PLA28-16 Trip log | Antarctica
15.02.2016 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going south of south...a long way south. But for today, we ambled about this lovely Patagonian city, savouring the local flavours and enjoying the sights.
Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 55,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Ushuaia (lit. “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue) clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting. The rugged spine of the South American Andes ends here, where two oceans meet. As could be expected from such an exposed setting, the weather has the habit of changing on a whim. However, temperatures during the long days of the austral summer are relatively mild, providing a final blanket of warmth before heading off on our adventures.
For many of us this is the start of a lifelong dream. The excitement comes in different forms for each unique person, but even the most experienced of us feels genuine excitement to depart on a journey to the Great White Continent of Antarctica. Most passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board our ship MV Plancius, home for the next 10 days.
We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition staff who sorted our luggage and sent us on board to meet Hotel and Restaurant Managers, Robert and Sava. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of our fabulous Filipino crew.
A little while after boarding we convened in the lounge on deck five to meet First Officer Jaanus, who led us through the details of the required SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) Safety and Lifeboat Drill, assisted by the crew and staff. On hearing the alarm we reconvened at the ‘muster station’, the lounge, for the mandatory safety briefing and abandon ship drill donning our huge orange life jackets that will keep us safe should the need arise. After this lifeboat drill we returned to the outer decks to watch our departure from the jetty of Ushuaia and the last of city life for a while. We entered the Beagle Channel with an escort of black browed albatross. Once we were on our way into the channel we were invited once again to the lounge to meet our Hotel Manager Robert who gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next 10 days or so. We then met our Expedition Leader, Jim Mayer and the rest of the Expedition Team who will guide us in Antarctica.
This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Alexey Nazarov and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chefs Ralf and Ivan and their galley staff. This first evening on board was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements, and settling into our cabins. In the early hours of the morning we would be out into the open waters of the Drake Passage and heading South towards Antarctica!
The day started as Jim announced it last evening. Big waves started hitting the ship at midnight as soon as we left Beagle Channel. Even though the wind was not very strong, the ship was rolling quite heavily. We struggled a bit to get some sleep but after the busy day we had, we managed to stay in bed until 7:45 am.
With a lovely wakeup call from our Expedition Leader, our first day at Drake Passage was beginning. Robert called us for breakfast and after recharging batteries with fruits and cereals, the ones that were hanging around headed to the Bridge wings to join Ab.
Birdwatching was very interesting. There were Wandering Albatrosses, Prions and Giant Petrels flying around. We stopped following the birds as soon as Ali called us to hear her lecture about Penguins!
Now that we were experts on the Antarctic Penguins, we were ready for lunch. Robert and his team took care of us at the dining room.
The first afternoon at sea began with a very interesting lecture by Christian on glaciers and ice. We learnt about glaciers in Antarctica, different kinds of ice and how the melting process could affect the sea level.
The ship wasn’t moving that much so we stayed at the library and bar sharing with our new family on board Plancius.
Close to 7:30 pm a new announcement was made on the PA system. It was Recap time!! We gathered together at the lounge to hear our plans for next day and some short topics related to our new adventure. Tobias talked about knots and the Beaufort scale and Mariella did a short introduction to the Antarctic Convergence, which we crossed during the night.
When recap was finished, we headed to the dining room for a great served dinner.
We are still rolling away through the Drake Passage and getting closer and closer to Antarctica. While some of us prefer to stay in their cabin, a few brave ones are battling the waves and join Christian in the Lounge for his history lecture. Antarctica has been a focus of exploration for centuries. Christian introduces us to this heroic time of exploration starting with explorers like James Cook, who basically kicked off the move to the far south. Sealers and Whalers followed just ten years after Cooks descriptions. We do not have much information from this time as the ships’ log books were kept secret and many things have not been written down in case the log books would fall into unwanted hands. Further explorers followed like Amundsen, Scott or Shackleton. After giving an overview throughout the entire period of exploration, Christian finishes off with the Belgian “Belgica” expedition, which travelled under the lead of Adrian de Gerlache in the area of the Antarctic Peninsula in 1898.
As we have now filled our heads with history, it was time to fill our tummies with food. Off we go, to the restaurant, for another lovely lunch prepared by our great galley team.
We need the food just as much as we need the after lunch nap to get ready for the hard part of the day: Tobias’ geology lecture on the Antarctic Peninsula. As we are rocking along through the Drake Passage, he explains us the basic concept of plate tectonics and how Antarctica moved from the North Pole to the South Pole in only 750 million years. This is followed by a step-by-step walk-through of the development and construction of the Antarctic Continent, which shows a clear division between East and West Antarctica, divided by the Transantarctic Mountains, followed by the formation of the Peninsula through accretion of several rafts of continent. As we make our way through the history of the rocks, we eventually end up in present day time with all the ice. He, therefore, gives us another brief summary of the formation of glacier ice, ice domes and sea ice.
