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PLA29-19, trip log, Antarctic Peninsula – Polar Circle Voyage

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina
Date: 28.02.2019
Position: 54°53’S / 067°42’W
Wind: Light air
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +9

So here we are at last in Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. Well, from Ushuaia we’ll be going south...a long way south. But for today, we ambled about this lovely Patagonian city, savouring the local flavours and enjoying the sights. Ushuaia marks the end of the road in Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but also the beginning – the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

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

For many of us this is the start of a lifelong dream. The excitement comes in different forms for each person, but even the most experienced of us must feel genuine excitement departing on a journey to the Great White Continent. Accordingly, most passengers were promptly at the gangway at 16:00, ready to board the good ship MV Plancius, our home for this Antarctic adventure!

We were greeted at the gangway by members of our Expedition Team who directed us to reception where we met Hotel and Restaurant Managers, Michael and Alex. We were then checked into our cabins with the assistance of the fabulous hotel crew. A little while after boarding we departed the jetty of Ushuaia and entered the Beagle Channel with an escort of black browed albatross. Shortly thereafter we gathered together in the lounge on deck five to meet First Officer Francois, who led us through the details of the required SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) Safety and Lifeboat Drill, assisted by the crew and staff.

We were now prepared for our actual safety drill and on hearing the general alarm, we reconvened at the ‘muster station’ (the lounge) for the mandatory safety briefing and abandon ship drill, donning our huge orange life jackets that will keep us safe should the need arise.

After all the safety drills were taken care of we were invited once again to the lounge where Hotel Manager Michael gave us an overview of the ship, a floating hotel which will be our home for the next 11 days. We then met our Expedition Leader, Ali Liddle who gave us a brief introduction to our itinerary and helped set our expectations for this expedition trip… there’s always a Plan A, but also B and C and… whatever it takes to work with what weather Mother Nature gives us!

This was also a chance to meet our Captain, Artur Iakovlev and toast our voyage with a glass of Prosecco. At 19:30 we sampled the first of many delicious meals on board, prepared by Chef Khabir and his galley staff. This first evening on board was occupied with more exploration of the ship, adjusting to her movements, and settling into our cabins. In the early hours of the morning we would be out into the open waters of the Drake Passage!

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

At Sea to Antarctica – Drake’s Passage
Date: 01.03.2019
Position: 56°40.9’S / 065°34.6’W
Wind: NE 14
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

A few of us were already up and enjoying the beautiful sunrise when Ali made the first wake-up call of the voyage, but for those of us still being gently rocked in our bunks it was time to get up and see what the sea day would bring.

It was an overcast morning and there was a gentle breeze of about 15 knots, but we were making good progress across Drakes Passage. After breakfast we were called to the boot room on Deck 3 to collect our rubber boots ready for wet landings on shore. The staff were on hand to make sure that the system ran with the utmost efficiency, with boots of all sizes being passed along the line to ensure everyone got the correct size ready to go ashore in Antarctica.

At 10:30am, Catherine, Chris and Will gathered the scuba divers in the dining for a presentation about how diving operations would work during the voyage. At the same time Alexis met with the kayakers in the library and gave details of the kayaking programme; you could clearly feel his enthusiasm for paddling in polar waters.

With the initial activity briefings completed it was time for the first lecture of the day which was presented by Martin and about sea birds, which were not too numerous this morning because of the light winds. We learnt that species such as albatross and giant petrels are quite heavy birds which need a considerable amount of wind to take off and glide, therefore calm conditions are more likely to result in fewer bird sightings. Martin’s lecture was very informative and created a lot of interest amongst keen birders and generalists alike as to what we might be able to see over the forthcoming sea days but most importantly how we might be able to protect them, as many species of sea birds are now severely threated.

After lunch, many of us headed out on deck to enjoy the pleasant weather we were being blessed with whilst others took the opportunity to have a little siesta. At 3pm Laura gave a lecture about Ice in anticipation of seeing lots of different types over the forthcoming days, large tabular ones, most probably broken off from the Ross Ice Shelf to small bergs in a variety of shapes and colours. During this time the dive guides met with each of the divers on a one to one basis to check and discuss equipment and storage needs.

