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PLA24-17, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula-Basecamp

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 18.12.2017
Position: Ushuaia Port
Wind: NE -4
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +12

So finally, the much-awaited departure day was upon us! We woke up in Ushuaia to glorious blue skies and sunshine, full of excitement and anticipation at the thought of boarding the MV Plancius for our forthcoming adventure - for many of us today signified the culmination of a lifelong dream!

We spent the morning exploring this lovely Patagonian city, soaking up the local flavours and enjoying the sights.

Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 55,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Ushuaia (lit. “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue) clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting.

It was a sunny afternoon but very breezy as we made our way along the pier to the boat at 16.00, ready to board our new floating home for the next 12 days. We were greeted by members of our expedition staff who sorted our luggage and directed us to reception to meet the hotel manager, Zsuzsanna, and her team who showed us to our rooms. There we found our luggage and in no time at all we settled in and started to explore our new surroundings.

At 17:00 we convened in the lounge on deck five to meet expedition leader Lynn Woodworth, who welcomed us on board the ship. Chief Officer Jaanus then acquainted us with the safety features of the vessel and with the essential do’s and don’ts on board. Soon afterwards it was time for the mandatory safety drill and we gathered in the bar, donned our big orange lifejackets and went through the roll call to make sure everybody was there. We were then escorted outside to take a look at the lifeboats, but were left confident that we would have no reason to do this again in the next 12 days!

At 18:30 we met again in the bar, this time for a welcome cocktail with our Captain, Alexey Nazarov. He spoke a few words and explained that we were welcome on the bridge during daylight hours, which is a great viewing platform for bird-watching and also the place to find out from officers on watch what life is like at sea. Expedition leader Lynn then told us a little about the forthcoming voyage and introduced her team of guides who explained a little about their backgrounds and their roles on board. This was followed by a Zsuzsanna briefly explaining about decks and amenities and general life on board in the Southern Ocean.

Shortly afterwards we were invited to the dining room to enjoy the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by head chef Ralf and his team. There was a real buzz in the dining room, as we got to know each other and talked about our hopes and aspirations for this voyage.

Our first evening was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements and settling into our cabins before retiring for the night.
In the early hours of the morning we reached the end of the Beagle Channel and headed out into the open waters of the Drake Passage- our Antarctic adventure was now fully underway!!!

Day 2: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 19.12.2017
Position: 56º 30’ 0 S / 066º 14’ 4 W
Wind: WNW -4
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

The first moment we entered the Drake Passage was in the middle of the night. The waves became bigger and unprotected stuff in the room rolled from corner to corner. It was very obvious to all, we had reached the Drake. But that is how a voyage to Antarctica is supposed to be, a bit of effort and discomfort for sailing to the far South of the World, to this ‘awe inspiring and thought-provoking’ place.

Our bodies were tested this day in a mild and harmless way. Or as the Ship Doctor Annemarie said during her introduction, the good thing about seasickness is that it will not kill you. No ‘Drake Lake’ this voyage, but also definitely not a challenging one.
During the morning we were accompanied by some Wandering Albatrosses and even had the luck of having the Southern Giant Petrel and the Northern Giant Petrel flying around the ship. They look almost identical but can be identified by the more whitish head and neck of the Southern as well as the difference in bill-tip colour. The Southern has a green tip and the Northern a more reddish one.

The first sea day is also a time to prepare for the landings by getting everyone set up with gear, one of the most important items are the boots. Passengers were called deck by deck to come to the boot room to choose and try a suitable boot. Ben, the Argentinian expedition guide set the atmosphere by putting on some Argentinian Reggae. It was a bit rough and rolling but everyone managed to get themselves some boots, some who were not feeling well were lucky to have a friend or family member to pick theirs up for them.

Katja gave a very nice introduction about Antarctica, with historical, interesting, funny and peculiar facts. We learned for example that the largest land animal is only a few millimetres long. A very nice way to spend our time sailing towards this amazing content of extremes.

The daily recap gave us some more insights about what to expect during this voyage with some info about snow shoeing from Sara, a general briefing by Lynn and some insights about bird photography from Esther.
For some it was a difficult day at sea and most of us headed for our cabins early to get rocked to sleep by the Drake.

Day 3: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 20.12.2017
Position: 60º 48’ 7 S / 066º 05’ 6 W
Wind: NNE -4
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +2

During the night we crossed the Antarctic convergence, a biological boundary where warmer subpolar waters meet cold Antarctic waters. Within a few kilometres the sea water temperatures dropped by several degrees. Officially we were now in Antarctica! We also encountered in the morning the fog that is typical for the area.

After breakfast Esther talked in the restaurant about polar photography. She gave aesthetic tips for photo composition and how to best document a subject. All this was explained with her wonderful photos.

Afterwards it was time to talk about camping. Ben and Grace set up one camping kit in the lounge and explained what to expect and how to prepare for a night in Antarctica. Talking about toilet procedures produced some laughs especially as it was close to lunchtime.
After we filled our bellies Zsuzsanna and Bobby opened the ship shop at reception. Here we could indulge in retail therapy. Items like maps, books, t-shirts, jackets and others were for sale.

In preparation for Antarctica we filed into the lounge in the afternoon. Lynn gave a briefing about environmental awareness and correct behaviour in Antarctica: No food ashore, clean your boots, and keep your distance from the penguins. The theory was followed by practice as we had to vacuum our outer clothes, backpacks and camera bags. Expedition staff members were on hand to help and advice how to rid our gear from seeds and dirt. With six vacuum cleaners at once going in the lounge it was noisy but fast.

