PLA25-16, trip log, Basecamp Antarctica

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 28.12.2016
Position: 042°45’S / 065°01’W
Wind: ESE 3
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +2

So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going south of south...a long way south. But for today, we ambled about this lovely Patagonian city, savouring the local flavours and enjoying the sights.

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

For many of us this is the start of a lifelong dream. The excitement comes in different forms for each unique person, but even the most experienced of us feels genuine excitement to depart on a journey to the Great White Continent of Antarctica. Some passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board our ship MV Plancius, home for the next 10 days.

We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition staff who sorted our luggage and sent us on board to meet Hotel and Restaurant Managers, Johnny and Katie. 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 First Officer Artur, 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 were invited once again to the lounge to meet our Hotel Manager Johnny who gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next 10 days or so. We then met our Expedition Leader, Andrew Bishop and the rest of the Expedition Team who will guide us in Antarctica in order for us to enjoy the various Basecamp activities that are on offer: kayaking, mountaineering and camping amongst others.

This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Evgeny Levakov and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chef 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.

Day 2: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 29.12.2016
Position: 056°11’ S / 065°51’ W
Wind: W 5
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

Early morning started with the delightful tones of Andrew’s voice as it came wafting through the airwaves. Such a beautiful day should be started with gusto, thought he. What a day! After breakfast the real action started. The morning was full of activity briefings, for being a basecamp voyage there were many different things for everyone to take part in. There was, in particular, kayaking, camping, snowshoeing, and mountaineering briefings for the passengers to attend. After lunch Bruce gave a talk about photography, giving out various tips and tricks as well as explaining to all how the photography workshops and tours would work once we were down and around the Antarctic proper.

Also in the afternoon Mal enticed some guests to attend his talk about glaciers & ice; fascinating on many levels. Whoever was up and about could watch different sea birds following the ship, while not many they were still interesting to see. There were, for example the black and white speckled Cape petrels, brown Giant petrels, Black-browed albatrosses, and the largest of them all, a few prehistoric-looking Wandering and Royal albatrosses. The Wandering albatross is the largest flying bird in the world, a magnificent creature. Even a grey-headed albatross showed up for a short period before disappearing back into the great unknown.

After a quiet afternoon when most people were either asleep, resting, or simply battling sea-sickness (a battle between a person’s eyes and brain, with the stomach being the clear winner), Andrew informed us during the daily briefing about our further plans. He also explained about the Antarctic convergence, the border in the sea where the temperature changes and marks the boundaries for Sub-Antarctica & Antarctica from the rest of the world. Bruce and Louise also did a talk on sea bird wingspans, showing with visual aid just how small and how large some of the birds can really be, such as the tiny Wilson’s storm petrel with a wingspan of just 40cm and the Wandering albatross with a wingspan reaching over 3.5 meters. Slowly it was time for the day to come to an end, after a wonderful dinner served piping hot by our jolly German chef Ralf, always ready with a pot of hot steaming creamy goodness fresh from the source, everyone slowly made their way to their cabins, into their warm cozy beds, ready for another night of dreams to envelop them.

Day 3: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 30.12.2016
Position: 060°47’ S / 063°34’ W
Wind: ESE 3
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +2

After breakfast it was time for the mandatory IAATO-briefing. We were told the dos and don’ts, to keep Antarctica as pristine as possible. In other words: Leave nothing but (un-deep) footprints, take nothing but photographs and don’t disturb any wildlife!
This briefing was followed by the Zodiac briefing, as they will be used for all our operations.

After all this information, we were called deck by deck, to come to the boot room. Beau took our cabin numbers, and the rest of the team handed out our rubber boots.

Next on the program, was to repeat the basecamp activity briefings for those who were too seasick the previous day to attend. We just finished in time for our well-deserved lunch. Strengthened after the delicious food, we started the vacuum session in the lounge. Vacuuming? Yes! We were again called deck by deck, but this time we were invited to the lounge and we had to bring all our outer gear and bags. Five vacuum-cleaners were waiting for us, to vacuum pockets and Velcro. We had to make sure that no foreign plant material would be brought onto land in Antarctica.