Following afternoon tea and cake in the lounge Sara gave a lecture about penguins. She explained their cold-water adaptations and answered many of our initial questions about these charismatic little creatures, hopefully giving us more time to just sit and enjoy their funny and very endearing antics. The lecture was interrupted twice for whale sightings, the first for some feeding Antarctic minkes and the second for a strap-toothed whale. The latter is a medium-sized beaked whale which is most commonly found in the Southern Ocean, North of the Antarctic convergence. Evidently this was quite an usually sighting as it caused much excitement amongst the Expedition Team. For the keen birders in the group there was the first sighting of a snow petrel to keep them enthused.

The final official event of the day was our first daily Recap & Briefing session. Ali explained the plan for tomorrow and showed some weather charts so we knew what to expect for our second day in the Drake. This was followed by Joselyn who gave a very interesting recap about the Antarctic convergence and how the different water masses meeting in the Southern Ocean create an important biological barrier around the continent, and then Sara tried to demonstrate the enormous wingspan of some of the sea birds we had been seeing with the help of a piece of string!

There was a lot of enthusiastic chatter as we descended to the Dining Room afterwards, as people shared their hopes and expectations for the forthcoming days with one another.

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

At Sea to Antarctica – Drake’s Passage
Date: 02.03.2019
Position: WNW 9
Wind: Overcast
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

We enjoyed another gentle night of rolling on the Drake Passage, this favourable weather meant we had made very good progress over night. Ali woke us with news of the weather and after breakfast we attended the mandatory briefing about Zodiac operations so that we can be familiar with all the safety measures in place to get off the ship, on shore and back on the ship safely. Following this, Ali briefed us on IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) protocol and biosecurity, so that we will have minimal impact on the pristine environment of Antarctica. They explained how we should behave while in Antarctica to ensure the protection and conservation of this incredible, but very fragile environment. It is important that we follow certain protocol to ensure that we leave no trace of our visit and take away nothing more than memories. In order to ensure we follow these protocols, we had to vacuum our outerwear, ensuring no seeds or plant material was hiding in our pockets and Velcro.

After lunch, many of us headed out on deck to enjoy the ocean whilst other took the opportunity to have a little siesta. At 3pm Marijke gave a lecture about marine mammals of the Southern Ocean and how to identify them. As the afternoon progressed, we appropriately saw the first humpback whales blowing and fluking around the ship, enjoying these nutrient rich waters.

After tea and cake Joselyn gave a lecture about the marine organisms under the sea surface. After this lecture, the South Shetland Islands were now clearly in sight, we cruised through Boyd Strait, Snow Island on our port side and Smith Island to our starboard.

At 6:30 we gathered in the lounge to hear about the plans for tomorrow from Ali followed by a short presentation about aliens from Andrea. After which we made our way down to dinner, full of excitement at what the following days would bring. Antarctica couldn’t quite let us rest however, as an announcement came just before the dessert course that a pod of type-B Killer Whales had been spotted alongside and aft of the ship. The orca remained quite elusive, however, and despite the Captain slowing the ship and turning around to get a better look the pod kept feeding and traveling at a distance while the silhouette of Smith Island slowly disappeared in the fading light.

Day 4: Orne Island / Danco Island

Orne Island / Danco Island
Date: 03.03.2019
Position: 64°39.79’S / 062°38.32’W
Wind: Variable
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

We finally reached the Peninsula, after an easy and calm Drake Passage. Ali woke us up around 6:45 am and we rushed to breakfast, excited to get into the zodiac in direction of our first landing! Some of us were already awake, while the ship was taking us along the Gerlache Strait. We cruised without problems enjoying the occasional sight of humpback whales, the menacing icebergs and a nice sunrise illuminating the mountains in the background.

