PLA24-22, trip log, Antarctica - Basecamp

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Ushuaia, Embarkation Day

Ushuaia, Embarkation Day
Date: 10.12.2022
Position: 54°48.6’S / 068°17.8’W
Wind: NNE4
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +9

Finally, the day arrived for our adventure! Many of us have waited a long time for this day. We embarked on board our home for the next 12 days at about 3.30pm.

We entered the port and were welcomed by the Expedition Team and the Hotel Team at the Plancius’ gangway. After we had been shown to our rooms, we started to explore the ship and our new environment, soon followed the briefing for the mandatory safety drill and drill itself.

It was interesting to see the 100 fellow passengers in the bulky orange lifevests. Before dinner Eduardo, our expedition leader, invited us to the lounge where we went through some basic information about life on the Plancius, the general plan for the trip and the weather forecast for the upcoming days. Volodymyr, our Hotel Manager, gave us useful advice about practicalities of life on board. We also met Captain Remmert and his Chief Engineer, Floris and we had a drink to celebrate the upcoming voyage!

For many the travel days to reach the remote town of Ushuaia were long, so most of us went to bed shortly after the fantastic buffet. We enjoyed settling into our new temporary home and cannot wait for the adventures that will begin soon.

Day 2: Crossing the Drake Passage

Crossing the Drake Passage
Date: 11.12.2022
Position: 56°23.6’S / 065°57.7’W
Wind: SW4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

Yesterday evening we were warned this was going to be a very quiet Drake. Indeed, as we woke up after our first night onboard, Plancius was gently rolling from portside to starboard side, surfing two-to-three meters high waves, pushed south by a 20-knot wind coming from the North. The clinometer at the bridge indicated flat seas. The good news was that we were gaining time! The bad news? A “gentle” swell is actually not the easiest to stomach, and many of us found themselves feeling rather uneasy. We kept the ship’s doctor, Tijmen (from the Netherlands), quite busy: he was distributing sea-sickness patches all day! It looks like “very quiet” is a relative notion when it comes down to navigating southern seas.

The morning was spent between briefings and coffee breaks in the observatory lounge on deck 5. First, we met the expedition team, composed of Steffi, the assistant expedition leader, German biologist and professional skydiver, Daniel, from Germany, photographer based in Iceland, Beth, a geologist from Scotland who worked for several years on tall ships, Koen, Dutch photographer and whale enthusiast, Marco, from Italy, who has settled as a trekking guide in Chile, Anthonie, from the Netherlands, who trained as an engineer but also worked as surf teacher, Mal, mountaineering and skiing guide from New Zealand, Dave, British alpinist, skier and climber, Zet, a kayak guide and biologist from Sweden, and Marie, biologist running a research laboratory in France. This well-travelled, international and passionate bunch is led by Eduardo, our charismatic expedition leader. Originally from Guatemala, this trained astronomer is nowadays based in Switzerland – when he is not on board an Oceanwide ship!

Zet, Mal and Marco next explained logistical details relative to the kayaking, mountaineering, kayaking and camping activities they will respectively be leading. This is a “basecamp” trip, so in addition to regular landings and zodiac cruises, most of us will be able to enjoy – weather permitting, unique sports and experiences!

After a buffet lunch, we signed up for the various activities and watched a beautiful “Frozen Planet” documentary about the surprising wildlife of sea depths, dosing off slightly as we were cradled by Plancius’ movements. After a coffee break, we enjoyed the first of our daily “re-caps”, convivial briefings where Eduardo informs us about his plan A for the day after. Steffi announced a fun competition: the passenger who guesses the time at which we’ll spot the first iceberg will get a surprise reward! Anthonie explained how the Antarctic circumpolar current creates a geographical and biological barrier between two sea bodies called the Antarctic convergence, that Plancius would pass during the evening, and Mal reminded us about the many dangers of crevasses. Time for dinner! 

Day 3: Crossing the Drake Passage and first sight of land!

Crossing the Drake Passage and first sight of land!
Date: 12.12.2022
Position: 60°48.0’S / 063°14.0’W
Wind: S1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

Today we woke up and it felt as if we were still docked in port. Hard to believe that, in reality, we were in the middle of the Drake Passage with almost a completely flat ocean. What a nice way to wake up. Enjoy it while it lasts is the motto on board!

Anthonie informed us the day before in recap that the Antarctic Convergence is a food rich area at a temperature boundary where the sub-Antarctic meets the cold Antarctic waters. This means that it is a good zone for wildlife. Very early in the morning the bridge spotted the first whales shortly after we entered the Antarctic Convergence. Not only were we lucky with the ocean conditions, but throughout the entire day we also spotted dozens and dozens of whales as we crossed the Antarctic Convergence zone, illustrating nicely what Anthonie had explained. We saw many humpback whales, some of which were close to the ship, and fin whales.

We didn’t see so many of birds which was likely due to the light winds we were experiencing. Sea birds need the wind to soar between the waves and the ship. Therefore, the downside of a Drake Lake was a lack of seabirds, but for many people on board that was certainly a welcome sacrifice if it meant calm seas!

After breakfast the Expedition Team started handing out boots in the boot room. At 10:00 AM Expedition Leader Eduardo briefed us about the IAATO regulations for visitors to Antarctica and on safe zodiac operations.

