PLA25-15 trip log | Antarctic Peninsula, Basecamp
08.01.2016 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of an once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 70,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Originally “Oshowia” (lit. “bay that penetrates to the west” in the natives Yaghan tongue) clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting. The rugged spine of the South American Andes ends here, where two oceans meet. As could be expected from such an exposed setting, the weather has the habit of changing on a whim. However, temperatures during the long days of the austral summer are relatively mild, providing a final blanket of warmth before heading off on our adventures.
At 15:30 we were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition staff who sorted our luggage and sent us on board to meet the Hotel and Restaurant Managers, André and Robert. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of our fabulous Filipino crew.
A little while after boarding we convened in the lounge on deck five to meet our Expedition Leader Andrew Bishop and his international team of 8 staff members. We then met First Officer Jaanus, who led us through the details of the required SOLAS (Safety of Life At Sea) Safety and Lifeboat Drill, assisted by the crew and staff. On hearing the alarm we reconvened at the ‘muster station’, the lounge, for the mandatory safety briefing and abandon ship drill donning our huge orange life jackets that will keep us safe should the need arise. After this lifeboat drill we returned to the outer decks to watch our departure from the jetty of Ushuaia and the last of city life for a while. Once we were on our way into the Beagle Channel we were invited once again to the lounge to meet our Hotel Manager André who gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next 10 days or so.
We toasted to our voyage with a glass of Prosecco with our Captain Alexey Nazarov. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chefs Ralf and Sean and their galley staff. This first evening on board was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements, and settling into our cabins. In the early hours of the morning we would be out into the open waters of the Drake Passage and heading South towards Antarctica.
It was 7:30 am when our Expedition Leader made a lovely wakeup call for us to get ready for breakfast. Some of us decided to stay in bed a little bit more but at 9:30 we were all at the Observation Lounge for the first briefing of the morning.
Our Kayak Leader Shelli told us everything about the Sea Kayaking Program. We went through safety procedures, clothing, gear we are going to use and how are we going to enjoy the paddling sessions. Outside the windows we could see Black Browed Albatross, Wondering Albatross and Giant Petrels flying around, as Kasper was pointing out very excited.
As Andrew told us on our first meeting yesterday, flexibility is one of the most important things for this trip. So on our first day at sea we already changed our plans: the camping, snowshoeing and mountaineering briefings were moved down to our afternoon schedule. Sebastian did a lecture on Antarctic Geography instead and those who weren’t feeling very good could have a short rest before lunch.
After lunch we came back to the Observation Lounge and had all the activities briefings. Outside, Grey Headed Albatross were flying in front of the ship and a group of three Fin Whales joined us on our journey for half an hour.
It was a wonderful first day at sea through the Drake Passage.
Second lovely wakeup call was the sign for getting out of bed and run to the dining room for breakfast. We knew we had a busy day with Safety and IAATO briefings.
At 9:30 am we gathered together at the lounge to listen to Andrew about the IAATO regulations and Zodiac operations. To get ready for our activities in Antarctica, we were called to the Boot Room to pick up our rubber boots. After this, the vacuuming party started! We brought all our outer layers for vacuuming them as well as our camera bags and backpacks.
After a day full of meetings, we went to the lounge to hear a lecture on Seals of the Antarctica by Andreas, followed by the daily recap. Our Expedition Leader Andrew talked about our plans for the next day and we had short briefings with the activities leaders.
It was 7 pm when we heard the message we were waiting for: dinner was being served in the dining room.
After dinner, we all run outside to see our first tabular iceberg and penguins standing on an ice floe. We were all very excited about our first landing in Antarctica!
Antarctica gave us a special reception, the fog from last night had lifted and early in the morning we were greeted by the beautiful sights of the ice-covered mountains of Anvers and Brabant Islands.
Plancius made her way through the Gerlache Strait to arrive at our first destination, the small Cuverville Island. This 2 km by 2.5 km island holds the biggest Gentoo Penguin Colony in the Gerlache Strait area, two‐thirds of the island is covered by a permanent ice‐cap. That was the destination for the mountaineers this morning, the top of the island.
We were greeted by the lovely Gentoo penguins. On both side of the landing site we could see the busy rockeries with penguins going up and down on the penguin highways. We took hundreds of pictures. We could see the first baby chicks of the colony loudly demanding food from their parents.
On the way back to the ship we saw a Crabeater seal resting on an ice floe.
In the afternoon we dropped the mountaineers at Kerr Point and we made our way to Danco Island.
This place was named after Emile Danco, a member of the Belgium Antarctic Expedition that took place between 1897 and 1899.