The Gerlache Strait is the strait that separates the Palmer Archipelago from the Antarctic Peninsula. The Belgica Expedition, (1897-1899) under command of Lt. Adrien de Gerlache, explored the strait in January and February 1898 and first named it for their expedition ship Belgica, then was later changed to honor the commander himself. This strait is characterized by amazing views of the mountains in the peninsula as well as a variety of spectacular icebergs that drift cross its open waters.

At 7:45, we dropped the anchor at our morning landing site, Orne Island. Located at the northern end of the Errera Chanel, the name was used by Norwegian whalers and, later, by the Scottish geologist David Ferguson. It was a bit cloudy, but we could feel the sun trying to break through the cloud. An added bit of entertainment was the sight of a second Oceanwide ship, the Ortelius; staff from both ships were obviously excited to see each other and quickly buzzed by on zodiacs to wave hello and send regards on behalf of the crews to each other. Once shuttled to the beach, we were welcomed by Ali, who gave us few instructions for the landing. After dropping our life jacket in the white bag, we started walking further up the island’s slopes.

There are several colonies of gentoo penguins and we caught our first glimpses of these adorable little creatures. There was a mix of molting adults and growing chicks who were walking around the colony trying to get back safely to their nest. After a short walk, we reached another part of the island where we found a small colony of chinstrap penguins and understood there can be quite a difference between the sights, sounds, and behavior of different species. Eventually a route was opened up around the top of the island, so we enjoyed a different perspective of the hilltop gentoos and got a great view back across to the pink-stained George’s Point on Ronge Island. Also, there were a few fur seals lazing on the rocks. The kayak group was on their way back to the ship by now and we were able to give them a wave and see them enjoying the almost flat calm waters for their morning’s paddle session.

The sun was shining through the cloud cover, the sea was calm, and we just decided to sit down and enjoy the amazing scenery that Antarctica had to offer. We watched all the animals interacting, especially the penguins and the skuas flying around, trying to catch their next meal. The time flew by and before we knew it, it was already time to return to the ship for lunch time. While waiting for the zodiac, some of us had the chance to see some humpback whales diving just in front of the landing site.

During lunch, there was a bunch of humpback whales resting around the boat. We had close sighting of them from the different decks. Our destination for the afternoon, Danco Island, is one mile long and lies in the south part of the Errera Channel, just off the west coast of Graham Land. It was also charted during the Belgica Expedition, and named after Emile Danco, a Belgian geophysicist member of the Expedition who died onboard the Belgica over the winter. He was a very popular and admired scientist on board this expedition.

Landing on Danco Island was nice and smooth on a pebble beach, with some gentoo penguins molting on the beach. Trying not to disturb them, we walked around to get on the snow. For this landing, we were using snowshoes to get up the hill. Our snowshoe guide, Martin, lead the way smoothly. The majority of us climbed up, all the way to the summit of the small mountain that rises up to 160 m above sea level (circa 525 feet). We enjoyed very nice calm weather, cloudy but flat and peaceful out on the water. From the top we enjoyed the spectacular scenery of the Errera Channel. This channel was named after Leo Errera, a professor at the University of Brussels who was one of the supporters of the Belgica Expedition. From the top we could appreciate the snowcapped mountains with imposing glaciers, showing an endless collection of crevasses, seracs, and bergschrunds. A parade of icebergs showed up below in the waters of the channel.

The guests who opted to stay next to the beach were also rewarded with a nice gentle walk along the beach to the remain of an old Antarctic Survey hut and a nice gentoo penguin colony. Certainly, these guests were not disappointed since they probably enjoyed a long and quiet moment in which they heard only the gentle splash of the waves, the distant call of gentoo penguins, or the murmur of the slight wind.

Before getting back to the ship, some of us decided to do the polar plunge… Another crazy idea! Those who were courageous enough started running towards the water and had a quick dip before running out. Nevertheless, it was with a smile on their faces that they hopped into the zodiac and went back on the Plancius.

Before getting back on board, we had the chance to sight leopard, Weddell, and crabeater seals lying on the ice, one next to the other. As the zodiacs cruised by, we were able to take a few pictures of these beautiful creatures. Like every day, today ended with the evening recap given by Ali and her team. Then, we headed down to dinner and enjoyed a really nice meal! Bon appetit!

