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PLA29-16 Trip Log | Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands and Antarctica

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 13.02.2016
Position: 054°48.52’S / 068°18’W
Wind: NW 4
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll eventually 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 our 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.

Arrival for most of us was by bus but for those arriving at the ship on foot it was a windy walk down to the end of the pier where Plancius was moored. Most passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board our ship MV Plancius, home for the next 22 days.

We were greeted at the windswept gangway by members of our Expedition staff who sorted our luggage and sent us on board to meet Hotel and Restaurant Managers, Thijs and Sava. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of our fabulous Filipino crew.

Once we had settled into our cabins a little we were invited to the Lounge by Chief 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. He outlined aspects of safety on board the ship including Man Overboard drills and how to keep ourselves safe on board a ship moving in rough seas. 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.

It was then time for the lines to be dropped and Plancius moved away from the pier to head out into the Beagle Channel. At 18:45 we convened in the lounge on deck five to meet our Hotel Manager Thijs who gave us an overview of the hotel side of Plancius explaining about the layout of the ship and about meals etc. Our final gathering was a celebratory one, a chance to meet our Captain, Alexey Nazarov and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco and formally meet the members of the Expedition team who will guide us during our voyage. 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 heading towards our first destination on this trip, the Falkland Islands.

Day 2: At Sea en-route to the Falkland Islands

At Sea en-route to the Falkland Islands
Date: 14.02.2016
Position: 054°20‘S / 064°10’W
Wind: SW 4
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

A few of the more adventurous of us were up well before the wake up call to watch the fantastic sunrise and enjoy the relatively calm conditions with around 20 knots of wind from behind. For those of us who stayed in bed we received a special treat with Jim’s wake-up call rousing us from our slumber at 07:45 and into the first full day of our journey.

We could still see land to our port and stern however as the morning progressed these bumps on the horizon slowly disappeared from sight and we found ourselves out in the vast expanse of the South Atlantic Ocean. The first few hours of the morning were spent enjoying the sea passage and trying to become familiar with some of the seabirds that were passing by the ship. There were the tiny Wilson’s storm petrels and the larger Black browed albatross as well as a few dolphins, probably Peale’s dolphins seen by the bow.
Taking advantage of the calm sea conditions members of staff invited us to the Boot Room to collect our rubber boots, essential kit on this voyage of wet landings and snow. At the same time the divers were embarking on a briefing in the dining room to ensure that they were prepared for the check-out dive which would take place during our first landing in the Falkland Islands the following day. They then spent much of the morning out on deck organising kit such as weight belt and cylinders and stowing their equipment into the Boot Room.

At 11:30 Ali gave the first instalment of her two part talk on the Falkland Islands. She outlined the history of the islands, including the Falklands conflict in 1982 and explained about life and the local economy in the islands today. A licensed squid fishery is the main income for the islands today paying for roads, health care and education amongst other things.

During the morning the clouds had dispersed and with the wind decreasing it really was turning out to be a beautiful day at sea. Following a tasty lunch there was time to enjoy the sea views from the deck and the lounge and for some a chance to take an afternoon nap, rocked by the gentle movement of the ship.

At 15:30 we were invited back to the lounge where Ali was ready to give the second part of her presentation about the Falkland Islands. In this she talked about the wildlife that we might expect to see during our landings and explained about the potential oil industry which is currently in its early stages in the islands. Finally she talked about what led her to the Falklands in the first place and what kept her there for 15 years.
There was time for a quick break before Jim gave the Zodiac safety briefing in the Lounge. It is these small rubber boats that will gets us safely from ship to shore and back again. With our first landing only hours away it was useful to learn or be reminded about how the procedures are operated on board Plancius.

Our first recap was held at 18:30 and Jim explained about the plans our first landing of the voyage at Carcass Island in the morning followed by Saunders Island in the afternoon. These landings are, as always weather dependent so fingers crossed for continued good weather. Tobias then explained about nautical miles and how sailors in the past used to calculate the speed of the ship using knots of a piece of rope hence the reason ships speed is given in knots. Carol then began what was to become a ‘Box Set’ of historical tales about the Falkland Islands, starting with the first sighting by the British captain John Davis. She did a great job of bringing the story to life. Then it was time for dinner and once again the chefs had done a great job in the galley. With the sun still shining out of a clear blue sky many of us wrapped up and headed out on deck once again to enjoy the evening light and sunset.

Day 3: Carcass Island and Saunders Island, Falkland Islands

Carcass Island and Saunders Island, Falkland Islands
Date: 15.02.2016
Position: 051°18’S 060°33’W
Wind: NW 5
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +15

After a calm night, we arrived in early morning drizzle in sight of the Falkland Island shorelines, and Plancius headed over the bay towards Carcass Island while we had our pre-landing breakfast. Then Jim announced that the Zodiacs were ready to bring us ashore and so with waterproofs on and cameras packed we boarded the boats and soon we arrived on a white sandy beach. There we already found ourselves surrounded by birdlife: cheeky ‘tussac birds’ pecked about our feet, Cobb’s wren and Kelp goose flew by and Magellanic oystercatchers called in the distance. Ali began to lead the first group of hikers over the narrow isthmus, the scent of wild celery filling the air. Very quickly we encountered our first penguins: many Magellanic penguins now had well-grown chicks (they started life in burrows dug into layers of peat), while others stood in a large group undergoing their annual moult. Shortly after we also discovered a colony of Gentoo penguins breeding in the same area.

After spending some time taking photos and watching the antics of the downy chicks we visited Leopard Beach, a superb white sandy beach where there were more Magellanic penguins on the sand and a solo Sea lion keeping an eye on us from the breakers. Then, we started a walk of almost one hour along the shore in the direction of Carcass settlement. What a surprise was waiting for us when we arrived, for inside this lodge, a large table was covered by plates of delicious home-made cakes of many different kinds. After drinking good English tea and eating a few of those cakes, it was time to embark the Zodiacs and return to Plancius. From the jetty (with a Black-capped Night heron’s nest beneath) we could see some of our Zodiacs out in the bay where the divers in our group were making their first underwater exploration.

