PLA26-20, trip log, Antarctic Basecamp

by Sergey Radkevich

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 29.12.2019

We spent days dreaming about our voyage to come, hours shopping, reading, preparing logistics, excitedly chatting with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours about our atypical trip choice, then spent hours, days, traveling by planes, cars, buses… Finally, we got our first glimpse of Plancius. She awaited us quietly amongst other expedition ships –smallest, but fiercest. Her bright blue hull contrasted with the grey waters of the Beagle channel, and we proudly boarded the ship, greeted by a warm “welcome onboard!” of crewmembers that took care of our luggage and showed us the way to our cabins.

We readily started exploring the ship, striding along corridors and decks, excited like kids discovering a new playground. We rapidly found our way to the restaurant, the reception, the bridge, or the observatory lounge. We gathered in the latter for a mandatory security briefing given by our chief officer, François. Plancius negotiated a tricky exit of the pier and a U-turn. As she started to head down the Beagle channel, we complied to the drill, necessary simulation of the ship’s evacuation in case of an emergency. We then enjoyed a brief presentation of life onboard by our hotel manager Zsuzsanna, and were introduced to the ship’s captain, Evgeny Levakov, a tall Russian man who has been sailing polar regions for the past 25 years, and the expedition team.

Our expedition leader David is from the Canada. Before working onboard expedition ships, he used to be a mountaineer guide. Daniel, from Germany, is David’s assistant. Mainly based in Iceland, Daniel spends most of his time working as a naturalist guide all over the world. The rest of the team is composed of Andreas, geologist professor from Germany; Règis, French researcher and bird specialist; Werner, wild life photographer extraordinaire from South Africa; Koen, from the Netherlands but based in Patagonia where he runs a trekking guide service at Puerto Natales; Julia, from Germany and based in Patagonia where she works as Trekking guide at Torres del Paine National Park; Owen, snowshoe designer and product manager from the US; Trevor and Mal, both highly experienced mountaineering guides from New Zealand and Alexis, kayaking guide, who settled in a small mountain village in Argentina, veterinarian surgeon and owner of a kayak and trekking company at Villa La Angostura, Nahuel Huapi National Park. What an international team! All its members are “bipolar”: these passionate fellows, badly infected by the infamous polar virus, spend most of their time hopping from one pole to the other!

We are also informed that despite weather forecast announcing a rather smooth Drake passage, Brenda, the ship’s doctor, will stick around after dinner to distribute sea sickness pills. Debates ensues: to take medicine, or not to take medicine? That is the question.

Day 2: At Sea towards the Antarctica Peninsula

At Sea towards the Antarctica Peninsula
Date: 30.12.2019
Position: 57º 23.2’S / 065º 12.5’ W
Wind: W
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +10

Drake lake or Drake shake…?

Who said sailing to Antarctica will be easy…? We woke up to fairly calm seas even though we expected a big storm. The keen ones of us were already up and around when Dave made the first wake-up call of the voyage, but for those of us still being gently rocked in our beds it was time to get up and see what the day would bring. Smooth sailing gave us the opportunity to find our sea legs as the Drake was not fully awake yet for our first day on-board. A few Cape Petrels, Fulmars and Giant Petrels were gliding around the ship. Birds habitually follow ships at sea looking for food brought up to the surface by the wake, but also to enjoy the uplift created by our passing ship.

At 09:30am we were invited to the lounge for the mountaineering briefing hosted by Mal and Trevor. They gave a thorough explanation of the equipment we will need and use and the type of terrain and skill level needed for different landings. The excitement of a basecamp in Antarctica started to fill the room. That was followed by the kayak briefing presented by Alexis. He gave a demonstration and how we should react to different wildlife encounters on water. That was followed by Owen who briefed us on the snowshoe activities. Owen explained how snowshoes work and that he was part of the design team for the snowshoes we use on-board. Finally, one of the activities most guests are excited about and at the same time a little bit nervous… Camping. Koen, demonstrated all the gear we would use and created big excitement for a night under the polar sky. Who would not want to wake up on one of the first days of the new year in Antarctica, snuggled in a bivy bag surrounded by pristine snow?

As we sailed further south, the Drake started to wake up. A North West swell of about 5 meters started to test the sailor in all of us. The Drake shake is living up to its name.
Recap of the day was hosted by Ali before we headed for another delicious dinner. The ship kept rolling throughout the night and as we snuggled into bed for our second night on-board.