Following the IAATO briefing it was time for a proper cleaning of our outdoor gear. We made our clothes turn back to a condition we had only seen them in when they were new! It is necessary to comply with IAATO regulations which are put in place to limit our impact and prevent introducing new species to this pristine continent. So, the vacuum cleaners, tweezers, brushes and paperclips were brought out!

A busy morning with intense cleaning work made us hungry so the lunch call was welcomed enthusiastically.

After lunch we continued our vacuum party, but we were rewarded for our hard work with very interesting lectures by Marie and Beth. Marie shared her penguin knowledge with us and Beth shared her passion for ice and glaciers. The lectures were interrupted a few times by whales passing by, but whales are allowed to do so 😉.

A delicious dinner re-energized us and we needed it. We had arrived in Antarctica and with clear skies and a setting sun, the landscapes were surreal and left us in awe. What a way to see this pristine continent for the first time.

Time to sleep because tomorrow we’ll set foot on land!

Day 4: Landings at Orne Islands and Cuverville Islands and evening camping at Kerr Point on Rongé Island

Landings at Orne Islands and Cuverville Islands and evening camping at Kerr Point on Rongé Island
Date: 13.12.2022
Position: 64°39.9’S / 062°39.1’W
Wind: NE3
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

The excitement began as soon as we looked outside our portholes. We could see large pristine white ice bergs glistening in the morning light. Occasional gentoo penguins passing by, jumping out the water as they race along in their little groups.

At 7am we received our wake-up call from Eduardo, our Expedition Leader, over the PA system.  We jumped into action, full of enthusiasm for our first full day of landings in Antarctica! We enjoyed a lovely breakfast with fresh fruit, cooked breakfast, pastries, and fresh bread all available, prepared by our galley team.

For the first day of landings many of us were still working out where the zodiac boarding area is and getting familiar with the layout of Plancius and we waddled about in all our layers, ready for the cold Antarctic climate. The mountaineers were first off, leaving at about 8am once they had been ‘dressed-up’ ready for safe traveling while ashore. This outing was to George’s Point on Rongé Island, directly adjacent to where the main outing was to on Orne Island.

Orne Island sits at the entrance to Errera Channel which separates Rongé Island from the Arctowski Peninsula on the mainland. The views from this island are magnificent, with high mountains all around densely laden with snow and ice. The sound of the penguins was new to many of us. From the zodiacs many people also noticed the crackling sound of the ice. This occurs as the air bubbles burst and escape from the ice as it melts. From the landing site we had a small scramble across a rocky platform before making it to the snow. Although this was not so challenging terrane, having adapted to the motion of the ship this uneven stationary surface took a bit of getting used to! Once we were up on the snow, we had to put snowshoes on. This gives our feet a larger surface area so that we are less likely to sink into the deep snow. At this time of year, early in the season, there is a lot of fresh snow so snowshoes are often required.

We walked up to a high point on the island overlooking a penguin rookery. The gentoo penguins here had not made their nests yet due to the thick snow cover still present at this site. Some of the penguins and skuas were mating suggesting that the reproductive cycle of the birds is delayed compared to what is typically around here.

On the zodiac trip returning to the ship, some of us were able to see weddell seals resting on the ice. We were treated to some beautiful conditions with the sun shining and lighting up the sharp undulations in the landscape. We have certainly started on a high with superb weather, not much wind and plenty of wildlife.

We had a fun lunch of burgers, chips and salad catching up with each other and sharing what we had all been up to in the morning. The afternoon activities started shortly after with a landing at Cuverville Island. This island has an impressive big cliff on one side of the higher elevation area in the centre. On the lower ground we could observe the penguins at work, moving pebbles around: stealing, loosing and replacing. This almost becomes more entertaining the more you watch them as you get to see the personalities of the gentoo penguins. We are also getting more familiar with their features now as we can see the slight difference on the wings and heads. Some gentoos were tobogganing on their tummies down the snow slopes to the water reminding us of the importance to leave the landing site as we found it, free of depressions. 

The zodiac journey to and from Cuverville Island was spectacular amongst the ice bergs. All different shapes and patterns were beautiful in the afternoon sun. The wind started to increase in the afternoon but our zodiac drivers were still able to get us back to the Plancius safe and dry. 

After a short recap from Eduardo, reflecting on the day and outlining the following 36 hrs of camping, mountaineering and landings, it was time for a delicious buffet dinner.

Shortly after it was time to get layered up again ready for the last outing of the day: camping! The skies were clear and the water was calm. It was looking like a fantastic evening to experience a night on the Antarctic continent. For those who were warm and snug on board, Koen took us through the next steps of photography in these icy regions on the world. It is fantastic to have someone to work with us and help us capture these special moments to share at home. 

What a first day in the Antarctic! The morning wake-up call seems a long time ago after the overwhelming scenery and activity-packed day!

Mountaineering Log – Georges Point

We woke this morning to calm and sunny weather with Gentoo Penguins bobbing around the ship, or nesting on the nearby ice. Beautiful, close-up views of the Antarctic Peninsula in every direction, in particular Anvers Island and Arctoski Peninsular, and our snowy objective for the morning, Georges Point.

After a swift breakfast, we were equipped by our mountain guides Mal and Dave, with safety harnesses for the mountaineering, as well as lifejackets for the Zodiac journey.  One by one we boarded the Zodiac for the first time, thankfully there was no swell, so we could easily get into position.  When all were sorted, we skimmed across from Plancius to the mainland of Georges Point, manoeuvring around growlers (small icebergs) until we found the small and rocky landing site. We disembark and for the first time stand in Antarctica.