Meanwhile, Johnny gives a lecture in the dining room for our Chinese-speaking guests about everything there is to know about penguins.
In the evening, we have the chance to see the first episode of the BBC documentary Frozen Planet, while watching the big waves outside the windows at the same time.
We then end the day with our daily re-cap in the bar, where we get the plans for the following day and some interesting information from our guide team, followed by a delicious dinner from chef Ralf. We clearly notice an increase in people coming to dinner. Not only that, but the colour of our faces look much better and there are smiles to be seen everywhere. Seems, like we developed our sea-legs at last and got used to the constant movement.
Last evening at recap, our Expedition Leader told us the plan for today and it sounded very busy. We woke up at 7.15 having ahead of us the IAATO Mandatory briefing and Zodiac Safety briefing. We heard Jim talking about regulations and safety procedures to get in and out the Zodiac and how to behave ashore. Once we were briefed, we headed to the Boot Room to pick up our rubber boots for the rest of the trip.
After trying different models and sizes, we were all ready for our first landing. Oh, wait! Jim said we had to vacuum our stuff to go ashore!! We went back to the Lounge with all our outer layers, backpacks and warm clothes and vacuum everything to avoid introducing non-native species. Now we were ready!!
Before lunch, Christian called the Kayakers for a short briefing about their activity. After gearing up everybody, Robert’s call for lunch was in the PA system again.
It was 1.30 pm when we rushed to the gangway to board the Zodiacs for the first time. Danco Island and his residents Gentoo Penguins were waiting for us. We wondered around the beach staring at the stunning landscape and the funny penguins trying to walk and jump on the rocks. We went up the hill to get an overview of the island and its surroundings. We found a big Gentoo colony full of chicks and a few Skuas patrolling the area to still some young from their parents.
On the other side of the island, resting on a nice patch of soft snow, we found a Weddell Seal. We took some pictures to send to Happy Whale when we are back at home!
When time to go to the ship had arrived, we jumped into the Zodiacs for a short cruise to see the Crabeater Seals lying on the icebergs. The size of the bergs was unbelievable and it made us feel very tiny in our small rubber boats.
The kayakers had their first outing, and indeed this was a great start for paddling the Antarctic. They made their way through icebergs in all shapes and sizes. What a beautiful and quite way to encounter the icy surroundings and the wildlife, as well. Crabeater seals were lying on the ice and did not mind the kayak presence, at all. In addition, one could see purposing penguins all around the kayaks – an unbelievable experience – especially on a calm day like this.
After a hot shower, Mariella was waiting for us at the lounge for the camping briefing. It was scheduled for tonight and we didn’t want to miss it, so even when it was a busy day, we made our way to the meeting. She showed us how to set up our sleeping kit and we also had a volunteer to try it!
We stayed there for the Daily Recap and after hearing plans for next day, dinner was being served in the dining room.
On our way to Damoy Point, the spot chosen for the overnight ashore, a pod of Orca Whales appeared and the Captain slowed down for us to enjoy the show.
Campers went to their cabins to dress warmly and headed back to the Boot Room to pick up their sleeping kit. Mariella was already waiting for them at the gangway and they all went ashore at 9.00 pm. The elected place was Damoy Point, at Dorian Bay, a beautiful island with soft snow and wildlife in the surroundings. It was a real Antarctic experience as they had snow falling during most of the night and some wind blowing from the South East.
It was close to midnight when everyone got into their bivi bags to spend the night on the ice.
For the campers ashore it was an early morning, the pickup by the zodiacs was around 05.45 am. After a cold snowy and windy night on the Antarctic ice it was time to get back on the ship take a shower and get warm again.
Because of the fog, on board the rest of the passengers woke up slowly, and started to make their way to the dining room for a nice breakfast. Slowly the wheatear improved a little bit, just enough to enjoy the fantastic scenery of the Lemaire Channel. A very narrow channel with high mountains at both sides. The ship moves on through the channel very slowly for safety, what gives everybody plenty of time to take their pictures.
After passing the channel we headed for Pleneau Island, time for a zodiac cruise and a landing. Unfortunately the wind picked up, so the zodiac cruise was cancelled but the landing on Pleneau Island was still on. Driving the zodiacs through a very scenic landscape with icebergs and high mountains al around we reached the rocky shores off the island.
