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PLA25-17, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula Basecamp

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 29.12.2017
Position: Ushuaia Port
Wind: NE -4
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

So finally, the much-awaited departure day was upon us! We woke up in Ushuaia to glorious blue skies and sunshine, full of excitement and anticipation at the thought of boarding the MV Plancius for our forthcoming adventure - for many of us today signified the culmination of a lifelong dream!

We spent the morning exploring this lovely Patagonian city, soaking up 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 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 which stands for “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue, clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting.

It was a sunny afternoon as we made our way along the pier to the boat at 16:00, ready to board our new floating home for the next 12 days. We were greeted by members of our expedition staff who directed us to the reception to meet the hotel manager, Zsuzsanna, and her team who showed us to our rooms. There we found our luggage and in no time at all we settled in and started to explore our new surroundings.

At 17:00 we convened in the lounge on deck five to meet expedition leader Lynn Woodworth, who welcomed us on board the ship. Chief Officer, Jaanus Hannes then acquainted us with the safety features of the vessel and with the essential do’s and don’ts on board. Soon afterwards it was time for the mandatory safety drill and we gathered in the bar, donned our big orange lifejackets and went through the roll call to make sure everybody was there. We were then escorted outside to take a look at the lifeboats, but were left confident that we would have no reason to do this again in the next 12 days!

Many of us then headed out on deck with cameras in hand as we pulled away from the pier and started to navigate the Beagle Channel.

At 18:45 we met in the bar again, this time for a welcome cocktail with our Captain, Alexey Nazarov. He spoke a few words and explained that we were welcome on the bridge during daylight hours, which is a great viewing platform for bird-watching and also the place to find out from officers on watch what life is like at sea. Zsuzsanna then briefly explained what could be found on each of the decks, on board amenities and generally how life on the Southern Ocean would work over the course of this trip. Expedition leader, Lynn told us a little about the forthcoming voyage and introduced her team of guides and what each of their roles would be during the voyage.

Shortly afterwards we were invited to the dining room to enjoy the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by head chef Ralf and his team. There was a real buzz in the dining room, as we got to know each other and talked about our hopes and aspirations for this voyage.

Our first evening was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements and settling into our cabins before retiring for the night.

In the early hours of the morning we reached the entrance of the Beagle Channel and headed out into the open waters of the Drake Passage- our Antarctic adventure was now fully underway!!!!

Day 2: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 30.12.2017
Position: 56º 27’ 4 S / 065º 48’ 9 W
Wind: WSW -7/8
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

We woke up to what felt like a real Drake crossing. Not a very wild one, but certainly no Drake lake. You have to earn your passage to Antarctica. The waves were moving the ship from side to side and unprotected baggage and equipment shifted in the cabins from corner to corner. The seasickness bags provided in the corridors, had to be replaced once in a while.

But that is how a voyage to Antarctica is supposed to be, a bit of effort and discomfort for sailing to the far South of the World - to this ‘awe inspiring and thought-provoking’ place. Our bodies were tested this day in a mild and harmless way. But still many passengers managed to come out of their cabins to see what was going on in the ship.

The first sea day is also the time to prepare for the landings and going through many briefings. In between we got an introduction to the polar environment by watching the first episode of the amazing Frozen Planet film with Sir David Attenborough. Yolly introduced the film as she works as a researcher and director at the BBC Natural History Unit.

In the afternoon Katja gave a great introduction to Antarctica, the continent with so many extremes, with historically, interesting, funny and peculiar facts. We learned for example that the largest land animal is only a few millimetres long.
During the day we were accompanied by some Wandering albatrosses and even had the luxury of having the Southern giant petrel and the Northern giant petrel flying around the ship. They both look almost identical but can be identified by the more whitish head and neck of the southern as well as the difference in bill-tip colour. The northern has a red tip and the southern, a more greenish one.

The daily recap gave us some more insights about what to expect during this voyage with a general briefing by Lynn. As she spoke about albatrosses she saw a Wandering albatross flying just next to the window, as if it was ordered to come out exactly at that time. Katja provided information about the Antarctic convergence, Esther launched the onboard photo competition and Sara explained the wildlife list.

It was a long sea day, but surprisingly, many passengers were spending a lively evening in the bar. While sailing over the convergence the fog came in. Around midnight most of us were rocked to sleep.

Day 3: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 31.12.2017
Position: 60º 56’ 1 S / 064º 05’ 1 W
Wind: SSW -3
Weather: Fog patches
Air Temperature: +3

During the night we crossed the Antarctic Convergence, a biological boundary where warmer subpolar waters meet cold Antarctic waters. Within a few kilometres the sea water temperature dropped by several degrees. Officially we were now in Antarctica! In the morning we also encountered the fog that is typical for the area. Just after breakfast our first iceberg was spotted and Captain Alexey took Plancius on a circumnavigation of the berg. Waves were crashing over its smooth bottom half and a lone giant petrel glided past.

In order to prepare us for the many great photo opportunities during the coming days Esther talked in the restaurant about polar photography. She gave tips for photo composition and how to best document a subject. All this was explained with her wonderful photos.
Afterwards it was time to talk about camping. Ben and Gracie set up one camping kit in the lounge and explained what to expect and how to prepare for a night in Antarctica. Talking about toilet procedures created some laughs especially as it was close to lunchtime.
After we filled our bellies Zsuzsanna and Bobby opened the ship shop at reception. Here we could indulge in some retail therapy - maps, books, t-shirts, jackets and other items were all on sale.

In preparation for Antarctica we filed into the lounge in the afternoon. Lynn gave a briefing about environmental awareness and correct behaviour in Antarctica - no food ashore, clean your boots, and keep your distance from the penguins. The theory was followed by practice as we had to vacuum our outer clothes, backpacks and camera bags. Expedition staff members were on hand to help and advice how to rid our gear from seeds and dirt. With seven vacuum cleaners going at once in the lounge it was noisy but fast. We also were issued with a pair of rubber boots. Everybody went to the boot room and tried and tested which pair fitted best. Clearly these boots were made for adventure.

