PLA28-17, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula
19.02.2017 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
After lengthy flights for some and a hop/skip/jump for others we landed at the base of the spine of the Andes in the small city of Ushuaia, clinging to the sides of the snow-‐capped mountains surrounding the curve in the middle of the Beagle Channel. Indeed, we could see the Channel from our airplane seats. But it got even more exciting as we descended over the sparkling waters surrounding the pier where our ship would be waiting for us.
After half a day of exploring and a leisurely lunch we jumped in line, pausing briefly on the pier to take photos of the seemingly massive hull of the ship. We waited patiently in line to be welcomed aboard by our staff, were shown to our cabins -‐ home for the next 18 days -‐ and soon moved about the ship taking in the layout and finding the coffee machine and lounge. We would become intimately familiar with both in the coming days. In short order the ABs (able bodied seamen) let loose the lines and we began our sail eastward down the Beagle Channel. Almost immediately afterward we were summoned to our muster station to learn what to do in case of a ship emergency, “when we are no longer able to guarantee your safety,” according to our safety officer. We joined the others, donning thick, bright orange life vests and practiced the emergency scenario. Let us hope this is the last time we wear these!
A short while later we were invited to the Lounge to meet our Captain, whose cheery stories warmed our hearts. We couldn’t ask for a more experienced and level headed Captain…we felt we’d be in safe hands. After a few snacks and a toast to our good voyage we moved on to our first dinner, a delightful meal served by delightful and cheery wait staff.
Off to bed for a well-‐deserved rest, then spending the night getting accustomed to sleeping in a bunk and allowing the rocking of the ship to calm our nerves. In the early hours of the morning we would be out into the open waters of the Drake Passage and heading toward the Antarctic Peninsula.
Going across what is known to be the most violent peace of open water on the planet, could have been a worse experience than today, sun shine and fairly calm seas is what we are surrounded by all day. With the little wind that we are having, comes the seabirds, albatrosses, petrels in all sizes are soring the wind around the ship. Indoors the day starts with David´s voice over the PA system at 0730, followed by breakfast. In the morning Rosali has a meeting in the lounge where she tells about her speciality: The Southern Oceans, this is very interesting since we can see and feel the southern ocean all around us as the talk goes on. After Rosali´s intro to the oceans lunch is served. In the afternoon the Kayakers has a meeting with Louise about their program for the voyage, the rest of us are invited to the sun deck for a chat with Hans about the birds of the Drake passage, out there where we actually can see the birds that we are talking about.
To make us all even better prepared for our arrival in Antarctica, Tobias invites us to a lecture he call´s “An introduction to Antarctic Geology”, Antarctica is much more than ice we all now know! The day finishes off with the famous “Rubber Boot Party” on deck 3, where the shoe shop is open, so that we all can get fitted a pair of sturdy rubber boots for the landings in the far south! After the boot party, we all meet for the daily recap in the lounge where David tells us about the future plans.
David’s voice called us back from the dream world at around 7:30 in the morning and we went to the restaurant for our breakfast to gain strength for the day ahead. The Drake was calm and the weather quite enjoyable, so we spent some time outside on deck to watch the waves go passed and the occasional seabird soaring around.
At 9:30 in the morning, we joined David in the lounge, where he introduced us to the IAATO guidelines we would have to follow in Antarctica. In other words, we learned how to behave around wildlife, and how to cope with the challenging environment. This mandatory, but interesting briefing was followed by instructions about zodiac operations. We learned about
our rubber boats, how to walk down the gangway and board the zodiacs properly, how we would get ashore safely and how we would return, of course.
Equipped with a whole lot of new information, we soon proceeded to the next necessary step towards visiting Antarctica: the vacuum-‐cleaning of our outer garments in order to prevent the introduction of non-‐native species. So the big vacuuming party in the bar started, and we carefully checked and cleaned jackets, pants, gloves, hats and backpacks. This was a lot of information, so we treated ourselves to another delicious lunch prepared by our chef Gabor and his team.
When we had finished our lunch, we came by reception where our hotel team had set up the ship shop for us, where we could be souvenirs for the loved ones at home.
