PLA26-18, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 09.01.2018
Position: Ushuaia Port
Wind: NE -4
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +15

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 warm, 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 11 days. We were greeted by members of our expedition staff who directed us to the reception to meet the hotel manager, Sebastian, and his 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.
Just as we were finished the briefing we could see that the gangway had been lifted and the ropes were being released and we were beginning to make our way off the pier. There was some wind coming onto our port side, which pushed us back towards the wharf but with further propulsion we were soon off and on our way. 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!

At 19:00 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. Sebastian 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 Heinz 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: 10.01.2018
Position: 56º 34’ S / 065º 35’ W
Wind: WNW 5
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +10

We had all begun to feel some more motion in the ocean during the early hours of the morning and with increasingly big rolls we were very much aware of our arrival into the Drake Passage. For some, the rolling was a little too much and staying in bed for a few more hours was a much better option than getting up and trying to make it the dining room for breakfast. Those of us who made it enjoyed a great breakfast buffet before making our way up to the outer decks or to the lounge.

Out on deck conditions were still quite mild with some sunshine and just enough wind to allow the larger seabirds to fly effortlessly around the ship as we sailed further south. We saw both Wandering and Southern Royal albatross, the largest of all the seabirds with a wingspan of 3.5m as well as Grey headed and Black browed albatross. These birds were to stay with us for the whole day.

At 10:30 Ali invited us to the Dining Room for a presentation about Albatross, particularly the Black browed albatross that breed on the Falkland Islands, and about seabird conservation. Albatross populations were in decline for many years due to unregulated fishing which resulted in birds being caught on hooks and drowned but recent efforts and legislation have started to reverse the decline and she explained just how easily these mitigation methods can be adopted by fishing boats.
There was some time to relax or go out on deck before lunch and those that ventured to the top deck were able to watch the Wandering albatross flying quite close to the ship. There were darker juvenile birds as well as white mature albatross.

After lunch there was time for a siesta for those that needed it before Fran met the potential Kayakers for a briefing about their forthcoming paddling activities in Antarctica.

The second presentation of the day was given by Pascaline in the Lounge. She gave a very detailed lecture about the Antarctic ice and the impact this has on climate and the ecosystem of Antarctica. It was a great way of preparing us for the days ahead in the icy world of Antarctica and we all came away armed with additional knowledge about the icy stuff!

The rest of the afternoon was our own with time to relax, watch the birds from either the outside decks or from the comfort of the Lounge or to lie horizontal and wonder how long the bunk was going to keep rolling for!

At 1830 we were invited to the Lounge once again for the daily re-cap with the Expedition Team. Lynn explained our plans for tomorrow while Nacho showed us the real length of the seabird wingspans using a technical piece of string! Gracie explained about the Antarctic Convergence where the warmer waters of the north meet the cold water of Antarctica forming a biological boundary within the water. Dinner was served at 1900 and we all enjoyed continuing to meet fellow passengers and exchange travel stories.

Day 3: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 11.01.2018
Position: 60º 35’ S / 061º 22’ W
Wind: W 5
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

Our second sea day may have had a bit calmer of seas, or perhaps we were just getting more used to the waves and rocking of the ship, ‘getting our sea legs’ as they say. It was a very full day as we prepared for our arrival to Antarctica. First order of the day was to acquire one of our best companions for the rest of the trip, a pair of warm, dry boots. It was a bit rocky in the small boot room but most of us managed to make our way forward to get ourselves some well fitting boots.

After this we had a mandatory briefing full of very important safety and on shore information. We learned about how to go on the gangway and get into the zodiac, how to treat wildlife ashore and many other rules that have been put in place by IAATO to best protect Antarctica. There was a lot to learn about safety for ourselves and safety for the continent and all wildlife in it.

Immediately after the briefing we had more preparation to start on, the vacuuming. This is a very important part of going to shore and everyone was very good at being thorough with vacuuming their outer gear. It takes quite a long time so even with 6 vacuums going in the lounge we ended up getting half of us through to vacuum before lunch and then the other half finished up in the afternoon.

By this time we were ready for shore in the physical sense. However there was still a bit of useful information to learn about the wildlife so that we could better appreciate everything once we arrived. Ali gave a lecture on the different penguins we would be seeing on on voyage in Antarctica. She outlined the different species we are likely to see and how these entertaining little birds are adapted to the cold environment of Antarctica. We lots of lovely photos of the penguins in her presentation it got us even more excited about the upcoming days.

After a short break we got to hear from Lucas about the Antarctic food chain and the phytoplankton which plays such an important role in Antarctica. If it wasn’t for the very small creatures in the oceans the bigger animals such as the penguins, seals and whales would not survive here.