Welcomed by Gentoo Penguins, Antarctic Terns and Skuas we had a nice walk up to the two Penguin colonies. The rain didn’t seem to border anybody, we were all smiling and enjoying the birds and the scenery!
Time to go back to the ship for a perfect lunch, to grab some dry clothing and make ready for yet another zodiac landing on the shores of beautiful Antarctica.
This time we landed at Port Charcot on Booth Island. After Staff put down the marker flags everybody could walk up to a Gentoo Penguin colony. Ali challenge us to find three species of Penguins in this colony and so she did! Gentoo Penguins were all over the place but she managed to find also Chinstrap and Adelie penguin. Two new species for this trip. Great!
Port Charcot is also the place where there are remains to find from Charcot’s over wintering in the winter of 1904 – 1905. We did a guided walk through the deep snow to see the stone build magnetic observatory and a navigation marker on the top of the hill.
During the recap Christian told us all about Charcot and his strange but funny ways to approach the local wildlife.
But the day is not over yet, it is time for a party! Chinese New Year, it is the year of the monkey again. It started with Chinese Dumplings for dinner, 3500 were prepared…… And they tasted good! Robbert the hotel manager on board was buying the wine so there was plenty to drink and to eat. After this special dinner the party went on in the lounge with lots of Chinese songs, later in the evening English songs took over and Vivian the Chinese escort has missed a career opportunity as a singer.
Slowly it became time to go to bed, tomorrow we will be having a full schedule again.
We hadn’t travelled very far overnight, just gently sailing up and down the ice free channel near to the islands so when Ali made the wake-up call at 07:15 the view out of our windows was very similar to the one we had seen at bed time!
After breakfast staff and crew were ready to take us ashore at Petermann Island, home to breeding Gentoo penguins and a small number of Adélie penguins as well. As we arrived at the landing bay we found ourselves landing close to a small yacht called the Johnathon which had obviously been sheltering here overnight. With our noisy boats going back and forth they soon untied their moorings and left!
On shore we were greeted in the snowy conditions by Gentoo penguins, many of them chicks just waiting for the adults to return from the sea to feed them. From the landing site Mariela had flagged a route out to the penguin colonies where we could enjoy watching the adult penguins being chased by their chicks and also enjoy the views towards the Lemaire Channel. The higher viewpoint gave us great views of the Adélie penguin chicks on the top of the rocks. Most of these had moulted their chick down and were had their adult feathers ready to go to sea to swim and feed. Some of the chicks were half and half and they were very cute with their downy tufts on their heads!
The next viewpoint up at the saddle gave us views over the ice floes down below and as the snow stopped and the clouds began to lift the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula were revealed. The view was stunning.
Back down at sea level we could walk along towards the memorial cross which was erected in 1982 after 3 British Antarctic Survey men died travelling over the sea ice. They set out on a crossing and never returned. Along this way there were plenty more penguins as well as some Southern Elephant seals lying along the shore. They were moulting after the breeding season.
This morning the kayakers did not come far, simply because there was so much to explore in a beautiful little bay in super calm conditions at Peterman Island. The icebergs here were bluer than everything we had seen before; and we saw a lot of Crabeater seals hauling out on the floes. Adélie and Gentoo penguins were jumping in and out of the water everywhere, sometimes seemingly very cautious. Soon we saw why, as a huge Leopard seal was coming up just in between our kayaks obviously checking us out; eye in eye with this huge predator, what a feeling! Later we also watched some Blue eyed shags as they were approaching their nesting site on the cliffs above us by air.
All too soon it was time to head back to the landing and back on board Plancius ready for lunch and the afternoon landing at our most southerly point at Vernadsky station.
For this landing we were divided into 3 groups so that we could visit both the station, Wordie House and go on a Zodiac cruise around the icebergs. The staff at the base were very hospitable and were more than happy to show us around their base, which was a combination of modern Ukrainian facilities and the old British style as the base used to belong to the British who sold it to the Ukrainians for £1:00 in 1995. There was time to send a postcard and buy some souvenirs before moving on to the next location at Wordie House.
This again was a British Antarctic Survey hut which was in use between 1947 and 1954 and is it now maintained by the Antarctic Heritage Trust as a museum. It was fascinating to have a look around the base and imagine what it might have been like to be based here for a year. From the hut we were able to walk to the top of the island where the views were awe-inspiring as we looked along the peninsula and out to sea where all the icebergs were grounded.
It was these icebergs that were the focus for our last activity here in the bay, a Zodiac cruise around the icebergs looking for seals and enjoying the views! With calm conditions it wasn’t at all cold and we all enjoyed seeing the Crabeater seals snoozing on the ice and photographing the blue icebergs.