During lunch, Captain repositioned the ship westwards to Saunders Island. Once again, we arrived on a sandy beach where we were greeted by island residents David and Biffa, along with a raucous group of Striated caracara, or ‘Johnny Rooks’ as the locals call them. Walking across ‘the Neck’, and passing a large Gentoo penguin colony, we were excited to discover to a group of about twenty King penguins. Tearing ourselves eventually away from those, we continued on a gentle slope to reach a Rockhopper penguin colony, where the adults were busily going back and forth to the sea to feed their hungry chicks. A few hundred meters beyond, another surprise awaited us: a colony of Black-browed albatross. Each pair had a single chick, which by this stage were quite large, still downy but with the adult plumage just beginning to show, sitting on top of their cylindrical pot nests while their parents were off foraging for food. There was also courtship behaviour, as adults greeted each other with a touching display of bowing, nodding and preening. A little further on there was another albatross colony, even bigger, and beyond that, a third. Here there were also many nesting Blue-eyed shags, as well as a plethora of other species from Dolphin gulls to Skuas and Turkey vultures, on the look-out for any chance for a tasty meal. There were even sightings of Commerson’s dolphins close to the shore down below. The spectacular number and variety of wildlife on this beautiful windswept island was quite overwhelming. Finally everybody went back on board on time to attend Jim’s briefing on Stanley, our goal for tomorrow.

A satisfying dinner followed, but the day was not yet over, as we were accompanied on our evening sea passage by some Sei whales, a couple of which passed very close to the ship.

Day 4: Stanley, Falkland Islands

Stanley, Falkland Islands
Date: 16.02.2016
Position: 051°41’ S / 057°51’ W
Wind: NNW 5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +16

Many of us were up before the wake-up call this morning to watch our approach to the capital of the Falkland Islands, Stanley. We sailed in past Cape Pembroke, with its distinctive black and white lighthouse standing guard at the end, past the white sands of Yorke Bay and into Port William before passing through The Narrows into Stanley Harbour.

We could see the brightly coloured buildings of Stanley stretched out along the hillside as we came into our anchorage position in front of the town. We could see the mountains of the Two Sisters, Mt Longdon and Tumbledown at the west end of town and the wreck of the Lady Elizabeth to the east.

There we found ourselves surrounded by a lot of Korean fishing vessels known as Jiggers. waiting to collect their permits for fishing inside the Falklands’ 200 mile zone.
As soon as we were at anchor staff and crew lowered the Zodiacs and as soon as we finished our breakfast we were able to go ashore and enjoy the delights that Stanley has to offer. We landed at the floating pontoon in front of the jetty centre which was the perfect place to begin our explorations and, armed with maps and details of wi-fi, we all headed off in different directions to make the most of the morning.

The weather was good this morning, perfect for a walk through the town. Even the Secretary of State for Defence was in town, just landed in a big yellow Sea-King helicopter.
Most people headed for the shops to buy some postcards and penguin souvenirs at some of the many gift shops around town while others found coffee shops and enjoyed a drink and wi-fi connection. The museum was also a popular destination to take a trip through Falkland history, in its new surroundings near the Post Office. For a small town with a population of around 2,500 people Stanley is a busy, vibrant little place with something for everyone and a real cheery atmosphere. What a privilege to be here.
During our stay in Stanley, Plancius had to bunker fuel. So she went out through The Narrows and took in about 145.000 litres.

All too soon (especially for Ali!) it was time to make our way down to the jetty to board the Zodiacs and head back to Plancius ready to begin the next leg of our voyage towards South Georgia. Just in time, as rain began to fall and the wind picked up just before the last Zodiac left the floating pontoon.

Afterwards there was time for lunch and more deck time before we were invited to the lounge for an interesting lecture by Ali, who told us about the Black-browed albatrosses and their lives on and around the islands we have just visited. Tobias also did his talk about geology of the Falkland Islands in German. Luckily for the rest of the passengers, he will do the English version later on this voyage.

For re-cap, an hour later, Jim outlined our plans for tomorrow and the rest of the journey. He then continued with the gripping story from a very important day in the history of the Falklands, the 2nd of April 1982, when the Argentine forces invaded the islands. It was a fascinating presentation with old photos and film clips, so much so that some of the passengers couldn’t wait for the rest of the story about the Falkland war in 1982. So Jim promised that part two will follow very soon. After dinner it was really a pleasant evening in the bar and an evocative ‘Story time’ from Tobias, and everybody went to bed knowing that after two coming sea days South Georgia is the next stop in this voyage!

Day 5: At Sea en-route to South Georgia

At Sea en-route to South Georgia
Date: 17.02.2016
Position: 052°16’S / 052°32’W
Wind: NW 5
Weather: Blue sky
Air Temperature: +10

Today was a mixed day of relaxation and preparation. Thankfully the weather stayed favourable with only a slight swell, shining sun and enough wind to allow the seabirds to follow the ship.
After another filling breakfast, it was time for a lecture on the geology of the Falkland Islands by Tobias in English. He introduced to us the concept of geological time and the reason for geologists never being late. He described the different rock formations building up the island through time and ended with the present day.

After hearing that the Falkland Islands belong geologically to South Africa, in response to public demand Jim walked us through an in-depth description of the Falklands War between Great Britain and Argentina.
With all this new knowledge to digest, it was time to head outside for some fresh air before giving our bellies some food to digest.

After a bit of retail therapy from the ship shop the afternoon’s activities commenced with an introduction to South Georgia by Ali, who told us about her life in South Georgia at King Edward Point. They were first-hand accounts of the islands’ wildlife, history and environmental conservation. Listening to her was almost like being there, each rolling got us a bit closer, escorted by albatrosses, petrels and prions as we kept sailing east. Then, it was time again for a mandatory briefing. We were called to the lounge for the mandatory IAATO briefing, which outlined how we were to act around wildlife and the biosecurity measures that must be employed to safeguard Antarctica and South Georgia’s native biodiversity.

We finished the lecture program with our daily recap, where we learned about the Antarctic Convergence that we would cross during the following night. It constitutes the biological boundary of Antarctica and is formed by ocean currents of different temperatures, salinity and direction of flow.

Ali and Ab then also brought the different bird species into perspective, when it comes to size. Even the tiny looking Wilson’s Storm petrels already have 40 cm wing span. So we were quite surprised to see how large the 3.5m wing span of the Wandering albatross really is. We could nearly fill the lounge with one bird.

After another delicious dinner, it was story time again. Today, Nacho explained to us his passion for juggling and being a clown. He loves to make people laugh and smile, but it needed some practice as well.

Day 6: At Sea en-route to South Georgia

At Sea en-route to South Georgia
Date: 18.02.2016
Position: 053°09’ S / 045°07’ W
Wind: NW 5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

We sailed all night long on very calm sea, keeping a good speed and without too much swell and movement. We were amazed at how calm the seas were, and used the early day for splendid bird watching, enjoying many close encounters with Wandering albatrosses, which were real highlights of the day.

