PLA28-19, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula - Basecamp

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 17.02.2019
Position: 54°53’S / 067°42’W
Wind: SW 5
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +12

So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going 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 (literally “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 person, but even the most experienced of us must feel genuine excitement departing on a journey to the Great White Continent. Accordingly, most passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board the good ship MV Plancius, our home for this Antarctic adventure! We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition Team who directed us to reception where we met Hotel and Restaurant Managers, Zsuzsanna and Alex. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of the fabulous hotel crew. A little while after boarding we convened in the lounge on deck five to meet First Officer Francois, 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. We had been prepared for our actual safety drill and on hearing the general 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. Shortly after our first briefing we departed the jetty of Ushuaia and entered the Beagle Channel with an escort of black browed albatross. After all the safety drills were taken care of we were invited once again to the lounge where Hotel Manager Zsuzsanna gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next 11 days. We then met our Expedition Leader, Ali Liddle and the rest of the Expedition Team who will guide us in Antarctica. This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Artur Iakovlev and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chef Ralf and his 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!

Day 2: At Sea to Antarctica – Drake’s Passage

At Sea to Antarctica – Drake’s Passage
Date: 18.02.2019
Position: 56°30’S / 065°40’W
Wind: WSW 5
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +5

Ali’s first wake up call found Plancuis surrounded by the seemingly endless expanse of water called the Drake Passage. The skies were bright, and the ship was gently rolling in the 20 knots of winds we were experiencing. Despite a few guests needing a little longer to find their sea legs, the turn out for our first buffet breakfast was good and spirits were high. Seeing such excellent weather for our first day at sea, many spent the rest of the morning outside enjoying the good conditions we were blessed with. At 10:30am Martin presented his lecture on sea birds, which were not too numerous this morning because of the light winds. We learnt that species such as albatross and giant petrels are quite heavy birds which need a considerable amount of wind to take off and glide, therefore calm conditions are more likely to result in few bird sightings. Martin’s lecture was very informative and created a lot of interest amongst keen birders and generalists alike as to what we might be able to see over the forthcoming sea days but most importantly how we might be able to protect them, as many species of sea birds are severely threated. Shortly after Martin’s lecture the first whale of the voyage was spotted, a Strap-Toothed Whale. This is a medium-sized beaked whale which is most commonly found in the Southern Ocean, North of the Antarctic Convergence. Evidently, this is quite an usually sighting as it caused much excitement amongst the Expedition Team. After lunch we gathered in the lounge to hear more about the optional activities that would be offered on this ‘Basecamp’ Voyage. First to speak were Cube and John, the mountaineering guides, who spoke about some of the more technical aspects of mountaineering in Antarctica and the equipment that would be used. This was followed by Alexis who gave details of the kayaking programme; you could clearly feel his enthusiasm for paddling in polar waters. Rustyn and Laura then explained about the joys of Antarctic camping including a rundown of all the kit that would be needed to keep us warm, how to lay out the equipment, and use the ‘Loo with a View’—the chemical toilet! Martin then showed us how snowshoes would enable us to enjoy some hikes around the snowy hills and peaks on the Antarctic Peninsula- the general gist was if you can walk you can snowshoe! The final presentation was from Dorette, the onboard photography guide. She began by showing us a short film she had made of embarkation day and then explained how the onshore workshops would function and invited us to come and see her with any camera, photography, or editing questions we might have to ensure we get the best photos possible during this trip. After the briefings we were encouraged to speak to the team on a one to one basis with any questions or concerns we might have regarding the activities, but one thing was for sure, they had an action-packed adventure awaiting us! During the afternoon more and more wildlife was spotted, including some Southern Rockhopper penguins, Hourglass Dolphins and plenty of birdlife including the Black Browed and Southern Royal Albatross. After tea and cake in the lounge, we headed downstairs to collect our rubber boots ready for wet landings on shore. The staff were on hand to make sure that the system ran with the utmost efficiency, with boots of all sizes being passed along the line to ensure everyone got the correct size ready to go ashore in Antarctica. At 6:30pm, the Expedition Staff invited us to our first recap of the voyage in the lounge. Recaps, as we were to soon discover, were a great way to both look back and ahead, the staff members would give mini-talks about interesting topics, and Ali would divulge the plans for the next day. Tonight Ali duly explained there would be a day of activities ahead which would include mandatory briefings as well as the biosecurity protocol. This was followed by Sara trying to demonstrate the enormous wingspan of some of the sea birds we had been seeing with the help of a piece of string, and Joselyn gave a very interesting recap about the Antarctic convergence. After which we made our way down to dinner, full of excitement as to what the following days would bring. The day concluded properly with enjoying drinks at the bar, watching the sun go down on our first full expedition day.

