PLA26-16 Trip log | Falkland Islands
18.01.2016 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 70,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Originally “Oshowia” (lit. “bay that penetrates to the west” in the natives Yaghan tongue) clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting. The rugged spine of the South American Andes ends here, where two oceans meet. As could be expected from such an exposed setting, the weather has the habit of changing on a whim. However, temperatures during the long days of the austral summer are relatively mild, providing a final blanket of warmth before heading off on our adventures!!
As we had an unfortunate start with delays and accidents on-board we decided to turn our expedition ship towards the Falkland Islands to make the most out of our adventure.
Leaving Ushuaia, we had calm seas and the sun shining through the clouds. A few Dusky dolphins were jumping in our wake and soon the Black-browed Albatrosses and the Giant Petrel among others were following the ship close by.
Taking advantage of the calm seas we gathered everybody to get our rubber boots. Preparing for our sometimes very wet landings that the Falklands can offer. We also toasted to a new start of our voyage with a glass of Prosecco with our Captain Alexey Nazarov. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chefs Ralf and Sean and their galley staff. The seas were calm during the early evening, but later at night the wind picked up a bit and we had a big but gentle roll of the ship all the way to our exciting new goal for the trip: Falkland Islands. The adventure can begin!!
Coming out of the Beagle Channel and turning north was something most of us did not expect, but here we are, the sun is out and new adventures are in front of us all. The expected storm in the Drake has hit and that means that the Southern Oceans are pushed northwards. The weather in the Drake did not concern us too much, because a Falkland Island traveller will get the swells in from the stern and that is a far more comfortable place than from the side. Even so, the ship still moved and rolled a good deal all day, sending cups of water and soup across the tables in the dining room. During the day, the Expedition Staff made several lectures to prepare us for the landings in the Falklands. Tobias, our on-board geologist lectured on the formation of the islands, Gerard told us about the birds of the Southern Oceans and in the early evening Jim told us all about the turbulent history of the Falklands. Between all these educational lectures, many took the chance to go to the bridge and enjoy the view of the rolling waves and majestic seabirds. Just before dinner, we entered sheltered waters outside New Island and we could enjoy our dinner without holding on to the tables. After dinner, Falklands made a splendid welcome for us all, by giving us a great show, the starring roles were played by four to six Sei whales and many Black-browed albatross.
New Island South Wildlife Refuge
Our first landing in the Falkland Islands! Very fantastic location, well established since 1774 as a safe refuge for vessels, ours the m/v Plancius found good anchorage to begin our exploration of this dramatic location.
After a brief zodiac ride we found ourselves at the landing site. A beautiful white sand beach was direct to the Barnard Memorial Museum and the welcoming care-takers greeted us kindly. After a short visit we continued on the easy track of 1km towards a large Black Browed albatross colony, Rock hopper penguin and Imperial shag also made for dynamic avian observation. However, these were just the big names, along the way, Kelp Goose, Upland Goose, Flightless steamer ducks, and the striated caracara, plus many the smaller birds were observed. As we approached the cliffs, the valley trek sounded in raucous calls from the nesting albatross. We were so fortunate to come in a time when many chicks could be seen, some between 3-5 weeks old. The Black Browed albatross chicks were grey and fluffy, intermixed were the Rock hopper penguin. The chicks of the rock-hopper at this stage were old enough to be engaged in “creching” (the gathering of teenage chicks to defend themselves). Such an amazing start to the day. After sometime we headed back to the ship for a mid-day meal, and as the vessel relocated we prepared for a second outing in West Falklands.
Continuing on to West Point where 14,500+ breeding pairs of Black Browed albatrosses and 500+ Rock hopper penguins could be found. The steep cliff side is very dramatic against the strong ocean to the north. Some hearty passengers followed Andreas and Kasper up Rocky Ridge to Mt. Ararat (270 m.a.s.l.). After their decent they joined the rest of the group alongside the albatross colony.
