PLA24-19, trip log, Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 30.11.2019
Position: 42°45’.7 S, 65°01’.4 W

We spent days dreaming about our voyage to come, hours shopping, reading, preparing logistics, excitedly chatting with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours about our atypical trip choice, then spent hours, days, traveling by planes, cars, buses… We thus each had our own little scenario as to how our arrival onboard Plancius would look like… but certainly none of us had imagined this one. Neither had Ali, our Expedition Leader. Her slick, blond figure welcomed us at Ushuaia’s pier…with bad news: due to a medical issue that had occurred during the previous cruise, departure will be delayed… or perhaps even worse, cancelled! At this point, our cruise was in the hands of Argentinian authorities, and all we could do was wait. But thankfully and after a pretty stressful hour, we were authorized to enter the pier. Feeling relieved, we got our first glimpse of Plancius. She awaited us quietly amongst other expedition ships –smallest, but fiercest. Her bright blue hull contrasted with the grey waters of the Beagle channel, and we proudly boarded the ship, greeted by a warm “welcome onboard!” of crewmembers that took care of our luggage and showed us the way to our cabins. We readily started exploring the ship, striding along corridors and decks, excited liked kids discovering a new playground. We rapidly found our way to the restaurant, the reception, the bridge, or the observatory lounge. We gathered in the latter for a mandatory security briefing given by our chief officer, François, and a brief presentation of the expedition team. Our expedition leader Ali is from the UK. Before working onboard expedition ships, she used to be a schoolteacher and member of the conservation department in the Falkland Islands for 15 years! Daniel, from Germany, is Ali’s assistant. Mainly based in Iceland, Daniel spends most of his time working as a naturalist guide all over the world. The rest of the team is composed of Joachem, glaciologist from the Netherlands, Katja, German researcher and guide specialised in atmospheric chemistry, who will have the difficult task of translating all documents and lectures into German, Jerry from China, former international travel consultant gone rogue to become international travel guide, Sara, wild life photographer extraordinaire originally from the UK, Marie, French researcher in developmental and evolutionary biology, and Rustyn, from the US, but based in Patagonia where he runs a backpacker’s hostel. The team is completed by specialised divers who will accompany some of us to discover polar submarine life, namely Jerry, Catherine, Chris (all three from the UK) and Chloé (from France). What an international team! All its members are “bipolar”: these passionate fellows, badly infected by the infamous polar virus, spend most of their time hopping from one pole to the other! A drill, necessary simulation of the ship’s evacuation in case of an emergency, follows François’s presentation. Because of the delayed departure, the presentation of life onboard by our hotel manager Zsuzsanna is reported and we are informed that Nick, the ship’s doctor, will stick around after dinner to distribute sea sickness pills. Debates ensues: to take medicine, or not to take medicine? That is the question.

Day 2: At Sea towards the Falkland Islands

At Sea towards the Falkland Islands
Date: 01.12.2019
Position: 53º 45.25’S / 063º 45.6’ W
Wind: W
Weather: clear sky
Air Temperature: +12

The keen ones of us were already up and around when Ali made the first wake-up call of the voyage, but for those of us still being gently rocked in our beds it was time to get up and see what the day would bring. It was a bright sunny morning and there was just a gentle breeze pushing us along, so we had made good progress over night. After breakfast many of us headed out on deck to enjoy the sunshine and gaze at the birds that were flying around the Plancius. We found lots of Cape Petrels skimming the water close to the ship, and slightly further afield Giant Petrels and several species of albatross glided, using the air currents to demonstrate their skill at dynamic soaring. Birds habitually follow ships at sea looking for food brought up to the surface by the wake, but also to enjoy the uplift created by our passing ship. At 10:30am we were invited to the lounge for the mandatory Zodiac briefing from Ali, which gave an overview of our Zodiac operations and how we should embark and disembark the small rubber boats both at the ship and shore. After which we headed downstairs to collect our rubber boots ready for our wet landing. The staff were on hand to ensure that the system ran with the utmost efficiency, with boots of all sizes being passed along the line to ensure everyone got the correct size ready to go ashore in the morning. Most people headed back outside after lunch to continue enjoying the sunshine we were being blessed with and we were rewarded with our first whale sighting - a Fin Whale. Although it was some way off, you could clearly see its large blow hanging in the air as it came to the surface to breathe and its small dorsal fin. At this time of year, it is not uncommon to see Fin Whales in this stretch of water as they head south to feed in the cold, nutrient-rich waters of Antarctica. Just as Ali was about to start her presentation about the Falkland Islands, a call came over the radio that a pod of Orcas had been spotted, of course we all dashed outside once more. The pod of orcas consisted of 7-8 individuals, two of which came quite close to the ship, enabling most people to get some wonderful views of these magnificent black and white creatures. Despite being commonly known as Killer Whales, they are in fact the largest member of the Dolphin family and not a type of whale. We stayed with them for about 20 minutes before heading back inside to watch Ali’s presentation. Ali lived and worked in the Falkland Islands for almost 15 years so was the perfect person to give us an introduction into this isolated archipelago that many of us knew little about. She spoke about the history and economy of the islands and some of the flora and fauna we could expect to see over the forthcoming days. She also told us about what took her to the islands in the first place and some of her ‘character-building’ experiences as a travelling teacher on the remote farms of the Falkland Islands. The last official event of the day was our first daily Recap & Briefing session. Due to the late departure from Ushuaia the previous evening Captain Levakov hadn’t been able to formal introduce himself as he was busy navigating the Beagle Channel, so he took his chance this evening to say a few words and wish us a successful voyage. As Ali explained our plans for tomorrow you could feel the excitement growing in the lounge. This was followed by a little bit of ‘Falkland Trivia’ from Sara and a short presentation about Falkland Geology from Jochem. There was a lot of enthusiastic chatter as we descended to the Dining Room afterwards, as people shared their hopes and expectations for the forthcoming days with one another.

