PLA24-16, trip log | Antarctic Peninsula, Basecamp Plancius
02.01.2017 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going south of south...a long way south. But for today, we ambled about this lovely Patagonian city, savouring the local flavours and enjoying the sights.
Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of an once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 55,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Ushuaia (lit. “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue) clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting. The rugged spine of the South American Andes ends here, where two oceans meet. As could be expected from such an exposed setting, the weather has the habit of changing on a whim. However, temperatures during the long days of the austral summer are relatively mild, providing a final blanket of warmth before heading off on our adventures.
For many of us this is the start of a lifelong dream. The excitement comes in different forms for each unique person, but even the most experienced of us feels genuine excitement to depart on a journey to the 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 Hotel and Restaurant Managers, Johnny and Katie. 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 Artur, who led us through the details of the required SOLAS (Safety of Life At Sea) Safety and Lifeboat Drill, assisted by the crew and staff. On hearing the alarm we reconvened at the ‘muster station’, the lounge, for the mandatory safety briefing and abandon ship drill donning our huge orange life jackets that will keep us safe should the need arise. After this lifeboat drill we returned to the outer decks to watch our departure from the jetty of Ushuaia and the last of city life for a while. We entered the Beagle Channel with an escort of black browed albatross. Once we were on our way into the channel we were invited once again to the lounge to meet our Hotel Manager Johnny who gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next 10 days or so. We then met our Expedition Leader, Andrew Bishop and the rest of the Expedition Team who will guide us in Antarctica in order for us to enjoy the various Basecamp activities that are on offer: kayaking, mountaineering and camping amongst others.
This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Evgeny Levakov and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 20:00 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.
Early morning started even earlier than planned today; Andrew’s voice came wafting through the airwaves half an hour earlier than expected. Such a beautiful day should be started with gusto, thought he. In truth he mistakenly woke up earlier than known. But what a day! Several fin whales showed up early on, blowing and diving down, most likely feeding while the ship Plancius trudged on through the dark murky waters. After breakfast the real action started. The morning was full of activity briefings, for being a basecamp voyage there were many different things for everyone to take part in. There was, in particular, kayaking, camping, snowshoeing, and mountaineering briefings for the passengers to attend. After lunch Bruce gave a talk about photography, tips and tricks as well as explaining to all how the photography workshops and tours would work once we were down and around the Antarctic proper.
Also in the afternoon Michelle enticed some guests to attend her talk about polar plants of Antarctica, fascinating on many levels. Whoever was up and about could watch different sea birds following the ship, while not many still interesting to see. There were, for example the black and white speckled Cape petrels, brown giant petrels, black-browed albatrosses, and the largest of them all, a prehistoric-looking wandering albatross. The wandering albatross is the largest flying bird in the world, a magnificent creature. A few Macaroni penguins sailed through the sea as well, either on their way towards land or out again for food.
After a quiet afternoon when most people were either asleep, resting, or simply battling sea-sickness (a battle between a person’s eyes and brain, with the stomach being the clear winner), Andrew informed us during the daily briefing about our further plans. He also explained about the Antarctic convergence, the border in the sea where the temperature changes and marks the boundaries for Sub-Antarctica & Antarctica from the rest of the world. Bruce and Louise also did a talk on sea bird wingspans, showing with visual aid just how small and how large some of the birds can really be, such as the tiny Wilson’s Storm Petrel with a wingspan of just 40cm and the Wandering Albatross with a wingspan reaching over 3.5 meters. Slowly it was time for the day to come to an end, after a wonderful dinner served piping hot by our jolly German chef Ralf, always ready with a pot of hot steaming creamy goodness fresh from the source, everyone slowly made their way to their cabins, into their warm cozy beds, ready for another night of dreams to envelop them.
The minute the day started, there was some activity at the back deck behind the dining room. An ARGO buoy was launched. This buoy is floating at different depths, measuring the sea water temperature and salinity. Every ten days it comes to the surface, to transmit the data via satellite to oceanographic scientists.
