PLA24-23, trip log, Antarctica - Basecamp

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Ushuaia - Embarkation Day

Ushuaia - Embarkation Day
Date: 11.12.2023
Position: 54°48.6’S / 066°54.0’W
Wind: NO 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +14

Finally the day had arrived, and our expedition to Antarctica was about to begin! We found ourselves in Ushuaia, in the most southern part of Argentina, also called the end of the world. During our expedition, we would go even farther south.

We were not expected to embark Plancius until 16:00. That gave us time to recover from the long journey south and explore the town of Ushuaia. This small town offers a lot of coffee and cake cafes as well as many outdoor shops. Ushuaia makes for a cozy town and is ideal for buying last-minute items like hats, gloves, or another layer to keep warm.

At 16:00 it was time to make our way up the gangway of Plancius. We were greeted at the dock by members of the expedition team, and the hotel manager quickly checked us in. There was not a lot of time to relax, as at 17:15 a mandatory safety drill was scheduled, so our presence in the lounge was required. We were welcomed by expedition leader Pippa, and the chief officer guided us through a safety video and drill procedure. Then we all sat in the lounge, wearing our bulky orange life vests. When we heard the abandon ship alarm, we made our way outside to the lifeboats where the second officer informed us further.

With the mandatory drill done, it was time to release the ropes, start the engines, and leave the port of Ushuaia behind. The captain came down to the lounge and greeted us with a glass of champagne, speaking some warm words of welcome. Pippa then gave us more information about the program for the days ahead.

Soon it was time for dinner. The galley team had prepared a delicious buffet, and the dining room was buzzing with excitement. The members of the expedition team also joined for dinner, and this offered a first opportunity to get to know each other. After a long and intense day, it was time for a good rest. Some of us decided to spend some time on deck to enjoy the beautiful golden light.

Day 2: At Sea

At Sea
Date: 12.12.2023
Position: 57°21.2’S / 065°13.2’W
Wind: NW 5
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +7

We started the day at 7:45am, with the voice of our Expedition Leader, Pippa. “Good morning, good morning...” She told us about the weather outside and invited us to breakfast, our first breakfast on board.

That morning we awoke to a moderately calm sea, a good start of our voyage toward Antarctica. We felt the movement, and some of us experienced seasickness, but luckily we had our great Dr. Anna on board to provide us with medication.

After we enjoyed our first breakfast on board, we were ready for all the upcoming briefings that would prepare us for our activities.

At 9:15am we started with a mandatory briefing about Zodiac operations, along with the rules and guidelines from IAATO, presented by Pippa. After that we could enjoy a coffee and a look outside, where we could see the Albatrosses and Petrels flying around our ship.

At 11am we continued with the next briefing for those interested in mountaineering. Dave and Owain were our Mountaineering Guides and explained to us the different options we had to mountaineer. We got more and more excited to arrive in Antarctica.

The morning activities weren’t over yet, as we had to collect our muck boots just before lunch. These lovely boots would keep our feet dry during all the wet landings we would make.

After lunch and a short break, Marco and Brian briefed us about camping. We learned what we needed to do for our camping experience: dress warm, brush our teeth on board, dig a pit to sleep in for the night.

Shortly after that, we got our briefing from Erin about kayaking in Antarctica. We were so excited to hear that everybody could go kayaking, even if it would be our first time in a kayak. The presentations ended with Koen’s tips about photography. Now we were ready for the next day of activity sign-ups. After a recap, we had a delicious dinner.

Day 3: At Sea – Drake Passage, Bransfield Strait

At Sea – Drake Passage, Bransfield Strait
Date: 13.12.2023
Position: 61°44.5’S / 062°46.0’W
Wind: NW 5
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

We woke up to find the persistent rolling of the past day had finally decreased during the night. Plancius was steaming her way south at a good speed of 11.5 - 12 knots and had made good progress over the night. The Antarctic Convergence had been crossed a few hours prior to our waking up call, so we found ourselves already inside the political boundaries that define Antarctica.

Among the many ways to define Antarctica, two are mostly used by the general public: The political definition of the white continent includes all land and ice south of the 60-degree parallel. On the other hand, from a biological perspective the boundaries are set by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), one of the main oceanic currents that flows around the Antarctic Continent in a clockwise direction and helps keep at bay the warmer tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. This creates the perfect conditions for life to thrive in the Southern Ocean.

The day took off with the activity sign-up in the lounge. Among keen mountaineers, excited campers, and avid kayakers, we started to get a glimpse of the first icebergs in the distance. At 10:50am, at 60° 14' S, 34° 35'W the “iceberg competition” was won by John, who promised to share with most of us a delicious bottle of Prosecco!