Soon after breakfast, Kelvin invited us for a talk about cetaceans, describing whales, porpoises and dolphins of the region. He explained to us how baleen whales feed, and about the echolocation methods of toothed whales and dolphins. Kelvin also gave us hints on how to identify different whale species by their blow, back, dorsal fin or possibly their fluke. Now we were ready for whale watching in the Southern Ocean!

After Jim's explanations on biosecurity from the day before, we now started to inspect our outer gear and use vacuum cleaners to clean all our garments of any seed or other biological material. As we were not able to do it all at once, we resumed this operation after lunch. During this very long operation, we also watched a movie produced by the Government of South Georgia giving more information on this island and how to visit it.

During the course of the day, the wind dropped slowly and also the sea calmed a lot. There was only a small remaining swell and conditions on board were very pleasant.

In the late afternoon our route was passing by some very strange rocks, called Shag Rocks, surreal little mountain tops in the middle of the sea and home to many South Georgia shags. The sea was full of life in these waters and most of us enjoyed the sunshine out on deck. After we had already seen a couple of distant blows of Humpback whales, Kelvin suddenly spotted a couple of Southern Right whales close by the rocks. Our chief officer Jaanus took the Plancius close to these extraordinary marine mammals. They seemed to be skimming on the surface and went diving down showing their flukes a couple of times. What a sighting of these quite rare giants of the sea!

During the evening recap, Jim announced the program for the day after: two contrasting landings. One to visit a big King penguin colony on Salisbury Plain and the other to visit Prion Island, nesting site to Wandering albatross. Kelvin also talked about our encounters with the southern Right Whales earlier that evening, while Christian explained us why the early explorer James Cook was not impressed about South Georgia when he claimed it for the British Empire.

Day 7: Salisbury Plain and Prion Island, South Georgia

Salisbury Plain and Prion Island, South Georgia
Date: 19.02.2016
Position: 053°58’ S / 037°29’ W
Wind: NNW 3/4
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +14

Jim made the wake-up call at 07:15 this morning and the sun shine over our Plancius, a beautiful calm day for South Georgia – we were here at last! We could see seals in the water and birds flying all around the ship.
During breakfast Plancius approached the anchorage position in the Bay of Isles, off the beach of Salisbury Plain and we had the view of the King penguin colony ahead of us. Very soon the staff were ready for us to go ashore and enjoy our first landing in South Georgia and what a landing it turned out to be.

We were met at the beach by members of the Expedition team, King penguins, giant petrels and Fur seals, and quickly made our way to the top of the beach to leave our life jackets and get our cameras out. To begin with it was difficult to know what to photograph first with Fur seal pups, females and big breeding bulls on the beach, King penguins coming and going from the sea and the panoramic views all around. A great start.
From the landing site Ali led the way along the back of the beach making sure we avoided as many of the seals as possible and as much of the mud as possible.

She did a great job of making sure the route was safe and before too long we were at the edge of the colony and experiencing the sight, sound and smell of over 60,000 breeding pairs of King penguins and their chicks, which amounts to nearly 200,000 birds. It was certainly a busy place on a Friday morning! The chicks were very curious about the visitors to the colony and many of them came for a closer look at the edge of the tussac grass. There was adult courtship display and chick feeding taking place and as a result the sight the sound and the smell of the colony was incredible. We stayed there for a couple of hours before slowly making our way back to the landing spot, with stops along the way to enjoy the penguins in the surf and parading along the beach. What an amazing morning!

After we were all back on board, Plancius re-positioned to just outside Prion Island. We were divided into three groups for the afternoon which would involve a Zodiac cruise and a short hike along a board walk up to the incredible and almost mesmerising Wandering albatrosses. We had some of them really close by. The beach was also teeming with life: Elephant seals, Fur seals, Gentoo penguins and King penguins. The cruise was also fantastic: in the great weather we saw a few endemic species like the South Georgia pipit and South Georgia pintail. Also, we spotted some Antarctic terns, flying at low altitude, looking for some food in the kelp and all along the shore there were groups of South Georgia pintails feeding in the shallow water. Some South Georgia shags were standing on rocks by the sea, ready to grab some prey passing by.

Dinner was a lively affair with so much to talk about from our first day here in South Georgia but an early night was required in preparation for our planned early morning landing.

Day 8: Stromness and Grytviken, South Georgia.

Stromness and Grytviken, South Georgia.
Date: 20.02.2016
Position: 054°07’ S / 036°36’ W
Wind: E 3
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +6

We had all enjoyed a peaceful night on board as the ship was sitting quietly at anchor during the night. As Jim made the wake-up call it became very apparent that the glorious weather we had enjoyed yesterday was not going to be repeated today. The wind was blowing at 35 knots and with rain and low cloud the option for the morning hike over to Stromness was not going to be possible, so instead we sailed along the coast heading towards Stromness.

We arrived just after breakfast in front of the former whaling station of Stromness and strong before entering Stromness Bay, but luckily calmed down just on arrival at the anchorage position.
Despite the pouring rain the staff and crew got the Zodiac shuttle operations off to a prompt start, landing us just 200 metres to the north of the ruined buildings and relics of the old station, including a large quantity of ship propellers. Ali led our walk through the hundreds of Fur seals lying on the beach and the grass behind it, along a wide valley with its braided stream, until we reached the waterfall which Shackleton and his two exhausted companions descended during his epic journey across South Georgia in 1916, on their way to raise the alarm and secure the rescue of his men left on Elephant Island. As we made our way up the valley the skies started to brighten and the rain began to ease which was very welcome, although to have a waterfall you need some water! Tobias, Carol, Ab and Nacho joined with the rest of the walkers and it was a long group that wound their way up the valley.

Once at the waterfall there was time for some photos before Ali gave a short account of what Shackleton had achieved in crossing South Georgia from Peggotty Bluff to reach this point. The sense of relief must have been overwhelming as he looked down the valley towards Stromness whaling station.

After a while Ali led us back down the valley and then up though the lower hills for a view onto the station below. From this vantage point we could see some Elephant seals and Fur seals at the lake below, so we took a safe route down and were able to enjoy these animals at closer range before making our way back to the beach, running the gauntlet of Fur seals as we went. On the way we spotted a couple of ‘blonde’ pups and down by the propellers there were four moulting Chinstrap penguins. By this time the rain was falling heavily and so we were all very happy to board the Zodiacs and get back to the ship to dry out and enjoy a good lunch.

Once everyone was back on board, Jim explained the plans for our afternoon visit to Grytviken where we would visit Shackleton’s grave as well as the museum and Post Office, a highlight of this voyage for many.
We arrived two hours later with the sky clearing up and the wind dropping as we entered Cumberland Bay East. Captain anchored Plancius in the small cove where the former whaling station of Grytviken is located. A team from the museum came on board to explain the huge Habitat Restoration project by eradication of rats to allow birds to nest without predation.

