PLA26-17, trip log | Antarctic Peninsula
19.01.2017 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
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 11 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 Heidi. 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 activities and landings.
This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Evgeny Levakov and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 20:00 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chef Gabor 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.
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 action started. Our bird specialist, Fritz gave us a very interesting lecture about sea birds. While talking about albatrosses two of these gracious birds came flying not far from the windows of the lounge. A fully documented talk indeed!
Then it was time for a delicious lunch prepared with love by the restaurant team.
In the afternoon Louise gathered the adventurous people who have registered for kayak and briefed them about the dos and don’ts of this extreme Antarctic activity.
Then it was the turn of Liz to give a speech and she gave a vibrant lecture introducing us to the mysterious continent that is Antarctica with amazing facts.
Between the talks, many passengers spent their time on the outside decks as many sea birds were gliding around our ship; Albatrosses and Petrels above a Drake lake and a beautiful sky. 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.
Fritz made the last talk of the day and an essential one for a trip in Antarctica: a presentation about penguins.
Then, to end this first “Drake passage day”, Andrew informed us during the daily briefing about our further plans. He also explained about the Antarctic geological formation and talked about the strange looking Scotia arc. Louise also did a quick explanation on “how to spot a whale’’ with interesting photos and drawing of the different species’ blows.
Slowly it was time for the day to come to an end, after a wonderful dinner served piping hot by our jolly chef Gabor, 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.
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. With 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.
Through the windows our first humpback whales passed nearby the ship.
After all this information, we were called deck by deck, to come to the boot room. Kasper took our cabin numbers, and the rest of the team handed out our rubber boots.
Then, 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 on land in Antarctica.
The vacuuming was splat by the lunch in the restaurant but restarted right after that until everyone went through and signed the bio security declaration.
It was about the time when, one the horizon our first iceberg appeared. Antarctica is getting close!
Nacho, then, gathered the brave candidates for the extreme survival experience of camping in Antarctica for a thorough briefing on what to expect during the not so future night outside in the snow. Don’t forget to pull the white handle!
At 16:30 we were all invited to the lounge, because Rose had a lecture about the ice, the main element found in Antarctica, all set up and ready to go.
In the Afternoon we met our sister ship Ortelius for ‘’operation Yoghurt” as they were lacking this essential item for Antarctic voyage.
At recap, Andrew told us the plans for tomorrow: a landing in Dorian bay and Port Lockroy
Antarctica, here we are!
Sometimes we can wonder how something as plain and simple as Breakfast can be made into something amazing, turns out that if you add a good splash of Antarctica and a bit of good weather, then it ends being an absolutely wonderful experience that is not plain at all.
The Neumayer channel was showing us the very best that Antarctica has to deliver with ice, snow and big mountains and suddenly, out of nowhere came 2 little houses into view. This was the base at Dorian Bay, a former UK support station for a landing field that used to supply scientists with provisions down here. So our first landing, and everyone went to the gangway with smiles on their faces, because even with a bit of wind and clouds, this started as a beautiful day. After spending 3 hours at Dorian, watching Gentoo penguins doing their daily routines, we went back on board to start our travels around the corner to Port Lockroy. During lunch, the weather turned from good to absolutely amazing, the wind died down to nothing and the sun came out, at the landing at Port Lockroy.
After visiting the former “English spy station turned scientific station” and doing a wee bit of shopping and mailing about a ton of postcards, we also visited Jougla point, a penguin colony very close to the station, here we also found a colony of Blue Eyed Shags and some Weddel seals enjoying the sunshine.
After returning to the ship, many faces are red from sun shine and the smiles are broad after a day that will never be forgotten.
Recap about tomorrow’s plans were followed by a delicious but well deserved evening meal.
After a lovely dinner on board Plancius the campers jumped into the first zodiac to head off towards the camping spot to spend the 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 our 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 fantastic, no wind: a perfect night for all the guests.
Around 5am Nacho 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.
What a beautiful summer morning in Antarctica!
The day started earlier for some, than for others. At 5:30 am all campers filled up their pit and were driven back to the ship. Everybody was really excited to see Kasper, who took the adventurers back to the Plancius! After happily abandoning the ship one night before, the campers firstly seriously appreciated the luxury offered upon re-arrival. Sometimes you simply have to loose something in order to really appreciate it.