Meanwhile rain pelted on the windows and the sea was lead grey. Some Cape petrels flitted around the ship. They were easy to recognize with their speckled black and white wings. Out of the mist an iceberg materialized with waves crashing around its edges. At the Recap Lynn told us about the plans for tomorrow and all the activities that would be on offer, snowshoeing, photography, kayaking, mountaineering and just plain penguin watching. Katja also explained that the summer solstice will be tomorrow, that means that we will arrive in Antarctica on the longest day of the year.

After the recap the kayakers and mountaineers were kitted out with their gear and the campers received their camping kits. So we were ready now for our adventures in Antarctica.

Day 4: Dorian Bay, Port Lockroy and Jougla Point

Dorian Bay, Port Lockroy and Jougla Point
Date: 21.12.2017
Position: 64º 46’ 4 S / 063º 28’ 7 W
Wind: NE -8
Weather: Drizzle
Air Temperature: 0

Lynn made the wake-up call at 7:45am and we caught the first glimpse of the Antarctic continent. As we sailed through the Neumayer Channel we got our first look at towering glaciers, icebergs and snow. Unfortunately large waves and 40 knot winds meant that we couldn’t do the landing so instead continued to cruise through the Neumayer Channel and enjoyed a delicious breakfast. About an hour later our luck changed and the wind started to die down. Our Captain gave us the okay to land and we got ourselves ready in warm and waterproof clothing to make our first landing. It was also time for the kayakers to meet up with Fran and for the mountaineers to get their harnesses and ice axes ready to head up the mountain for some glacial trekking.

Our first landing was at Damoy Point which. The base here was established by the British Antarctic Survey as a summer transit station to supply the airstrip. We took the zodiacs ashore and were able to visit the small hut which was used to enable personnel and stores arriving by ship to be flown into Rothera Research Station. It was last occupied in 1993 and now contains well-preserved scientific equipment and other artefacts. After touring the hut, it was time to investigate some of the Gentoo penguin colonies and the penguin highway where Gentoo’s were making their way back and forth to the water. Sara led the long walk past the Gentoo colonies and up to a point called Tombstone Hill where we got a great view of the bay. Ester took the photographers to see the penguins and helped her group to take some beautiful pictures. A couple of hours went by in a flash and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the ship for a delicious lunch prepared by the hotel staff.

Our second landing of the day was a split landing between Port Lockroy on Goudier Island and Jougla Point. Those that arrived at Port Lockroy were able to visit the famous Penguin Post Office and send postcards back to their friends and family. It was also a time to visit the museum and learn about the history of the area. Port Lockroy was used as an anchorage for whalers and established as a Base by the British Government in 1944 as part of a secret wartime initiative called “Operation Tabarin” to monitor German ship movements. Moving through the museum and post office was also an opportunity to speak to the incredible women who spend four months looking after Port Lockroy. Once outside again we were able to watch Gentoo penguins nesting and some lucky ones were able to see their first Gentoo chicks only a few days old peeping out from under the fluffy chests of the adults. At Jougla Point we headed up the ridge to take in the amazing scenery and photograph the colonies of nesting Gentoo penguins. Ester’s photography group once again spent time honing their penguin photography skills and managed to photograph an adult with a new chick.

Once back on the ship, Lynn did a recap of the day and gave us an overview of the next day’s events. Sarah provided us with information about how to identify whales and right in the middle of her talk we were greeted by two passing whales and so were able to put our skills to the test. After some debate they were identified as Minke Whales, a small baleen whale which feeds on krill and fish. Their small and more manoeuvrable body shape allows them to spend a lot of their time swimming in and around the ice, better than larger species like Humpback Whales.

Dinner was another great buffet and then it was time for the first group of campers to get themselves ready for a night ashore. Unfortunately the wind picked up right at the last minute and plans for camping had to be abandoned but luckily there would be more opportunities later in the trip.

Kayaking (Fran)
After a stormy night we woke to a rather wild sea, and fog. We cruised slowly into Neumayer Channel and weighed anchor off Dorian Bay. The kayakers were all ready to go having been issued their kit the night before, and the crew had unloaded the kayaks onto Aft Deck 3. After a bit of ‘housekeeping’ of the kayaks – this was to be their first outings for this season – the team chose their kayaks and adjusted them to fit. In the meantime the wind had dropped a little but was still blowing 20+ knots and gusting stronger than that. Having taken the decision to abandon kayaking early it gave the team a chance to go ashore at Damoy Point, so the morning was salvaged.

The afternoon team got a bit further – we even dropped kayaks into the water! The wind was a balmy 11 knots when we were first up on the Aft Deck 3 and we were all getting excited about kayaking around Port Lockroy and Jougla Point. However just as the third boat was being lifted overboard, the bridge called to say that the wind had risen again to 24+ knots gusting 30+ and after a moment thought, we decided to abandon and give the team a chance to go and play with penguins and visit Port Lockroy. The rest of the afternoon the wind rose and fell so overall we felt happy that the right decision had been taken.

Mountaineering
AM. After a delayed start due to rough weather two teams of 6 headed to Dorian Bay/Damoy Point to make an ascent of Jabet Ridge. After donning snow shoes the two mountaineering teams forged upwards as the last of the morning fog gave way to sunshine. The two teams parted ways after an hour of walking, one team heading forward toward Port Lockroy where they could take in the stunning ice cliffs below them and Weddell seals in the bay beyond. The other team circled below Jabet Peak where they could look down on Plancius and the striking peaks in the distance before looping back to re-join the other team above the landing/departure point.