He died during the overwinter in June 1898; Danco Island was named after him.
This time we all had the chance to go snowshoeing to the top of the island, 200 metres above sea level and a beautiful view of the Errera Channel. Some people chose to walk on the beach. It was impressive to see the penguins come out of the water and make their way up hill to their nest. Quite a job they have.
Once we went back to the ship, Andrew updated us about the plans for tomorrow; it was to be another busy day of great activities. After dinner, the campers collected their kits and made themselves ready for a first night out. The rest enjoyed a fantastic barbecue on deck and then went to the lounge to celebrate New Year’s Eve and the beginning of 2016.
Kayaking, Cuverville Island
Cuverville Island was our first excursion opportunity since boarding the Plancius two days prior, and there was much excitement amongst the kayak team. Waking to a land of ice and snow, we also had the good fortune of calm waters. Organizing our gear and launching the kayaks was the first event before we headed down the gang way and into the zodiac. Transiting a short way away from the ship towards the island, we loaded into the kayaks and started to explore the rocky shoreline. Many Gentoo penguins were observed entering and exciting the waters, bathing and preening before heading up the hill towards the colony. We paddled along the coast catching views of the Antarctic shag rookery as well. Many chicks of both the Gentoo and the shags were seen and heard, the first of the season so far. One crab-eater seal swam by, and as we circumnavigated the island, several Weddell seals were found slumbering on the shore. Looping back towards the landing site we passed several large bergs and took time for photographs as the morning light continually transitioned. A very successful first excursion.
Conditions for the afternoon paddle remained exquisite for kayaking. Glassy reflections of the continent and Rongue Island dominated the Errera channel. We loaded into the kayaks and headed towards the landing site and the main Gentoo colony. The shoreline congregation of penguins made for great photography and observations. The shallow waters full of grounded icebergs and penguins were a fabulous introduction for many of the kayakers. We headed out to a small rocky island where several Weddell and Crab-eater seals were found: sleeping again. As the afternoon progressed we headed southeast towards another group of low lying islands, more seals and several very impressive large bergs were encountered. The time had come for a polar plunge! Nine hearty sea kayakers headed to the shores of Danco Island to “swim” in the polar waters. A great first day in Antarctica.
Our first mountaineering excursion in the Antarctic was to the top of Cuverville Island. Crampons proved useful on the icy track to the summit. The weather was very kind to us and we enjoyed a windless summit. Great views of Danco Island and over to tonight’s campsite at Kerr Point. After descending the group still had time to visit and enjoy the Gentoo Penguin colony.
In the afternoon the mountaineering group were dropped off at Kerr Point and ascended a slope overlooking the glaciers on either side of us. The sun shone and the views looking over the ice falls were outstanding as was the avalanche which came off the seracs over to our right. After taking in the scenery we descended back to the beach where we had time for photos of the Weddell Seals and a young Elephant Seal before heading back to the ship.
We followed the Mountaineers for the first section to the top of the Gentoo penguin rookeries. While the mountaineers roped on and headed off towards the summit of Cuverville, we enjoyed the fresh Antarctic air and the first time off the ship after the long days at sea to stretch our legs. Watching penguins never gets boring. While most were still sitting on their eggs, some already had their chicks to take care of. What a great view to look at those little grey fury bundles.
In the afternoon, all of us had the chance to take a snowshoe hike up to the summit of Danco Island. There were more Gentoo penguins to be seen along the way in the rookeries and we learned the traffic rules of penguin highways. The summit provided us with a magnificent 360° view and it was hard to leave the summit to come down to the landing site for the polar plunge.
After a day full of activities, we headed back to the ship for a lovely New Year’s barbeque. After an early toast, we went to the Boot Room to look for our sleeping kits and back to the gangway to wait for our shuttle ashore.
The site we choose is called Kerr Point, a plain area close to the shore line of Rongé Island. When we arrived, 5 Weddell Seals were resting a little bit more than hundred meters away from our camping and an Elephant Seal weaner was waving hello from the coast.
We were setting up our sleeping kits when suddenly a Humpback Whale interrupted us surfacing and blowing quite close to the shore. She flocked a few times before diving deep for at least an hour. While we were waiting for the first day of the year, a glacier kept us busy calving and we could see a few avalanches up in the mountains.
At midnight, we celebrate with hugs and pictures. We were very happy to start a new year camping in Antarctica.
Happy 2016 to everyone!!!
After a great New Year’s party and only a few hours of sleep, we were ready for our second day of adventures down in Antarctica.
We jump in the Zodiacs to go to Neko Harbour, our first continental landing.