We had a short ride to land near the cemetery where Sir Ernest Shackleton is buried, passing Fur seals on the way, and a large wallow of Elephant seals that were crowded together to have their annual moult. An unusual welcome party! At the graveside Carol led a short ceremony and read the following quotations:
For speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen; for scientific discovery give me Scott; but when all hope is lost, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton. – Raymond Priestley.
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s name will always be written in the Annals of Antarctic exploration with letters of fire. Pluck and grit can work wonders, and I know of no better example of this than what that man has accomplished. – Roald Amundsen
Then we drank a small glass of whisky for "The Boss", without forgetting to give him a good part. After this, some of us went for a guided tour of the whaling station while the rest of went free roaming through all relics of the former whaling station and enjoyed the seals along the shore and near the cemetery. During the afternoon we were able to visit a few buildings: the Church, the Post Office, the Museum and the Gallery where a replica of James Caird is on show. It is hard to believe that this small boat made the hazardous journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia in the middle of winter. The souvenir shop was a busy place to be as well, with penguins featuring on many of the gifts both for family and friends.

The weather conditions continued to be calm but sadly the mist descended and the drizzle was persistent so the best place to spend some time was in the museum and Post Office, although walking around the whaling station relics was strangely eerie in the mist and rain. You could almost imagine what it was like 100 years ago. Back on the ship we were invited for a special South Georgia dinner; a BBQ in the aft deck! Not the best conditions for it but we enjoyed good food and some warming drinks before dancing until quite late into the evening! What a great day here in South Georgia.

Day 9: Godthul and Ocean Harbour, South Georgia.

Godthul and Ocean Harbour, South Georgia.
Date: 21.02.2016
Position: 054°17’ S / 036°17’ W
Wind: NW 5
Weather: Blue sky
Air Temperature: +13

Spectacular views of glaciers thrilled the early morning observers as Plancius made her way along the coast of South Georgia towards Godthul. Some growing swell was felt on board until we turned into this ‘good haven’, where all was beautifully calm and sheltered, at least to begin with. This is one of the best anchorages in the island, and in the early years of the twentieth century it was the base for a Norwegian whaling ship, the Aviemore, with its two catcher boats the Edda and Snorre. On the shore we could see some of the remains of this century-old activity: storage tanks, metal drums and parts of old wooden ’jolly’ boats, and even countless bleached bones of whales and Elephant seals from this long-ago harvest. The welcome sunshine brought the surrounding slopes to life as the scout boat set off to prepare a landing for hikers on the hill and strollers on the beach. But surprise awaited, as the beach and the tussac-covered slopes above it were so densely packed with wildlife that a quick revision of the plan was necessary. Soon, however, the hikers were being ferried ashore, and carefully led by Ali, Tobias, Christian and Nacho up a narrow corridor to open ground above, so as to minimise any disturbance to animals during their sensitive time of moult. The walk ascended past colonies of Gentoo penguins and nesting sites of Giant petrels, ultimately to a breath-taking viewpoint of 300 meters elevation, with views over the other side into Horseshoe Bay with its sharp ridgeback formations below.

The rest of us enjoyed a leisurely and delightful Zodiac cruise around the bay, and everywhere we looked was teeming with South Georgia life in all its variety. Legions of young Fur seals were frolicking along the foreshore, while Elephant seals lay more languidly in heaps among the rocks on the beach. Gentoo penguins stood around, and the occasional King and Chinstrap penguin were spotted as well. Antarctic terns darted overhead, feeding on the sparkling surface of the water, and Kelp gulls passed by far overhead. South Georgia shags bobbed up around us and took off, feet and wings energetically flapping, towards their nesting sites on the cliffs a little further round. There we discovered the most exquisite waterfall, flanked by beds of emerald green mosses, descending from Echo Lake into the bay below, where extensive kelp beds enriched the feeding grounds. We even witnessed a Giant petrel devouring some hapless morsel as we passed by and began our return to the ship, now in changing and much windier conditions.

After lunch we sought shelter from the rough weather at Ocean Harbour. Here we found countless numbers of Fur seals around the shore and, in their midst, an adult male Elephant seal of impressive proportions. Ocean Harbour had been the site of a Norwegian whaling shore station from 1909 until 1920 and, although its buildings and fittings had been dismantled and removed to other stations, the evidence of its activities was all around: innumerable whale bones, an old steam locomotive, piles of left over coal, a few graves, and a three-masted iron ship which had run aground in 1911, now a perfect haven for South Georgia blue-eyed shags. A full moon rising as we returned to Plancius completed the atmosphere.

Day 10: Larsen Harbour and Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia.

Larsen Harbour and Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia.
Date: 22.02.2016
Position: 054°47’ S / 036°04’ W
Wind: W 7
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +5

We had made plans, good plans. Wake up call at 05.15, pastries in the lounge and a split landing and Zodiac cruise in Cooper Bay. Half the group for a walk to the Macaroni colony and half the group in the Zodiacs to cruise to a Chinstrap colony.
But at 05.00 the wind picked up to 30+ knots and it was foggy. So that meant the landing and the Zodiac cruise were off.

The best thing about it was that everybody could stay in bed until 06.30. At that time we entered Drygalski Fjord and the ship cruised deep into the glaciated heart of South Georgia. Here we could see, feel and enjoy how South Georgia really is. Rain, wind, fog but also beautiful scenery with glaciers and lots of birds flying around. By the time we came to the end of the fjord we had seen seven species of petrels out of the twelve that breed annually on the island.
After leaving the Drygalski Fjord the Plancius set off on course for the South Sandwich Islands. Open ocean again. A bit of wind and swell forced us to stay inside and hold tightly on to the ship when we moved around. For fresh air we needed to go upstairs to the bridge and get outside from there on one of the bridge wings.

This morning there was another talk from Ali, this time about our favourite subject, penguins. Despite the rough sea the lounge was filled with eager listeners, and we all enjoyed the talk and its amazing slides.
After lunch we had another two presentations in the lounge.

Guest speaker Dr. Michael Lang give us a presentation entitled “Bipolar Diving and Biodiversity”. It was nice for the non-divers on board to hear all about the safety, work methods, innovation and biodiversity under water around the both poles.
The final presentation was from Carol with an account of the discovery, exploration and exploitation of South Georgia.
As always, at the end of the day there was a recap. But today it was not just a recap, but a Super South Georgia recap with lots of information about the things we have seen and done over the past days.