Day 3: Falkland Islands

Falkland Islands
Date: 02.12.2019
Position: 51º 18.3’S / 060º 33.2’ W
Wind: NW
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +15

Today we were woken up by the lovely voice of Ali, and the scenery was spectacular as we were getting close to our morning destination Carcass island. This is the first landing in the Falkland Islands; the first of our trip! We were all excited to get off the ship and enjoy a leg stretch after one day at sea. Ali announced we could be ready to go ashore at 8:30 am, and yet a lot of fully geared passengers were already at the gangway at 8:07. After the expedition staff’s set up was ready on shore, zodiac operations were finally started. We were given two options this morning, and most of us chose the first, which was a 3 miles hike from a beach to the settlement. Five of us instead opted for the second, landing at the jetty very close to the settlement. There were many species of Falkland Islands birds along the way including Caracaras, oystercatchers, upland geese, crested ducks, snipes, and Magellanic penguins nesting in their burrows. The island owner had prepared a variety of sweets, English tea, and coffee for those who had arrived at the settlement. We spent around three hours on the island with blue sky and sunshine, which is the best of the Falkland Islands weather. A Commerson’s dolphin was playing with our zodiacs, following us from the shore to the ship. It almost seemed it wouldn’t want us to leave. During lunch time, the ship set sail to our afternoon destination, Saunders Island, another unique island of the Falkland Islands. The land owner Bob was at the landing site welcoming us upon our arrival, marking a route for us to follow. Along the way to the top of the hill, we saw Gentoo penguins nesting, some of them having had chicks already, little feather balls. We had such good times observing them. A group of king penguins was also present on the beach! Rockhopper penguins nested on the rocks next to the cliff. These smaller penguins were jumping between rocks, going up and down the hill into the ocean or back to their nest. This behavior is how they got their name. Further up, black-browed albatross nested on the top the cliff. These giant sea birds only come back to land to mate and breed once in a couple of years. We have all enjoyed our time with such amazing wildlife on the beach or up the hill.

Day 4: Stanley

Date: 03.12.2019
Position: 51º 41.3’S / 057º 50.92’ W
Wind: SW
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +7

When Ali woke us this morning, Stanley was in sight… or at least, at a short distance: the small town was indeed barely visible, imprisoned in a thick fog. We boarded zodiacs and were shuttled to the shore. Our landing is a small pier, where Katja and Daniel briefed us. After dropping our life jackets, going through the small customs office, and collecting maps from the small visitor information center, we set off into the village. This settlement is truly unique, and for such a small village, packs many a thing to do. We strolled the main street, Ross road, flanked by the sea. Most of us successively visited a small distillery and entered souvenir shops, indulging in locally crafted woollen scarves or jewellery, or collecting penguin magnets and t-shirts “for the kids”. We visited Christ Church Cathedral, the southerly most cathedral in the world. At the church’s entrance, a sign welcomed Plancius! Beautiful stained-glass windows allowed lightening the interior part of its wooden structure, furnished with classic prayer benches but also kid’s drawing tables and toys nicely set in a corner, which leaved visitors with a sense of the community that must unite Stanley’s people at mass. Alongside was the iconic Whalebone Arch, an impressive construction from the jawbones of blue whales. Further up the street, the mizzen mast of the SS Great Britain and its canons guard the port of Stanley, opposite to historic buildings such as the Government House, whose beautiful gardens are much-photographed, Stanley House, Stanley Cottage or Marmont Row. A memorial to the Falkland war in 1982 also features on the seafront, along with a surprising statue of Margaret Thatcher and the severe looking stone building sheltering most of the Falkland Islands Government administration. For most of us, a “must-see” was the Historic Dockyard Museum, providing insights into Falkland’s life, past and present, with exhibits of social and maritime interest as well as displays of natural history (including a curiosity corner with whale and seals foetuses!). Some of us decided to venture a little further afield to explore the hills, while others chilled outside drinking coffee and writing postcards to friends a family (the weather slowly cleared up during this low-key afternoon). We departed around 1pm, Stanley’s colourful roofs contrasting with the dull, colourless surroundings dominated by Mount Longdon and Mount Tumbledown lying north and south of the town, respectively. After lunch, Ali beautifully presented the amazing natural history of the blacked browed albatross, while Plancius started to roll gently on her way to South Georgia. Just before diner, at recap, we learned more about Falkland birds thanks to Sara, and Catherine told us a moving story about Stanley’s shipwreck, the Lady Liz. Finally, Jerry detailed what can be found in the barrels that guides take ashore every landing (survival gear, and even a little bit of English tea!).

