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PLA29-18, trip log, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 17.02.2018
Position: 042°45’S / 065°01’W

So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going south of south...a long way south. But for today, we ambled about this lovely Patagonian city, savouring the local flavours and enjoying the sights.

Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. During the summer this rapidly growing frontier town of 55,000 bustles with adventurous travellers. The duty-free port flourishes with tourism but also thrives on a sizeable crab fishery and a burgeoning electronics industry. Ushuaia (lit. “bay that penetrates to the west” in the indigenous Yaghan tongue) clearly benefits from its magnificent, yet remote setting. The rugged spine of the South American Andes ends here, where two oceans meet. As could be expected from such an exposed setting, the weather has the habit of changing on a whim. However, temperatures during the long days of the austral summer are relatively mild, providing a final blanket of warmth before heading off on our adventures.

For many of us this is the start of a lifelong dream. The excitement comes in different forms for each unique person, but even the most experienced of us feels genuine excitement to depart on a journey to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica. Most passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board our ship MV Plancius, home for the next 19 days.

We were greeted at the gangway by members of our expedition staff, having just returned from Antarctica that morning. Our luggage was already on board so after a short wait on the wharf we made our way up the gangway and onto the good ship Plancius. We were met at reception by Sebastian and Michael, our hotel and restaurant managers. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of our fabulous Filipino crew.

A little while after boarding we convened in the lounge on deck five to meet First Officer Jaanus, who led us through the details of the required SOLAS (Safety of Life At Sea) Safety and Lifeboat Drill, assisted by the crew and staff. On hearing the alarm we reconvened at the ‘muster station’, the lounge, for the mandatory safety briefing and abandon ship drill donning our huge orange life jackets that will keep us safe should the need arise. After this lifeboat drill we returned to the outer decks to watch our departure from the jetty of Ushuaia and the last of city life for a while. We entered the Beagle Channel with an escort of black browed albatross. Once we were on our way into the channel we were invited once again to the lounge to meet our expedition leader, Andrew Bishop and hotel manager Sebastian who gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next few weeks. We then met the rest of the expedition team, an international bunch who will guide during our voyage, driving us ashore, giving lectures and ensuring we get the best possible experience during our trip.

This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Alexey Nazarov, and toast our voyage with a glass of prosecco. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chef Heinz and Sean and their galley staff. In the early hours of the morning we would be out into open waters and heading north-eastwards towards the Falkland Islands.

Day 2: At Sea Sailing to the Falkland Islands

At Sea Sailing to the Falkland Islands
Date: 18.02.2018
Position: 054°32’ S / 064°42’ W
Wind: E 10 knots
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +9

This morning was our first wake-up call of the voyage and Andrew woke us up with news of wind and weather. There was around 10 knots of wind blowing with overcast skies overhead. For some of us the smell of food was a perfect start to the day but for others it was all a bit too much for the seasick body and escaping back to the cabin was the best option.

After breakfast some of us headed out on deck for some fresh air, and enjoy the birds that were flying around the ship and gathering in large numbers behind the ship as we sailed towards the Falkland Islands. The most common species was the giant petrel, both southern and northern subspecies but there were also black browed albatross, royal albatross, and several South American sea lions put on an appearance. Birds habitually follow ships at sea looking for food brought up to the surface by the wake but also to enjoy the uplift created by our passing. Traditionally they would follow fishing vessels for discarded food but that is not on offer from Plancius of course!

At 09.45 we were invited to the lounge for the mandatory Zodiac briefing from Andrew, which gave an overview of our Zodiac operations and how we should embark and disembark the small rubber boats both at the ship and shore. At 10:30 we were then invited to the boot room deck by deck to collect our rubber boots ready for the wet landings on shore. The staff were on hand to ensure 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 the morning.

Lunch was served at 12.30 and there were a few more takers in the dining room than there had been for breakfast despite the slightly increased rolling of the ship as we headed for lunch. As the afternoon wore on some fog sprung up but we did not let that dampen our spirits!

At 15:30 Silke gave a talk in the dining room about the different whale species we could see on our voyage southwards. Just afterwards a lovely tea with cake was served in the lounge for all to enjoy. Then again at 17:00 we were invited back down to the dining room where Mick talked about the wildlife and landscapes of the Falkland Islands. This was incredibly informative for those of us with little to no knowledge of the island archipelago.
By this time it was early evening and some of us took a pre-dinner drink at the bar while others chatted amongst themselves.

At 18:30 we were invited to the lounge for the first of many daily briefings where Andrew explained our plan B for tomorrow, having already abandoned plan A, landing at West Point Island & possibly somewhere else. Bruce showed us via pre-set lengths of string how large the various birds were that we had seen throughout the day, and would see further along during the voyage. With excitement we headed down to dinner, wondering about our first landing in the Falklands on the following morn.

Day 3: West Point Island & Grave Cove

West Point Island & Grave Cove
Date: 19.02.2018
Position: 051°20’ S / 060°40’ W
Wind: W 15 knots
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +12

Many were up bright and early to witness the captain’s navigation of Woolly Gut, a narrow passage through the small islands en-route to our morning’s destination. It was a drizzly day, but with a very fresh and squally breeze, that particularly gathered strength around the island headlands. The first Gentoo penguins were sighted in a small rookery as we cruised by a low peninsula and then a few South American sea lions made a brief appearance as well—what a nice welcome to the Falklands! But more was waiting for us onshore at West Point Island.