Day 11: At Sea en-route to South Sandwich Islands

At Sea en-route to South Sandwich Islands
Date: 23.02.2016
Position: 056°46’ S / 028°52’ W
Wind: N 5
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +2

As we woke up in the morning, we had a full day at sea ahead of us on the way towards the South Sandwich Islands. Christian kicked off the morning program with a very interesting lecture on glaciers and ice. We learnt the difference between ice caps, glaciers and sea ice, how glaciers are formed and how they behave. He also explained to us how we can use the massive amount of ice in Antarctica as a climate archive to look back into the last several hundred thousands of years.

The talk was interrupted by the sound of the ship’s horn and an announcement by Jim, telling us that we are passing Leskov Island, the first of the 11 islands making up the South Sandwich Islands. Even our Captain was very excited and saluted the island from the bridge wing. Unfortunately, the weather was not too kind to us and covered the island in fog for most of the time. However, we did get the chance to see as the fog opened and gave sight free.

Thereafter, it was once again time to vacuum our clothes to make sure that we will not carry any seeds from South Georgia over to the South Sandwich Islands or even further to Antarctica. We took a short break to have some lunch before continuing our vacuum session to get every single Velcro clean.

It was then time for a special South Sandwich Island precap to provide the necessary information for us to be all informed about this magical place. Jim provided us with the general plan and information about the islands, while Tobias explained us the geological and volcanic activity. Carol described us the historic background and Ali showed as the possible wildlife that we may encounter.

Later in the evening, it finally was time. We arrived at Candlemas Island and the staff got ready for a possible scouting. Unfortunately, large swell and breaking waves at the coastline denied us the chance to scout and we therefore circumnavigated the island with the ship to get a first impression of the island and to see, what the other beaches look like. The island is rimmed by rocky cliffs of lava flows with the occasional boulder beach tugged in between. On the slopes of Lucifer Hill, fumarolic areas were giving off steam, leaving the ground bleached and coloured in all kind of yellow tones. After surrounding the island to look around and scout for possible landing sites for the next days, we headed on towards Saunders Island, where we would like to try our luck the following day.

As we sailed into the darkness, it was time for another lovely dinner and story time by Christian, who took us on a journey to the far north, where it is dark for half a year. Using quotes by Christiane Ritter, he explained his time in the Arctic during the dark winter time.

Day 12: South Sandwich Islands.

South Sandwich Islands.
Date: 24.02.2016
Position: 057°46’ S / 026°16’ W
Wind: W 7/8
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +6

This morning we woke up to a rugged and stormy scenery with more than 40 knots of wind; and gusts even topping 70 knots. As we were enjoying our breakfast and hoping for better weather, our guides spotted some humpback whales, and one of them was constantly breaching into the air. What a sight it was to see that massive animal flying through the air and splashing back into the sea – especially in these rough conditions!

But soon Kelvin announced an even bigger animal. Just as Carol was about to start her historic lecture, he announced a Blue whale, the biggest animal that has ever lived on earth. With so much excitement we nearly forgot about the fact that a landing did not really seem possible today. Nonetheless, our captain manoeuvred the Plancius three times into the most sheltered bay of Saunders Island, constantly assessing the conditions. It finally became clear that a landing would not feasible today, but the views to the shoreline, the storm beaches and the volcanic hills filled with wildlife were an amazing sight. We could all feel how rough and special the South Sandwich Islands really are.

As we went out of the bay for the final time, guest lecturer Amos started his talk about photography and showed us amazing pictures from wildlife encounters with the biggest and most dangerous animals of our planet. But he also got interrupted by three Blue whales swimming together, an extremely rare sight. Even Kelvin had never seen three whales of this biggest species together before. One of them had the typical colouration that gave these whales their name, while the two others were stained rather yellow and brown; probably due to diatoms on the skin.

Later in the afternoon an episode of the BBC series ‘’Frozen Planet’ was shown, and Tobias and Christian met the German speakers in the Dining room.
At the daily recap Kelvin told us more about the amazing Blue whales and Jim gave us detailed plans for the next day. The weather conditions looked really promising for a landing at the South Sandwich Islands, and in order to maximize our day we scheduled the wake-up call for 4.45 am. By that time the guides would be already out scouting the conditions!

Day 13: South Sandwich Islands.

South Sandwich Islands.
Date: 25.02.2016
Position: 056°47’ S / 026°24’ W
Wind: SE 4
Weather: Snow
Air Temperature: +2

We had an early wake-up call at 4.45 am, very exciting after a few days of waiting for the window of good weather for Saunders Island. An early scout boat was already on the water with staff aboard ready to check the conditions of the landing place to see if it was possible for us to come ashore. After a careful survey, Jim decided that, although conditions were challenging, with caution we could do it! Only six people had landed in this remote spot this year so far, and only 158 people in total this century, so what an achievement it would be to land here. We had also been given an important job to do at Saunders Island, which involved changing the batteries and SD cards in the three remote cameras around the island, to help with the study of the huge colonies of Chinstrap and Macaroni penguins that breed here.

The landing was quite dramatic and really wet. Tobias and Ab were in their dry suits, assisted by Nacho, Jim and Ali in waders, catching and turning the Zodiacs as we came surfing in on the waves, so that we could disembark safely. Once gratefully on the shore, we left our lifejackets and prepared our cameras for the amazing sights awaiting us. The beach was full of big male Fur seals and Elephant seals, and Ali expertly negotiated a route through the thronging wildlife and up the ashen slope of the volcanic island. All around were Chinstrap and some Macaroni penguins with their delightful hungry chicks, and always the Giants petrels and the skuas nearby, waiting for the moment to strike. Over one and a half million Chinstraps breed on the South Sandwich Islands, and the birds are the undisputed rulers of the beaches and the volcanic hills of these most remote islands.

After a few short hours it was time to return to our lovely home Plancius, to make our way to Candelmas Island in case there was another opportunity for a landing. But the conditions were too wild, with lively breakers around the shore on both sides of the island, so instead we had another cup of hot tea and prepared to sail south-westwards to the South Orkney Islands.

Day 14: South Sandwich Islands.

South Sandwich Islands.
Date: 26.02.2016
Position: 058°02’ S / 031°30’ W
Wind: W 3
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

It had been a calm night on board and after the excitement of the South Sandwich Islands everyone had slept well with maybe dreams of penguins, seals and smoking islands! It was a lovely morning to be at sea with only gentle rolling and although it was a little overcast the conditions out on deck were very pleasant which was just as well as during the course of the morning we spent a lot of time on deck.