We chopped steps in the snow allowing us to make the small climb through an initial steep section. From there 2 small colonies of Gentoo Penguins were perched on a nearby ridge, looking at us with inquisitive faces.

We then set ourselves up with snowshoes and an ice axe after an introductory brief and walked a short distance to where we then roped up for glacier travel, “now we are Mountaineers!”

Steadily we walked up learning the art of moving together on a rope. The views broaden as we gain height and more mountainous summits appear in the distance. We pass by a huge wind scoop carved by the Antarctic winds and follow it along its snow crest.  A final steep climb which tests our leg muscles leads to a col which is our high point for the day.

Celebrations and photos and it was time to return, following the track that we made in ascent.

We can see Plancius and the Zodiacs leaving to collect us. The tide has dropped so we scramble over rocks to reach the boat and enjoy the journey back to Plancius, with wind blowing and water splashing in our faces. 

Cuverville Island

After lunch the sun still shone. We headed out on the Zodiacs again towards a sheltered bay.

After unloading we geared up with axes and crampons and packed away lifevests.

A steep start saw us zig-zagging up to wake the legs. The nearby gentoo penguin colony to our right was a fascinating distraction. Above this, we met a welcome plateau to reset our layers and catch our breath. Here we tied into the rope for glacier travel.

Climbing as two rope teams, Mal and Dave led us up the snow slope above, zig-zagging again to lessen the angle. The angle eventually eased, and we peaked the summit with eye popping 360 degree views.

On descent we took a small detour to scope out the evening’s campsite from above, then returned to the track, being mindful of our footwork until back at the pickup site.

Day 5: Morning landing on Danco Island, afternoon exploring Orne Harbour and Gerlache Strait and Leith Cove camping

Morning landing on Danco Island, afternoon exploring Orne Harbour and Gerlache Strait and Leith Cove camping
Date: 14.12.2022
Position: 64°43.4’S / 062°36.7’W
Wind: N/NE 4/5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

Last night’s camping group had a very special morning waking up at Kerr point after a night sleeping in our self-made sleeping holes. Sunset was at 23.41 last night with beautiful light on the mountains covered by snow and glaciers surrounding the camp spot. Sunrise was very early in the morning at 2.45 and in the hours between it did not come dark. We had our wakeup call at 4.00, some of us were up and closing up the holes we dug before that time already. The ship came back to pick us up at 5.00, after which we were able to take some rest before our morning landing.

The landing we made this morning was at Danco Island. Here, we were able to see gentoo penguin colonies. We had the opportunity to enjoy the sounds and surroundings of Antarctica and the wildlife around. The penguin highways are clear indentations in the snow, often with lest pristine snow than the surroundings. These are created by the gentoo’s walking back and forth between the water and the colony for feeding, eventually creating trenches even as deep as the penguins are tall! This time of the year the penguins are building their nests by collecting and fighting over the best stones.

We sailed towards Orne Harbour for the afternoon landing. Unfortunately, the weather changed for the worse after lunch, the winds picked up too much for us to get off the ship in the zodiacs. The decision was made to have a ships cruise instead, which turned out to be a great success!

We left Orne Harbour and the strong katabatic winds behind and turned out into the Gerlache Strait, heading south towards our next camping grounds. Soon after there were shouts of ‘whale at 6 o’clock’ as people shared their excitement and rushed out on deck. First, we were able to see some humpback whales, a great sighting! Steffi gave a lecture on whales after the sighting, which was very interesting and gave a great insight on the life of these magnificent animals.

What we got to see after Steffi’s lecture was incredible. We had an amazing sighting of orcas! They were spotted from quite some distance away at first, but after bit of time they got very close to the stern of the ship! This was a very special sighting, especially seeing these amazing animals from so up close. They seemed inquisitive into the ship and stayed with us for some time. It was cold and windy out on deck but we didn’t dare leave to get more layers in case we missed anything! It more-than made up for the cancellation of Orne Harbour this afternoon.

We finished the day with another tasty dinner in the dining room. After which the second camping group went out to Leith Cove. Leith Cove is a small bay in Paradise Harbour which has a perfect island for camping surrounded by the towering, glaciated mountains. But far enough away and with enough high to be safe from potential calvings. It is a perfect location for spending the night with the spectacular 360 views of glaciers and icebergs. The sounds are also impressive with the occasional booming from cracking glaciers or groaning from seals.

Mountaineering Log – Danco Traverse

An extended Zodiac trip allowed the mountain guides, Mal and Dave to check out a new exploratory venue, but the sea ice was too likely to leave us stranded. We diverted to the southern end of Danco Island where we could equip ourselves ready for the clearly steep and untracked first snow slope, and the glacier beyond. Mal applied his piston legs and crafted a stairway-like trench to the higher ground, once there we could spread ourselves out on the rope for safety then walk steadily for an hour or so, with views to the iceberg strewn sea both to our left and right. Keen eyes spotted a cruising fin whale, and shortly after we were welcomed at the summit by a fresh Antarctic blast of wind.

The descent from the summit to the pickup site was track which allowed a steady descent and time to observe the nesting gentoo penguins perched high on the ridge, with the odd one walking the highways between.

Spigot Peak

The afternoon weather deteriorated with increased winds, lowering of cloud base, and associated light flurries of sleet and rain.  We could clearly see snow being blown from the ridge of ascent and it was apparent that Spigot was not a safe option. Even at sea level, winds were serious enough to not allow safe participation of Zodiac tours so the Captain steered the ship to a new point, where that nights camping would be held: Paradise.