PM. After a filling lunch 17 intrepid mountaineers headed to Doumer Island to see the Peltier Channel that splits Doumer Island from Wiencke Island. The weather had become slightly foreboding after the morning sunshine. One group continued up towards Mt Doumer and the other turned around so they could visit Lockroy for a souvenir session.

Day 5: Cuverville Island and Danco Island

Cuverville Island and Danco Island
Date: 22.12.2017
Position: 64º 40’ 4 S / 062º 37’ 7 W
Wind: NE -2
Weather: Snowing
Air Temperature: +2

Overnight, we traversed the Errera Channel so by the time Lynn woke us at 7:15 we were already positioned opposite Cuverville Island, which was to be the location of our morning activity. Cuverville is regarded as having one of the largest rookeries of Gentoo penguins in all of Antarctica. The island was named after Admiral Cuverville, who helped finance Gerlache’s expeditions.

Conditions in the bay were smooth and the landing was easy, helped by the fact that the bay was full of icebergs, thus protecting our landing site from any swell. We spent the morning exploring the shore of the island between the various colonies, taking time to savor the feeling of being amongst so many thousands of relatively tame birds. The penguins at Cuverville were in the beginning stages of nesting, most still sitting on eggs and putting the final touches to their pebble nests. Numerous brown skuas were circling looking for an easy lunch of an unguarded egg. For those wanting to stretch their legs there was also the chance to walk up to a view point where you gained a magnificent vantage point overlooking the bay.

As we had time on our side we took the scenic route back to the ship, with a short cruise to take a closer look at the icebergs. As always in good light, the kaleidoscope of blues in the ice did not fail to astound, coupled with a myriad of different shapes and sizes, it was undeniably a visual smorgasbord for the lover of ice!

Back on board we were again treated to a delicious buffet lunch, but no sooner had we finished was it time to get ready for the afternoons landing at Danco Island. Here the expedition team had brought snowshoes ashore for us. For the people keen to hike, the snowshoes made the walk a bit easier through the soft snow. Sara led the hike around the island and up to the summit, surprisingly there were even more Gentoo penguins right at the top. The views from the plateau were stunning looking up and down the Errera Channel in both directions and across to the Antarctic continent. With such calm, pleasant weather it was good to be able to stay a while and take in the picturesque surroundings.

For those who didn’t want to walk that high, there was enough to see on the shore. Antarctic terns, Snowy Sheathbills, Kelp Gulls and Brown Skuas were busy trying to source their next meal, while the Gentoo penguins were constantly traversing up and down the penguin highways from the water’s edge up to the colonies. Those who stayed on the beach were also treated to a brief sighting of a humpback whale that was feeding in the bay.

Once the group was gathered back at the shore, it was time for the infamous ‘Polar Plunge’ so those mad enough to brave the icy water got themselves changed. Unbelievably, around forty brave souls stripped off and took the plunge, for some this was a quick in and out (after a few choice words!), while others seemed to quite enjoy the experience and happily posed for photos. Respect and congratulations to you all!
Back on board it was time for our daily recap, in which Katja spoke about the Gentoo penguins we had been seeing and Lynn briefed us on the plans for tomorrow.

Dinner was another great buffet and then it was time for the campers to get themselves ready for a night at Leith Cove. The staff went ashore first to start getting the site prepared and by 9:30pm all the passengers were on shore and ready for a true Antarctic adventure!

Kayaking (Fran)
Today was the lucky day for the kayakers as both groups got on the water. Both the teams worked really well together to get the kayaks on and off the water, quite an involved process using an electric winch. The morning team dropped the kayaks into the water just off the landing site at Cuverville and we found some beautiful low icebergs to admire. We paddled out to the channel to the west of the island and could see a private yacht at a beautiful anchorage.

The afternoon team put in the water North of Danco Island, there were some really dramatic icebergs – one with a huge arch – that looked rather perilous so we didn’t get too close but just admired from afar. Everybody was really stoked and took some time for peace and quiet. Three people opted for single kayaks and enjoyed the flexibility and speed that they offer. The others picked up the skills quickly of turning the double kayaks and weaving around on the water. It felt very ‘Christmassy’ as we had light snow falling all afternoon. All in all there were some happy faces in the bar that evening.

Mountaineering
AM. In the morning we landed at Georges Point on Ronge Island. We climbed to a col on ridge that could be seen above and to the lookers right. The ridge was gained on snow shoes. From here we crossed an exposed ridge to a great view point that we named Tamsin Peak. Everyone was stoked at the exciting ridge crossing and epic views.

PM. We ascended Cuverville Island on snow shoes gaining the summit at 4.15pm just as it was starting to snow. It was great to gain a summit and we sighted a whale in the sheltered ice filled bay below.

Camping
As usual the weather was uncertain and it wasn’t until last minute that we knew we would be able to camp. Luck was with us and the wind stayed just calm enough for camping to be a go. At 9pm it was announced and everyone began layering themselves for the night ahead. Camping bags were handed out and everyone made their way into the zodiacs. Navigating the ice to get to our camping site, Leith Cove, was a mission, but with our excellent drivers we made it to a place where we could climb up ashore. Our camp site for the night had a 360o view of stunning icebergs, massive mountains and glaciers coming out into the sea. Gusting winds made for a chilly yet adventurous feel. Everyone set to digging their pits, sharing the shovels and working together. Once everyone was set up for the night we scrambled around working out how to spell Antarctica with our bodies, implementing our new design with 3 people for the letter ‘N’ and two people for ‘C’, we were quite happy with the new design. By this time it was already 11pm and we had to wake up in 5 short hours, everyone headed to the warmth of their bivvies. Some of us slept like babies while others stayed up most of the night listening to the sound of cracking icebergs and avalanches from the mountains. Puffy snowflakes fell on and off throughout the night. At 4:30 our lovely drivers came to bring us back home. Getting back on-board Plancius was a welcome relief as we enjoyed our warm showers and hearty breakfasts.