Kayakers joined Shelly for a great session around the bay, mountaineers went ashore first to start climbing up with Cube and Andreas, and snowshoers started their journey with Tobias as a leader.
The weather was perfect and the view from the vantage point spectacular. Gentoo penguins and Skuas were the kings of the place. Once we got to the top, we came back to the landing site to go back to the ship, have lunch and start a new excursion to the continent.
In the afternoon, we landed at Stoney Point, another continental spot. When we arrived, a group of Weddell Seals welcomed us and we slowly started our way up the hill. Those who were interested in photography joined Bruce for a shore excursion and focused specially on landscapes.
It was a busy day but it wasn’t over yet. Campers had a quick dinner and prepared for the second night ashore. The place we selected is called Leith Cove, a small little island that, during low tide, can be seen attached to the continent. The night was just starting.
Kayaking, Neko Harbour
The morning came early for some of the kayakers as a many of them had spent the night out camping, or celebrating the New Year late into the night. The day proved perfect for paddling, with glassy calm waters and a myriad of icebergs dotting the waters of Andvord Bay. Thus, finding a second or third wind, many of them rallied and headed out to the kayaks. Navigating along the coast we passed the landing site and headed east deeper into the bay. The scenery became even more dramatic with towering glaciers in the back of the bay; patches of blue sky and aside from the distant hum of a zodiac the deafening silence of Antarctica dominated. In search of seals or whales we ventured into the brash ice looping around towards the ship eventually. One Minke whale was briefly spotted by several of the paddlers before we headed back to prepare for the afternoon’s excursion.
Stony Pt./Ferguson Channel
As the ship entered Paradise Bay and Ferguson Channel we were met with calm waters, slightly overcast skies and a wonderful spectacle of icebergs. The entire kayak team headed out in these pristine conditions. We launched into the kayaks and headed towards Skontorp cove, away from the main landing site and into the ice. The rumble of the surrounding glaciers provided the soundtrack to our paddle. We continued to explore the bay, and were very lucky to spot a Leopard seal on the ice, the first of the voyage! Continuing north we passed by the landing site, only to be distracted by a Minke whale surfacing behind us. With patience we waited, but the whale was headed off to other activities and so were we. Some kayakers headed to shore to view the continental landscape, while the rest of us continued to explore the northern islands. A truly amazing afternoon.
Our first outing on the Antarctic Continent was climbing up the glacier apron above Neko Harbour. The overnight temperatures had been quite warm and there had been some rain and as a result the snow was pretty soft. It is always prudent to rope up on a glacier and so it proved here as Cube fell in one and then Makhail fell in two. Fortunately on all occasions the people concerned only fell in to their waist and easily got out. We climbed higher up to get some great views of the Plancius in a dramatic setting below. Everybody had time at the end of the trip to check out the Gentoo Penguin colony just above the beach.
After lunch it was decided to attempt an ascent of a peak adjacent to Stoney Point. As with a lot of the smaller features in this part of the world it doesn’t have a name. The ascent was pretty steep and snow conditions were very poor. However the team made pretty good progress but it was becoming apparent we would never make the summit so we returned to our start point. This was problematic in itself as it was more awkward coming downhill in the soft snow.
Spot the mountaineers!
Today was the big day: we had a continental landing! We stepped ashore at on the Antarctic continent at Neko Harbour. Equipped with snowshoes, we walked along the Gentoo penguin rookeries up the steep slope to a nice view point overlooking the landing site and fjord system. Occasional rumbles and thunders indicated avalanches, ice falls and calving at the nearby glacier.
In the afternoon, we did a split landing. While half of us went zodiac cruising in Ferguson Channel, the other half of us snowshoed up the snow dome above Stoney Point. The view was fantastic and we were able to watch the kayakers below us paddle between icebergs, while the mountaineers made an impressive ascent on a nearby glaciated slope. At halftime, we swapped with the zodiac cruisers and at the very end, the last brave ones among us had a chance to do their polar plunge or even go for a second round.
The second group of campers heard the announcement at 8 o’clock to get ready to go ashore. We went to the Boot Room to look for our sleeping kit and then to the gangway.
We boarded the Zodiacs and soon we were at the camping site were the Expedition Team had set up the tents.
After putting our sleeping kit together, we enjoyed the landscape as one of the glaciers kept calving once and again. We shared a nice time all together until a heavy rain sent us to bed.
We had a quiet and warm night in Antarctica.
At 5 am Kasper and Mariela woke us up and we started to pack back all out gear to come back to the ship where Robert and André had prepare a lovely breakfast.