At 17:00 we were all invited to the dining room, not for more food, but because Marijke had a lecture on the various penguin species found in Antarctica all set up and ready to go.

At recap, Andrew told us the plans for tomorrow and the different groups were given information about their activities. Beau also talked more in depth about the various albatross species, including the Wanderer, the largest flying bird in the world.

After dinner we thought that the main attractions of the day would be over by now. How wrong we were! What started with just a couple of whale blows developed into a “forest of blows”, as Marijke described it. Captain Levakov slowed down the Plancius and we were able to see an unbelievable show of feeding humpback whales. There were around 30 whales, possibly more, spread out across the horizon from far to near. For almost 45 minutes we had them bubble net feeding, showing their tail flukes and even half-breaching.

Everybody on board was amazed and the benchmark for the upcoming days was set. Stunning!!!

Day 4: Cuverville Island & Danco Island

Cuverville Island & Danco Island
Date: 31.12.2016
Position: 064°38’ S / 062°35’ W
Wind: LT Air
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +2

Already early in the morning we were surrounded by the snowy hills of the Antarctic Peninsula back dropped against a bright blue sky. Humpback whales were blowing around the vessel and penguins were circling small ice bergs and zipping effortlessly through the food-rich waters of Antarctica.

We made our first landing at Cuverville Island, where we were all greeted by Gentoo penguins. They seemed to be rather curious about us and wanted to make sure we were all ok. Most of the penguins had made their nests using precious pebbles – some of which were repeatedly being stolen by the neighbour penguins. Indeed, breeding and pebble-steeling was in full swing and one chinstrap penguins stood a bit confused surrounded by all the Gentoo’s.

On our way back to the Plancius we cruised by all the crab eater seals hauled out on ice. We were also excited to find a young leopard seal which was snoozing and basking in the sun. What a beautiful day and so much wildlife – even at the gangway we were greeted by a curious Minke whale!

Back on board we enjoyed a lovely lunch whilst moving towards Danco Island and passing some sleeping humpback whales along the way. These large baleen whales need a little rest now and again after foraging for krill. They also take this time to listen out for calls of other whales, perhaps in order to find out where to go for their next lunch.

All kinds of activities took place during our visit to Danco Island. Some of us snow-shoed to the top of the small mountain where we could take in the 360 degree breath-taking views of the bay. We were not alone as even on the top of this mountain there was a small colony of Gentoo penguins nesting. Across the channel we saw little black dots making their way up of an even bigger mountain – but this time they were not penguins - they were our brave mountaineers!

Down at the beach a small group went rock-pooling & beachcombing – many treasures were found including a beautiful orange starfish.

On our way back to the Plancius, more crab eater seals were seen snoozing on ice floes. Back on board there were smiling faces all around and a special New Year’s Eve dinner was served. Around dessert time a pod of killer whales accompanied the Plancius for up to one hour. The pod which consisted of at least 20 individual orcas included mainly mother and calf’s and a few adult males. After the killer whale encounter we dropped the first camping team onto their camping ground. Beautiful clear skies and pastel colours surrounded the campsite.

Our first mountaineering excursion in the Antarctic was to Georges point on Ronge Island. After ascending to a small col with great views over the Gerlache Strait, some of the group climbed a short narrow ridge to a summit just above the col. In the afternoon the mountaineering group were dropped off at Kerr Point and ascended a slope overlooking the glaciers on either side of us. A beautiful sunny day meant that the snow had gone pretty soft and snowshoes proved indispensable. The views looking over the ice falls were outstanding. The trip back to the ship was eventful with humpback whales coming up for air very near to the zodiac.

Morning Group:
Flat calm waters with sunshine, there were only a few clouds surrounding us. Glaciers shined in the sun. First, there many penguins in the water, bathing and cleansing and swimming along at the surface in large groups. Then suddenly a huge male humpback whale came slowly cruising by, blowing many times, right in front of the front person then alongside the others…what a VIEW…up close!!! There were also many Crabeater seals sleeping on the ice floes. Many huge and gorgeous icebergs, including small blue ones with rippled ridges, floated along. It was fun paddling through the small ice to see Gentoo penguins nesting. Then we headed to in front of the landing so we could see where our fellow passengers were. At last, we felt so lucky to be on the water!