The morning carried on, and Marco enlightened us with a beautiful and thorough “Introduction to the Antarctic Peninsula,” when we not only learned about the peculiarity of Antarctica but also the geography, geology, and history of the Antarctic Peninsula.

During the afternoon, a few seabirds glided past our vessel: Light-Mantled Sooty, Grey-Headed, and Black-Browned albatrosses. Cape Petrels and Southern Fulmars were there, too. Soon after that, Carina introduced us to the incredible world of penguins, the species we would find in the Antarctic Peninsula.

In the evening, we cruised into the Boyd strait in between Smith and Snowy Island, dotted with glimmering and beautiful icebergs. Porpoising penguins escorted us into the Bransfield Strait, which we were about to cross during the night on our way to the first landing of this expedition. The next morning, the calm and protected waters of Orne Harbour awaited us, surrounded by the majestic peak of Spigot.

Day 4: Orne Harbor and Cuverville Island

Orne Harbor and Cuverville Island
Date: 14.12.2023
Position: 64°37.3’S / 062°4.6’W
Wind: NE 5
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: +1

This is what we came for, our first day in Antarctica!

Pippa woke us up, but many of us got up already much earlier. The scenery was stunning. We had sun and some clouds. The changing light was incredible on the endless glaciers and mountains. We could not believe how this landscape looked. We felt like we were in a nature documentary.

The first landing is Orne Harbour, a nice bay surrounded by ice with a characteristic mountain on the edge. The top of the mountain, “Spigot,” was the goal for our mountaineers. The expeditions team used the Zodiacs for the transfer to the landing site, and we all used snowshoes to get up to the little saddle overseeing the Bay and Gerlache Strait on the other side.

The penguins were lovely and the view stunning. We enjoyed the time. During the landing, the weather condition changed quickly, and the expedition team told us to leave a bit earlier than planned. The bay got full of ice, and it took the drivers quite some time to get through the layer of ice to pick us up from our continental landing.

Interesting to see how the weather situation could change so quickly. After a delicious lunch, we got to land at Cuverville Island, and island on the northern entrance of Ererra Channel. Again the conditions changed, and instead of a short ride during a small gap on the west side of the island, we needed to drive around it. It was a true adventure driving through the icebergs and the rougher and more exposed east side of the island. Some of us even saw a leopard seal on an ice floe.

The colony of gentoo penguins was lovely, and the view from the higher viewpoint was breathtaking. In front of the island were many grounded icebergs that made the view just amazing. And when we were heading back to the ship, we saw a Humpback whale.

For the evening, Pippa planned the next highlight: our first camping night in Antarctica. We sailed into Paradise Harbour, and our home for the night was a small bay with a small island called “Leith Cove”. The place was surrounded by glaciers and steep mountains. What a lovely place for our exclusive camping night. Thirty-six of us headed out.

What a fantastic day we had! We still could not believe where we were and how privileged we were to visit a place like this. We slept surrounded by icebergs and light snow.

Kayaking

AM 14TH DEC - ORNE HARBOUR

Wow, what a first morning in Antarctica. Blue sky and light winds. Us kayakers took a Zodiac upwind of the ship. Just as we set off on our journey, it became a little snowy and somewhat blustery. After navigating through some brash ice, we headed downwind towards the towering cliffs. Nestled beneath the cliffs we found a small colony of chin strap penguins, and another further around the headland. We watched them toboggan down the slopes to the sea. As the wind picked up and became more gusty, we hoped back into our Zodiac and back to the ship.  

PM 14TH DEC - COUVERVILLE ISLAND

Tucked away on the south side of the island we found a sheltered bay to enjoy. We started our journey upwind, which took a little strength. We found a pebble beach with many gentoo penguins, some swimming, some sleeping, and a few marching up and down the steep hill to their nests. We also spotted a gap between two large icebergs, a great opportunity to explore an ice graveyard.

Mountaineering

14 December 2023 – Spigot Peak

Standing proudly at the entrance to Orne Harbour, Spigot Peak is a sight to behold, with sheer cliff faces tumbling into the Antarctic waters. Once inside Orne Harbour, Spigot Peak reveals a line of ascent less intimidating than originally suspected. Despite this, successful ascents are still rare, with several factors all playing their part. Brash ice can stop us even landing ashore, high winds can stop us literally in our tracks, and the upper slopes can sometimes hold unstable snow. Today the weather gods were on our side.  