Day 6: Lemaire Channel, Pléneau Island and Port Charcot

Lemaire Channel, Pléneau Island and Port Charcot
Date: 23.12.2017
Position: 68º 00’ 7 S / 063º 45’ 4 W
Wind: NE -3
Weather: Snowing
Air Temperature: 0

When the campers were back on board in the early morning we continued the voyage. The day started very special with a cruise through the Lemaire Channel. Lemaire is known as the most scenic channel Antarctica has to offer. It’s also known as the Kodak Gap, because of the many photos that are taken here. It is still early in the season and so there was a good chance that the Lemaire would be in accessible, but with the excellent navigation skills of the Captain we were able to enjoy the fabulous views that the narrow Channel has to offer.

When the ship went on anchor off Booth Island, we started to run an ice cruise with the zodiacs. This whole area is known as Iceberg Alley or an iceberg graveyard due the shallow nature of the area and the huge icebergs that get stranded here during the season. So it is often difficult to get the ship very far into the bay area. The light was perfect. The icebergs were sticking out in front of the dark sky. The Icebergs were truly amazing especially when coming closer they appeared in all kind of forms and shapes that wind and water had sculpted them. The wind speed increased during the first cruise and it could not be avoided to get spray in the boats and we all got wet. But isn’t that part of the adventure? The second cruise group went first to a Gentoo penguin colony that was walking on a slope towards the water to jump in. It was an amazing scene with all the penguins in line on the plateau. The penguins were diving in the water and swimming around the zodiacs.

Then all zodiacs headed to some very big arches. While on route the wind came in and nobody was spared. Big sprays of salty sea water gave us all a shower. There was a whale around, but the waves didn’t make it easy to spot the blows. It was cold, windy and wet but still an amazing and exciting cruise. It was a relief to get back on board to warm showers and lunch.

In the afternoon we made a landing on Pleneau Island which is around 1.2 km long. From the cobbled beach on the eastern coast, smooth rock terraces slope gently upwards towards a large crevassed ice‐cap, which covers the western two‐thirds of the island. At the landing site a colony of Gentoo penguins welcomed us. The walk over the ice cap lead us towards the northern end of the island where Blue‐eyed shags were nesting. Half way along the walk was a small colony of Gentoo penguins and we discovered one Adélie penguin hanging out with them. Walking over the icecap felt like going through a big white desert and was especially nice when some gust came in and blew fresh snow over the plateau.

The night promised to be special. It was BBQ night and because of that the Recap was short and everyone went to the kayak and zodiac loading deck to have an outside BBQ with delicious food and free drinks. The meat was on the BBQ one deck higher and our party had a view over a field of icebergs. It didn’t take long to change the BBQ into a dancing party and even the Captain did a little bit of dancing.

The campers headed back to Pleneau Island for the night, the same landing we had been to that afternoon, and were giving a beautiful wave off from the partiers still drinking on the back deck.

Kayaking
Sadly the positive vibes coming from passengers calling for good weather didn’t stop the wind from a-blowing! The wind was decidedly ‘tricksy’ all day, sometimes dropping to a manageable 11-12 knots or below, but the two minute wind gusts were often 20-23 knots and more. In the wide open water between Pleneau Island and Port Charcot on Booth Island, you could see the wind gusts coming, sending dark ripples over the sea and patterning the water with whitecaps. Easily strong enough to flip the kayaks. The afternoon team even got kayaks on the water and we were sitting in the Zodiac ready to go to Pleneau when, BAM, that wind got up again and it was with quite a bit of relief that we made the decision to cancel and go ashore.

Mountaineering
Today we made two very windy ascents of Hovgaard Island, 377m. On the way up the wind was assisting from behind but on the descent we had to lean into the wind, which was by now blowing 30 knots!. By the time we got to the ship there were some very wind scoured faces.

Camping
Group 3 was delighted to hear we would be able to camp, our site for the night was the same as our landing site that day, Pleneau Island. It would make for an easy set up as the trail was already made, no wading through thigh deep snow this time. It was however a 5-10 minute hike up hill after landing to get up to our camp spot. We were nestled in between Gentoo penguin colonies, while the smell wasn’t fantastic it was soon forgotten and very special to be camping with the penguins for the night. Wind was blowing from all directions, one minute from the North then the next minute from the South. Most campers built their shelter facing the water and the amazing views of icebergs and mountains. There were many double shelters dug and even one triple, a bit of home decorating with stairs in one hole and a snowman in another. Once everyone was set up for the night we had quite a bit of fun at our photo shoot. There was also the penguin hat photo shoot, very adorable. With only a few short hours before wake-up call and the chilly breeze coming through everyone headed for the shelter of their bivvies. As everyone got settled many curious penguins made their way past us, wondering what we were up to.