Afternoon Group:
A strong and determined group of kayakers followed numerous leads from the ship’s bridge of a sighting of sleeping humpback whales. We were relentless in our pursuit but sadly never caught up to them….they were so far out in front we never found ourselves within range. In all we completed a long circular path but found these whales on the wrong ‘side’ of our circle. We didn’t mind! It was a gloriously warm and sunny day with huge and gorgeous icebergs around and with no wind and spectacular scenery! We could hear the slapping of the swells against the bottoms of the large bergs still keeping hope that these would be whale blows…the sound is very similar. The paddling was sublime, we didn’t want it to end.

After a lovely New Year’s Eve dinner on board Plancius the campers jumped into the first zodiac to head off towards the camping spot to spend the first night in one of the coldest environment of the world. The weather conditions were on our side so setting up all the camping gear was not a problem for the first group of happy campers. Everyone shared the shovels to dig what we like to call ‘the grave’.

The scenery was beautiful, some clouds in the sky made the whole panorama between Cuverville and Danco island fantastic, no wind this first night made it a perfect night for all the guests and the visit of a few Gentoo penguins plus some Weddell seals made the final framing for this picture perfect night.

Around 4.30am Christophe made the wakeup call, as the first few passengers were already up and about taking pictures of the beautiful view. Time to head back to Plancius for a warm meal and shower, with more activities planned in the upcoming day.

Day 5: Damoy Point & Port Lockroy

Damoy Point & Port Lockroy
Date: 01.01.2017
Position: 064°46’S / 063°29’W
Wind: LT Air
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +4

After picking up all the happy campers, the scene was set for a fantastic day in Antarctica. Dead calm waters, no wind, very little cloud cover, it looked too good to be true. Indeed! The plan? A landing at Damoy Point, a spit of land jutting out into Dorian Bay, near Port Lockroy, the penguin post office. It used to be a landing strip for all the British aircraft coming into the Peninsula. Nowadays it is simply a reminder of the good old days, as the British base now has their own hard strip for direct flights. The snowshoers headed up the hill, the penguin peepers peeped away, the sun shone brightly down upon everyone as it headed upwards of 20 degrees Centigrade in the sun.

After lunch, it was time for Port Lockroy itself, the infamous penguin post. A split landing it was, as only a maximum of 60 guests at a time are allowed at Lockroy. Therefore while half the guests sent out their postcards and letters and did their Antarctic shopping, the others landed at Jougla Point, home to more Gentoo penguins as well as a few nesting shags and some Weddell seals hauled out on the ice. And then everyone swapped places, ensuring all had a chance to visit the station. Eventually it was time to head back to the ship, as some of the Chinese contingent aboard had prepared traditional Chinese dumplings for everyone to enjoy. Fantastic! Alas it was then time for the campers to head out, welcomed by a lone Adelie penguin on shore as they started setting up their little home for the night.

New Year’s Day dawned sunny and clear and we were blessed with nice hard surfaces as the mountaineers made their way to a viewpoint below the col on Jabet Peak. The venue was the same in the afternoon but the snow had softened and as a result many people found it hard work. Mal’s group kept climbing above the col but didn’t quite make it to the summit due to very soft snow and potential avalanche risk. Great views out over Neumayer Channel and Port Lockroy.

Morning Group:
Seven Sisters and Mother (mountain range) watched over as seven ‘sister’ kayaks and one ‘mother’ zodiac plied the icy waters. Off and away from the ship into the still and calm waters near Casablanca Island…almost immediately we spied a rather rotund juvenile elephant seal barely fitting on his rock, for a well-deserved rest, so of course we had to go for a look. He didn’t seem to mind.