This journey was made even more impressive by a sighting of a pod of Orcas, who spent 30 minutes following the ship in its wake.

Day 6: Visit to Port Lockroy and afternoon landing at Damoy Point

Visit to Port Lockroy and afternoon landing at Damoy Point
Date: 15.12.2022
Position: 64°46.5’S / 063°22.8’W
Wind: Calm
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +8

Today we were woken at 7.45 am by our expedition leader, Eduardo. We could see the towering mountains around us with glaciers tumbling down to the waters’ edge. At 8 am we had our breakfast in the dining room to prepare us for the day ahead.

We were able to come to the bay adjacent to Goudier Island off Wiencke Island. Hidden in behind Goudier Island is a protected bay with a glacier coming down from the mountains behind and the terminating at the waterline. This bay was important during the early 20th century whaling operations as it provided a sheltered bay with a supply of fresh water from the glacier. The bay was discovered in 1904 by Jean Baptiste Charcot during the first French Antarctic expedition. This expedition also led to the naming of other bays and promontories in the area, including Port Charcot where we hope to land tomorrow.

The base at Port Lockroy was established in 1944 during ‘Operation Tabarin’, a British World War II expedition (named after a famous Parisian nightclub of the time). The purpose of the operation was to observe wartime enemy activities in and around the Peninsula. Since this time, the Antarctic Treaty has been set up which prohibits military use in Antarctica, among other things.

At the end of the war the base was transferred for use in science operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). It was operated for research until 1962 when it closed due to the opening of other British bases along the Antarctic Peninsula. The building deteriorated due to its abandonment, but in 1996 it was restored to its 1962 condition as the historical importance was recognised and the buildings were designated as Historic Site and Monument (HSM) No 61 by the Antarctic Treaty. Since this time it has opened as a museum and post office with a small shop. This is a place which is many people have heard of and enjoy taking a peek into the past. We were lucky enough to have the right conditions to be able to go ashore and visit Port Lockroy. The base commander, Lucy, welcomed us ashore and we went in two groups to comply with the number limitations. This enable us to have space and time to look around and imagine what it would have been like being a scientist here prior to 1962. Occasionally the fog lifted and we were able to see the Seven Sisters mountains looming above.

Those who were camping the previous night enjoyed a more leisurely morning with some time for a rest. The morning kayakers were also able to join us for the landing at Port Lockroy. The mountaineers, however, were on a big expedition up a nearby mountain looking down on us as we moved around in zodiacs and visited Goudier Island.

In the afternoon we visited Dorian Bay where we had a fantastic landing walking around the promontory among the gentoo penguins. Some of us were also lucky enough to see a chinstrap penguin, and more unusually at this site, an adelie penguin. The walk was challenging at times as the conditions were above freezing, and the snow was softening resulting in many deep footprints. This certainly warmed us up filling all of these in again!

After the walk we were also able to look in the British hut. This was used as a shelter beside what was a runway on the ice for flights to bases further south. There is also an Argentine emergency hut at this location.

Before returning to the Plancius it was time for the much-anticipated polar plunge! The sight and sounds were quite something! Screeches as people submerged themselves in the cold water. Hoots and applauses congratulating those who made it in. Giggles as people tried to redress with little use left in their fingers. Zodiacs running back to the ship with people slowly turning blue. All on an Antarctic beach crowded with steaming bodies!

The moral was high that evening as we all shared congratulations and stories from our various outing and thawed out the various extremities of our bodies.

Now we await what the Antarctic will bring us tomorrow!

Mountaineering Log – Jabet Peak

We landed at around 0945 on southern side near Port Lockroy. It was a steep slope and spur to start allowing us to gain height onto the plateau.

Once we’d gained the snowy plateau, we made the 2km approach to Jabet, breaking a trail in snowshoes. This flat area was once used as an airfield by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to then access further into the continent.  Poor visibility and tough walking conditions in the snow meant progress was slow but steady. We moved as two ropes of 4 (including the guides Mal and Dave), spread out for glacier travel. As the clouds cleared and snow conditions firmed up, we reached the first col where we could remove our snowshoes and put on crampons. From here we tracked leftwards into steeper terrain below an ice cliff, negotiating a large bergschrund to reach another flatter area to pause momentarily and soak up the position. A couple of more steep steps led through the glacier and the upper rock band via a snowy gully and onto the exposed summit, with just enough space for our team. The clouds cleared fully for the first time allowing magical view of the steep mountains around us, and the now distant sea far below.

Only half-way through our journey, it was quickly time to reverse our steps down climbing the steeper sections or being lowered on the rope.

After donning our snowshoes for the final section of descent we returned to the plateau, but this time deviated to the north to reach the northern shore where some of the team returned directly, and others stayed for a Polar Plunge.

Day 7: Passing through the Lemaire Channel and afternoon zodiac cruise at Port Charcot

Passing through the Lemaire Channel and afternoon zodiac cruise at Port Charcot
Date: 16.12.2022
Position: 65°00.2’S / 063°18.9’W
Wind: NE 3
Weather: Overcast / Showers
Air Temperature: +2

Plancius awoke covered in a thin layer of snow, and as we were having breakfast, our fantastic ABs (short for “able seamen”) were shovelling the outside decks so we could enjoy the upcoming passing of the Lemaire Chanel. Everyday, these skilled sailors helped us get into zodiacs at the gangway, drove us to shore, accompanied groups during kayak tours, and more generally, took care of repairs and maintenance on board. Always smiling in all weather conditions, they went out of their way to make various activities and outings possible!