Day 3: At Sea to Antarctica – Drake’s Passage

At Sea to Antarctica – Drake’s Passage
Date: 19.02.2019
Position: 61°00’S / 063°10’W
Wind: NE 2-3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

We enjoyed another gentle night of rolling on the Drake Passage, this favourable weather meant we had made very good progress over night. Ali woke us with news of the weather and after breakfast we attended the mandatory briefing about Zodiac operations so that we can be familiar with all the safety measures in place to get off the ship, on shore and back on the ship safely. Following this, Ali briefed us on IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) protocol and biosecurity, so that we will have minimal impact on the pristine environment of Antarctica. They explained how we should behave whilst in Antarctica to ensure the protection and conservation of this incredible, but very fragile environment. It is important that we follow certain protocol to ensure that we leave no trace of our visit and only take away nothing more than memories. In order to ensure we follow these protocols, we had to vacuum our outerwear; ensuring no seeds or plant material was hiding in our pockets and Velcro. After lunch, many of us headed out on deck to enjoy the birds that were following the ship whilst other took the opportunity to have a little siesta. At 3pm Laura gave a lecture about Ice and as the afternoon progressed we appropriately saw the first icebergs on the horizon, some were large tabular ones, most probably broken off from the Ross Ice Shelf, whilst others were small bergs in a variety of shapes and colours. After tea and cake Sara gave a lecture about penguins their cold-water adaptations to the Southern Ocean. After this lecture, the South Shetland Islands were now clearly in sight, we cruised through Boyd Strait, Snow Island on our port side and Smith Island to our starboard. There were numerous feeding humpback whales to be seen, blowing and fluking all around the ship, enjoying these nutrient rich waters. At 6:30 we gathered in the lounge to hear about the plans for tomorrow from Ali, this was followed by a short recap about The Antarctic Treaty given by Rustyn. After which we made our way down to dinner, full of excitement at what the following days would bring. Against the blue sky, the sun-misted silhouette of Smith Island off the stern sent us to bed with good omens for the next days.

Day 4: Orne Island / Danco Island

Orne Island / Danco Island
Date: 20.02.2019
Position: 64°40’S / 062°39’W
Wind: Variable 0-1
Weather: Calm
Air Temperature: +2