But most of the guests were already sleeping at that time, and did not wake up before our Expedition Leader Andrew made a wake-up call at 7.30.
After breakfast it was time for the mandatory IAATO-briefing. We were told the do’s and don’ts, to keep Antarctica as pristine as possible. With other words: Leave nothing but (un-deep) footprints, take nothing but photographs and don’t disturb any wildlife!
This briefing was followed the Zodiac instructions, as we will us them at all our outings.
After all this information, we got called deck by deck, to come to the boot room. Beau took our cabin number, and Chris, Bruce & Jerry handed out our rubber boots.
Next on the program was the vacuum-clean-party. Again we were called deck by deck, but this time we were invited in the lounge and we had to bring our outer gear and bags. Five vacuum-cleaners were waiting for us, to go through pockets and over the Velcro. We had to make sure, that no alien species will be brought on land.
After lunch, the last few people cleaned their gear. At 15.30 we all came back to the lounge, as Marijke gave a lecture on the identification of marine mammals. She showed us the difference between the different whales, dolphins and porpoises and told us where we should focus on, in the case we see something in the water. She even had sound clips of the different whales, but some were out of our hearing range. Now we are all looking forward to see these majestic and mystical creatures of our planet.
But whales are not the only animals that we might see around the Antarctic Peninsula. So at 17.00 Beau was telling us about the seals and penguins that we might come across.
Also this was very interesting, and we couldn’t wait to see our first penguin rookery.
At recap, Andrew told us the plans for tomorrow and the different groups were given information about their activities.
Although we were reaching the South Shetlands, and the light and view was stunning, many of us went to bed early to have enough energy at the following day.
Already early this morning we were surrounded by the hills of the Antarctic Peninsula. Humpback whales were blowing around the vessel, arching their backs high out of the water before fluking down back into the food-rich waters of Antarctica. Gentoo penguins and some seals were dotted around on ice flows and some Minke whales were rushing past.
We made our first landing on Cuverville Island where we were all greeted by the Gentoo penguins. They seemed to be making sure we were all ok and that we had the proper stamps in our passports. Most of the Gentoo penguins had made their nests using precious pebbles – some of which were repeatedly stolen by the neighbour penguins. Breeding and pebble steeling was indeed in full swing but some glimpses were made of newly hatched chicks. Those who were mountaineering went up the mountain, followed by keen snow-shoers.
Back on board we moved towards Danco Island whilst passing some sleeping humpback whales along the way. These large baleen whales needed a little rest after foraging on krill. They also take this time to listen out for calls of other whales, perhaps to find out where to go for dinner next.
All kinds of activities took place during our visit to Danco Island. We snow-shoed to the top of the mountain where we could take in the 360 degrees breath-taking views of the bay. We were not alone as even on the top of this mountain there was a small colony of Gentoo penguins nesting. Across the channel we saw little black dots making their way up of an even bigger mountain – but they were not penguins - they were our brave mountaineers!
Back on board there were smiling faces all around and after dinner we dropped the first camping team onto their camping ground. Beautiful clear skies and pastel colours surrounded the little tents. From the lounge of the Plancius we saw a mother humpback whale with a small juvenile. The juvenile was still making clumsy dives whilst trying to learn how to fluke and thanks to persistence and the mother showing how it was done, it succeeded so they both disappeared into the deep waters of the channel.
Our first mountaineering excursion in the Antarctic was to the top of Cuverville Island. Although everybody was equipped with crampons it wasn’t necessary to use them as the snow was quite soft. The weather was very kind to us and we enjoyed a windless summit. Great views of Danco Island and over to tonight’s campsite at Kerr Point. After descending the group still had time to visit and enjoy the Gentoo Penguin colony.
In the afternoon the mountaineering group were dropped off at Kerr Point and ascended a slope overlooking the glaciers on either side of us. The wind had picked up which meant it was a bit cooler. However the snow was still pretty soft and snowshoes proved indispensable. The views looking over the ice falls were outstanding. After taking in the scenery we descended back to the beach where we had time for photos of the Weddell Seals and a young Elephant Seal before heading back to the ship.