What a full day we had, rolling from side to side with an occasional big roll to cause some excitement. Throughout the day fog had settled around us as is normal for this part of the Drake. Everyone made their way slowly to and fro, holding onto anything available for support. We really worked well as a team to help each other and stay safe. Another day closer to Antarctica, soon we would see why this crossing of the Drake Passage was all worth it.

Just before recap we found ourselves approaching the South Shetland Islands where the Captain began to navigate through the narrow channel in the islands known as the English Strait. As soon as we entered the channel the rolling of the ship stopped and the fog suddenly cleared. All around us we could see the jagged peaks and islands which looked like something from a fantasy film. We were also lucky to see a group of Humpback whale feeding on the krill that Lucas had been telling us about earlier in the day. We had finally arrived in Antarctica and it was a wonderful feeling after 2 days at sea. Staff commented that it seemed like we had new passengers on board as some people had been in their cabins for the last 2 days!

Then after such a long day of hearing the expedition team talking of safety, rules and wildlife the recap was made short so we might have a bit of a break. Lynn talked about the coming day when we would finally reach the continent of Antarctica.

Just at the end of the recap Orca, Killer whales were spotted ahead of the ship and we got a look at them in the sunlight. We could see the distinctive tall dorsal fin of the male as well as some tiny young ones swimming alongside their mothers. It was a rare treat to see so many in one location. Sadly the ship reluctantly continued past them so that it might make the morning landing in time. In the evening some of us enjoyed the birds and fog out on deck, some enjoyed the lounge for a drink, a game and the views while others headed straight for their beds to be rocked to sleep by the Drake for the last time until our return.

Day 4: Dorian Bay and Port Lockroy and Jougla Point

Dorian Bay and Port Lockroy and Jougla Point
Date: 12.01.2018
Position: 64º 41’ S / 063º 02’ W
Wind: NE 2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

We had all enjoyed a much more comfortable night on board and all managed a very good night of sleep which meant that most of us were woken by the wake-up call this morning rather than lying awake waiting for it! As we emerged from our cabins we found ourselves at the southern end of the Gerlache Strait. Those of us who had been up before the wake-up call enjoyed watching Humpback whales feeding near to the ship and we also lucky enough to see another pod of Orca, Killer whales as we sailed further south.

During breakfast we navigated through the very scenic Neumayer Channel and soon found ourselves at our first landing location for the morning at Damoy Point. We had made it!

As soon as the anchor had been dropped the Zodiacs were lowered and as soon as the staff had prepared the landing site we were heading ashore past icebergs to make our first landing in Antarctica! We almost smelt the penguins before we could see them as they have made their nest sites on top of every rocky outcrop on the lower slopes of the island. The landing site was a rocky shore line and we were then into penguin guano before we finally found ourselves walking on icy snow. Staff had flagged an easy route up onto the snow and from there we could walk past all the little groups of Gentoo penguins that were nesting on the top of the rocky ridge. They find these rocky areas at the beginning of the season as the snow is cleared off these areas first by the wind and then with the rocks exposed they can start to build their nests as soon as they can. Most of the penguins had two chicks huddled at their feet in the pebble nest and while some of the chicks were quite big, maybe a month old other were probably only hatched a week ago and were very tiny and vulnerable to the skuas that were flying around the colony.

From the ridge, which gave stunning views across the bay, some people followed Ali and Grace up to the top of the snow ridge beyond. This relatively flat ridge was used as a run way for ski planes by the British Antarctic Survey from the 1960’s until the 1990’s. The scientific personnel would travel to Dorian Bay by ship and would then be flown by ski plane to the interior of Antarctica where they would conduct their studies during the summer season. The hut at the bottom of the slope was really an airport lounge/waiting room and staff would wait here for their flights south. If the weather was bad either at Dorian Bay or further south they would have waited here for a few days at a time. The views from the ski way across to the Seven Brothers and down to Port Lockroy base were stunning.

Back at the lower slopes everyone had enjoyed a fabulous morning with penguins and enjoyed the first landing here in Antarctica.

Once we were all back on board and had cleaned the penguin guano off our boots we had lunch and during lunchtime Plancius repositioned around the corner of Damoy Point ready for our afternoon at Port Lockroy and Jougla Point.

After lunch we had a presentation by one of the staff members from Port Lockroy, who explained some of the history of the base which used to be known as Base A and belonged to the British Antarctic Survey. She also outlined some of the practicalities related to our visit; sending post cards and avoiding the resident penguins…….! In due course we headed ashore in the Zodiacs with the first passengers going to Port Lockroy first while the others went to Jougla Point. At Port Lockroy everyone enjoyed looking around the museum and spending some time, and money in the shop as well as watching the penguins coming and going from the little island. Some of them were nesting right under the museum building and boat shed! There was also a sleepy Weddell seal lying on the snow near the shore that looked very much like a rock for most of the time!