During the day we could watch numerous Cape petrels, some Black-browed albatrosses and even a Light mantled sooty albatross. Just before the recap we also saw a Humpback whale that was showing its fluke several times. At the recap Lynn told us about the plans for tomorrow and all the activities that would be on offer, snowshoeing, photography, kayaking, mountaineering and penguin watching. After the recap the kayakers and mountaineers were kitted out with their gear and everybody went to the special New Year’s Eve dinner in a lovely decorated dining room.

Afterwards we all met in the bar where the expedition team had prepared a quiz and game to bring us into the New Year. At midnight we toasted with sparkling wine.

Day 4: Cuverville Island and Danco Island

Cuverville Island and Danco Island
Date: 01.01.2018
Position: 64º 40’ 35 S / 062º 37’ 7 W
Wind: Calm
Weather: Snowing
Air Temperature: +2

Our New Year began at 6:00 when Lynn announced that there were Humpback whales bubble net feeding just off the bow of the MV Plancius. It was an incredible way to begin 2018 and it was only getting better. We had a delicious breakfast and then prepared our equipment for our very first landing in Antarctica at Cuverville Island. The excitement was palpable as we waited to board the gangway to visit the site. Cuverville is regarded as having one of the largest rookeries of Gentoo penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula. The island was named after Admiral Cuverville, who helped finance Gerlache’s expeditions.

Conditions in the bay were smooth and the landing was easy, helped by the fact that the bay was full of icebergs, thus protecting our landing site from any swell. We spent the morning exploring the shore of the island between the various colonies, taking time to savor the feeling of being amongst so many thousands of relatively tame birds. The penguins at Cuverville were still sitting on eggs although many now had two cute chicks. Numerous Brown skuas were circling looking for an easy lunch of an unguarded egg or chick. For those wanting to stretch their legs there was also the chance to walk up to a view point where you gained a magnificent vantage point overlooking the bay.

As we had time on our side we took the scenic route back to the ship, with a short cruise to take a closer look at the icebergs. As always in good light, the kaleidoscope of blues in the ice did not fail to astound, coupled with a myriad of different shapes and sizes. It was undeniably a visual smorgasbord for the lover of ice! Those lucky passengers who got into the zodiacs early were also treated to an amazing sighting of Humpback whales.

Back on board we had a delicious buffet lunch and then it was time to get ready for the afternoon landing at Danco Island. Here the expedition team had brought snowshoes ashore for us. For people keen to hike, the snowshoes made the walk a bit easier through the soft snow. Nacho led the hike round the island and up to the summit. Surprisingly there were even more Gentoo penguins right at the top. The views from the plateau were stunning looking up and down the Ererra Channel in both directions and across to the Antarctic Peninsula. With such calm, pleasant weather it was good to be able to stay a while and take in the surroundings.

For those who didn’t want to walk to the top, there was enough to see on shore. Antarctic terns, Snowy sheathbills, Kelp gulls and Brown skuas were busy trying to source their next meal, while the Gentoo penguins were constantly traversing up and down the penguin highways from the water’s edge up to the colonies.

Once the group was gathered back at shore, it was time for the infamous ‘Polar Plunge’. So those mad enough to brave the icy water got changed. Unbelievably, around fifty brave souls stripped off and took the plunge, for some this was a quick in and out (after a few choice words!), while others seemed to quite enjoy the experience and happily posed for photos. Respect and congratulations to you all!
Back on board it was time for our daily recap, in which Katja spoke about the Gentoo penguins we had seen and Lynn briefed us on the plans for tomorrow.

Dinner was a scrumptious BBQ put on by the hotel staff and we enjoyed a drink and a spot of dancing with the rest of the staff and crew. After dinner, it was time for the campers to get ready for a night at Kerr Point. The staff went ashore first to prepare the site and by 21:30 all passengers were on shore and ready for a true Antarctic adventure!

Camping
A beautiful day merged into a beautiful night, it stayed calm, great conditions for camping. Campers went first to dinner and began layering up for the night. Camping bags were handed out and we made our way into the zodiacs. We had to navigate a bit of ice and rocks to get to our campsite but with our excellent drivers we made it to a place where we could climb ashore. Our camping site for the night was Kerr Point. As we clambered up we had Gentoo penguins to the left and almost a dozen Weddell seals to our right. Everyone set to digging their pits, sharing the shovels and working together. Once everyone was set up for the night we scrambled around working out how to spell Antarctica with our bodies, implementing our new design with 3 people for the letter ‘N’ and two people for ‘C’. By this time it was already 22:30 and as we had to wake up in a few short hours, everyone headed to the warmth of their bivies. Some of us slept like babies while others stayed up most of the night listening to the sounds of falling ice and avalanches from the mountain. Puffy snowflakes fell on and off throughout the night. Very early in the morning the wake-up call was sounded. We woke to the cold and packed our gear, refilled the holes and donned our life vests. We also woke up to not one but two birthdays! Sebastian and Darlene both slept into their birthdays in Antarctica. We sung a round of ‘Happy birthday to you’. By this time our lovely drivers had arrived to bring us back home. Getting back on-board Plancius was a welcome relief as we enjoyed our warm showers and hearty breakfasts.