This was a very unique experience! The majority of this site specific avian community has had close human presence for over 30 years, thus we as a group were able to view these amazing birds at a very close range without disturbance. Soon it was becoming time for the evening meal on board, however many of us were able to make time for tea that Theis and Kikki made available for us, a very welcome and appreciated treat from the caretakers of such a magnificent place.
Our Expedition Leader was up early in the morning to check the conditions at our planned landing site. As already mentioned in last night’s recap, it would all depend on conditions. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side for Plan A. So, we switched to Plan B and went to Grave Cove to see how the conditions are there. We dropped the anchor and start launching zodiacs. Commerson’s Dolphins came to greet us and to see, what we were up to. We were forced to delay our start for a few minutes due to strong winds with some rain and hail. But it passed and we managed to go ashore. On the beach, we were welcomed by the owner of the island, Marie-Paul, originally from France; and by numerous Dolphin Gulls and some Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins. Overall, it was a windy, but sunny day. And so we start our short walk across to the other side of the island, where we visited Gentoo penguin colonies. There was one penguin within the colony, though, that just looked somewhat out of place. It was bigger and different in colour. It was a King Penguin!
After some time watching the Gentoo penguins with their cute chicks, some of us decided to walk down to the beach below the colony. Strong winds and a big swell awaited us there. Waves breaking up onto the shoreline, spraying salty and wet elements all across the beach. Penguins tried to get in and out of the water and it was quite obvious that this was not an easy task. There was something else out there; bigger than the penguins, but not by too much. It was more Commerson’s Dolphins playing in the waves, swimming up and down and breaching once in a while.
It did not look like it in the morning, but it turned out to be a nice landing. After soaking in all the impressions, we made our way back to the landing site. We were carried by the wind, which was much easier than walking across to the colony against the wind.
Back on board, we enjoyed another delicious lunch, while Plancius headed towards our next landing site at Saunders Island.
Saunders presented itself wind-swept with wind speeds over 30 knots. Arriving at The Neck, the staff launched a scout boat to check the conditions on the water and at the beach. Unfortunately, the swell was too big and the zodiacs were moving a good meter up and down along the gangway. Jim and Captain therefore decided that it was not safe to proceed and we headed on towards another part of Saunders to try again. Arriving at The Rookery, another scout zodiac was launched once again. However, it came to the same conclusion as the last attempt. This left us with one more option. We headed all the way around to the settlement at Saunders. The wind was still strong, but the conditions were more favourable here. After assessing the condition, Captain and Jim decided to give it a go. Commerson’s Dolphins greeted us at the gangway and escorted all the zodiacs to shore. What a fantastic moment!
Close to shore, Kasper and Tobias awaited the zodiacs in the shallow bay to pull them the last metres to shore wading through the water. The local inhabitants were already awaiting us at the landing site to welcome us. The weather was typically British with wind, rain, hail and sunshine changing within minutes, while we explored the surroundings with the historic remains of the old settlement – Falkland’s first.
After yet another wake-up call from the bridge, we could almost feel the wind pressure on the ship. After breakfast we all got together and Jim could inform us that the planned landing at Volunteer Point was a no go, too much wind and swell on the gangway. But as always, Jim has a excellent plan B. So we steamed for Stanley harbour where an extra bus excursion was being planned. When we came into Stanley, through “the narrows”, a very narrow passage linking the outer and inner harbour together, the weather was still on the windy side and we even had a bit of hale while dropping anchor. Even the very short zodiac ride to the jetty was an adventure in the morning, due to swell and wind, so we all wrapped up for expedition cruising before coming to the zodiac deck. Once in Stanley, the capitol of the Falklands, we could enjoy good hours ashore, nice to be of the ship for such a long time, time to visit the local sites and meet the local population. So quite a few souvenirs was bought and pictures of the beautiful church, monuments and buildings was taken. At 2 o’clock, Kasper, Gerard and Tobias took the first of 2 groups on a short bus ride to Gipsy Cove, a super destination with fabulous white sand beaches and a big colony of Magellanic Penguins. In the evening some took the chance to test the local restaurants and pubs before taking the last zodiac back “home” at 2030. When everyone was back on board, Captain hoisted the anchor and steamed out of Port Stanley on our way to Sea Lion Island.