Over at Jougla Point we were able to watch more Gentoo penguins on their nests and making their way up the penguin highways but we also saw the colonies of Antarctic Cormorants nesting on the edge of the island. It was a great place to just stand and watch the busy lives of the birds. Some people were lucky enough to see a Leopard seal in the water near the landing site. They patrol these areas in search of penguin dinner.

After an hour or so the two groups swapped over and everyone was able to enjoy both the locations during the afternoon.

Back on board there was time for a short briefing with plans for tomorrow before heading down for dinner. For some people the day was not yet finished as, after dinner they wrapped up warm once again, collected their sleeping kits from the boot room and boarded the Zodiacs ready to go ashore again at Damoy for a night of Antarctic camping! Brr! Sweet, warm dreams!

Kayaking
Dorian Bay
We had a slightly slow start this morning which was to be expected with a group of 14 newbies on the water and a slightly later arrival at Dorian Bay. Fortunately the weather was calm (which can’t always be said for Dorian) and we chose to paddle down to Damoy Point, getting used to the double kayaks and how to manoeuvre them on the water. We had our first glimpse of penguins – both in and out the water - and their colonies (which we could smell from some distance away!). Although a brief outing it was a great introduction to the kayaking for the team.

Port Lockroy
It was a little too windy for paddling this afternoon so we cancelled the session.

Day 5: Port Charcot and Petermann Island

Port Charcot and Petermann Island
Date: 13.01.2018
Position: 65º 00’ S / 063º 49’ W
Wind: N 1
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +4

In the early hours of the morning, while most of the ship was still sleeping, the campers had a 4:30 wake-up call. They packed up their camping gear, filled in their sleeping holes that they had dug the night before and their Zodiac drivers arrived at 5am to bring them back to the ship for a hot shower and a warm bed. An amazing experience to camp in Antarctica. While not quite as early as the campers, the rest of us also got an early start to our day and were woken up to sunny, blue skies and beautiful views at the entrance to the Lemaire Channel.

After breakfast we all headed out on deck as we ship cruised through the Lemaire Channel. At the entrance, almost as a gateway to the channel itself stands Cape Raynard with its twin peaks topped with a layer of snow. Every second brought a different view of icebergs and mountains, it was absolutely stunning. Several of the icebergs we passed had one or two Crabeater seals, one iceberg even had a Gentoo penguin running around and falling down amongst two Crabeater seals. Many of us were speechless as so many fantastic shapes appeared before us. After an excellent start to our day we headed on for our morning landing at Port Charcot, passing by some incredible icebergs which have been stranded in what is known as the iceberg graveyard. The area is very shallow and the currents bring the icebergs into the bay where they cannot drift back out again. Here they will stay until they finally break up and melt.

After a brief warm up inside, we all layered up in preparation for the landing. We were eager to get to shore at the historic Port Charcot. Once on shore some people went on the hike that Ali led up to a summit and the historic cairn while the rest of us enjoyed our time amongst the colonies basking in the sunshine on the rocks and meandering down to the beach on the other side of the landing site. The cairn itself was built by Jean Baptiste Charcot, a French explorer who overwintered here in 1902. He buried a container which had a draft of all his scientific findings from the expedition and his plans for further travel, if he was unable to return for any reason. The views from the top of the peak were stunning and everyone enjoyed just sitting in the sunshine and taking it all in.

Along at the penguin colonies we were all able to watch the Gentoo penguins in their loud calling, flipper flapping and pebble stealing glory. The island is home to three species of penguins, the Gentoos, a small number of Chinstraps and a few Adelies. Those of us who walked a little higher up the slope were lucky enough to see all three species at once. It was a fabulous morning with plenty of time to just sit and watch and soak it all in. There were all smiling faces as we returned to the ship for a lunch and a bit of a rest.
During lunchtime we made the very short navigation around the coast to Petermann Island. Again this was a location for an expedition by Charcot who overwintered here in 1909 on his ship the Pourquais Pais. As we approached the shore we could see a red building, which is an Argentine refuge hut although now in a very poor state of repair. Just nearby is a memorial cross to three members of the British Antarctic Survey who sadly disappeared while crossing the sea ice nearby in 1982 and were never seen again.

The island is home to both Gentoo and Adelie penguins nesting. You could find the Gentoo penguins nesting just next to the Adelies’ so it was easy to compare the features, noises and even the smells. The Adelie chicks were a bit bigger than the Gentoo chicks and also they were a solid grey/brown whereas the Gentoos already had the patterns and colouring of full grown Gentoos.