Day 5: Petermann Island

Petermann Island
Date: 04.03.2019
Position: 64°10.2’S / 064°06.8’W
Wind: S 5
Weather: Rain/drizzle
Air Temperature: +2

Our expedition leader Ali woke us up bright and early at 6:45am to witness the transit of the Lemaire Channel, a beautiful and narrow channel on our way to our first landing site of the day. The channel measures only 745 metres, not all of which is navigable because of rocks under the surface of the water. The icebergs were so close we could almost touch them! Our captain and his officers did a great job navigating through the maze of ice and managed to get us through safe and sound to the other side.

After the excitement, breakfast tasted all the better. We enjoyed it while sailing through all imaginable shades of blue, turquoise, and white. At 8:45 am, we were called to the gangway to get ready for Petermann Island.

Once there, we were greeted by very curious gentoos who brazenly ignored our red poles and approached to check out the visitors. The expedition bags were carefully scrutinized and tasted, and we all got some great photos of up-close and personal penguins while sitting or laying still. Our guides marked a pathway to Far Point, from where we enjoyed breath taking views over the Penola Strait and out towards the open ocean, in all directions the water peppered with icebergs. For those of us who stood and observed for a while, we could see and hear bergs grinding up against each other, interrupted from time to time by the thunderous rumbling of invisible avalanches on the slopes across the channel. Spotting a beautiful tabular iceberg further down the Penola Strait, we could draw on some of the facts about them that Laura had presented the day before.

On the north-east side of the island, a small colony of bright-chested gentoo chicks were right next to moulting adult gentoos. The difference in energy level and apparent mood between them were very obvious! Further up the path marked for us by our guides, adelie penguins were busy looking a tad miserable while moulting. In other parts of the 1km-long island, some of us witnessed a skua picking up a gentoo chick, driving home the fact that the food web of nature doesn’t exclude cute fluffy things.

In the afternoon, weather conditions worsened to just over 30 knots of wind, making the anticipated visit to Charcot Island impossible, so we made the decision to get a head start south towards the Polar Circle. This gave us the opportunity to dry our gear, enjoy the passage through icy waters full of wondrous formations, and listen to Adam’s presentation about the use of dogs in Antarctica. In stark contrast to the ponies used on early expeditions, dogs fared well in the cold conditions and loyally served the explorers of the Heroic Age as well as later-day research teams until the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty outlawed them in the 1990s.

During our daily recap, humpback whales were tail slapping right next to the ship, stealing our attention away from Adam’s short presentation on Charcot, Martin’s penguin behaviour lecture, and Sara’s description of Penguin Watch, a citizen science project that everybody visiting the Antarctic is invited to participate in. Then on it was to dinner, where we rehashed our exhilarating encounters with the inhabitants of Petermann Island while the ship calmly continued sailing us further south towards the Southern polar circle.

Day 6: South of the Circle, Crystal Sound

South of the Circle, Crystal Sound
Date: 05.03.2019
Position: 66°35.4’S / 067°17.7’W
Wind: N 6
Weather: Slight snow
Air Temperature: +1

Just after 6 o’clock in the morning we passed the Antarctic Polar Circle: 66˚ 33’ 47.5’S. This is the line of latitude past which the sun remains above or below the horizon for at least one full 24 hour period once per year. The Plancius continued to sail south passing rather large icebergs along the way and there was so much wildlife: Southern elephant seals, many crabeater seals, a few Antarctic minke whales, Southern fulmars, and snow petrels accompanied us well into Crystal Sound!

After breakfast Ali gave the exciting announcement that there would be a zodiac cruise starting at 08:45 and a second one at 10:00. Happy faces were beaming all around and warmly wrapped up in several layers of clothes we boarded the zodiacs. There was so much to see! Crabeater seals were hauled out on the ice floes and large blue icebergs loomed up from a hazy horizon as the zodiacs weaved their way through the ice and wildlife. The Plancius also made its way passing huge ice floes dotted with many crabeater seals to entertain those who stayed on board. The crabeater seal is the most numerous seal on the planet. Most crabeater seals routinely haul out onto the pack ice, but even then, only about 20% of them will be hauled-out at any one time in an area!