At around 09:30 there was a call over the PA system that some whale blows had been seen ahead of us and they were identified as Humpback whales. Once we started looking we realized that there were whales all around so it was a case of making a gentle approach to the whales that looked to be most active, tail and fin slapping. Our first encounter with the whales was fabulous with some quite close encounters and great photo opportunities as they dived time and time again showing their tail flukes. The sound of their blows was echoing across the deck and we could see the details on the underside of their tail flukes.

After about 45 minutes the Captain set Plancius on course once again and we had just started sailing when we were approached by three more Humpback whales and what followed was the best whale encounter that many of the staff and crew had ever seen. They trio seemed curious about the ship and swam close by with occasional spy hopping from one of them as it tried to get a better look. They swam around the ship and underneath and as we leant over the rails we could feel and smell their breath as they exhaled at the surface. The sounds of their breathing was eerie but fantastic. With clear water we were able to see the whole body of the whale as they swam close by the ship. How many gigabytes of memory cards were filled with photos and video clips?
It was an amazing encounter and everyone on deck, including the Captain were buzzing with excitement as time and again the whales surfaced at the bow and near the stern of the ship. After about 45 minutes the whales began to slowly swim away and with a final dive where they all showed perfect tail flukes they disappeared beneath the waves. An incredible encounter that we will all remember for a long time to come.

After lunch the ship was quite for a few hours as many caught up on sleep or looked through the photos and videos from the morning but at 15:00 we were invited to the dining room to meet with Head Chef, Ralf Bartel, who was on hand to explain the process of ordering enough food for a 22 day trip for approximately 150 people and how to store it so that it lasts for the duration of the voyage. It was fascinating to hear the logistics of the process and the facts and figures associated with the sheer volume of food required. Who would have thought we could eat nearly 6,000 eggs?!

Our final look at South Georgia took place in the late afternoon with a screening of a documentary about how the South Georgia Heritage Trust managed to do the rat eradication in South Georgia. It was a fascinating movie which really brought to life the reality of the complex logistics involved in working in such a remote environment for long periods of time, and how the dedication and skill of all the team ensured that the project had the best chance of success.
Later in the afternoon Ali invited us to the Lounge for a charity auction in order to raise funds for the final phase of the rat eradication project, the monitoring phase which will check to ensure that there are no rats left and that no incursions have occurred in the baited areas. The presence of South Georgia pipits in all of our landing sites was certainly a very positive sign.

The items up for auction were varied and all of them generated some very competitive bidding and Ali, ably assisted by Christian, did a great job of keeping the bids coming and keeping us entertained. By the end of the auction £2,450:00 had been raised but Ali was then asked about her Rat T-shirt and how much she would be willing to auction it for. The first bid of £550:00 was good but the following bid of £1,000:00 was so much better and Ali immediately removed her T-shirt and handed it over! The final sum raised was £3,450:00 which is the equivalent of 38.3 hectares of South Georgia. A fabulous amount on a small ship in the Southern Ocean! Thank you to everyone who participated in the event!

Day 15: At sea en-route to South Orkney Islands.

At sea en-route to South Orkney Islands.
Date: 27.02.2016
Position: 059°31’ S / 038°20’ W
Wind: S 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

After a great day yesterday everybody enjoyed a slow and lazy start this morning. The ship was still going on a steady course at eleven knots towards the South Orkney Islands. Outside, the ocean was calm, with no big waves, no whales and very few birds today. But there were nice blue skies, and it was lovely to be outside in the sunshine and to catch up on some rest and peace after the activity of the last exciting days. At the horizon the first icebergs came into view, and as they drew nearer we got ready with our cameras to capture the magic of these special Antarctic sights.

The sharp-eyed observers soon realized that some of these drifting icebergs were carrying passengers. Penguins on an iceberg! We all rushed to the decks and windows to see which species they were (the birdwatchers on board were hoping for some Adélie, but that would be a treat for later in the voyage), and they all turned out to be Chinstrap penguins.

In the morning Carol gave another splendid lecture, this time about The Scotia Expedition of 1902 – 1904, ‘from one Scot to another’, a historic tale of the Scottish expedition led by William Speirs Bruce, who discovered the Scotia Arc and established a research station in the South Orkneys.

Time flies when you are having fun, whether sun bathing on the deck or listening to informative talks. Soon it was time for lunch, and afterwards in the afternoon we heard a presentation from guest speaker Michael Lang about diving at the extremes of the earth. This very interesting talk was about all the dangers people can encounter under water while diving, why they can get into trouble, and how they can minimise the risk and what to do if something goes wrong.

After our great encounter with the Humpback whales yesterday, Kelvin, Ali and Henrik presented a super talk about these magnificent animals, their biology, lifecycle and food sources, and illustrated it with great images. Everybody was still aglow with their memories of this experience.

Day 16: Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkneys

Shingle Cove, Coronation Island, South Orkneys
Date: 28.02.2016
Position: 060°39’ S / 045°32’ W
Wind: NNW 5/6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

What a fabulous morning on Coronation Island this morning. The conditions were calm as Plancius sailed into Iceberg Bay, and we were captivated by the sight of its mountainous slopes covered in snow and ice; mighty glaciers descending to the sea, and beautiful icebergs dotted about in the bay – the bay was indeed aptly named. Now we can feel that we have truly arrived in the Antarctic. After an early 6.30 am breakfast, we piled into Zodiacs to go ashore to explore Shingle Cove, a sheltered haven on the south side of the island. The usual welcoming committee of Fur seals was there to greet us, many large adult males in particular, but we are much more experienced now at avoiding them. We picked our way along the rocky shore and followed our course uphill to enjoy wonderful views over the bay. Ahead was a glacier, and Tobias and Christian carefully tested a route leading upwards, which we were all able to follow. It was exciting to stand on this huge body of ice with a lovely covering of dry powdery snow on top, and many photos were taken at the top of our first glacier hike. From here there was a sweeping panorama over the bay and its icebergs, and our little ship out in the distance.

Down below there was plenty of action taking place on the beaches. Elephant seals were gathered in numbers there, and young juvenile males were practicing the fighting skills they would need in later life – contests of strength as they reared up and clashed together like sumo wrestlers. Others were snoozing quietly either in little groups or singly, and in one spot above the shore was a heap of about a dozen adults, including quite large males, sleeping away their long moulting period. There was no sign of the Adélie penguin colony that is reputed to breed here, only single Gentoo or Chinstrap penguins standing here and there, looking rather small amongst all those seals. On the way back to the ship we had a chance to see it all again and more from the water, especially the Fur seals frolicking in the shallows around the Zodiacs, and photogenic icebergs.