Kayaking
Well what a cracking start to the year for both kayaking groups today. The morning group had the advantage of getting ready the night before so by the time we dropped anchor at Cuverville, we were on the aft deck and ready to go. The bosun showed us another way to offload the kayaks to the waiting zodiac which saved time. Incredibly, we were all on the water by 09:30 which gave us the whole morning to play with. So we headed off along the steep side of Cuverville Island, aiming to get in close and look at the birds, BUT whales in the Errera Channel proved too much of a distraction so we went to have a closer look. And did we strike lucky! One Humpback decided to investigate us further, coming close to us and even diving directly under two of the kayaks. As if this wasn’t enough, a large whale further across the channel put up an incredible display of breaching, four times in a row. We were all secretly glad it wasn’t closer as there was a lot of water displaced. In windless conditions we made good progress and managed to get comfortably around Cuverville Island, surprising a couple of crabeater seals on the far side and spotting a yacht, the Kotick that had come in to the sheltered harbour.
The afternoon kayaking group, Sierra Club members, also had an incredible day. They watched a Storm petrel fluttering over the water just in front of the kayaks for a few minutes. They also spent 3-4 minutes in total silence, listening to the sounds of Antarctica. We then headed towards Danco Island, again kayaking back and forth across the Channel in a zigzag pattern as we followed whales that were diving and coming up for air. These whales were a little more elusive than the ones in the morning but it was fantastic to see them. The sun came out in the afternoon, and a slight wind picked up which made for cold hands and faces. We found shelter behind a rock islet then headed closer to shore for a seal spot, two Weddell seals were hauled up there. It was really difficult to spot them as they did a very good impression of a rock – that is, until they idly raised their flippers in the air.

Mountaineering
Today we made two trips of 180 m up a satellite peak which lies at the bottom of Mt Tennant. The excursion required that we wore crampons for the last 25 m scrambling to the summit which involved a tricky rock step and a short icy slope. From the summit we were rewarded with views of the Gerlache Strait and beyond to Anvers Island.

Day 5: Neko Harbour, Port Lockroy and Jougla Point

Neko Harbour, Port Lockroy and Jougla Point
Date: 02.01.2018
Position: 64º 50’ 4 S / 062º 32’ 3 W
Wind: Var 2
Weather: Drizzle
Air Temperature: +3

For some of us the day started really early. At 04:30 the campers were woken by their guides (obviously only those that actually managed to get to sleep) as it was time to get up and clear the camp. After everybody was back on board, Plancius heaved anchor and proceeded south to Neko Harbour which is an inlet in Andvord Bay and our first landing site for the day. On route, we passed some spectacular icebergs that were bathed in beautiful morning light. A few lucky passengers spotted the first Antarctic minke whale of the voyage.

Neko Harbour was discovered by Belgian explorer Adrien de Gerlache during his 1897―99 expedition and was named after a whaling boat, the Neko, which operated in the area between 1911 and 1924. The glacier behind Neko Harbour is extremely active, frequently calving large chunks of ice that splash thunderously into the bay. Hence the expedition team stressed the importance of staying off the beach and keeping on higher ground. Esther led a short hike up to a vantage point to a small colony of Gentoo penguins. Several birds were nursing small chicks or sitting on eggs. As always with these colonies, several skuas were eagerly waiting, hoping to snatch an unguarded egg or chick. However, we could not condemn them for their opportunistic actions as we could see the skuas also had their own young hidden up in the rock face, so they had hungry mouths to feed, too. The views over the ice filled bay were spectacular, truly picture-postcard worthy. From the vantage point we could also see the two Humpback whales that seemed to be intent on giving our kayak group a real display.

We were shuttled back to the ship a little earlier than normal as we had a big afternoon ahead with a split landing between Port Lockroy on Goudier Island and Jougla Point. Over lunch we cruised through the Neumayer Channel which was named after Georg von Neumayer by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition under de Gerlache who sailed through the channel. The channel is said to be like a maze with no visible exits because of its inverted S-shape. Often it can be blocked off by gigantic icebergs during the Antarctic winter. However, at the height of summer we had no problem traversing it today and we arrived on schedule for our afternoon’s activity.

Before going ashore, one of the ladies that help run Port Lockroy came aboard and gave us a short talk about the history of the base and what we could expect. Afterwards we split in two groups, which rotated between the two landing sites. Those that went to Port Lockroy were able to visit the famous Penguin Post Office and send postcards back to their friends and family. There was also time to visit the museum and learn a little about the history of the area. Port Lockroy was used as an anchorage for whalers and established as a Base by the British Government in 1944 as part of a secret wartime initiative called “operation Tabarin” to monitor German ship movements. Moving through the museum and post office also gave us the opportunity to speak to the incredible women who spend four months looking after Port Lockroy. At Jougla Point we headed up the ridge to take in the amazing scenery and photograph the colonies of nesting Gentoo penguins. Many of them had chicks peeping out from under their fluffy chests. There were also several Weddell seals hauled out on the ice.

They seemed quite content with us taking their pictures as they rested. We could also see several large groups of Imperial cormorants (also called Blue eyed shags) on the other side of the island, nesting on the rocky outcrops. Between, the two different landing sites there was really something for everyone to enjoy.

Once back on board, Lynn did a recap of the day and gave us an overview of the plans for tomorrow. This was followed by Yolly who gave us an insight to the history of the region which is closely connected with Adrian de Gerlache’s expedition.
Dinner was a buffet so that the campers could get ready for a night ashore at Damoy Point. Following protocol, the staff went ashore first to prepare the site, but it was no time at all before Sara and Nacho were dropping the happy campers off for their Antarctic camping experience.

Camping
Another beautiful evening with very little wind made for a calm and amazing camping experience. Surrounded by stunning mountains, glaciers and icebergs, we were greeted by a friendly and curious Adelie penguin upon arriving to our campsite - the first Adelie sighting for many of us. We set to work digging our holes and setting up our cameras. The same Adelie penguin was making his way around the campsite, visiting many of us and putting on quite a hilarious show sliding around on his belly. Once the camps were all set up we gathered and made a beautiful ‘Antarctica’ photo. We did the first two rounds and then a special one, just for the Sierra Club as this was their camp night. Grace headed off up the hill with Sander and Mandy to help them set-up a time lapse video. But as everyone else soon found out this was a cover for something much more special. Getting up to a spot overlooking the camp and glaciers, with the mountains in the background Sander pointed out something behind Mandy, she turned to look and saw nothing (beside the gorgeous views) but upon turning back found Sander down on one knee. An Antarctic proposal!!! She said ‘Yes’ to this beautiful surprise that he had been planning for two months. Many cheers erupted from the camp site below. And seeming in perfect harmony with the romance of the evening an hour long sunset played out for us all to enjoy. It was difficult to pull ourselves away from the beauty to go to bed, but eventually we all made our ways to our bivies for a few hours of either sleeping or just laying there listening. Early in the morning we headed back for a hot shower and to our comfortable beds.