Camping 14 December 2023 - Location: Leith Cove, Paradise Harbour

After dinner we prepared ourselves for our first overnight stay. At around 21:15 we got on shore with the Zodiacs, welcomed by Marco and Brian our camping guides. We received our sleeping kit and a shovel and got ready to dig the snow pit, which was going to be our shelter for the night.

A northeasterly breeze was blowing from the amphitheater of glaciated mountains that surrounds Leith Cove. Luckily our bivy bags and sleeping bags kept us cozy and warm, and we could finally enjoy the truth silence of Antarctica, interrupted every once and a while by the roaring thunder of a nearby calving glacier. Everyone was excited to camp outside in Antarctica.

The following morning, we got an early wake-up call, around 5am. When we came back to the ship, we got a small breakfast and a short sleep in our cabins before moving to our next location for the morning.

Day 5: Aguirre Channel and Jougla Point (Port Lockroy)

Aguirre Channel and Jougla Point (Port Lockroy)
Date: 15.12.2023
Position: 64°42.9’S / 063°04.7W
Wind: E 5
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: +2

It was a good day ahead of us. Shortly after breakfast, we started with our operation. It was a Zodiac cruise in the Aguirre Channel close to Paradise Bay, which we visited later in the trip.

It was a lovely cruise around icebergs and a lot of brash ice moving around the icebergs. We cruised around the icebergs into the brash ice and towards the Chilean base called González Videla Antarctica base. The station was active from 1951-58. There were Gentoo penguins nesting around the base. During the summertime, you can still meet people there. This was the case today. The base was occupied, and the people were looking out of the windows and doors, waving to us. We waved back and continued our cruise in the ice. We’ve seen Wilson’s storm petrel flying around some Snow Petrels, and one Weddell seal was lying on an island. Towards the end of our cruise, we got cold and returned to the ship.

After warming up and enjoying a cup of tea or coffee, Pippa announced the sighting of Orcas around the ship. We grabbed our cameras and jackets and were going to see the first Orcas of our voyage. This was just breathtaking, seeing them so close to the ship. On the aft, we could see them just swimming next to the ship and playing with our ship’s propeller. We had around fifteen individuals. This was a very exceptional encounter with these amazing animals.

After lunch we had visitors from port Lockroy coming onboard. They were giving a presentation about Port Lockroy and the work they do there. Because of the Avian flu, the British Heritage trust decided that Port Lockroy must be closed for visitors. But the Port Lockroy team came on board the ship, giving a presentation and set up a small shop for us to buy souvenirs. After the presentation, we were split in two groups. One went ashore at Jougla point, and the others could do some shopping in the dining room at the pop-up shop.

At Jougla Point, we had five Wedell seals and a lot of Gentoo Penguins to observe. After the landing, we went for a short Zodiac cruise around the Island to see Port Lockroy. In the bay, a French yacht called Perseverance arrived and anchored, a tiny ship with only 12 passengers and 8 crew on board.

After the recap, we enjoyed another lovely meal made by the Galley team led by Khabir. Then one last drink and straight to bed. But not this time: we had another announcement that there were more Killer Whales. What an end to an incredible day!

Kayaking

AM 15TH DEC – AGUIRRE PASSAGE

A slightly overcast morning with a fresh breeze. We used the Zodiac to head upwind into the maze of icebergs. This gave us some shelter but also incredible paddling. Within five minutes of paddle, we were extremely lucky and a minke whale cruised by. Wow, that doesn’t happen often! The ice was being pushed around by the currents, but we dodged between the flows and into the Chilian base, where we spotted many penguins. We then cruised downwind, weaving between ice.

PM 15TH DEC – PORT LOCKROY

Port Lockroy was wonderfully sheltered. We had an unfortunate capsize from one of our singles, but he did an amazing job in the cold water. We then headed into the bay, exploring the little bays around the island, where we found a Weddell seal, as we continued around the bay our seal count went up to 11! We even watched a glacier calving. Our paddle took us around the islands, spotting many penguins along the way, and we finished our adventure navigating around huge blue icebergs.

Mountaineering

15 December 2023 – Jabet Peak Col

Jabet Peak towers above Dorian Bay and the Damoy Hut. We encountered mixed weather conditions and difficult underfoot snow conditions, with very soft snow into which our snowshoes sunk and made for heavy going. With resilience and a few muttered curses, our intrepid team beat their way successfully to the stunning high col, our planned high point.

Camping

15 December 2023 - Location: Lefevre Point, Doumer Island.

The second camping day for the camping guides, but the first day for the other brave people who wanted to sleep outside in Antartica. When we arrived on Lefevre Point, we were welcomed by some Kelp gulls, Antarctic terns, and Skuas.