At around 14 :00, we heard another announcement telling us that a Humpback Whale had been sighted close to the ship. Unfortunately, it was not too cooperative and did not want to stay around, so we continued on our way to Antarctica.
At around 14 :30, Lydie called us to the lounge for her talk on ice and glaciers of Antarctica explaining to us how glaciers form, how they break and create crevasses and what the dynamics of the ice means for the climate and the earth.
Just when Kasper called his camping group for a meeting, we encountered some Humpback Whales just off Smith Island, which is part of the South Shetland Islands. They came very close to the ship, showed their flukes, slapped their pectoral fins and occasionally even showed signs of bubble-‐net-‐feeding. We enjoyed this fantastic sighting and even had the pleasure of hearing them.
We had spent quite a bit of amazing time with them before leaving them to their own path and continued our way towards our first destination in Antarctica.
Kasper resumed his meeting with his campers followed by Hans’ lecture about those large marine mammals that we can find throughout Antarctica, explaining their behaviour, but also their role and impact on the oceans and ecosystems, in addition to a short introduction in whaling and its effects on the whale populations.
After this long and exiting day, there was only one more thing awaiting us – the daily recap. David explained to us the plans for our very first day in Antarctica, followed by some more in depths explanations about whales by Cecilia complimenting Hans’ lecture.
With all this new information and new memories in our head, it was time to enjoy another delicious dinner in the restaurant.
At 07:00 the voice of the Expedition Leader David woke everybody up for the first full day in Antarctica. During the night Plancius had made its way through the Bransfield and Gerlache Straits and was nearing Cuverville island.
After the breakfast buffet, that started at 07:30, the whole ship was preparing for the first landing of this expedition. A first step on Antarctica! At 08:45 the first landing at Cuverville Island started in sunny and clam weather. As the first expedition members arrived at the beach they were greeted by Gentoo Penguins on the shore and Brown & Antarctic Skua’s flying overhead. While walking along the shoreline a few Antarctic Fur Seals were seen hauling out on the beach.
By the end of the morning everybody returned to Plancius to enjoy a lunch in the Dining Room at 12:30. In the meanwhile Plancius would make its way to Port Lockroy. The lunch was about to start when the ship was turned around by the Captain because a group of Orca’s was seen. All expedition members were able to see this group of small type B Orca’s from the outer decks as the Orca’s were feeding not far from the ship. After this fantastic observation the ship continued toward Neumayer Channel as all on board enjoyed their lunch.
Before the afternoon visit could start one of the base personnel came on board to give an introductory talk about Port Lockroy in the Lounge. At 15:30 the first expedition members landed on Port Lockroy. Here we were were able to buy souvenirs and send post postcards from the most Southern post office in the world. Those who brought there passport ashore got it stamped with the British Antarctic Territory stamp. On Port Lockroy there is also a small museum and a Gentoo Penguin colony.
Upon return to Plancius David and the Expedition team gave a Daily Briefing in the Lounge about the plans for the next day. After enjoying the dinner it was time to relax in the Lounge or on one of the decks to reflect on this great day in Antarctica.
We sailed through the Lemaire Channel and were mesmerized by the stunning scenery of the magical icy wonderland. We were impressed by the snow covered mountains and glaciers. Several crabeater seals were resting on ice flows, while some penguins swum alongside the ship. After successfully navigating through the Lemaire Channel we landed on Peterman Island. The Kayakers went kayaking and some guests joined a zodiac cruise around some icebergs that were grounded in the bay. Some of us observed a humpback whale within the bay and more Crabeater seals on ice. On the island we were greeted by lots of Gentoo and some Adelie penguins. The hut along with the cross and the tidal mark reminded us of Jean Baptiste Charcot’s second Antarctic expedition.
In the afternoon we pursued a zodiac cruise around Yalour Island. The weather conditions changed and we encountered some fog and rain, yet this gave the surrounding icebergs a mysterious atmosphere. We saw lots of icebergs of all different sizes, shapes and in different colours. The island was teaming with lots of nesting Adelie penguins. Besides, we have seen many Arctic and Antarctic terns, Skuas, Blue eyed shags and fur seals.
This lovely time will be memorized by all of us. Another beautiful day in Antarctica!