Day 3: At Sea towards the Antarctica Peninsula

At Sea towards the Antarctica Peninsula
Date: 31.12.2019
Position: 62º 04.2’S / 062º 34.7’ W
Wind: NE
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +4

This morning we woke up to the ship moving from side to side, which we were told were fairly “calm” waters for the Drake. Some passengers were waiting for stormy conditions. Some were quite happy with the situation…

After breakfast, we met in the lounge for a mandatory safety briefing. Our Expedition leader, David shown us how to wear the lifejackets for the zodiac cruises and how to get on and off the zodiacs down the gangway. Something we were looking forward to do after the long crossing.

In preparation for Antarctica we filed into the lounge to learn 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 numerous vacuum cleaners going at once in the lounge it was noisy but fast.

During the day we enjoyed wonderful views of various sea birds as they accompanied the ship on its way, including Cape Petrels, Fulmars, Giant Petrels, Black-browed Albatross and the largest of all, the Wandering Albatross.

In the afternoon, Werner gave us a great introduction to photography, preparing ourselves to do our best to catch nice instants while on land.

Then it was time to celebrate the New Year, a bit earlier than usual, at 8.30 pm, midnight in Greenland. A good excuse not to sleep to late in order to get in good shape for our first landing in Antarctica!

Day 4: Orne Harbour – Cuverville Island

Orne Harbour – Cuverville Island
Date: 01.01.2020
Position: 64º 38.3’S / 062º 34.9 ’ W
Wind: 5,3 knots
Weather: partially cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

After breakfast, Expedition staff was waiting for us with the zodiacs at the gangway to bring us to Orne Harbour.

On our first landing day in Antarctica, we were ready to face wind and cold weather. Well, these first polar steps have been made under a warm sun in a blue sky. Most of us even had to remove some layers !

Once on land, staff gave us snowshoes to help us to reach a saddle which overlooks Errera Channel and Gerlache Strait. Along the ridge, we met our first penguins, Chinstrap penguins.

After this first continental landing, zodiac drivers brought us to short cruise along the coast to enjoy penguins and Blue-eyed shag colonies from the water.

In the afternoon, it was time to discover Cuverville Island, a steep-sided dome, two-thirds of which is covered by a permanent ice-cap. After landing, we walked along the beach where early 20th century whaling artefacts including scattered whalebones and a whalers’ dam can be seen, to reach Gentoo penguin colonies. Most of them were still incubating there eggs. We then had the chance to see two elephant seals, hauled out on the beach to molt.

Back on board, it was time to share our first feelings about our first antarctic day. David gave us more details to prepare the next day and it was already dinner time.

MOUNTAINEERING
Morning: Spigot Peak
A gloomy foggy morning awaited us at Selvik Cove as we dropped anchor. It was not certain that our first mountain trip would actually be possible due to the visibility but with essentially no wind there was no reason to not go give Spigot Peak a nudge.

As we walked off up into the cloud it almost seemed that cloud base was rising with us. Tantlizing views of Orne Harbor and the glaciers surrounding it came in and out of view as we got closer to our crampon point. The snow between the ridge where the Chin Strap Colony is located and our landing site was definitely hard to get through with deep wet snow making the trail breaking tough.

From the Chinstraps we moved briefly onto the rocky ridge before getting to the final upper slopes. The ice was firm here for a very short but critical moment before gaining the upper ridge line. As we did so the clouds kept on clearing allowing us to see down into Orne Harbour and out into the Errera Channel where Plancius was hiding in and out of a Fog bank.

The final summit ridge had old tracks on it that disappeared over an old broken cornice and then reappeared beyond it – a good reminder for us to keep our distance from the steep drop on the other side.
Our summit was a small rounded area offering amazing views of the strange cloud formations and flowing over the glaciers and peaks surrounding us. We’d still not really been able to see the full grandeur of the surrounding peaks yet – but with the promise of further improving weather we returned to shore down our same paths and headed towards our first lunch back on Plancius down on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Afternoon: Cuverville Island
As we sailed towards our landing at Cuverville the weather continued to improve. The low cloud lifted and burnt off and winds dropped further. The Mountaineers were ready at the gangway after being harnessed up and getting ready to be first onshore.