The little channels and islands around the station were perfect for kayaking and indeed the whole group of 14 joined Christian today. There was so much to explore and to see in the surroundings. But the highlight was when Christian dragged all our kayaks up the leftover sea ice in a little channel, which was stable enough to give us a little «landing». Here we were standing just 10 meters from a dozen Crabeater seals and enjoyed taking pictures of this surreal happening. Soon Christian pushed us into the sea again and we were also ready for our visit at Vernadsky station!
Back on board there was no time for re-cap but there was time for an Antarctic BBQ out on aft deck 3! It wasn’t too cold and the views all around, as we sipped our Gluwein and ate steak and sausages were beautiful. It was a perfect evening for it and as our Ukrainian guests left to head back home to base we sailed north once more, through the Lemaire Channel where the mountains were clear and the views were fabulous.
What a great way to end a very special day!
“Good morning! It is 7:15 in the morning and the weather is perfect outside. We invite you to our dining room in 15 minutes to have breakfast and get ready for our Continental Landing at Neko Harbor! Good morning everyone!”, our Expedition Leader announced on the PA system. Everyone jumped out of their bunks and rushed to dining room to recharge batteries and get ready for our morning activity.
We went to the gangway to board the Zodiacs. The Expedition Staff was ready for taking us for a ride between the brash ice, towards the landing site. We discovered we have icebreaking Zodiacs! The scenery at Andvords Bay was amazing. Huge glaciers and icebergs surrounded the anchorage spot of Plancius and Gentoo Penguins gave us a great welcome at the beach.
Once we were ashore, Tobias took us for a hike up to the viewpoint. It took us close to half an hour to reach the summit but the view from up there was spectacular. We could see the penguin colonies, the active glaciers calving next to the landing site and a few snow avalanches. We were staring at the overwhelming landscape when suddenly two Minke Whales appeared and gave us a show for a few minutes.
We headed back to start another walk to the north side of the landing site. When we were half a way there, a young Leopard Seal came to say hi and quickly disappear. She was patrolling the shore line to get some breakfast.
The kayakers were enjoying a splendid morning in the ice and pushed their «little icebreakers» through some quite heavy brash ice. Amongst the calvings from the nearby glacier they also could hear a different sound. Yes, it was a Minke whale taking a tour through the bay with its typical high speed. What a sight from a tiny little kayak. After a while on the water Christian gave his group also the chance to set foot on the Antarctic continent so they could enjoy the beautiful landing site before going back to Plancius.
After spending some time taking pictures and enjoying the penguin chicks, we were ready to go back to the ship. A few brave fellows went for a swim. Yes! They did the Polar Plunge!
Back on the ship, Robert and his team were waiting for us with a lovely lunch.
At 3 pm, Sarah, one of the Lockroy’s Staff member came to visit us and gave a briefing about the Antarctic Heritage Trust Base A, Port Lockroy. She told us about their research projects and how life is when you live in an isolated place like Antarctica for 4 months in the year. Once she had finish with her stories, half of us went to visit the Base, Souvenir Shop and Post office. The other half went to Jougla Point, a spot in front of Goudier Island, to see Blue Eyed Shags, penguins and hear a bit of the Whaling Era history. We found some whale bones remaining from the beginning of the 1900’s.
We didn’t want to leave the place but it was 7:30 already and dinner was waiting for us. What a beautiful day in Antarctica we had!
The morning starts sunny and warm, sailing towards the Melchior Islands. The Melchior Islands are a group of many low, ice-covered islands lying near the center of Dallmann Bay in the Palmer Archipelago. First seen but left unnamed by a German expedition under Dallmann, 1873-74, the islands were sighted again and roughly charted by the French Antarctic Expedition under Charcot, 1903-05. Charcot named what he believed to be the largest easternmost island in the group “Ile Melchior” after Ice Admiral Melchior of the French Navy, but later surveys proved Charcot’s “Ile Melchior” to be two islands, now called Eta Island and Omega Island. The name Melchior Islands has since become established for the whole island group now described, of which Eta Island and Omega Island form the eastern part.
We set out in our zodiacs to explore the area in search for seals and other wildlife. On most of the islands, we find groups of Antarctic Fur Seals resting. Some are just lying there sleeping, while others make sure that they have enough space around themselves, fighting off any other fur seal coming too close. We also spot them on ice floes and swimming in the water. However, these are not the only animals we find. In fact, there are some Weddell Seals lying amongst the Fur Seals and other ice floes and haul-outs are crowded with Crabeater Seals. As we explore the area with the first group, a radio call comes from Christian, telling us that there are two Humpback Whales close to the ship.