Day 5: At Sea

At Sea
Date: 04.12.2019
Position: 52º 31.8’ S / 50º 27.5’ W
Wind: W
Weather: clear sky
Air Temperature: +11

Although still in wonder of our visit to the Falkland Islands, we maintained our course to South Georgia in a consistent swell and amongst breaking waves of up to 4 meters. During the day we had time for lectures and pleasure to keep us entertained on an otherwise quiet day. Sara started the day with a talk on Whale Identification; including detailed information on the types of whales we can expect to see on our trip. For a treat on our quiet morning before lunch we all enjoyed a showing of the BBC Frozen Planet to pass some time and filling our heads with beautiful images of nature. After lunch, Ali presented us with a lecture on the penguins we saw in the Falklands and other species we hope to see in South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. The lecture ran long due to the many penguin questions, but no one seemed to mind. Black-browed albatross, snow petrels and numerous prions were seen darting amongst the breaking waves in search of their planktonic prey, in addition to the odd Antarctic fur seal bobbing about the surface watching the Plancius pass at a safe distance. At recap, we reviewed our plans for the coming days, including out cruise by Shag Rocks the next day.

Day 6: At Sea

At Sea
Date: 05.12.2019
Position: 53º 26.7’ S / 42º 43.3’ W
Wind: N
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +5

After a rock and roll night, it seems like most of us were we getting our sea legs but many of us had had a bit of a disturbed night of sleep as the ship rolled on the ocean swells so many of us were already wide awake when Ali made the wake-up call in the morning. The outside decks were reopened after breakfast so some headed outside to get some much-needed fresh air and observe the assortment of seabirds that could be seen flying around the ship, a lucky few had a lovely sighting of a humpback whale that surfaced closed to the ship. Zsuzsanna also opened the shop in the Reception offering a chance for some retail therapy and some Christmas shopping time! At 9:30, Ali invited us to the lounge for a presentation about South Georgia, as well as spending 15 years living in the Falkland Islands, she also overwintered on South Georgia so had plenty of firsthand experiences to share with us. She took us on a historic journey from the evolution of Grytviken as a whaling station, to the current fisheries industry and the recently completed rat and reindeer eradication programs. She also prepared us for the wildlife spectacle that we would experience during our time on the island and briefly mentioned a few of the sites we might be fortunate to visit over the forthcoming days. After the presentation we were invited deck by deck to vacuum our outer clothing and backpacks. ensuring they were free from grass, seeds and other potential contaminants in order to prevent the transmission of invasive species from other regions of the world. Deck 2 and 3 completed this after lunch while others either took the opportunity to have a little siesta or catch up with editing and sorting out photos. Although it was pretty foggy and wet outside, we got reasonable views of Shag Rocks named after the Blue-Eyed Shags that reside on these isolate islands. The surrounding waters are extremely productive and attract all sorts of birdlife and marine mammals, so it was no surprise to encounter a small group of feeding humpback whales, lots of fur seals and array of petrels, prions and shearwaters. At 4pm there was a BBC documentary, with commentary by the legendary David Attenborough, shown in the lounge, about Antarctica and the Sub Antarctic Islands, which only added to the excitement about the forthcoming days. Finally, the usual daily briefing started at 6:15pm where Ali explained the plans for the following day, after which we watched a Government documentary about our responsibility as visitors to the island. Jochem concluded the recap with a short presentation about the glaciers of South Georgia. Dinner was served at 7.00 pm, which finished the day’s formal programme, afterwards some passengers and staff met up at the bar for a more informal chat before bed. However, not many people stayed up late since we were all keen to be fresh and prepared for our first South Georgia landing tomorrow.

Day 7: Salisbury Plain - Prince Olav Harbour

Salisbury Plain - Prince Olav Harbour
Date: 07.12.2019
Position: 54º 03.1 S / 37º 19.6’ W
Wind: N
Weather: few clouds
Air Temperature: +3

Those of us who woke up early could see that Captain and Ali were worried at the bridge. 25 knots of wind, swell on the beach… and thousands of fur seals spread out in the beach: although the sky was clear, conditions were far from optimal for a landing at Salisbury Plain. Those of us who woke up later were never aware of Ali and Captain’s discussion, because together, they took the decision to go with the plan, and we boarded zodiacs at 8h30, landing safely on this beautiful, black sandy beach. There, many of us couldn’t hide a few tears of joy. Salisbury Plain is beyond beautiful: it is mind-blowing. Thousands of fur seals covered the land. Though their nasty, aggressive behaviour created a messy, loud environment, these animals were actually neatly spatially organised. Closest to the shore: big bulls, jealously guarding their harem. A few meters up: females, much smaller than males, their fur displaying a lighter colour, together with their pups. The latter caused several cases of cuteness overload amongst us. “awww” factor at its maximum: no one was immune to the clumsiness of these fluffy black wannabe(s). Finally, farther up, one can find young males. Frustrated they could not breed yet, they jousted fiercely, many of them bearing scars or bloody injuries. These guys can be quite dangerous, and expedition guides, armed with walking sticks, took us in small groups through this minefield. A few hundred meters later, we watched in awe tens of thousands of breeding king penguins, one of the biggest colonies of the island, and the reason many of us chose this voyage. Adults, white-bellied and dark on the back, bright yellow patches across the chest and face (which we would learn later, comes from a unique pigment synthesized only by this bird group), roam around like queens in larges dresses: magnificent… and stumbling around from time to time. Chicks, fatter than adults, shout for food, buried in their brown plumage. Noise, smell, sight: all senses were in red alert in South Georgia, and it is both tired and excited that we got back on board. In the afternoon, we cruised in a small bay called Prince Olav Harbour. This whaling station where hunted penguins, whales, and fur seals were being “processed” closed in 1912, its houses and machines slowly accumulating rust since. Amongst the reddish remains, fur seals take their revenge, breeding, fighting, and running all over the place. Their howls together with the black waters of the bay made for a daunting atmosphere. The smell of kelp was overwhelming. Near the station, the hulk of Brutus, former storage ship now serving as nesting shelter for terns and kelp gulls, completed this ghost, Jurrassic Park-like landscape. We entered a cove packed with fur seals and elephant seals, and as our guides switched off the engine of their zodiacs, we listened to the sounds of South Georgia’s wild, overwhelming fauna. We went to bed that night thinking it could not get any better. We were wrong.