The Zodiac drive through the small iceberg graveyard was spectacular and the landing itself amongst the penguins surreal – here we were – getting ice axes / snow shoes and ropes ready whilst standing next to inquisitive penguins with their distinctive smell!

The snow was, again, deep and wet making the trail hard to walk in. Snowshoes were sliding and slipping as we made our way in a zig zag path up to the small summit of Cuverville Island. This is a spectacular place from which to see the entire surrounding area of the Errera Channel and now that the cloud had completely cleared there was nothing to impede our views of this amazing place.

Our descent started well but soon turned into lesson of why its hard to walk in snowshoes on steep slopes that are very soft and wet – it would have been harder to walk without them though, as everybody would have been up to their knees instead!

Soft snow is still fun as it makes sliding down a much safer and fun experience. We reached a safe location and did the final 30 m the fast way before our final short walk back down to the shore and the zodiac ride back to Plancius.

CAMPING Night 1 – Leith Cove/ Islote Hanka
For the first night camping we had to conquer an island named “Islote Hanka”. The Gentoo penguins saw us coming and cleared the way. We walked up the top of the hill to find our camping spot for the night. With Antarctic terns defending their nests we had to avoid the rocky bit of the island. The evening was relatively mild and without much wind.

There was some difficulty with the snow blocks which made it a challenging to build the wall for our hole but, everybody succeeded in the end. Throughout the night we had several avalanches coming down from the nearby mountains and glaciers. But nothing was as loud as the fight between the Antarctic terns and Skuas in the middle of the night. The Antarctic terns definitely won.

The next morning, we were lucky to have a late pick up time. Our wake-up time was only 05:00 which gave us enough time to pack our bags and fill up our holes before 06:00. During our time waiting for our pick up we had a Minke whale swimming around in the bay in front of us.

Our drivers Daniel and Andreas were right on time picking us up after having dropped off the mountaineers for their climb that day.

Day 5: Brown Station – Orne Islands

Brown Station – Orne Islands
Date: 02.01.2020
Position: 64º 53,40’S / 062º 51,83’ W
Wind: WNW
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

For some of us, David’s wake-up call was the second of the day, because the first was on shore, at Leith Cove, given by our camping guide Koen! Campers looked tired but happy this morning at breakfast, their stories getting others excited about their upcoming nights out!

Today’s activities were all planned around Danco Coast, Gerlache Strait. For the morning, Plancius anchored a few hundred meters away from Brown Station, at Paradise Bay. One member of the staff had a radio communication with the Argentinian chief of the Base and ask for permission to visit the Research buildings and the view point from the top of the hill.

The weather was overcast but we were able to see one of the most gorgeous scenarios of the Peninsula. Brown Station is one of many sheltered places were the sailors stay to have a break and enjoy the safety waters of Paradise Bay.

In the afternoon, we landed at Orne Islands, stunning site located just on the other side of the bay. There, the conditions were more demanding, windy, partially cloudy, big swell. Was difficult to find an easy landing area but we did it. Afernoon with an easy walk along gentle slopes under magnificent, ever changing cloud patterns.

Today again, Antarctica has been her nervous, changing, but rewarding and ever beautiful self.

MOUTAINEERING
Morning: Canessa Point
We had a very early start this morning with the intention of climbing past the normal summit. With a 6 am departure from the ship the mountaineering team had all gotten themselves up bright and early and on time to get harnessed up and at the Gangway.

After being dropped off and getting our gear equipment up above the tide line we donned snowshoes, got organized into roped teams and began our journey up. The slope we were walking up had crevassing on both the right and left of us, so a fine line needed to be taken to ensure we didn’t put ourselves into any extra hazard.

Mal found us a safe view point to look down into one reasonably large crevasse before we continued our way up towards the first summit. The original plan from here was to continue down to a small Col before heading on an up towards a second Summit.

Mal found another small crevasse by putting both his legs into it and then after a brief conversation between Mal and Trev and looking at the terrain and crevassing between the 1st and second summits the decision was made to turn around and head back to the shore for an earlier pick up.