Having finally crossed the Drake Passage south, Ali woke us up early, a bit before 6:45am, for a 7:00am breakfast because today we would have our first landing! In the early hours of the morning we continued following our sailing plan, taking us along the Gerlache Strait. We cruised without problems enjoying the occasional sight of a whale, and the menacing icebergs. The Gerlache Strait is the strait that separates the Palmer Archipelago from the Antarctic Peninsula. The Belgica Expedition, under command of Lt. Adrien de Gerlache, explored the strait in January and February 1898 and first named it for their expedition ship Belgica, then was later changed to honor the commander himself. This strait is characterized by amazing views of the mountains in the peninsula as well as a variety of spectacular icebergs that drift cross its open waters. Finally, we arrived at our morning landing site Orne Island. Located at the northern end of the Errera Chanel, the name was used by Norwegian whalers and, later, by the Scottish geologist David Ferguson. On the beach, we were welcomed by fur seals proudly perched on the rock. Further up the island’s slopes, there are several colonies of Gentoo penguins where we caught our first glimpses these adorable little creatures. There was a mix of molting adults and growing chicks, with some hiding below their parent’s belly. After a short walk, we reached another part of the island where we found a small colony of chinstrap penguins and understood there can be quite a difference between the sights, sounds, and behavior of different species. Eventually a route was opened up around the top of the island so we enjoyed a different perspective of the hill-top gentoos and got a great view back across to the pink-stained George’s Point on Ronge Island, which was covered in fur seals and gentoos. The kayak group was on their way back to the ship by now and we were able to give them a wave and see them enjoying the almost flat calm waters for their morning’s paddle session. The sun was shining, the sea was calm, and we just decided to sit down and enjoy the amazing scenery that Antarctica had to offer. We watched the interaction between the penguins, but also the skuas flying around, trying to find a next meal. The time flew by and before we knew it, it was already time to return to the ship for lunch time. On the return zodiac ride there were a few crabeater seals seen next to the ship which added a bit of magic to this wonderful morning. Shortly after lunch, we arrived to our destination for the afternoon, Danco Island. Danco Island is one mile long and lies in thesSouth part of the Errera Channel, just off the west coast of Graham Land. It was originally charted by the Belgica Expedition, under command of de Gerlache (1897-1899) and named after Emile Danco, a Belgian geophysicist member of the Belgica Expedition who died on board the Belgica in the Antarctic. He was a very popular and admired scientist onboard this expedition. As usual, the first to land ashore were the members of the expedition staff, who opened the route to access the lower gentoo penguins and further on to the top of the hill where yet another colony of gentoo penguin nest. For this landing, we were using snowshoes to get up the hill. Our snowshoe guide, Martin, lead the way smoothly. The majority of us climbed up, all the way to the summit of the small mountain that rises up to 160 m above sea level (circa 525 feet). We enjoyed very nice weather, sunny blue skies, and almost no clouds above. From the top we also enjoyed the spectacular scenery of the Errera Channel. This channel was named after Leo Errera, a professor at the University of Brussels who was one of the supporters of the Belgica Expedition. From the top we could appreciate the snowcapped mountains with imposing glaciers, showing an endless collection of crevasses, seracs, and bergschrunds. A parade of icebergs showed up below in the waters of the channel. The guests who opted to stay next to the beach were also rewarded with the calm waters of the channel, as well as with the spectacular views of the icebergs and their endless blue-green colors. Certainly, these guests were not disappointed since they probably enjoyed a long and quiet moment in which they heard only the gentle splash of the waves, the distant call of gentoo penguins, or the murmur of the slight wind. Before getting back on board, we had the chance to sight few leopard and crabeater seals lying on the ice. As the Zodiacs cruised by, we were able to take a few pictures of these beautiful creatures. Like every day, today ended with the evening recap given by Ali and her team. The dinner was a buffet, because the campers had to leave at 8:15 for the first camping night of the trip. Mountaineering Our first outing in the Antarctic was to George’s Point. Snow conditions were excellent as was the weather and both groups made good progress to a col below Mt. Tennant where a number of the group made a short excursion along an airy ridge to a viewpoint overlooking Orne Island. The weather gods remained kind to us in the afternoon as both groups ascended the slopes above Kerr Point below some very impressive cliffs giving great views out over Danco and Cuverville Islands and the surrounding glaciers and icefalls. With little or no wind the groups were able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the Antarctic in lovely sunshine! Camping We camped at Kerr Point next to two Weddell seals, sleeping on the snow. The day’s spectacular weather continued as this night was not too cold and there was no wind. After Rustyn showed us how to dig our holes, we separated into six groups and started digging. It took a while, but before the light disappeared, we were all ready to go to sleep. We took a last walk around the camp site to admire the scenery and slowly made our way to our bed. During the night, there was a bit of wind blowing down from the glacier, but it shortly calmed to give us a peaceful night. Some of us slept better than others but we were all awake around 5:15 to start packing up to be ready for our 6am pick up. The first zodiac arrived promptly and we made our way back to the boat where coffee and breakfast were waiting for us.

Day 5: Neko Harbor / Stony Point

Neko Harbor / Stony Point
Date: 21.02.2019
Position: 64°45’S / 062°37’W
Wind: S 22
Weather: Clouds
Air Temperature: +1