Paddling on we made it to the bay in front of Port Lockroy but decided not to go further in as we saw four sailing yachts at anchor. We felt we should leave them in peace, to enjoy their quiet morning in a New Year’s Day celebration.
Paddling through thin fresh sea ice was fun! It slowed us down but made us work harder, which felt invigorating and rewarding.

Afternoon Group:
Ice is NICE! We spent the afternoon being Ice Navigators in the vicinity of Wienke Island and into the Peltier Channel. First it was fast ice, where we hit the edge with ramming speed and slid up easily onto the solid mass. Passing by several anchored sailing yachts we couldn’t resist ramming again and again…with flat bottoms our kayaks were safe. Jiggling a bit was all it took to slide back down onto the water. We encountered newly formed sea ice from the cold of the night before. On the way into the Peltier Channel we punched our way through brash ice. For most this would be the only time for paddling in the ice, and here we were in Antarctica, surrounded by massive mountains cloaked in glaciers. The mountaineers appeared like tiny specks in the heights above while summiting Jabet Peak, behind Port Lockroy station.

After a special dinner on the back deck (BBQ night!), the call came through the speakers at 21.00hrs for the campers to be ready, this time at Lefévre Point.
Some passengers decided to stay awake a bit longer than others in the quiet night, listening to the sound of falling ice and cracking glacier.

Once again at 4.30am ours truly Nachito Marino started to make some noise in order to wake up the passengers as everyone was a bit drowsy that morning. Happy smiles all around as the first zodiac arrived to take everyone back to the ship for a hot breakfast.

Day 6: Neko Harbour & Almirante Brown

Neko Harbour & Almirante Brown
Date: 02.01.2017
Position: 064°47’ S / 062°44’ W
Wind: Slight breeze
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +3

The day started out as it did the day before, with sunshine and hot rays abounding. As the Plancius slowly made its way through Andvord Bay, heading towards the morning landing, several Humpback whales showed up to guide us in. The plan for the day? A landing at Neko Harbor, a small harbor just off of Andvord Bay where a rather active glacier was to be found. Coincidentally also a planned Continental landing! What else? Gentoo penguins of course! Not a Gen-three to be found, guests had to settle for the second iteration of the classic penguin. A snowshoe hike was organized, to the top of a hill with a fantastic view to said glacier and the surrounding colony and ship in the bay. At the end of the landing a polar plunge was also organized, with plenty of participants after the hot and sweaty morning spent hiking up the hill. Happy smiles all around!

After lunch, the next landing was to be a split one; while half the guests would land at Almirante Brown, the other half would zodiac cruise for just over an hour around the corner in Skontorp Cove. And then swap! Base Brown, an old Argentinian base with no more permanent personnel, was also a continental landing located in Paradise Harbor. A hike was organized to the top of the hill, where Beau was stationed as lookout. The adventurous could slide back down the hill rather than walking down, with several guests taking advantage of the fun and doing several laps back up in order to slide down. One could also wander towards the remains of the base, spending some time with Jerry while others were enjoying their zodiac cruise amongst the ice and wildlife. A Minke whale was spotted, although rather shy and seemingly in a hurry to head towards the Chilean station at Waterboat Point. But wait! That’s not all folks! A polar BBQ was also arranged, on the back deck with free drinks and gluhwein for everyone to enjoy. As it was also assistant hotel manager Katie’s birthday, it was a fitting end to another fantastic day in Antarctic Paradise!

Another fine day and the mountaineers were off up the slopes at Neko Harbour. The crevassing here becomes more apparent as the summer season progresses. It also seems quite complex with crevasses running perpendicular to the fall line as well as across the fall line. Superb views out over the glaciers and sea below us. Unfortunately the crevassing proved problematic on the way down with first Adam falling in one which required both Cube and Mal’s assistance to get him out and then Mike fell in one but he was able to get out without any help. An eventful morning!

The mountaineers visited Conessa Point in the afternoon. Mal explored a rock buttress to the north of the point and Cube’s group ascended some pretty soft snow to a summit above Paradise Harbour. The weather had changed with the nearby peaks disappearing into cloud and snow starting to fall, very different from the last few days.