After some more photo opportunities at the summit and the group trying to learn to ski in snowshoes down the slope we were picked up in the Zodiacs and returned again to our floating home, Plancius.
Afternoon: Georges Point – Cancelled

CAMPING Night 2 – Stony point
This day we were dropped off at stony point by 20:30. We immediately found out that we were going to have to share our camping location with a bunch of Weddel seals and Gentoo Penguins. The snow was relatively soft so we agreed to stick on the same trail throughout our time on shore to make walking easier. Everybody had done an extremely good job on their holes to sleep. The guides Koen and Julia however had some difficulties with building the toilet wall and after a good attempt they used the emergency barrels as part of the wall to make things easier. Behind the wall the guides had been busy not only with the wall but also with building an ice cake with lights on it. This cake was made to celebrate the two birthdays we had that night for Jean-Marc and Evert. With everybody singing out loud happy birthday and camping out on Antarctica it certainly was a birthday to remember.

After everybody was done, we had a trail set out to take a look at the Weddel seals from a bit more up close. To our surprise another two Weddel seals came ashore in their most elegant way of course. And as they kept on getting closer we had to keep falling back more or else they would have ended up on our laps. Throughout the night some of us were kept awake due to the sound of feeding Humpback whales swimming through Paradise bay.

The next morning we had one of the most amazing sunrises with a beautiful blue sky and the sun hitting the tips of the mountains across the bay. We all were really well on time and got to leave the coast at 05:00 to leave for our next destinations that day, Dorian bay in the Neumayer Channel.

Day 6: Danco Island – Neko Harbour

Danco Island – Neko Harbour
Date: 03.01.2020
Position: 64º 43,483’ S / 062º 34,994’ W
Wind: NNW
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

We wake up in yet another incredible scenery. The weather is perfect. Blue sky and snow and ice covered mountains all around us. The campers get picked up early in the morning and Plancius repositions while we have breakfast. At 8:30 in the morning we get to go to our new landing side. Probably the best so far: Danco Island. An incredible beautiful bay. Penguins are shooting through the water while we approach the landing side. We get to climb up a zig-zag route to reach the top of the island. Penguin highways need to be crossed, carefully making sure that the Gentoo penguins have the right of way. Several penguin colonies are located at the island, competing with each other for the best view.

The colony on top of the island certainly wins this competition. What a view. 360 degrees of ice, snow and mountains and whales feeding in the bay. We just can’t get enough of it. Make photo after photo after photo. Pose in various Yoga positions, trying to find the best background. It’s really hard to chose, is there really something like the best background, if they are all just amazing? The mountaineers are in the meantime ice climbing in the flanks of Danco islands and guess what? Their pictures are even more amazing. We enjoy our time on shore, even though we have to leave earlier, as an iceberg starts calving and rolling and producing huge waves on our landing sites, making it safer to leave the landing site earlier.

In the afternoon we go to another spectacular spot: Neko Harbour. Again gentoo penguin colonies with an amazing view. This time on a massive glacier front. We walk up the hill to a small viewpoint and look down on the ice cliffs. Hear and see the pieces falling off, creating waves washing a shore. What a spectacle. And what are the mountaineers up to? Ice climbing, who would have guessed that? And the kayakers? Kayaking. Everyone is just making the best out of it. And it really is something special. We enjoy the rest of our afternoon on shore and then some of us get ready to spend even more time on shore. Another camping night in best weather at Stony Point is waiting for us. This truly is a trip where one highlight follows after the other.

MOUTAINEERING
Morning: Danco Island
Ice Ice Baby …. For those of us with rigid boots who had signed up for ice climbing we had a real adventure in store. Its not often that you can go climbing on the toe of an old glacier with the sea lapping at your feet and penguins and seals swimming beneath you!

Danco Island provides an amazing location to come to grips with a first introduction to Ice Climbing. Our venue has easy to moderate to hard ice climbing opportunities and a good slope to get all of our gear and equipment up and above the tide line.

Mal and Trev had us bring all our gear up off the beach and then put on our crampons as they quickly climbed the ice themselves to set up Top Ropes. A brief introduction to how to use the Ice tools and to position our feet and we quickly got into the swing of things!

Nature was also giving us a show with constant rumblings of ice cliff avalanches on the large peaks surrounding us and the planning Mal and Trev had put into positioning our gear, equipment and ourselves showed through when a large Iceberg about 800m away calved, sending a series of 3-4 ft waves washing onshore.

Mal had us move further up the slope away from the beach but as we were already high enough we were in no additional danger – it was actually rather exciting and a good reminder of where we are and what the power of nature can show us!