Those of us who walked down the find the Antarctic cormorants saw Gentoo, Adelie and cormorants all nesting right next to each other. Many of us spent a great deal of time in one place enjoying these amazing birds. And after some time with the penguins quite a few of us went for a lovely walk up and along the hill and had an amazing view of the other side of the island. One of the best parts about the landing is that we could stay in any one place as long as we wanted and truly enjoy our surroundings.

Back on board we had a brief recap of the day and Ali told us about Weddell and Crabeater seals while sharing some very nice, often adorable, photos of these seals. Lynn also told us about our plans for the next day.

After another delicious dinner it was time to head back outside to enjoy our second trip through the Lemaire Channel. It was just as beautiful as our morning cruise though, possible even more so with the lower sun and excellent lighting. Captain Alexey had some fun we all enjoyed and expertly navigated the ship through a field of ice in the middle of the Lemaire. Larger icebergs were avoided and middle sized and small ones were pushed out of the way by the ship, creating a very satisfying sound and cheers from the bow. It was hard to head to bed with such magnificent views but after such a full day in Antarctica many of us were happy to head to sleep. The campers from the night before were especially grateful for the luxury of a warm bed and an indoor toilet. As we slept the ship travelled North towards our next days adventure.

Kayaking
Port Charcot
Carol decided not to paddle this morning as she had been camping the night before and wanted to get a more relaxed start to the day. This meant that we were down to 13 in number and Ross had a chance to paddle a single kayak which he took to like a penguin to water. We had fabulous weather sailing down Lemaire Channel which no-one wanted to miss so we rushed to change and get to the kayak deck once we had turned the corner towards Port Charcot. We decided to head round to the other side of Port Charcot to get away from the Zodiacs, ship and shore parties and once round the corner looking north from Booth Island we had a fabulous array of peaks of Anvers Island and the wide blue sea out west. Ali pointed us in the direction of a crab eater seal she could see on an ice floe from her vantage point at Port Charcot – we paddled over to it only to discover it was in fact a leopard seal who took a look at us and went back to rest. What amazing beasts they are. We practiced a few skills like doing tight turns and back paddling – always a useful skill when trying to avoid crashing into ice bergs and other kayaks.

Peterman Island
We had a small dedicated team this afternoon as we didn’t have the time to do a landing as well as kayak. We did however get to see two Adélie penguins so the penguin “tickers’’ were satisfied – and we also paddled all the way round Petermann Island. The far side was really quite interesting – huge bergs pushed up against the shore meant we couldn’t hug the coast and had to paddle further out on the swell. Coupled with a bit of ‘’clapotis’’we had a slightly bumpier ride that we had in the last two sessions but everyone coped extremely well. The other thing we noted earlier in the trip was the abundant moss and lichen on the north and west facing steep slopes; and the evidence of volcanism, huge boulders in an ash matrix, and basalt dykes cutting the rock layers. Really amazing weather again and a very happy bunch of Aussies at the bar tonight.

Day 6: Cuverville Island and Base Brown

Cuverville Island and Base Brown
Date: 14.01.2018
Position: 64º 40’ S / 062º 37’ W
Wind: SW 2
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +4

We were woken up by Lynn well before the official wake-up call this morning as a group of Humpback whales had been seen feeding quite close to the ship. It was definitely worth getting up for as we were able to approach them quite closely as they continued their feeding. There were 2 adults feeding co-operatively on the swarms of Krill that can be found here during the summer. They were continually diving, showing their tail flukes and then coming up to the surface of the water with their mouths wide open taking in a mouthful of seawater and Krill and then sifting the food out of the water with their baleen. They were unconcerned by our presence and we were able to spend some time taking photos and enjoying the experience.

After breakfast we were in position off Cuverville Island and were ready to go ashore for the morning landing. Once on shore we were met by Gentoo penguins that were busily making their way back to the colony to feed their ever growing chicks. Staff had flagged a route along the coastline to one of the colonies and we were able to walk along, taking care not to obstruct the penguin highways and watch the birds on their nests. Cuverville Island is home to the largest Gentoo penguin colony on the Antarctic Peninsula with around 4,000 breeding pairs scattered around the island and there were certainly penguins as far as the eyes could see. Cuverville is a very popular stop off point for visiting cruise ships so to enable the majority of the penguins to nest undisturbed by visitors some of the island is closed to tourists so we stopped at the low saddle and observed the closest little colonies. There was plenty to see!

From here Lucas had flagged another walking trail up the side of the island to a low viewpoint where we could see over the lower slopes and out into the channel where there were plenty of grounded icebergs. The walk up was a little icy but staff had kicked some steps into the icy snow and the walk was relatively easy. All along the route there were large balls of moss that had fallen down from the upper slopes. This is one of the few plants species that flourish here in Antarctica.