Both Andrew, our EL and Mick, one of our guides had prepared us to be flexible in the Falklands: with expedition cruising, every plan is prefaced with ‘we hope’ or ‘maybe’. So we were excited to hear that our planned landing at West Point Island that morning would go ahead.

We met at the Zodiac boarding area for our first Zodiac trip of the voyage and made for a small cove, where there was evidence of human presence: a couple of small sheds and a charming old brick building.

Some of us jumped in a 4x4 vehicle and were driven to the other side of the island to visit a Black Browed Albatross colony. The rest of us followed a trail across open, grassy country in the same direction. Rolling green hills with beautiful views over the water and back to the ship made for a lovely stroll, despite the occasional gusts and rain showers that passed overhead.

Unsure of what to expect when we arrived at the end point of the walk, we followed a winding trail through tall tufts of tussock to a nesting site overlooking the ocean. Large, downy chicks sat perched on their nests, ruffling their feathers, apparently unperturbed by the stiff sea breeze. Adult Black-Browed Albatrosses soared overhead, occasionally landing to feed their offspring. In the distance we could also see a small colony of Rockhopper penguins. We stood behind a screen of tussock, amazed at the grace of these majestic seabirds and the beauty of their home. West Point would be a hard act to follow.

We returned to the ship for a quick lunch while Plancius sailed to our next landing site at Grave Cove.

Commersons dolphins came alongside the ship and frolicked in the waves by the gangway as we ate.

After a short Zodiac ride we arrived at Grave Cove, where small colonies of Gentoo penguins and a couple of Magellanic penguins were waiting for us on the beach. After a wet landing in crystal clear water we met Marie-Paul, a Falklands resident who, with her partner, owns Grave Cove and the surrounding area.

Marie-Paul kindly led us on a short walk across open grassy fields to a large Gentoo penguin colony on the other side of the island - the largest Gentoo colony in the Falkland Islands. The colony extended all the way to the beach, and this is where most of us spent the rest of the afternoon. The beach was incredibly exposed and atmospheric, with sea salt in the air and a breeze whipping whitecaps off the swell. Here we each found a spot to be still and watch or photograph the penguins’ antics: feeding, preening, waddling into the surf, paddling out past the break and surfing the breakers with Commersons Dolphins.

As we know, all good things must come to an end, and around 16:30 we returned to Plancius, where our cozy home away from home was waiting for us. After some time to warm up and look through our photos from the day we met in the lounge for our recap. We learned about the Falklands geology from Andrew, and Commersons dolphins from Silke, and are looking forward to a day in Stanley tomorrow - maybe, we hope!

Day 5: At Sea Sailing to South Georgia

At Sea Sailing to South Georgia
Date: 21.02.2018
Position: 052°23’S / 051°48’W
Wind: N 20 knots
Weather: Sunshine
Air Temperature: +9

After such busy days around the Falkland Islands it was almost nice to have a day at sea to recover, download the many photographs and recharge our own batteries, never mind the camera batteries in preparation for the coming days on South Georgia. However when Andrew made the wake-up call there were plenty of people heading to eat, as the night had been quite calm and relaxing, with relatively little wind and swell.

At 10:30 Mick gave the first of his two part lecture on penguins, fascinating birds of the sea. Perhaps not able to fly through the air, they are magnificent at flying through the water!

Lunchtime! Shouted the head chef Heinz the Hacker. More food? Yes indeed, although as it was in the morning, the dining room was quite full. Such cooperation from the weather gods…

Out on deck many of the birders, along with Bruce, were having a wonderful time with their binoculars and cameras. Plancius was followed all day by several Southern Royal Albatrosses and Wandering Albatrosses. That provided the photographers on-board great opportunities to photograph these majestic birds.

By 15:30 Beau was ready to deliver his talk on polar pinnipeds; various seal species we hoped to see during our time around South Georgia and Antarctica. Having had just a taste of sea lions around the Beagle Channel and the Falklands, it was time for some serious flipping out about fur seals and elephant seals!

After everyone had sampled the fabulous tea served up as always by the ever present Raquel, it was time to once again head down to the dining room for no, not more food but another lecture! This time Mick talked about the wildlife and landscapes of South Georgia, a fantastically wild island with so much to offer.

Dinner was punctual as always, but wait! Afterwards Phil arranged some shenanigans in the form of a polar quiz evening in the bar, good fun for everyone.

During the evening the wind picked up as Plancius crossed the Antarctic Convergence. Both the sea temperature and the air is getting lower! We are moving nearer to Antarctica. In the night the ships time was adjusted with +1 hour to be on the same time zone as South Georgia.

Day 6: At Sea Sailing to South Georgia

At Sea Sailing to South Georgia
Date: 22.02.2018
Position: 053°20’ S / 043°38’ W
Wind: NW 15 knots
Weather: Sunshine
Air Temperature: +8

From the early hours of the morning there had been a number of seabirds following the ship and the wandering albatross were definitely the stars of the show today. A number of individuals flew circuits around the ship flying right over the heads of passengers on the top of the bridge deck almost as if they were having a look at us as much as we were looking at them. Very beautiful indeed. There were increasing numbers of White-chinned petrels and of course Black browed albatross that we had been seeing every day since leaving Ushuaia. Also interesting were the few Grey-headed albatross, with their lovely-coloured yellow beaks and notably darker-shaded heads.