We found a great place to start our kayaking venture staying out of the wind to one side of the tall island. The wind changed direction three times but luckily each time we managed to keep it behind us. With an easy and steady pace going we enjoyed gentle fun along the way amongst the small ice bergs and brash ice. Being at the same level as the icebergs was an amazing feeling. Along the way we encountered a number of local birds: clumps of Skuas on the low snowy gravel spit in front of an ice cliff; blue eyed shags, Gentoo’s, Skuas and snowy sheathbills. After dodging the wind it finally died on the way back to the ship. It was otherworldly and a pleasure to be off the ship in the fresh, cold and pure air.
The wind continued in the afternoon, but we found the lee side of Danco Island with just enough shelter to keep us looking along shore for birds and seals. Several Weddell seals hauled out on the low ice field as well. We quietly sidled up to an enormous Weddell seal reposing on an ice floe. Our guide ‘sang’ an imitation of the seal’s song, describing life under the Antarctic winter ice for this type of seal. One paddler mentioned paddling in this environment was a cleansing of the spirit and well beyond what she’d expected of this trip. She said the realization took her breath away.
After a lovely dinner on board Plancius the campers jumped into the zodiacs for spending the first night in one of the coldest environments in the world. The weather conditions were on our side so setting up all the camping gear was not a problem for the first group of happy campers of the trip, sharing the shovels to dig what Nacho likes to jokingly call “your own grave “.
The scenery was beautiful, some clouds in the sky made the whole panoramic scene between Cuverville and Danco islands, no wind this night made a perfect camping time for all the passengers and a visit from a few Gentoo penguins plus some Weddell seals on the other side of a little bay put a nice frame around this picture perfect night.
Around 4.30am Nacho made the wakeup call, as not everybody was sleeping at that time, some passengers decided to have an early wake up to take some pictures of the sunrise before the first zodiac arrived to the shore, all excited about going back to Plancius for a nice coffee and a hot shower, a full day of activities waiting for them that same morning.
The day started early this morning with the pickup of the happy campers. The ship then sailed to the Argentinian station Almirante Brown, still closed at this stage of the season. This place is nevertheless inhabited by a colony of Gentoo penguins and the landscape around the bay bordering the station is stunning. To top up our luck the weather was just super good with sun and blue sky. To maximise the experience here there was two options: one to go up a steep track above the station until a breath-taking view point. The second, a nice zodiac cruise among the blue icebergs and along the cliffs where some Arctic Shags were on their nest. Some lucky passengers saw a lazy leopard seal on an ice floe.
Our beautiful morning was followed by lunch and by a landing at Stony Point where the snowshoe addicts could climb up the hill for a super view over the bay while zodiacs were cruising along the islands and strange looking icebergs, observing car eater seals, swimming penguins and even a very shy humpback whale.
As if this day was not fantastic enough, the hotel department had prepared a surprise: The Antarctic barbecue on the back outside deck in a stunning Antarctic sunny landscape.
A bit of music, a bit of dance and some acrobatic trick from Nacho finished this incredible day in beauty.
The sun shone and it was fairly windless as the mountaineers made off for Conesa Point. The snow was soft as expected and Mal obviously had the bit between his teeth as he put the track in up to the first high point on the ridge. A good effort. Great views looking out over Paradise Harbour.
More soft snow and lots of sun in the afternoon as the mountaineers tried to get to a high point above Ferguson Channel. The group got to a high point but as they became enveloped in a bank of cloud it was decided to have a rest and then descend which gave us time to get close to some seracs and have a look in a crevasse.
Gorgeous scenery with high peaks on display…dead calm, beautiful reflections especially from the peak where passengers were watching from, red Base Brown buildings, glaciated peaks beyond…all reflected in the calm water with intense blue and sunny sky overhead. Several paddlers expressed awe of the absolute quiet and felt respectful of nature in its stunning context….that the scenery was overwhelmingly immense and beautiful.