Kayaking
The weather had apparently settled a bit since we were blessed with another calm day on the water. We arrived in Neko Harbour and had an early start. The team was very organised and quick to change into kayaking gear and by 9:10 we were away from the ship and on the water. We paddled further into Andvord Bay, not too close to the ice cliffs. Though we did hear and see a small calving. We turned to see if we could find the Humpback whales that were earlier close to the ship but Tamsin called on the radio and told us that there were whales right behind us. She had a good overview from her lofty position up the hill with the mountaineers. Unfortunately the whales were rather elusive and not really interested in us. They were feeding and stayed under water for several minutes at a time. Soon it was time to return to the ship. We had a last look but couldn’t see the whales so headed back to the Plancius. It wasn’t our last sighting of the whales though – Nico was following us with the kayak zodiac and the whales came up right next to him.
The afternoon kayaking was different again, no whale performance but we got close to some remaining fast ice between Goudier and Wiencke Island. A couple of Crabeater seals were resting on the ice. We paddled close to a rocky island and into the small bay at Jougla Point, where we saw polished rocks. At the end of the paddle we quickly transferred by zodiac back to the ship then changed into landing gear and went to Port Lockroy where we spent lots of hard earned money, supporting the cultural heritage of British bases in Antarctica.

Mountaineering
We spent the morning at Neko Harbour and made a gentle ascent to around 150 m above sea level on the steep slope that lies on the south side of the harbour. Here we watched the kayakers watching the Humpback whales in Andvord Bay below.
In the afternoon we travelled south to Doumer Island. With a keen group of mountaineers we set off for Doumer Hill but were stopped by the serious nature of the final summit ridge which was heavily corniced and steep in places. We made our high point around 300 m and then, short on time, we turned around and sped back to the landing site on the north of the island. Just above the landing site where two barrels have been left to rust in the snow, we encountered some crevasses. Two of the party went in knee deep at one point.

Day 6: Damoy Point and Base Brown

Damoy Point and Base Brown
Date: 03.01.2018
Position: 64º 48’ 5 S / 063º 29’ 7 W
Wind: SE -3
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: 0

After breakfast landed in Dorian Bay. The first zodiac with the expedition team on board went scouting for a good landing side. The bay was very shallow which made for some challenging driving. In the middle of the bay the small sailing yacht ‘Icebird’ was anchored with mooring lines attached to the shore which created an even more challenging landing operation. All zodiacs had to go under the bow mooring line and over a second line to get to the beach where boulders covered by snow formed a natural staircase up onto the land. At the landing site was a small hut which was used to enable personnel and stores arriving by ship to be flown into Rothera Research Station. It was last occupied in 1993 and now contains well preserved scientific equipment and other artefacts.

Nacho headed with snowshoes to the top of the ridge and everybody could follow him on a big circle around the island. Although the fog was closing in, we could still see Port Lockroy from the top. The wind blew snow around and we felt like we were really in Antarctica. During the walk we came across some Gentoo penguin colonies and a penguin highway where penguins were making their way back and forth to the water. We also found two young Elephant seals hauled out on the rocks. Going back to the ship we had to repeat the same procedure going under and over the mooring lines with the zodiacs. Only now we had an outgoing tide. It was extremely shallow and the zodiacs couldn’t come directly to the beach. Courageous Lynn was standing up to her waist in the water catching the zodiacs.

For the second landing we sailed to Paradise Harbour to visit Base Brown. Half of the group went ashore, stepping for the second time on the Antarctic continent. A flagged route took us to the remains of the base that was set aflame by the station doctor in 1984 because he didn’t want to spend another winter there. Luckily nobody was hurt, but the Base was unoccupied for many years. Nowadays it is a summer only base and the Argentinians are due to arrive by mid-January. At the time we visited it was still in the hands - or flippers - of the Gentoo penguins. Esther was situated near the base to help out with all kinds of camera settings and composition ideas. One of the passengers was an insect photographer and found two different kinds of insects for some macro photography. During our visit a penguin couple began to construct a new nest. It was extremely interesting to see how the nest was made by first scratching a hole in the ground and filling it with pebbles. It looked as if the female was close to laying eggs making all kinds of strange moves and behaviour. From the base we climbed up to a lookout, offering splendid views of the bay which was littered with icebergs.

The other half of the group went zodiac cruising. On the cruise we saw Blue eyed shags that nested high in the cliffs above us, green copper deposits, good examples of sedimentary folded rocks and of course glaciers.
Once back on the ship, Lynn told us about the plans for tomorrow, Sarah provided us with information about Elephant seals and Gracie prepared us for a special event tomorrow - two passengers would have their wedding ceremony.



Camping
This night was the windiest and most uncertain one of the camping nights, but luck was with us and it was not too windy for camping. Around eight o‘clock everyone began layering up for the night ahead. Camping bags were handed out and everyone got into the zodiacs. Navigating the ice to get to our camping site, Leith Cove, was a mission, but with our excellent drivers we made it to a place where we could climb ashore. Our camp site for the night had a 360 view of stunning icebergs, massive mountains and glaciers reaching out into the sea. Wind gusts made for a chilly yet adventurous night. Everyone set to digging their pits, sharing the shovels and working together. The snow was very hard and we used hard chunks of snow to build our camp shelter walls. There was some drama as humans turned penguin and started to steal pebble (snow chunks) from other camp sites. By the time we finished our photo shoot a quite few of us were chilled by the wind and headed for the protection of the bivy bags. Some slept well while others stayed awake, listening to the sound of falling ice, the gusting wind and avalanches from the mountains. The snow was still quite hard in the morning and after refilling the holes we happily headed home. Many of us saw our first Chinstrap penguins during this camping night!