More fabulous Antarctic scenery surrounded us as our ship pulled out of the bay and continued past Signy Island. A frozen waterfall hung in suspended animation from the overhanging ice cap above, and the full extent of Sunshine Glacier came into view, with its vertical ice face at the waterline up to 60 metres in height. Then we passed close to a beautiful flat-topped tabular iceberg which had broken off some ice shelf and drifted here, with a series of arches carved into its side.

A peaceful afternoon at sea followed as we continued our journey now towards Elephant Island. Carol finally managed to give her presentation on Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition, which culminated in the dramatic rescue of twenty-two men stranded for four winter months on Elephant Island. At Recap, Jim regaled us with the plans for our time in the South Shetlands and the Peninsula, and Christian told us all about the way in which individual Humpback whales (and other species) are tracked and studied, and how we can contribute to that. Finally, Catherine sent us all to bed with another Storytime.

Day 17: Cape Lookout, Elephant Island, South Shetlands

Cape Lookout, Elephant Island, South Shetlands
Date: 29.02.2016
Position: 061°18’ S / 052°55’ W
Wind: NNW 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

After another nice breakfast, we were ready for the presentation program with Tobias’ geology lecture on the Antarctic Peninsula. As we are rocking along towards Elephant Island, he explained to 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 was 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 made our way through the history of the rocks, we eventually ended up in present day and back on the water.

In the afternoon, we approached Cape Lookout on the southern end of Elephant Island. Elephant Island supports an ice dome and several glaciers. Ice cliffs fringe much of the coastline and nunataks – rocks projecting through the ice – are common. The shoreline along Cape Lookout is rugged and does not provide much shelter from oceanic swell rolling onto Elephant Island. A scout boat was sent out to check the possible landing sites. Unfortunately, the swell denied us a landing, but it was still safe enough to do a Zodiac cruise. We split the groups in two. The first group headed out on the rubber boats, while the second group waited for their turn on the cozy ship with a warm coffee at hand. As we cruised along the coastline, we were able to watch many Chinstrap penguins, but also the occasional Snowy sheathbill. Fur seals were playing in and around the water and we even managed to spot a Leopard seal patrolling the coastline for a penguin not paying enough attention. After one hour, it was time to head back towards the ship, where some challenging conditions were awaiting us at the gangway. We swapped groups and went out again for another round of cruising.

In the evening, we briefly heard the plans for the following day from Jim at Recap, before having another lovely dinner prepared by Ralph and his galley team.

Day 18: Gourdin Island & Brown Bluff

Gourdin Island & Brown Bluff
Date: 01.03.2016
Position: 063°12’ S / 057°13’ W
Wind: WNW 4
Weather: Mist/fog
Air Temperature: +2

On this day we were hoping to make a landing at last on the seventh continent. And we woke up to very Antarctic scenery, indeed. Huge icebergs and wind speeds up to 30 knots made the choice of the anchorage position for our first landing at Gourdin Island quite tricky. Once we had lowered the Zodiacs, the expedition team prepared us for a slow but steady process at the gangway, but we all made it safely to shore. The conditions were quite misty and conditions changed rapidly, but we all enjoyed the landing amongst the Chinstrap, Gentoo and finally some solitary Adélie penguins! In addition, a Leopard seal was spotted and the divers in particular had a splendid time with it underwater. On land, an obliging Weddell seal posed for photographs near the landing site.

In the early afternoon, sometimes accompanied by Minke whales, we sailed the final stretch towards the Continent itself and aimed for a landing at Brown Bluff. We passed vast glacial fronts on our way, and we understood that there are not many places where the coast can be accessed without climbing huge ice cliffs.

Finally, we landed in relatively calm and sunny conditions and had splendid conditions onshore. We visited some more Gentoo and Adélie penguins, but we especially enjoyed the scenery surrounding us.
The cliffs above the landing were of volcanic origin. Once, a volcano formed here in shallow seas and it later erupted below an icecap. We could see the volcanic bombs within the brown ashes and blackish basaltic rocks which were everywhere. In addition, there were white granitic boulders on the beach which had been transported by glaciers.

We could enjoy the penguins at the beach, but we could also walk over the glacial moraine at the side of the landing for a second chance to step onto a glacier. The views were just magnificent. But suddenly the captain of the Plancius ordered us all back home towards the ship because the wind speed and wave action was increasing out in the bay. So, we had to abandon the landing and all moved back towards the landing site. The weather was still splendid on shore, but once we came near to our mothership we understood why we had been called back. The gangway was no longer easy to manage. Back on board we heard that unfortunately not everybody had made it to shore because of the sudden deterioration of the weather conditions, but our expedition team would try the next day to give every single one of us a landing on the Antarctic Continent!

We finished the superb day with a nice little party in the lounge!

Day 19: Hope Bay and Paulet Island.

Hope Bay and Paulet Island.
Date: 02.03.2016
Position: 063°23’S / 057°01’W
Wind: Light air
Weather: Blue sky
Air Temperature: +7

We woke up in the morning at 7.15 am with the sun shining over the Plancius. It was a beautifully quiet and sunny morning, the best day so far. The water looked flat like oil so we wasted no time in jumping into the Zodiacs right after breakfast for a landing in Hope Bay. In the distance we could see the aerials and rooftops of the Argentinian base Esperanza further to the south-east. Near the shore, our landing place was surrounded by many icebergs which had calved from nearby glacier faces, and some ice floes with Crabeater seals resting on them. It was wonderful to cruise around them in the Zodiacs, cameras blazing. But it was no less appealing on shore as everywhere there were Adélie and Gentoo penguins, skuas and Antarctic shags all enjoying the good weather conditions. Our divers also had a great time with the icebergs near to the shore.

No sooner was lunch over than a call came from the Bridge alerting us to some blows in the distance. It did not take long for everybody to rush out onto the foredeck. Orcas! At least twenty of them could be seen close to the vessel and thanks to the skill of our captain Alexey we got great views of these wonderful mammals along with a Minke whale and Fur seals playing around them. Kelvin estimated that there were over 120 Orcas in the waters around us.

But the day was not yet over as we had another landing later in the afternoon at Paulet Island. After sailing through the fog Plancius set anchor close to our landing spot where a colony of Antarctic shags, a few remaining Adélie penguins and some Weddell seals waited for us in the slanting sunshine. The divers played with icebergs while the rest of us walked up see to a lagoon, and the remains of a historic stone hut built by C.A. Larsen and his men, who were marooned there for more than nine months in 1903. They were part of the Swedish Nordenskjöld expedition, and thoughts of their valiant survival story made us glad of our comfortable home on the Plancius.