We do not hesitate and make our way towards Plancius to watch those majestic animals. Even though, they are not too interested in us and rather continue feeding, heading out towards the open ocean, we get a fantastic view of them. As they are close to the ship, the second group, who is waiting for their turn, also get a chance to see them. After spending some time with theses Humpback Whales, we continue our exploration of the islands before it is time to head back to the ship to swap over the groups and to enjoy a nice warm coffee or tea on the ship. We set out with the second group to further explore the islands, passing through narrow channels, watching the seals and penguins on land and passing by the Argentinian Melchior Station that is currently manned. Just before it is time to return to Plancius, we find a Crabeater Seal, floating in the water and enjoying the sun. What a great view!
As the conditions were super calm, Christian decided to take his group out for a very last outing at the scenic Melchior Islands, and all 14 kayakers joined happily. They were enjoying great views on the different seal species and even had some fur seal playing around their kayaks. In addition, a Crabeater seal popped up several times close to them. Some humpback whales in the bay just engulfed this last paddle in the very South.
Back on the ship, we prepare ourselves for the Drake Passage and enjoy another fantastic lunch. While heading out to open waters, we find some more whales around the ship before bracing for the waves that await us. We return to the Lounge, where Ali gives her lecture entitled “Ice Maidens”, which gives us an insight into the lives of the wives of Shackleton and Scott as well as those women who first ventured to Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia. It is a fascinating talk and interesting to hear a different aspect on life in the south.
The day then finishes with our daily recap, which, today, is more extensive than normal. We learn about krill, the Antarctic Treaty, the science behind blue ice and about Humpback Whales and Orcas. With all that new knowledge, it is time for another dinner, before going to bed and having a well-deserved rest.
We woke up in a small world. Outside it was white, not from snow but fog. The ship was still rolling because of the swells. During the morning the wind picked up a little so waves were getting bigger and the movement of the ship forced some people to stay in their cabins. This morning Tobias was giving an excellent talk about Optical Phenomena’s in the Polar Regions.
After lunch the swells and waves of the Drake forced the crew to put out the ropes in the Lounge to hold on while walking around. If you see the rope coming, you know it’s going to roll!
Meanwhile from the bridge we saw some good birds again, some albatrosses, petrels and storm-petrels.
In the afternoon, Christian was given a nice talk about Hjalmar Johansen. This was the third man of Norwegian polar exploration.
And so this day was yet another day on the Drake Passage.
After a very rough sea last night, we got out of bed to have breakfast before our last day at sea.
Outside the sun was coming out between the few clouds that were still on the sky. A flock of Cormorants were flying around the ship and playing in the water. We were sailing towards Cape Horn and the visibility was good. We were excited about getting to see this famous place.
Before we were close enough to sight it, Mariella gave us a lecture on the Natives of Beagle Channel. We listened to how they migrated from the North of the Continent after crossing the Bering Strait, all the way down to the southernmost tip of South America. After the story of the first inhabitants of this area, she gave us a few tips on where to go and what to do in Ushuaia.
It was close to midday when we heard the announcement: we had Cape Horn in sight now! We ran out to take our pictures and enjoy the amazing landscape.
As we continued sailing towards Ushuaia, Robert informed us that was already lunch time. It was the last lunch of the cruise. A few sad faces were seen in the dining room. Nobody wanted the trip to be over. Jim had a great idea to cheer up everyone: he did a lecture on other trips on board our ships! Everyone listened to the different options we have up in the North and down here in Antarctica. Some of us started to make plans straight away.
To finish our Expedition Cruise, we had to return our rubber boots. The Expedition Team called us deck by deck and after half an hour we were ready to our last recap and Captain’s Cocktail.
We toasted with the Captain and the Expedition Team before dinner and then we headed to the dining room for the last dinner.
We still had a long night in front of us at the bar, with the lovely Cecille.
Today is disembarkation day in Ushuaia. Coming alongside, we were boarded by the Argentine officials who cleared our vessel and allowed us to disembark. On the pier we bade farewell to many of the friends we have come to know over the past 10 days, and had one last look at the Plancius, the ship that took us safely on such an incredible voyage from Ushuaia, across the infamous Drake Passage to Antarctica. We have camped, kayaked, mountaineered and simply enjoyed the wildlife and scenery of this very special continent and are privileged that we were able to do so. This trip will last us a lifetime – in our memories, our imaginations, and in our dreams.
Thank you all for such a wonderful voyage, for your company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!
Total distance sailed on our voyage:
Nautical miles: 1663 nm
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Nazarov, Expedition Leader Jim Mayer and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.