The main sound of the night was the noise from the penguins, but there were no complaints from anyone for being kept up by them. What a delight to spend the night like the penguins, what we lacked in feathers to keep us warm, we made up for in layers of sleeping bags. At 4am the wake-up call went around and everyone packed up and filled in their holes. Waking up on the snow in Antarctica on Christmas Eve, what an excellent start to the holiday.

Day 7: Base Brown and Stony Point

Base Brown and Stony Point
Date: 24.12.2017
Position: 64º 57’ 7 S / 063º 23’ 5 W
Wind: SW -4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

The campers spent the night on Pleneau Island. Though it was very gusty early on, the wind died down during the night and all the majestic mountains and glaciers were in full view. During the night the smell and noise from hundreds of Gentoo penguins wafted over the camp site. After everybody was back on board, Plancius heaved anchor and proceeded north through the Lemaire Channel. The second time was not less spectacular with the high dark cliffs on both sides of the channel.

After breakfast another narrow passage beckoned, the Ferguson Channel. Flanked by icebergs to both sides, Plancius inched her way through the channel. Crabeater seals were hauled out on some ice floes. These seals got their name incorrectly, because they solely feed on krill. As a special adaptation they have teeth that act like a sieve, filtering the krill out of the water.

When we finally reached Paradise Harbour we found that it truly lived up to its name. For once it was totally calm and the glaciers and ice peaks were mirrored in the flat water. At Base Brown we went ashore, stepping for the first time on the Antarctic continent proper. A flagged route took us to the remains of the base that was set aflame by the station doctor in 1984 because he didn’t want to spend another winter there. Luckily nobody was hurt, but the Base was unoccupied for many years. Nowadays it is a summer only base and the Argentinians were due to arrive in a week. At the moment we were there it was still in the hands - or flippers - of the Gentoo penguins.

From the base we climbed up to a lookout, offering splendid views of the bay which was littered with icebergs. After some time ashore we went Zodiac cruising. Some humpback whales were spotted and some Zodiacs even got close to them. On the cruise we saw Blue eyed shags that nested high in the cliffs above us, green copper deposits, good examples of sedimentary folded rocks and of course glaciers. At the end of the landing there was the opportunity for another Polar Plunge. Under wild shrieks people flung themselves into the water. Two Gentoo penguins close by seemed to be very astonished about this behaviour and probably wondered what all the fuss was about.

Over lunch the ship relocated to Stony Point, snow covered and dome shaped. From the landing site everybody could pick up a pair of snowshoes and climb to the top. The views were stunning. All around glaciated peaks loomed and the bay was littered with icebergs. It was again calm and the sea was so still that icebergs and cliffs were mirrored in the water. High above us on the slopes the mountaineers worked their way up over some ice fields. From the distance they looked small like ants. At the end of the landing everybody had the chance to make a Zodiac cruise on the way back to the ship and we admired more icebergs in wonderful blue colours and twisted shapes. On the far side of the bay was a small Gentoo penguin colony that we visited. A Weddell seal was hauled out on the snow. He was sleeping and his breath hung like an icy cloud over his snout. A bit further on an ice floe two Crabeater seals dozed in the sun; their fur gleamed golden in the sunlight.

Back on the ship we had an early dinner. Dessert and cheese was this time served in the bar. As a change from normal routine the recap was supposed to be held after dinner, but the appearance of three or more Humpback whales changed all plans. We watched the whales from the windows of the lounge. The show was really good and each time when a fluke was shown applause and loud cheers rose in the lounge rounding up a fantastic day in Antarctica.

Kayaking
At last it looked like the luck of the kayakers was changing. We sailed into the beautiful calm waters of the aptly named Paradise and anchored off Base Brown. The wind speeds were marginal and the bay dotted with small pieces of ice that were going to present no problems for kayaking operations. The team quickly kitted up and by the time the ship came to a stop, we were ready to go. We lowered the kayaks to the water and then Nico and Fran took the passengers a short way off and started to get them into the kayaks. We headed alongside the beautiful cliffs of sedimentary rocks, home to tens of nesting Antarctica shags, spotting the occasional sheathbill and skua amongst them. We saw the bright green Verdigris of copper looking almost like spilled paint and we were heading round to the glacier when Christi heard and spotted the plume and dorsal fin of a humpback whale. So we turned into the bay and paddled across for 15-20 minutes occasionally seeing 3-4 whales surface and dive again. We didn’t get too close as they were moving steadily away from us and we eventually moved back towards the Base, past Gentoo penguin nests and worked out way back to the ship. A happy team with big smiles went for lunch.

The conditions remained favourable for the afternoon and once the ship had relocated a short distance to Stony Point, it was time for Team B to get on the water. There was a lot of ice in the bay although it was calm and we had to negotiate our way through some brash and largish blocks. We headed to a small island which had a penguin colony on it and we stopped quietly on the water for ten minutes, Zodiac engines switched off and listened to the silent sounds of Antarctica. There was a couple of ice cliffs collapsing over on the shore, the drip of ice melting off bergs on the sea, the calls of penguins and the high pitched scream of a pair of Artic terns. The skies were amazing this afternoon, with some sunlight but dramatic grey, blue and pearlescent clouds. All in all a day that many of the kayakers will remember for a long time.

Mountaineering
AM. In the morning we landed at Brown Station. From the point we climbed up the glacier and onto a view point overlooking the area. The final exposed rock step to the summit of the view point was challenging to climb wearing snow shoes. From the view point we continued across the glacier and made a loop back to the landing site.