The weather conditions were much better than the first day. Less wind and no drizzle at all. Lefevre Point was a bit rocky and most of the snow was melted, so we couldn’t dig a deep “grave” sleeping pit. But everyone managed to find a beautiful spot where they got to spend the night. After the drop-off, Plancius sailed away and was out of sight. After a good night (for some), the wake-up call was early, around 4 AM. Everybody filled up their hole and put their sleeping kit back in the waterproof bag. It was a beautiful night with good weather conditions. Everyone was happy to experience camping on Antartica.

Day 6: Petermann Island and Pleneau

Petermann Island and Pleneau
Date: 16.12.2023
Position: 65°10.7’S / 064°07.2’W
Wind: E 1
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

Over breakfast we sailed to our next destination - Peterman Island, the most southern point of our journey. After two hours, we sailed through the beautiful entrance of the Lemaire Channel. The Lemaire Channel is one of the highlights of our voyage. Steep cliffs hem in the iceberg-filled passage, which is 11 km (6.8 mi) long, and just 1,600 meters (1.970 ft) wide. It was the Belgian Adrien de Gerlache who first explored Lemaire Channel, and this area of the Antarctic Peninsula in 1898. Gerlache named the channel for Charles Lemaire (1863 - 1925), a Belgian explorer of the Congo.

Sailing through the Lemaire Channel, we were lucky to see more Humpback Whales surrounded by fantastic mountainous scenery.

After breakfast we got ready for our landing on Petermann Island. It was a little overcast, but the sun soon came out during our landing. Petermann Island was discovered by a German expedition of 1873-74, who named it after geographer August Petermann. Charcot’s second French Antarctic expedition wintered aboard the Porquois-Pais at this location. On the landing site there is an Argentine refuge hut and close by a commemorative cross for three members of the British Antarctic Survey who died by attempting to cross the sea ice in 1982.

Close to the landing site, we were lucky to see a young Southern Elephant Seal from the Zodiac. The Southern Elephant Seal is the biggest species of seal. They are the deepest diving, air-breathing, non-cetaceans and have been recorded at a maximum of 2,388 meters (7,835 feet) in depth. Just stepping out of the Zodiac on land, we were able to see another Weddell Seal relaxing close to the shore.

Peterman Island also has been identified as an important Bird Area (IBA). It supports a breeding colony of about 3,000 pairs of Gentoo Penguins. The island also holds a colony of Adelie Penguins and Imperial Shags. We were able to watch these funny little penguins in an incredible, mountainous scenery.

At the end of the landing, it was hard to walk away from such a beautiful place. After we got back onboard Plancius, we had a delicious lunch.

In the afternoon we jumped into our Zodiacs for a stunning cruise around Pleneau Island in Salpetriere Bay. We encountered hundreds of Gentoo Penguins making a highway in the water. It was funny to watch these guys floating around in the water. We switched the engine off to try not to disturb them. Our cruise also took us to some Weddell Seals who hauled out on the snow and were sleeping.

One highlight of this cruise was an encounter with a Leopard Seal. We were able to watch him for a longer time while he was resting on an ice floe. He was certianly less impressed with us. After three hours of cruising among glacial scenery, we headed back to Plancius. On the way back, we were able to find another Humpback Whale feeding in this area.

Back on board, we had a short recap. A delicious BBQ dinner awaited us outside on deck 3, at the stern. We took the dance floor and had a nice party until the late evening, still in the Lemaire Channel with stunning mountainous scenery still surrounding us.

What a perfect finish for an incredible day! Good night!

Kayaking

AM 16TH DEC – PETERMAN ISLAND

What a calm day. Blue skies and mirror calm waters reflecting the mountains perfectly. We climbed into our kayaks for an amazing adventure. Navigating a few icebergs, we watched the Adelie penguins hopping off the rocks and into the water. In the next bay, we found a sleeping elephant seal close to the shore, and numerous wedel seals sleeping in the sun. Our luck stayed with us with a leopard seal sighting and so we decided to try our luck looking for whales. We paddled out into the deeper waters of the channel and stumbled across two humpback whales feeding. We sat and watched these incredible creatures for well over half an hour.

PM 16TH DEC – PORT CHARCOT (ICEBERG GRAVEYARD)

Iceberg graveyard is exactly what you think it would be. Hundreds of stranded icebergs to explore. Ranging from small ice sculptures on the rocky shores to bergs bigger than cathedrals. We navigated our way through the maze of ice, spotting a couple of wedel seals sleeping on the rocks and Gentoo penguins nesting. The shapes of the bergs were amazing, natures art exhibition. It was amazing we didn’t get lost in the maze of narrow channels and towering ice!