Morning Group:
All was quiet and hushed around Neko with no wind or waves. There was brilliant sunshine, while paddling along a tall ice cliff with ice choked waters in the channel. Paddling was easy and pleasant in the still and quiet morning. Two Crabeater seals snoozed on an ice floe and didn’t seem to mind us stopping for a visit. We stayed very quiet and well away so as not to disturb them. At the end we watched the brave ones dashing in for a quick dip while one of our Chinese friends swam for a long time, out to an observational zodiac and back to shore…a good ten minutes in the ice water.

Afternoon Group:
Strong paddlers, first we set off into Skontorp Cove in the Valley of the Glacier Giants, then onto a ‘secret spot’ with ice cliffs and a meltwater pool…we got out and walked around, enjoying the light winds and low clouds. We had a word for it: ‘atmospheric’. We spied three Crabeater seals up on the snow. In all we were a fun group with great teamwork…we felt strong. Plus, this was an official Continental Landing!! We now feel we’ve experienced the real Antarctica!

After visiting Paradise bay we headed to Leith Cove to set up our third camping night. The channel was like a mirror, a big difference than around the corner. Once again the passengers were happy to arrive and started to build their snow walls and dig their bivvy holes. And of course enjoying the fantastic view from the shore so peaceful and quiet! Some Gentoo visitors and a Crabeater seal swimming around the bay made the scene surreal.

This time the guests had a harder time getting out of their bivvy bags in the morning, which of course meant they had a fantastic night sleep before they had to pack everything back up and head back to the ship for the day’s activities.

Day 7: Lemaire Channel & Port Charcot

Lemaire Channel & Port Charcot
Date: 03.01.2017
Position: 065°12’ S / 063°18’ W
Wind: E 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

Another day in Antarctica. The day dawned overcast and a bit windy, as the ship sailed down towards the Lemaire Channel. Hoping it would be free of ice and passable, we sailed towards the entrance while everyone gathered outside on deck and enjoyed the view. But alas! There was still too much ice around the channel. Not too fear, we headed out in the zodiacs for an impromptu cruise instead. As we headed further into the channel, the wind died down, the clouds moved away, and the sun shined bright in the sky for another beautiful warm day. Crabeater seals were hauled out on ice floes, large icebergs shone in the sun as the zodiacs weaved their way through the ice and wildlife, and the Plancius even made its way part way into Doloncle Bay to give a ships cruise to those who stayed on board.

After lunch, it was time for a landing. Port Charcot was the destination, a small bay on Booth Island named after the famous Frenchman. A hike was organized up to a hilltop, with views to not just the Gentoo colony, but several Chinstraps and Adelie penguins as well. Another polar plunge was arranged at this venue, our fearless leader Andrew, sneakily taking the challenge and dipping in after everyone had gone.

The sunshine and blue skies returned as Plancius made its way into Lemaire Channel. As the channel was blocked to the south the Plancius heaved to for a period which gave the mountaineers the chance to ascend a small peak on the east side of the channel. From there we could see all the sea ice to the south and have a great view of Plancius manoeuvring round the icebergs below.

In the afternoon as the heat of the day increased a small group of mountaineers climbed up the small peak above Port Charcot accompanied by the Doctor, Jelte. Superb all round views especially of the iceberg graveyard to the south. We enjoyed a quiet time on the summit and the Doctor disturbed the silence with his snoring!

Due to unfortunate circumstances the kayaking had to be cancelled for the rest of the voyage.

This time we camped next to Port Lockroy, Lefévre Point, a little valley between a line of boulders and a glacier cliff. As this was the last night for camping the wind was blowing but not enough to ruin the night. As always we set up the portable toilet behind a rock to give some privacy to the passengers, and everyone set about digging with the shovels to flatten their camping spot for the night. Because of the wind it wasn’t long until everyone was comfortable inside their sleeping bags. During the night some kelp gulps flew around the area trying to wake up the camper but luckily with no success.

After the wakeup call everyone was packed up and ready to go in just 20 minutes, a record as the thought of a hot shower and warm meal on board Plancius kept everyone motivated and in high spirits.