Back down at sea level some people took a tour back to the ship via the icebergs, which was a real treat while others decided that they were going to brave the icy waters along with the penguins and take a Polar Plunge. With the tide going out it was a bit of a chilly walk out to deeper water but with some screams and shouts everyone participating took a dive and very quickly came back out! Their admiration for the penguins increased significantly!

All too soon it was time to head back to the ship ready for lunch and our next destination, Paradise Bay. Our route took us through the very scenic Errera Channel and as the clouds cleared even more we found ourselves under blue skies once again and Paradise Bay lived up to its name and we found ourselves in flat calm waters and warm sunshine once again.

Our plans for the afternoon included a continental landing at Almirante Brown and a Zodiac cruise around Skontorp Bay. The English speaking passengers were taken ashore first where we landed at the Argentinean Base and the French speakers went on the cruise. This station on the continent is manned for a few months during the summer when base personnel spend time repairing the buildings and monitoring the penguin population on the island. From here we took a walk around the buildings and past the nesting Gentoo penguins to where Ali had flagged a route up to the summit of the hill and also to a lower viewpoint. The snow conditions were much softer then the morning and it was an easier walk up the steep slope. For those who managed the walk the effort was well worth it as the views around the whole of Paradise Bay were stunning. We could see out across Skontorp Cove and even saw some Humpback whales down below us in the water. It was so quiet that we could hear the whales blowing as they surfaced.

After around 90 minutes or so the two groups swapped over and then we went out on a Zodiac cruise into Skontorp Cove itself. We passed the high rocky cliffs where we could see Antarctic cormorants nesting on the rocky ledges. The brown downy chicks were pretty big by this time and demanding food from their parents as they came back from foraging trips at sea. Around the corner we found ourselves in a stunning amphitheatre of the bay with the Avalanche Glacier tumbling down from the higher slopes of Mount Inverleith. All around the bay there were icebergs and on some of them we were lucky enough to find some Leopard seals, a Crabeater seal and a Weddell seal. They were all lying snoozing in the sunshine and one Leopard seal was even heard snoring as we switched off our engines and enjoyed the experience. Some of us were lucky enough to have a Humpback whale surface quite close to the Zodiacs and had a great view of it as it dived down and shoed its tail fluke.

All too soon it was time to head back to the ship after what had been a magical day here in Antarctica. Back on board Lynn outlined the plans for tomorrow and Ali talked about Humpback whales and their breeding and feeding behaviour. Grace then explained about the website Happy Whale where we can send our photographs of whale tails to add to the global database of whales.

After dinner we were sailing in an open bay area where the scenery was stunning with Humpback whales and even some more Orca seen later in the evening. A perfect end to the day.

Kayaking
Cuverville Island
The island that never fails to deliver! We were woken early as Lynn called us to watch humpback whales feeding close to the ship on our journey down Errera Channel. It was looking as if we weren’t going to be able to kayak as the wind was too strong but as we approach the island it steadily died off to only a few knots. We had thirteen of us on the water again today and we were quick to get ready and get the kayaks on the water – everybody is getting familiar with the winching operation. We decided on a circumnavigation of the island and as we rounded the southern end we were surprised by how much ice had forced its way up between Ronge Island and Cuverville. This meant we had to do some delicate negotiations around bergs – fortunately not really big ones – and couldn’t stick close to the shore. A slight wind picked up and we practiced holding our position both into the wind and downwind. For the first time people realised that they sometimes can’t afford to stop paddling at all lest they get blown away! Back at the ship we winched up the kayaks in record time and headed for a well deserved lunch.

Base Brown
The weather remained favourable and we needed full factor sun cream and sunglasses all afternoon. Nine of us took to the water ready to practice some new skills but in the end we chased whales slowly – well, we were slow and they were a little faster – round Skontorp Cove, getting some great views of tail flukes but unfortunately not generating enough interest for them to come and visit us. As usual Avalanche Glacier was super active and we witnessed some avalanches high up and a large berg capsizing at the base. The humpback whales moved tantalisingly closer to the ice cliffs but we wisely decided not to follow them in. The team staged a mutiny and wouldn’t get off the water as they were so happy in the peace of a sunny afternoon, but eventually to finish with, we did a short cruise under the bird cliffs admiring the streaks of copper Verdigris, the lichens and the shag colony where the chicks are just about as large as the parent birds right now. Truly another incredible day.