"Good morning my dear expedition friends" and the day starts with David and his wake up call ! This morning we are aiming for Almirante Brown station and our first continental landing. For 40 of us we are checking our 7th continent !
We organize two different groups and while the first one is landing the second one is zodiac cruising in the bay. Leopard seals, crab eaters and blue ice glaciers are meeting us.
Onshore, the Almirante Brown team is meeting us in the old station laboratory. Along with hundreds of Gentoo penguins !
In the afternoon our plan of going to Orne Island and George Island is transformed to a landing in Danco Island. And everyone is happy about the change as we meet good weather, more gent penguins and a fur seal colony ! Young male give us an interesting show on how to keep its territory.
At the end of the afternoon everyone gets back to the ship and enjoy a nice meal before the happy campers spend their first night outside !
Have a good night all !
While rain and drizzle, will make any cityscape look dreary, cold and uninviting, the same weather treatment in the Antarctic simply adds atmosphere to a beautiful site like Neko Harbour, where we began our morning. Surrounded by gigantic glaciers precariously positioned along the coastline, this harbor, within the larger Andvord Bay, is named after the whaling ship, Neko, which was positioned here from 1911 – 1912 and 1923 – 1924. The ship was owned by the powerful Norwegian whaling company Salveson & Son, who made a fortune from hunting seals and whales in this region. Today, it is hard to imagine that such a bloodbath could have taken place in place as peaceful as Neko Harbour. Once our zodiacs stopped running, silence was interrupted only by the cries of penguins and occasional roars from calving glaciers around the larger bay area.
The probability of encountering humpback whales in Wilhelmina Bay is higher than many other places around the Antarctic Peninsula, but no one expected that we would see as many as 20 to 25 whales as we sailed into the area! Everyone was in for a treat as we launched the zodiacs to get closer to the feeding whales in the open sea. Their exhalations could be heard clearly as they would come up for air between lunge feeding for krill. Some guests even had the pleasure of seeing whales breach clear out of the water, smashing body weights of approximately 40.000kg back through the surface with dramatic splashes all around.
To complete this fantastic zodiac cruise, we paid a visit to the nearby Foyn Harbour, named after Sven Foyn, the man who invented the very deadly exploding harpoon. Here lies the rusty wreck of the whaling ship Guvernøren, ‘The Govenor’, beached purposely in 1915 by a fast-‐acting captain, who wanted to save his men from a fire onboard. By running the ship aground at least he and his men would be on land and with other whaling ships in the vicinity, they were all rescued soon after. Today, as we pass by the wreck, where three modern sailing yachts are anchored up, Antarctic terns circle above our heads to chase us away from the site they consider theirs. Soon after the fog seems to grow thicker and it is time to return to Plancius, while we can still see her in the distance.
We woke early to David announcing our approach to Neptune’s Bellows, the narrow chasm in the crater rim of the sunken caldera of Deception Island. We gathered on the outer decks and held our breath as Captain Levakov guided us through the eastern side of the 300-‐metre gap, with Ravn Rock waiting just below the surface to founder another ship in the middle of the passage.
After passing the stern of Southern Hunter wrecked on the western beach, we turned to starboard and made our way into Whalers Bay. After a short zodiac ride, we stepped onto the volcanic ash beach and breathed in the beautiful smell of sulphur indicating the island’s on-‐going geothermal activity.
From the rusting dry dock where we landed, we had time to wander through the remains of the Norwegian whaling station, which operated on shore from 1911 to 1931. During that time, whales were harpooned at sea, floated alongside ships into Whalers Bay, winched up the slipway and flensed. We walked around the pressure cookers in which the bones, meat and entrails were boiled to extract as much oil as possible, with waste bones crushed down for fertilizer. The sheer scale of the oil tanks added to the eerie silence of the old whaling station, a sobering reminder of such a destructive era of exploitation.
The hangar beyond the whaling station was a reminder of the feat of the Australian Sir Hubert Wilkins, making history in Deception Island by becoming the first person to fly an aeroplane in Antarctica in 1928.