When we came back onboard the Plancius there was a hot surprise for us – hot chocolate with rum and cream. Sara soon rounded us all up to make a group photo behind the bridge. The Plancius then turned around and started heading back north as the ice conditions were too thick to continue further with any hope of making landings. Although the visibility was variable, we could see more huge ice floes and impressive icebergs along the return route north. The occasional humpback whales were fluking while we sailed by, bidding us farewell from our most southerly point.

In the afternoon, Adam gave a lecture in the lounge on the two famous Polar Explorers: Scott and Amundsen. At the end of the afternoon Michael announced that we were all invited for Happy Hour at the Bar – there we exchanged photographs and shared adventures whilst we were looking back on yet another great day.

During Recap, Ali prepared us for tomorrow’s plans and Andrea talked about the ice babies – the first humans that were born in Sub-Antarctic waters and on the Antarctic continent.
Marijke then followed with an overview on humpback whale migration and how she participated 20 years ago in setting up the Antarctic Humpback whale fluke catalogue. Jos then explained to us how easy it is to submit your own whale fluke photographs to the website Happywhale.com.

Dinner was served in remarkable flat calm sea conditions. During the night, the Plancius continued sailing north on a gentle long rolling swell.

Day 7: Yalour Islands / Vernadsky Base + Wordie Hut

Yalour Islands / Vernadsky Base + Wordie Hut
Date: 06.03.2019
Position: 65°11.0’S / 064°17.3’W
Wind: SW 4
Weather: Fog banks
Air Temperature: 0

It’s day seven, and we once again wake up to a grey Antarctica. Large chunks of ice float by as we slowly cruised through the thick fog towards our morning destination, Yalour Island. Soon after breakfast the staff heads out to the scout a landing site. It turns out to be a difficult task as the fog gets thicker. Thanks to GPS navigation, however, an appropriate landing site was established, and at nine thirty the first guests went ashore.

Because only 60 guests are allowed on the island at one time the morning activity had to be split between landing and a Zodiac cruise. Passengers ashore opted for a short hike up the snowy slope towards the higher view point, passing by lovely adelie penguins who live on the island. Up on top the views were impressive, but not very far reaching because of the fog. Close at hand there was also a lot to see—a surprising variety of mosses and lichens have colonized the rocks and crevices here, showing the rare green side of Antarctica’s biota.

Meanwhile down below on the water, the rest of the Plancius guests were cruising around the island where both Weddell and crabeater seals were hauled out on the ice floes. Of course, all of this was surrounded and enhanced by the constant presence of all manner of wave and sun shaped icebergs. After more than one hour both groups swapped places and got to appreciate both activities and perspectives.

Back at the ship everyone had a nice lunch buffet while the Plancius was sailing towards our afternoon destination. Around three o’clock we arrived and again the group split into several activity groups. One group went to Wordie House and the other to Vernadsky station on Galindez Island. Wordie House is a historic site established by the British Antarctic Survey 1947 where the main scientific focus was meteorology. Today, the tasteful little hut is a museum indicating how life at the base would like in the mid-20th century. After a little over an hour the group swapped to Vernadsky Station, which is the oldest operational station in the Antarctic Peninsula with continuous meteorological records since 1947.

The station was transferred from British Antarctic Survey (UK) to Ukraine in 1996 (for the price of £1) and then renamed after the famous researcher Volodymyr Vernadsky. It is a nice and “old school” research station with its famous bar still providing a warm welcome to visitors. During the late afternoon, the ice around the island made navigation back to the ship difficult, but at seven pm we were all back onboard for a barbecue on deck to celebrate our successful voyage so far.