Afternoon: Neko Harbour
Neko Harbor was again an ice climbing venue and our guides took us to the very toe of the old and slow moving glacier that comes down above Neko. The ice / snow quality here was a little less solid than at Danco and at times it seemed a bit more like vertical snow plowing but everybody learned how to use their ice tools and foot work to best effect so that in the end we’d all managed to get up and down the rope a number of times on 2 different ice climbs!

CAMPING Night 3 – Stony point
After our first days in Antarctica there was a lot of excitement for our third night camping at Stony Point. After scouting a prime spot, it was obvious that the weather could not have been more in our favour. We arrived at around 20.30 and immediately had a briefing regarding our location, camp set up and what to expect during the night. Everyone started working as a team to transform this remote camp spot into our home for the night.

The ship sailed out of site and left us in complete silence. After digging out our camping areas, we all crawled into our bivys for the night and tried to get some sleep so we would be as rested as possible for out 05.00 zodiac pick up. The temperature dropped low that night and from our bivys we could hear ice falls and avalanches throughout the night. A great reminder of our small place on this vast icy continent.

Day 7: Damoy Point (Dorian Bay) – Port Lockroy

Damoy Point (Dorian Bay) – Port Lockroy
Date: 04.01.2020
Position: 64º 48,4’S / 063º 30.0’ W
Wind: Calm
Weather: Partially cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

The campers at Stony point awoke to a foggy grey day with low cloud and the odd snowflake drifting down but by the time the ship reached Dorian Bay for the first landing the weather had cleared to a perfectly calm bluebird day. While most of the passengers enjoyed checking out the wildlife at Dorian Bay and a showshoe hike up to the old skiplane landing strip on Damoy point, the mountaineers were busy plugging their way up through deep soft snow towards the summit of Jabet peak. The views from the top of Jabet at 550m above sea level were fantastic and thanks to calm sunny conditions our climbers were able to spend a very happy half an hour on the summit before descending towards Port Lockroy to rejoin the ship.

The old British base and museum at Lockroy sits on a small island in sheltered bay that is ideal for kayaking. It is a highlight of the expedition for many people and our afternoon landing there was enjoyed by all. From the comical antics of gentoo penguins nesting beneath the buildings to the historic scientific equipment displayed in the museum, the souvenirs and slightly risqué pinup girls painted on cupboard doors there is something for everyone at the base. The days’ activities were followed by a celebratory barbeque on the rear deck of the ship while the campers enjoyed a night out at nearby Dorian Bay.

MOUTAINEERING
Morning: Jabet Peak
Jabet Peak is a fairly long and at times technical mountaineering route. Different conditions can make the day either faster or slower – on this journey Mal and Trev were plugging steps through mid calf to knee deep snow making for a very slow and arduous journey for the guides but a safe and comfortable journey for us in terms of not being on hard frozen surfaces with the possibility of a fall.

The deep steps gave us the confidence and ability to move on the glaciated terrain and steep climbing terrain together rather than needing be pitched. There were a number of open crevasses that we needed to cross as well as finding some covered crevasses hidden under the soft snow.

The final 50- 60m to the summit was exposed and now we needed to change into pitching with the guides climbing above us to find anchors and then belay us up safely before moving on to the next pitch.
We were rewarded with amazing views, no wind and plenty of sunshine right at the very summit. After about 20- 30 minutes of reflecting at the amazing beauty of Antarctica we began to retrace our footsteps back down the way we had come. Using a mixture of lowering and glacier travel techniques we arrived back to where our snowshoes had been left and we headed back to our pick up point.

The ship had moved from the morning to the afternoon and we now were being picked up near Port Lockroy. After a quick journey back to Plancius a few of us quickly changed out of our climbing clothing and into shore clothing and had the opportunity to visit the Historic British base, Port Lockroy. It had been a long day and we all welcomed the chance for a good meal and to reflect in the lounge on the days adventure.

CAMPING Night 4 – Damoy point
The camping night on Damoy started with beautiful weather conditions and with everyone being very positive and enthusiastic it seemed that the last camping night would become an unforgettable experience again. After all zodiacs delivered the campers ashore there was a briefing about gear and equipment. Everyone was looking at the guides building the privacy walls for the camp bathroom. We all agreed that this might just be the best view a bathroom could ever have.

Before everyone settled into their bivys, we decided to take a very cool group foto. And after that we all went to have a good night sleep. In the morning the entire team was in good spirits and broke down camp quickly and efficiently and got back to the ship for some hot coffee by 04.30am. It was a cold night, but a night that no one would ever forget.