The morning started as a true Antarctic expedition day. Due to the wind conditions, we had to change our initial plan and find a more sheltered landing site. After some reconnaissance, Captain and Expedition Leader decided that South Bay, near the Chilean Yelcho Station was the best option.
After going ashore there in the morning, we relocated to Port Lockroy, where we spent the afternoon shopping and watching penguins. Port Lockroy is a historic British base with a wonderful museum, gift shop, and a Gentoo penguin colony, where snowy sheathbills were seen wandering around in between the nesting penguins.
Unfortunately, the weather denied us another night of camping. Strong winds with gusts up to 40kn were blowing through the fjords. However, our Captain had a fantastic idea and navigated us through the spectacular Lemaire Channel.
The weather cramped our style a bit this morning but the mountaineers group did get out walking north along the edge of the glacier. Great views over the Peltier Channel to the spectacular walls of Janssen and Luigi Peak. After a late lunch the afternoon group were able to enjoy the sun on Doumier Island as we ascended to the summit of the north east dome. It was windy but okay in the sun. Fantastic views of the Wall Range on Wiencke Island. We descended fairly quickly back to the excellent drop off spot where the group were picked up and taken over the channel for a visit to Port Lockroy.
From the landing site at South Bay, we snowshoed up the side of the slope and followed the ridgeline to the navigation beacon at the tip of the peninsula. We were able to enjoy a vast white snow landscape and a mystic environment of dark clouds, wind and snow. Towards the end of the landing, the sun fought its way through the clouds and illuminated the nearby mountain scenery.
The afternoon, we gave the snowshoes a bit of a rest and enjoyed some quality shopping at Port Lockroy.
Another true Antarctic expedition day! We found good shelter for the wind, in the bay called Orne harbour and started the morning operation. The bay is full of brash ice and small icebergs, so the going with getting the mountain climbers ashore took a bit longer than for seen, but as soon as they were on their way the rest of us could enjoy a beautiful cruise with the small boats, among the ice. We found a few colonies of Chinstrap Penguins and cormorants with chicks and we even got to observe the penguins come flying in and out of the water straight from the cliffs.
Well back on board, after this fairly cold cruise, we headed for the Whilemina Bay in the hope to find shelter for our afternoon landing. Unfortunately the wind is picking up and the evening is cancelled. But while doing a ship cruise we came over some amazing humpback whales! And these whales were acrobats, so in a show of strength and agility, we could witness these giants leap straight out of the water and splash onto the surface, several of the whales had the entire mass of their body out of the water. So even with cancelled outings, it still turned out to be an exciting evening!
Kayaking, Orne Harbour
The morning started out quite moody. With winds of 25 knots in the Gerlache Straight and continues rain from the sky, we attempted to find shelter in Orne Harbour. The hope for the morning excursion was to visit the Chinstrap penguin colony there on the peninsula. At 8 am the winds were quite strong, but quickly dropped and we were able to depart into the kayaks with great success. We headed out into overcast and rainy conditions, but spirits amongst the group were high. We skirted a large patch of brash ice and headed to the penguin colony beneath Spigot Peak. With 1000 + feet of towering rock above us, penguins, shags, and Kelp gulls on the rocks and ice all around it was a fantastic spectacle. We looped back along the glacier face, some of us dipping deeper into the brash ice before finishing at the ship. A wet, but wonderful excursion!
After dodging through and around quite a bit of brash ice we made it to the shore of Spigot Point and from the landing ascended quite steeply at first to gentler upper slopes. The constant rain showers failed to dampen the group’s enthusiasm as we headed up to the Chinstrap Penguin colony on the ridge. Great views down to the Gerlache Straits below. We returned by the same route and both groups were able to discover how versatile their snowshoes were on the descent down to the landing site. You are even able to front point in them!
Weather was being tough on us for the last few days but we were decided to bit him! Our Expedition Leader woke us up at 4:15 am for the first landing of the day at Mikkelsen Harbour. We had two and half hours ashore to enjoy the scenery.
We arrived at a rocky beach next to a hut and we slowly started our way towards the back side of the island. A few times we had to stop walking to give the penguins the right to go. Once we were on the other side, we found another beach with penguin rookeries, a Weddell Seal taking a nap and lots of whale bones left by the Whalers back in the early 1900’s.
The wind was picking up at the end of our activities so we started our way back to the ship while the mountaineers were being picked up from their landing site in front of ours. After twenty minutes we were all back on board and ready to start sailing towards the South Shetlands Islands, our next destination.