Not far beyond Paradise we found more of the same enormous and stunning mountain peaks and ranges, all cloaked in glaciers. We quickly settled into a rhythm with our new friends, chatting and laughing. One of our group suggested we spell out “HI” with our kayaks for the mountaineers high above us. There were numerous and small calving’s right next to us on the ice cliff, then one massive avalanche went off across the channel. Icebergs seemed to have magnets for one couple as they kept finding themselves right alongside…luckily none went belly up, to their relief. We enjoyed a very fast paddle back to the ship with a quick circle around it, then appreciated the distance we’d covered. It seemed amazing the size of the ship after having been aboard it for several days….now it looked huge from the water while right next to it. In all it turned out to be a really fun paddle outing.
Again after the very special dinner in the back deck (barbecue night!) the call came over the speakers at 21.00 for the campers to be ready at the gangway. This time it was a different spot Leith Cove which is a nice peninsula when the tide is low but becomes an island once the tide increases.
It was a slightly difficult climb to the top of the hill, as Nacho made the passengers help the guides to carry all the gear up for setting up the “graves” and jumping into the sleeping bags. Some passengers stayed awake a bit longer than others in the quiet environment trying to find where the sound of the cracking and falling of the ice in the glaciers around us, another night with no wind and perfect weathers conditions.
One more time at 4.30am yours truly Nacho the head camping guide started to make some noise to wake up the passengers, however nobody was jumping out of the sleeping bags before the call, which meant everyone had a great and warm rest. When the first zodiacs arrived at shore the excitement of the success of another wonderful night was evident in everyone’s faces.
The day started cloudy, windy, and slightly bitter. However there is never a bad day in Antarctica! The plan? A landing at Neko Harbor, a small harbor just off of Andvord Bay where a rather active glacier was to be found. What else? Gentoo penguins of course! Not a Gen-3 to be found, guests had to settle for the second iteration of the classic penguin. A snowshoe hike was organized, to the top of a hill with a fantastic view to said glacier and the surrounding colony and ship in the bay. Happy smiles all around!
After lunch, the next order of the day was to land at the Chilean Gonzalez Videla station at Waterboat Point. Luckily the cheery Chileans were at home, and had their little post open. Hurriedly passengers grabbed as many postcards as they could, to send out back home to friends and family alike, an Antarctic post as it were. As the base quickly sold out, our intrepid leader Andrew made a mad dash back to the ship to collect more postcards from Plancius for willing people to send off through the quaint if rather slow mail system. As the sun came out, good fun was had by all as everyone waved their last goodbye to the resident leucistic penguin sitting on her nest; who says blonds don’t have any fun?
A very different day today with quite a bit of wind. The groups headed upwards from Neko Harbour into a bit of a strong wind. The other hazard along the way were quite a few crevasses. Unfortunately Kyle fell into one (so he had a very close look inside one!) but he was quickly back on the surface with a little help from Cube. Great views at the top looking out over the harbour which gave us a great view of a large calving from the glacier below.
The wind seemed to increase after lunch but that did not deter the mountaineers. They headed up from Duthier Point. One group did make it to summit above the point but it was very windy as Mal’s photos will testify. Great views from this area to the mountains of Andvord Bay.
Due to upcoming wind and swell the kayaking had to be cancelled today.
After visiting Paradise Bay we tried to go again to Leith Cove for the night, but the wind was blowing around 25/30 knots so the plan to go ashore at Leith Cove was cancelled and we moved to Stony Point instead. Worried about cancelling the night and ending up on the main deck of Plancius with the gear trying to recreate the experience, guests waited with bated breath as Nacho, Beau, and Bruce drove to Stony Point to find that conditions were perfect.
The channel was like a mirror, much different than around the corner at Leith, one more time the passengers were happy to arrive as the shore team started to build the bivvy holes and of course enjoying the fantastic view from the shore so peaceful and quiet. Some Gentoo visitors and a Crabeater were swimming around, of course some imperial shags from the rookery next to Brown Station also decided to join in the fun.
This time it looked like the passengers had a hard time to get out of the bivvy bags for the wakeup call of the guides, that only meant of course that they had a good night’s sleep during the night, another successful camping like always and at 5:30 the first zodiac appeared to bring everyone home to sweet Plancius.