PM. In the afternoon we landed at the foot of an impressive glacier. To get to the landing site we had to navigate the zodiac through thick broken glacial ice. The conditions were challenging as the snow had not frozen and it required the guides to break trail through deep wet snow. Our goal was a sub peak coming off the ridge to the main summit - the high peak was over 2000m meters above sea level an unfortunately not achievable in our time on the mountain. Just below the peak we were climbing towards we had to navigate our way between some huge crevasses. Eventually we came to an impassable crevasse just below our summit so this was our high point.

Camping
What perfect camping conditions, an early Christmas gift for the happy campers. Again our camping site was the same as the landing site from that day at Stony Point, making for an easier camp in familiar settings. Everyone was ready early at the gangway but we had a bit of a wait while the drivers found an ice free route to the camp site. This gave us time at the gangway to strategize for the coming photo shoot. Someone had the great idea to spell ‘Merry Christmas’ as well as our usual ‘Antarctica’ and we worked out how many people would be needed. Finally arriving to the campsite, there was very little wind and we all had quite a fun time digging our bivvie holes. We really enjoyed our photo session and not only did we spell ‘Merry Christmas’ but we sang Christmas carols while in position and took a video. What a beautiful Christmas eve with our new friends. There were some Christmas decorations added to some camp spots, a small Christmas tree at one double hole and a star hung above another.

We were given another early Christmas gift, an extra hour of time in the morning and instead of leaving at 4:30 we would be staying until 5:30, this message was answered with cheers. Because the weather conditions were so nice we were able to stay out and enjoy the views a bit longer, but eventually we all headed to our bivvies. Everyone was woken up by Gracie on Christmas at 5am with a ‘Good morning, Merry Christmas’ and the sight of her in reindeer ears. What a beautiful Christmas morning!! We had to take a different route leaving than coming in so we had to carry our gear through the snow, also the wind was picking up so everyone was very happy to get back on the ship and have a quick rest and shower before Christmas breakfast.

Day 8: Orne Islands and Foyn Harbour

Orne Islands and Foyn Harbour
Date: 25.12.2017
Position: 64º 45’ 3 S / 062º 41’ 0 W
Wind: SW -5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

Christmas had finally arrived in Antarctica and after a wakeup call from Lynn, those who went outside were met with spectacular views of the Gerlache Strait, Errera Chanel and Cuverville Island. Feeling festive we headed down to the dining hall for a delicious Christmas breakfast and prepared for an action packed day ahead. The mountaineers got themselves ready first and were dropped onshore at Georges Point on Ronge Island by Katja and Yoli. The rest of us donned our warm clothing and got ready to get into the zodiacs for a short drive to the Orne Islands. These low-lying islands are found at the entrance to the Errera Channel and the largest of the islands rise to around 75 metres. Once ashore we got our first glimpse of Chinstrap penguins which were interspersed with other groups of Gentoo penguins. We could clearly see why they are called ‘Chinstrap penguins’ as they have a very obvious dark line around across their chin. The snow was quite hard ashore and so we were able to walk easily up the hill without any snowshoes. As we climbed we were able to see some small colonies of Chinstraps, Kelp gulls, Skuas and a couple of Crabeater seals lying on the rocks.

Some of us were even lucky enough to see Humpback whales feeding in the bay. While we were exploring the islands, Fran’s kayakers conducted the coastal scenic tour of the islands and were able see penguins and icebergs close to their kayaks. After a couple of hours ashore it was time to get back in our zodiacs and have a delicious Christmas lunch on board.

Whilst we were eating the ship steamed to Enterprise Island at the North of Wilhelmina Bay, where the wreck of the Gouvernøren, an old whaling ship, can be found. We planned to do a zodiac cruise around the wreck but unfortunately we experienced incredibly strong winds and were unable to safely transfer guests into the zodiacs. Instead our Captain decided to do a ship cruise of Wilhelmina Bay and we were entertained by three Humpback whales who put on quite a show for us - waving their pectoral fins, spy hopping and displaying their tails as they dived. The whales stayed close to the ship for over an hour and many of us were able to get lovely close up photographs of them as they were swimming. At 6:30pm our hotel staff gave everyone a complimentary drink and we were wished Merry Christmas by our lovely Captain Alexey. Our daily recap began with Lynn gave us an overview of tomorrow’s activities including a visit to Deception Island and some information about what a Humpback whale looks like underwater. Gracie gave us some more information about Humpback whales and informed us of how pictures can be useful for identification purposes (see the Happy Whale website) while Yoli spoke about the seals that we commonly see on the Antarctic Peninsula.

It was then time for Christmas dinner and we were treated to an incredible three-course Christmas meal. Santa and his penguin helper arrived to the sound of the staff singing ‘Feliz Navidad’ and then it was time to get our stockings and presents. Those of us that still had room in our tummies treated ourselves to desert and followed up with drinks in the bar. All around it was a fantastic Christmas in Antarctica!

Kayaking
A happy Christmas day to this lucky bunch of paddlers! The wind was quite strong on the journey up to Orne Islands and for a short while it looked like we might be blown off the water – again! However it dropped sufficiently to allow us to launch 12 kayakers in 6 doubles and despite some trepidation, the whole team managed to find some shelter and paddle up and down the north shore of one of the islands, close to the penguin colony and the landing site. The wind did pick up again and was pushing us around a bit, threatening to send some people out into the Gerlache Strait, but we rounded up the kayakers and set out back to the Plancius. The ship had moved due to wind and ice and we waited for a few minutes while it came back into position. The team worked hard to get all the kayaks back on deck and all in all we counted ourselves lucky to have grabbed that short spell on the water.