After breakfast, many of us had an extra coffee on deck, enjoying the scenery of the Lemaire, a narrow passage between the continent and Booth Island, whose entrance is marked by two pine-shaped mountains called Cape Renard (for “fox” in French, perhaps because they look like fox ears). The thick fog that had been surrounding the ship the whole morning lifted just enough that we could admire the glacier fronts flanking the channel. We slowly passed by impressive pieces of ice, an immobile and menacing landscape: what if one of these immense ice towers suddenly collapsed? Two humpback whales didn’t seem to care about the danger: they strolled passed us quietly, a nice “good morning” gift.   

After lunch, we boarded zodiacs for a cruise in the Salpêtrière Bay, also named “Pleneau” after one of the surrounding islands. Our zodiacs head to “Port Charcot”, a small hill marked by a cairn. It is there that in 1904, the French polar explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot and his crew overwintered for one of the first successful scientific expeditions in Antarctica. Backups of the scientific observations and analyses were stored in the cairn, in case the men happened to be lost at sea. The Commandant Charcot probably named the Salpêtrière Bay to honor his father the Professor Charcot, discoverer of the Charcot disease at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. Jean-Baptiste Charcot’s ship, “le Français” (the French) was moored in a small cove were today, we observed gentoo penguins occupying a slippery platform: the perfect diving spot!

Shortly after, zodiacs were surrounded by humpback whales! Two small groups were patrolling in front of the glacier flanking Port Charcot, in a ballet that all of us will remember for a long time. The giants were so close that we could hear the sound of blows, and sometimes even smell them… After a long observation, zodiacs headed to an iceberg graveyard: enormous ice pieces are trapped in the shallow waters of the bay. Lit by an eerie light, they contrasted against the grey sky, forming intricate shapes that some of us found resembled warrior helmets, animals, or strange faces… Stripes, golf ball surfaces, sharp edges… Turquoise blue, neon blue, blinding white… Their structures and colours were mesmerizing.

Back onboard, the crew distributed hot chocolates with “a little something in it”, and at recap, Marie explained how colour is produced and Edu detailed plans for tomorrow and explained how phosphine, a molecule found in penguin poo, is used by scientists trying to find evidence of life in planets.

Mountaineering Log - Port Charcot

Outing cancelled due to an increasing avalanche hazard.

Day 8: Morning landing at Yalour Islands and afternoon at Petermann Island with evening transit through Lemaire Channel

Morning landing at Yalour Islands and afternoon at Petermann Island with evening transit through Lemaire Channel
Date: 17.12.2022
Position: 65°14.2’S / 064°10.5’W
Wind: Variable 1-2
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: +3

Plancius stayed at anchor overnight, patiently waiting for us to wake up, have breakfast, and get ready to visit the small archipelago of Yalour Islands, a group of tiny, barely surfacing rocks capped by snow and moss. While the surroundings were stunning, with mountain peaks reflecting in grey waters covered in immense icebergs, setting foot on one of the small islands seemed at first a bit un-interesting, and some of us wondered why this site was chosen.

Expect the unexpected in Antarctica! The morning would turn out to be one of the most glorious of our trip. Eduardo had organized a split landing and zodiac cruise: while half of us were onshore enjoying the first Adelie penguins of the trip, and even tiny black chicks nested under the belly of their parent, the other half was cruising along icebergs floating in the swell, admiring impossibly blue colours contrasting with the dark sky. Adelie penguins were posing on the ice draped in their perfect tuxedos, offering a fun Antarctic fashion show. After about an hour, we swapped places, such that all could enjoy the same experience. This was our furthest south landing where we reached 65°14’S / 064°10’W.

The afternoon was spent visiting the nearby island of Peterman, site at which the Commandant Charcot and his crew overwintered for a second time in 1909. His ship, called le “Pourquoi pas?” (for “why not?” in French) was moored close to our landing site in a small cove where, at low tide, one can still see two letters, P-P, engraved in the dark stone. If he had graffitied the initials of his ship nowadays, The Commandant Charcot would certainly get a fine for disrespecting IAATO rules, but back in 1909, these letters actually marked history again: the expedition collected data on the geology and the biology of the Peninsula that would be useful to sailors and scientists for decades to come.

We strolled on three snow paths marked by our guides. The first led to a great view of the other side of the island, a gigantic iceberg “cemetery”, as are called these areas were icebergs run aground and stay stuck for months, sometimes years at a time. The second led to an Adelie penguin colony: there, and contrary to Yalour Islands, none of the penguins had chicks, and only a few were hiding an egg under their belly. In Peterman, much like other places in the peninsula this year, heavy snowfall delays nesting, as rocks remain covered, and penguins can’t build their pebble-made nests. The third descended towards a small cliff where quite strikingly, three species of birds shared available nesting space: gentoo penguins, Adelie penguins, and blue-eyed shags. The latter build large mud nests; almost all were occupied by black fluffy balls of feathers: Antarctic shags are not limited to areas that can be reached by foot, and nesting on cliffs ensures they can breed earlier. While their ecology is similar to penguins –they eat fish and krill and spend a large amount of time at sea, blue-eyed shags indeed retain flight ability, despite the thickening of their wing bones allowing them to dive at up to 50-60 meters of depth!