Mountaineering

16 December 2023 – Petermann Island

A lovely ascent up steep snow slopes and a crossing of the plateaued summit of the Island. We enjoyed magnificent views and were enthralled by the solitude and silence of our surroundings. 16 December 2023 – Hoovgard Island A fantastic mountaineering hike to the summit that never seemed to get any closer! We made a speedy and very efficient ascent, finding ourselves coming in and out of the ethereal mists. The views from Hoovgard back in to the Lemaire Channel were breathtaking.

Day 7: Danco Island and Orne Island

Danco Island and Orne Island
Date: 17.12.2023
Position: 64°42.5’S / 062°36.5’W
Wind: W 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

We woke up to Pippa’s voice and started our day a bit later than usual. It was overcast, with a little bit of sun. After our breakfast, we boarded the Zodiacs for our morning landing at Danco Island. Danco Island is a one-mile long island in the southern part of the Errera Channel. Its north shore is characterised by a flat cobbled beach.

Once ashore the sun came out. We put on snowshoes and hiked up to some beautiful viewpoints. On our way up, we had to take care of a few penguin highways crossing our trail. Throughout the hike up, we had stunning views of glacial scenery and of the Errera Channel. We were lucky to have the chance to watch a very active Gentoo Penguin colony.

After coming back to the beach at the landing site we had the opportunity to do a Polar Plunge, which was very exciting for most of us. The expedition staff brought towels for us to use. We had a lot of fun during the Plunge. Directly on beach close to us were some nesting Gentoo Penguins and some of us had a little glimpse of the two eggs being incubated when the Gentoo was moving.

In the afternoon, we prepared to go back to Orne Island. We spent a stunning afternoon on Orne with a lot more Gentoo penguins and Chinstrap colonies. There were also brown skuas that flew over our heads, a great opportunity to take a few more photos of all these mesmerizing animals. It was a pleasure seeing the penguins hiking up and down on their snowy highways and watch them working to build up and to improve their nests. We had some outstanding views from Orne Island of Gerlache Strait, Errera Channel, and Cuverville Island.

Back on board, we had some drinks at the bar and listened to Steffi’s interesting recap about the penguins breeding circle. Pippa closed the recap with a really funny story about how penguins find a partner, and she sent us with a big smile on our faces to dinner.

After dinner some of us went straight into the cabin to get a long rest, but a few minutes later we heard Pippa’s voice again: Killer Whales are in sight. But this time they weren’t interested in us, so it was just a short encounter. Maybe tomorrow!

Kayaking

AM 17th DEC – DANCO ISLAND

The waters around Danco Island were busy with ice. We started our journey weaving through the thick ice, which required good boat manoeuvring. The wind and current were pushing the ice down the coast of Danco island, but we found a passage near the shore. As we passed a small rocky island, we saw three sleeping Weddell seals on top. It was a beautiful day to paddle through the icebergs on the north edge of the island.

PM 17th DEC – ORNE ISLAND

Mirror-calm waters and gigantic icebergs! As we approached Couverville Island, we aimed for the narrow channel, where on the south side of this we found three sleeping Weddell seals. One was happily singing.

Along the coast northeast of Couverville Island were numerous gentoo penguin colonies. We watched them entering and exiting the water before making our way back through the maze of icebergs to the ship.

Mountaineering

17 December 2023 – Danco Island

Today we enjoyed a magnificent circuit of Danco Island, surrounded by stunning polar views.  

17 December 2023 – Georges Point

Our planned objective of a high col on this remote landing was thwarted by heavily saturated snow, which presented the mountain guides with unacceptable risk factors. Sharing our thought processes and decision making with our mountaineers is a big part of the mountain guides role to add valuable learning as to safety protocols. Regardless of the conditions, we enjoyed magnificent surroundings and solitude.

Day 8: Damoy and Paradise Bay (Brown station)

Damoy and Paradise Bay (Brown station)
Date: 18.12.2023
Position: 64°50.5’S / 063°37.4’W
Wind: WE 4
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: +2

We awoke to truly Antarctic conditions, with thick, low-lying clouds hovering above and rain falling on the decks. Yet whilst the conditions were imperfect, operations were still possible! We would persevere and make the most of our day on the Peninsula.

After another delicious breakfast, we boarded the Zodiacs for our morning landing at Damoy Point, a beautiful peninsula at the southern end of the Neumayer Channel. Whilst the gusting winds meant that kayaking had to be cancelled, our planned landing and mountaineering activities could proceed – but only after a splashy Zodiac ride.