Day 8: Damoy Point / Neko Harbor

Damoy Point / Neko Harbor
Date: 07.03.2019
Position: 64°49.2’S / 065°32.4’W
Wind: E 7
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +1

Another amazing day to be in Antarctica: a bit of fog covered the horizon, but the icebergs and the calm sea made up for it. Ali woke us up at 7:15 and we had almost arrived at our first landing site of the day, Damoy Point. After breakfast, around 8:45, we all gathered at the gangway to wait for our zodiac shuttle. Arrived ashore, there were two options for a hike. The longer hike was led by Martin, a loop heading across the island and up onto a long ridge and back down to an historic hut and penguin colonies. The option of a shorter hike simply went along the penguin colonies to the historic hut. We all put on snowshoes because of the steep and sometimes slippery slopes and left the landing site, past groups of gentoo standing watch on rocky outcrops. The long hikers eventually trekked up onto a ridge that at one time was used as a ‘ski-way’ by the British Antarctic Survey from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. BAS staff would arrive by ship and then be flown, by small twin otter planes with skis attached, further south to the British base Rothera. From the top of the ski-way there were stunning views all around. We could look down on Port Lockroy and with the sun making the tops of the snowy peaks glow and glitter (before the fog rolled in!), it was really a lovely hike.

Most of us ended at the small blue building next to the shores of Dorian Bay. The Damoy Hut, at the bottom of the skiway hill, used to be the accommodation and refuge for passengers waiting to fly, especially if there was bad weather. This building is now maintained by the British Antarctic Heritage Trust as a small museum conserving the more modern exploration and research history of BAS.

Everyone was back at the landing site around 11h am because there was a bit of navigation to our next landing site, Neko Harbour. It would be our first continental landing and we could feel the excitement of setting foot on the Antarctic Peninsula. Once we arrived at shore, there was a male Weddell seal gracefully napping on the ice. We walked around him, trying not to disturb his resting time. The team had already set up a walking route for us, marked by the familiar red poles, to help us navigate through the numerous, deep-cut penguin highways. The route then took us on a tour through some gentoo colonies just off the beach and then had us work our way up a hill (that got more and more slippery) to a view point—which we shared with another gentoo colony; they certainly had one of the best front yard views imaginable! The icefalls back of the small bay were a most impressive backdrop, with massive chunks of hanging ice looking like they were ready to calve at any moment. While the day went on, there were more and more cracks heard from the glacier and a few calvings were observed off the front side. As more people arrived at the top gentoo colony, Adam and Alexis led the most intrepid hikers up further, for an even more elevated view of our surroundings. Conditions were getting more and more slippery and so everyone was watching their footing on the way back down the hill.

Even if this landing was a bit shorter than usual, we had time to enjoy gentoo family drama, skuas on the hunt, and even a much-hoped for calving of a small piece of ice off the front of the glacier. The swell created was enough to throw some small waves crashing onshore but fortunately for us and the gentoo it was nothing like the tsunami-size waves that we had been warned were possible. Even the Weddell seal, that just woke up from his nap, did not seem bothered by it and slowly made his way to the water. We could have all spent much more time on shore watching all of the wildlife and ice dramatics but as usually we had a schedule to keep so we could fully enjoy our final landing excursion tomorrow morning. And so, finally made the move to don our lifejackets, walk down to the water’s edge, and board the zodiacs for our return to the ship.

At 5:30, everyone was back on board and we set sail for our last landing of the trip, Half Moon Bay in the South Shetland Islands. Like every evening, we finished the day with a cold drink served by Raquel and a recap where the staff shared some interesting facts about birds and Weddell seals—including their vocalizations that sounded like an alien space movie soundtrack! Ali showed us the forecast for our Drake passage. It will not be the nice smooth sail we had from Ushuaia. Some of us looked more excited than others. Oh well, we will will see what the next few days brings.

Day 9: Half Moon Island

Half Moon Island
Date: 08.03.2019
Position: 62°45.1’S / 059°53.6’W
Wind: WSW 5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 0

Our wakeup call arrived at a leisurely 7:45am this morning – unheard of! Many of us had been up and (metaphorically) running much earlier already, excited about our upcoming visit to the South Shetland Islands.