Waking up to a beautiful sunny day was a great start to our arrival in Neko Harbour - our first continental landing! For the first time of the trip we had a bit of wind in our faces and a slightly choppy ride to shore. It was hard to believe our expedition so far had been so calm and wind-free! Once we arrived to shore, the team had already set up a walking route for us, marked by the familiar red poles, to help us navigate through the numerous, deep cut penguin highways, taking a tour through some gentoo colonies just off the beach and then had us work our way up a hill (that got more and more slippery as the day and sun gleamed on!) to a view point—which we shared with another gentoo colony; they certainly had one of the best front yard views imaginable! The icefalls back of the small bay were a most impressive backdrop, with massive chunks of hanging ice looking like they were ready to calve at any moment. As the morning progressed there were more and more cracks heard from the glacier and a few small calvings were observed off the front side. As more people arrived at the top gentoo colony, Martin led the most intrepid hikers up further, for an even more elevated view of our surroundings. Conditions were getting more and more slippery as the sun worked its magic on the snow and so everyone was watching their footing on the way back down the hill. We had plenty of time ashore so most folks seemed at one point or another to find a quiet spot in the sun and just sit and enjoy watching the Antarctica channel: gentoo family drama, skuas on the hunt, and even—within a few minutes of each other—a huge avalanche growling and tumbling and blowing down a massive cliff face followed by a much-hoped for calving off the front of the glacier. The swell created was enough to throw some small waves crashing onshore but fortunately for us and the gentoo it was nothing like the tsunami-size waves that we had been warned were possible. This, perhaps unfortunately, wasn’t a reason to delay our return to the ship and so we were finally encouraged to don our lifejackets and walk down to the water’s edge and board the zodiacs for our return to the ship. The morning’s wind had dropped and once again we were blessed with calm weather and the sun continued to shine down in all its glory. This afternoon we had the opportunity to do a split landing: we were able to both go onshore at Stony Point plus do a zodiac cruise around the point and up into this corner of Paradise Bay. Onshore, the hike up to the top viewpoint gave stunning 360° views of Paradise Bay and the impressive glacier walls all around us. Hundreds of Antarctic terns spiralled through the air as massive chucks of glacier ice fell from high cliffs, giving us all pause. The sheer size of the calving made us all realise how small we really were. The zodiac cruise was no less impressive as seemingly endless crabeater leopard seals laying on ice flows in the sun. Humpback and minke whales decided it was also a good day to play in Paradise Bay and gave us multiple shows. The blue skies, sunny day, calm waters and ice all around was a clear indication of how Paradise Bay earned its name. Kelp gulls and skuas accompanied us at every turn. It was a perfect day. Arriving back to the ship, the hotel staff had a BBQ waiting for us on the back deck in the sun. A perfect ending to a perfect day. But for some it wasn’t over yet… tonight’s campers still had one more activity to gear up for. And so, at 8:30pm those that decided to forgo an evening of drinks and dancing on the back deck were in their muck boots and waterproofs ready to board the zodiacs again to head out for their night on the ice. Mountaineering A breezy morning saw the mountaineering group heading upwards from Neko Harbour to a high point on the glacier. Cold temperatures overnight meant that underfoot surfaces were nice and solid which meant easy progress up the glacier to around 250 metres in height. We had great views out over Andvord Bay where Plancius was stationed, and across to the Graham Land plateau of the peninsula. The afternoon saw the mountaineering group heading from an unnamed point to a fore-summit of one of the bigger peaks. A little soft underfoot at first, this gradually improved as height was gained. A short steep slope gave access to the higher slopes and a great wee summit which the group decided to name Mount Tigger. Camping The end to a picture perfect day - blue skies and dead calm waters. We arrived at shore at 8:45pm. The shallow landing made for some challenging zodiac manoeuvres, but after just a couple of minutes everyone was on shore. The sunset was an amazing backdrop for a quick briefing from Rustyn and Laura on efficient snow-pit digging. Teams quickly formed and everyone pitched in and helped each other prepare their wind walls for the night. Minke whales swam through the bay as one last treat. By 10:00pm the evening light started to subside and a few stars came out alongside a full moon that seemed like a spotlight. With a large group of gentoo penguins on one side of camp, and resting crabeater seals on the other, everyone settled into their sleeping bags for the night. The night was crisp and cold and when we woke in the morning a thin layer of frost covered everyone’s bivy bags. Spot on at 6:30am the zodiacs arrived to shuttle our happy team back to Plancius. Hot coffee and breakfast awaited!

Day 6: Brown Base / Damoy Point

Brown Base / Damoy Point
Date: 22.02.2019
Position: 64°53’S / 062°54’W
Wind: S 6
Weather: Clouds
Air Temperature: +4