Day 8: St. Andrews - Godthul

St. Andrews - Godthul
Date: 07.12.2019
Position: 54º 26.5’ S / 36º 10.5’ W
Wind: Calm
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +6

We were woken not long after 7am to be greeted with an incredible sun rise over the incredible mountains of South Georgia. As Plancius dropped anchor off St. Andrews Bay, we were all relieved to hear from Ali that the landings would go ahead, with near perfect conditions. The beach can be notoriously difficult to land on as big swells often create huge surf onto the beach and katabatic winds from the glaciers and mountains are common. However, with less than 10 knots of wind, the sea was calm and beautiful. As we made our way ashore, we could hear the wildlife before seeing it; the penguin calls were background noise, with the roar of the Elephant seals echoed over the bay. As we arrived on the beach and disembarked the zodiacs, there were penguins, Fur Seals and Elephant seals spreading as far as the eye could see; over rolling moraines and interspersed with glacier melt rivers – a truly magnificent sight. Sara led a route along the back of the beach, out manoeuvring various curious Fur seals until we reached the river. With help from Jochem in the deeper, fast flowing parts - we were all able to cross the small melt river. From here we followed a flagged route up to the moraines overlooking the main colony of King penguins. As we made our way up the last slope to the viewpoint the noise of the penguins increased and as we reached the top it was an orchestra of trumpeting adults and whistling chicks that met us along with a view that will stay with many of us for the rest of our lives. Along the beach were thousands of penguins and chicks stretching out as far as the eye could see. Everyone sat in wonder and took in this view that was almost too vast to understand. We enjoyed lunch and sailed Plancius around to Godthul. We were unable to land due to thick fur seals parked in all directions on the beach. We decided to explore the coastline via zodiac. We visited Cobblers Cove and Rookery Point, where we observed our first Macaroni penguins playing in the swell. We even entered a cave where we could hear the waves of the ocean beat the stone far back in the darkness. The swell did not cause us too many problems, but we got a good taste of what type of ocean conditions South Georgia could dish out. Before heading back to the ship we spotted a Humpback what in the distance, a nice added bonus before a well-deserved dinner on Plancius.

Day 9: Ocean Harbour - Grytviken

Ocean Harbour - Grytviken
Date: 08.12.2019
Position: 54º 20.2’ S / 36º 16.6’ W
Wind: NW
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

“What, how?” The wake-up call, almost an hour before the announced time… “Hmmgrrrmblll, why so early…” Well, for a very valid reason! The low clouds that had been blocking our mountain views on the previous days had largely disappeared, opening up a grand panorama, a vista on the true South Georgia. Majestic, snowy peaks forming the backdrop to green untouched valleys around Ocean Harbour. Complementary to the stunning landscape, a multitude of humpbacks was served. Breaching, fluking and approaching Plancius, there for all early risers to see up close – simply fantastic! After breakfast – a landing at Ocean Harbour. A proper swell, fitting our exposed anchorage position, made for cautious embarkation of the Zodiacs. On the beach and in the tussock grasslands a significant number of furry and elephanty seals was awaiting us, but magically there appeared to be a seal free avenue, allowing a route towards the graves. From there, the expedition staff opened an overwhelming amount of trails option: an extended hike along the creek to the higher ridge, a walk towards the remains of the whaling station and a short tipple to the higher viewpoint enabling magnificent views on the wreck of the Bayard steamer down in the bay. If possible at all, the skies cleared up even more and several layers of clothing could be stored in our backpacks. What a morning, with the quicksilver easily hitting double digits in sheltered areas. Whether relaxed or active, everybody seemed to have had a happy time on shore and with a visit of the South Georgia Pipit to the beach, the morning was complete. On to Grytviken, South Georgia’s first whaling station and hosting a museum, post office and tourist shop at present. But hang on, Grytviken is also home to the Government Officer of South Georgia and seat of the South Georgia Heritage Trust. This meant a short visit and briefing by their respective representants and a bio-security check on 63 passengers before going ashore. After several reprimands regarding organic matter on Velcro and between boot logos, everybody was finally allowed to visit this truly special décor made of old oil and blubber tanks, several factories and a neat white church, brought in from mainland Norway. However, the mandatory first stop was Shackleton’s grave, with Frank Wild resting on Ernest his left-hand side. Ali happily coordinated the whisky toast, commemorating the incredible endurance and adventurous mindsets of both these men. With the air getting colder, most staff members and passengers alike sought comfort in the post office and museum/shop, resulting in the acquisition of many kilograms of merchandise, dominantly penguin-themed. Indeed, the cold air actually preceded proper snow fall! For many passengers, this was the final kick needed to realise we are celebrating summer in the (Sub)Antarctic. And after such a day, what better thing to do then to eat out on deck, feasting on delicious BBQ-food and accompanying salads and mould whine! Grytviken had turned white by the time we set sail to Gold Harbour and with the exception of the usual suspects (Sara), most people found their blankets rather earlyish – the next wake-up call would soon be there…

