continued around the south end of the island. This was the first time we encountered ocean swell, adding a new dynamic as we navigated between the rocks. Beautiful blue icebergs greeted us on the other side with the stunning backdrop of Livingston Island. A great way to finish a fantastic voyage.
A full day at sea: in the windiest ocean on the planet and we had almost no wind! We were crossing what is called the screaming 60’s and the furious 50’s, but since it was so calm we could now call it Drake Lake (and not Drake Shake!)
After breakfast, we joined Christophe in the lounge for a talk about the Wandering Albatross. Shortly after, Valeria introduced us to the history of the whaling age in Antarctica.
The black-browed and light-mantled albatrosses, cape petrels and other sea birds that were following the ship in the morning vanished as the wind decreased from about 20 to 12 knots and even less. The so well known "infamous" Drake became almost as flat as a lake!
After a good educational morning, we gathered in the dining room for another delicious lunch immediately followed by the very popular "Ship-Shop"! André and Robert's reception was suddenly transformed in an improvised shop where everyone was delighted to purchase all kind of "Plancius" items.
By 14:30 we resumed our educational program. We watched a movie focusing on the charismatic Captain Irving Welsh and his first voyage on the sailing ship Peeking in 1929 on its journey around Cape Horn. After a short break, Barbara gave a great talk about animal's adaptations to survive the so harsh polar environment.
Just before dinner we joined our expedition staff for an extended recap. Barbara provided very interesting information about krill while Christophe explained to us how does it work to list animal species in one or the other threatened category – Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered. He ended the recap introducing us to penguin pooh. Those creatures expel their pooh with a pressure close to an auto tyre pressure (approx. 105 Pa)!
With no transition, we were invited by André to join the restaurant for dinner. The calm weather continued through the night and we all had a good sleep.
With no wakeup call during the Drake Passage many of us slept in and missed breakfast but most of us were up when the announcement for the first talk of day was heard. We made our way to the Lounge to join Valeria with her lecture about Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Even though many of us were familiar with the story we were once more amazed by this incredible story of survival.
On board there was a very big group students from different Universities in the US that had been carrying out surveys and doing research on several aspects of Antarctic related topics. We were invited to the lounge to listen to their final words on the work they did during the last 10 days.
After lunch we had an unavoidable date with Robert… settling accounts!
Once everything was set we were called by decks to take back our faithful rubber boots to the Boot Room where the staff was eagerly waiting for us!
Later in the afternoon as we approached Tierra del Fuego, some of as sat comfortably in the lounge to watch the documentary film “On thin ice, Climate Change”. The beginning of the movie was a little bit delayed since a group of dolphins, Peale’s dolphins, showed up swimming by the ship.
Dolphins surprised us once again, this time Dusky dolphins jumping and playing all around the ship!
Before dinner we met at the lounge for the last time and talked about disembarkation plans for the following day, it was hard to believe the trip was over but we were taking unforgettable moments back home.
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 waved farewell to many of the friends we have come to know over the past 10 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 to Antarctica. We have camped, kayaked, snowshoed and simply 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 humor and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!
Total distance sailed on our voyage:
Nautical miles: 1620 nm
Kilometres: 3000 km
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Nazarov, Expedition Leader Sebastian Arrebola and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.