Yet another beautiful day in Antarctica. How lucky we are waking up with sunshine again! Once all the campers returned to the ship after a special night at Stony Point, we sailed down the bay to Brown Base, an Argentine summer station. Once there, several options were offered: landing, zodiac cruise, and kayaking. The landing took place at the reconstructed Argentine station, once partially destroyed by fire after the base doctor refused to spend another winter there and so tried to burn it down, effecting his rescue/evacuation. For the last four years the area has been cleaned and buildings repaired, with scientists carrying out a range of biological work at the station. Many guests opted for a steep hike up the snowy slope towards the higher viewpoint, passing by lovely gentoo penguins who have made the base their home. Up on top the views were impressive and far reaching, but close at hand there was also a lot to see—a surprising variety of mosses and lichens have colonized the rocks and crevices here, showing the rare green side of Antarctica’s biota. Meanwhile down below, the rest of the Plancius guests were cruising around Skontorp Cove-- observing nesting Antarctic shags, petrels, and terns in addition to treasure hunting for Weddell, crabeater, and leopard seals hauled out on the ice floes. Of course, all of this was surrounded and enhanced by the constant presence of craggy glacier faces and all manner of sparkling, wave and sun shaped icebergs. After more than an hour both groups swapped places and got to appreciate both activities and perspectives. Back at the ship everyone had a nice lunch buffet while the Plancius was sailing through the Gerlach Strait to the beautiful Neumayer Channel. Around three o’clock we arrived in the area of Damoy Point, our afternoon landing site. Again the group split into several activity groups. Except for the kayak group everyone went ashore to enjoy an afternoon on land. The artful ice structures at the beach inspired some of us to make pictures together with photography guide Dorette. A small group took snow shoes and followed the mountain guides Alistair and John up to higher slopes, but most kitted up with the snowshoes to walk a long lower loop around Damoy Point past groups of gentoo and rocky outcrops, and eventually up onto a ridge that at one time was used as a ‘ski-way’ by the British Antarctic Survey from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. BAS staff would arrive by ship and then be flown by small twin otter planes, with skis attached, down to the British Rothera Base further south. From the top of the ski-way there were stunning views all around. With the sun making the tops of the snowy peaks glow and glitter, it was really a lovely hike. Most of us ended at the blue building next to the shores of Dorian Bay. The Damoy Hut, at the bottom of the skiway hill, used to be the accommodation and refuge for passengers waiting to fly, especially if there was bad weather. This building is now maintained by the British Antarctic Heritage Trust as a small museum conserving the more modern exploration and research history of BAS. It was a lovely day on which we all enjoyed the fantastic scenery, brilliant sunshine and moving through the snow or water. Mountaineering Another suberb day saw this morning’s mountaineering group heading back to climb Mount Tigger. Overnight frost had hardened up the surfaces from the previous day which made progress easier. Again, great views from the summit soared out over Ferguson Channel and across to the bigger mountains of the Danco Coast. A great morning to be out and about. In the afternoon the mountaineers made their way up from Damoy on to the glacier and on towards Jabet Peak. Snow conditions under the col being quite firm the group opted for a high point on the shoulder of the peak with great views over Port Lockroy and the peaks of Wiencke Island before heading back down to visit the old hut in the bay. Camping With the weather holding its amazing course, we were lucky to experience another peaceful camping night under the clear sky of Antarctica. We arrived at Damoy Point a bit later than usual and so we rapidly started digging our sleeping holes. We were racing the sunlight and everyone was helping each other with digging and preparing our cozy beds for the night. Around 11:00pm, we all started to slip into our bivvy beds. We could see some of the stars in the sky and the mountains around gave us an amazing backdrop to consider as we drifted off to sleep. The night was a bit colder than the ones before, but the sleeping kit was keeping us warm. In the morning, we woke at 5:00am to start packing for our return trip to the ship, so we could begin another amazing day under Antarctica’s sun.

Day 7: Petermann Island / Port Charcot

Petermann Island / Port Charcot
Date: 23.02.2019
Position: 64°56’S / 063°40’W
Wind: Variable 1
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: 0