The hardy souls on-board were treated to a spectacular sunrise in the wee hours of the morning with pink skies and mirror-like reflections on still water.
After breakfast we geared up once again for another day of adventure and discovery. This morning we enjoyed a zodiac cruise at Port Charcot. Navigating through the thick icebergs, we had the opportunity to get up close to resting crab-eater seals on an ice flow and soak in the beauty of this icy world from yet another perspective.
On land we had our first encounters with Adelie Penguins as well as a few Chinstrap Penguins amidst the many Gentoos.
We then sailed on into Dorian Bay for our afternoon landing at Damoy Point. A snowshoe hike took us up to a ridge line that was formerly used by the British as an ice airstrip used for distributing supplies to other stations. From here we enjoyed panoramic views out over the bay. Down near the beach there were a few Weddell Seals scattered about as well as colonies of Gentoo Penguins.
Arriving at Port Charcot the mountaineers went to some ice cliffs nearby where everybody had a go at ice climbing on some not steep ground and on some slightly overhanging ice. Christine making an excellent job of climbing on the overhanging section.
We didn’t have much time in the afternoon at Damoy. Mal had offered to do a bit of rope work and belay practise but as only one person turned up, they managed to go ashore and do a two pitch climb.
After a day of strong winds and not getting the kayaks out, we spent the morning ice navigating between the bergy bits, small ice bergs, while staying well away from the huge ones. We appreciated the ability to control our own route and to see more in all directions than being on a zodiac. It felt liberating. We marvelled at the various fast currents pushing the small ice berg bits at a fast clip…in a world of ice there were many things to look at…things we’d never seen before.
One couple in particular who’d been worried found it much easier than expected to enter the kayak and to paddle around slowly. They claimed they felt very small in the majestic grandeur of this huge natural environment. We paddled along the shoreline then rounded a point and had a peek in on Port Lockroy, marvelled at the snow-shoers up high above Port Lockroy. From there we enjoyed paddling back to the ship. We also enjoyed sharing this time with our friends, the 80 and 81-year old German couple. Both were paddling strong and having fun setting the pace. Everyone pitched in, creating great teamwork. We paddled easily back to the ship.
This time we were trying to camp at Jougla Point next to Port Lockroy but the fast ice didn’t let the zodiacs land on our standard camping spot. So we had to jump to plan B and move the activity to Letevre Point, a little valley between a line of boulders and a glacier cliff. This last night of camping put our gear to the test as the wind was blowing a little and kept increasing until midnight but not enough to cancel our night.
Like always we set the portable toilet with a nice snow block wall to give some privacy to the passengers, everyone set up the gear in the right way digging with the shovels to make the hill area a bit flatter and because of the wind it wasn’t long until everybody was warm and comfortable inside of the sleeping bags keeping safe from the wind. During the night some kelp gulls flew around the site trying to wake up the camper with but no success.
At 5.30am as always Nacho made for last time the wakeup call and for the first time all the passengers were ready only 20 minutes later, waiting for Plancius to reposition and drop the zodiacs for the shuttle back, just in time for a nice breakfast on board.
Overnight there was not much sailing. We could keep an eye on the campers all night. They had camped across from Port Lockroy, our destination for today.
Port Lockroy used to be French, but served as a British base later on. Nowadays, the old ‘Base A’ serves as a museum and post office.
As it is built on a small island, it is not possible to land everyone all at the same time. Therefore the guests were split into two groups. Half the guests would first visit the museum and shop, the other half would first visit Jougla Point. At Jougla Point, we saw penguins, Blue eyed shags, remains of the whaling industry and a Weddell seal. The Weddell seal was very interesting as it was vocalizing.
The museum at Port Lockroy showed how a base operated in the 50’s. The post office gave us the opportunity to send seasonal greetings from Antarctica, and also to buy Christmas gifts.
In the afternoon we headed north and came across many Humpback whales in the George Passage. There must have been a lot of krill, as we could see whales everywhere around us, the whole afternoon.