In the evening, Plancius sailed through the Lemaire Chanel again while we were invited to join crew and staff members on the aft deck for a joyful barbecue! Music and laughter did not seem to disturb two humpback whales that were travelling the narrow passage and quietly passed our port side. Glu wine, potatoes, sausages and rice pudding to stay warm, 80’s music, and the cliffs and glaciers of the Lemaire Chanel as décor of the dancefloor. What else?

Mountaineering Log – Winter Island

From Plancius the ice climbing was positioned 4 kilometres’ Zodiac journey away, near the Ukrainian research base Vernadsky. This was the furthest we’d been from the ship for the whole trip. We passed through a sheltered channel next to the base but didn’t visit for safety reasons (and the high likelihood of copious amounts of vodka!). Our first approach at landing was thwarted by fast ice blocking the way, but this did provide a sighting of several weddell seals that were resting upon it.  A short detour back found a better, more sheltered spot to land, and with the use of snowshoes we could approach the ice climbing only a short walk away.

Once at the ice Mal and Dave checked to find the optimum the site with our help for safety, then they prepared the safety anchors and ropes.

Once prepped with mountaineering boots and crampons, we received our technique briefing so that we knew how to use the axes and crampons correctly, then one at a time we were lowered by rope down the snow and ice towards the sea. After a solitary moment at the bottom to take in the vertical arena, our attention was turned to the challenge of climbing out.

Kick – swing – kick – swing, up the face, eventually we each popped out on the summit to the cheers of the rest of the team!

Petermann Island

We landed on the island surrounded by bergie bits and penguins, this time a mix of gentoo, chinstrap, and adelie. A short walk passed some penguin highways led us to the steep snow slope (“I thought you said this was easy?!”). We roped up for safety, then zig-zagged up the slope steadily. Then with relief, the angle eased as we arrived on the summit plateau. From here we walked more easily in the snow to the summit. Here the summit rocks protruding from the snow, showed special lichens growing in this hostile environment. Expansive views in every direction, dark seas to the west and high mountains to the east. As the summit is only the halfway point, it was time to return, the steep section required care but before we knew it we were back in the comfort of Plancius again.

Day 9: Morning landing at Portal Point and afternoon zodiac cruise at Føyn Harbour

Morning landing at Portal Point and afternoon zodiac cruise at Føyn Harbour
Date: 18.12.2022
Position: 64°30.3’S / 061°44.9’W
Wind: NE 1
Weather: Overcast / Snow
Air Temperature: +4

Today was the last full day we spent on the peninsula of Antarctica! This morning we arrived at Portal Point for a continental landing. At this landing site there were many icebergs around which we had to navigate between to get to the landing site at the point. The ice had blocked the area we often land so we had an alternative landing site with a short walk across the rocky platform at the shore before we made it to the steps cut into the snow. Portal Point is on Cape Reclus and has the remains of an old British base – however this was covered by snow today. The base was built in 1956 and was intermittently occupied for scientific survey work in the years following. In October 1957, four men set off from Portal Point and completed the first overland crossing from Cape Reclus to Hope Bay by dog sled. The team was led by Sir Wally Herbert and they completed the crossing by the end of December of the same year.

We were able to walk around the bay, up a snowy slope and down to near the water’s edge opposite from where we landed. From here we had a fantastic view of a couple of weddell seals relaxing in the true Antarctic environment: a fresh breeze blowing, occasional flurries of snow beside a bay full of glacier ice. The mountaineers went for a glacial hike which was a great success for everyone participating. Everyone was happy to officially set foot on the Antarctic continent.

From Portal Point we transited to Føyn Harbour where we had a zodiac cruise. The weather was a lot mistier compared to the weather we had in the morning. The conditions still allowed a safe and fun zodiac cruise. In total we went with 8 zodiacs to navigate along the coast of Enterprise Island. Along the island we cruised past some magnificent glaciers and beautiful icebergs, each having their own unique shape and size. Further along the island we visited the shipwreck Governoren. The Governoren was a Norwegian whaling factory ship, in 1915 it caught fire and the captain of the ship intentionally ran the ship aground to save the crew on board. All crew onboard survived the incident. The ship is one of the reminders in the Antarctic region of the whaling era. We motored around the wreck, which was impressive to see considering it sunk more than 100 years ago. The water around was so clear that we could also see the aft part of the ship under water. We had a moment of silence on the zodiacs, we switched the engines off and enjoyed the silence of Antarctica. Listening to the ice, waves and wildlife. This is always a special moment. We returned to the ship and just before we reached Plancius, we spotted a group of humpbacks close to the vessel. Again, we had a close encounter with these magnificent animals, which was a perfect way to end this amazing zodiac cruise!

Back on the ship we had the recap of what we did that day, and the plans were presented by Eduardo for tomorrow. Koen explained to us where blue ice comes from and made us have a good laugh with the song Blue Eyes by Elton John! Beth gave us an introduction to Deception Island, the island we will be visiting tomorrow. Deception island is an active volcanic island, with a collapsed crater, a caldera, where we will sail into!

Mountaineering Log – Portal Point

An exposed landing had us on the point, sinking in deep wet snow.  Snowshoes essential for travel.

We roped up for moving on the glacier as obvious crevasses were visible higher on the point.

A steady ascent led us past a large ice cliff where we could look down the drop back to the sea. We continued up until visibility was lost and views diminished. This was to be our high point, which was welcome to tired legs. Heavy snowfall began and retreat was made to the shelter of Plancius.