At 9:15am, we arrived in the bay in which lies nestled Half Moon Island, our last Antarctic landing on this trip. Out by the gangway, we could feel that temperatures were lower than they had been in the past few days, and the wind did its bit on top of it. Nevertheless, after a breezy Zodiac ride to the raised cobbled beach, we were excited to explore the volcanic geology and unusual-looking rock formations of this island. A wooden dory, picturesque and in surprisingly intact condition, lay to the left of our landing area.

We were able to observe several smaller colonies of molting chinstrap penguins, most of whom stood near-motionless, enduring the changing of the feathers in the usual stoic-seeming way. A few chicks would from time to time bring some movement into the groups by loudly demanding to be fed, either to be indulged by an adult purging up small amounts of food, or to be turned away unsuccessfully. Molted feathers whirled around in the wind gusts like sorry-looking snowflakes!

Our expedition team marked two routes for us, one leading over a little rocky pass down to the beach and to a chinstrap colony. We were able to observe numerous adolescent fur seals jousting playfully in the surf or simply resting on the cobbles. We were taught to raise our arms, make ourselves big, and not flee if and when any of the animals pretended to charge at us intruders. Some of us had the opportunity to demonstrate our knowledge, much to the fascination and glee of bystanders - “better you than me, mate!”

Our guides opened a walk to the north-western side of Half Moon Island which led us through plenty of resting, jostling, photogenic fur seals. At the end of this stretch, we could see the Argentine summer-only research station of Camara Base consisting of several buildings and the big, distinguishable pale blue and white national flag on the roof. The scientists had already left for the season, but what did remain were four elephant seals resting in the surf. Still without their fully developed snouts, these juvenile males were enjoying a companionable snooze by the beach.


With a heart that was both heavy to be leaving and glad to have been there, we boarded our Zodiacs back to the ship and to lunch. Our last landing of this trip had brought us close to wildlife, vegetation, and Antarctic extremes once again.

In the afternoon, Laura gave an introduction to Antarctic geology, which tied in with what we had seen during this landing. This was followed by Jos, who complemented this theme with a lecture about lichens and mosses, including an image of a mushroom she had spotted by chance during a previous landing! Some of us recognized the pictures of Antarctic hair grass which we had spotted on Half Moon Island. The educational part of the afternoon was followed by the Plancius Pub Quiz: 45 questions of various levels of difficulty about all things Antarctic! Team Crabeater Seals took the cake (and Friends With Pebbles won best team name!), but in reality we all felt like winners—realizing how much we had learned, absorbed, retained, and discovered during the past action-filled and eye-opening voyage.

We ended this day with dinner and reminiscing about all things seen, smelled (penguins, anyone?) heard, and felt during the last twelve hours.

Day 10: At Sea to Ushuaia

At Sea to Ushuaia
Date: 09.03.2019
Position: 59°29.5’S / 060°06.5’W
Wind: W 29
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +3

After an early night of slight rolling, the Plancius changed course at around 03:00am and most of us were woken up by a more feisty rolling motion. The Plancius rocked back and forth as the call for breakfast came but this morning it came a little later. Another day on the open seas! Fin whales were accompanying us briefly but then it became a little quiet on the wildlife front. The occasional soft-plumaged petrels and black-browed albatrosses flew by but that was about it despite the good wind. Most of us managed to make it to the dining room for breakfast and soon we adjusted to the rolling motion of the Drake.

At 09:30 Martin taught us all about a rather important key species in the food chain and Antarctic ecosystem – Krill, which is on the menu of many Antarctic fauna, ranging from the largest whales to the smallest of the birds. After this lecture we were greeted by some enthusiastic and rather speedy hourglass dolphins – they came to bow-ride and we could see their striking black and white flank patterns as they jumped clear from the water!