Once ashore, we donned our snowshoes and began exploring the bay, following a trail in the snow littered with Gentoo penguin rookeries. We also had the opportunity to explore Damoy hut, Port Lockroy’s ‘airport’, offering a flavor of what life might have been like for the early Antarctic explorers and researchers. Meanwhile, as we traversed the lower colonies of Damoy, the mountaineers trekked high above, traversing the glaciated runway above the landing site.

After returning to Plancius a little soggy and cold, we enjoyed another sumptuous lunch offered by the galley and sailed south, across the Gerlache and into Paradise Bay for our afternoon activities.

As we entered the bay, the snow was thick and conditions looked challenging. Yet as we approached the eastern shore, the visibility suddenly improved, and we could see clearly Base Brown ahead of the ship – an Argentine research station.

Whilst the visibility meant mountaineering was cancelled, we were still able to venture out in our zodiacs and kayaks to explore the landing site and the surrounding ice-filled bay. Half of us were shuttled ashore to enjoy a landing, exploring the base and surrounding Gentoon penguins. Meanwhile, the remainder took to the Zodiacs, navigating through the growlers and bergy bits of Skontorp Bay. After an hour and a half, we swapped, allowing everyone a chance to enjoy a continental landing, as well as a beautiful cruise in the snow.

As the weather improved, our time at Brown Base ended. We returned to Plancius, gathering for our daily recap, and then enjoying yet another delicious meal from the galley team. After dinner, we all retired to bed, ready for an early wakeup call the next morning at Portal Point.

Kayaking

PM 18th – SKONTHORP COVE

We climbed into the Zodiac, as there was a blizzard all around us. We could just make out Brown Station through the poor visibility. Snow was settling on the surface of the water, and it made the kayaking tough. As the Zodiacs passed us, we threw a few snowballs. We made our way back to the base, enjoying a few penguins on the rocks, and a sleeping Weddell seal.

Mountaineering

18 December 2023 – Jabet Glacier Trek

Our team today can claim an unusual record! Probably the wettest day either of the two mountain guides have ever ventured out on an Antarctic Basecamp. We set the level accordingly and completed a great exploratory circuit above and behind the Damoy Hut. By the time we returned to the comfort of Plancius, there was not a single item of clothing the rain had not managed to find a way through.

Day 9: Charlotte Bay and Palaver Point

Charlotte Bay and Palaver Point
Date: 19.12.2023
Position: 64°08.3’S / 061°47.5’W
Wind: SE 4
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: 0

We woke up early at 5.15 AM, hearing Pippa’s voice updating us on the conditions and wishing us a fantastic early Zodiac cruise. We made our way to the gangway to jump into the Zodiacs and started our cruise at Portal Point. We had to start very early without breakfast, because at around 10 AM there was a lot of wind forecasted.

After approaching the Weddell Sea, we got a call on the radio that there was a breaching Humpback Whale not far away. We headed over and had an incredible experience watching it breaching, lob-tailing and flipper-slapping. This is important for communication and parasite removal.

During the cruise, the sun came out, but it was still a bit cold due to wind. We encountered a cliff that was home to a Chinstrap colony. We were lucky to see a cute, swimming Weddell Seal pup close to an ice-covered boulder with a lot of Giant Petrels on top. We found a seal pup on a boulder and spent some time watching it. After taking in the views, we found a Crabeater Seal on an ice floe. It was our first sighting of a Crabeater Seal. ‘Crabbies’ are true pack-ice seals, always seen on ice-strewn areas. Unlike Leopard and Weddell Seals, Crabeater Seals are routinely gregarious, usually occurring in small groups of up to 10 individuals.

With our bellies beginning to rumble, we returned to Plancius with a lot of new memories – especially the breaching Humpback Whale and the Crabeater Seal, a highlight of this journey so far. We lifted anchor and during our late breakfast and lunch, we repositioned a few miles North to another location called Palaver Point.

In the afternoon we had a very nice landing at Palaver Point in beautiful glacial scenery. After landing we made our way to the first stunning viewpoint, where we were able to see a few Chinstrap Penguins. The hike up to the upper viewpoint was a little bit steeper, but this was worth it. We were standing next to another very active Chinstrap colony. Some of us spotted a few Humpback Whales from this point. Also, on the third and last viewpoint, we were able to take a lot of nice pictures of Chinstrap Penguins with beautiful glacial scenery in the background. The wind caught up and we had to hurry for the Zodiac back to Plancius, as the swell got bigger and bigger. Back on board, we enjoyed a short drink and recap before heading off to the dining room for another delicious dinner.  