The morning of scheduled activities began in earnest with learning about how to be a responsible visitor to South Georgia and Antarctica. The non-profit group IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) developed the briefing so that everyone wanting to experience this special place will understand how to do their part to keep it as special and pristine as we can—including how to behave around the animals we will see, and that we should follow the old maxim: “take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”… and even those we should fill in if our boot prints end up being too deep in the snow so that penguins don’t get trapped in the hole by accident! Then the real fun began—the vacuum party. We need to make sure we do not unwittingly transfer non-native material between places we visit, as new introductions could lead to invasive plants changing the native ecosystem-- or even spreading a virus between animal colonies. The first step was to go through all of our outer clothing and vacuum the Velcro, cuffs, backpacks—any areas that could trap seeds. Everyone was very diligent in their cleaning activities and everyone had completed the task by lunch time!

By mid-afternoon some tiny pinnacles of land were seen sticking up out of the sea ahead of us. These were Shag Rocks and they rise straight up from the sea bed looking very strange in the vast expanse of Blue Ocean. These areas with steep, underwater mountain slopes are often good for marine mammals as there are upwelling of water and nutrients so all the staff were out on deck to see what could be spotted. Sea conditions were still very calm and visibility was great so we all kept our fingers crossed for something. Groups of South Georgia shags kept flying past the vessel in aerial formation which was great for everyone, but especially for the keen bird watchers.

Everyone was out on deck to watch as we sailed past and Captain Alexey did a great job of taking us so close to the rocks. We could see the fringe of kelp around each little island and the white of the cormorant guano stained the 70 meter high rocks white. Occasional big swells created huge waves on the rocks which everyone tried hard to capture with their cameras. After a few turns beside the rocks we then resumed our course towards South Georgia.
At 18:30 we had our daily briefing, a daily ritual that would become the norm. As evening closed in everyone headed down for dinner, perhaps catching some last bits of fresh air outside just before ducking in again for more food.

Day 7: Salisbury Plain & Prion Island, South Georgia

Salisbury Plain & Prion Island, South Georgia
Date: 23.02.2018
Position: 054°03’ S / 037°19’ W
Wind: NW 10 knots
Weather: Sunshine
Air Temperature: +8

Today the early birds were rewarded with a beautiful passage into the Bay of Isles.

For the sleepy heads Andrew gave his morning wake-up call at 07:00 and our day started with the first Zodiac launching at 08:30 for our landing at Salisbury plain. Approaching the beach, from far away you could see the hundreds of fur seals playing in the water and spread out along the beach, mixed with hundreds of king penguins. Some of them already started jumping through the water left and right of our Zodiacs.

After a wet landing we stood immediately in the middle of hundreds of penguins and fur seal pups, staring at us with their dark big eyes curious at such a sight. We were impressed by the strong smell of penguin poo combined with a concert of different animal sounds. Among all the animals were some big elephant seals taking a nap while sunbathing on the beach.

It was a beautiful morning with sun shine and a warm breeze, probably almost too hot for the penguins. Mick started the walk towards the right and after about 1km we approached the astonishing large king penguin colony of circa 10,000 penguin pairs. We were lucky to get very close to the colony and could even climb a little bit on the tussock grass to have a higher overview.

Several skuas were also sitting in the middle of the way next to an empty egg and several penguins were crossing our way. Some even discovered a golden fur seal.


Coming back onboard we had to do the biosecurity boot wash with Silke, checking our boots for any seeds and grass.

After a delicious lunch we headed of for Prion Island. We signed up into three different groups, as visitors on land are limited to 50 people at a time. So, some guests enjoyed Zodiac cruising along the shore with fur seal pups, Wilson’s storm petrels, South Georgia pipits, cormorants, albatrosses, & various other birds and sea life. The other group went directly to the beach and was again welcomed by the perfume of penguin poo and the combined sound of fur seals and king penguins. This time it was a short path on a boardwalk that snaked its way up the hill through the tussock grass. We had fur seals all over the place: left and right or just in front of us, all the time curiously observing our movements, making strange noises, following and chasing us or even blocking our way. Some seals simply laid in the grass, enjoying some sun or suckling in peace. At the top of the hill, we had a good view to some nesting wandering albatrosses and giant petrels. All afternoon we were accompanied by a beautiful rainbow spread out across the bay. At the end of the day, Beau gave a nice overview of the birds we saw during the day during recap.

And then it was time for dinner and more food…

Day 8: Godthul & Grytviken, South Georgia

Godthul & Grytviken, South Georgia
Date: 24.02.2018
Position: 054°17’ S / 036°17’ W
Wind: SW 10 knots
Weather: Part Cloud
Air Temperature: +10

Our second day in South Georgia offered us another opportunity to marvel in her beguiling landscapes, seascapes and cloudscapes. Those who were up early witnessed a deep yellow-orange sun rising from an infinite watery horizon, and a brilliant rainbow shining upon our bow as we sailed towards the “unfortunately-too-windy-to-land” expanse of St Andrews Bay.

And so “Plan B” was executed, and shortly after breakfast Plancius motored into the sheltered bay of Godthul. We were treated to an impressive mountainous amphitheatre backdrop, and gangs of romping fur seal pups greeting us at the beach. After winding our way up a steep, tangled maze of head-height tussock grass, we soon reached an expansive plateau and its vibrant and cushiony carpet of mosses, grasses and flowers. While some of us took a more leisurely stroll to the lake, the ‘mountain goats’ among us headed for the rocky heights above. Brilliant views were on offer to all, as well as a continually evolving cloudscape in the skies high above us.