Some guests woke up early to gain a first glimpse of the mesmerizing Lemaire Channel. Our lovely Captain made the impossible possible and drove through the Lemaire Channel, twice.
Due to the lovely weather we cruised on Zodiacs and Kayaks through the full length of the channel, which was an amazing experience that guests and staff members alike will never forget.
Chris and his guest told us a tale about a Minke Whale in the Lemaire Channel, however, this as not seen by everyone and so is questionable ;).
After lunch we landed at Port Charcot. This landing offered us a closer insight into the lifestyle of Gentoo Penguins, but members of the Adelie and Chinstrap Penguin family were also met by some of us. The stunning landscape including several icebergs floating around in the bay could be particularly enjoyed from the top of the hill. Andrew collected a nice ice formation, from which some guests took some ice to cool their drinks at the bar.
Some guests were still in search of the mysteries zebra ice, yet it has not been found to this day.
The day was rounded off by a family of Orcas playing around the ship and the rise of the full moon.
Any photos taken on this day may bring back our memories, but none will do the full beauty of this special day justice.
Thanks for sharing the 12th of January 2017 with us :-)!
In the early morning before we entered the Errera Channel suddenly we spotted more than 20 Killer Whales widely distributed within the bay. While watching these elegant predators we spotted even more whales – several Humpback’s were diving for food. Three of them have been even right beside the ship before they started to dive deep.
There was quite a bit of ice in the area, on several ice flows we could detect seals, more than 15 Crabeater Seals and at least one Weddell Seal.
Round about 9.00 a.m. we started landing at Danco Island. We had beautiful weather, the sun was shining constantly. This one mile long Island is situated in the southern part of the Errera Channel. Its north shore is characterised by a wide flat cobbled beach with snow free slope behind it which rises up to the island’s ice covered summit. Permanent ice dominates the top and south side of the island. After we had landed on that cobbled beach we went up the hill to the top at about 120 meters above sea level. On our way up and down we had to stop several times when we crossed a penguin highway to give the penguins the right of way. On the top is a flat snow covered platform from where we had a magnificent 360° view on the surrounding mountains and the Errera Channel. What a beautiful glacial scenery!
Danco Island is home of many Gentoo penguins which live in scattered rookeries. When we came down the hill we witnessed a Brown Skua attacking a Gentoo’s nest, grabbing one of the two chicks and killing it nearby the nesting site on the snow. Near the landing site we saw a small breeding colony of Antarctic Terns. Their chicks have been relatively far developed, some have even be fledged and were flying around the colony. These juvenile Antarctic Terns can easily be confused with wintering Arctic Terns in their winter plumage which look very similar and can be around at that time of the year.
After a nice lunch we went on with our exciting outdoor activities. As the Plancius reached Paradise Bay we landed with our Zodiacs at Stony Point. There we were able to do a nice walk up the hill through the snow passing several small Gentoo rookeries. At the top we again had a stunning view on the Paradise Bay and the surroundings glaciers and mountains. We even witnessed some glacier calving.
While the half of us did the walk, the others made a Zodiac cruise through Paradise Bay. The highlight of this tour were the numerous ice bergs of different colours, shapes and sizes that we passed. While gliding through Paradise Bay we also passed the red buildings of the scientific station Almirante Brown which belongs to Argentina. Right beside the station there are steep cliffs which are home for a colony of Blue-eye Shags nesting in the cliffs. The chicks had almost the size of the adult birds but were still in their fluffy brown juvenile plumage.
After recap and briefing the Hotel Manager Jonny and his team invited us to a surprise barbeque out on deck. There was no wind and the temperatures were relatively mild and so we spent quite a lot of time out on deck enjoying the beautiful scenery and the delicious food.
As always the wakeup call of our expedition leader Andrew came at seven o clock. After a the lovely breakfast, we all dressed warmly and prepared for boarding the zodiacs toward Neko harbour, a nice rocky beach surrounded by active glaciers and Gentoo penguins rockeries.
Time for a nice walk around the place and of course we have a moment to enjoy the view and even some calving’s of Neko glacier.