Day 10: Gold Harbour – Cooper Bay – At sea

Gold Harbour – Cooper Bay – At sea
Date: 09.12.2019
Position: 54º 47.3’ S / 35º 48.6’ W
Wind: SE
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +3

Today we were woken up very early by Expedition Leader Ali, for our morning landing at Gold Harbour. The name comes from the scene when the morning light shine on the glacier back to the beach. Although we did not have the morning light, but it is still a very spectacular place to visit. The swell made the operation challenging at the gangway and at the landing site. Ali with other 2 guides had to turn the boats around preforming stern landing in order to land the passengers dry and safely, which is very physically challenging, but it was worth the effort. The landing beach was not a large area like St. Andrew’s bay, but it was full of life. Hundreds of king penguins, gentoo penguins, fur seals, and elephant seal pups. Although the expedition guides asked the passengers to follow the IAATO wild life guidelines, but it was really hard to keep 5m distance with penguins and 15m distance with seals, simply because they were so interested in us, especially the elephant seal pups. All passengers had great fun spending time with the king penguins and elephant seals. During the breakfast we have sailed to Cooper Bay, we had a split zodiac cruise at Cooper bay. The wind speed was dropped, but the swell reminded at the gangway and at the beach. Although we were not planning on landing, all zodiac drivers had to take extra caution when they get close to the beach. On one side the bay there were many fur seals and Gentoo penguins resting on the beach, on the other side the bay, there was a macaroni penguin colony on the hill, this would be our second macaroni penguin on this trip. The fur seals had dominated the caves under the hill. During one of the two cruises, people had witnessed an adult male fur seal on top of an elephant seal pup, and thinking it might be a female fur seal. That was not something we see every day. The ship sailed toward to South Orkneys Islands after everyone was back on. After lunch, Jerry gave a presentation on famous explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, told the stories of him tried many times to conquer this frozen continent at the end of the world, and how he tried to save his men after their ship was blocked and destroyed by sea ice in the Weddell Sea.

Day 11: At Sea

At Sea
Date: 10.12.2019
Position: 58º 22.4’ S / 41º 17.7’ W
Wind: SE
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +1

After some exciting yet long days in South Georgia we started or way south towards the Antarctic Peninsula. We had set our clocks forward one hour when arriving to South Georgia, but now had the luxury of setting them back again - giving us all one extra well deserved hour of sleep. We woke up to calm seas, well rested. At 9.30am Sara gave one of her wonderful lectures about the seals we had seen, and the ones hopefully yet to come. The lounge was full of guests enjoying the calm waters and Sara’s beautiful images. At 11.00am Ali and Katja gave IAATO lectures to prepare everyone for the coming week in Antarctica. At 11.30am we started the bio-security process - vacuuming and searching for sand and seeds in our clothing again. By now we had all become experts in the process and it was a familiar exercise. Needs to say, our clothing and camera bags had never been so clean. Yeah - lunch time! After lunch we finished a little more bio-security but by 15.30pm it was time for the South Georgia Museum auction. A change to bid on some great items that can’t be found in the standard shops. The proceeds go the rat eradication fund - so all going to a great cause! After some cocktails at the bar the bidding became quite fun and mini-battles broke out all in the good name of clarity. It was a very fun afternoon. 1355 Pounds was raised in the end. I good day for the South Georgia Heritage Fund. At recap Ali explained the upcoming weather and plans for the following day. The evening was beautiful and during dinner very large tabular icebergs seemed to float by the dining room windows with a backdrop of blue sky. The seas were as calm as one could hope for and the mood on the ship was light, friendly and full of smiles. It had been a good day.

Day 12: At Sea

At Sea
Date: 11.12.2019
Position: 60º 39.9’ S / 45º 3.25’ W
Wind: Calm
Weather: clouded
Air Temperature: +2

Ali warned us yesterday that the Orkneys Islands would look much more “polar”. When we opened our curtains this morning, we indeed discovered white, icy landscapes, typical of Antarctica. Only the name of the isolated archipelago is British: being part of the Antarctic treaty, Orkney Islands are not owned by any nation –despite Argentina having established a research station called Orcadas, and the Orkneys being located at the edge of the area claimed by the UK. Ali’s initial plan was to visit Orcadas station, but much to our delight, she decided to go for a landing instead. Plancius was however running late as she had to zigzag between massive pieces of ice on her approach of the coast, and Ali changed plans again, thereby perfectly illustrating what expedition style cruising entails (and again, much to our delight). We thus boarded zodiacs for an exploration of frozen labyrinths created by a mixture of land ice, which likely originates from glaciers surrounding the Weddell sea and are characterized by blue coloration and intricate shapes, and sea ice, which results from the freezing of sea waters, and forms flatter pieces called floes. The latter was sometimes bearing yellowish coloration due to the presence of phytoplankton. Water was crystal-clear and we could measure with our own eyes what Jerry explained the day before, namely the volumetric difference between immersed and emerged parts of icebergs. Each zodiac driver however cautiously stayed away from the biggest ones: even vibrations from engines may cause perturbations of ice structure and cause cracks, potentially leading to icy bits falling off. Not only are these dangerous but also their loss can modify the centre of gravity of an iceberg, which would roll over, ejecting ice bombs and creating treacherous waves. Adelie penguins do not reason like drivers though. These emblematic birds, neatly dressed in tuxedo plumages, complacently jump on and off of icebergs and floes. This is our first sighting of this species, and many individuals greet us by opening their wings to let the air cool down their internal organs and vascular systems after long dives. We also observed a crab eater seal basking on a floe. Back on board, we enjoyed lunch and another quiet, beautiful afternoon at sea. The first hours were spent on decks as Plancius strolled through amazing icebergs lit by a beautiful sun, on her way out of the bay. Later, we listened to a conference by Jerry on the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton. While it was impossible by now not to have heard about this man while visiting South Georgia, Jerry provided us with many an unexpected detail on the story of his life and of his fabulous expeditions, in particular that of the famous Endurance ship, its men, and their incredible adventure… from Antarctica to South Georgia. Later at recap, Rustyn added more intel to Shackleton’s story, with that of Luis Pardo, second in command of the Yaco, the ship that rescued Shackleton’s men from Wild point on Elephant Island (after two other failed attempts). Will we be able to repeat Luis Pardo’s exploit? Ali explained that given the great weather conditions, we would give it a try, as a bonus to our expedition! Marie then talked about coloration in polar birds and mammals, explaining the genetics behind some of the colour mutants (such as blond fur seals and leucistic giant petrels) that we had observed a few days ago.