Day 7: Neko Harbour and Danco Island

Neko Harbour and Danco Island
Date: 15.01.2018
Position: 64º 50’ S / 062º 37’ W
Wind: NW 1
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

This morning brought no 6:30am wake-up from the whales, instead we got to sleep in until 7:15 and have our breakfast at 7:30. This gave us time to get ready for our 9am landing at Neko, a harbour well known for having very active glaciers with a lot of calving. In our briefing the night before we learned that it wasn’t even safe to walk on the lower part of the beach because of the waves that can result from a large piece of ice falling into the sea.

This was going to be our second Antarctic continental landing and with clear bluer sky and sunshine it was hard to believe that we were in Antarctica. Getting down the gangway and into the zodiac we headed to shore seeing all the amazing glaciers surrounding us and icebergs everywhere. Once we got ashore we dropped off our life vests we could walk to the right for a nice short walk to a rocky area to sit down for a front row seat of the nesting Gentoos below, or to the left for a hike up high onto the ridge for fantastic views overlooking all the penguins, Neko Harbour, the ship and even Humpback whales swimming below. The walk up took us past small groups of nesting Gentoo penguins and we could see their well worn penguin highways that had been created over weeks of little penguin feet coming and going!

At the viewpoint there was small rocky outcrop which was a perfect platform for taking photos with the stunning backdrop of the glacier face right behind. Many of us sat in the sunshine willing a large piece of ice to fall of the front of it but we only heard a few cracks and bangs and didn’t see anything calving off. Down at sea level, the kayakers looked amazing out there on the water, playing with the whales and paddling along. We could all hear the glaciers rumbling and cracking in all different directions and a few of us saw some calving action.

Before heading back to the ship we had an impromptu mini zodiac cruise alongside Humpback whales and up to some beautiful icebergs and glaciers. None of us wanted to return as we had perfect conditions, glossy, calm water reflecting the blue icebergs and peaking mountains. Eventually though it was time to return for a warm lunch and a bit of relaxation.

The afternoon brought some of our first cloudy skies at the Antarctic Peninsula. If anything though it helped the details of the icebergs and scenery to stand out better and made for some really good photographs. We were going to shore at Danco Island. Upon boarding the zodiacs first thing was to check out the nearby iceberg with four Crabeater seals on it surrounded by the Gentoo penguins swimming all around. Then we made our way through the icebergs to our landing site. From here we could have a long walk down the beach that was scattered with icebergs on the rocks, pebbles and sand, finally an iceberg we could stand on safely! All amongst the beach and iceberg were Gentoo penguins either going up or coming down the penguin highways into the water.

Ali had flagged a route up to the higher penguin colonies and then up to the very top of the island for 360 views looking over the main continent, the Errera Channel and the many glaciers coming out to sea. On the way up we all had to wait our turn to cross the penguin highways as the birds went up and down the island and some of us were there for nearly 15 minutes as it was rush hour in the penguin world! There were some snowflakes falling and a bit more of a breeze than we had seen the last few days. We had one last person for the polar plunge, she ran in and out at lightning speeds and was whisked back to the ship. On the way back we saw many Crabeater seals on the ice but also some Weddell seals and a single Southern elephant seal lying on the small low lying islands just off shore. Some Antarctic cormorants were sitting out on the rocks and of course our good friends the Gentoo penguins we swimming in large rafts as they waited to make their way ashore, ready for the long climb back up the island to their partners and chicks. Back at the ship it was time for a cup of something hot and one of Roger the baker’s delicious afternoon treats.

What an amazing last full day in Antarctica! Instead of a recap we had an evening to relax and then a BBQ to celebrate our trip! We ate out on the back deck level 3 where it was a proper Antarctic setting with light snow and black and white scenery. We had a delicious variety of side dishes, all the bbq meat one could eat and free drinks. Even the whales turned up to the party! Many of us enjoyed our dinner while watching the Humpbacks surface two or three at a time, with accompanying sheers every time they showed a tail fluke! We continued to drink our hot mulled wine to stay warm while the food was cleared out and a bit of floor space appeared. It soon turned into a dance party when the music started and the disco lights came on! Many you wouldn’t expect were on the dance floor busting out some amazing moves. It was all laughs and smiles as we had a blast shaking to the music with our new friends.

Kayaking
Neko Harbour
Having watched a short video clip of the falling ice cliffs in Neko Harbour we stayed well away from them and headed along the coast to the back of Andvord Bay. We saw whales in the distance and followed them to where they were criss-crossing the bay feeding. They were smaller than humpbacks, rather uninterested in the kayaks and didn’t show their tail flukes so we concluded that they were probably minke whales. We didn’t get close enough for good photos sadly but still enjoyed a beautiful calm and sunny time on the water. We came back to the ship a little early so that we could get a continental landing at Neko Harbour and spent the last part of the morning on land with Gentoos and a resting Weddell seal.