Day 8: Orne Harbour & Foyn Harbour/Enterprise Islands

Orne Harbour & Foyn Harbour/Enterprise Islands
Date: 04.01.2017
Position: 064°36’ S / 062°34’ W
Wind: SW 3
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +6

It’s no surprise anymore that it’s another beautiful sunny day in Antarctica awaiting us, when Andrew made his famous wake-up call. Being in a generous mood he decided to let everyone sleep in until 07.15, a full 15 minutes more than normally. This was not true for the campers who got picked up at five o’clock in the morning as usual.

After four full days everybody is in the base camp rhythm and it’s no problem anymore to be at the right spot at the right time. Soon the mountaineers ventured off towards the landing site to start their ascent to the spectacular Spigot Peak. Over the ridge they climbed higher and higher and reached the peak to enjoy the stunning view over Orne Harbour.

As well the other passengers were active. A split landing was on the menu. So half of us went on a zodiac cruise while the others set foot once more on the continent. Orne Harbour consists of two bays, both of them surrounded by impressive glaciers. Also the wildlife was once again eager to show its face. Minke whales, Crabeater seals, a Weddell seal pup, Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins, blue eyed shags, Skuas, you name it. Those of us who stayed on board even managed to spot a breaching Humpback whale.
On shore we enjoyed a zig-zag walk up to the view point of Orne Harbour. Those who were brave enough imitated our friends the penguins: Sliding down a “human highway” down to shore. It is unsure who is the less elegant; penguins or people!

Some of us had the feeling that the day couldn’t get any better. We were wrong. In Foyn Harbour we stopped for the afternoon activity, which was a zodiac cruise. After inspecting the wreck of the Guvernoren, we dashed back towards the Plancius. A radio call from the bridge came in. There were several Humpback whales just right around the Plancius. While Beau, Katie, Noel, & Elmer stayed with a mother and calf, Nacho, Bruce and Marijke had one juvenile and three adult whales around their zodiac. Not only for a couple of minutes but for almost an hour. What an unforgettable afternoon!

Yet another fine day on the Antarctic Peninsula with a visit to Orne Bay. Here the mountaineers climbed the imposing summit of Spigot Peak and conditions on the slopes were just perfect as was the panoramic view from the summit.

In the afternoon Plancius visited Foyn Harbour and the mountaineering team visited one of the local islands. Here the team did some steep/very steep soft snow climbing, learning some completely different ways to use an ice axe.

Day 9: Half Moon Island & Robert Point

Half Moon Island & Robert Point
Date: 05.01.2017
Position: 062°35’ S / 059°54’ W
Wind: NW 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: -1

This morning we were greeted by swimming Chinstrap Penguins whilst the Plancius made its approach to Half Moon Island – one of the Islands belonging to the South Shetland Islands. First off were the mountaineers; closely followed by the first penguin peepers landing on the beach. More Chinstrap penguins were awaiting us there with the occasional Gentoo penguin too.

The path to the colony was a bit muddy in places but soon started to be covered by a thin layer of snow which by now was also falling down on top of the runners who were running up to 10 km distance! The Chinstrap penguins had several very young chicks. After a muddy slide down to the beach followed by a little climb we were awarded by the one and only Macaroni penguin on Half Moon Island! Crested penguins can pair-bond for a very long time and this one was probably patiently waiting for its partner.

After a well-deserved lunch, we tried to land on Robert Island but the weather had deteriorated so much that the surf was too high to make a safe landing. Instead we did an hour long zodiac cruise braving more snow and wind as we were awaited by the many elephant seals hauled out on the beach. A few sub-adult males were floating around in the surf too. Also spectacular was the sighting of a leucistic Gentoo penguin – which was colored very light grey/brown due to a genetic failure in its feathers.

Dinner was on schedule as the Plancius prepared for the crossing of the Southern Ocean’s Drake Passage. A few humpback whales waved their flukes as we sailed by.