The morning started at 0530 as campers where picked up at Damoy Point after a cold but scenic night under the open sky. As soon as everyone was onboard we set sail towards the spectacular scenery of the Lemaire Channel, this channel cuts between the Antarctic Peninsula and Booth Island in dramatic fashion; with its jagged ridges and snow caps rising into the clouds and icebergs strewn across the channel. We made our way through and were greeted by more spectacular scenery. We arrived Petermann Island, the most southerly position for our trip. Here, we had the chance to walk and discover Gentoo and Adélie penguin colonies. Both species were raising chicks; the Adélie ones were already big and near fledging, some of them moulting before a soon departure. The short and accelerate breeding cycle for Adélie (October to February) is one of the reasons. We could stand and watch the penguins as they went about the busy process of feeding their hungry chicks. Many of the chicks were just lying in the sunshine waiting for their parents to come back from sea with food but those that were with their parents created a wonderful show as the chicks chased them around the colony, desperate for some food before they went away again. It was wonderful to watch. We also were able to enjoy a walk to the end of the island where the panorama of giant icebergs aground on the rocks stood was in contrast to the smooth snow that ran down the hill to the shore. We returned to Plancius for a lunch before heading out on our next activity.In the afternoon, we had the chance to land on Port Charcot. The island is a few km long and mainly covered by ice. One more time to watch the busy life of Gentoo penguins together with a handful of Chinstrap Penguins and one Adélie Penguin. Once back to the ship we learnt more about how to identify whales and seabirds during our daily recap and after dinner we hit Damoy Point for yet another camping night. Camping Our last night of camping was proving to be just as clear and beautiful as the first three. The skies were blue and wind free. We chose a new spot on Damoy Point with an easier zodiac landing point. We arrived at camp at 20.30pm and after our briefing everyone starting digging. A group of gentoo sat on nearby rocks and watched as we cut snow blocks and built our wind walls. Rustyn built the bathroom privacy walls, while Joselyn helped the group getting the bivys and bedding sorted. By 22.30pm the sun was getting low and the headlamps came out to assist with the final steps of our nighttime preparations. The Plancius could be seen far in the distance with its searchlights on, scanning for ice in the icy waters throughout the night. The night remained clear and calm, with night temperatures reaching -1°C. Our morning pick up was at 05.45 and back on board hot coffee and pastries waited for us as a well earned reward for our night out on the ice. Mountaineering After our spectacular sail through the Lemaire Channel the mountaineers got dropped off on Hovgaard Island. Conditions underfoot were excellent as were the weather conditions. Both groups made it to the summit with suberb views south and over to the peninsula. With a cold south wind it wasn’t a place to hang around and so we hiked back to our drop off point where Ali picked us up.

Day 8: Gerlache Strait / Orne Harbor

Gerlache Strait / Orne Harbor
Date: 24.02.2019
Position: 64°45’S / 063°18’W
Wind: W 7
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: -1

Another sunny day in Antarctica started with Ali waking us up at 7:45am. The morning was dedicated for whale watching in the Gerlache Strait. We had breakfast at 8:00 and we then headed outside to try to find the first whales. We were mainly looking for humpback whales which are the most abundant in this area. Around 9:30, a pod of humpback whales were spotted on the horizon by Martin. The boat began heading in that direction. The whales were pretty busy feeding and they were not getting distracted by Plancius. Lucky us, the ship is quiet and we can approach the whales without interrupting their activity. We had the chance to see some breathing, fluking, and fin flapping. We kept following them for a while until we got to some uncharted, shallow area where the ship was not able to safely continue. We then headed back to deeper waters of the Strait where we continued looking for other groups of whales. It did not take long before we saw a second pod. In between the whale spotting, we were just enjoying the sun, the icebergs, and the amazing scenery of the Antarctic Peninsula. What a wonderful morning! After lunch we arrived at Orne Harbour, a small cove situated at the eastern side of the Gerlache Strait dominated by Spigot Point, a sharp, ice-corniced peak 289m above sea level. Many eager guests were waiting at the gangway to explore the magnificent surroundings. As always staff was ashore first to prepare the landing site, which in this case included finding a path through a large group of playful Antarctic fur seal bulls that were frolicking around the shore by the landing site. The afternoon’s activity involved a walk up to the chinstrap penguin colony as well as a short zodiac cruise in the surrounding bay. For those spirited hikers wanting a closer encounter with chinstrap penguins up the ridge it was a fantastic experience to also enjoy the view over the Errera Channel, the Gerlache Strait, as well as Anvers and Brabant Islands in the distance. The chinstrap penguins nest on the ridge leading to Spigot Point and we had a good view of their incredibly cute and well-fed chicks. Most of the chicks were already molting and it was amazing to see them standing on a rock with feathers flying away in the breeze. From the ridge it was possible to contemplate the hard work that the penguins undertake on their feeding journeys as the highways reached all the way to the top of the ridge from the sea. Those taking the zodiac cruise were delighted with the nice colors of the mosses and lichens decorating the steep cliffs of Spigot Point as well with the different nests of birds visible from the shoreline, especially blue-eyed shags, Antarctic terns, and yet more Chinstrap penguins. Also, next to the lnading site, we had the chance to see fur seals lazing around and even a Weddell seal made a quick appearance. However, the highlight of the show was the humpback whales that were swimming in the bay. They surfaced and dove just a few meters in front of the zodiacs giving us a good view of those giant flukes. After our excursions at Orne Harbor we headed back to the ship for the usual end of the day recap and another delicious meal in the dining room. After a drink at the bar, we all went to bed dreaming of humpback whales. Mountaineering After our morning’s sail a small mountaineering group disembarked at Orne Harbour and made their way up to the col. From here we made our way round down and then up to a rocky peak above the harbour. As the group were from Estonia and today was Estonia’s national day the unnamed peak was christened Mount Talinn. From here we crossed another col before descending steeply down to the shoreline and making our way back to the original drop off point. A great wee round trip.