Danco Island
We finished the kayaking with an afternoon paddling the Errera Channel in calm and cool conditions but we could see the weather changing down the Gerlache Strait and the tops of the mountains were cloud covered. We had intended to circumnavigate Danco Island but we were distracted early on by a few large flotillas of Gentoo penguins who were using a couple of largish bergs as a platform from which to bathe. They were all around us and incredibly close to the kayaks, washing themselves, which they do by scrubbing their bodies with flippers, beaks and feet and rolling in the water. And making such a racket! It was a fantastic note to end on especially as in the middle of one raft of maybe 100 Gentoos, a chinstrap penguin popped up. We then paddled down the west side of Danco Island past the concrete plinth of the old BAS base there, and the penguins colonies. Regretfully at the southern end of the island, we had to board the Zodiacs again to get back to the ship in time for the evening BBQ. At least we were spared the last kayak lift as they were all being lifted direct by the crew to Deck 5 ready for their journey back across the Drake Passage.

Day 8: Foyn Harbour

Foyn Harbour
Date: 16.01.2018
Position: 64º 32’ S / 061º 54’ W
Wind: SE 3
Weather: Snowing
Air Temperature: +2

After the BBQ and party that followed it may have been a challenge for some people to get up with the wake-up call this morning but this was our last day here in Antarctica and we had to try and make the most of it.
During this trip we have been extremely fortunate to have some glorious weather with wall to wall sunshine and very little wind. It isn’t always like this and to prove a point the weather as we got up this morning was foggy, grey and overcast. There were some brighter moments but it was almost as if Antarctica was telling us it was time to go!

After breakfast we all wrapped up in all our warm and waterproof clothing to head out on a Zodiac cruise at Foyn Harbour, near Enterprise Island. This area was named after Svend Foyn who was a whaler in this area back at the beginning of the 20th century. This whole area was used by the whalers during the 20 years of whaling here due to its sheltered harbour and close proximity to the whale’s feeding grounds.

Our first destination on this cruise was to visit the wreck of the Governøren that was deliberately run aground by her crew when she caught fire on 27TH January 1915. They were desperate not to lose their valuable cargo of barrels of whale oil so putting her ashore was the only option. The bay is still a sheltered haven for visiting yachts and there were two boats tied up to the wreck of the ship to escape the winds in the open water. From here were travelled around the coastline visiting smaller coves to enjoy the scenery of the high ice cliffs and smaller islands where Antarctic cormorants and Weddell seals could be seen. There were also some very beautiful icebergs sculptured by wind and waves during their lifetime. In the back of one little bay some sea ice had started to form in the calm waters and with a light dusting of snow there was a very Antarctic feel about the whole setting.

All too soon it was time to head back to the ship, which emerged out of the fog and snow like a ghost ship and get warmed up and dried out. There was time to do so before lunch and during lunch we found ourselves sailing back up the Gerlache Strait heading towards the Drake Passage, our only route back to Ushuaia.

After lunch there was time for some rest after such busy days in Antarctica and at 1500 Ali screened a documentary entitled Penguin Post Office, which was all about the penguins at Port Lockroy, where we had visited on our first afternoon here in Antarctica. It was lovely to see where we had been and follow the life of the penguins there from the beginning of the summer season until the end. We got just a brief glimpse of their lives during our short visit but they are memories that will last a very long time indeed.

Later in the afternoon we were invited back up to the lounge for re-cap with Lynn and the rest of the Expedition Team. She showed us a sequence of slides showing the weather systems in the Drake Passage in the coming days…. We all agreed we wanted to stay in the green bits and not sit around waiting for the red and purple colours to cross over! Ali then talked about the little pink critters of the Southern Ocean, Krill which is the basis of all life in Antarctica, particularly during the summer months.

It was a quiet evening in the bar after dinner as many people tried to get a good night of sleep just in case the weather became unpleasant in the coming days. And rocked us out of our beds!

Day 9: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 17.01.2018
Position: 60º 39’ S / 063º 25’ W
Wind: W 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

After our last morning in Antarctica and yesterday’s afternoon heading North we had finally reached open water. This was our first day back into the Drake and for the most part it was very mild, the ship rocked slowly from side to side. We had left the Antarctic Peninsula just in time to avoid the terrible weather that would be coming in, and with the exception of a few crazy souls, most were very happy to be avoiding that red zone that was moving in on the weather map.

After 5 days of action, landings and Zodiac cruises this day in the Drake Passage was for many a day of recharging - long sleep in, several naps and relaxing in the lounge. Perfect time to reflect on these last amazing days.

In between naps and resting we could attend some interesting lectures given by members of the expedition team.