Føyn Harbour

Only two of us remained who had not mountaineered, so we planned a short exploratory traverse of a nearby island. As the Zodiacs were already out providing tours we hitched a ride with Dave, the mountain guide, and were dropped off on the north-eastern end of a small remote island.  As we donned snowshoes, the Zodiacs left to continue their cruise, and suddenly we could feel the isolation of Antarctica.  Roped up we walked over the island crest, passing Antarctic Gulls and Skuas.  Arriving at the summit we could see the remains of the shipwreck and heard the loud crack of a shifting serac.  After a short descent back to sea level through deep wet snow we were picked-up by Mal and his cruise team, with only a few icebergs to negotiate on return to the ship.

Day 10: Neptune’s bellows entrance then morning landing at Telefon Bay in Deception Island

Neptune’s bellows entrance then morning landing at Telefon Bay in Deception Island
Date: 19.12.2022
Position: 62°55.5’S / 060°38.3’W
Wind: NW 6
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +3

Our last day of expedition started with the voices of Enya and Edu. An early morning – 6.45 am, but for a good reason: Plancius faced the narrow entrance of Deception Island, which is a volcanic caldera of about 8 kilometres in diameter. A caldera is a geological structure formed by the tip of a volcano emerging from the sea in a donut-shape. Together with an island in Vanuatu and with Torino in Italy, Deception Island is one of the three calderas in the world that can be visited on board a ship.

The entrance of the caldera –also named Neptune’s bellows, is a few hundred meters wide, but a large rock is hidden just below the surface, right in the middle of the path. To avoid it, the captain sailed very close to the northeastern-most cliff, on which Cape Petrels nest. We enjoyed this very impressive navigation from outside decks or from the main lounge, a warm coffee in our hands. A few orcas were spotted, but despite the rarity of such a sight, it was impossible for the ship to slow down and stop, for the navigation is too dangerous close to Neptune’s bellows.

 Inside the caldera, the weather was, well… deceiving. Fog, rain, and gusts of wind up to 30 knots… Deception Island gave us true South Shetland weather, and none of us wanted to miss the opportunity to land! We thus boarded zodiacs for a bumpy ride and landed on the black sandy beach of Telefon Bay, on the Northern-most side of the island. Some of us joked that setting foot on the beach felt like walking on the moon! The dark barren landscape was indeed quite striking: the only colors were those of people’s outfits, and of the red poles that our guides used throughout our trip to mark paths. Two chinstrap penguins welcomed us, and the remains of a crabeater seal added to the ghastly atmosphere.

We climbed up gentle slopes formed by mud slides created by former volcanic activity and reached a hilltop from where we could look down into the crater of the last notable eruption in 1971. There, gusts of wind were so strong it was difficult walking and standing straight! Some of us playfully faced the wind for fun, balance-defying pictures. Others admired the black and white patterns produced by the alternance of ash and snow. All were stunned by the sheer beauty of this place abandoned to the fury of elements.   

Deception Island remains an active volcano: in 1968, a large eruption whipped out most of “Whalers bay”, a former British research station (Base B) also occupied by buildings from the whaling era that we could observe from the ship, as she made her way out of the caldera. Beth had actually warned us during the previous recap’: if an eruption was to occur during the landing, Plancius would leave the caldera, and we would have to the other side of the mountains to get picked up. In a logic evacuation plan, one indeed saves the ambulance first!

In the afternoon, the ship started pitching, a swell of 3-to-4 meters high waves challenging stomachs and bringing headaches and fatigue. The doctor was busy distributing sea-sickness pills, which helped settle uneasy feelings. Marie gave a lecture about how polar animals face the challenges of breeding in harsh environments, from the conception to the development of the embryo and of the young, and we watched a historical movie. Later at recap, Beth detailed recent records of seismic activity on Deception Island, completing her introduction on the geology of this mesmerizing place, Marco explained how winds are created and operate across the globe, including in South America and the Antarctic peninsula, and Anthonie listed features characterizing the southern ocean on which we were sailing.

Day 11: Sea day on the Drake Passage

Sea day on the Drake Passage
Date: 20.12.2022
Position: 60°26.2’S / 063°32.4’W
Wind: NE 5
Weather: Overcast / Fog
Air Temperature: +6

After the wake-up call from our EL Eduardo, M/V Plancius was keep riding the waves of a what had been a fairly rough Drake Passage crossing on our way back to South America; the once upon a time linked continent with the Antarctic Peninsula.

During the night and early morning swells reached an average height of 4 to 5 meters. Few of us had enough appetite to show up for breakfast, however we felt relieved knowing that during the day wind will slow down and swells will be reduced in height.

Morning was delighted with Koen lecture about “Photography: Work your Magic” in which Koen shared his knowledge and tips to post process pictures getting the best out of them. One hour later our Mountain leader Mal took the stage and open an interesting debate regarding “Climate Change”; a delicate topic which has been in the spotlight during the last decades. Meanwhile M/V Plancius was sailing North at a steady pace, making its way across the Convergence, entering a new realm of mist and low clouds with the sun shy enough to make its light going through it.

Lunch was followed in the company of our Chief Engineer Floris Teunis who passionately explained us how, our vessel is kept on the move by a dedicated team of restlessness mechanics and engineers. M/V Plancius is propelled by a six-blade 3,5m diameter bronze propeller directly coupled to a 2100 kW AEG 750 V direct current motor. The layout allowed M/V Plancius to be very silent and stealthy while transiting the narrow channels of the Antarctic Peninsula, perhaps the secret behind our multiple closed encounters with whales.