Day 13: Elephant Island

Elephant Island
Date: 12.12.2019
Position: 61º 03.9’ S / 54º 38.1’ W
Wind: S
Weather: overcast/snow
Air Temperature: +2

“In front of our ship you’ll see Clarence Island and behind that, our destination of today – Elephant Island. Good morning everybody!” Alors, what news! The words ‘Elephant Island’ alone might have been enough to send shivers down the spine of many of our passengers. More specifically, Point Wilde, a rocky outcrop on the island’s coast, is forever carved in the annals of Antarctic exploration, as the haul out for 22 of Shackleton’s men, patiently awaiting the return of their boss - a chapter in what is arguably one of the most incredible stories about endurance and comradeship. In order to get there though, Plancius had to first make its way through a superb nutritional patch of ocean in front of Clarence Island. Plenty of humpbacks, fin whales, thousands of gentoos and hundreds of gulls and albatrosses were feasting close to and on the water’s surface. Spectacle pure and reason enough for our Captain to circle around the area one more time. Enfin, with the winds picking up we anchored in front of Point Wilde. Our voices dimmed out of sheer respect for the unfathomable story that took scene here. The heavy swell didn’t allow for a landing, but we managed to get all passengers into ten zodiacs, split up in two convoys of five boats and cruised along both sides of the Point. It was there, in front of the statue commemorating Piloto Pardo, were two very inquisitive leopard seals took hold of our attention. Reptilian looking seals, seemingly as long as our zodiacs, showed up as quick as they would disappear. For two boats however, the proof of leopard seals’ presence remained. For those two boats namely, got tested by the massive jaws, resulting in leakages and inoperable zodiacs for the remainder of the voyage. These seals sure demonstrated why we, visitors to their habitats, better be respect- and careful. With a long mileage to go towards the Antarctic Sound, we spend most of the afternoon and evening on board. Marie gave us fascinating and completely new insights into her research field of genetics, embryonic development and environmental constrains regarding the growth of polar mammals and birds. A loud round of applause for this expedition day symbolized the satisfaction of our passengers, potentially fed by the outlook towards true Antarctica!

Day 14: Paulet Island - Brown Bluff

Paulet Island - Brown Bluff
Date: 13.12.2019
Position: 63º 34.25’S / 55º 46.9’ W
Wind: SW
Weather: clear sky
Air Temperature: +4

In the morning, we were woken up in a very calm and peaceful weather by the voice of Ali. Our morning activity was an island that linked to several famous expeditions during the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. The name of the island is Paulet Island. The most famous expedition related to this island was the Swedish expedition led by Nordenskjold. They have been trapped on the sea ice, built a stone hut, and over wintered on this small island. The hut had fallen apart but the foundation is still visible. Not only the history is rich here, but also the Adelie penguins. There are over 20,000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins’ nest on this island and there were even chicks under their parents’ belly. After we passed the historical hut, the route ended at a frozen lake, the scenery was spectacular especially with the penguins travelling on their belly on the ice of this frozen lake. Ali then opened the route along the beach, and we found out that it is not only the penguins are having chicks at this time of the year, also the blue eye shags. During lunch time, we were on our way to our afternoon destination Brown Bluff, it is at the north-eastern tip of the Antarctic peninsula, it is truly a continental landing. Some of the passenger had completed their seventh continent after landing at Brown Bluff. When we arrived the landing site, we started to walk to the Adelie and Gentoo penguin colony. On the way, there were gentoo penguins nesting just next to the rocks and close to shore. Marching bands of Adelie penguins were coming out and jumping into the sea. At around 16:45, a guided walk that goes up to the glacier started, many people joined this interesting walk, along the way, Jochem explained the geology of this part of the peninsula. The sun came out and put beautiful colours on the surroundings as we ascent. At the end of our track, people enjoyed themselves by taking photos and siting down in this amazing environment. At the end the landing, more than 10 brave souls plunged themselves into the freezing cold water. This afternoon was just too beautiful and peaceful to leave, but our journey has to continue. During the recap, Ali announced the next day would be an exploration day, and Jochem explained we would be going to see the largest iceberg on the planet and possibly Emperor penguins.