Day 8: Peterman Island – Girard Bay (Lemaire Channel entrance)

Peterman Island – Girard Bay (Lemaire Channel entrance)
Date: 05.01.2020
Position: 65º 11.2’S / 064º 07.9’ W
Wind: NNE
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +1

After having passed through the Lemaire channel we arrived at Peterman Island. Here we got the chance to see an Adelie penguin colony. The wind made this landing quite interesting but, everybody arrived at the shore safely. It was only a short walk and we arrived at the nesting Adelie penguins. To our luck some of the chicks were not only hatched but, also had grown a lot already. The black fluffy chicks were a real treat to see. Together with the high mirador looking over the Iceberg graveyard it was a very scenic landing.

In the afternoon we went for a zodiac cruise. With high winds and rain it was one of the most challenging cruises we had so far. All the different shapes and sizes of the iceberg certainly made it worth it. There were lots of Crabeater seals laying around on the ice and some of the zodiacs even saw a Leopard seal. It was a short but, adventurous cruise.

MOUTAINEERING
Morning: Peterman Island
For such a small Island, Petermann offers a lot of adventure. Where it is positions we can see back up toward the Lemaire Passage as well further south towards where Vernadsky Station is located. The Icebergs surrounding the island are quire large and the Penguins nesting here are inquisitive and friendly.

We started our journey up a short but steep slope with our guides making yet another zig zag pathway up the slope to keep the angle low enough for us to be able to use the snowshoes we had on to best effect. On reaching the top of the ridge we took off the rope and then walked the short distance to the summit.

From here we could see the wind was picking up and the ice out around the ship was moving. Plancius had had to re-position a few times during the morning. We didn’t need to use the rope on the way back down and instead made use of gravity and soft snow to create our own slide paths back the base of the slope and from there back to the shore and an amazing journey back to the ship through the ice!
Afternoon: Hovgarrd Island

The weather was looking like it was closing in around us as we zodiac’d our way towards a small point on the NE side of Hovgaard Island. Stepping ashore we looked back at Plancius, ½ hidden in amongst the icebergs between us and the ship.

We all helped to move our shore barrels and other equipment up on the snow and then roped up for the climb up towards the short summit of Hovgaard. The wind was increasing and a series of squalls were moving down and across the sea beneath us. As the rain began to get harder we saw that Plancius had re-positioned herself on in the shelter beyond the exit of the Lemaire Passage.

We’d not quite reached out main objective but instead reached the top os a ridge with a steep drop off to the ocean below. The wind was now blowing around 30 knots and with the increasing wind, moving ice and rain that was coming and going the decision to descend was made.

Our zodiacs swiftly came to collect us again from the shore and after fairly long zodiac journey we were back again on Plancius and looking forward to dinner!

Day 9: Wailers Bay – Yankee Harbour

Wailers Bay – Yankee Harbour
Date: 06.01.2020
Position: 62º 56.3’S / 60º 21.2’ W
Wind: ENE
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

As we woke up by David’s wakeup call in the morning it was very foggy outside and we realized that the ship slowed down. The reason for that was some Orca Whales around and so we get out on the decks to spend some time watching these amazing big dolphins before breakfast. A good start in the day.

After breakfast the Expedition Team planned to land us in Whalers Bay. An old whaling station in Deception Island which is an active volcano. The ship was manoeuvred through an narrow called the Neptune´s Bellows into the Caldera. Shortly after that everybody was ready for the second last landing. Still excited we came to the gangway to go on land. We could already see the steam coming out from the hot ground and it looked a bit like a post-apocalyptic scenery after the last eruption of the volcano in the 1960s. The fog lifted slowly and we saw more of the land in the background. As we were on the beach we could feel that the water on the surface was really warm. We started to explore the two walks we were offered. Some of us went to the remains of the old whaling station. Old building, blubber tanks from the whale cooking ovens and an aircraft hangar on the far end of the beach.

Some others took the chance to stretch their legs on a nice long walk to a viewpoint called Neptune´s Window. A little gab in the mountain ridge with a beautiful view on the other side down into a bay formed by the continuous breaking waves. It was a very calm morning and everybody wandered quietly enjoying the scenery of the volcano.