Day 9: Deception Island: Telefon and Whaler’s Bays

Deception Island: Telefon and Whaler’s Bays
Date: 25.02.2019
Position: 62°59’S / 060°32’W
Wind: W 15
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

Overnight we had sailed North to the South Shetland Islands, ready for our landing at Telefon Bay in Deception Island. However, our morning didn’t start as we quite anticipated… Ali woke us up much earlier than expected as Orcas had been spotted! We hurriedly dragged ourselves from our bunks, some even just with pyjamas (and good footwear of course!), and hurried out on to deck to find quite a large pod of orcas approaching the ship from the one o’clock position. The expedition team explained that these were large Type B Orcas that are most commonly found in and around the Gerlache Strait and predominately feed on seals. It was a very large group, possibly as many as 30 in total, they could be seen all around the ship. There were several Antarctic fur seals in the water close by, but they didn’t appear to be in a mood for hunting. It was fantastic to see these apex predators and highly exciting creatures at such close quarters, it was truly the perfect way to start our final day in Antarctica. Understandably there was a real buzz at breakfast, as people chatted excitedly about the morning’s encounter. As we enjoyed another fantastic buffet, the bridge team kept the ship on course towards our intended destination of Deception Island. Deception Island is in fact a caldera, the result of a volcanic eruption whereby the volcano collapsed in on itself and formed a large crater. At Deception Island part of the crater wall subsequently collapsed and let water in, so the centre of the caldera is accessible for vessels to sail into. Access is through a narrow opening in the caldera called Neptune’s Bellows which Captain Artur navigated us safely through. As we sailed across Port Foster towards Telefon Bay, located at the back of the caldera, we passed Whalers’ Bay on our right-hand side and then the Spanish research base, Gabriel de Castilla on the far left shore of Port Foster. By 9am we were in place at Telefon Bay and were shuttled ashore. For those feeling energetic Cube and Laura lead a hike up to the crater edge, where we could gain spectacular views of this moon-like scape. The formation of Telefon Bay has most recently been modified by the 1967 eruption, which significantly broadened the main valley, on either side of the valley we could still see the prominent ash cliffs that were the remnants of an older crater. For those wishing to stay at a lower level, there was a chance to wander along the black volcanic sand beach. Before heading back to the ship, the brave (or foolish) amongst us stripped off and jumped into the icy Antarctic waters for our polar plunge. A quick dash back to the ship for a warm shower and a hot drink was much needed after our morning, invigorating dip. Back on board it was time for a quick lunch whilst the ship repositioned to our afternoon landing site of Whaler’s Bay. Whaler’s Bay, was used by Norwegian whalers for shore-based whaling operations as early as 1911. The beach sand is pitch black, comprised of volcanic sand and rock. As we reached the beach, we noticed steam rising from the water’s edge—evidence of the ongoing volcanic activity and geothermal heat underneath the surface of the gravelly shore. We spent the afternoon exploring the remains of the whaling station, including the few remaining whalers’ graves in the cemetery, which was buried by an eruption in 1969. The old buildings are warped and aged, memorials to the way of life down here. Some of us walked the length of the beach past the whaling station remains towards a notch in the caldera walls called Neptune’s Window. On the way we saw lots of whale bones, remains of several water boats, and large piles of wood used to make barrels for whale oil. The short, steep hike up the walls of the caldera gave us a view ahead through Neptune’s Window towards the Antarctic peninsula, and also back over the entire caldera. Back down on the shoreline we found numerous Antarctic fur seals dotted amongst the whaling relics and a couple of gentoo penguins. It was was for sure a bitter sweet feeling leaving the shore for the final time, we were certainly going to miss Antarctica but we truly couldn’t have hoped for more, we had been blessed with wonderful weather and wildlife sightings from the very start. As we walked up the gangway for the very last time Zsuzsanna and Alex were waiting for us with a rum-infused hot chocolate, the perfect way to toast a very memorable voyage. At 4:30pm the expedition team did a trio of mini lectures in the lounge, Jos spoke about Marine Ecology, Rustyn discussed the evolution of Antarctic expedition equipment, and Laura gave a presentation about Antarctic geology. This was followed by a Happy Hour at the bar which served to fuel an already jovial atmosphere. Before we knew it, it was time for our daily recap where Ali showed us the most recent forecast for the Drake Passage, thankfully it didn’t look too bad! Jos and Sara concluded by telling us about two different citizen science projects we could get involved in when we return home, Happy Whale and Penguin Watch. After dinner, some decided to continue celebrating our successful voyage in the bar whilst others took the opportunity to get an early night after the early start.