We walked around the buildings from the British Base B, established in 1943 as part of Operation Tabarin, conducting scientific research and reinforcing British territorial claims in Antarctica. The base was damaged beyond repair in the mudflows resulting from the volcanic eruption of February 1969, and the buildings are a fascinating insight into that devastating force of nature.
Many of us walked along the shoreline past fur seals roaring at us when coming too close and the old water boats and enjoyed stretching our legs on the way up to Neptune’s Window with its steep precipice into the ocean below.
Many brave souls jumped into the water at the end of our landing and everyone received a well-‐deserved hot chocolate when coming back on board Plancius after a raining morning. After warming up outside and inside, we prepared our cabins for the upcoming Drake and enjoyed another delicious lunch – maybe the last time for a while !?
After lunch, the ropes were set up in the lounge for our entry into the Drake Passage and we had some time to rest or continue preparing our cabins for the upcoming days. At 15:00, Louise invites us to her lecture about the whaling times including a bit of a background story of her great great grandfather, who had been a whaling manager in the Arctic first, and later also in Antarctica.
As another preparation for the Drake Passage, our hotel team invited us to the bar for a happy hour with all the drinks for half the price. The only other time that the lounge is so full of people is at our daily recaps that followed just after the happy hour with David preparing us for the Drake with a few safety announcement and explaining us the plans for the sea days. Thereafter, Tobias gave us a more detailed introduction to the geology of Deception Island followed by Louise telling us a few things about krill. Another fantastic and unfortunately last day of our time in Antarctica ended. While some of us rather chose to retire to their cabins, the others enjoyed another delicious dinner in the dining room.
What a day today, NO wake up call!
Yesterday David told us about the storm that we are heading into, and I guess that quite a few of us went to sleep yesterday with a bit of a fright of what a proper Drake passage crossing might feel! But this morning its not too bad, a gentle rolling of the ship and a bit of sunshine outside, so maybe we will be lucky and get into the lee of South America before the worst hits? In the morning Lydie had an interesting lecture about the Sea Ice Of Antarctica, where she went through how important ice is as a habitat for all kinds of animals and as a part of the planets ocean dynamic´s. The rest of the day went past with an increasing feeling of loosing balance, the weather in the Drake is showing its teeth. After lunch we reach 40 knots of wind and waves of 6-8 meters and the bridge says that we are still not at the top of the storm…many spends time out on the bridge wings and inside the bridge, to get a real look at the violent weather that this region is so famous for. The weather peaks around midnight, now with gusts of wind reaching 60 knots and waves of 10 meters, when we are hit by one wave that is a bit larger than the others, we role more than 20 degrees, no wonder that David calls everyone to the cabins and asks us to stay there and call for assistance if anything is needed, instead of having to many people out and about. So nothing else to do than go to bed and hope to sleep a bit! But after tonight, we can say that we crossed the Drake for real.
Steadily Plancius moves through a stormy Drake Passage towards Ushuaia. Over the cause of the night waves have rocked the ship. At 08:00 the first expedition members arrive in the restaurant for breakfast. It will remain a quite morning on board as the ship moves toward more sheltered waters near the South American continent.
At 16:00 Plancius arrives at Cape Hoorn and is granted the permission to sail past at 3 Nm. The waters here are calmer and all expedition members are able to enjoy the sight of the most Southern point of the Americas on the outer decks. Near the land more seabirds and some Paeles Dolphins are seen near the ship.
The calmer waters were also used to return the boots, kayak gear and settle the accounts with the hotel in preparation of dismemberment the next morning.
At 18:30 the last daily briefing is given end David sums up all that has happened during this expedition. The captain also reflected on the expedition and presented a toast to all.
At the last dinner of this expedition the hotel and kitchen staff was presented and thanked in the restaurant. As the ship sails into the night towards the Beagle Channel this expedition almost reaches its end.
THE END !
Photo credits: Tobias Brehm, Cecilia Vanham, Hans Verdaat, Lydie Lescarmontier
Sighting of Birds & Mammals seen during this tip will be uploaded to Observation.org Some pictures will be added to the sightings as well. Go online to http://antarctica.observation.org (look for user = Hans Verdaat) (create a free account to access the photo overviews)
Thanks to all !