The electricity needed by the motor is provided by three Stork-Werkspoor 8-cylinder Diesel engine generators with an output power of 904 kW connected in parallel, plus a fourth harbour generator used while the ship is moored on the dock. It is interesting to know that sea water is converted into fresh and drinkable water through an inverse osmosis process; just like grey and black waters are treated and returned back into the sea.

At 16:30 Expedition Leader Eduardo with the help of second officer Yaroslav prepared to deploy an ARGO probe. ARGO is an international program of which Oceanwide is part of, that aims to collect information from inside the ocean using a fleet of electronical instruments which are deployed at specific point of the ocean and that are meant to sink and come afloat after a certain period of time in order to collect data (i.e. water temperature, salinity, etc…) and shared those with the scientific community.

The following information will help you find our Argo online when you get internet and will enable you to track its journey.

Float serial number: AI2600-22EU012

WMO number: 490 3640

IMEI: 300 534 063 313 510

Those who were willing to join and film the moment, were lucky enough to witness a close encounter with a small flock of black-browed albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophrys) and a gigantic wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans). Observing these magnificent pelagic birds gliding around the stern of the ship and making their flight effortless was another unique experience that Antarctica could offer to us.

Afternoon was then followed by Herzog’s documentary “Encounters at the end of the World”, followed by Daniel’s recap in which he shared with us his experience driving a Zodiac in a landing site of South Georgia with gales up to 70 mph. Eduardo “Operation Calamari” was just hilarious.

After dinner the swells went down to 2,5-3m and we found ourselves cradled by a gentle rolling, while M/V Plancius was on her way to our final destination, the port of Ushuaia in Argentina. 

Day 12: Sea day on the Drake Passage

Sea day on the Drake Passage
Date: 21.12.2022
Position: 56°10.9’S / 065°49.9’W
Wind: NE 5
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

Our last wakeup call on the Drake Passage and last morning without sight of land. With the winds calming it is a nice opportunity to get out on deck and see the wildlife around us. In Eduardo’s wakeup call he told us that he was seeing wandering albatross around the ship as he was making the announcement. What a way to start the day.

In the morning, Steffi presented to us a lecture on Krill. This was a fascinating lecture highlighting the importance of krill and their significance in the Southern Ocean ecosystems their global importance for carbon regulation among other reasons. There have been some amazing opportunities on this trip to hear from induvial so well read in their topics who can share with us their key section of knowledge in the biosphere of this incredible southern region.

Later in the afternoon Eduardo gave an eye-opening talk on the Anthropocene. Although the title may have been similar to that of Mal’s talk, the content and the approach to looking into this vast and endless topic was very different. The scale of change that our planet has seen in relatively recent years in hard to fathom. The resultant impact this is having is yet harder to grasp. However, this topic was beautifully and entertainingly presented by Eduardo.

Lunch today was a delicious pizza selection with the usually incredible range of salads, even after so many days at sea. Mealtimes are a wonderful time to share stories and get to know one another before we all head our separate ways. Many lifelong friends are made on trips like this.

In the afternoon we had some down time with a movie. Later on we started the process of handing back borrowed kit by taking our muck boots to the boot room. In the evening we shared some time all together in the lounge. This was a time of reflection of the wonderful trip we have experienced. We had a drink with the captain and one last weather recap from Eduardo.

The pilot came alongside at 6pm to take us up the Beagle Channel and into the port of Ushuaia.

The last dinner in the dining room was great fun with lots of smiles and of course a bit round of applause to all those working hard in our kitchen and behind the scenes on Plancius!  

After dinner we made a steady and calm approach into Ushuaia. The sounds from the town were vibrant, possibly with the ongoing football celebrations. Almost everyone enjoyed being out on deck to watch as we came alongside in the beautifl calm conditions and a fantastic display of skies. 

Day 13: Arrival in Ushuaia and disembarkation

Arrival in Ushuaia and disembarkation
Date: 22.12.2022
Position: 54°48.6’S / 068°17.9’W
Wind: Calm
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +13

While we enjoyed a last breakfast on board, our suitcases were taken off the ship. It is a sad moment to disembark from the Plancius, which has been a comfortable and cosy home during this unforgettable journey. We have shared many unique moments, seen a range of rarely sighted wildlife, and made new friends. Loaded with fond memories we now must head home.

For now, we must continue on our adventures, whether it be returning home or experiencing what South America has to offer. On the pier, beside our little blue ship moored alongside in Ushuaia, we say our goodbyes and until next time, we wish each other good health and fair winds.

Thank you all for travelling with us on this voyage, for your enthusiasm, support, and good company. We very much hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

The expedition team have enjoyed exploring together with all the guests. Of course, these operations only run smoothy due to the coordination between all the departments on board Plancius. So, to all the dedicated and determined individuals involved in this adventure, we all give our thanks and appreciation.

Of course, this would not be possible without you, the guests. Thank you for travelling with us on this voyage, for your enthusiasm, support, and good company. We very much hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

Total distance sailed on our voyage: 1, 633 nm

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Remmert-Jan Koster, Expedition Leader Eduardo Rubio Herrera, Hotel Manager Volodymyr Cherednychenko and all the crew and staff of M/V Plancius, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.


Tripcode: PLA24-22
Dates: 10 Dec - 22 Dec, 2022
Duration: 12 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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