Kayaking

We woke to a cold and snowy day, much greyer than the previous days. We came to Dorian Bay and proceeded to kit up and fit out boats as usual. However, the wind wasn’t really cooperating, and blew at a steady 13-17 knots with some slightly stronger gusts coming through. It was hard to see where we would get some shelter as the bay itself was occupied by a yacht and the tide was receeding making zodiac support difficult. We decided not to proceed and instead the team got a chance to go ashore and see the small hut at Damoy and the penguin colony. The decision was vindicated as later on the wind sprung up to around 20-25 knots which nobody wanted to be paddling in!
The afternoon was a different matter although it was still snowy and windy at the beginning. By the time we got to Base Brown and got the kayaks and kayakers ready, the wind had dropped and it had started to clear. There were a lot of small ice pieces in the water – growlers, bergy bits and brash ice– but we found a clear patch to launch the kayaks and paddled over to the base and then along the steep cliffs of Skontorp Cove. At the glacier it was really still and calm and we could hear the sounds of cracking and groaning ice, accompanied by a couple of ice cliffs calving. We listened from a safe distance! It was a really beautiful, quiet experience and even though we missed the Minke whale that briefly surfaced, we had a fabulous afternoon.
Mountaineering
An alpine start saw us leaving Plancius at 5:30 with the aim of climbing Jabet Peak before lunch. Poor visibility ultimately prevented an ascent of Jabet, so after arriving at the West col below the main summit we changed plans and traversed left along the sharp ridge that leads to ‘Little Jabet.’ From here we lowered and abseiled to the slopes that face west above Dorian Bay, taking great care not to knock down any loose rock. We were back on board Plancius by noon and thankfully in time for lunch.

Day 7: Pleneau and Petermann

Pleneau and Petermann
Date: 04.01.2018
Position: 65º 02’ 25 S / 063º 53’ 4 W
Wind: E -4
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: +1

After we picked up the campers bright and early we sailed to the south. The day started with Lynn’s wakeup call and a cruise through the Lemaire Channel. The narrow passage between Booth Island and the mainland is known as the most scenic place in Antarctica. It is also called Kodak Gap, because of the many photos that are taken here. With strong tidal currents it is never certain that the channel can be navigated, since ice can block it any time. However, we were lucky. Though there was some ice it wasn’t blocking our way and with Captain Alexey at the helm we enjoyed the views of glaciated sheer cliff faces.

At the southern end of the Lemaire Channel we dropped the mountaineers at Hovgaard Island and continued to Pléneau Island. The area is known as iceberg alley or iceberg graveyard due to the many stranded icebergs that get trapped in the shallow waters. The light was perfect for the first round of zodiac cruising. We saw an ice floe with twelve crabeater seals and many, many icebergs. They came in all forms and shapes, sculpted by waves and the sea. One had an amazing arch, one was nearly clear and deep blue. During the second round of zodiac cruising it snowed heavily, the world around us disappeared and soon we all looked like snowmen. Some were lucky to see some Minke whales. But even with the snow the icebergs were impressive. It was very atmospheric.

While we warmed up over lunch the ship relocated to Peterman Island, named after a German cartographer. Since the usual landing site inside a rocky cove was blocked by ice we had to scramble over some big boulders to avoid the nesting Gentoo penguins. The orange hut close to the landing site was another Argentine refuge hut built in 1955. Many penguins used it as shelter and even a young elephant seal had chosen it for a nap. Through the snow we took a hike to a small hill where we could see Adelie penguins on their nests. Their chicks were dark grey and much bigger than their neighbours, the Gentoos. This was not really a surprise because Adélies, living normally further south, breed roughly three weeks earlier than Gentoo penguins. Apart from the wildlife there was one more point of interest: The wedding. In a ceremony led by Gracie, Nick and Brittany said yes to each other and a snowman bared witness. Many joined in and celebrated joyfully with them.

Just as we left Peterman Island it started to clear up and as we sailed through Penola Strait the sun poked through the clouds. The water was dead calm and every iceberg was mirrored in the water. As we sailed into the Lemaire Channel small snowflakes started to fall again. This time through the Lemaire our experience was totally different– ethereal and calm. While some enjoyed the meditative mood other partied on the deck behind the bridge where the hotel team had set up a mulled wine station. Pouring the drinks was penguin Bobby.

During recap we heard from Lynn about tomorrows plans, from Yolly about different seals and from Katja about who Lemaire, Pléneau and Petermann were. After dinner the campers were dropped off at Stoney Point, a snow covered dome shaped island in Paradise Bay. The calm conditions continued. The bay was littered with ice, lit up by the low standing sun. Wispy clouds adorned the mountains and added to the mystery. It was such a magic evening. While we continued to cruise in Paradise Bay, many came out on deck. Two Minke whales surfaced repeatedly to loud cheers. Later the light turned from golden to pink then grey as the clouds lowered. The show was over.

Camping
Hard to believe that camping conditions could get even better than the previous nights, but they did! We had calm conditions with barely any wind, blue skies and a sunset to warm our souls, if not our feet. There was quite a thick layer of nice fluffy snow that was perfect for snowballs. Our camp site for the night, Stony Point, had amazing mountains in front and glaciers all around. It also had a big hill behind to walk up to for even more views. Setting up camp was a breeze and we had a lot of time to walk around and throw a few snowballs. It was impossible to take our eyes off the amazing sunset playing off the mountains in front of us - the lighting was fantastic and between us probably well over a thousand photos were taken throughout the evening. Out in the glossy calm waters a Minke whale was spotted - really it couldn’t have been a more perfect evening. Everyone was woken up early with a lovely ‘good morning’ and after packing up and heading down to our landing site we got the pleasure of two Weddell seals that had come up on shore duirng the night. Saying goodbye to our campsite we headed back to the ship for either a hot drink in the lounge or a quick nap in our warm beds.