Ali then gave a talk on ‘Ice Maidens‘ – the women of Antarctic exploration. She spoke about some of the women behind the men, including the wives of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Sir Robert Scott and how much they influenced the lives of these famous polar explorers. It was certainly a different look at this region of the world.
After lunch, Catherine spoke about diving in Antarctica – it was quite fascinating to find out what lies beneath this beautiful sea and what our diving team had been seeing during our trip – from small fish to playful seals! At 4:30pm Joselyn gave a presentation on how it is to live on an Antarctic Station – she has spent a few years working at the McMurdo Station (Ross Sea) and also at the South Pole Station. We were all fascinated by stories of life at the Pole with Jos showing great footage of her hydroponic gardens, growing greens for consumption through the winter. There were also entertaining stories of the busy social life on base with creative and imaginative ways of helping the long winter night pass by.

During Recap, Alexis gave us a presentation about all the kayaking adventures experienced during the trip, including close-up photos of leopard seals and stunning ice formations. Ali & Michael then came in with info and details about the next day and about disembarkation in Ushuaia; not the funniest part, but all good things and all good cruises must come to an end. Dinner was served and we all went to bed whilst the Drake was shaking us gently (and sometimes firmly) back and forth in our cosy cabins.

Day 11: At Sea to Ushuaia

At Sea to Ushuaia
Date: 10.03.2019
Position: 55°59.0’S / 064°15.8’W
Wind: WNW 4-5
Weather: Drizzle
Air Temperature: +6

Well, it was a rough night rocking and rolling on the Plancius but even still breakfast was a cheery scene and the morning lecture by Adam about Shackleton’s story of endurance was well attended. It was also a good morning for birds, what with the sustained winds, and several species were sighted.

Keen lecture-goers continued on with Sara’s grim but necessarily informative talk about whaling; more than one person went away from the talk in disbelief of how many whales were harvested from the Southern Ocean over such a short period of time, often for what feels like now to be trivial uses such as margarine. It is wonderful that some species such as humpbacks seem to be making somewhat of a recovery in numbers but it is hard to imagine what the southern waters could have been like on our trip if the whaling industry had not been so successful. Throughout the morning the waters seemed to calm a bit and as lunch began the sun came out and the swell lessened… and land was on the horizon! Though Cape Horn was out of sight to our west, the islands of Tierra del Fuego were a welcome sight. After a fine lunch in a lovely calm dining room ambiance, the afternoon promised more interesting lectures. Andrea spoke to us about Ushuaia and the variety of economic drivers as well as cultural opinions about life and work there.

In the mix were Michael’s calls to reception so that final bills could be paid (and deals made about how many advance drinks to buy!) in preparation for disembarkation tomorrow morning. The skies had turned blue and the sun was out, and enjoying the light breeze and balmy air of the outer decks also brought lucky sightings of Peale’s dolphins alongside the ship, as well as numerous birds including Southern royal and wandering albatross as well as white-chinned petrels.

The final reminder that there were no more landings in sight was the call to return our muck boots, but the upside was that Captain’s Cocktails was the next event on the program (free drinks! And ooh, canapes!). We toasted Captain Artur, the crew and staff, and each other for creating and sharing such an excellent trip together. We enjoyed our final evening on deck in the stunning weather, both before and after dinner—our final evening meal together and as usual it was an amazing spread. Last drinks were shared in the bar and when we finally retired after packing and organizing ourselves for the morning, we rested well in the calm waters of the Beagle Channel, dreaming of the special times we shared and experienced over the past 11 days.

Day 12: Disembarkation - Ushuaia

Disembarkation - Ushuaia
Date: 11.03.2019

After picking up the pilot at 8pm last eve, and a leisurely sail into port, we arrived at the pier around 1am in order to avoid the forecasted rising winds. In store for us this morning was a dry landing onto the dock— and a different kind of journey ahead-- involving planes, trains, and automobiles instead of ships, zodiacs, and kayaks. The last 10 days have taken us on a remarkable adventure to Antarctica and allowed us a glimpse of life in this remote and sometimes inhospitable place. We will all have different memories of our trip but whatever the memories, whether it was the gentoo penguins at Danco or Petermann, or the sight of zodiacs surrounded by ice and fog, they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Details

Tripcode: PLA29-19
Dates: 28 Feb – 11 Mar, 2019
Duration: 11 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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