After we came back to the beach almost half of us prepared for a special swim. The Polar Plunge. The Expedition Team brought towels on shore for us and so we started to get ready. It was a bit cold standing on shore but David wanted us to run inti the sea all at once and Werner got his camera ready to take some crazy images of us being brave. It was an experience of medium cold water and screaming for fun. Some of us got in a second time and we really enjoyed the cool down. We had to change quickly after the swim to get back to our ship Plancius and warm up again with a good hot cup of tea.

Everybody was really happy with this experience and it was one of the main topics during our delicious lunch.

In the afternoon we had our last landing of this voyage. A bit tired. Not only the numerous activities, from kayaking to mountaineering, but also the permanent puzzlement this amazingly beautiful region provokes starts to show, a few passengers, watching the surrounding fog and rain, decided to stay onboard for and rest. Anyway we were a bit sad because it was the last landing of a wonderful trip. But as the adage says: “Never try to predict what Antarctica may bring”. A saying that reflected reality again, today, as rain, wind and fog brought nice memories while walking Yankee Harbour a long strip of round, humid stones covered in lichen and penguin faeces.

Not very exciting? … Think again. On the far right hand side of the landing, several Weddell seals surprised walkers, immobile and well camouflaged in their spotted fur. On the left-hand side of the landing, a group of young elephant seals was basking on the sand, their parents long gone: these wieners take their time to build up the courage necessary for their first trip at sea. But despite apparent relaxed attitudes, they face one of the most dangerous times of their lives: either they decide to go for it, or they will die, starving to death. This is the harsh destiny faced by juveniles of most species in Antarctica, including Gentoo penguins, of which a small colony was to be found further up the beach. Most nests bare one or two young chicks, and amused, we watched their wobbling heads and listened to their high-pitched songs as they begged for food. Much like elephant seals, young Gentoo penguins must grow fast as in a few weeks, they will have to go at sea to survive.

After a while we went back to ship. Preparing ourselves for the Drake Passage on our way north to Ushuaia. In the evening we had a wonderful dinner and sneaked tired but very happy into our beds. What a day.

MOUNTAINEERING
Morning: Yankee Harbour
The weather and conditions at Yankee Harbor as meant that we had needed to change our plans from a climb to a view point up above the Harbour to a shorter and lower walk. Increasing rain again made travel over the terrain less than appealing so instead we headed towards the shore over the white ice (hard ice with no snow covering it ) of the slow moving old glacier.

We were shown here that even the best laid plans can go awry but that with good team work everything is able to be overcome. The guides needed to extract one of us from a small moulin in the glacier. An exciting end to our mountaineering journey on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Day 10: At sea towards Ushuaia

At sea towards Ushuaia
Date: 07.01.2020
Position: 59º 37.6’S / 062º 22.5’ W
Wind: NNW
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +9

The morning of the 7th had quite a subdued atmosphere on board, as people perused their photos and quietly chattered and reflected over what an incredible trip they had had and how lucky we had been with weather and sightings. The wildlife, glaciers, weather and personal experiences were only really just starting to filter through as our reflection on what we had just seen and done finally hit home.

We were given a number of updates about the expected weather on our transit north – it seemed that whilst the weather was not going to be the “Drake Lake” we had experienced on the way down – the full “ Drake Shake” would not reach us until we were all mostly asleep late in the evening.

The first lecture of the day was given by Andreas, which was about Glaciers.

As we sailed north, we were again joined by the Antarctic birds – using the ship for a bit of added soaring advantage as they cruise the seas between the southern tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. In some cases, it was almost like they were waving the ship goodbye.

As the seas began to slightly rise Regis gave us a presentation about Seabirds – their habits, behaviours, differences and everything that we don’t get to see about their lives underwater and away from the shore.

Our Lunch was again a seated service as the ships movement was not going to allow us to move from the Buffet to our seats with confidence. By now our mostly experienced stomachs allowed us to look with ease out of the dining Lounges window as the ship rolled and pitched her way North.

The afternoons Lecture was delivered by Mal, “Climate Change”, was all about to face the problem that is already happening, understand the consequences and find a possible solutions and how to change some things in our life style to moderate it. During the afternoon Alexis gave us a workshop about “drinking Mate”, setting an imaginary place in the middle of a camping site in the Argentinian Pampa, surrounded by fire and cattle. Was a bout the properties of the yerba mate, how to prepare the mate with right techniches and some information about gaucho’s culture and folklore. The day concluded with the usual daily recap and plans for the tomorrow from David.