A very different day today as the weather turned for the worse with increased wind and snow showers. The original plan for the mountaineers was amended slightly! After going ashore we headed for a large wind scoop where Mal and Cube talked about what you would have to do if it wasn’t possible for the ship to pick you up. The group experienced the wonderful warmth of a group shelter and also the effort required to make an emergency snow hole. The group managed to dig one that would accommodate 2 people in about an hour – a good effort.

Day 10: The Drake Passage

The Drake Passage
Date: 10.01.2017
Position: 059°56’ S / 061°47’ W
Wind: SSW 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +5

After a rather gentle night of slight rolling, the morning broke cloudy and overcast. The Plancius rocked back and forth as the call for breakfast came through the airwaves. Another day on the open seas!

At 10:30 Christophe gave a talk about Amundsen, and the race to the South Pole. After lunch a movie was played, called Around the Horn about a young man who went to sea on one of the last of the great 4-masted cargo sailing vessels. At 5pm Bruce gave a talk about seabirds, explaining in great detail about why they are so cool.

Before dinner, Andrew & Johnny came in at the daily briefing with info and details about the next day and about disembarkation on the 28th; not the funniest part, but all good things and all good cruises must come to an end.

"I lay there, all the day long, quite coolly and contentedly; With no sense of weariness, with no desire to get up, or get better, or take the air;
With no curiosity, or care, or regret, of any sort or degree, Saving that I can think I can remember, in this universal indifference,
Having a kind of lazy joy – of fiendish delight, if anything so lethargic can be Dignified with the title – in the fact of my wife being too ill to talk to me."
-Charles Dickens on seasickness

Day 11: The Drake Passage

The Drake Passage
Date: 07.01.2017
Position: 056°50’S / 067°35’W
Wind: WSW 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

After a night of rocking and rolling, the morning dawned with calmer seas. As one by one everyone filed in for breakfast, the sun tried to break through the cloud cover to say hello.

In the morning hours Louise talked about Shackleton, a great historical sketch about one of the greatest survivalists of all time. Afterwards Marijke gave a talk about Cetaceans, otherwise known as whales and research going on for them. Shortly after Marijke finished her most excellent presentation Andrew made an announcement that we had in fact sailed to the Diego Ramirez island group, the most southerly land of South America!! This is a very rare and unusual treat and we lined the decks as Grey headed, Black browed, Wandering and Royal albatross as well as Giant petrels and numerous other birds circled Plancius. Quite a few Rockhopper penguins were also seen rafting in the waters nearby and several Fur seals were spotted jumping through the waves.

And then it was time for lunch! Never short on food, those who felt the twinge of hunger made their way once again for the last lunch aboard Plancius to sample Chef Ralf’s many tasty delights. At 14:00 it was time to return the rubber Muck boots, having done their duty and kept many a guests’ feet warm and dry.

After lunch the fun really began! Account settlements meant paying our bills, some had a rather ‘light’ bill while others afterwards had a rather light wallet! Our intrepid expedition leader Andrew was also able to convince our fine Russian Captain to head towards Cape Horn, for one final last hurrah before rounding it up towards Ushuaia.

Finally at 18:30 it was time for the last briefing, a slide presentation from Bruce, and a farewell cocktail drink toasted by the Captain as he said a few words about the voyage. Everyone toasted to the trip in fine fanfare, realizing that all good things must come to an end. But wait! Not before the last supper was arranged, where everyone was able to meet the chef’s, cooks, baker, stewards, and all the help that they had during the trip behind the scenes as it were.

At long last it was time to head off to bed and try to catch a little bit of sleep before disembarkation began the very next morning bright and early. A fine end to a fine trip.

Day 12: Disembarkation in Ushuaia

Disembarkation in Ushuaia
Date: 08.01.2017
Position: 042°45’S / 065°01’W
Wind: LT Air
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +10

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 bade 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 and back again. We have camped, kayaked, mountaineered 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 endure 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: 1910 nm, Kilometres: 3537 km

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Levakov, Expedition Leader Andrew Bishop and all the staff and crew, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.


Tripcode: PLA25-16
Dates: 28 Dec, 2016 – 8 Jan, 2017
Duration: 11 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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Aboard m/v Plancius

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

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