The morning also provided us with good sighting of two of South Georgia’s endemic species. Pipits flitted about, announcing their presence with their high, twittering calls; and flotillas of South Georgia Pintails cruised about on the lakes and ponds. Groups of moulting Gentoo penguins also stood about (in seemingly inaccessibly mountainous places for such a small bird!), patiently waiting for their annual “catastrophic” moults to finish.

After lunch we gathered in the lounge for a briefing from Andrew on the afternoon’s activities at Grytviken. We also had the opportunity to learn more about the various habitat restoration projects on the island from a special guest, Sarah Lurcock, Director of the South Georgia Heritage Trust. Of particular success has been the large-scale rodent eradication project, which has already seen a noticeable return of the South Georgia pipit to areas of the island it had not been seen in the years since rodents were first inadvertently introduced to the island by early explorers and sealers.

The skies outside continued to host an extraordinary display of enormous lenticular clouds, which we enthusiastically captured with our cameras as they, simultaneously, captured our imaginations. Although seen relatively frequently in South Georgia, those that call the island home declared that this grand display of cloud, wind and light was the best they had seen all summer.

Once on shore, many of us took part in a traditional toast of whiskey to the famed explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, at his graveside before proceeding to the restored remains of the old whaling station of Grytviken. Some of us joined a walking tour of the station, while others took in the historical significance of the site at their own pace. The museum also provided a plethora of information – from the challenges and trials of a whaler’s life; to South Georgia’s early and modern-day explorers; as well as the natural history of the island’s flora and fauna. Some retail therapy was enjoyed in the museum shop, and stacks of postcards began their long journey to their recipients in various corners of the world from the Post Office.

A dramatic seascape was the final act for the day. Once safely back on board, we proved a captive audience for the gusting winds that whipped up the surface of the water into twisted, spinning frenzies around us. It was indeed, another fantastic South Georgian day.

Day 9: Fortuna Bay & Stromness Harbour, South Georgia

Fortuna Bay & Stromness Harbour, South Georgia
Date: 25.02.2018
Position: 054°07’ S / 036°49’ W
Wind: W 20 knots
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +10

After yesterday’s amazing display of lenticular clouds we awoke to another morning of superb mountain clouds over Fortuna Bay, our planned morning landing.
Zodiacs dropped us on a beach pulsing with life - King penguins and fur seal pups were all around, as well as an Elephant seal, mainly concealed in the tussock above the beach.

From the landing site we walked long the beach and up across gravel outwash plains, crossing small meltwater streams and enjoying the carpet of native grasses on our way to visit a King penguin colony of about 7000 pairs. When we reached the colony we made our way onto a small knoll where we could relax and take in the spectacular view and sound of the penguins, with the Breakwind Ridge behind us, the Konig glacier in front and the ship in the bay in the distance.

After a short time Mick and the expedition staff organized four small groups of us to approach the colony for a closer look and to take some photographs. There were several chicks in their fluffy brown coats, otherwise known as ‘Oakem Boys’, chicks molting and several penguins with eggs. It was fascinating to see these various stages of life occurring at the same time.
Our visit was punctuated by occasional strong gusts of wind coming down off the glacier, which eased throughout the morning.

The walk back to the beach was relaxed as we headed back in our own time, following the marked trail and weaving between fur seal pups on the grassy plains. We saw a couple of fur seals nursing, and made sure to give these a much wider berth.

There was still some time before the last Zodiac, so many of us congregated around the beach for a while, watching as fur seal pups frolicked on the shoreline and in a nearby lagoon, and King penguins waddled with their trademark dignity and nonchalance up the beach.

After lunch we prepared for our second landing at Stromness, an abandoned whaling station where Shackleton finally made contact with civilization after his adventure on the Endurance. As we walked away from the seal-covered beach we left the seals behind and entered a broad, U shaped glacial valley. Mick blazed a trail up the lovely, grassy valley past beautiful glacial scenery with braided streams, moraine ridges and rounded hummocks (roches moutonnes). The weather was warm, calm, and sunny, so by the time we arrived at the waterfall at the head of the valley, many of us were contemplating a swim! Only a few braved the cold water, but the waterfall was a lovely area to sit, enjoy the warmth and good company and take some time to reflect on our three incredible days in South Georgia so far.

At the evening briefing and recap, Andrew outlined the program for tomorrow. We hoped to Zodiac cruise at Cooper Bay, where we might be able to see Macaroni Penguins (or nudelkopf, as he calls them), as well as Chinstrap penguins, Gentoo penguins and some interesting geology. Mick also made a presentation on King penguin behavior and their complex breeding cycles, which answered some of the questions raised by our visit to the colony at Fortuna Bay this morning.

Day 10: Cooper Bay & Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia

Cooper Bay & Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia
Date: 26.02.2018
Position: 054°43’ S / 035°44’ W
Wind: NE 4 knots
Weather: Part Cloud
Air Temperature: +8

Today was a day full of ‘at sea’ adventure! We started the misty morning in Cooper Bay, home of nearly every species we’ve seen so far along with a few new friends. Chinstrap penguins peppered in with the rocky neighbourhood’s macaroni’s made for a new penguin dynamic that was foreign for most of us. We saw the hazy fog and drizzle slowly lift as we explored the bay along with the crew of guides who drove us around the all manner of beautiful, rugged, and exotic coastline on the very edge of South Georgia Island. Bigger fur seals, King penguins and an elusive leopard seal showed themselves as well, along with a few soaring light mantled sooty albatross and giant petrels of all sorts. As the coastline’s contours cleared, the vibrant green popped out above the striated rock faces that hid a few alpine glaciers above.