Day 20: Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands

Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands
Date: 03.03.2016
Position: 062°36’S / 059°36’W
Wind: W 4
Weather: Overcast/rain
Air Temperature: +2

During the night and the early hours of the morning the wind had been blowing at over 40 knots but as we made our way to Half Moon Island the winds began to decrease and, although it was a little grey and overcast, conditions were ok for a landing. Once the anchor was down the Zodiacs were lowered and staff went ashore at three locations around the bay in order to maximise our activity options here.

Ali and Ab met the hiking group and were later joined by Christian to take a walk up to the summit of the island. It was a little damp and breezy on the top but the views over Half Moon Island and Livingston Island in the background were beautiful and we lingered at the top for a while enjoying the view and the Skuas that were giving us an amazing aerial display. On the way down there was time for some ‘butt sliding’ on the snowy slopes before making our way along the beach.

Other passengers were taken directly to Camara Base where they were given a very warm welcome by the Argentinean base personnel. There was a chance to buy souvenirs, have a coffee and get passports stamped with an Antarctic/Argentinean stamp. From here we could free roam around the bay to the Chinstrap colonies where the last of the passengers had been dropped off for their penguin time. The rock formations by the penguin colonies are extraordinary and resemble the man-made Moai statues on Easter Island. The Chinstrap penguins were looking a little worse for wear as they stood enduring their annual moult, a process which takes around three weeks. There were still some penguins coming and going from the hilltop colonies so there was plenty for everyone to watch and enjoy.

All along the shore there were young male Fur seals playing in the surf and on the snow. They seemed to take great pleasure in scaring passengers as they walked past but with our South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands experience no one was too worried by their fake charges!

The pick-up point for the last Zodiac back to the ship was by the penguin colony and before going back to the ship we had a couple of intrepid Polar Swimmers who took to the water without the use of dry suits and fully experienced the near freezing sea conditions!

All too soon it was time to head back to the ship and say goodbye to Antarctica as we sailed away from the South Shetland Islands and out into the Drake Passage. We’ve had a wonderful few days around the frozen continent.
During the afternoon Amos was on hand in the dining room to continue his presentation that he began many days ago until he was interrupted by Blue whales. His presentation included many fantastic photos both above and below the waves and in fact he took a little longer than expected and it meant that Jim’s presentation was postponed until tomorrow.

Before dinner we were invited to the Lounge for re-cap where Ali and Carol talked about Weddell seals and Kelvin talked about Killer whales, explaining about the different ‘Types’ which are found here in Antarctica. We were incredibly lucky to have such and an amazing encounter with these big black and white dolphins.

After dinner it was quiet in the bar as many people went to bed as the motion of the ship became increasingly pronounced.

Day 21: At sea in the Drake Passage

At sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 04.03.2016
Position: 059°42’S / 062°18’W
Wind: WNW 6
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

Now we are on our homeward journey, and we woke today to a fairly quiet, misty morning, winds of 22 knots and a reasonable swell, with the Plancius making excellent progress across the Drake Passage towards the shelter of the Beagle channel. An occasional Black-browed albatross hovered around the ship as the visibility gradually improved. The first highlight of the day was a thought-provoking talk from Ali about ‘Ice Maidens’- the story of women in Antarctica, from the long-suffering wives of the Heroic Age, to the intrepid female explorers of today.

The weather improved during the course of the day, resulting in light broken cloud interspersed with blue sky. It was a great day for the bird watchers because, in addition to the usual Cape petrels and other seabirds, there were good sightings of Grey-headed Albatross, Sooty Albatross, and not one but two different species of Diving petrels.

Fortified by a delicious empanada lunch, our leisurely sea-day afternoon was continued, for the German speakers, by stories of Antarctic history told by Christian. Then the baton was taken up by Jim, who presented a talk describing the inspiration for his book on Shackleton ‘A life in poetry’, including his discovery of the explorer’s final written words: “In the darkening twilight, a lone star hovered gem-like above the bay”. This was followed by the opportunity for book signing by the author.

From the sublime to something more frivolous, and the day’s activities concluded with an Antarctic quiz! We all got ourselves into teams of half a dozen or so, and the award for the most inventive name went to the ‘Leaky Zippers”. Under Ali’s authoritative direction as quizmaster, there were questions on the Falklands, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands, South Orkneys, the Peninsula, and a killer ‘random’ round, and it was a great way to recall the wonderful experiences we had enjoyed over the last twenty-one days.

Day 22: At sea in the Drake Passage

At sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 05.03.2016
Position: 055°40’S / 065°55’W
Wind: NW 6
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +8

This was our last full day on Plancius, and sea conditions were improving, as careful planning meant we had avoided the worst of the rough weather. Early risers noticed that dawn came later now that we are returning to more northerly latitudes, scanning the horizon for our first glimpse of South America, and the changing species of seabirds and mammals that are found there.

Excitement grew as the famous landmark of Cape Horn was sighted in the distance just after breakfast at 9 am, and the waves calmed noticeably as we proceeded into the shelter of the surrounding islands and the entrance to the Beagle Channel.
During the morning Tobias gave us a lecture on optical phenomena in the polar regions, dazzling us with explanations of sun dogs and ice halos. As we continued sailing towards Ushuaia, some had fleeting glimpses of the first dolphins of the day, until Thijs informed us that it was lunch time, the last lunch of the cruise, sadly. But more cetaceans were soon to follow, as we got great sightings of Dusky dolphins bow-riding and riding our wake at the stern, and later on sightings of blows of Sei whales, demonstrating that the Beagle channel is alive with wildlife.

Soon we had arrived at the Pilot Station in the Beagle channel, and we watched with rapt attention as the pilot boat drew alongside and the Argentinian pilot jumped on board to guide us into port at Ushuaia.
Our last duty was to return our rubber boots to the Boot Room, called deck by deck by the expedition team. Then Jim, Christian and Ali presented some other trips on board our ships, up in the North and down here in Antarctica. Some of us started to make plans straight away. Afterwards the divers showed us some highly entertaining footage of their underwater activities during the expedition.

Finally we gathered for Captain’s Cocktails, toasting with the Captain and the Expedition Team before heading to the dining room for the last dinner.
And there was still time for a convivial evening at the bar, with the lovely Cecille.

Day 23: Disembarkation in Ushuaia

Disembarkation in Ushuaia
Date: 06.03.2016

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 23 days, and had one last look at the Plancius, the ship that took us safely on such an incredible voyage from Ushuaia to the Falklands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands and Antarctica. 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: 4041 nm
Kilometres: 7484 km

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.


Tripcode: PLA29-16
Dates: 13 Feb – 6 Mar, 2016
Duration: 22 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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The ice-strengthened vessel Plancius is an ideal vessel for polar expedition cruises in the Arctic and Antarctic.

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