Day 10: 60°26’S / 063°32’W

60°26’S / 063°32’W
Date: 26.02.2019
Position: 60°26’S / 063°32’W
Wind: ENE 2
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +2

After over a week of hearing our wake up call from expedition leader to prepare us for the days activities, the absence of todays wake up call gave us a well earnt opportunity to spend a little longer in bed before being called to breakfast. The ship was moving around a reasonable amount as we headed North and we had a programme of presentations scheduled from the expedition team and galley department. At 9.30 Adam presented, ‘The Quest for the South Pole’, looking at the people, motivation and events of the expeditions of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, RN and Roald Amundsen. At 11.30 Sara told us about the Humpback and Killer whales that we had seen on out trip and told us of the differences in behaviours between the different Killer Whale types and wells as how and where the whales reproduce and feed and their current status. We then enjoyed lunch and a short rest before head chef, Ralf gave his presentation in the restaurant. In this Ralf explained how provisioning a ship at sea is planned, management of the foods onboard as well as planning meals in challenging conditions. Following on the theme of food at 4.30 Martin gave us a presentation on Krill, the most important food type for Antarctica’s wildlife on which all Antarctic life is dependent. This allowed us to appreciate how different factors affect the availability of this resource and the impact that a lack of Krill can have. After a re-cap we were called to dinner and then spent the evening relaxing as the ship continued to roll amidst growing seas.

Day 11: At Sea to Ushuaia

At Sea to Ushuaia
Date: 27.02.2019
Position: 53°55’S / 064°49’W
Wind: WSW 7-8
Weather: Overcase, gale
Air Temperature: +4

The morning began slowly for some, the motion of the ocean had continued overnight and we were still rocking and rolling in our beds and along the corridors. The dining room was host to many of us, with staff on standby to help those who overestimated their ability to have two full hands of food as well as hold on to the ship as it rolled… but it generally was a quiet ship for most of the morning. Ali and Jos’s lectures were postponed to allow everyone to stay calm and settled in their cabins, but a Life in the Freezer documentary about the Arctic and Antarctic was screened in the lounge just to provide a bit of eye candy for those hardy souls that had made their way there to enjoy the wave-tossed scenery. Lunch was plated to help both the hotel staff and passengers get through the meal in the most successful way—getting the food to where it should go—on the tables and in our bellies! The afternoon brought slightly calming seas so Joselyn invited everyone to the lounge to hear about life and work with the US Antarctic Program at McMurdo and South Pole stations. It was a relief for the motion of the ship to ease somewhat—even though we couldn’t see the land (Cape Horn!) to our west it was clear we were in sheltered waters as the swell decreased, making it much easier to walk the corridors of our home sweet home Plancius. After being called to the boot room to return our trusty footwear, we began cleaning up for the Captain’s Cocktail event—a chance to toast the entire ship’s team who has kept us safe, fed, and on track during our voyage as well as get information to ease the disembarkation process tomorrow morning. We were also privilege to view the voyage movie that Dorette had been working hard to produce since day one—the memories she captured of our experience was priceless and we looked forward to receiving the email from Oceanwide about how to access online this and other keepsake files from our trip. One final, perhaps bitter, pill to take was when Zsuzsanna called us to pay our final bills at reception. But as she said, she is very fast at taking money so it was a relatively painless process and then we were free to enjoy our final meal onboard followed by celebratory drinks and conversation in the bar. Our last night onboard was a peaceful one, knowing we would meet the pilot in the early hours and come alongside the pier in Ushuaia in good time for us to disembark and move on towards our next adventures.

Day 12: Disembarkation - Ushuaia

Disembarkation - Ushuaia
Date: 28.02.2019

At 6am we approached the port of Ushauia ready to disembark for the final time, no zodiac ride ashore and a dry landing. The last 10 days have taken us on a remarkable journey to Antarctica and allowed us a glimpse of life in this remote and sometimes inhospitable place. We will all have different memories of our trip but whatever the memories, whether it was the gentoo penguins at Danco or the sight of icebergs for the first time they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Total distance sailed on our voyage: 1834 Nautical Miles Furthest South: 65°10’S / 064°07’W On behalf of everyone on board we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.

Have you been on this voyage?