Kayaking
Some of the kayakers missed a bit of the Lemaire Channel as we were getting organised with clothing and kayaks. However, everybody was keen for a morning on the water and knew that we would be returning the same way. It was an extremely atmospheric day, lots of snow fell, visibility was poor, and the snow dampened all sounds. We paddled among some beautiful shaped icebergs on our way to Hovgaard Island which offered a little bit more shelter than Pléneau Island, and also plenty of wildlife in the shape of Gentoo penguins and Crabeater seals snoozing on ice floes. As the morning progressed the snow fell thicker and heavier and it felt more like a Northern European winter’s day than a summer’s day in Antarctica! In fact it was so thick we couldn’t even see the ship on return and had to team up with the other zodiacs until the shape of the ship loomed out of the water. We didn’t have enough time to kayak in the afternoon but everybody who had been on the water so far loved the experience!

Mountaineering
Logistically this was a tricky day as we traversed Hovgaard first from North to South with 14 mountaineers before traversing back South to North with a group of 12. The morning traverse was filled with excitement because we had very poor visibility and heavy snow plus we were unfamiliar with the slopes that lead from the Summit Southward. The whole trip felt adventurous and arriving at the remote South end seemed particularly special. The afternoon traverse was quite different with long stretches of blue sky and stunning views across the sea in every direction. A quartet of penguins greeted us with an impressive underwater display, and a slightly less impressive land based display, when we arrived at the North end. As we headed back to Plancius in the sunshine we were treated to an up close view of a Crabeater seal basking on an iceberg.

Day 8: Stony Point/ Enterprise & Foyn

Stony Point/ Enterprise & Foyn
Date: 05.01.2018
Position: 61º 37’ 9 S / 062º 38’ 6 W
Wind: SW -3
Weather: P. cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

We awoke to a very atmospheric foggy day in Antarctica, but roughly half hour later the fog cleared leaving us with an absolutely stunning crisp blue day. First off the ship were the mountaineers who were dropped at Spigot Peak by Sara and Katia. After a delicious breakfast we donned our warm clothing and got ready to get into the zodiacs for a short ride to the Orne Islands. These low-lying islands are found at the entrance to the Errera Channel and the largest of the islands rises to around 75 metres. Once ashore we got our first glimpse of Chinstrap penguins which were interspersed with other groups of Gentoo penguins. We could clearly see why they are called ‘Chinstrap penguins’ as they have a very obvious dark line around their chin. The snow was quite hard ashore and so we were able to walk easily up the hill without any snowshoes. As we climbed we were able to see some small colonies of Chinstraps, Kelp gulls, Skuas and Humpback whales in the distance. At the top of the hill we were greeted with a spectacular view of the Antarctic continent. Happily we snapped many beautiful pictures. There was so much to take in and in no time at all it was time to go back to the ship. We did a quick iceberg cruise on our way back and marvelled at the incredible shapes and patterns of the icebergs that were glistening in the sun.

After lunch, the ship started to make its way north to Enterprise Island and Føyn Harbour. While we were on our way Lynn announced that there were Orcas approaching the ship. It was quite a large group of approximately 15-20 Orcas. The Orcas were hunting and at one point came really close to the ship, allowing us to get some great photos. When we analysed our pictures later we came to the conclusion that they were Gerlache Type B Orcas. The Orcas had a yellow colouration, a characteristic that is is a product of the diatoms that live in Antarctic waters and a good hint that they were Type B’s. These Orcas eat a variety of food including fish and penguins in comparison to the Type A orcas who specialise in hunting Minke whales. We stayed with the Orcas for approximately half an hour before continuing on our journey to Enterprise Island.

Enterprise Island was charted by de Gerlache during the Belgian Antarctic Expedition in 1898 and was known to whalers who operated in this region since the early 1900’s. The ship arrived at Enterprise Island after approximately four hours steaming from the Orne Islands. The mountaineers were dropped off on the opposite side of Enterprise Island at what looked like a spectacular climb. Soon after, five more zodiacs were lowered into the water and we prepared for our zodiac cruise. The weather was calm, clear and beautiful and we put on lots of sunscreen to avoid getting sunburnt. Our first stop on the cruise was the wreck of the Guvernøren, a 3433 ton ship that was built as a cargo carrier in the UK in 1891. She was bought by a Norwegian whaling company and worked briefly as a whaling vessel in Antarctic until she unfortunately caught fire on January 27, 1915. The ship was then grounded at Enterprise Island in order to rescue men and supplies. As we got closer we could see Antarctic terns nesting and Kelp gulls flying around the ship. Some of us were also lucky to see a large piece of ice give way and come crashing down behind the wreck – a small wake up call to remind us how unstable the ice cliffs can be. As we left the wreck and rounded the corner we came across two wooden boats as well as metal anchoring points attached to rocks - all artefacts leftover from the whaling period. Further on we were greeted with the most extraordinary ice sculpture display – there was everything from great ice castles to shallow icy swimming pools to dramatic ice arches all with exquisite patterns formed when the ice was once underwater. Many of us were fortunate to spot Weddell seals, King cormorants, Kelp gulls and even Chinstrap penguins. Humpback whales were sighted briefly during the first cruises.

Back on board, we were treated to an exceptional dinner as always and then it was time for our daily recap. Lynn briefed us on tomorrow’s plans while Sarah gave us a great recap on Orcas and the different types that occur in and around Antarctic waters. Katja provided a brief but very informative background on Deception Island and the volcanic activity in the region leaving us all hungry to experience this dramatic and unique landing site tomorrow. For those that still had the energy, the bar was open and time was spent happily recounting the day’s events.