As we finished up operations with Zodiac cruising in the morning, coffee tanks filled and ready to go, we found ourselves overwhelmed by the immensity of ice and a very cool blue taste of what is to come once we make it on to Antarctica. Our last afternoon around South Georgia didn’t disappoint, as the full ship’s cruise into Drygalski Fjord enlivened even the most reluctant and weary of travellers among us. We saw massive glacial calving off the main tidewater resting glacier, and a few hanging glaciers peered down upon us from the cliffs above. The sheer magnitude of the fjord awoke within the ice loving traveller the call of the wild, to the south, that soon awaited us.

Afterwards we heard Mick’s “Birds of a Feather” lecture while we started to feel the roll of the open sea once more. South is the course now and very soon, the small icebergs and bits of ice that we leave behind will pale in comparison to the ultimate, longed for dream of the Antarctic ice sheet ahead.

Forward to the South!

Day 11: At Sea to the South Orkney Islands.

At Sea to the South Orkney Islands.
Date: 27.02.2018
Position: 057°57’ S / 040°07’ W
Wind: W 40 knots
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

We had a leisurely start today because we dropped our clocks back one hour from South Georgia time to return to Argentina time. Overnight the wind speed had increased and by breakfast time we were rolling heavily in seas of five to six metres. All access to the outside decks was closed for our safety. Ropes were placed between the pillars in the lounge to prevent folks from capsizing.

Biosecurity vacuuming had been planned for 10:30 but this was postponed and instead Bruce brought his lecture ‘An Introduction to Photography forward. In his presentation Bruce recommended various ways of maximising the quality and content of our Antarctic photographs. Using different angles, camera settings and the placement of people, animals and the landscape we learned the value of taking this approach and improving our photographic skills.

Lunch was served at 12:30 though there were a few empty places in the dining room! Regardless of the weather the hotel staff always provide a wonderful service both in terms of food and service. The wind speed averaged 42 and at times increased to over 60 knots. But by mid afternoon the wind decreased and the vacuum party got under way at 15:00. The earlier experience on our voyage helped to speed up the operation and we were able to move quickly on to the next afternoon event; an auction at 16.30. As a means of raising funds for conservation projects on South Georgia, these on board ship auctions have raised thousands of dollars over the years. Several items were auctioned in two lots and they included, amongst other things; a whale carving, a penguin clock, artwork and hand painted t-shirts. It was great fun as the bidding was encouraged with humour and professionalism by our auctioneer Andrew. Over $1,500 was raised for monitoring the success of the rat eradication programme on the island. It was held during ‘happy hour ’in the bar, this may well have influenced some of the bids!

Dinner was served at 19:00 and with the reduction in the wind speed a more comfortable evening was enjoyed by us all. Several species of seabirds were seen today and whale blows too were observed. A tiring but good day was at an end and a quiet ship sailed onward towards our next adventure, this time in Antarctica.

Day 12: Orcadas Station, South Orkney Islands.

Orcadas Station, South Orkney Islands.
Date: 28.02.2018
Position: 060°44’ S / 044°43’ W
Wind: WSW 17 knots
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: -1

We made good time during the night, arriving in the South Orkney Islands earlier than expected. Conditions were favorable and we began Zodiac operations after breakfast. This morning was a split landing, with half of the passengers visiting Orcadas Station while the other half went for a zodiac cruise around the bay and then swapping places.

Base Orcadas is an Argentinian scientific station that has been in operation since 1904, making it the oldest permanently populated base in Antarctica. Here we were greeted by the friendly personnel and given a tour of the station and learned about some of the projects here. We also had a chance visit the small museum and some some rather interesting penguin taxidermy.

Zodiac cruising around the bay was a bit windy but filled with wildlife sightings and spectacular scenery. Large groups of adult Antarctic Fur Seals occupied some of the beaches as well as a few Elephant Seals. Chinstrap penguins were common amidst the rocks and ice along the shore. We also saw our first Antarctic Shags. The landscape of jagged mountains and rugged glaciers surrounding the bay was awe inspiring, and the large tabular icebergs in the distance set the stage for our first true Antarctic experience.

Shortly after lunch an announcement was made that whales had been sighted in the distance. As we approached closer, we were treated to close encounters with three or four Fin Whales surfacing and feeding close to the ship.
Our afternoon was filled with informative lectures. Liz gave us an exciting introduction to Antarctica in her presentation, Destination Antarctica: an Introduction to the Icy South. We learned a bit about the physical, biological and political aspects of the great southern continent. Later, Phil gave a spirited and thought provoking talk about the Ice Monsters of Antarctica, reviewing the fossil record of Antarctica and discussing adaptations that some of these ancient creatures may have used to survive in this harsh and ever-changing environment.

A few more facts were learned at the Daily Briefing as well as the plan for the following day. Another fantastic dinner was enjoyed, followed by a relaxing evening as we continued steaming south toward the Antarctic Peninsula.

Day 13: At Sea to Antarctica

At Sea to Antarctica
Date: 01.03.2018
Position: 061°56’ S / 051°23’ W
Wind: N 7 knots
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +1

We had another full day at sea ahead of us and the day started as any other day with Andrew’s morning call before breakfast. Many of us hit the snooze button for a while before getting up for a leisurely breakfast followed by an extra coffee. The sea was much calmer than predicted. It was supposed to be 30 knots of wind, but we had only 7 knots and a little bit of fog. Unfortunately not the best weather for spotting whales….. But this didn’t matter too much. Many simply sat in the lounge, reading a book, working on their pictures or just chatting with one another.