Mountaineering
This was our second landing at Georges Point on Ronge Island. We enjoyed a fantastic Christmas hike climbing between a series of wind scoops climbing up to a col where the wind picked up. With the wind came some serious spin drift which all but blinded us briefly on the main ridge. The afternoon group had gotten a short way before we had to turn around and head back to the ship due to the weather picking up and the possibility of not being able to zodiac back. We did at least enjoy a wild zodiac ride where as everyone else still on board didn’t get the chance to get off the ship.

Day 9: Deception Island, Half Moon Island and Barrientos Island

Deception Island, Half Moon Island and Barrientos Island
Date: 26.12.2017
Position: 62º 44’ 3 S / 059º 57’ 3 W
Wind: SWS -4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

During the night we made good progress, crossing the Bransfield Strait, so at 4:45am Lynn woke us to let us know we were just approaching Deception Island.

The island is named because it conceals an inner harbour within a flooded volcanic caldera. The Captain carefully manoeuvred the Plancius though the narrow entrance known as Neptune’s Bellows, with Ravn Rock waiting just below the surface to founder another ship in the middle of the passage. Once safely inside we made our way into Whalers Bay, the site of a former whaling station from the early part of the twentieth century, as well as a British Antarctic research station. From the ship we could see the Norwegian whaling station which operated on shore from 1911 to 1931. During that time, whales were harpooned at sea, floated alongside ships into Whalers Bay, winched up the slipway and flensed. The pressure cookers were used to boil the bones, meat and entrails to extract as much oil as possible, with waste bones crushed down for fertilizer. The sheer scale of the oil tanks added to the eerie atmosphere of the old whaling station, a sobering reminder of such a destructive era of exploitation.

For those that made the effort to drag themselves out of bed they were certainly rewarded with spectacular views of this volcanic island, bathed in beautiful morning light. We could even see and smell the sulphuric steam rising from the dark black beach.

From Deception Island, we continued northwards up to Half Moon Island which was our chosen spot for our morning landing. Half Moon Island lies north of Burgas Peninsula in the South Shetland Islands and is home to the Argentine Cámara Base. Some of the guests had noted that the only thing missing from the trip so far was blue skies, and we were in luck, it was a proper Antarctic summer day here. So much so that some of us stripped down to just a t-shirt!

The island was a hive of activity in terms of wildlife, it was difficult to know where to turn your attention. It is thought that Half Moon is the home to about 2,000 pairs of chinstrap penguins, many of which were already caring for very small chicks, which of course made for wonderful photos.

The island is also identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it supports a breeding colony of about 100 pairs of south polar skuas along with an abundance of Antarctic terns, kelp gulls, Wilson's and black-bellied storm petrels, Cape petrels, brown skuas and snowy sheathbills, all of which were present today. For those wanting to stretch their legs, Katja and Dan led a walk to the other end of the island towards the base. The walking group saw several elephant seals and Weddell seals on route. However, what probably caused the most excitement was Lynn spotting the resident macaroni penguin, which has been observed here for the past few years. Unfortunately, it was well camouflaged amongst a colony of chinstraps, but with a bit of patience most of the guests managed to get a look, if only brief, at our fourth type of penguin species. As always with landings like this, time was our greatest enemy and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the ship, but what a morning it had been!

Whilst lunch was being served we cruised further north to Barrientos Island which was to be our last landing for the voyage. Barrientos Island is an ice-free island in the Aitcho group on the west side of English Strait, from there you have a direct line of sight out into the Drake Passage. As we approached the island by zodiac, the first thing we noticed was how different in appearance this island was to anything else we had come across in the past few days, it was green!!!

Much of the island was covered in moss, in fact this was the first real vegetation we had seen since leaving Ushuaia. In a similar manor to Half Moon, the islands’ wildlife was flourishing with an abundance of both chinstraps and Gentoo penguins with new born chicks, in fact a few lucky passengers even witnessed some eggs hatching. However, the circle of life can be somewhat brutal at times and for every chick that seemed to be born another was devoured by the hungry skuas that lurked all around, we witnessed them snatch both eggs and tiny chicks with no mercy. In fact, the interaction between the two types of penguins and the predatory birds was some of the best we had experienced on the entire voyage, everyone was certainly getting very trigger happy with their cameras.
The afternoon came to an end far too soon and it was time for us to be shuttled back to the Plancius one last time. However, Antarctica had one last treat in store for us, a curious leopard seal that was intent on taking a closer look at each of the zodiacs as they approached the gangway.

Back on board, Zsuzsanna and her team were waiting to great us with homemade hot chocolate (of course with an obligatory dash of rum in it), which really was the perfect way to end a very memorable day.
Just before dinner, the Expedition Team invited us to the daily recap. The plans for the following day were quite simple: we would be sailing the Drake. Katja spoke about the formation and history of Deception Island and Sara explained some of the most common seafaring superstitions which left us hoping good fortune might be on our side and we would get a calm and safe crossing back to Ushuaia.

Kayaking
As we approached Half Moon Island the wind in the Bransfield Strait was still quite strong but the closer we got the more it eased off. By the time we put the anchor down, the wind dropped below 10 knots and we were all ready to go on the back deck. We took the kayaks and paddlers round the corner and launched on the east side of the island then headed away from the main beach area for some solitude. There was plenty of wildlife and our first sightings of elephant seals on the beach, 3 adults and two wieners. There were also seals in the water around the kayakers coming up for a curious look at these strange imposters. The sun shone and the water was calm though with a slight swell off the south side, and everybody was paddling well having mastered the skills of paddling a double kayak. We had a leisurely cruise back to the ship too as Nico took the kayaks back to be lifted straight to the Zodiac deck where they would be tied down and readied for the journey back to Ushuaia. So we were able to relax a bit and go in close to the shore. I think we were all slightly relieved in retrospect that the curious leopard seal that circled the disembarking Zodiacs hadn’t found us earlier!