Kayaking
We were now into a continuing spell of good weather. The sea around Orne Islands was calm. A little breeze meant that we had to use our paddling skills to hold position when we re-grouped. There was a wonderful rocky shore with some shallow sections than we avoided. Just off shore some great icebergs bobbed in the sea like spectacular castles. We dodge the bergs and were able to see the Chinstrap penguin colonies and an elephant seal weaner from the water before returning to the ship.
The afternoon group was also lucky, if anything it was even calmer and everyone was on a high after the first sighting of Orcas on the voyage – about 15 or so of them feeding around the ship on our journey north. We paddled over to the Guvernøren wreck, but looked from a sensible distance as there was evidence of recently collapsed ice cliffs. We weren’t going to tempt fate on such a warm day. We could see the mountaineers steadily ascending the ridge above the wreck site and soon everyone was paddling hatless and gloveless on this sunny calm day. We went to look at the remains of some old water boats on an islet nearby and then paddled south following the rocky shores populated by a shag colony. We came to impressive ice cliffs and could hear creaks and groans of the ice. Under a beautiful blue sky and exceptionally flat waters we gathered and headed back to the ship.

Mountaineering
Our ascent of Spigot Peak was completed in near perfect weather with an audience of Chinstrap penguins observing our progress. Although a relatively short outing Spigot is still an interesting mountaineering challenge with steep and exposed terrain demanding the use of crampons and axes. It seems that Chinstraps make surprisingly good mountaineers as we came across them negotiating steep snow slopes with ease up to 200m above sea level. One breeding pair had even hatched chicks just below the summit, a good spot to avoid leopard seals but a long trek to feed your chicks. In the afternoon we had a blissful stroll, East to West across Enterprise Island in the sun. Not much height gain or distance but a beautiful walk with outstanding photo opportunities.

Day 9: Yankee Harbour, Deception and Whalers Bay

Yankee Harbour, Deception and Whalers Bay
Date: 06.01.2018
Position: 62º 31’ 4 S / 059º 48’ 4 W
Wind: Var 1
Weather: Clean
Air Temperature: +2

With the weather forecast looking promising for the Drake Passage, Lynn and Captain Alexey (who was celebrating his 40th birthday!) decided to give us one last action-packed day before heading North. It was an early wakeup call in an effort to maximize time, but with it came good news, as there were several Humpbacks to be seen feeding for those that could drag themselves from their slumber and head out on deck before breakfast.

Overnight we had made good progress up the Bransfield Strait and were in position by 7am for our landing at Yankee Harbour, located on the southwest end of Greenwich Island in the South Shetlands. Just as we were about to board the zodiacs a curious Leopard seal decided to approach the gangway to take a closer look at the Plancius and its passengers. For many on board this was their first Leopard seal sighting of the trip so understandably it caused plenty of excitement. As time was of the essence today, the expedition team continued with zodiac operations and shuttled us ashore. Yankee Harbour is a small glacial-edged harbour, enclosed by a curved gravel spit. Along the shoreline we could see lots of artefacts from early sealing activities, including a trypot which was used to boil the blubber of the seals they caught. The gravel beach and scree slopes were a hive of activity for wildlife, with lots of Gentoo penguins feeding chicks, a small gathering of Chinstrap penguins and even a solitary Adelie penguin looking slightly confused to his neighbours. There was also a couple of juvenile Elephant seals hauled out on the beach who seemed happy to pose for our photos. They would even let out the occasional belch and snort for our amusement. Towards the far end of the spit, a Leopard seal was enjoying a morning snooze in the sun on the shoreline, it was fantastic to see this incredible predator up close. As always with landings like this, time was our greatest enemy and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the ship, but what a morning it had been!

Back on board most of us gathered in the lounge for hot chocolate, tea or coffee whilst Plancius lifted anchor and set sail to Deception Island. The visibility was great and we could see whale blows all around, most likely those of Humpbacks, which encouraged people back out on to deck to enjoy the wonderful weather.

We had an early buffet lunch and by about 1 pm we could see Deception Island ahead of us. The island is named because it conceals an inner harbour within a flooded volcanic caldera. The captain carefully directed Plancius though the narrow entrance known as Neptune’s Bellows, avoiding the treacherous Ravn Rock which lurks beneath the surface waiting to founder ships. Once safely inside we anchored in Whalers Bay, the site of a former whaling station from the early part of the twentieth century. The whaling station then became a British Research Station but after the famous volcanic eruption all stations on the island had to be abandoned.

We landed by an old dry dock structure amidst the steam of the thermally heated waters and sulphur smells all around and soon stood on the black volcanic sandy beach. We explored the outside of the abandoned buildings, the airplane hangar and grave sites. Katja led a walk along the shore line towards Neptune’s Window, passing the old water boats and a resting Leopard seal along the way. Most of us continued up to the viewpoint with her where there was a wonderful view across the Bransfield Strait, in fact if we looked intently we could see the Antarctic Peninsula over 40 miles away. For those feeling brave, a second polar plunge was offered, which of course provided entertainment for those choosing to stay dry on land.

Back on board there was time for a hot shower and warming drink before Katja’s lecture on the effects of climate change on Antarctica. Just before dinner, the expedition team invited us to the daily recap. The plans for the following day were quite simple: We would be sailing the Drake Passage. Nacho gave us a brief run down on Antarctica’s vital statistics and Sara explained some of the most common seafaring superstitions which left us hoping good fortune might be on our side and we would get a calm and safe crossing back to Ushuaia.