The calm morning didn’t last for long, the wind increased slowly. At 10:30 Liz started the daily lectures with a talk about ice and its forms: icebergs, brash, frazil and floe. Ice has many forms, can have different sizes and shapes and also interesting colors. Every single iceberg tells its own life story and Liz encouraged us to have a closer look at the next icebergs we see and try to read its life story and try to find out where the lines and holes come from or if it rolled over or not.

By lunch time it was beginning to feel decidedly Antarctic. Around noon the winds continued to increase a little bit up to 25 knots, but we had increasing swell of 4-5 m and the outside decks were closed off for our safety. But fortunately we had two more talks coming up in the afternoon.

In the afternoon, Nina gave her presentation, the “Discovery of Antarctica: 2000 years in the making”. You could see that a lot of us were having trouble with the rough sea and sea sickness and preferred to stay in the cabin with a prolonged nap after lunch. But a few guests came to listen to the history of the Antarctic explorers reaching this incredible continent. With stormy seas on the screens and waves crashing on the windows outside it created a wonderful atmosphere in the dining room!
Later in the afternoon Andrew gave a presentation about the geology of Antarctica, how it was formed and the different rocks and volcanic areas that can be found.

At the daily briefing in the evening Andrew explained our plans for tomorrow when we would arrive at the Antarctic Peninsula. He explained about the geological formation of Brown Bluff, a volcanic feature where we hope to land in the afternoon. Liz then gave a short presentation about sea sickness and its cause and some remedies. And finally Mick read a humorous story about physical fitness and motivation and lack thereof.

After dinner Phil started the second quiz of this trip, this time the South Georgia quiz with many interesting and challenging questions about the island. 9 groups were formed to compete in this quiz, eager to demonstrate their knowledge they gained from the lectures on South Georgia and to win the overall. It was a head to head battle royal. The second and third place groups had only one point in difference. The prize for the first place winner group was a bottle of white wine, the second group received playing cards from Plancius and the third winner pins from Plancius. After enjoying this entertaining game, everybody finished up the evening with a drink.
Everyone was excited about the coming days on the Antarctic Peninsula!

Day 14: Antarctic Sound and Brown Bluff, Antarctica

Antarctic Sound and Brown Bluff, Antarctica
Date: 02.03.2018
Position: 063°36’ S / 056°28’ W
Wind: SSE 15 knots
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: -8

Today was the day of Antarctic adventure that our minds, hearts, and eyes could scarcely believe. We woke up to a frosty, bright day shrouded in a mystical ice fog seemingly from another age. Soon the titans of the Weddell Sea showed themselves. It soon was apparent we were not alone, but rather surrounded in a literal sea of ice, along with penguins of all sorts. We had whales arrive later in the day’s journey.

Our original plans had to be changed as the epic landscape of towering black rocks shooting up from the depths of the sea were given the blue backdrop of glacial ice in countless surreal sculptures that only the imagination’s limitations were set upon. Even a seasoned sailor couldn’t have claimed to not be impressed by the misty magic that surrounded the good ship Plancius. As we ship cruising through Antarctic Sound and touched the entrance to the Weddell Sea, towering tabular icebergs cast their shadows upon us and we gazed in wonderment upon these massifs from another age.

After lunch, we geared up and had our first true taste of Antarctic adventure, landing upon the ice encrusted shores of Brown Bluff. Although up high the rocky castle glimmered in contrast to the ice strewn beach, it only took a slight hint of imagination to realize the other world of our dreams were not truly dreams any longer, but a sweet reality before our waking eyes. We explored the shoreline and saw some new friends, the Adélie penguin along with a few big Weddell seals. Leopard seals patrolled the coastline waiting for the chance at a penguin soufflé. The day’s adventure continued through the snows and blasts of frigid wind that froze beards, eyebrows, cameras and toes among many other odd bits and pieces. Undeterred, we continued back to the ship only when the tides forced us home to the warmth and good food of the ship. During recap we heard from Andrew the next day’s plan of attack for the adventures ahead, Beau explained about the ghost of Antarctica; the snow petrel, and heard a bit of travel writing and poetry from Phil to inspire a little more for the contemplative, wondrous, and exciting journey ahead.

For many this day will stick in the minds of us travellers, as whether it was the 7th continent, our first kiss of a glacier, the first iceberg we ever saw rammed, or the simple enjoyment of a long journey, today’s trip was exactly why we came down to the bottom on the world on the educational adventure we’ve been enjoying aboard the Plancius.

Day 15: Cierva Cove and Portal Point, Antarctica

Cierva Cove and Portal Point, Antarctica
Date: 03.03.2018
Position: 063°58’ S / 060°52’ W
Wind: ENE 14 knots
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: -1

Our morning excursion was a Zodiac cruise in Cierva Cove, a dramatic, glacier-rimmed cove, which is home to the Argentinian Primavera Station. There were several towering icebergs to explore in the area, brash ice to navigate and wildlife to discover. It was with an air of anticipation that we prepared for our first Zodiac cruise in Antarctica.

Gentoo penguins were porpoising alongside the Zodiacs and many of us encountered whales resting (logging) or travelling in the cove. Some of us were fortunate to come across a leopard seal, or have whales approach us as we turned off the engine and enjoyed the deep silence among the ice.