The morning started early with a 6:45 wake-up. We looked out towards a cloudy overcast sky, the morning began with limited wind and gentle views of Sea Lion Island. After a quick breakfast the staff headed to shore to scout the landing site and conditions. Although the wind was less than what we had been experiencing in days prior, the swell and surf at the landing needed to be considered. Finding their way through thick kelp beds, which challenge the outboard engines, they made it to the north landing point. The ship stayed adrift to allow lee at the gang-way.
Sea Lion Island is a small island only 8 kilometres long and an altitude of only 24m. Although originally a sheep farming island, most of the bovine have been removed and it is currently owned by the Falkland Islands Development Cooperation, designated as a National Nature Reserve and Ramsar Site.
Now a site to three breeding species of penguins, elephant seals and southern sea lions, and a small settlement of homo sapiens: total of four.
The weather however, played a large part in how we could operate the day. Although there was much expectation, conditions proved to be unsafe at the beach with large quick breaking swell and waves; hail and rain also included. At the gangway, conditions were also becoming more challenging with increasing winds. Safety was the utmost concern and after landing two zodiacs ashore the EL, Captain and shore staff concluded the landing should be aborted. We promptly returned to the ship with the daft help of the shore staff and crew at the gangway. Everyone returned safe, some slightly drier than others.
The ship Plancius headed northwest towards Port Ushuaia. Fresh winds of up to 30 knots made movement about the ship a little challenging for afternoon activities, but both Kasper and Gerard presented fantastic lectures. As the day headed to an end most everyone was grateful to capture nice views of albatross, giant petrels, and a beautiful evening sky.
Today was our last day at sea but we still some interesting things going on on board! It was still a bit bumpy at sea as we made our way towards the Beagle Channel, but the sun was shining and the sky presented itself in a blue colour.
After breakfast, it was time to settle our on-board accounts with Robert and André. Sadly all those drinks from Cecille’s bar and souvenirs from the ‘Ship Shop’ have to be paid for at some point and with this, the last morning of our voyage, it was time to find credit cards, Euros and Dollars from depths of our cabins and settle up. Thereafter, we enjoyed an entertaining talk on explorer Ernest Shackleton and his love of poetry, presented by our Expedition Leader Jim. His talk combined fine words and daring exploits.
At the same time, Gérard gave an introduction to the fishery industry in the Southern Oceans to our French-speaking guests.
Filled with all the new information, it was time to fill our tummies once again with delicious food. It was lunchtime!
Thereafter, Robert and André continued with their account settlement before Tobias introduced us to some optical phenomenon of the Polar Regions. The sun sometimes teams up with icy clouds to create fantastic masterpieces of light art – from halos, over arcs and pillars to green flashes.
This talk also marked the end of the lecture program and there was only one last thing to be done.
The rubber boots were essential in ensuring dry feet during our landings, both at the Zodiacs and whilst walking around on shore, although on some days our feet were a little hot and on other, even the rubber boots were unable to keep our feet dry! It was time to hand them back in.
As we went up to the lounge and out on deck we could begin to see land up ahead in the distance. The conditions out on deck improved a bit and there were plenty of birds still flying around the ship so deck time was very pleasant.
Just before our last dinner, we came together again in the lounge. It was a chance to toast to our Captain with a glass of prosecco before heading down to the dining. In the meantime, we picked up the pilot and sailed into the Beagle Channel towards Ushuaia.
Today is disembarkation day in Ushuaia. Firstly, all the way at the entrance of the Beagle channel we received a pilot on board to guide us safely the last bit to Ushuaia. Coming alongside, we were boarded by the Argentine officials who cleared our vessel and allowed us to disembark. On the pier we waved farewell to many of the friends we have come to know over the past 10 days.
Thank you all for a wonderful voyage despite all the rough weather and changes of plans. Thank you for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We as staff and crew on Plancius hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!
Total distance sailed on our trip:
Nautical miles: 1447 nm
Kilometres: 2680 km
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Nazarov, Expedition Leader Jim Mayer and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.