At some stage, two whales were breaching. Most of the whales were feeding, and some used the technique of ‘bubble net’-feeding. The captain did his best, and brought the ship close to the whales, without disturbing them. It was very impressive to experience the whales so close, we could even hear them.
At 19.00, it was time for the daily briefing, but this time it was a bit different. When we entered the lounge, we were all dressed up and had a Christmas cocktail handed out to each of us.
The briefing was followed by a Christmas dinner:
MV Plancius Christmas dinner 2016
Trio of Seafood
Smoked Salmon Tatar with Lemon Sour Cream
Steamed Mussels with fresh herbs
Mushroom Soup with Truffle
Prime Beef Filet
With Grilled Asparagus & Potato Gratin
But it was not only the food that made it special, we enhanced the Christmas atmosphere by singing Christmas carols. The different nations sung their own version of Silent Night, followed by a traditional Christmas song.
We were all in a good mood and the party lasted well beyond midnight.
With only limited time in the morning the mountaineers made good use of an early-ish start to ascend the col below Jabet Peak. They didn’t quite make it but got fairly high on the peak which gave the two groups excellent views over Wienke Island and Port Lockroy.
In the bay behind the station on Wienke Island we found sea and had a great time ice ramming then riding up on the ice. From there we enjoyed gentle slow paddling near icebergs and brash ice while watching loads of bathing penguins in the water. Paddling through the noisy brash ice was at first a little scary but then became fun. We enjoyed this brief paddle then set off to explore the museum, Post Office and the shop.
This morning we were greeted by swimming Chinstrap Penguins whilst the Plancius made its approach to Half Moon Island – one of the islands belonging to the South Shetland Islands. First off the ship were the mountaineers, followed closely by the first people who landed at the beach. More Chinstrap penguins were awaiting us there with the occasional Gentoo Penguin too.
The path to the colony was a bit muddy in places but soon started to be covered by a thin layer of snow which by now was also falling down on top of the many bright red Christmas Hats that were spreading around the island. The Chinstrap penguins had several very young chicks and we also saw the first tiny Kelp Gull chicks. After a muddy slide down to the beach followed by a little climb we were awarded by the one and only Macaroni penguin on Half Moon Island! Crested penguins can pair-bond for a very long time and this one was probably patiently waiting for its partner. When the snow started to fall more heavily on us the first brave people had their Christmas ‘swim’ or ‘dip’ into the Southern Ocean.
After a well-deserved lunch, we visited Robert Island where elephant seals were hauled out on the beach whilst sub-adult males were play-fighting in the surf. A colony of Gentoo penguins contained already good–sized chicks! More elephant seals were hauled out in the Gentoo colony too and we were left wondering as to how they managed to haul themselves that far up the beach. The occasional Adélie penguin and groups of chinstrap penguins were also spotted amongst the many Gentoo’s. Nesting giant petrels, family of the albatrosses, made this Antarctic scenery complete. An early dinner was on schedule as the Plancius prepared for the crossing of the Southern Ocean’s Drake Passage. A few humpback whales waved their flukes as we sailed by.
It didn’t look so promising for the mountaineers when we arrived at Half Moon Island, low cloud with the odd snow flurry. Only a couple of people were really keen so we took a Zodiac and went to have a look. Santa was kind and we were able to land at a peninsula on Livingston Island and ascend small peak via some steep snow slopes. Soft snow made it hard work and a bit sweaty!! This was on the Eastern end of the island - with good rock and only a small glacier – which was good for limited visibility and flat light conditions.
We set off in dead calm water with fog and soft glowing light. In no time we found a jellyfish floating in the water…it was afloat enough for us to examine its shape and design pattern. Just a few minutes later we discovered a slowly moving juvenile leopard seal who cavorted in the water around all our kayaks for about a quarter of an hour. When it was time to move on it continued to travel with us, in all for well over half an hour. Along the way we saw numerous sleeping Weddell seals on the low ice shelves. There was loads of salp in the water…medium strands, tiny immature strands, large fat ones. They apparently make great food for the entire food chain, being nearly all quality protein.