Kayaking

AM 19th DEC – PORTAL POINT

The wind today was breezy and cold. All around the bay were thick snow clouds, but above us was bright blue sky. A 6.15 start gave us the weather window to get out on the water. We tucked in beside the coast to seek shelter, and immediately found two sleeping Weddell seals. An iceberg split in two and rolled in front of us, making a thunderous sound. We paddled past a rock with a baby seal, giving him a wide berth. As we paddled back towards portal point and Plancius, the wind suddenly started to pick up. This marked the end of our weather window. It was time to get back on board for breakfast.  

Mountaineering

19 December 2023 – Portal Point

This was an early start, but it rewarded us well. Our two mountaineering teams proved to be energized and strong, allowing us to enjoy a speedy ascent of the slopes above Portal Point and return safely before any drastic weather changes.  

19 December 2023 – Palavar Point

Our final mountaineering trip of the Basecamp provided us with a great finish. Having had to cancel the previous day due to poor weather conditions, our intrepid mountaineers enjoyed the first Oceanwide ascent of this peak. A great experience for everyone, including the guides who have now been able to add a new itinerary for future guests. Well done, everyone!

Day 10: Halfmoon Island and Deception Island

Halfmoon Island and Deception Island
Date: 22.06.2024
Position: 62°43.9’S / 059° 54.5’W
Wind: W 6
Weather: Clear

The sun was shining and the wind howling, and beautiful lenticular clouds were hoovering on top of the glaciated peaks of Livingston Island. Captain Evgeny has brought us across the Bransfield strait into the protected waters of McFarlane passage between Greenwich and Livingston islands.

On the bridge the anemometer was measuring 30-32 knots of northwesterly wind, with gusts up to 36-38 knots. However, as Plancius started to sail to the protected crescent shape harbour of Half Moon Island, the conditions became suitable to start operating with the Zodiacs.

Soon we were shuttled to shore, where our expedition team was ready to greet us on the rocky raised beach of this small island.

An interesting change compared to the previous days we spent in the Antarctic Peninsula, Half Moon is a volcanic island where effusive basaltic and gabbro rocks dominate the landscape, dotted with interesting lichens and a few specimens of Antarctic hair-grass (Deschampsia antarctica).

A lively and busy Chinstrap colony roamed the island, wabbling through difficult terrain and climbing up to a small saddle, then down to the island's western shore. Despite the early season, the snow was partially melted, and it gave us a glimpse of how the Peninsula would look later in the season.

The landing was short because a long transit awaited us on the way to Deception Island, our next destination in the South Shetlands. As forecasted the wind dropped enough to allow us to sail through the narrow gap of the Neptune Bellows, the only natural channel that connects the outer waters of the Deception with the inner part of the caldera.

The bow and outer decks were busy, with most of us seeing us enter the sheltered waters of Port Foster. Impressive basaltic cliffs bursting with birdlife and beautiful reddish-to-orange lapilli-tuff layers told us of the history of one of the volcanoes in the Antarctic continent.

Deception Island is one of the most active volcanoes of Antarctica, and over the past century it has undergone several eruptions, the most recent in 1968-70. It is on the Bransfield Basin, where extension over the last four million years (at a rate of 10mm/year) has caused the opening of the Bransfield Strait and volcanism. The rifting is connected to trench-rollback related to the adjacent subduction zone. The volcanism is mainly below sea level but three of these volcanic centers make it above sea level: Deception Island, Penguin Island and Bridgeman Island. These islands form the youngest land of the South Shetland archipelago.

Around the corner we started seeing the old buildings of the old whaling station, the big hangar used by Hubert Wilkins for his first flight above the Antarctic Peninsula and the steamy shoreline of Whaler's Bay. Trained by our previous days operations we quickly set foot on land and found ourselves hiking to the high viewpoint of Neptune’s window. From this vantage point and thanks to the incredible weather that had blessed us during the entire day, we could enjoy magnificent views over the entire caldera and towards the outer sea where we could spot a few humpback whales. It was a very nice feeling knowing that after decades of exploitation and hunting right at our feet, these magnificent cetaceans had come back thanks to the protection that the Antarctic Treaty granted them since 1959.

At 17:00 we wrapped up the operations and, after the usual briefing and dinner, we set sail to Ushuaia. Two long days awaited us across the infamous waters of the Drake Passage. However, the weather seemed to be on our side.