Icebergs offered excellent examples of the processes of formation and erosion we had heard about in Liz’s ice talk, with some spectacular caves and formations, and some of us returned to the ship with pieces of black ice to have with our drinks at night.

Our afternoon landing was at Portal Point, and after a tasty lunch we lowered anchor. A thick sea fog obscured the horizon and icebergs seemed to float impossibly on the velvety sea. The silence was occasionally interrupted by whale blows, and snow petrels soared about the ship. After navigating around some grounded icebergs to reach the shore at Portal Point, we prepared for what was intended to be a peaceful landing - an opportunity to meditate on the icebergs in the fog and quietly reflect on our time in Antarctica so far. However, it wasn’t long before the landing unexpectedly evolved into an all out snowball fight with passengers and staff alike joining in the fun.

We returned to the ship somewhat soggy but exuberant. And today, for the first time this trip Silke informed us that we had a green ‘Tag Board’ when we returned back on board. This board indicates when we depart and return to the ship, and often there are a few of us who forget to turn our tags on return, but today we all remembered. Hooray!

As it turned out, this was only the beginning of the evening’s festivities, as the dining room had organized a delicious BBQ on Deck 3, to be followed by a dance party complete with disco lighting. It was a very Antarctic BBQ, with misty mountains and snow falling as we tucked into our meal.

It might have been the combination of BBQ aromas and 1980s boogie tunes that attracted the whales, seals and birds to take part in the fun - we’ll never know! Either way, it was a real treat to feast our eyes on this amazing Antarctic wildlife that gathered around the ship as night fell and the dance party began.

All in all, another unbeatable day in Antarctica!

Day 16: Stony Point and Cuverville Island, Antarctica

Stony Point and Cuverville Island, Antarctica
Date: 04.03.2018
Position: 064°52’ S / 063°11’ W
Wind: SW 1 knot
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

As always Andrew woke us up with his wake up call and some had a hard time getting up after the barbeque and the dancing from the night before. It was a cloudy morning, quite warm, but with good visibility. When we lowered the Zodiacs we had a minke whale close to the ship. As the number for visitors on land was limited, we split into two groups, one for Zodiac cruising and one for landing at Stony Point.

The group in the Zodiacs saw some crabeater seals, Antarctic terns on ice, juvenile kelp gulls, and plenty of penguins amongst other wildlife. Even a leopard seal and some humpback whales were seen in the area.

In the meantime, the group on shore enjoyed some Weddell seals laying in the snow, sleeping and lazily scratching themselves, and some Gentoo penguins were hanging out on the rocks next to the landing station. A path was laid out up the hill with the iconic red flags, a couple of exposed crevasses reminding us of the importance of sticking to the marked path and not deviating from it.

It was a beautiful quiet morning with a great view over the two bays, Fergusson Channel and Oscar Bay. At 10:15 Andrew gave the sign to swap the groups, so the hill climbers could spend some time on the water and the Zodiac cruisers had the chance to climb the hilltop. The weather was slowly deteriorating, some snow blew in, but spirits remained high throughout the morning. However there were more than a few happy smiles when it was time to board the ship and the lunch call was made.

After lunch we attempted to enter Andvord Bay to land at Neko Harbour, however the ice proved more than what Plancius could handle. So we headed for Cuverville Island as a happy alternative instead. On our way, around 14:00 we finally sighted some killer whales. So, the captain slowed down Plancius and for 20 minutes we had a wonderful time hanging out with several Orca around the ship, some of them very close, just underneath the bow even. As the call came quickly over the PA there was little time to dress up properly, some even venturing out on deck in board shorts and bare thermals.

In the afternoon we landed on Cuverville Island. The weather was good and clear inviting us for a second adventure on shore. Immediately after landing hundreds of Gentoo penguin surrounded us, so that we really had to watch our steps. The penguins were cute, but also a bit saucy at the same time and curiously pecking at pants and boots. Funny looking moulting penguins with strange “haircuts” passed by waiting for their parents to return from the water to feed them. One penguin even laid down on our emergency bags for a short nap. Then it was time for the highlight of the day, our polar plunge. Surrounded by the penguins around 15 brave guests jumped into the icy water for a quick dive, one even completely naked. The beach was covered with ice which made it even more challenging. What a great day!

During the short recap Andrew was interrupted by a special guest outside of the windows: a breaching humpback whale which made several appearances before disappearing back into the deep depths. Time for dinner!

Day 17: Telefon Bay (Deception Island), South Shetland Islands

Telefon Bay (Deception Island), South Shetland Islands
Date: 05.03.2018
Position: 063°07’ S / 061°20’ W
Wind: E 20 knots
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: -1

During the night we had sailed up the Gerlache Strait and across the Bransfield Strait towards the South Shetland Islands where we were planning to spend our last Antarctic day. At 06:00 Andrew woke us all up as Plancius was approaching Deception Island, thereafter passing through the infamous ‘Neptune’s Bellows’. On the cliffs surrounding ‘Neptune’s Bellows’ the Cape Petrels can be seen breeding. The whole of Deception Island is classed as an active volcano and the entrance was where the rim of the volcano collapsed and allowed the water to flood in creating Port Foster.

While the wind howled outside the caldera, inside Plancius continued on through subdued conditions towards Telefon Bay, towards the back end of the island. A flat glacial outwash plain, leading up towards a small caldera and hill. As one by one the Zodiacs dropped everyone off on the beach, a lone fur seal and penguin to greet them, Liz headed off with the first explorers towards the far hillside for a viewpoint. As everyone headed up the slope, the more adventurous headed further up the hill and down a small ravine back towards the beach. As the wind picked up it was decided to head back to the ship, only slightly earlier than planned. Waves and wind alike crashed against the gangway making it decidedly expedition style, making good on the wishes of a few for some ‘real’ weather.