We paddled for what seemed like endless miles around the island when suddenly a whiteout snow storm moved in, snow so fast and heavy we had to paddle close together so not to lose someone. In the midst of it we sang Christmas carols: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, dashing through the snow…”
We’d made it nearly 98% of the way back to the ship in just under three hours but had to give in and accept a ride in the zodiac. Great teamwork made for a memorable paddle on a Christmas Day.
In all 96 people were privileged enough to paddle in Antarctica in memorable and kind conditions.
A day at sea.
Our voyage back to Ushuaia has started last night and we woke up this morning in an easy Drake Passage. Not a Drake lake but an easy one. We were allowed to sleep a bit longer before the call came for a late but very nice breakfast.
Louise filled up the lounge with emotion during her lecture about the whaling industry in Antarctica by mentioning the life and the whaling career in the southern seas of her Norwegian great grandfather.
Lunchtime was followed by the showing of the very famous and interesting black and white movie ‘Around Cape Horn’ relating the life at sea on a big sailing ship of a young adventurous boy.
Then Bruce gave us a lecture about Antarctic sea birds revealing many interesting facts of these inhabitants of the southern Polar Regions.
Before diner, Andrew & Johnny came in at the daily briefing with info and details about the next day and about disembarkation on the 28th; not the funniest part, but all good things and all good cruises must come to an end.
"I lay there, all the day long, quite coolly and contentedly;
With no sense of weariness, with no desire to get up, or get better, or take the air;
With no curiosity, or care, or regret, of any sort or degree,
Saving that I can think I can remember, in this universal indifference,
Having a kind of lazy joy – of fiendish delight, if anything so lethargic can be
Dignified with the title – in the fact of my wife being too ill to talk to me."
-Charles Dickens on seasickness
After a night of rocking and rolling, the morning dawned with calmer seas. As one by one everyone filed in for breakfast, the sun tried to break through the cloud cover to say hello.
At 9:30 Christophe gave his talk about Roald Amundsen, the famous Norwegian polar explorer who raced Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole, and won being the first to arrive among many other grand feats of exploration. At 11:00 Mal talked about glaciers and ice, being an accomplished mountaineer means knowing many different things about ice and snow and how to read danger signs.
And then it was time for lunch! Never short on food, those who felt the twinge of hunger made their way once again for the last lunch aboard Plancius to sample Chef Ralf’s many tasty delights. At 14:00 it was time to return the rubber Muck boots, having done their duty and kept many a guests’ foot warm and dry.
And then the fun began! Account settlements meant paying our bills, some had a rather ‘light’ bill while others afterwards had a rather light wallet! Our intrepid expedition leader Andrew was also able to convince our fine Russian Captain to head towards Cape Horn, for one final last hurrah before rounding it up towards Ushuaia. Cube also gave a talk about his time working on Rothera, the British Antarctic base located further south on the peninsula. However just before his talk started, a few Dusky dolphins showed up and played around the ship bow riding and having a jolly good time.
Finally at 18:30 it was time for the last briefing, a slide presentation from Bruce and Harry and a farewell cocktail drink toasted by the Captain as he said a few words about the voyage. Everyone toasted to the trip in fine fanfare, realizing that all good things must come to an end. But wait! Not before the last supper was arranged, where everyone was able to meet the chef’s, cooks, baker, stewards, and all the help that they had during the trip behind the scenes as it were.
At long last it was time to head off to bed and try to catch a little bit of sleep before disembarkation began the very next morning bright and early. A fine end to a fine trip.
Today is disembarkation day in Ushuaia. Coming alongside, we were boarded by the Argentine officials who cleared our vessel and allowed us to disembark after a few hiccups. On the pier we bade 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 and back again. We have camped, kayaked, mountaineered 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 endure a lifetime – in our memories, our imaginations, and in our dreams.
Thank you all for such a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!
Total distance sailed on our voyage: Nautical miles: 1796 nm, Kilometres: 3367 km
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Levakov, Expedition Leader Andrew Bishop and all the staff and crew, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.