We arrived at 13:00 hours to the vicinity of Deception Island, the last landing of the whole journey. We rush up to the Bridge to see how our Captain drove the ship inside the island, through Neptune Bellows. Once we were inside we made our way towards the back side of the caldera, to land on a sandy beach called Telefon Bay.
The wind was a little bit strong but it didn’t stop us. We did a long hike along the edge of another crater and we ended up on our landing site, after passing by a group of Seals that were resting on the beach. The bravest decided to take another bath and that’s how we finished our landing: with a third Polar Plunge!
Kayaking, Deception Island
After an early morning set back due to weather. The afternoon at Deception Island provided the last and final paddle option of the voyage. After entering through Neptune’s Bellows”, the ship sailed to the end of Port Foster to Telefon Bay. The winds dropped to a safe level and we headed out. For a few it was their first time kayaking but for everyone (aside from the guide), it was the first time paddling inside a caldera in a snow storm! After launching into the boats we explored the coastline, several Weddell seals and a smack of Gentoo and chinstrap penguins were found along the shore. We explored a small cove still partly covered in last winter’s sea ice, and came across five more Weddell. Turning now towards the landing party with the wind at our backs, we sailed past our fellow ship companions and continued on down the coast. The wind was picking up and it was time to return to the zodiac and for the ship to depart back to Ushuaia. Getting back in the zodiac was a little “sporty” as now the waves had increased in height and the zodiac was indeed a moving target. Everyone was successful, and it was a great finish to the voyage!
The early start did not deter those keen for a short mountaineering excursion and we set off with two full groups to Skottsberg Point. The landing was okay and after gearing up we headed fairly steeply upwards on a much improved surfaces from the last few days. As we ascended the wind grew stronger and we didn’t hang around very much at the high point of peninsula. In the meantime the water level at the landing site made boarding the Zodiacs slightly problematical on our return. Tobias and Sebastian did a great job of getting us off and pretty soon we were back on board for a well-earned breakfast.
Today was our first full day at sea and it started grey and wet. Because of the wind, the outside decks were closed, but inside there were several lectures on offer. Tobias started off in the morning with a talk about the geology of Antarctica. On board we sometimes also call him “Rock Star”. From him we learned about continental drift and that Antarctica was not always at the position where it is today.
From hard core geological science, we went on to modern day polar heroes. Kasper introduced us to some fascinating, modern-day expeditions to Antarctica and the people involved in it.
The weather did not decide to become nicer over lunchtime. So, a few of us ventured out on the bridge wings to get some fresh air and to watch seabirds fly by before heading back to the lounge for the afternoon program. We started the afternoon off with the first episode of the magnificent and award-winning BBC documentary “Frozen Planet”. Thereafter, the Sierra Club had a meeting before Sebastian introduced us to a man by the name of Adriane De Gerlache and his famous Belgium Antarctic Expedition. On this expedition, they named many of the places that we had visited throughout our trip after members of the expedition or their sponsors and supporters.
At recap, we learned about the plans for the following day from Robert and Andrew, who also gave a brief introduction into Antarctica’s ice cap and its underlying topography.
Dark clouds and windy conditions ended our first day at sea and we went to bed knowing that we were now half way across the Drake Passage.
We woke up with the waves hitting the ship and once we were at breakfast, we found out that we had more than 7 meters high waves.
The wind was stronger but our progress was incredible. We were getting closer and closer to the famous Cape Horn.
We listened to Tobias lecturing about Atmospheric Phenomena and then we chilled out watching the second part of BBC Documentary Frozen Planet.
After lunch, Robert called us to settle our accounts and after that we went deck by deck to the Boot Room to hand back our rubber boots.
The trip wasn’t over yet. We still had the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail and a fantastic recap where our Photographer in residence, Bruce, presented a Slideshow from the whole trip. It was a fantastic movie in which all of us were the protagonist.
Last dinner was being served and after that, our last bar night sharing with our new friends what we lived for the past ten days.
Today is disembarkation day in Ushuaia. Coming alongside, we were boarded by the Argentine officials who cleared our vessel and allowed us to disembark. On the pier we waved farewell to many of the friends we have come to know over the past 10 days, and had one last look at the Plancius, the ship that took us safely on such an incredible voyage from Ushuaia, across the infamous Drake Passage to Antarctica. We have camped, kayaked, mountaineered, snowshoed and simply enjoyed the wildlife and scenery of this very special continent and are privileged that we were able to do so. This trip will last us a lifetime – in our memories, our imaginations, and in our dreams.
Thank you all for such a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!
Total distance sailed on our voyage:
Nautical miles: 1736 nm
Kilometres: 3215 km
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Nazarov, Expedition Leader Andrew Bishop and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.