Day 15: Weddell Sea and Devil Island

Weddell Sea and Devil Island
Date: 14.12.2019
Position: 64º 18.05’S / 56º 34.5’ W
Wind: Calm
Weather: partly clouded
Air Temperature: +3

Overnight we had traversed South West, further in to the Weddell Sea. Ali woke us earlier than planned as we had made good progress and by 6 am we were sat just 1 nautical mile of the edge of iceberg A-68A. This enormous iceberg carved from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in July 2017, with a surface area of 5,800 square kilometres and weighing one trillion tonnes is one of the largest recorded icebergs, the largest being B-15 which measured 11,000 square kilometres before breaking up. The calving of A-68 reduced the overall size of the Larsen C shelf by 12 percent which gives a sense as to the enormity to the chunk of ice that was just ahead of the Plancius. We wrapped up warm and took our cameras outside to try and capture something that would remind us of this incredible sighting, however it was virtually impossible to do it justice or convey its sheer size. During breakfast we cruised a part of the 150km wall of ice, before heading out towards some fast ice in order to begin our search for a special large type of penguin we hoped to see, the Emperor. As we approached the edge of the fast ice the expedition team went to the bridge, binoculars in hand, to begin the search. Finding penguins on the ice was easy, but double checking each one methodically to ensure what type of penguin we were looking at was far more challenging. There were countless Adelie Penguins, but this was not our target species for this morning. While the Expedition team strained their eyes, most guests headed outside to enjoy the spectacular scenery, there were towering tabular icebergs in every direction and every so often a seal was spotted resting on the smaller ice floes. Eventually Ali made the call from the bridge that we had all been waiting for, an Emperor Penguin had been spotted! We hurried outside, camera and phones in hand to get a better view of this lonely adult perched on a small iceberg, Captain navigated the Plancuis beautifully, enabling us wonderful views of the penguin. No sooner had we returned inside to warm up, a second Emperor was sighted and we scuttled outside once more to take more pictures of this majestic creature. Zsuzanna and Anna her assistant kindly served a boozy rum hot chocolate in the lounge on our return, the perfect warming tipple on this cold expedition day. We continued to cruise towards Snow Hill Island, the home to a well-known Emperor Penguin Colony, in fact at one point we were less than 25nautical miles from the colony which is only accessible by helicopter due to being surrounded by sea ice year round, but unfortunately no more Emperor Penguins were spotted, despite the Expedition Teams best efforts. Over lunch we sailed North up the Erebus and Terror Gulf, past Seymour Island, on which Marambio Station, the Argentine station is located so as to be in position for our afternoon activity at Devil Island. Shortly after 3:30pm the Expedition staff were ready to greet us ashore on this small volcanic island. The island is named for the two peaks located at either end of the island which are separated by a low-lying valley creating a horned effect. For those feeling energetic a guided walk was offered to one of the peaks which gave spectacular views down across the semi frozen Price Gustav Channel, whilst those wanting a more leisurely afternoon spent the time with the large Adelie Penguin colony located in the valley. The penguins were sitting on their pebble nests, either incubating eggs or nursing very small chicks, most the chicks were under a week old and extremely photogenic. Unfortunately for them, there were several Brown Skuas hoovering above which see them as a tasty snack and were just biding their time till they saw an opportunistic moment to snatch one from beneath their parents. With so much to do and see, the afternoon seemed to fly by and before we knew it is was time for the last zodiac of the day as diner time was rapidly approaching. With a long, action packed afternoon and to avoid delaying dinner our daily recap was done at 8:45pm, Ali told us of the plan for our last expedition day, Sara spoke a little about Emperor penguins and Marie concluded her three-part series on colour variations and mutations in birds and mammals. Today was certainly a true expedition day and one we would remember for a long time to come, so most stayed in the bar to have a celebratory night cap before heading to bed.

Day 16: Half Moon Bay and Yankee Harbour

Half Moon Bay and Yankee Harbour
Date: 15.12.2019
Position: 62º 35.5’S / 59º 54.5’ W
Wind: SW
Weather: clear sky
Air Temperature: +4

A bright blue sky to start the day, brilliant. As Plancius ankered just off the coast of Half Moon Island, we woke up surrounded by the magnificent, glacier blanketed peaks of Livingston Island. Half-moon, half groups, meaning a split landing – many divers took the opportunity to dive one more time, whereas all non-divers could choose between doing or not doing a longer hike. Rough rock-formations give the island a very characteristic touch and have creates many small niches and plateaus to host chinstrap-penguins (including one resilient Macaroni penguin, called Marcel), shags and gulls. The long-hikers took on the peak behind the Argentinian research station, enabling them a breezy 360 degrees panoramic view over the surrounding mountains, land spits and glaciers. Meanwhile, the few passengers that had landed close to the penguin colony, could scatter and enjoy the new-found tranquillity. A little later on, a route towards surprisingly large and beach-rock-like Weddell seals was opened up. The sleepy slugs didn’t really show of, but just like us, these seals took great joy in the warmth of the bright, shining sun. A fantastic morning! And still, there was more to come. One final landing. How to worthily wrap up a 19-day trip that took us to so many different surroundings and to literally millions of animals? Exactly, by contemplation. And Yankee Harbour turned out to do just that to many of us. Triggered by offshore breaching humpback whales, many got lured to the far side beach, sat down and remained seated. Silent. Smiling. Sunbathing. The walk back to our landing zone led past yet another penguin colony, a last glimpse on quibbling and kleptomanic gentoos. Mission completed. Due to an earlier-than-normal return to our steamer and with doctor Nick making house in the lounge, everybody knew what time it truly was: time to head home, time to hit the Drake. That evening’s recap taught us a few things. Outdoor gear has evolved into fashionable wear, salp lives its live truly non-conform to human standards and most importantly, the weather forecast shows a green Drake – with a sigh of relief all passengers happily made their way to the restaurant. Bon Appetit and Good Night.