Ali gave her lecture on Ice Maidens – Women in Antarctica and shared stories of women who have made their mark on the Antarctic continent as well as some of the women who were behind the famous Antarctic explorers. The history of women in Antarctica is short, with the first woman, Caroline Mikkelson setting foot on the continent in 1935.

After this it was time to return our good rubber boots that had kept us warm and dry during all our adventures.
After there was time for a bit of an afternoon siesta before the programme of presentations continued.

Pascaline gave a presentation on Oceans and Climate, talking about the impact that the polar oceans have on climate around the world. She also explained about the Antarctic Convergence, where warmer water from the north meets the cold water from the south and we see a biological border in based on water temperature.
The final presentation was by Lucas and he talked about Plant Colonisation and how plants have adapted to survive the harsh environment in Antarctica. There are only two vascular species of plants but we learned particularly about the algae, lichens and moss on the Antarctic Peninsula.

At re-cap there was little for Lynn to explain but Hotel Manager, Sebastian explained about a few things to settle before the end of the cruise; bills and questionnaires. Nacho then gave a fun and brief lecture on interesting facts about Antarctica where we learned how high the seas would rise if all the ice melted around Antarctica. We had survived the first day back in the Drake! And really it was not so bad the waves and the rocking, we made great speed toward Ushuaia and should be in sheltered calmer seas by the next day. Some of us headed straight to bed after a long exhausting day of multiple naps, a few of us spent some time in the bar and lounge before retiring.

Day 10: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 18.01.2018
Position: 58º 18’ S / 067º 01’ W
Wind: N 7
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +7

It had been a reasonably comfortable night on board the little blue ship Plancius and many of us slept right up until the breakfast call from the hotel team. It was a bit of a grey and wet morning but we were in relatively sheltered waters now despite the wind blowing nearly 30 knots.

After breakfast Lynn announced that we would be sailing towards Cape Horn where we would spend some time at the very end of the South American continent. This area is the focus of many historic sailing stories and is renowned for gales and stormy seas. Before the opening of the Panama Canal on August 15th 1914 all shipping had to travel around Cape Horn whatever the weather and in the days of sailing ships it would often take them days or even weeks to round the horn. Many didn’t make it and were wrecked on the treacherous rocks in the process.

As we approached we could see the peaks Cape Horn ahead of us and we had permission from the Chilean authorities to approach within 3 nautical miles of land. This gave us a chance to enjoy the views, despite the rain. The Black browed albatross didn’t seem to mind it too much and flew around the ship in great numbers.

After a while we turned to the east and began to head northwards once again heading for the Beagle Channel. At 10am Fran invited us to the lounge for a presentation about the Dogs of Antarctica which were used by many polar explorers over the years, including Roald Amundsen but also by the British Antarctic Survey between 1944 and 1994. She had some lovely old photos in her slide show and also so extracts from the diaries of men who had worked with the dogs over the years.

By this time it was coffee time and many of us took the time to pack bags etc before our final lunch on board. After lunch the weather had cleared and the sun was shining as we continued on our way. With winds still blowing at over 30 knots we were all very pleased to be in the shelter of the mainland and not still out in the Drake Passage.

At 1430 Marie invited us down to the dining room for a presentation about Jean Baptiste Charcot who led a number of expeditions in Antarctica at the beginning of the 20th Century. We had been lucky enough to visit Port Charcot and Petermann Island where he spent winters and so the content of the lecture meant a lot more to us all as we could picture where Marie was talking about.

The final presentation of the afternoon and indeed of the trip was given by Celine who explained about some of the threats to seabirds around the oceans. Ali had talked about the threat of fishing to the birds but Celine talked more about the invisible threat of plastics and contaminants. It will make us all think about our actions when we are back home.

The last official task of the day was to settle our on board accounts with Sebastian and Bobbi; all those drinks and postcards have to be paid for at some point! We also had a call over the PA system to say that we had some Sei whales in front of the ship. There were two whales near the bow and we stayed with them for a while watching them coming to the surface and diving again in search of food.

We were then invited to Captains Cocktails at 6pm where we had a lovely slide sow put together by Jean Marc and another slide show that Gracie had put together using photos that members of the staff had taken during the voyage. It was lovely to look back on the last 11 days of our sunny Antarctic voyage and raise a glass of champagne to Captain Alexey who had done such a great job of getting there and back safely. The farewell dinner gave us a chance to meet all the members of the hotel team who had looked after us so well during our trip. After dinner we gathered in the lounge exchanging e-mails and looking ahead to home and onwards travels.

Day 11: Disembarkation Ushuaia

Disembarkation Ushuaia
Date: 19.01.2018
Position: Ushuaia Port

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 11 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: 1,730 | Kilometres: 3,204

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: PLA26-18
Dates: 9 Jan – 19 Jan, 2018
Duration: 10 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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