At 09:30 am everyone was back on board and Plancius steamed out of the caldera, chancing fate once again without any ill volcano consequences. As lunch was called the ship was slowly locked back down for the next days on the Drake, weather predicted to pick up and swell and wind alike vying for top honours of making things as miserable as possible. However this was only to be the beginning….

At 15:00 Around Cape Horn was shown in the lounge, a documentary from the early 1900’s about a young sailor sailing on a 4 mast cargo ship from Hamburg down to Chile, rounding the horn from east to west.

After tea time with hazelnut cake, Nina invited us all down to the dining room for a thought provoking lecture about Antarctic politics. After our daily briefing it was again time for another dinner, although many decided to bypass food and head straight for bed…

Day 18: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 06.03.2018
Position: 059°14’S / 062°47’W
Wind: WNW 38 knots
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

The morning started off reasonable, considering the warnings we had heard about the storm that was rolling in. While it was rather unpleasant, most had expected far worse rolling and movement. However as always this rolling was also proving too much for some passengers who were susceptible to seasickness and there were a few spare seats at the breakfast buffet this morning.

During breakfast however a few pilot whales and hourglass dolphins made an appearance, swimming alongside the ship and even surfing the waves, putting on a show for the few who made it outside to see.

Thankfully the day was a quiet one, where we could relax and rest, out in mid ocean, and landfall in Ushuaia some way off yet.
To start the programme of presentations for the day Phil invited us all down to the dining room to talk about the race to the South Pole, the iconic competition between Scott and Amundsen.
After the presentation many people got wrapped up and headed out onto the bridge wings for some fresh air and salt water spray. There weren’t too many birds around the ship during the morning, an occasional Black browed albatross and a few Prions were seen drifting by.

As the storm increased in intensity, the wind picked to over 59 knots, water being churned by the enormous waves. We all held on for dear life as we understood the true meaning of the Drake Passage.

After lunch Doctor Tanja gave a very interesting talk about living with emperor penguins. Afterwards Mick then gave a lecture explaining about Greenwich Mean Time, and how it affects us down south.

Re-cap was the usual plans for tomorrow including paying bills and an interesting story about a Swedish expedition from Nina.

After dinner Phil invited us one last time up in the lounge for the very last Plancius Pub Quiz, this time revenge was the order of the game.

Day 19: At Sea in the Drake Passage

At Sea in the Drake Passage
Date: 07.03.2018
Position: 055°59’S / 065°25’W
Wind: WSW 25 knots
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

Well the forecast winds hadn’t really arrived during the night or early morning as expected. This meant most of us were able to get a decent night of sleep and not be rolled out our bunks.

With no wake-up call again this morning the first call of the day was to breakfast where once again we were amazed that there was still fresh fruit available after nearly 3 weeks at sea. Beau in particular had a rather unusual craving for kiwis!

There was still some wind from the west, about 25 knots, and occasional rolls but generally life on board was acceptable and not the storm that was predicted to hit later on that morning.

Before lunch André & Chris gave some interesting insight on diving, André speaking about the history of diving in Antarctica and Chris explaining how marine mammals, in particular Weddell seals, are able to dive to such depth without aid such as we humans need. Thereafter Gerard, trip leader for the White Planet Expedition 2018 group, showed a short slideshow summing up what the divers had seen during the trip.

After lunch we were called deck by deck to reception, to settle the dreaded accounts. Nothing on board had to be paid for during the entire trip, until the last day that is!

Some dusky dolphins also made an afternoon appearance, bow riding Plancius and one even breached 3 meters straight up in the air!

Soon we were also called to return our rubber boots to the boot room. These sturdy ‘Muck Boots’ had kept our feet warm and dry during the voyage and we were grateful to have had them, especially in the cold of Antarctica where penguin guano was found on every rock and boulder.

At 18:00 we were invited to the lounge for Captain’s Cocktails where we met with Captain Alexey once again to toast the wonderful voyage. He did some amazing navigation with Plancius, taking us close to whales and icebergs and into narrow channels for unforgettable experiences. The divers had a short video and the staff had contributed photos for a slide show that Bruce had put together for us. It was lovely to look back over the last 20 days on board Plancius and remember the places we had visited and the wonderful things we had seen.

Cheers everyone!

Day 20: Disembarkation Ushuaia

Disembarkation Ushuaia
Date: 08.03.2018

We were woken by the last wake-up call from our Expedition Leader Andrew and readied ourselves to disembark for the final time. We didn’t have to turn our tags, there was no Zodiac ride ashore and it was a dry landing. The last three weeks have taken us on a remarkable journey from the bottom of the world in Ushuaia, to the Falkland Islands, over to South Georgia and onwards to Antarctica and back and allowed us a glimpse of life in these remote and sometimes inhospitable places. We will all have different memories of our trip but whatever the memories, whether it was the King penguins in the sunshine at Salisbury Plain or the sight of the icebergs in Antarctic Sound they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Total distance sailed on our voyage:
Nautical miles: 3519 nm
Kilometres: 6517 km

On behalf of everyone on board we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.

Details

Tripcode: PLA29-18
Dates: 17 Feb – 8 Mar, 2018
Duration: 19 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Ushuaia
Disembark: Ushuaia

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Aboard m/v Plancius

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

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