After dinner Szuzsanna introduced all the hard working hotel staff that were behind the scenes making all the wonderful meals and ensuring all were passengers were taken care of.

Day 11: At sea towards Ushuaia

At sea towards Ushuaia
Date: 08.01.2020
Position: 55º 53.05’S / 065º 44.4’ W
Wind: NE
Weather: Cloudy / Misty
Air Temperature: +10

We woke to our second day on the Drake with Mist around us and Poor visibility. The 12 kts winds were still giving the boat a bit a roll but, during breakfast and by mid-morning the winds reduced down to 10 kts and it was smooth and pleasant and passengers were able to easily move around the ship, where they were all busy sharing photos.

After breakfast some of the Passenger Doctors presented their final presentations to each other in the dining room. In the lounge Koen and Regis did their presentation about penguin show, where passengers were able to learn more about them.

Lunch was severed when we were close to the Beagle Channel. The weather conditions, close to the continent were more intense as usual at Cape Horn area. As we entered an angry Beagle Chanel in which the wind blew at times at more than 15 kts. Alexis gave a presentation about The Yamanas, the people of Tierra del Fuego.

In the afternoon all available staff members worked together to return all gear to their right full places, ready for the next voyage across the Drake.

Before dinner and our last recap of the voyage, we did a champagne toast with the captain in the lounge to celebrate a great voyage. Werner created a slide show with video to show everyone a day to day reminder of the amazing sights and animals we had seen while visiting the Antarctic Peninsula.

Day 12: Ushuaia- Disembarkation

Ushuaia- Disembarkation
Date: 09.01.2020
Position: Ushuaia Port

Today we were woken by the last wake-up call from our Expedition Leader David and got ready to disembark in Ushuaia. The last 11 days have taken us on an eye-opening journey to the frozen continent and allowed us a short glimpse into an environment that most will never see. We all had slightly different experiences but whatever the memories, whether it was our first-time onboard zodiacs, hiking in rubber boots, seeing massive ice cliffs or making new friends, they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

KAYAKING
As is common at the beginning of a kayak trip, many passengers worry about timings, clothing, the perfect spot, how many layers they have to wear, if it is cold outside, or if it`s going to be wet during the kayaking experience… Many questions and nothing better than to put all your gear on and find it out by yourself.

After a safety briefing, were we explained how everything works, including clothing and operation procedures, we finally set eight groups of 14 people plus a guide, Alexis Bellezze from Argentina, that will operate during the morning and afternoon of the next days. This Antarctic Basecamp was for all of us and this time we visited different areas less exposed to the wind in the middle of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The next days will belong for us for ever. We were able to paddle in diferents places like Cuverville island, Paradise Bay, around the Argentinian Brown Station. We enjoyed the quiet silence of Danco Island with humpback wales around us, the extreme beauty of Neko Harbour in an ocean full of growlers of ice that came from the calving glaciers of one of the most overwhelming scenarios of the Antarctic landscape. We went to Damoy Point and we navigate close to the shore looking for weddel seals and Gentoo penguin chicks to finnaly finish our adventure in the afternoon at Port Lockroy bay.

We saw antarctic terns, humpback wales, crabeater seal, Weddell seals, leopard seals, cormorans, sheathbills around the huts and penguin colonies; Gentoo, Adelie and chinstrap penguins from a special spot, our quiet kayak. Kayaking means freedom of operation, silence, being closer to the water, the environment. It offers a unique perspective and the opportunity to understand from the bottom of the glaciers and cliffs the real scale of Antarctica´s mountains, glaciers and surroundings.

Word from Alexis: It was a pleasure for me, as your guide, to have the chance to introduce you to this part of the world who belong to all of us, and depend on us, our actions and their consequences. From now, think about keep this pristine continent as it is. That could be the best way to behave knowing that is HOME and its fragile and need of an eco-friendly action from humans every day.

Enjoy Life. Respect others. Leave no trace. Come back home with a good message to your friends and family… nature rules the world.




Total distance sailed on our voyage: Nautical miles: 1853

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Evgeny Levakov, Expedition Leader David Begg and all the crew and staff, we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.

Details

Tripcode: PLA26-20
Dates: 29 Dec, 2019 – 9 Jan, 2020
Duration: 11 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

Trip log video

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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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