Day 11: At Sea – Drake Passage

At Sea – Drake Passage
Date: 21.12.2023
Position: 60°13.5’S / 063°99.0’W
Wind: NW 6
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +6

The first day of going back to Ushuaia, after an incredible voyage in Antarctica. Yesterday evening we started to sail back and start the crossing of the Drake Passage. The sea conditions were pretty good. We experienced some rolling during the night. But luckily most of us were used to the moving ship and had some good sea legs.

The night was pretty good for some people, and others experienced seasickness. This was the first day we had no wake-up call, so we could take some extra rest.

After breakfast we could enjoy the beautiful weather outside. Before we got into the Convergence, the sun was shining, and the sky was blue. It was still windy outside. We were welcomed by some Black-brown Albatrosses and Cape Petrels.

At 09:30 Steffanie gave us an interesting lecture about the seabirds, then George gave us a lecture about geopolitics and the complexities of the Antarctic Treaty.

After a delicious lunch (again) Koen gave us a final lecture about photography and how to edit our images in post-production. Quite interesting in what you can do with a picture in this wonderful environment. After this lecture, Pippa told us more about Seals and Whales.

During the day, we experienced the Drake passage get wilder and rougher. But most of us like this experience. At 1800 we had the Recap of the day and HAPPY HOUR at the bar. At 1900 we had a plated dinner. It was delicious (like always), but the dining room may have been a little quieter due to the rougher ocean.

In the evening there was a fun quiz given by the staff. We had to answer 14 questions, listen to 6 different sounds we heard daily, and at the end we saw some cute baby pictures of the staff.

Day 12: At Sea – Drake Passage

At Sea – Drake Passage
Date: 22.12.2023
Position: 56°06.7’S / 065°52.4’W
Wind: NWW 4
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +8

We awoke for our final day aboard Plancius to the rolling seas of the Southern Ocean. Three-meter swell and 35 knots of wind buffeted our port side, disturbing sleep for some, whilst rocking others into an even deeper slumber. Nevertheless, we arose to another day of lectures, food and wildlife aboard Plancius as we drew ever closer to Tierra del Fuego.

After another delicious breakfast from our galley team, Pippa offered a lecture exploring her experience as a whale researcher. We learnt about the history of whaling in Antarctica as well as the various species that call the Southern Ocean home. As Pippa talked, many of us kept a keen eye on the horizon, not only to ward off any sickness, but hoping to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures of the deep as we sailed ever further north.

Following Pippa, Steffi offered her lecture about the amazing polar adaptations of the birds and mammals living in Antarctica. She shared stories of the extraordinary physiological changes these creatures undergo to survive and thrive in the fierce polar conditions.

Then, finally, after lunch, George shared his lecture exploring the future history of Antarctica. He described the challenges facing the Antarctic Treaty System and some opportunities to improve ecological protection and strengthen collaborative governance.

As the day drew to a close, Tierra del Fuego appeared off our bow. We gathered for a final time in the lounge for our captain’s farewell. After a rousing speech, the captain offered a toast to this incredible voyage, and Pippa thanked the team and crew for their efforts. The festivities finished with Koen’s beautiful slideshow, a fitting tribute to a truly amazing voyage.

As the sun fell ever lower in the sky, we retired to the dining room one last time to enjoy a special meal prepared by Head Chef Khabir and his team, including everyone’s favorite dessert – crepe suzette. As the day drew to a close, we gathered in the bar for one final drink from Raquel before returning to our rooms to pack and enjoy one last evening aboard Plancius.

Day 13: Ushuaia - Disembarkation Day

Ushuaia - Disembarkation Day
Date: 23.12.2023
Position: 54°57.3’S / 066°54.0’W
Wind: W 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

We docked back at Ushuaia early in the morning, while many of us enjoyed our last sleep on board Plancius. With our bags packed and left outside our doors for the staff to collect, we enjoyed our final hearty breakfast from the galley team. Following breakfast, we disembarked the ship and said goodbye to Pippa and all the team. Whilst many of us leave with some sadness, we are grateful to be back on solid ground. Our hearts are full of fond memories and unforgettable experiences.  

Thank you for your enthusiasm and support, but most of all for joining us on this adventurous Falkland Islands - South Georgia - Antarctica voyage. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

Total distance sailed: 1890 nautical miles

Farthest south: 65°10.7’S / 064°07.2’W

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Evgeny Levakov, Expedition Leader Pippa Low, and her team, Hotel Manager Oleksandr Lyebyedyev, and all the crew and staff of M/V Plancius, it has been a pleasure travelling with you!

Details

Tripcode: PLA24-23
Dates: 11 Dec - 23 Dec, 2023
Duration: 12 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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