Kayaking
Our 7 AM start went really smoothly despite the early hour as everybody had been issued clothing and sorted their kayaks the night before. So accompanied by a Leopard seal, a small team of 8 plus Fran in one zodiac driven by Nico headed across the glassy smooth waters of Yankee Harbour and put in by the spit. For the first time in this trip we heard the sound of wavelets breaking on a shingle and cobble shore – rather than rock and snow. Welcome to the South Shetlands! The Leopard seal dropped back to check out the zodiacs which was a mixed blessing but we spotted one on the shore so paddled in for a closer look. It had a very pale coat and was lying in a slight dip resting idly in the sun so wasn’t immediately identifiable as a leopard – until it raised its head! We rafted up for a ‘cuddle’ over the other side of the bay and sat for a few minutes listening to the gentoos, some arguing gulls and the ice cracking. Beautiful peace!

Day 10: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 07.01.2018
Position: 60º 31’ 3 S / 063º 49’ 7 W
Wind: NE -3
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +2

After a beautiful last day in the Antarctic we were heading back North. During the whole night and most of the day the Drake Passage was more a big “Drake Lake”. Calm winds and small waves made the ship movements hardly noticable.

After 7 days of action, landings, zodiac cruises and all different daily activities this day on Drake was for many a day of recharging - long sleep, several naps and relaxing in the lounge. Perfect time to reflect on these last amazing days.

In between naps and resting we could attend four interesting lectures - a firework of knowledge from the experts: Lynn’s lecture about different kinds of Penguins, their different reproduction cycle, feeding, etc. Yolly’s presentation of life in the deep Antarctic ocean with its amazing and giant creatures and a little glimpse into Blue Planet II, Katja’s lecture on ice, the Antarctic icecap, icebergs and last but not least Chef Ralph’s lecture about food and cooking on board.

After a last briefing by Hotel Manager Zsuzsanna about disembarkation, everyone could vote for his/her favorite photo in the passengers’ photo competition in four categories: Wildlife, Landscape, Ice(berg) and Emotions. The slideshow of the amazing photos brought back many unforgettable impressions we had during the last days.

Later in the evening while heading up North with full speed “Camp Plancius” was born. Lots of us stayed in the lounge playing music and games in romantic sunset light.

Day 11: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 08.01.2018
Position: 56º 03’ 9 S / 067º 14’ 5 W
Wind: NE -7
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +9

Overnight we made good progress towards South America and just before breakfast Lynn announced that we would be close to Cape Horn in a few minutes. It was windy and sometimes spray came over the bow, but nobody wanted to miss out on seeing Cape Horn. We approached to 3 nautical miles, the closest the Chilean officials would allow us. Through binoculars we could see the albatross monument at the cape. Katja read out a wonderful poem that is inscribed on the monument.

“I am the albatross that waits for you at the end of the earth. I am the forgotten soul of the dead sailors who crossed Cape Horn from all the seas of the world. But they did not die in the furious waves. Today they fly on my wings to eternity in the last trough of the Antarctic wind.”

Some real life black-browed albatrosses and giant petrels greeted us gliding over the crests of the waves. The sun came out and several Peal’s dolphins appeared. They played around the bow sometimes jumping clear out of the water. It was wonderful.
At 9:30 Fran invited us to the lounge for a presentation about a bygone era when there were sledge dogs in Antarctica. It started with the historic expeditions of Scott and Amundsen, but continued into modern times until 1994 when dogs had to be removed due to the Madrid Protocol, which does not allow “foreign organisms” in Antarctica. The dogs were often the best friends for the over-winterers and they showered them with affection, especially when there were puppies around.

Next in line was Yolly’s talk about film making. When not on the ship Yolly works for the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol as a researcher. Together with Sir David Attenborough she worked on the series Blue Planet II. In her talk she provided a good insight into how much work is necessary to make movies like Frozen Planet that we all so enjoy.

After lunch the Plancius cinema opened its doors and we watched a film called “Around Cape Horn” which was filmed in the 1920’s by Irving Johnson. He was a young man on the ship who then went on to become a well-known and experienced Captain, sailing multiple times around the world. It was an entertaining narration of some incredible footage of the days of sailing in these southern waters. It also made us realise that we travelled so much more comfortably, having a reliable engine, warm and dry cabins and three nice meals each day.

After the movie Katja invited us to the dining room for a presentation about the time she spent with the German Antarctic Programme at Neumayer Base. She also worked with the Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Programs studying ozone and drilling ice cores. She gave us a fabulous insight into her work but also into day-to-day life down on the Ice.

The last household chore of the afternoon, other than packing, was to return our rubber boots to the boot room. These sturdy ‘Muck Boots’ had kept our feet warm and dry during the voyage and we were grateful to have had them for our adventures in Antarctica.

In the evening we met in the lounge for Captain’s Cocktails. Together with Lynn and Captain Alexey we toasted to a wonderful voyage. Captain Alexey did some amazing navigation with Plancius, taking us close to whales and icebergs. Esther had put together a slide show of the trip together with some fitting music. It was lovely to look back over the last 11 days on board Plancius and to remember the places we had visited and the wonderful things we had seen.

Day 12: Disembarkation Ushuaia

Disembarkation Ushuaia
Date: 09.01.2018
Position: Ushuaia Port
Wind: NE -5
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +12

We were woken by the last wake-up call from our Expedition Leader Lynn and got ready to disembark for the final time. We didn’t have to turn our tags, there was no zodiac ride ashore and it was a dry landing. The last 12 days have taken us on a remarkable journey into Antarctica and allowed us a glimpse of life in these remote and sometimes inhospitable places. We will all have different memories of our trip but whatever the memories, whether it was the penguins on their nests, the new-born chicks, the exciting rides in the zodiac or the sight of the icebergs in Antarctica for the first, they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Total distance sailed on our voyage: Nautical miles: 1,917 | Kilometres: 3,365

And on behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Alexey Nazarov, Expedition Leader Lynn Woodworth and all the crew and staff, we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.

Details

Tripcode: PLA25-17
Dates: 29 Dec, 2017 – 9 Jan, 2018
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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