Day 10: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 27.12.2017
Position: 59º 49’ 3 S / 062º 11’ 2 W
Wind: NW -4
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +4

The night was calm and we woke up to a smooth Drake. Still the continuous movements of the ship makes made us drowsy. A perfect day to reflect on all the amazing parts of our journey in between lots of napping. With also had three lectures so we could soak up more of Antarctica on our way back.

Fran gave a talk about dogs in Antarctica who were brought over on past historical expeditions. Lynn told us about the different kind of Penguins in Antarctica, their reproduction cycle, feeding and lots of interesting facts. Katja gave a lecture about Ice, how the icecap of Antarctica has been created, why Icebergs are blue and about the archive that is stored in ice and how scientists research this.

In the late afternoon Suzanne and Bobby opened the bar with a happy hour. How much of the cozy atmosphere was from our bonding over this trip and how much was from the half price drinks is hard to say, but the lounge was a very nice place to be spending the evening. Sharing such a great voyage together makes us become some kind of traveling family.

Lynn gave a small briefing at the Recap and we ended the recap with the photo competition. Amazing photos were provided by many passengers. A great way to see what we all have seen on this voyage through so many different eyes. A passenger managed to take a photo with the Macaroni Penguin on Half Moon Island. Nice that we all got to see it now. Also there were very creative visions, like holding a penguin between your fingers and very special found treasures like the illuminating comb jelly, or salp. Everybody could give their vote for the three categories, Wildlife, Landscape and Ice-Special.

As we headed towards the North we slowly lost our 24 hours daylight and the sky grew dark for the first time in many days. Compared to just the previous day when the sun was coming up just after it had gone away, now looking out our windows before bed we had a few hours of darkness.

Day 11: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 28.12.2017
Position: 55º 48’ 5 S / 065º 47’ 7 W
Wind: NNE -5
Weather: Rain showers
Air Temperature: +7

Overnight we made excellent progress towards South America and during breakfast we were just 50 nautical miles away from the coast. Soon we had the first sight of land. Outside temperatures were mild and we didn’t need our warm jackets anymore. Blackbrowed albatrosses greeted us gliding over the crest of the waves.

At 10:30 we were invited to the dining room for a presentation from Yoli entitled ‘What Lies Beneath’. She talked about the Southern Ocean and what lies in under the water. Being a diver she had some great images of the marine life of Antarctica. The diversity of life in such a seemingly hostile environment is astounding but the creatures there enjoy a relatively stable temperature under the surface of the water and the ice and as a result are slow growing and long lived. It was a fascinating glimpse into a watery world that few of us will ever experience. We were lucky though to experience Dusky dolphins swimming alongside the ship later in the day.

After lunch the Plancius cinema opened its doors and we watched a film called “Around Cape Horn” which was filmed in the 1920’s by Irving Johnson. He was a young man on the ship who then went on became a well-known and experienced captain sailing multiple times around the world. It was an entertaining narration of some incredible footage of the days of sailing in these southern waters. It also made us realise that we travelled so much more comfortably, having a reliable engine, warm and dry cabins and three nice meals each day.

After the movie Katja invited us to the dining room for a presentation about the time she spent with the German Antarctic Programme at Neumayer Base. She also worked with the Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Programs studying ozone and drilling ice cores. She gave us a fabulous insight into her work but also into day-to-day life down on the Ice.

The last household chore of the afternoon, other than packing, was to return our rubber boots to the boot room. These sturdy ‘Muck Boots’ had kept our feet warm and dry during the voyage and we were grateful to have had them for our adventures in Antarctica.

In the evening we met in the lounge for Captain’s Cocktails. Together with Lynn and Captain Alexey we toasted to a wonderful voyage. Captain Alexey did some amazing navigation with Plancius, taking us close to whales and icebergs. Esther had put together a slide show of the trip together with some fitting music. It was lovely to look back over the last 11 days on board Plancius and to remember the places we had visited and the wonderful things we had seen.

Day 12: Disembarkation Ushuaia

Disembarkation Ushuaia
Date: 29.12.2017
Position: Ushuaia Port
Wind: NE -5
Weather: Rain showers
Air Temperature: +12

We were woken by the last wake-up call from our Expedition Leader Lynn and got ready to disembark for the final time. We didn’t have to turn our tags, there was no zodiac ride ashore and it was a dry landing. The last 12 days have taken us on a remarkable journey into Antarctica and allowed us a glimpse of life in these remote and sometimes inhospitable places. We will all have different memories of our trip but whatever the memories, whether it was the penguins on their nests, the new-born chicks, the exciting rides in the zodiac or the sight of the icebergs in Antarctica for the first, time they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Total distance sailed on our voyage: Nautical miles: 1,737 | Kilometres: 3,216

And behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Alexey Nazarov, Expedition Leader Lynn Woodworth and all the crew and staff, we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.

Details

Tripcode: PLA24-17
Dates: 18 Dec – 29 Dec, 2017
Duration: 11 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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Aboard m/v Plancius

The ice-strengthened vessel Plancius is an ideal vessel for polar expedition cruises in the Arctic and Antarctic.

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