Day 17: At Sea - Drake Passage

At Sea - Drake Passage
Date: 16.12.2019
Position: 60º 00.85’S / 063º 30.3’ W
Wind: SSW
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +7

Our good luck continued overnight, we woke to a gentle rolling motion and a mild 20 knots of wind, it wasn’t quite a ‘Drake Lake’ but not far from it. It was a leisurely start to the day with no formal wake-up call from Ali so breakfast was a staggered affair as we woke from our slumber. It was quite a subdued atmosphere on board, as people perused their photos and quietly chattered and reflected over what an incredible trip they had had and how lucky we had been with weather and sightings, there was definitely a few heavy hearts amongst us to be leaving Antarctica. Shortly after breakfast Ali announced that we would make a small detour to our journey so as to traverse through the waters where a Chilean aircraft had come down a few days earlier to assist with the search operation. It wasn’t expected to delay our arrival in Ushuaia and of course there is a moral obligation to help in such a disastrous situation, so we fully supported this decision. The first lecture of the day was given by Jerry, entitled ‘The Race to the Poles’, which told the story of Scott and Amundsen’s race to be the first to reach the South Pole. This was the golden era of polar exploration with numerous attempts in both the Arctic and Antarctica at the beginning of the 20th Century to be the first to reach a certain point or traverse a particular route. Shortly after Jerrys presentation, we had a viewing of another episode of the amazing BBC documentary Frozen Planet, with its impressive footage of both Antarctica and the Arctic. As we finished lunch the expedition team headed up to the bridge and outside decks, with binoculars in hand, to search for potential debris form the plane crash as we had reached the co-ordinates the Chilean authorities had requested we searched, but despite their best efforts, unfortunately nothing was found. Mid-afternoon, we gathered in the lounge to listen to Katjas’ presentation entitled ‘Life at a Base’, detailing her time working at Neumayr Station as an atmospheric chemist. She has countless funny and inciteful anecdotes to tell, it was certainly eye opening to understand what overwintering at an Antarctic Base really involves, it was definitely far from the comfort we had become accustom to on the Plancius the last couple of weeks. At 16:30 Ali gave her presentation Ice Maidens, about the women behind the heroic explorers and how despite their very different personalities they each provided the foundation for the success of their partners. She also shed some light on the transition of Antarctica from being a men’s only domain to one where researchers and explorers of both sexes pursue their dreams and passions. The day concluded with the usual daily recap and plans for the tomorrow from Ali, and concluded with an interesting short presentation from Marie which discussed how mathematical equations explain pattens in nature.

Day 18: At Sea - Drake Passage

At Sea - Drake Passage
Date: 17.12.2019
Position: 55º 47.75’S / 66º 01.0’ W
Wind: NE
Weather: overcast/rain
Air Temperature: +4

Our second day on the Drake Passage was yet another pleasant surprise. The 20 kts winds gave the ship a slight roll, but nothing that interfered with our daily routine too much. After breakfast we started our lecture program with Daniel giving us a virtual tour of Plancius. Everything for the kitchen to the engine room. Details and fact about the ship that we otherwise would not have any chance to see. We had time before lunch to enjoy a short documentary from the BBC about our frozen planet, but soon Zsuzsanna was already calling us in for lunch. It was a very nice leisurely morning. After lunch we continued out lecture series with Chloé presenting her topic of ‘Drifting Life’ - a in-depth view of life above and below the surface of the ocean. With everything from amazing, colourful sponges to tiny but o so important krill, it was another reminder of the complexities and variety that lay directly under us on this amazing voyage. Complementary to Chloé’s presentation, dive guides then presented a slideshow of all they had experienced below the surface on this very expedition. The stories we had been hearing all these days together at sea now came to life with amazing photography summited by all the divers on the team. For all of us non-divers it was a rare treat to see what only the underwater explorers normally get to witness. By the afternoon it was time to think about some of the ‘real’ tasks at hand, before getting to Ushuaia. We were all called down to return our rubber boots that we had used and cared for these last three weeks. It was strange to hand them back - as they had been so important to us every step of the way. Before dinner, for our last recap, we all raised our glasses of champagne with the Captain in the lounge, for one last toast to our great adventure. Daniel had created a slideshow, built day by day, of all of our unique experiences in the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. It was almost sad to be called to our last dinner, but Szuzsanna had a special surprise dessert for us, and we had a chance to see all of the hotel staff, in the dining room: all of the hardworking crew that had made each of our mealtimes so special. It was an unforgettable last dinner.

Day 19: Ushuaia - Disembarkation

Ushuaia - Disembarkation
Date: 18.12.2019
Position: 42°45’.7 S, 65°01’.4 W

Today we were woken by the last wake-up call from our Expedition Leader Ali and got ready to disembark in Ushuaia. The last 18 days have taken us on an eye-opening journey to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the frozen continent and allowed us a short glimpse into an environment that most will never see. We all had slightly different experiences but whatever the memories, whether it was our first-time onboard zodiacs, hiking in rubber boots, seeing massive ice cliffs or making new friends, they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.


Tripcode: PLA24-19
Dates: 30 Nov - 18 Dec, 2019
Duration: 18 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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