At the end of the landing the bravest one among us took the chance for the traditional polar plunge, with the staff waiting for them with towels.
After a nice morning and a healthy lunch we had time for a little nap between activities. The plan for the afternoon was zodiac cruising around Enterprise Islands in Whilemina Bay.
Driving around the zodiacs looking for blows, we received the call from the bridge of Plancius, and of course good news! Lots of Humpbacks whales at eleven o clock from the ship and around 2 miles away. For an hour and half, we had one of the best shows of Mother Nature! We could observe the whales spy hoping, feeding, showing the tails, coming close. What an amazing afternoon!
We finally left the humpbacks and moved toward Enterprise Island where we found some kelp gulps, and Antarctic terns nesting in the Governor (an old cargo ship which caught fire in 1916 and now rests in a little bay nearby).
What a day!
Dulcet as it was, the wake-up call from Andrew was a bit earlier than usual this morning. Albeit a little bleary eyed, most of us were up before breakfast to enjoy our final approach to the volcanic Deception Island, and the spectacular navigation into its flooded caldera. The Captain expertly maneuvered Plancius through the narrow entrance of “Neptune’s Bellows”, with its steep jagged cliffs standing sentry to each side.
As we moved into our anchorage at Whaler’s Bay, a striking landscape of volcanic ash black and white snow lay before us. The rusting remains of tanks and machinery lay scattered amongst derelict buildings – evidence of a rich and varied human history on this island … and also its volcanic nature.
Whaler’s Bay was once home to a Norwegian whaling station, and later, from 1944, a British research station. It was also the site of the first powered flight in Antarctica, with Australian Hubert Wilkins taking off over Port Foster in his Lockheed Vega monoplane in 1928. In 1969, a large eruption and subsequent lahar flow caused extensive damage to the station buildings and buried many items under thick mud. The British were forced to flee and the station closed permanently the following summer.
With a strong wind and occasional snow flurry, we quickly dispersed – to explore the historical remains, meet some of the chinstrap penguins along the shore, or to scramble up to “Neptune’s Window” and its vantage point over the Bransfield Strait and the Antarctic Peninsula beyond.
By mid-morning the sun had broken through the clouds once again, and blue skies beckoned us northwards along the South Shetland Island group to our final landing site for the day, and for this voyage – Half Moon Island.
Chinstraps were the star of our final Antarctic “hurrah”. The steep climb from the beach to their nests proved no match for their extraordinary climbing and jumping ability. Dirty penguins made their way down to the beach for a bath and feed, whilst passing clean and sated individuals waddling back up. Amongst them, our surprise guest - a lone macaroni penguin - stood defiantly with its back to the strong wind… and us. Many of us sat quietly to watch the passing parade, and to reflect on the Antarctic days that have gone before us. They have indeed, been truly spectacular.
After a rather gentle night of rolling, the morning broke windy, cloudy and overcast. The Plancius rocked back and forth as the call for breakfast came through the airwaves. A day on the open seas!
Since yesterday evening ropes have been installed across the lounge to offer more grip and security. It is very important to never forget: Always keep one hand for the ship!
At 10:30 Christophe gave a talk about the hero of polar history’s golden age: the great Roald Amundsen, and the race to the South Pole.
One after the other, the passengers came to the bridge for some minutes of fresh air and a quick look around for sea birds.
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.
The Drake cooled a little bit and the ship rolled a little bit less. The night will probably be calmer.
At 5pm Rosalie gave a very interesting talk about climate change in Antarctica through the ages.
Before dinner, Andrew & Johnny came in at the daily briefing with info and details about the next day and about disembarkation on the 18th; 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
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 Christophe gave a talk about Shackleton and his Endurance expedition, a great historical sketch about one of the greatest survivalists of all time. Shortly afterwards Louise talked about Whaling history at the beginning of the 20th century, with reference to her great grandfather’s career in that industry.
As the ship was doing good timing in spite of yesterday’s so so conditions, the Captain was able to take the ship 3 miles close to the seldom seen Diego Ramirez Island. A chance given only a few time in a sailor’s life.
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 Gabor’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’ foot warm and dry.
And then the fun 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 Kasper, 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.
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 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: 1801 nm, Kilometres: 3335 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.